About 200 journalists in Myanmar's capital Yangon staged a march Tuesday to protest against what they called new threats to media freedom following the jailing of a reporter from a newspaper which had highlighted judicial corruption, activists said.
They were joined by activist groups, parliamentarians, and lawyers concerned that the government of President Thein Sein will reimpose media controls even as it implements political and economic reforms after decades of harsh military rule.
Many wore black T-shirts with slogans such as, “We don’t want a threat to press freedom,” while some held a banner declaring that the “right to information is the life of democracy.”
The Myanmar Journalist Network, which organized the protest, said they went ahead with the march because the government had not responded to a letter from the group protesting the jailing of Ma Khine, a journalist with the Yangon-based award winning press group Eleven Media, who was ordered in December to serve three months in prison for trespassing, criminal defamation, and using obscene language.
She is believed to be the first reporter to be jailed since Thein Sein’s reformist government began releasing jailed journalists and lifting long-standing media restrictions in 2012.
"We protest because a ...
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About 200 journalists in Myanmar's capital Yangon staged a march Tuesday to protest against what they called new threats to media freedom following the jailing of a reporter from a newspaper which had highlighted judicial corruption, activists said.
Three Hearings, Nine Hours, and One Accurate Statement: Why Congress Must Begin a Full Investigation into NSA SpyingTuesday, January 7th, 2014
Last week, press reports revealed more about the National Security Agency's (NSA) elite hacking unit, the Office of Tailored Access Operations (TAO). The press also helped the public grasp other NSA activities, like how it's weakening encryption. All of this is on top of the NSA's collection of users' phone calls, emails, address books, buddy lists, calling records, online video game chats, financial documents, browsing history, and calendar data we’ve learned about since June.
By contrast, thus far Congress as a whole has done little to help the public understand what the NSA and the larger intelligence community is doing. Even members of Congress seem to learn more from newspaper reports than from “official” sources.
Regaining Congressional Oversight
Something is very wrong when Congress and the public learn more about the NSA's activities from newspaper leaks than from the Senate and House intelligence committees. The committees are supposed to oversee the intelligence community activities on behalf of the public, but more often—as the New Yorker describes it—"treat senior intelligence officials like matinée idols.”
It's time for Congress to reassert its oversight role and begin a full-scale investigation into the NSA’s ...
The editor of an influential Chinese newspaper in Hong Kong has been removed from his post amid worries about the future of press freedom in the former British colony.
Ming Pao editor-in-chief Kevin Lau will now take up a new post at the group's e-publishing and education unit, a former journalist at the newspaper revealed on a popular news talk show.
There are fears that Lau, who has edited the Ming Pao since 2012, is being moved as part of a "repositioning" of the paper, which is widely viewed as a good source of news on the inner workings of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
According to former reporter Vivian Tam, Lau will be replaced by a Malaysian journalist, management announced to staff on Monday.
Sources at the newspaper said staff feared an all-round editorial shake-up, and that the paper's editorial independence would be affected.
The Malaysian journalist believed to succeed Lau is currently living in Singapore and was previously chief editor of a Malaysian newspaper, the English-language South China Morning Post quoted sources at the Ming Pao as saying.
However, the paper moved to counter fears that Lau has been shunted aside in favor of someone more ...
While FIRE focuses on student and faculty rights at our nation’s colleges and universities, some cases in the K–12 context have the potential to affect our work as well. On December 27, a federal judge in Tennessee refused to throw out a First Amendment claim against a public school district that punished students for out-of-school social media posts. With many colleges striving to expand their jurisdiction over offenses committed off-campus, this ruling is a helpful affirmation that even K–12 schools—which may legally restrict student speech in a way that public colleges cannot—may not punish speech without actual evidence that such speech had an impact on the school’s activities or environment.
This case, Nixon v. Hardin County Board of Education, began when two students tweeted at each other about a third girl, writing: “Good Luck. Shoot her in the face,” and “I hate her ... I’ll kill her.” Though the context of the comments (including some smiley faces) suggested the comments were not meant to be threats, the school principal told the girls that they would be “reassigned to an alternative school” for 45 days.
Even when speech does not fall into an unprotected category of expression, like true threats, ...
A rare opportunity to change the path of copyright in Europe has emerged, but there's not much time to take advantage of it. The European Commission (EC) has opened up for public comment copyright policy across the European Union for the first time in 15 years. This means that, for once, students, artists, librarians, businesses, Internet users, and everyone in between will have an equal chance to influence future proposals for copyright legislation in Europe.
