Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Sunday IF activities at ALA Annual Conference

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Here are today’s intellectual freedom-related activities at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC:

  • 10:30 a.m.-Noon ALTAFF Intellectual Freedom Committee program, Murder in Connecticut vs. Cheshire Public Library, JW Marriott – Cannon Room
  • 1:30-3:30 p.m. Committee on Professional Ethics program, Ethics in a Digital World: Using Policies to Guide Professional and Personal Presence in Social Networking Spaces, Renaissance Washington Auditorium
  • 1:30-3:30 p.m. Youth Divisions IFCs program, Not in My Library! Self-Censorship Alive and Well, Washington Convention Center, Room 150B
  • 4:00-5:30 p.m. IFC/FTRF Issues Briefing Session, featuring Theresa Chmara and Dee Venuto, WCC Room 204 B/C

Calif. students sue over U.S. flag-clothing flap

Sunday, June 27th, 2010
Lawsuit claims Morgan Hill school officials violated teens' rights when they were told to remove American flag-themed clothes on Cinco De Mayo.

Another Bad Week for Free Expression on the Internet

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Yet another country has decided to shut down key parts the Internet. Kathleen Reen at Internews reports that, as of this past Thursday, the Afghan Ministry of Communications mandated that all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Afghanistan filter websites falling under the following categories:

  • Alcohol
  • Dating/Social Networking
  • Gambling
  • Pornography

Reen reports countrywide blockages of Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, and Twitter. The Afghan Wireless Communication Company (AWCC), one of Afghanistan’s two largest telecommunication companies, is referring people with questions to the Ministry of Communications.

This follows on the heels of reports earlier this week of extensive new Internet censorship in Pakistan and Turkey. Yesterday, Pakistan announced that it will block links to content on Yahoo, Google, MSN, Hotmail, YouTube, Amazon, and Bing — and will completely block 17 other sites — that it deems anti-Islamic. Also this week, Turkey, which has banned more Internet sites than any other country in Europe, started completely blocking YouTube and thousands of other sites, including proxy servers that Turkish citizens were using to circumvent the bans.

EFF will continue to monitor these events. For some ideas on ways to speak freely without falling victim to authoritarian surveillance and censorship, and ways for the rest of us ...

Video from FTRF Member Reception

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Hey, fans of intellectual freedom! Check out this great new video from the Freedom to Read Foundation’s membership reception at ALA’s Annual Conference. To join the Freedom to Read Foundation, visit www.ftrf.org/joinftrf.

Saturday IF activities at ALA Annual Conference

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Here are today’s intellectual freedom-related activities at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC:

  • 8:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.  IFC’s second business meeting, Renaissance Washington, Room 03
  • 1:30-3:30 p.m.  IFRT program: Burning Man, Libraries, and the 21st Century: The Intersection of the Individual and Society.  Washington Convention Center, Room 143 B/C
  • 5:30-7:00 p.m.  Opening General Session - featuring frequently banned/challenged author Toni Morrison.  See Robert O’Neil receive the FTRF Roll of Honor Award!  WCC Hall D

Ill. police revoke 1st Muslim chaplain’s post

Saturday, June 26th, 2010
State agency cites info revealed during background check as reason for move, but national Muslim advocacy group blames Islamophobia.

IF Issue: Book Labeling, plus how to get involved in IF activities

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Conable Scholarship recipient Aubrey Madler will be blogging her thoughts about the ALA Annual Conference throughout the week.  This is the second installment.

Wow, where do I begin?

This was day one of ALA Annual 2010 and I played a bit of ping pong trying to catch at least portions of the various IF-related sessions and meetings that overlapped. The discussion during the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC) meeting on placing labels on books brought me back to my undergraduate courses in elementary education. One key theory there was not to label students—be it by a disability, academic capacity, socioeconomic status, etc. Looking at Common Sense Media’s grid (used for online book purchases) to label books by their content—granted books are not people, neither do they have feelings—I couldn’t resist the sense of deja vu. This form of labeling can be seen as a strict form of censorship by authoritative entities, thus affecting the book’s success- much like labeling students can affect their success. One alternative might be to rely on user reviews through sites such as storysnoops.com. The IFC is in the process of exploring the pros and cons of using this grid system to label books and ...

Supreme Court Decision in ‘CLS v. Martinez’ Expected Monday

Friday, June 25th, 2010
The Supreme Court is expected to issue an opinion in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez on Monday, the last day of the Court's current term. The First Amendment right to freedom of expressive association on our nation's public college campuses hangs in the balance. 

