Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

California Governor Must Veto Anti-Transparency Measures

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Update: The situation is developing rapidly in Sacramento. In response to widespread opposition, Assembly Speaker John Perez says the legislature will vote on another budget trailer bill that does not gut CPRA. According to the Sacramento Bee, if that passes, Gov. Jerry Brown will have a choice between the two bills. So, keep writing Brown to tell him not to sign the anti-transparency measures.

Californians are on the verge of losing crucial tools for ensuring transparency and accountability in local government, unless Governor Jerry Brown uses his veto pen to strike out the section of the state budget that amends the California Public Records Act (CPRA).

Late on Friday, California lawmakers passed the 2013-2014 state budget. Buried within the budget package was a measure that would make many key requirements for handling public information merely optional for local governments.

For journalists, advocacy groups and members of the public, CPRA serves as the primary tool for wrenching information from the government. But, if the budget package is signed into law, many of the state’s public records safeguards would no longer have the force of law and instead become “best practices.” If a city, county, school board, special ...

EFF Amicus: Accessing a Public Website is Not a Crime

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

If you've ever looked for an apartment on craigslist, chances are you've taken notes: compiled a list of apartments, ranked them from most expensive to least expensive or by most desirable location to worst. You felt secure that you weren't breaking any laws, and definitely not committing a crime. This should be the case.

But in a federal lawsuit, craigslist -- ordinarily a proponent of good Internet law -- took a different, and much more dangerous, view.  Craigslist argued that, because its terms of use prohibit copying or aggregating information from its website except in very limited circumstances, copying data from a users' post violated of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act ("CFAA"), one of the worst laws in technology. While craigslist made a civil claim, if its view of the law were correct, this would also be a criminal violation.

In a new amicus brief filed yesterday, EFF, along with a number of law professors, explained the dangers to the public interest if the CFAA -- a criminal anti-hacking statute -- was applied to accessing a publicly available website. 

Here's the background: the company 3Taps collects data from craigslist and other websites and makes it available to its customers ...

Vietnamese Dissident’s Lawyers Face Obstructions Ahead of Trial

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

The brother of a prominent Vietnamese dissident lawyer detained on tax evasion charges said attorneys have been refused access to court documents ahead of his trial next month, as rights groups appealed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to pressure Hanoi for his release.

Le Quoc Quyet told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the legal team representing his older brother Le Quoc Quan, who is also a blogger, had experienced frequent standoffs with the authorities over legal documents since his case was transferred to the Hanoi People’s Court in April.

“The lawyers have faced constant obstruction when trying to access case documents,” Quyet said, adding that the defense had only been notified last week by the court of his brother’s July 9 trial date.

“Lawyer Tran Thu Nam was only given a chance to make copies of the whole set of documents on June 13,” he said.

Quan, 41, was arrested for tax fraud in December but rights groups believe he was held as part of a political vendetta waged by Vietnamese authorities.

According to Quyet, the authorities are bound by law to try a person facing tax charges within 45 days of their case having been transferred to the ...

Introducing FIRE Summer Intern Aaron Coven

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Aaron Coven is a rising sophomore transferring to Cornell University beginning in the fall of 2013. He will be majoring in industrial and labor relations and hopes to declare a minor next fall. He attended Emory University during his freshman year, where he helped organize the annual TEDxEmory event. Aaron aims to combine his interests in sports, sustainability, and civil liberties in his future career.

Discussing his decision to join FIRE's internship program, Aaron writes:

After going on service-learning trips to the Lower Ninth Ward in the summers of 2010 and 2011 with New York to New Orleans (NY2NO), I developed an unwavering interest in civil liberties. However, it was during my first year in college that I became specifically interested in the First Amendment. Emory University was forced to contend with a great deal of public embarrassment during my freshman year. From the SAT score-misreporting scandal to President James Wagner's controversial comments regarding the Three-Fifths Compromise in Emory Magazine to the misinterpreted parody of the Dooley Show, it became clear to me that freedom of speech cannot always be taken for granted. This liberty is under attack even in the setting of higher education, where debate and ...

Pooh and Tigger Scrubbed From Chinese Website

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013
Pooh and Tigger

(c) Reuters/Disney

In the midst of last week’s summit between the presidents of the U.S. and China, users of Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo noticed an uncanny resemblance between a photo of the two leaders and an image of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and Tigger (Disney version). A side-by-side comparison was soon winging its way virally through the Weibo ether — until it was stopped short by censors, who apparently did not appreciate the comparison of President Xi Jinping to the rotund Bear of Very Little Brain.

In their constant quest to silence any hint of online dissent, Chinese censors often block seemingly innocuous words and phrases — including the word “today” on the June 4 anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Cunning Weibo users circumvent the censorship with code words such as “May 35” for June 4, but those are soon quashed as well. As it turns out, though, the censors seem to have more difficulty keeping a lid on memes and other images. For instance, a version of the infamous “Tank Man” photo, in which the tanks were replaced by a line of giant rubber ducks, recently gained enough traction online that censors were then ...

Introducing FIRE Summer Intern Robert Smith

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Robert Smith is a rising senior at Dartmouth College. A government major with minors in music and anthropology, he spent the past three months interning on Capitol Hill in the office of Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick [PA-08]. On campus, Robert serves as vice president of the College Republicans and president of Vita Clamantis, Dartmouth's pro-life club. He is the business manager and an editor for the Dartmouth Apologia, a scholarly journal of Christian thought. Robert has also acted in several shows with his college theater department, most recently performing in David Ives's The Liar. He is active with Aquinas House, Dartmouth's Catholic student center, where he serves as class outreach chair and Deputy Grand Knight of the Dartmouth Knights of Columbus. 

On why he decided to intern with FIRE, Robert writes: 

I am privileged to attend an institution that has received FIRE's esteemed "green light" speech code rating, which indicates that a school protects academic freedom and First Amendment rights. At Dartmouth, I have become convinced that such freedoms are absolutely essential for the social and intellectual health of a university. Students who never have their opinions challenged will never fully understand why they hold the beliefs they do. ...

Why A Special Congressional Committee Must Be Created To Investigate NSA’s Unconstitutional Domestic Spying

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

In the past couple of weeks, the NSA has, unsurprisingly, responded with a series of secret briefings to Congress that have left the public in the dark and vulnerable to misstatements and word games. Congress has many options at its disposal, but for true accountability any response must start with a special investigative committee. A coalition of over 100 civil liberties groups agrees. Such a committee is the right way the American people can make informed decisions about the level of transparency and the reform needed.