The Commission's 80-question “Public Consultation on the Review of the EU Copyright Rules,” attempts to cover all areas of users' and creators' experiences. The survey was not widely publicized, and the Commission only gave 60 days (including the winter holidays!) for your comments. The final deadline is February 5th.
Spending a few hours trying to comprehend the footnotes of a thirty-page bureaucratic questionnaire isn't everybody's idea of a fun New Year. Fortunately, to make informing the EU easier, a workshop at this year's Chaos Communication Congress created this simple, three minute guided walk-though for the rest of us. Copywrongs.eu allows you to choose one of the many categories of problems you have encountered with copyright in Europe, and sends you to ...
Joining the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund puts you on the front line of the fight against censorship! Your membership dollars provide the tools to fight back when comic book readers, retailers, and artists are muzzled, censored, or attacked! When you become a CBLDF member, you are proclaiming that comics are important and that you are a protector of their First Amendment rights!
When you join CBLDF, we’ll thank you with the best incentives and benefits in the free speech community, starting off with a stunning membership card by fan-favorite artist Cully Hamner! Updating the classic Lady Liberty imagery with a subtle power and modern vision, this is a card that you’ll be proud to keep in your wallet. It is also your ticket to special events across the country, and it shows the world that you support free speech!
We have membership plans for donors in every budget, each with its own premiums and benefits, and all of them are tax-deductible. Of course, the number one benefit of membership is peace of mind. You’ll know that there’s someone at the other end of the phone when a reader’s freedom to read ...
An eloquent editorial penned by the editors of North Carolina newspaper The Wilson Times takes the state’s public colleges and universities to task for failing to respect student free speech rights.
The editors note that FIRE recently named two North Carolina institutions—Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—to our annual list of the nation’s “Worst Colleges for Free Speech.” The editors point out that, unfortunately, these two schools aren’t outliers: Five North Carolina colleges earn “red light” rankings in FIRE’s Spotlight database for maintaining policies that clearly and substantially restrict protected expression on campus.
Calling on the state’s colleges and universities to do better, the Times succinctly makes the case for protecting freedom of expression on campus:
When students spout racist, sexist or otherwise offensive diatribes, the solution is more speech, not less. Through spirited and vigorous debate, noble ideas prevail over narrow-mindedness and bigotry. Free speech is not the enemy of tolerance; it is an indispensable ally.
College should be a place where students from diverse cultural, racial and religious backgrounds come to learn about each other, about themselves and about the world at large. It should be a place where the ...
Throughout December, a parent in Brunswick County, North Carolina, waged a war against Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple. That war has been lost with the recent decision by the school board to retain the book in 11th and 12th grade advanced placement courses.
CBLDF joined a coalition led by CBLDF-sponsored Kids’ Right to Read Project to send a letter in support of the book. CBLDF joins coalition efforts like this one to protect the freedom to read comics. Censorship manifests in many ways, and the unique visual nature of comics makes them more prone to censorship than other types of books. Taking an active stand against all instances of censorship curbs precedent that could adversely affect the rights upon which comics readers depend.
Brunswick Country Commissioner Pat Sykes began her campaign against the book, citing “the immorality, the filth, the F word, and N word” as reasons the book should be banned. She even equated the book with pornography in her original complaint: “You need to be 21 to drink but we provide porn.” The review committee unanimously supported the retention of the book, but Sykes remained adamant in her crusade. She appealed the decision ...
Much of the debate over modern surveillance—including the NSA mass spying controversy—has centered around whether people can reasonably expect that records about their telephone and Internet activity can remain private when those records belong to someone else: the service providers. Courts have disagreed on whether the 1979 Supreme Court case Smith v. Maryland, which ruled people have no expectation of privacy in the phone numbers they dial, should be extended to cover newer, more invasive forms of technology. But a decision released on December 24th by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals looks at the issue from the point of view of businesses, providing a glimpse into how service providers and technology companies could challenge the government's unconstitutional surveillance.
In Patel v. City of Los Angeles, the Ninth Circuit found a city ordinance that required hotels and motels to turn over guest records without any judicial process violated the Fourth Amendment. The ordinance mandated hotels and motels keep a record for 90 days containing things like a guest's name and address, the make, model and license plate number of the guest's car, and the room number assigned and rate charged. The ordinance allowed police to inspect guest ...