As Torch readers will remember, the case concerns the University of California Hastings College of the Law's denial of official recognition to the Christian Legal Society (CLS) due to the student group's requirement that voting members and those holding leadership positions sign a "Statement of Faith" indicating their support for the group's core tenets. The group's statement posits that "[a] person who advocates or unrepentantly engages in sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman is not considered to be living consistently with the Statement of Faith and, therefore, is not eligible for leadership or voting membership." 

Despite the fact that the statement also makes clear that "[a] person's mere experience of same-sex or opposite-sex sexual attraction does not determine his or her eligibility for leadership or voting membership," Hastings found CLS to be in violation of its non-discrimination policies because of this requirement. 

CLS challenged the school's decision in federal court on ...

Rights in the News: No Summer Break for FIRE’s Defense of Free Speech

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Most students have left campus for the summer, but FIRE remains busy defeating speech codes, celebrating the publication of new legal scholarship on free speech in higher education, and preparing to host another delegation of students from around the country at our annual Campus Freedom Network conference. 

FIRE also, as Torch readers know, has been watching the University of California, Irvine, where the Muslim Student Union was given a year's suspension following an investigation into its members' disruption of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's lecture. See our comments on the case here on The Torch as well as in the Los Angeles Times and Inside Higher Ed

FIRE's video promoting the new book New Threats to Freedom, which features an essay from FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, has received a significant boost in viewership from Richard Dawkins' website. If you're intrigued by the video, consider getting your own copy of New Threats to Freedom today. Better yet, consider making a donation of $50 or more, and if you donate, FIRE will send you a free signed copy of the book as a token of our thanks. If after that there's still some room on ...

It’s here! 8th Edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual debuts today – plus, a new companion website!

Friday, June 25th, 2010

IFM_cover.inddThe newly revised and updated eighth edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual makes its debut TODAY at the ALA Store at the 2010 ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.  The Manual also is available online at www.alastore.ala.org (search for Intellectual Freedom Manual).

A convenient reference guide for librarians and library trustees addressing intellectual freedom and privacy issues in their libraries, the eighth edition of the Manual includes up-to-date legal information on censorship, minors’ rights, and the USA PATRIOT Act, three new Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights, revisions to ten existing Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights and major policy documents addressing privacy and professional ethics.

And due to popular demand… a revamped and revised website to supplement and update the print edition of the Intellectual Freedom Manual also debuts during Annual. Online at www.ifmanual.org, the new site provides access to new policies and policy revisions as well as expanded online resources for academic and school librarians.

The Intellectual Freedom Manual is a must-have for libraries and supporters of intellectual freedom.  Get your copy today!

First Glimpse

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Note: Conable Scholarship recipient, Aubrey Madler, will be blogging her thoughts about the ALA Annual Conference throughout the week.  Check back daily for her perspectives on the meetings, programs, and other events she’s partaking in.

Well, Wednesday earmarked the start of my intensive ALA Annual conference experience, which I am fortunate enough to attend thanks to the Freedom to Read Foundation and their Gordon M. Conable Scholarship.

A networking dinner kicked off my DC visit where I met members of the FTRF, including its Executive Director, Barbara Jones, and a number of other welcoming and energetic advocates with whom I fit right in.

Thursday was filled with a series of FTRF meetings, where I learned details about many court cases with which the foundation is involved. They sure keep busy throughout the year advocating for our First Amendment right to read and access information.

The day concluded with a warm reception where I met even more members of the FTRF and learned some tips about sharing information on issues surrounding intellectual freedom.

I look forward to Friday’s sessions hosted by the Intellectual Freedom Committee (IFC), the Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT), and the Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF).

Henley v. DeVore: Second-Class Citizenship for Satire?

Friday, June 25th, 2010

In Henley v. DeVore, a federal court recently held that senatorial candidate Charles DeVore’s two political advertisements featuring the songs "The Hope of November" and "All She Wants to Do Is Tax" infringed Don Henley’s "The Boys of Summer" and "All She Wants to Do Is Dance," ruling against DeVore’s fair use defense.

The videos were core political speech, the most protected form of speech under the First Amendment. Yet the court blocked them, relying on copyright law. What happened?

The trouble is the misguided way that some courts have distinguished "parody” from “satire” in when measuring fair use. "Parody," in the world of copyright, means using a work in order to comment on the work itself (or its creator). Parody gets a wide berth under fair use. So, for example, when 2 Live Crew famously ">sent-up Roy Orbison’s “ ">Pretty Woman," the Supreme Court found that the use was permitted. A "satire," in contrast, involves using a work to comment on something other than the work itself.

Some courts have drawn the conclusion that "satires" are disfavored under the fair use doctrine. That’s the mistake the court made in Henley v. DeVore. ...