A Special Investigatory Committee is the Right Way to Shine the Light and Create True Accountability

A special investigatory committee should be bipartisan, consist of selected Intelligence and Judiciary committee members on both sides of the issue, and have full subpoena powers. After Watergate, Congress created the Church Committee to investigate domestic spying and other illegal actions committed by the intelligence community. What it found was staggering: in one example of abuse, the NSA was reading and copying all telegrams entering and exiting the country. In another, NSA had intercepted, opened and photographed more than 215,000 pieces of mail—mass surveillance circa 1970. The Church Committee brought these revelations to light, informed the American ...

Unplug Big Brother: NSA Spying T-Shirts Are Back

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Unplug Big Brother!People around the world have joined EFF's call to stop the National Security Agency's mass surveillance of ordinary people, and now you can show your support with our revamped NSA spying t-shirt for members! EFF's original 2008 design depicted the collaboration of AT&T with the NSA - a reference to our Hepting v. AT&T and Jewel v. NSA warrantless wiretapping cases. Now we see the NSA's glowering, red-eyed eagle using his talons to plug into all of your data. Join or renew your EFF membership today to help unplug big brother!

These member t-shirts are printed in two styles. Classic fit Fruit of the Loom Lofteez t-shirts are roomy and comfortable, while Canvas' slim fit t-shirts feature super-soft and stretchy fabric offering a sharp, modern look for everyone. Get your t-shirt when you donate today.

EFF is a member-supported nonprofit and we value your contributions deeply. Financial support from people like you has allowed EFF to educate the public, reach out to lawmakers, organize grassroots action, and challenge threats to digital freedom at every turn.  Join the cause now to fight government secrecy and end illegal surveillance!

EFF is a U.S. 501(c)(3) organization and donations are tax deductible to the ...

Greg Lukianoff on ‘Journal Editorial Report’: Universities Should Fight Back Against ‘Blueprint’

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013


Greg on Journal Editorial Report

Last Saturday, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff spoke with Fox News' Paul Gigot on the Journal Editorial Report to urge universities to fight back against the Departments of Education (ED) and Justice's (DOJ's) unconstitutional "blueprint" for campus sexual harassment policies. 

As Greg points out, there is no doubt that the policies the ED and DOJ demand are unconstitutional: 

Codes that are much more narrow than the one that the Department of Education just came out with have been struck down by courts over and over and over again, but now the feds are stepping in and trying to impose this national speech code which would be laughed out of court if challenged.

Because schools that do not comply with Title IX are at risk of losing federal funding, Greg explains, "universities ignore the Department of Education at their peril." But the details of this mandate make compliance even more dangerous: 

If you look at the full terms of the agreement ... it's basically impossible, let alone unconstitutional, for a university to comply with it. So it's time universities stand up and start fighting back.

So far, no university that we know of has spoken ...

Brian K. Vaughan Personalizes SAGA Vol. 2 For CBLDF Supporters!

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

sagaBrian K. Vaughan, the creative mastermind behind the hit series Saga is showing his support for CBLDF by personalizing copies of Saga Vol. 2 for CBLDF Supporters!  When you donate $40 to the CBLDF between now and July 1, Brian will personalize a copy of the brand new Saga Vol. 2, or a copy of Saga Vol. 1 to you or the person of your choice! Get yours now!

Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, is the most acclaimed new series in comics, dominating both best of and bestseller lists. When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. Now you, the CBLDF donor, have a chance to get a copy of Saga personalized by Brian K. Vaughan himself!

Here’s How Personalization Works:
When you place an order with CBLDF for Saga Vol. 1 or Vol. 2, you can have the book personalized to one or two names, and Mr. Vaughan will sign and personalize the book on a high-quality CBLDF bookplate. When you place your order, please include the personalization request in the MEMO section, such ...

EFF Joins Over 100 Civil Liberties Organizations and Internet Companies in Demanding a Full-Scale Congressional Investigation Into NSA Surveillance

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Dozens of civil liberties organizations and Internet companiesincluding the Electronic Privacy Information Center, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, ThoughtWorks, and Americans for Limited Governmenttoday joined a coalition demanding Congress initiate a full-scale investigation into the NSA’s surveillance programs. This morning, we sent an updated letter to Congress with 115 organizations and companies demanding public transparency and an end to illegal spying.   

The letter comes even as dozens of groups are organizing a nationwide call-in campaign to demand transparency and an end to the NSA’s unconstitutional surveillance program via https://call.stopwatching.us

It’s been less than two weeks since the first NSA revelations were published in the Guardian, and it’s clear the American people want Congress to act. The first step is organizing an independent investigation, similar to the Church Committee in the 1970s, to publicly account for all of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities. This type of public process will ensure the American people are informed, once and for all, about government surveillance conducted in their name. Our letter tells Congress:

This type of blanket data collection by the government strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy. This dragnet surveillance violates the First and ...

Chill Out, Colorado. Marijuana Mags Are Protected Speech

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

This post brought to you by summer programs intern, Justin Haddock. Justin is a student at Reed College where he studies political science and biology. He is interested in public policy, behavioral economics, and willful hypocrisy.

Smoke all you want in Colorado, but don’t read about it. Such stated a provision in a bill that would have required vendors to treat marijuana-themed magazines like pornography and place them behind the counter. The provision prompted Media Coaltion and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a member of our coalition, to file two lawsuits in federal court against the state on behalf of magazine vendors.

In May, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a number of bills into law to delineate the boundaries of the newly legal pot marketplace in the state.

The proposed magazine restrictions didn’t stand for long.The Colorado State Department of Revenue has temporarily blocked the the proposed restrictions on the sale of marijuana-themed magazines and has requested that a federal judge declare such restrictions unconstitutional.

“Clearly, this is speech protected by the Constitution,” said Joyce Meskis of the Tattered Cover Bookstore, one of the plaintiffs of the case. “It has been sold, borrowed and read by people who have had ...

3 Great Reasons That One Photographer’s Not Getting $3.6 Million From Buzzfeed

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

CC-BY-ND by Tambako The Jaguar

Yesterday a photographer made headlines all over the web for filing a $3.6 million copyright lawsuit against Buzzfeed over its inclusion of a photograph of a soccer player head butting the ball in "The 30 29 Funniest Header Faces." Even in an era where copyright damages are stupendous, Kai Eiselein's demand seems like a lot—just shy of the record holding $4.1 million that People magazine paid for the Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt baby photos, and the picture's not nearly as cute as this tiger cub playing with a ball. 