Yesterday, library officials with the Jones Library in Amherst, Massachusetts, refused to reshelve — and thus restrict access to — several Tintin titles after a group of parents filed a complaint about racist caricatures in the books.
Scott Merzbach covered the story for the Daily Hampshire Gazette:
Jeannette Wicks-Lim of Belchertown Road said she and other parents recently became aware of these early- to mid-20th-century works because they are popular with grade-school children.
The parents maintain that some of the “Tintin” novels portray characters in a negative light and reflect imperial attitudes evident at the time.
“The Tintin series has quite a reputation of racist imagery and story lines,” Wicks-Lim said.
The parents did not call for the outright removal of the books, but they did ask that the books be removed from the children’s section and placed in less accessible sections with parental warnings about content.
The book central to the challenge, Tintin in the Congo, is no stranger to controversy. It has faced significant backlash over its depiction of the Congolese and treatment of animals. A Belgian court decided that Hergé’s controversial second book in the Tintin series could not be removed from shelves in the ...
When a blogger leaked a March 14 email from the principal of Lane Tech College Prep in Chicago, Illinois, students in the district took immediate action. Within hours of discovering the email, students used social media to organize a protest that put hundreds of them on the rainy streets outside Lane Tech and in front of one of the most telling case studies on the state of book censorship today.
What could drive students in the district to take such action? The email directed teachers to remove Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis from classrooms and libraries under order of Chicago Public Schools officials. Satrapi’s graphic memoir of growing up during the Iranian Revolution has received international acclaim since its initial publication in French. When it was released in English in 2003, both Time Magazine and the New York Times recognized it as one of the best books of the year. In 2007 it was adapted as an animated film, which was nominated for an Oscar and won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize and a French César. Although it was certainly controversial in the Middle East, there were no publicly reported challenges or bans of the book in U.S. schools ...
More people read comics digitally every year, but for Apple users, freedom of choice has been limited. Publishers and creators in the digital realm have been stymied by censorship arising from Apple’s inconsistent enforcement of content policies, which resulted in some of the more high-profile bans of 2013.
In a landscape that includes competitors like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo (all of whom have censorship issues of their own), Apple so far appears to be the digital distributor that has the most restrictive enforcement of content policies, often restricting access to constitutionally protected material. Under Apple’s purview, comics are taking some of the most high profile hits.
Earlier this year, French comics distributor Izneo was given just 30 hours to remove objectionable material from their app or face being banned from the App Store. Although Izneo attempted to seek clarity, Apple remained steadfast in their refusal to elaborate, ultimately leaving the digital distributor to make their own judgment call. In a staggering act of self-censorship, Izneo removed approximately 1,200 of their original 4,000 comics, eliminating anything that included “a breast, provocative cleavage, a curve or a suggestive ...
Early in 2013, a library sciences researcher at the University of Illinois proved what many of us already thought: Frederic Wertham, the child psychologist behind the anti-comics screed Seduction of the Innocent, fabricated much of his evidence against comics. The discovery brings to light how fallacious pseudoscience is often used by censors to attack comics, books, and other popular media like video games.
Carol Tilley, a University of Illinois professor of Library Science, compared Wertham’s notes to the final published version of Seduction and found that “the doctor revised children’s ages, distorted their quotes, omitted other causal factors and in general ‘played fast and loose with the data he gathered on comics.’”
Because Seduction lacks citations and a bibliography (just one indication that Wertham’s research was questionable), it was difficult to verify Wertham’s data or duplicate his investigations (yet another indication that his methods were questionable by scientific standards). Tilley went to the source: Wertham’s personal papers, which were made available by the Library of Congress in 2010. Tilley didn’t set out to disprove Seduction, but she soon found that many of the quotes that made it to the print ...
Today is the last day to contribute to Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in 2013. If you’ve already contributed to CBLDF this year, we thank you – you’re making our work possible. If you haven’t yet made a contribution, we humbly ask you to please donate now. Our ongoing work of protecting the freedom to read comics wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of people like you. Please help us today.
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is a U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and contributions are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.