House votes for campaign-finance disclosure bill

Friday, June 25th, 2010
Republicans blast exemptions that benefit NRA, unions, among others, saying measure would limit free speech of some groups but not others.

Tenn. congressional hopeful denounces proposed mosque

Friday, June 25th, 2010
Republican Lou Ann Zelenik says plans to build Islamic worship, community center in Murfreesboro are 'designed to fracture the moral and political foundation of Middle Tennessee.'

Ore. sheriff must release concealed-handgun permits

Friday, June 25th, 2010
In case involving newspaper request, state court of appeals upholds ruling that such licenses are public records.

Making Free Speech More Popular: Institute for Justice Launches New First Amendment Blog

Thursday, June 24th, 2010
Here's a new blog to add to your blogroll along with The Torch: Congress Shall Make No Law, the new First Amendment blog of the Institute for Justice. The blog's Steve Simpson writes:

Freedom of speech is one of the most important rights Americans enjoy, yet one of the least understood and most neglected. Like the air that we breathe, speech is so integral to our lives and so ubiquitousthink twitter, Facebook, blogs, cell phones, and email and much more-that most Americans take it for granted.

Yet we ignore the right to free speech at our peril. Indeed, it was not until 1931 that the Supreme Court first struck down a statute under the First Amendment, and the relatively vigorous legal protections our speech enjoys today have only existed for about 50 years.

But there is no guarantee that these legal protections will persist.

FIRE welcomes this new blog to the blogosphere. There is no shortage of free speech issues in higher education alone, where millions of students and professors spend years of their lives under oppressive speech codes that inhibit the nation's marketplaces of ideas. The more people and organizations that are demonstrating the importance of free speech, the better.

Today in Obstruction

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Tuesday’s batch confirmation of 60 patient Obama administration nominees was an encouraging break from Senate Republicans’ current unprecedented obstruction efforts, but it seems it might not yet represent the turning over of a new leaf.

NPR yesterday counted 69 Senate holds on executive branch and judicial nominees—most of them anonymous.

Included in this holding pen, our friends at Alliance For Justice have noticed, is every judicial nominee who’s been cleared for a floor vote, including 13 who received no opposition in committee.

Sen. Claire McCaskill now has gotten 68 Senators to sign a pledge to not participate in anonymous holds and to call for the abolishment of the practice. Only 10 Republicans have signed on.
 

Another Speech Code of the Month Repealed: Kudos to Westfield State College

Thursday, June 24th, 2010
FIRE is pleased to announce that Westfield State College (WSC) in Massachusetts has removed the most troubling, unconstitutional provisions of its anti-discrimination policy. The policy's prohibitions on protected speech were so broad that FIRE named it our Speech Code of the Month for February 2010. 

As Samantha wrote here in February: 
Westfield's Student Handbook prohibits "discrimination," which it defines to include "making disparaging remarks that insult or stigmatize a student's cultural background or race" as well as "making insensitive remarks that reflect a student's disability." Westfield State College is a public university, bound to protect its students' First Amendment right to free speech. The college recognizes this fact elsewhere in its policies, clearly stating that "Westfield State College recognizes that the student, as an adult member of society and a citizen of the United States of America, is entitled to respect and consideration and has the right to the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech, assembly and association." The non-discrimination policy, however, completely ignores this obligation, explicitly prohibiting large amounts of protected speech.
FIRE's June 7 letter to WSC President Evan Dobelle pointed out that however much a public college might like to eliminate such remarks from its campus, it may ...

Supreme Court Rules for Campaign Disclosure, But Divided Over How Far it Should Go

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

In a ruling that may bode well for the longevity of the campaign finance disclosure law currently being considered by Congress, the Supreme Court today ruled that the First Amendment does not give people a blanket right to keep their political activity under wraps. But the Justices disagreed on the extent to which the First Amendment allows privacy for controversial political activity.

The case, Doe v. Reed, was brought by a group of people who had signed a petition to put a measure on the ballot in Washington that would have voided the state’s domestic partnership laws. Washington’s law says that the names on such petitions have to be publicly available. The group of plaintiffs argued that the exposure of their names would expose them to harassment, therefore violating their First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, disagreed that the disclosure law was unconstitutional on its face, but left the door open for the anti-marriage equality petitioners to claim the law was an unfair burden in their specific case.

The spread of the justices’ opinions on the specific case of Protect Marriage Washington shows their ideological differences on the subject—and could shed light on what will ...