Eiselein, who represents himself, alleges that Buzzfeed copied his photo off of Flickr in June 2010, and is also contributorily liable for 41 other websites publishing the image through June 25, 2011 (when he registered the copyright) and 23 websites publishing the photo thereafter. Eiselein asks for actual damages of $550 for each of the first 42 infringements, and the maximum statutory damages of $150,000 for willful infringement for each the last 23. Whoa! Quite a difference. As Eiselein appearantly understands, the giant hammer of statutory damages is not available until after you register the copyright.

Not satisfied with just $3.47 million for a photo he made available for people ...

Despite What the President Said, There’s Nothing “Transparent” About a Secret Court Issuing Secret Rulings

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

On Charlie Rose last night, President Obama gave his most detailed defense of the NSA surveillance programs since a FISA court order demanding that Verizon hand over phone records information on all its US customers leaked to the Guardian two weeks ago. In a key portion of the interview, he talked about the secret FISA court that, under the auspices of the PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments Act, has been approving the NSA’s sweeping surveillance requests. Curiously, President Obama referred to these secret courts as “transparent”:

Charlie Rose: But has FISA court turned down any request?

Barack Obama: The — because — the — first of all, Charlie, the number of requests are surprisingly small… number one. Number two, folks don’t go with a query unless they’ve got a pretty good suspicion.

Charlie Rose: Should this be transparent in some way?

Barack Obama: It is transparent. That’s why we set up the FISA court….

The FISA court, by its nature, is the opposite of transparent. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how the FISA court could be more secretive.

Let’s start with the court building itself. After the FISA Amendments Act passed in 2008, which greatly ...

Introducing FIRE Summer Intern Kanisha Parthasarathy

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Kanisha Parthasarathy is a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in English. On campus, she sits on the executive boards of two student government branches: the Nominations & Elections Committee, a branch that administers fair elections and nominations processes for the university, and the Student Activities Council, which administers funding for student groups. She is also on the executive board for Penn for Youth Debate, a volunteer organization that teaches debate at Philadelphia high schools and middle schools. 

On why she decided to intern at FIRE, Kanisha writes: 

One of the most important lessons I've ever been taught was about the value of having an opponent in a debate. I was told that to understand the truth, you must hear both sides of the argument. This mantra is central not only to understanding debate (an activity that is near to my heart) but to learning in general. While the idea may be simple and appear to be a crucial feature of any institution of higher education, the freedom to express multiple points of view on a topic is one that has been suppressed in many colleges and universities around the country.

I learned about FIRE ...

Call Now to Oppose NSA Spying

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

In the week since we launched, the stopwatching.us campaign has gathered over 215,000 signatures from individuals opposed to NSA surveillance. And we’ve made huge waves in the media with a coalition of companies and organization that the Atlantic called "perhaps the most diverse collection of groups in the modern history of American politics."

But we’re not done yet. Today, we’re launching a campaign to call members of Congress. We're asking everyone concerned about their privacy to call Congress today and throughout the rest of the week.

We need you to make a quick call to ask your elected officials to investigate surveillance practices of the NSA and stop the illegal spying. A call will take you from 2 to 4 minutes— and it can send a huge message to Congress.

We’re teaming up with our friends from Fight for the Future to make it easy for you to demand reform. Here are two ways you can speak out (note, if you are outside of the United States you should go here to take our international alert).

  1. Dial 1-STOP-323-NSA (1-786-732-3672). The automated system will connect you to your legislators. Urge them to provide public transparency about NSA spying and stop ...

Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá Add Their Voices to Brazil Protests

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013
(c) Fábio Moon

(c) Fábio Moon

Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá have long been supporters of CBLDF. They frequently donate their time and original artwork to support our mission to defend free expression. This week, they took to the streets of their home city of São Paulo, Brazil, to fight for the right to freely express their opinions.

São Paulo and several other major cities in Brazil have been rocked by a wave of protests that have become increasingly violent. Brazilian citizens are protesting government corruption, increasing public transportation costs, the financial burden of staging the 2014 World Cup, and more. Police response to protesters has been harsh and militaristic, and acts of vandalism have added fuel to the fire.

(c) Fábio Moon

(c) Fábio Moon

Moon and Bá posted about the protests on their blog, describing the impact they have had on their home city:

Last week, we saw our city (São Paulo) become what looked like a war zone, with the extreme violent police response to a public manifestation. Violence calls for more violence, and by the end of a very long Thursday night many people were hurt for no good reason, wrongly arrested and terrorized by the police force. Add many acts ...

SCOTUS Bans Demonstrations on Grounds

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

The following post was written by NCAC’s summer legal intern, Ryan Gander. Ryan is a current student at Columbia Law School. His interests include philosophy, civil liberties, science fiction, and video games.

6733401147_3a5069bba1

The Supreme Court has a troubled relationship with the First Amendment and that’s not even talking about what goes on in the courtroom. Since 1949, federal law has broadly prohibited demonstrations within the Supreme Court building and grounds. That restriction came under fire last Tuesday when Judge Howell of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that such a blanket prohibition on demonstration was unreasonable and over-broad and in violation of the First Amendment.

While the Supreme Court has an interest in allowing visitors to enter and exit without being blocked by protesters, creating a First Amendment-free zone is not an acceptable way to accomplish that goal, Judge Howell reasoned.

Two days later, the Supreme Court responded by instituting a building regulation prohibiting, under threat of criminal punishment, “demonstrations, picketing, speech-making, marching, holding vigils or religious services and all other like forms of conduct that involve the communication or expression of views or grievances, engaged in by one or more persons, the conduct of which ...

Programs, Meetings & Social Events at #ALA2013

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

The 2013 ALA Annual Conference is 9 days away! For a list of programs, meetings, and events sponsored by the Office for Intellectual Freedom, IFC, FTRF, IFRT, the Merritt Fund & the Committee on Professional Ethics, check out our main Conference programs page.  You can also do a search for “intellectual freedom” on the handy ALA Conference Scheduler.