CBLDF is a lean organization that works hard to protect the First Amendment rights that our community depends on. We monitor legislation and challenge laws that would limit the First Amendment. We create resources that promote understanding of comics and the rights our community is guaranteed. Every day we publish news and information about censorship events as they happen. Our expert legal team is available at a moment’s notice to respond to First Amendment emergencies. You can learn much more about CBLDF’s accomplishments in our Annual Report and holiday mini-comic.
CBLDF is an organization that deserves your support.
CBLDF’s efforts are essential to everyone who ...
Comics are still in the cross hairs in battle against censorship. This is most evident in the case of Christjan Bee, a Missouri man who will spend three years in federal prison because of the comics he possessed.
Bee was prosecuted under the PROTECT Act (Section 1466A of the United State Code) and after accepting a plea agreement was ultimately sentenced to three years in prison without parole and five years of supervised release for possession what the government characterized as a “pornographic cartoon, which depicted children engaging in sexual behavior.” Prosecutors assert the material “is categorized as obscene and therefore illegal,” despite the fact that the material was not tried in court under the Miller obscenity test. Bee did not seek the CBLDF’s assistance. Without expert First Amendment counsel and facing intimidating mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, Bee pleaded guilty to possession of obscene material rather than stand trial under the original indictment of receiving child pornography.
CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein spoke at the time about the material for which Bee was arrested:
“At this time, little is known about the material Bee pleaded guilty to possessing. Based on the government’s characterization ...
As the year draws to a close, EFF is looking back at the major trends influencing digital rights in 2013 and discussing where we are in the fight for free expression, innovation, fair use, and privacy. Click here to read other blog posts in this series.
We've been saying for years that copyright law is broken. 2013 saw the beginning of what could be a meaningful effort to fix it – if Internet users pay attention and stay involved.
Back in March, Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante issued a public call to Congress to get going on what she called the "Next Great Copyright Act." As she noted, our current Copyright Act was passed over 40 years ago, and was already outdated then. And so begins what is likely to be a long and tortuous process. House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte has held a series of hearings on copyright policy, with several more set for the coming year. The Internet Policy Task Force issued a "green paper" identifying particularly thorny issues (such as whether the first sale doctrine applies to ebooks as well as physical books), inviting public comment and beginning a "multi-stakeholder dialogue" about those issues. That dialogue will continue ...
You spent the holiday taking care of everyone else on your list, and maybe all you got in return was a hideous holiday sweater and pack of tube socks. Reward yourself with something that you really wanted by picking up signed graphic novels from CBLDF!
Comics’ greatest creators have contributed signed graphic novels to thank donors for supporting CBLDF’s very important work. You could get yourself signed classics from Alan Moore and Art Spiegelman, or new releases autographed by Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, and many more! You will be helping CBLDF continue our important work protecting the freedom to read comics!
When you support the CBLDF over the next week, The Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation will make a contribution of $2 for every donation and gift order placed on CBLDF’s website. In addition, they will contribute $10 for each new membership and $5 for every renewing membership made from now until December 31!
Here are some of the featured items that will satisfy your holiday desires:
THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE, $40 Donation – Mr. Gaiman’s newest novel! A dark and wonderful tale about childhood and nostalgia and the things we ...
In June, CBLDF called on our supporters to help defend Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower by sending letters and emails to the Glen Ellyn, Illinois school board, where the book was being challenged. The board initially voted to remove the book, and the letter-writing campaign played a key role in overturning the ban. more…
If you were like us, the October removal of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere from Alamogordo Public School classrooms caused you to feel anything from confusion to just-plain-no-way-you-can’t-be-serious anger. CBLDF called supporters to action by asking them to sign a petition on Change.org and to become members of the Fund. The protest of free speech advocates like CBLDF and its supporters helped return the book to classrooms. more…
Each month, FIRE singles out a particularly reprehensible campus speech code for our Speech Code of the Month designation. While all of 2013’s Speech Codes of the Month flagrantly violated students’ or faculty members’ right to free expression, two of them were so egregious that they deserve special mention as 2013’s Speech Codes of the Year.
Troy, a public university in Alabama, defines harassment (PDF) as “any comments or conduct consisting of words or actions that are unwelcome or offensive to a person in relation to sex, race, age, religion, national origin, color, marital status, pregnancy, or disability or veteran’s status.”
This policy prohibits a staggering amount of constitutionally protected speech, including almost any expression of a political opinion that another person finds offensive. Who among us does not routinely encounter political opinions that are “offensive” in relation to sex, race, religion, age, and so forth? Indeed, while Troy refers to this as a harassment policy, this definition bears no relationship to the legal definition of harassment in the educational setting, as set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629 (1999). There, the Court defined unprotected harassment ...