Where Scalia Agrees with America

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

As our recent poll shows, 92% of Americans agree that Congress needs to take action to right the wrongs of the Citizens United decision. One way to start would be to pass a bill like the DISCLOSE Act to force big corporations to publicly reveal the money they spend to influence elections. Proponents of such legislation may worry that the corporate-leaning Supreme Court will overturn the bill after it’s passed – but they shouldn’t worry too much. With the exception of Justice Thomas, none of the Supreme Court Justices have expressed hostility to disclosure requirements - in fact, the most well known conservative Justice on the Court may even be an advocate. As SCOTUSblog pointed out in May, Justice Scalia has been a vocal supporter of transparency in democracy:

Justice Scalia [has] expressed the strong view that disclosure requirements do not implicate significant First Amendment concerns. To the concern that disclosure could deter expression, Justice Scalia responded, “[T]he fact is that running a democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage.”

This may be one of the only instances in which Justice Scalia is in line with the majority of Americans. As our recent poll shows, 89% of Americans support ...

Introducing Program Associate Jordan Fischetti

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

FIRE is pleased to announce that Jordan Fischetti, a graduate of Hamilton College, has joined FIRE's Philadelphia office to work for our Individual Rights Defense Program. Jordan arrives at FIRE through the Koch Associate Program, which provides extensive education and training over the course of a year while the associate works on location. On his interest in working at FIRE, Jordan writes:

While I never have been disciplined for my speech, it has always annoyed me that some people think they can bring in the authorities to control what constitutes acceptable speech.  My dissatisfaction with the stifling of free speech was exacerbated my first year at Hamilton College. When Ward Churchill was invited by the Kirkland Project to speak on campus, there was great debate about whether he should have been invited due to his extremely controversial comments that workers in the World Trade Center were the moral equivalent of Nazis and had deserved to die in the terrorist attacks. There was also great debate about whether Hamilton should officially withdraw a speaking invitation to someone who had been officially invited. (This was before the charges of plagiarism against Churchill had come to light.) I was looking forward to the ...

YouTube Wins Summary Judgment in Viacom DMCA Lawsuit

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Today Judge Louis Stanton of the federal court in the Southern District of New York granted YouTube's Motion for Summary Judgment in the Viacom v. YouTube litigation, rejecting the effort by Viacom and other copyright owners to hold YouTube responsible for infringing material uploaded by a tiny minority of YouTube users. EFF and a coalition of public interest and industry groups had filed an amicus brief supporting YouTube in the case.

The ruling is the latest in a series of court rulings upholding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbors against the persistent attacks of the entertainment industry. YouTube and all other "user-generated content" sites rely on these safe harbors to shield themselves from copyright infringement liability based on the activities of their millions of users. In this case, the plaintiffs argued that because YouTube had general knowledge that infringing videos were available on the service, it should be stripped of the safe harbor protections (of course, since every public hosting service knows that some users will infringe, that would make the DMCA safe harbors meaningless). The court flatly rejected this view:

[I]f a service provider knows (from notice from the owner, or a “red flag”) of specific instances ...

High court rejects ex-Enron CEO’s jury-bias claims

Thursday, June 24th, 2010
Justices rebuff Jeffrey Skilling's argument that he didn't get fair trial in Houston because of harsh publicity, but Court rules prosecutors erred in using honest-services fraud law to convict him.

Federal jury: Philadelphia can’t evict Scouts for no-gays rule

Thursday, June 24th, 2010
Judge says city's anti-discrimination policy is 'principled' and he hopes the two 'honorable institutions' can work something out.

Federal judge sides with YouTube in copyright case

Thursday, June 24th, 2010
Ruling represents victory for Google, others who feared decision in favor of Viacom would undercut digital copyright law and make it more difficult for people to use Internet to express themselves.

Petition-signers don’t have right to keep names secret

Thursday, June 24th, 2010
High court rules against group that pushed for recall of Washington state gay-rights law.

Apple, Give Us a “Freedom of Choice” Button

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

With the new iPhone 4 hitting stores this week, it seems like a good time to take a look at the impact Apple's business model has had on the stuff EFF cares about most – innovation and your digital rights and expectations.

But first, a little historical perspective. From our earliest days, EFF has been concerned about the ecosystem that exists around communications technologies. We used to refer to this work as our Open Platform Proposal, and we've spent the last 20 years fighting initiatives by governments and private companies that would have damaged the end-to-end interoperability of the Internet and interfered with innovation, free expression and the fundamental freedom to tinker.

The principle is simple: just as you get to choose whatever after-market modification you want to make to your car, whatever disk drive you want to add to your mainframe, and whatever third party add-on you want for your software, you should be able to choose the apps and hardware you want for your iPhone. You should be able to choose your network provider. And you should be able to leave the walled garden and continue to use your device after you've moved on.

This is about ...