Here are some must-not-miss highlights:

Thursday, June 27

Friday, June 28

Saturday, June 29

  • IFRT Program: “How a Book is Saved: Challenges and How to Fight Them” – McCormick Place S405, 8:30-10am
  • Merritt Fund Reception for a Cause, Hyatt Regency, Wrigley Room, 6-8pm

Sunday, June 30

Universal, Self-Evident: I’m Not American but I Have Privacy Rights too, NSA

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

In a letter sent today to the United States Congress, an international coalition of non-profit organizations called upon the U.S. government to protect the privacy and freedoms of not only its citizens, but of people everywhere. As news of the alarmingly broad reach and scope of America’s surveillance program reverberates around the globe, now is the  time for the United States to pass formal privacy safeguards to protect the billions of foreign Internet users whose communications are stored in U.S. servers or whose data travels across U.S. networks.

EFF joined more than 50 NGOs—including European Digital Rights, Association For Progressive Communications, Access Now, WebWeWant Foundation, Center for Technology and Society (Brazil) and Thai Netizen Network—in signing the letter, which was organized through Best Bits, a global network of civil society organizations.  In its letter, the coalition also expressed grave concern over information-sharing between U.S. authorities and the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium and New Zealand.

As we said earlier this week, if the United States is allowing its security services to collect vast amounts of data on the citizens of its allies, and handing over that data "freely" over to their allies’ security services, any privacy protection foreigners might have under their own domestic ...

Platt, Feingold win FTRF Roll of Honor Awards

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Reposted from FTRF Blog

Congratulations to Judy Platt and Russ Feingold for being named to the Freedom to Read Foundation Roll of Honor!  Read about their awards here.
Judy is an FTRF Trustee and past president, who has been a major ally and supporter over her decades of work at the Association of American Publishers.
Feingold was the only U.S. Senator to vote against the Patriot Act and worked throughout his final two terms to mitigate the law’s overreach.
Unfortunately, Feingold will not be able to attend the Annual Conference, but you can congratulate Judy in person at the FTRF Member Reception next Thursday, and see her accept the award at the ALA Annual Conference Opening General Session the next afternoon!
The Roll of Honor was established in 1987 to recognize and honor those individuals who have contributed substantially to FTRF through adherence to its principles and/or substantial monetary support.

Georgia School District at Odds Over Acclaimed Book

Monday, June 17th, 2013

51aM6z5VDLLIn a 5-2 vote, the Clarke Country School Board in Athens, Georgia, has ordered Superintendent Philip Lanoue to reconsider his decision regarding Thomas Rivera’s award-winning novel And the Earth Did Not Devour Him. But this isn’t a case of a superintendent taking unilateral action to remove a book from classrooms. Instead, he kept the book on school reading lists, and the school board is asking him to reconsider and remove it.

And the Earth Did Not Devour Him is a fictional account of the experiences of an unnamed Mexican boy in mid-century America. Comprised of vignettes and incorporating several different narrative styles, the book describes many of the injustices faced by migrant laborers in the 1950s and 1960s. It is frequently compared to the work of William Faulkner and is considered a landmark work of Chicano art. In 1970, it won the first ever Premio Quinto Sol, an award that recognizes Chicano literature.

Chad and Beth Lowry, the parents of a 7th grade student in the school district, had demanded that the book be removed from school reading lists. Instead of censoring the book, Superintendent Lanoue told the Lowrys that parents could opt out if they did not want ...

Dr. Oz Claims Video Games Bad for Teens

Friday, June 14th, 2013

In a recent syndicated column, Dr. Mehmet Oz (best known for The Dr. Oz Show) and Dr. Mike Roizen claim that violent video games “harm young, developing brains by fueling aggressive behavior, dulling empathy and causing sleep problems.” Their evidence? Nothing at all.

Video games have been scapegoated by the media and politicians despite a lack of scientific evidence that supports a link between video game use and violent behavior. GamerPolitics.com commented on Dr. Oz’s column, pointing out the root problem with Dr. Oz’s claim:

Of course the problem with all these proclamations from Dr. Oz and his colleague is that he is not qualified to make them. He holds no degrees in clinical psychology or therapy, and has never conducted any research on the affects of violent video games. Dr. Oz is a Professor of Surgery, and Vice-Chairman – Department of Surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons in NYC; and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY an attending surgeon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

TechDirt also commented, methodically picking apart Dr. Oz’s claims:

… Here’s the opening paragraph, which gives readers some insight into the doctors’ mindset, but ...

Youth Free Expression: Learning and Coping through Open Conversation

Friday, June 14th, 2013
childrens-book-illustrations-leopard_page2c

Books like “When the Leopard Lost His Spots” can be useful tools to help kids understand gender and identity

Every parent wishes their child could be spared the worst of life. War, lingering sickness, hurt and hate: all of these are things most would rather keep far distant from the lives of their children. Yet, we are all called to confront the sometimes harsh or confusing realities of our world, and these experiences can sometimes be enriching and educational. Parents may fret about when the right time to talk to their kids is and what they should say. Broaching those conversations can be made easier by using art, literature and film.

NPR’s Elizabeth Blair looked into ways in which educators and youth specialists are using media to introduce tough subjects in a report titled “How to Introduce Kids to Tough Topics? Art and TV Can Help.” The story provides some compelling arguments for the use of media and free exploration to help teach kids about some of the darker and more difficult facets of human nature, life, and history. One thing the story and the work of those it features makes clear is that censorship of problematic or difficult material is NOT the way to teach our kids ...

Utah Library Association IFC receives the 2013 Gerald Hodges IF Chapter Relations Award

Friday, June 14th, 2013

UTLA

The Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) of the American Library Association (ALA) announces that the Utah Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee is the recipient of the 2013 Gerald Hodges Intellectual Freedom Chapter Relations Award.

The Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Utah Library Association built “a strong Intellectual Freedom cohort in the State of Utah. In one year they had a fivefold increase in membership, developed and implemented training programs, successfully assisted in fighting a highly publicized banned book situation, publicized Intellectual Freedom issues, developed relationships with community organizations; recruited students, new graduates and paraprofessionals, and forged bonds and closer relationships as a committee.” Barbara Pickell, Hodges Award chair said, “The achievements of the Utah Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee epitomize the values and goals that are recognized by the Gerald Hodges Intellectual Freedom Chapter Relations Award.”

The Hodges Award recognizes an intellectual freedom-focused organization that has developed a strong multi-year, ongoing program or a single, one-year project that exemplifies support for Intellectual Freedom, patron confidentiality and anti-censorship efforts. The award, named after Gerald Hodges, who joined the ALA staff in 1989 as director of membership services and the Chapter Relations Office, consists of $1,000 and a citation. Hodges was ...