When it comes to the fight for free expression and privacy in technology, 2013 changed everything.
This was the year we received confirmation and disturbing details about the NSA programs that are sweeping up information on hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the world. This set off a cascade of events, from EFF’s newest lawsuit against the NSA to protests in the streets to a United Nations resolution to Congressional bills both promising and terrifying. In December, a federal judge even found the surveillance likely unconstitutional, calling it "almost-Orwellian."
It was also a year we lost a beloved friend and activist, Aaron Swartz. Aaron was a fellow freedom fighter working to bring the world access to knowledge. We’re still mourning his suicide, which was spurred in part by an aggressive prosecution under the vaguely worded and over-penalized Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). In his memory, EFF and our friends at Demand Progress created a coalition to fight for reform of the CFAA.
We also went on the offensive against patent trolls with our new website TrollingEffects.org. Patent trolls buy up patents—often vague software patents that should never have been issued in ...
As the year draws to a close, EFF is looking back at the major trends influencing digital rights in 2013 and discussing where we are in the fight for free expression, innovation, fair use, and privacy. Click here to read other blog posts in this series.
For EFF, 2013 started on a tragic note when our friend, the gifted activist, coder, and Pioneer Aaron Swartz committed suicide in January. At the time of his death, Aaron was under indictment for allegedly violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act ("CFAA") when he used MIT's computer network to download millions of academic articles from the online archive JSTOR without "authorization." But out of his untimely death grew an enormous outcry against the CFAA and the government's prosecution of Swartz, including a Congressional hearing about the case, a bill introduced in his name to reform the CFAA, and a disappointing MIT report about the case.
Despite the renewed attention given the CFAA, it was still used in dangerous ways throughout the year.
First, in March Andrew "Weev" Auernheimer was sentenced to 41 months in prison following his CFAA conviction for revealing to media outlets that AT&T had configured its servers to allow ...
Courtesy of CBLDF blogger Joe Sergi, our resident comics censorship historian, we’re delighted to offer this special treat for the holidays: “A Comics Carol,” a minicomic in which Messr. Fredric Wertham is visited by the Ghosts of Comics Past, Comics Present, and Comics Yet to Come!
CBLDF thanks Joe and his creative team for this holiday delight. Happy holidays, everyone!
There are just eight days left to enter FIRE’s High School Essay Contest! Be sure to enter the contest by January 1 for a chance to win a $10,000 college scholarship!
To enter, high school juniors and seniors should watch two FIRE videos—Silencing U: Five Outrageous Cases of Campus Censorship and What Every Student Should Know Before Starting College—and write an essay answering the question: “Why is free speech important at our nation’s colleges and universities?”
To view the full contest rules and entry form, visit thefire.org/contest. Please email email@example.com with any questions.
If you aren’t a high school junior or senior, please help FIRE spread the word by telling your friends, family, and teachers!
Image: “Woman Signing Contract” - Shutterstock
As a Torch reader, you’re probably already familiar with the controversial new social media policy adopted last week by the Kansas Board of Regents that empowers public universities in the state to terminate faculty whose speech in social media, among other things, “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers” or “is contrary to the best interest of the university,” whatever that means in practice.
Yesterday, Slate columnist Rebecca Schuman joined the chorus of critics condemning the policy. In her column, titled “The Brave New World of Academic Censorship,” Schuman explains the tremendous threat this policy poses to professors’ academic freedom and free speech. She writes:
This new policy will effectively scare every employee of a Kansas university off the Internet. But should we be surprised, given the increasing resemblance of every public university in the United States to a Fortune 500 corporation, that professors and university staff are now being held to the same standards as private employees?
Well, in Kansas, it’s not just about being inflammatory—now, university employees can get fired for saying just about anything.
While we don’t agree with everything Schuman writes (for example, she thinks University of Kansas professor David Guth deserved his ...
CBLDF is able to perform our important work thanks to the direct contributions of supporters like you. December is the Fund’s most important fundraising month because we receive more than a quarter of our annual budget in year-end gifts from supporters like you. Whether you’re looking for a last-minute gift or finalizing your charitable giving for 2013, CBLDF needs your support! As a federally recognized 501(c)3 non-profit organization, donations to CBLDF are tax-deductible in the year given to the fullest extent allowed by law.