IPEC Releases “Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement”

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Yesterday, the Obama Administration's Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC), Victoria Espinel, released the "Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement" that Congress ordered up when it created the IPEC position. The plan lays out 33 "enforcement action items" grouped in 6 categories, which are helpfully summarized in a two-page chart. The plan is the result of a months-long public process in which EFF submitted comments.

Overall, the plan is chiefly about what the federal government can do to better coordinate its own enforcement efforts over a whole host of areas, such as blocking trafficking in counterfeit medicines, rooting out infringing software among federal contractors, and improving communication between federal and state enforcement agencies. Many of these efforts are laudable, aimed at increasing the efficiency and transparency of our government agencies. And the plan explicitly recognizes the importance of fair use and balance in the U.S. legal system.

With respect to the specific action items, TechDirt has done a nice job summarizing some of the more controversial recommendations. The plan embraces ACTA, which may be troubling depending on whether that proposed agreement is revised to "ditch the crazy stuff." It also calls for the feds ...

Al Franken Takes On the Corporate Court

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

I want to flag a speech that Al Franken made on the Senate floor yesterday about the Supreme Court’s decision this week in Rent-A-Center v. Jackson. The legal issues in question were complicated, to say the least, but the impact of the Court’s decision on individual Americans is simple and clear. This excerpt is a little long, but it’s worth going to the Congressional Record and reading the whole thing. Franken explains:

On one side of the courtroom in this case was Rent-A-Center, a corporation that runs over 3,000 furniture and electronics rent-to-own stores across North America, with 21,000 employees and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual profits. On the other side stood Antonio Jackson, an African-American account manager in Nevada who sought to bring a civil rights claim against his employer. Jackson claims that Rent-A-Center repeatedly passed him over for promotions and promoted non-African-American employees with less experience.

Although Jackson signed an employment contract agreeing to arbitrate all employment claims, he also knew the contract was unfair, so he challenged it in court. But yesterday the Supreme Court sided with Rent-A-Center, ruling that an arbitrator, not a court, should decide whether an arbitration clause is valid. ...

Ending Anonymous Holds

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Last weekend, Senator Claire McCaskill put pressure on obstructionist Republicans, announcing that she had enough votes to end the Senate practice of placing anonymous holds on executive nominees. As McCaskill explained in her recent Huffington Post piece, “someone, it seems, secretly has a problem with these nominations but they don't want to be open and transparent about it.”

Apparently, the pressure worked: on Tuesday, 60 backlogged Obama choices were finally cleared by the Senate after months of Republican stonewalling. The confirmations represented a small victory over Senate Republicans’ unprecedented obstructionism, which has plagued the last year and a half of crucial legislative work. The GOP has not only placed an absurd number of anonymous holds on executive nominees; they’ve also set an all-time record on misusing the filibuster to waste the Senate’s time and slow down important government business. Even after Tuesdays slew of confirmations, dozens of nominees remain unconfirmed – as compared to only thirteen at this time in George W. Bush’s presidency.

It’s clear that the Republicans in question don’t have substantive problems with the President’s nominees. Instead, they’re abusing Senate procedure to intentionally disrupt government functions. It’s time for a change in the way the Senate operates, ...

Professors Take Action to Preserve Academic Freedom

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010
As The Chronicle of Higher Education reported this week (subscription required), professors are campaigning for their universities to preserve their academic freedom in light of a recent spate of federal court rulings denying legal academic freedom rights to professors. These federal cases have misconstrued a Supreme Court case, Garcetti v. Ceballos [PDF], 547 U.S. 410 (2006), as restricting First Amendment protections of professors' speech.

The facts in Garcetti involve a deputy district attorney who was reassigned, made to transfer courthouses, and denied a promotion after he raised questions about misrepresentations in an affidavit. Following his punishment, the deputy district attorney brought a First Amendment claim, alleging that he was improperly subjected to retaliation after engaging in speech on a matter of public concern. However, the Supreme Court held that when public employees speak pursuant to their official duties, the First Amendment does not protect that speech from employer retaliation.

Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion, responding to an argument made by Justice David Souter in his dissent, identified the speech of public university professors as a potential exception to its ruling, but declined to resolve whether the holding issued in Garcetti "would apply in the same manner to a case involving ...

Former Intern Jaclyn Hall Joins FIRE Staff

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010
FIRE is pleased to announce that, two years after serving as one of FIRE's summer interns, Jaclyn Hall has returned to FIRE as a member of our full-time staff. Jaclyn recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her B.A. in Political Science with a minor in History. At Penn she was active in student government with the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education, worked as a speech advisor for the Communication Within the Curriculum program, and performed with the Underground Shakespeare Companya group I remember well from my own days at Penn.