Landmark Patent Office Ruling Strikes Abstract Software Patent; EFF Joins Amicus Brief in Related Court Battle

Friday, June 14th, 2013

The long-running patent battle between Versata and SAP saw a lot of action this week. Back in 2007, Versata filed a lawsuit claiming SAP infringed a patent on a method “for pricing products in multi-level product and organizational groups.” This dispute – which raises important issues about patents and software – is proceeding both in the courts and at the Patent Office. Yesterday, EFF joined an amicus brief supporting SAP at the Federal Circuit, where SAP is arguing that it does not infringe. Meanwhile, at the Patent Office, SAP won a landmark ruling finding that the invention was not patentable because it merely covers an abstract idea.

The action at the Federal Circuit

A programmable computer can compute an infinite number of functions. So imagine if patent law allowed a seller to be held liable for anything its customers did with the computers they buy—the scope of potential liability would be infinite. Literally.

This is why the law places limits on the extent a company can be held liable for the actions of its customers. Indeed, the standard for inducement or contributory infringement in patent law is a strict one: it requires active steps to specifically encourage infringement.

A ...

FIRE to Wisconsin State Legislature: Protect University of Wisconsin Faculty’s Academic Freedom

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Today, FIRE sent a letter to Governor Scott Walker and Wisconsin state legislators asking them to protect academic freedom by rejecting a controversial modification to the state budget. Specifically, the modification would prohibit University of Wisconsin faculty from "doing any work related to" the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ).  

The current budget proposal, in prohibiting WCIJ and UW faculty from collaborating, will severely restrict UW faculty's academic freedom. The letter notes the Supreme Court's long history of protecting academic freedom and freedom of speech on public university campuses. These principles are so critical that "speech related to scholarship or teaching" is uniquely excepted from the Court's controversial decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), which held that the First Amendment does not protect speech by public employees when uttered "pursuant to their official duties." 

Read FIRE's letter here and check back for updates on this troubling legislation.

Congratulations to the Winners of the EFF Cyberlaw Pub Quiz

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

On Tuesday night, over 100 attorneys and friends participated in the Sixth Annual EFF Cyberlaw Pub Trivia Night, testing their knowledge of the trivial details that arise where the law meets technology.  Teams included representatives from a host of major technology law firms and and Internet companies, representing the best and the brightest luminaries of cyberlaw.  The seven rounds of questions were written by EFF's attorneys, technologists and activists, pulling trivial details from the rich canon of privacy, free speech, and intellectual property law.

First Place Winners: The Clappers

Please join us in congratulating the winners:

1st Place: The Clappers (Fenwick & West)

2d Place: Wikigeeks (Durie TangriRidder, Costa, and Johnstone LLPCathy Gellis, et al)

3d Place: One-Way Ticket to Hong Kong (Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati)

EFF’s Cyberlaw Pub Trivia Night is an important opportunity for us to thank our friends in the legal community who help protect online freedom in the courts. Among the many firms that dedicate their time, talent and resources to the cause, we would especially like to thank Ridder, Costa, and Johnstone LLP for sponsoring this year’s Trivia Night.

Extra special thanks to Chief Judge ...

Creeley in ‘Boston Globe’: Northeastern U’s Requirements Stifle Free Expression

Thursday, June 13th, 2013


Protest Sign - Shutterstock 

Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham wrote today to criticize Northeastern University's inconsistent handling of student protests by pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students. The controversy centers on Northeastern's requirement that student groups obtain a permit at least seven days in advance of protests. But Abraham questions whether the requirement was the real reason for sanctioning the school's Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and whether such a requirement should even exist. 

In April, members of SJP staged a quickly-executed walkout at a presentation by Israeli soldiers and were placed on probation by the university ostensibly for not obtaining a permit. Northeastern says that a similar protest by the student group Huskies for Israel in 2010 did not result in sanctions because that group had a permit. SJP's punishment, though, suggests that administrators are focusing on the content of the protest, not the lack of a permit—SJP was directed to write a "civility statement." Further, Abraham reports, Northeastern officials had emailed SJP to encourage that their protest be quiet and respectful, which SJP members had interpreted as permission in lieu of a permit.

Either way, the permit requirement delays student responses to current events and ongoing discussions, making it ...

Supreme Court: Patents Require ‘An Act of Invention’

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

UPDATE: Just hours after the Supreme Court ruled today, at least one company announced it would be offering genetic testing on the BRCA genes for $995—barely one quarter of the approximately $4000 Myriad charges for the same tests. 

For the second time in just over a year, the Supreme Court has unanimously weighed in on what is and isn't patentable. And in this case—Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad—the high court got it right again.

At issue in this case were the infamous "breast cancer genes," BRCA1 and BRCA2, mutations in which signify increased risk of both breast and ovarian cancers. Myriad isolated these genes and proceeded to use patents to limit who could administer the genetic tests that signal presence of the genes. This raised several concerns, such as the inherent problem with only having one entity administer the tests and the resulting costs—making it nearly impossible for many to afford—and limiting availability of second opinions.

And, more importantly for patent law: these genes exist in nature. Myriad didn't invent or create them, it merely found them, using methods that were well-known among geneticists at the time of discovery. As the Court said

In this ...

Congress Gets Private Briefings About NSA Spying, But the Public Needs Answers Too

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

The world was provided confirmation last week of widespread, unconstitutional domestic surveillance of innocent Americans' call records and online activity. But, starting this week, congressional staffers will be briefed in private, newspapers will be forced to report second-hand on what occurred in those briefings, and the public will, once again, be left out of discussions vital to our representative democracy. These discussions should be occurring in public, in an open forum, and for all to hear. Secret briefings, identical to those going on now, were carried out in 2006, after the first disclosure of the NSA's domestic spying program occurred. Seven years later, the program has only grown bigger and more dangerous. This is why we encourage you to call your Senator now and demand that public hearings occur.

Politicians must take an aggressive approach during the upcoming briefings, hearings, and investigations. First, they must determine the true scope of the two different programs—the business records program (Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act) and the PRISM surveillance program based on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Then, elected officials must push for disclosure of the full domestic surveillance apparatus operated by the NSA. Politicians ...