Your donations have a direct impact on our ability to perform our work in 2014. Please help CBLDF continue our important work protecting the freedom to read comics by picking up CBLDF apparel and signed graphic novels, by becoming a member, or by making a tax-deductible cash contribution.
Why does CBLDF work so hard for the right to read comics? Let’s take a look:
In 2013, CBLDF successfully stood up to every First Amendment emergency we faced. We also made serious contributions to education with publications, articles, lectures, and appearances that reached communities around the world. Thanks to the support of our donors, CBLDF is reaching a wider audience than ever in our ...
As far too many students sadly know, the vocabulary of campus free speech zones provides a ready example of the absurdity of campus censorship. This year, administrators at Modesto Junior College proved just how far that absurdity extends when they prohibited student Robert Van Tuinen from distributing copies of the Constitution on Constitution Day simply because he hadn’t met the requirements of the school’s free speech zone policy.
Robert’s experience isn’t all that unique. Rather than celebrating free expression, too many of our colleges and universities confine it to small areas, restrict it with limited hours and excessive regulations, and stymie it with advance registration requirements.
Fortunately, FIRE exists to expose the reality of these restrictions and to help dismantle them. Since our founding in 1999, FIRE has tackled some of the nation’s most shocking free speech zone policies, working with student and faculty activists to open campuses to free expression.
But FIRE can’t fight these free speech zones alone. FIRE depends on the support of our donors to challenge—and defeat—the nation’s worst policies.
That support helps students like ...
A petition on Change.org came to CBLDF’s attention this week. The petition challenges a proposed policy in the Muhlenberg School District in Reading, Pennsylvania, that would require all teachers in the district “to read and check each [book] for violence, language, sexual intensity, etc. and whatever they deem as ‘inappropriate’ will be taken out of the class libraries.” If such a policy exists and is passed by the school board, it poses a significant threat to the right to read in the district.
There are few details regarding the district’s proposed policy, but it appears that students in the district are behind the petition. They describe their motivation behind the protest:
I’ll tell you right now that we’re angry. We’re angry because they think that we can’t handle reading young adult literature, most of which contains real world issues that people go through everyday. We’re angry that they’re trying to blind us and prevent us from learning about it. We’re angry that they think they can handicap our education. They can’t tell us to act like adults and go off doing this like we’re still a bunch of middle schoolers. We refuse to be idle.
While details are scant, we ...
FIRE President Greg Lukianoff will be on Fox Business Network’s Cavuto tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern to discuss the recent lawsuit brought against the University of Michigan over its student group funding policies with guest host Charles Payne. Set your DVR or tune in for the show!
Last Friday, a student group at the University of Michigan (UM) filed a federal lawsuit (PDF) against the university, claiming that UM violated the First Amendment when it refused to grant the group student fee funding for one of its activities on the basis that it was a “political activity.” The suit is being brought by Alliance Defending Freedom.
The facts as alleged are unsettling but fairly straightforward. On October 22, the UM Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter, a recognized student organization, hosted a presentation by Jennifer Gratz, who famously won a 2003 lawsuit against the university for automatically granting admission “points” to undergraduate applicants based on race. Her presentation for YAL was titled “Diversity in Race v. Diversity in Ideas: The Michigan Affirmative Action Debate.”
When YAL submitted a request for $1,000 in student fee funding, its request was denied based on a policy against allowing student fees to be used for “political or religious activities.” According to the lawsuit, the initial funding request and the appeal were denied because the Student Organization Funding Commission “cannot fund events that are political in nature.”
If these were the only facts, UM would still clearly be in the wrong. As ...
The historic decision handed down by D.C. federal judge Richard Leon last week that found the NSA's bulk collection of phone records likely violated the Fourth Amendment is a crucial first step towards protecting digital privacy from suspicionless government searches. But the importance of the decision extends beyond the NSA's surveillance programs. Judge Leon made two important findings on how the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches should apply at a time when technology can make invasive surveillance -- once considered the stuff of science fiction -- a part of every day life.