Jaclyn joins FIRE as the program associate for FIRE's Campus Freedom Network, where she will help manage our ever-growing network of students and faculty committed to liberty on campuses nationwide. Already she is busy at work helping to prepare for FIRE's third annual CFN Conference, to be held at Bryn Mawr College this July. FIRE was lucky to have Jaclyn as an intern, and we're lucky that she has returned to FIRE to help the cause of free speech on campus.

Welcome Jaclyn!

Utah election officials must accept online petition signatures

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010
State high court says lieutenant governor 'exceeded the bounds of discretion' when he rejected nominating petition for independent gubernatorial candidate who collected e-signatures.

Governor wrongly withheld budget docs, says Wyo. high court

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010
Dave Freudenthal had argued that information about proposed budget cuts wasn't public because it was part of government's 'deliberative process.'

FBI: Easy to complain about leaks, hard to identify leakers

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010
In last 5 years, U.S. intelligence agencies made 183 complaints about unauthorized disclosure of classified data, but only 14 suspected leakers were identified, none prosecuted.

Sign the ACTA Communiqué and Tell Negotiators to Protect Your Rights

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

As we now know, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement — allegedly conceived to reduce the flow of fake physical goods across borders — could cut people off of the Internet, turn Internet intermediaries into copyright cops, and create a global framework that puts severe restrictions on innovation.

With the next round of high level negotiations taking place in less than a week, now is a great time to remind negotiators that ACTA must safeguard the fundamental rights of all citizens and not impede Internet innovation.

To that end, a coalition of scholars and public interest organizations have drafted a communiqué. We encourage everyone who cares about digital civil liberties and the future of the free and open Internet to join EFF in signing it. The communiqué argues against the dangerous policies in ACTA — including policies that could require Internet service providers to disconnect individuals accused of repeated copyright infringement, prohibit reform of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and make unbalanced amplifications to intellectual property enforcement worldwide.

The final version of the communiqué will be released to the public tomorrow morning (June 23). Endorsements will be accepted Sign the communiqué now!

UPDATE: Public Knowledge has issued an action alert, ...

Supreme Court Denies Access to Justice in Rent-A-Center v. Jackson

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

In yet another decision highlighting the Roberts Court's tendency to favor corporations over individual citizens, the Supreme Court on Monday made it more difficult for employees and consumers challenging their contracts to seek justice in court.

In Rent-A-Center v. Jackson, Antonio Jackson filed suit in a Nevada federal district court against his employer, Rent-A-Center, claiming that he had suffered racial discrimination and retaliation. Rent-A-Center tried to dismiss the lawsuit and force Jackson to move the dispute to arbitration, as was required by Jackson’s employment contract. The district court agreed with the company, but the Ninth Circuit court reversed, holding that when a person opposing arbitration claims that he or she could not have meaningfully consented to the agreement, the question of whether the original contract was fair must be decided by a court.

In a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Scalia, the Supreme Court overturned the Ninth Circuit's ruling, saying that Mr. Jackson failed to specifically challenge the arbitration provision in the agreement that requires challenges to the validity of the entire agreement to also be decided by an arbitrator. Previously, if an employee challenged certain aspects of a contract that included a binding arbitration clause but not necessarily ...

FAU President Stands up for Newspaper’s First Amendment Rights

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Recently I wrote about Florida Atlantic University's (FAU's) threats against its student-run newspaper, the University Press, which had continued to accept the voluntary services of its former advisor after he was dismissed by the university from his advisory position. Torch readers may remember that FAU had told UP editor-in-chief Karla Bowsher that she was considered an employee of FAU, and that as an employee she was violating university policy by accepting the voluntary services of a non-employee. This was a clear violation of Bowsher's and the UP's First Amendment right of freedom of associationand both the Student Press Law Center and the Society of Professional Journalists wrote letters to FAU to let the university know. 

Fortunately, FAU President Mary Jane Saunders was quick to dispel the doubts about the newspaper's First Amendment rights, offering a sterling defense of freedom of speech at FAU in response to the SPJ's letter. Saunders' response is so on the mark that I quote it here nearly in full:

Please be assured that as a citizen of a free society and a longtime member of the American academic academy, I am unequivocally committed to freedom of speech, and I will support ...

It’s Your Data, It’s Your Bot: It’s Not A Crime

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Can public websites decide who is and is not a criminal through their terms of service? A brief EFF filed yesterday argues no.

The amicus brief is a follow-up to one we filed last month in Facebook v. Power Ventures. Facebook claims that Power breaks California criminal law by offering users a tool that aggregates their own information across several social networking sites. For some, it may be a useful way to access various social network information through one interface. The tool also makes it easier for users to export their data out of Facebook. In its suit against Power Ventures, Facebook claims that the tool violates criminal law because Facebook's terms of service ban users from accessing their information through "automated means."