Samantha Harris in ‘Inside Higher Ed’: Federal ‘Blueprint’ Imposes Huge Administrative Burden

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

In an op-ed published today on Inside Higher Ed, FIRE Director of Speech Code Research Samantha Harris outlines the tremendous administrative burden resulting from the University of Montana's (UMT's) agreement with the Departments of Justice and Education following an investigation into the school's compliance with Title IX. The agreement, much of which focuses on enforcing a new sexual harassment policy that sweeps within its ambit protected speech, identifies more than 40 actions UMT must take in order to become Title IX compliant. If the university fails to take these actions, it risks losing federal funding.

Some of these actions include: 

  • Developing and carrying out a system for tracking and reviewing reports of sex-based harassment (which, under the government's definitions, includes any subjectively offensive sexual or gender-related speech).
  • Ensuring that all university offices (except where confidentiality privileges apply) notify the university's Title IX coordinator within 24 hours of receiving information about sex-based harassment, regardless of whether a formal complaint was filed.
  • Ensuring that the educational environment of any student reporting sex-based harassment is free of further harassment (i.e., further subjectively offensive speech).
  • Conducting annual campus climate surveys for all students, analyzing the results of those surveys within 60 calendar days, ...

How the ‘Blueprint’ Exacerbates the Already Problematic Abuse of ‘Harassment’ on Campus

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Yesterday, I took to the pages of The Huffington Post to write about yet another worrying aspect of the Departments of Justice and Education's "blueprint" for campus speech codes. Specifically, I discussed how the federal government's new, broad definition of sexual harassment as "any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature" makes worse an already bad situation on college and university campuses: the routine abuse of codes prohibiting "harassment" to censor and punish a wide range of constitutionally protected speech. Given schools' frequent misunderstanding of harassment law, one shudders to think what will happen under the new directive from DOJ and ED.

The Huffington Post article points to a long line of harassment cases that FIRE has witnessed and intervened in over the years. These include: 

• In 2010, Syracuse University charged a law student with harassment and subjected him to a prolonged investigation for his alleged involvement in an anonymous, satirical blog about life in law school (a fake-news site that emulated the style of The Onion).

• In 2011, the University of Denver found a tenured professor guilty of sexual harassment for teaching on sexual topics in a graduate-level course on "The Domestic and International Consequences of ...

ALA Says Video Games Should be Welcome in Libraries

Thursday, June 13th, 2013
Gamers at NYPL

Gaming at the New York Public Library
(c) Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times

Over the past several months, video games deemed violent have once again become a favored scapegoat of those looking for a simple explanation for mass shootings perpetrated by young males. But as we’ve noted time and time again, no reputable research has ever been able to conclusively link video games to real-life violence. Some of the culture wars over video games have unfortunately been played out in libraries, but a recent editorial by Barbara Jones, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, urges librarians to embrace gaming rather than shutting it out.

Jones points out that video games are protected by the First Amendment just as surely as books are — a fact that was confirmed by the Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in Brown v. EMA (CBLDF’s amicus brief in the case was cited in the decision). She says OIF’s official recommendation is that “[i]nstead of considering bans…libraries [should] cultivate videogame creation, play, and contests.” This has the added benefit of attracting young people who might not otherwise consider visiting the library; Jones cites the Chicago Public Library’s innovative YOUmedia Center...

Chamber of Commerce Cries Uncle, Abandons Spurious Trademark Lawsuit Against the Yes Men

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

The United States Chamber of Commerce has come to its senses at last and withdrawn its lawsuit against political activists the Yes Men. In the lawsuit, the Chamber had claimed that a 2009 press conference—in which a Yes Man posing as a Chamber of Commerce spokesperson announced the Chamber was reversing its long held position and endorsing climate change legislation—infringed the Chamber's trademark rights. Before the press conference was even completed, a Chamber of Commerce representative rushed into the room and announced that the Chamber's position on climate change legislation had not in fact changed.  The result: widespread media coverage of the event and the Chamber's humorless response. The Yes Men tell the story best.

Did the Chamber of Commerce finally get a sense of humor? Or did it just realize the lawsuit was doomed?

At that point, things took a dangerous turn.  Rather than letting matters lie, the Chamber pulled out all the stops to try to punish the activists. First, it sent an improper copyright takedown notice to the Yes Men's upstream provider demanding that a parody website posted in support of the action be removed immediately and resulting in the temporary shutdown of not only ...

Portland State University Admins Demonstrate Support for Controversial Student Speech

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

The Portland State Vanguard reported last week on a controversy at Portland State University (PSU) between PSU's College Republicans and the school's Muslim Students Association (MSA). The MSA and other students criticized two events sponsored by the College Republicans in May—a visiting speaker's lecture and a movie screening—as being anti-Islam, and they asked the PSU administration to address their concerns. However, the university administrators, to their credit, took the opportunity to remind students that the First Amendment protects speech even when it is offensive or hurtful to some. 

The Vanguard gets to the heart of the matter: 

"We met with many of the people who were upset to let them know that we cannot stop an event because they find the content hurtful," said Aimee Shattuck, director of Student Activities and Leadership Programs. Shattuck explained that Supreme Court cases have set a precedent that the First Amendment applies to student organizations.

PSU President Wim Wiewel sent a letter to the student body reiterating this point:

Portland State University respects and supports your right to express your political and social views. Free speech — even when it is offensive — is protected by the First Amendment. In fact, valuing a robust ...

What We Need to Know About PRISM

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

A lot remains uncertain about the number of users affected by the NSA PRISM surveillance program that is taking place, the extent to which companies are involved, and how the NSA handles this sensitive data. Does the NSA regularly collect and examine a huge swath of the cloud communications of American and foreign Internet users? Does the agency present evidence and seek careful judicial review to obtain limited amounts of user data related to individual investigations? Or is the answer somewhere in the middle, with queries being constructed such that algorithms scan most or all of the accounts, identifying a smaller set of "interesting" accounts whose contents are sent to the NSA?

This post attempts to set out some fundamental questions that we need answered in order to gain enough clarity on the surveillance taking place to have an informed democratic policy debate.1 We also give our approximations of the realistic "Best case" and "Worst case" scenarios given what we already know about the program, to highlight the range of possible realities.

For each company involved, how many user accounts have had some private data transmitted to the NSA? [+]

While companies have denied giving the NSA "direct access" ...

FISA Court Rejects Catch-22 Secrecy Argument in FOIA Case

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

In the first publicly known victory by a non-government party before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the secret court today granted a motion filed by EFF related to an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The FISC gave its OK to the public disclosure of an earlier opinion of the FISC—an opinion that declared aspects of the NSA's surveillance under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act to be unconstitutional.