This is not an esoteric business issue, because the legal theories Facebook is pushing forward would make it a crime not to comply with terms of service. People have already faced criminal charges for violating a site's terms of use policy. For example, in United States v. Lori Drew, a woman was charged with violating the federal computer crime law for creating a false profile that was used to communicate inappropriately with a teenager who ...

Introducing Summer Intern Christa Brashier

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010
Christa Brashier is a rising junior at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC), where she majors in K-6 Education. Christa is also the Pennsylvania state coordinator for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (SCCC). While trying to form an SCCC chapter at CCAC, Christa faced an egregious act of censorship that became a top FIRE case. On why she decided to intern at FIRE, Christa writes:

On the Pennsylvania application for a license to carry firearms, where you are asked to provide a reason for your application, I selected "self-defense"not hunting, gun-collecting, employment, target shooting, or the dubious "other." I have met all of the requirements including the requisite training, background check, references, psychological and physical health. But my college has a weapons policy which prohibits carrying, even with a license. 

At the time I was under the impression that "the Academy" was an institution specifically designed for the sake of discussion, debate, and the collision of ideas in such a way that everyone leaves with a more profound understanding of personal beliefs, if not actual truths. In the face of current events it seemed particularly pressing that we "figure this ...

Federal Judge Ends Drilling Moratorium

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

This afternoon, we have another illustration that when the pull of profits goes up against protecting public safety, the personal leanings of our federal judges really do matter. The Associated Press reports:

A federal judge struck down the Obama administration's six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, saying the government rashly concluded that because one rig failed, the others are in immediate danger, too.

The White House promised an immediate appeal. The Interior Department had halted approval of any new permits for deepwater drilling and suspended drilling of 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama believes strongly that drilling at such depths does not make sense and puts the safety of workers "at a danger that the president does not believe we can afford."

Judge Martin Feldman, a Reagan appointee, said, “What seems clear is that the federal government has been pressed by what happened on the Deepwater Horizon into an otherwise sweeping confirmation that all Gulf deepwater drilling activities put us all in a universal threat of irreparable harm."

To be clear, in reaction to the worst oil spill ever in US waters—one that was caused ...

‘Hot News’ Doctrine Could Stifle Online Commentary and Criticism

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Citizen Media Law Project (CMLP), and Public Citizen Monday urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to consider the critical First Amendment questions at issue in a case asserting "hot news misappropriation" -- a doctrine that a federal court used to put time limit restrictions on the reporting of facts.

The defendant in the case, TheFlyOnTheWall.com, had gathered stock recommendations from investment banking firms like Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Lehman Brothers and reported them on its website. The firms sued TheFlyOnTheWall.com, claiming that the information was "hot news" and the website was free-riding on the firms' work in creating the recommendations. A federal court agreed with the investment banks and ordered TheFlyOnTheWall.com to delay reporting of the information for two hours after the reports are released.

"Surprisingly, no court has carefully explored the tension between the so-called 'hot news misappropriation' doctrine and freedom of speech and freedom of the press," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "We're asking the appeals court to recognize the elephant in the room and analyze the 'hot news' doctrine in light of the strong First Amendment protections developed by the Supreme ...

Supreme Court’s Ruling May Break New Ground

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project may have broken new First Amendment ground by upholding a restriction on speech even after applying “strict scrutiny” — the highest level of judicial review — to the law at issue.

Strict scrutiny is usually fatal to government regulation of speech, but it wasn’t this time, as the Supreme Court, by a 6-3 vote, upheld a federal law that criminalizes “material support” — including training and “expert advice” — to groups that have been designated as terrorist organizations. Human rights groups had claimed the law’s vague language would chill and punish benign education projects and speech aimed at defusing the conflicts that lead to terrorism.

“This is the first time that the Supreme Court has applied strict scrutiny and found a statute to satisfy that strict standard,” lamented Georgetown University Law Center professor David Cole, who argued against the law before the high court. “The Court came to this conclusion without the kind of demanding scrutiny the doctrine requires.”

Read the rest of Tony Mauro’s analysis.

New People For Poll Shows Broad Support for Correcting Citizens United

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

People For released a new poll today that contains some pretty stunning numbers showing the extent to which Americans are fed up with corporate money and politics… and ready to amend the Constitution to fix it.

Here are some of the findings:

    • 85% of voters say that corporations have too much influence over the political system today while 93% say that average citizens have too little influence.