Last week, the Department of Justice made a confusing, head-spinning argument in opposition to our motion, arguing that the FISC's procedural rules operated as a seal, which prevented the executive branch from releasing the opinion. And the court saw right through that claim. In fact, it took EFF longer to figure out how to physically file a motion with the FISC than it did for the FISC to dispatch with the DOJ's arguments.

The victory today was a modest one. The Court didn't order disclosure of its opinion; it just made clear, as EFF had argued, that the FISC's own rules don't serve as an obstacle to disclosure of the opinion. The FISC also clarified that the executive branch cannot rely on the judiciary to hide its surveillance: the only thing ...

Comcast’s New “Neighborhood Hotspot” Plan Isn’t Quite the Open Wireless We Want

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Yesterday, Comcast announced a "neighborhood hotspot iniative," a new plan to turn its millions of Xfinity Internet customers into Wi-Fi hotspots. Essentially, Comcast is setting up guest networks named "xfinitywifi" for all their customers, allowing for other Xfinity subscribers—and only subscribers—to access wireless networks if they are traveling. This plan is similar to that unveiled by the company Fon in Spain in 2007—share some Wi-Fi yourself and get access to others' networks when you roam around.

This is closer to what we're advocating for through the Open Wireless Movement—a world of ubiquitous, open wireless. And we commend Comcast for recognizing the importance of sharing Wi-Fi. But it's not quite there.

First, the privacy component: Comcast's plan makes you log in using your account credentials to verify you're a subscriber before letting you access the Internet. This ties your online activities to a specific login, eliminating the possibility of an a pseudonymous connection and weakening the privacy benefits of Open Wireless.

This also requires the use of what's known as a "captive portal," a page you must view and log in to before connecting to the Internet. The Open Wireless Movement promotes a world where you can roam around and ...

Spies Without Borders I: Using Domestic Networks to Spy on the World

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

This article has been co-authored by Tamir Israel, Staff Lawyer at CIPPIC and Katitza Rodriguez, EFF International Rights Director.  The Spies Without Borders posts are looking into how the information disclosed in the NSA leaks affect the international community and how they highlight one part of an international system of surveillance that dissolves what national privacy protections any of us have, whereever we live. This article has been crossposted on the website of OpenMedia.caYou can follow the Spies Without Borders series here.

Much of the U.S. media coverage of last week’s NSA revelations has concentrated on its impact on the constitutional rights of U.S.-based Internet users. But what about the billions of Internet users around the world whose private information is stored on U.S. servers, or whose data travels across U.S. networks or is otherwise accessible through them?

While the details are still emerging, what is clear is that many of the newly exposed surveillance activities have been shaped by U.S. foreign intelligence surveillance laws. The secret court that rubberstamped the collection of phone records from Verizon came from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), a secret court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance ...

Inner Mongolian Historian on Hunger Strike in Ulan Bator Jail

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

A historian from China’s Inner Mongolia region held and accused of plotting a coup in the neighboring country of Mongolia has gone on hunger strike to push for his release, a U.S.-based rights group said Wednesday.

Rolmaajidiin Tsengel, a former Chinese citizen who has lived in Mongolia for the past two decades, began the hunger strike 15 days ago following the release of three others who were held in connection with his case, the Southern Mongolian Human Rights and Information Center (SMHRIC) said.

Tsengel, who was arrested in May last year, is accused of an “attempt to overthrow the government of Mongolia and conspiracy of a coup” for translating Chinese documents for a historical documentary film, according to SMHRIC.

The three others accused of the conspiracy plot, including filmmaker Gurragchaa Badamragchaa, are all citizens of Mongolia, and were freed after a recent court hearing.

“One of the major reasons for Tsengel’s recent hunger strike seems to be that he is still being held while the main suspect of the ‘conspiracy’ case [Badamragchaa] was released recently along with two other Mongolian citizens after a court hearing that failed to find any evidence to support the authorities’ claim,” SMHRIC said in a ...

Introducing FIRE Summer Intern Dave Hicks

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013
Dave Hicks is a rising senior at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, majoring in philosophy, English, and history. Dave spent the past year studying in England at Oxford University.DaveHicks2013 He is looking forward to returning to Gordon this fall as a member of the Presidential Fellows program. Dave is also an accomplished writer whose article on community leadership was published in The Washington Post in spring 2012.

On his decision to join FIRE’s internship program, Dave writes:

My first year of college was tinted by rose-colored glasses, emotional warm fuzzies, and rainbows that ended with pots of gold. As a first-generation American student, I entered my freshman year with few presuppositions regarding what college might be like. After just one year of study, I was quickly captivated by the powerful potential of a well-administered college or university. Thought-provoking classroom discussions and engagement with a wide variety of student groups gave me a glimpse of what it was to think critically and to engage with professors and students on issues that truly mattered. Now a rising senior, my courses have effectively forced me to challenge many of my own ideals and beliefs, while simultaneously reinforcing that the intellectual provocation I have ...

Tibetan Student Leader Jailed, Nuns Released

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

A court in northwestern China’s Qinghai province has jailed a young Tibetan for helping lead a student protest last year, while authorities in neighboring Sichuan released two nuns and another woman after they completed prison terms for their roles in protests challenging rule by Beijing, sources said.

Wangchuk Dorje, a student at the Middle School of Nationalities in Malho (in Chinese, Huangnan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, was handed a four-year term for being one of the “main organizers” of the student protest, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service on Wednesday.

“He was detained after several thousand students launched a peaceful rally,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Details concerning Dorje’s age, the identity of the sentencing court, and the date of his sentencing were not immediately available.

Several thousand students took to the streets in Malho’s restive Rebgong (Tongren) county on Nov. 9, 2012, to demand greater rights, including the right to use Tibetan as their language of instruction in the schools.

The students shouted slogans calling for the “equality of nationalities and freedom of languages” and demanding the return of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, who lives in exile in India, sources told RFA in earlier ...

Call for Oversight of Cambodian Land Campaign

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

A land titling campaign in Cambodia launched and financed by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s lacks transparency and could leave thousands of people landless, a human rights group said Wednesday, urging the country’s donors to push for reform of the program.

The campaign, which employs volunteer youth to measure land for villagers, has little oversight and is largely benefiting the rich and well-connected, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement.

Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, praised Hun Sen for his recent suspension of the campaign until after Cambodia’s July 28 national elections, but said that independent organizations must be allowed to monitor the process and intervene on behalf of families negatively affected by the program.