    • 95% agree that “Corporations spend money on politics mainly to buy influence in government and elect people who are favorable to their financial interests.” (74% strongly agree)

    • 85% disagree that “Corporations should be able to spend as much as they want to influence the outcome of elections because the Constitution protects freedom of speech.” (63% strongly disagree)

    • 93% agree that “There should be clear limits on how much money corporations can spend to influence the outcome of an election.” (74% strongly agree)

    • 77% think Congress should support an amendment to limit the amount U.S. corporations can spend to influence elections.

    • 74% say that they would be more likely to vote for a candidate for Congress who pledged to support a Constitutional Amendment limiting corporate spending in elections.

The last point—that ...

Kagan sought secrecy in 4 of 5 FOIA cases

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010
High court nominee's arguments as solicitor general in several cases were at odds with promise of transparency made by her boss and top client, President Barack Obama.

Judge: Campus cops illegally searched journalist’s camera

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010
Photojournalist was covering violent protest outside University of California chancellor's home.

A New Ally For Kagan Opponents

Monday, June 21st, 2010

As Republican leadership refuses to rule out filibustering Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination, it’s important to keep in mind the ideological company her opponents keep. One new critic is none other than failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, who plans to elaborate on his complaints against Kagan at a Wednesday news conference hosted by the anti-choice group Americans United for Life.

As we pointed out recently, Bork agrees with Republican Senate nominee and Tea Party darling Rand Paul that certain key parts of the Civil Rights Act should never have been passed. And lest his opposition to Kagan surprise anyone, he also opposed President Obama’s last nominee, Sonia Sotomayor. For more on Bork’s judicial philosophy, see the ad we made in 1987 to oppose Bork’s nomination:

 

It’s good to know that today Robert Bork is just another ultra-conservative lawyer and not a US Supreme Court Justice.

Leahy: Senators Will Address Oil and the Courts in Kagan Hearings

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he’s going to make sure the subject of oil and the courts comes up in Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, which begin next week. The Hill reported Saturday:

The chairman, who will guide the confirmation hearing, pointed to controversial cases slashing a damages award in the 1989 Exxon-Valdez spill incident, an environmental disaster that's now been dwarfed by the Gulf spill.

"Turning back the award in the Exxon-Valdez, I wonder if the Supreme Court would do that today as they watch what's happening in the Gulf," Leahy said on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, to air this weekend.

"It wasn't the liberals who said that Exxon shouldn't have to pay the amount that a jury gave the people of Alaska for their oil spill," the Vermont senator added later, critiquing conservative judges' decisions in some cases.

We, too, wonder if the current Supreme Court’s allegiance to corporate interests would lead it to give the same sort of gift to BP as it did to Exxon in 2008, if damage claims from BP’s devastating spill make their way to the high court. In fact, the pro-corporate reflexes that led to ...

Richard Dawkins Draws Attention to ‘New Threats to Freedom’

Monday, June 21st, 2010
Thanks to Richard Dawkins for drawing attention to FIRE's video on a FIRE case that Greg covers in the new book New Threats to Freedom. Greg provides a summary of the case and a reason to buy the book:
Back in 2005, Chris Lee, a student at Washington State University, set out to make a comedy musical that, in the tradition of South Park, offended as broad a spectrum of people as possible. Unfortunately for him, he succeeded. His musicala very loose parody of Mel Gibson's 2004 film The Passion of the Christearned him protests, death threats, and even an organized attempt among administrators and students to disrupt the play.
...
I chose Chris' story to open up my chapter in the new book, New Threats to Freedom ... because it's one of the best examples in my experience of campus administrations and students working together to try to silence speech they don't like. My chapter, called "Students Against Liberty?", explores the long-term consequences of campus censorship, speech codes, and the failure to educate students about the importance of free speech.
Dawkins himself is just one of many people whose appearances on a ...

Punishment of Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine Debated in ‘Los Angeles Times’

Monday, June 21st, 2010
The disciplinary recommendation of a year-long suspension for the Muslim Student Union (MSU) at the University of California, Irvine, is the subject of debate today in the Los Angeles Times. As reported here on The Torch last week, the university suspended the entire groupas opposed to simply pursuing charges against the individual students who participated in a coordinated set of disruptions of a lecture by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren in February. MSU has appealed, and the Times notes that individual disciplinary charges against eleven studentsthree from UC Riverside in addition to eight from UC Irvineare also being pursued.

MSU's attorney alleges that external pressure contributed to the decision, arguing that previous disruptions at UCI did not result in similar sanctions. UCI disagrees:
University officials say the difference this time lies in the Muslim group's alleged planning of its Feb. 8 activities, and its later denial. According to a disciplinary report released last week, the suspension was based on evidence in the organization's e-mails and meeting minutes, showing that members planned to shout down the Israeli envoy. The group's subsequent denials of involvement added greatly to the discipline, UC Irvine spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon said.
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