“It is good news that the land titling campaign has been suspended until after the elections, but this demonstrates just how political the effort has been from the outset,” Adams said.

Adams said that while some people have benefited, in other cases the campaign had “amounted to a land grab by powerful interests” with no legal regulation or recourse for families who lose their right to property.

“The campaign is being conducted in a secretive and bullying manner in which independent organizations ...

Riot Police Disperse Protest at Chinese Mine

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Authorities in the central Chinese province of Henan have sent in riot police to disperse thousands of local residents protesting subsidence linked to a local mining operation, protesters and local residents said.

More than 3,000 villagers from Henan's Xuchang county have maintained a 24-hour silent vigil for the past 12 days over the Quandian coal mine run by the Henan Shenhuo Group, which they say has devastated the ground near their homes, swallowed up a road, and left cracks in their houses.

A protester who gave only his surname Zhang said clashes had broken out after the local government dispatched several thousand riot police to the scene of the protest.

"We were blocking the road so they couldn't carry out their mining operations," Zhang said. "They sent a lot of police carrying shields and batons, but we didn't resist, because they had weapons."

"We all know that they want to mine here, but they should make provision for the local people before they start," he said. "They are just mining with no concern for our safety."

Local residents say that since it began operations three years ago, the Quandian mine has affected quality of life and sparked safety concerns in ...

Kids Right to Read Project Responds to Lift of Glen Ellyn Ban

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

wallflowerThis week saw a victory for free speech when the Glen Ellyn school board lifted their ban on The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This victory was hard won by a grass roots movement that included letters from CBLDF-sponsored Kids’ Right to Read Project, a letter-writing campaign led by the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the vocal opposition of students, teachers, parents, and even acclaimed author Judy Blume.

KRRP released the following statement in response to the decision to reverse the ban:

Victory for Kids’ Right to Read in Glen Ellyn: Perks Ban Reversed
District 41 School Board Votes 6-1 to Return Perks and Adopt New Policies

NEW YORK, NY, June 11, 2013 — The Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP) celebrated today the return of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Simon & Schuster) to middle school classroom libraries in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. District 41 school board members voted 6-1 to reverse a ban on the book at their meeting yesterday.

The outgoing Glen Ellyn school board effectively banned Perks on April 29 in a 4-2 vote that rejected the recommendation of an ad hoc book evaluation committee composed of teachers, a principal and a librarian.

...

Responding to Volokh’s Defense of the ‘Preponderance’ Standard

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Since its issuance more than two years ago, FIRE has been leading the charge against the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights' (OCR's) April 4, 2011, "Dear Colleague" letter (DCL), which requires colleges and universities that accept federal funds (nearly all of them) to use the low "preponderance of the evidence" standard of proof when deciding campus sexual assault and sexual harassment cases. 

Earlier this month, First Amendment scholar, UCLA law professor, and longtime FIRE friend Eugene Volokh posted an entry on his popular blog The Volokh Conspiracy arguing in support of OCR's mandate. Today, I was given the opportunity to respond to his arguments on The Volokh Conspiracy. Here's a short snippet from my response:

FIRE believes that every accusation of sexual harassment (or any other offense) must be competently evaluated. Of course, no college or university should ever ignore an accusation that would be actionable if true. But justice does not require sacrificing due process rights, and meaningful protections must be provided to the accused. The measure upon which we judge these proceedings should be the fairness, integrity, and reliability of the outcomes. By that measure, the preponderance of the evidence standard—coupled with the current shortcomings ...

The Reality of the Government’s Reporting Requirement

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

Over the past month, FIRE has examined almost every angle of the federal government's new sexual harassment "blueprint," demonstrating its myriad defects time and again. In his most recent article, Senior Vice President Robert Shibley tackles yet another one—the blueprint's reporting requirement. The Office for Civil Rights has attempted to dismiss concerns about the mandate by arguing that it simply requires schools to report claims of sexual harassment, not necessarily punish those involved in such complaints. In a piece published today on Forbes.com, Robert argues that such a distinction is completely unfounded. He writes:

To be clear: If expression is protected by the First Amendment, the federal government cannot nevertheless label it "sexual harassment." The two are mutually exclusive, which may be why OCR's response seems to suggest that colleges may have to label some expression sexual harassment but not take any steps to punish it. That's ridiculous. There's no way any campus is going to decline to punish a "sexual harasser," whether or not his or her expression is in fact constitutionally protected. Declaring a student a sexual harasser but refusing to punish him or her would basically be inviting either a lawsuit from the "harassed" student ...

Cambodia Opposition Party’s Campaign Rallies Disrupted

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

The deputy leader of Cambodia’s main opposition party said he is concerned for his safety after ruling party activists disrupted two of his public rallies and confronted him amid rising tensions ahead of national elections next month.  

Kem Sokha said that at his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) rally outside the capital Phnom Penh on Tuesday afternoon, a crowd of supporters of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) staged a counter-demonstration against him that led to a standoff between the two sides.

The CPP activists interrupted the rally in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district by blasting speakers that drowned out Kem Sokha’s speech, according to CNRP officials and a local commune official.  

When Kem Sokha gave up on the rally and moved to leave, a crowd of CPP activists including 10 trucks surrounded his convoy, blocking him from departing until hundreds of CNRP supporters pushed his way through.  

“There was a confrontation between the supporters, but no one was injured,” Kem Sokha told RFA’s Khmer Service after the incident.

“I am concerned about my personal security because we have asked authorities to intervene but they have ignored us,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Kem ...

The NSA’s Word Games Explained: How the Government Deceived Congress in the Debate over Surveillance Powers

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

ANDREA MITCHELL: “Why do you need every telephone number? Why is it such a broad vacuum cleaner approach?”

JAMES CLAPPER: “Well, you have to start someplace.”—NBC Meet the Press, this past Sunday

Concerned about the surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans, last year Senator Ron Wyden asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Jr. a simple question: "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"

Wyden had good reason to worry. As a member of the intelligence committee he had access to classified information and had been warning from the Senate floor that the American people would be “shocked” to find out how the government was interpreting the FISA Amendments Act and the PATRIOT Act in secret.

DNI Clapper’s answer was simple: "No, sir ... not wittingly."

This just is not true. We’ve known for years that the government has been conducting surveillance on millions of ordinary Americans, and now we know that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued an order in April requiring Verizon to hand over *all* call records, foreign or domestic, of every call of every customer to the NSA. Simply put, DNI Clapper’s statement was ...