The Increasing Irrelevancy of Smith v. Maryland
Critically, Judge Leon's opinion recognized that relying on the Supreme Court's 1979 decision in Smith v. Maryland to look at new forms of electronic surveillance was foolish. Smith ruled that a person did not have a Fourth Amendment expectation of privacy in the phone numbers he dialed since he had turned that information over to the phone company in order to make the call. Since Smith was decided, courts have extended it to defeat Fourth Amendment challenges to many forms of warrantless surveillance such as acquiring historical cell site records, information turned over to Internet companies like Twitter, ...
Social Engineering and Malware in Syria: EFF and Citizen Lab’s Latest Report on the Digital BattlefieldMonday, December 23rd, 2013
More than two years into the Syrian conflict, the violence continues both on the ground and in the digital realm. Just as human rights investigators and weapons inspectors search for evidence of chemical weapons, EFF, and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab have been collecting, dissecting, and documenting malicious software deployed against the Syrian opposition.
Citizen Lab security researchers Morgan Marquis-Boire and John Scott-Railton and EFF Global Policy Analyst Eva Galperin today published their latest technical paper, “Quantum of Surveillance: Familiar Actors and Possible False Flags in Syrian Malware Campaigns.” The report outlines how pro-government attackers have targeted the opposition, as well as NGO workers and journalists, with social engineering and “Remote Access Tools” (RAT).
“We’re deeply concerned by the reemergence of pro-government malware targeting online activists in Syria,” the authors write. “The malware campaigns appear to be becoming more and more sophisticated, incorporating greater levels of social engineering.”
The attacks analyzed include:
- An attacker who hijacked the Facebook page of the “Revolution Youth Coalition on the Syrian Coast,” and posted a malicious link disguised as investigation of the death of a well-known opposition commander (image right). The attacker then deleted comments warning users of the malware.
- An ...
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released a statement (PDF) on Friday condemning the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) for its treatment of Professor Patricia Adler and her popular course on deviance. In its statement, the AAUP calls CU-Boulder on its changing and inadequate rationales and emphasizes that a professor may not be disciplined without evidence of misconduct and a fair hearing, even—perhaps especially—when teaching a controversial subject.
The AAUP adeptly reviews and debunks CU-Boulder’s several asserted reasons for disallowing Adler’s course. The school claimed that there were complaints about the course, but no complaints were brought to Adler’s attention in her decades of teaching the class. Dean Stephen Leigh suggested that the class was dangerous in light of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but as the AAUP notes, “How volunteer students acting out roles in a classroom exercise is equivalent to the forcible violation of underage boys by a retired coach in a locker room remained unclear.” The school quickly abandoned its claim that the class might require Institutional Review Board approval. The administration is now reduced to complaining that its main concern is the possibility of students recording the class without the consent of participants—yet this can ...
On Friday, FIRE, the ACLU Foundation of Kansas, and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) sent a joint letter (PDF) to the Kansas Board of Regents urging the Board to rescind its controversial new policy restricting the use of social media by faculty and staff at public colleges and universities across the state.
Among other things, the policy allows for a professor’s employment to be terminated when his or her speech “impairs ... harmony among co-workers” or if, in the sole opinion of a university’s chief executive officer, the speech is “contrary to the best interest of the university.” After a wave of criticism (PDF) from the American Association of University Professors and other supporters of faculty rights, The Kansas City Star reported that the Board may already be rethinking the policy.
In our letter, FIRE explained how these provisions could be used to punish a significant amount of speech that not only is constitutionally protected but also directly serves the purpose of higher education:
For example, under Chapter II.C.6.b.iv, a Twitter argument between two economics professors with competing theories on the efficacy of quantitative easing would provide grounds for punishment if, in the entirely subjective opinion of a university ...
As the holiday cheer fills our hearts and homes, we here at FIRE want to take a moment to reflect back on 2013. From the federal government backing down from an unconstitutional, national speech code mandate, to North Carolina securing students’ right to hire counsel, to Modesto Junior College in California agreeing to suspend enforcement of its “free speech zone,” we’ve celebrated many victories for student rights this year.
But despite these major successes, events in 2013 clearly demonstrated that FIRE’s work is far from over. Indeed, the need for a determined defense of liberty on campus has never been more evident. Consider these two stunning examples.
In September, a Louisiana State University (LSU) student took to the pages of her student newspaper (and created a video) to lament the recent dismantling of LSU’s “free speech zone.” The student was upset because she—gasp!—might be exposed to viewpoints she disagrees with “anywhere on campus.” And in October, Brown University students organized to effectively censor New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, under whose leadership NYC implemented its controversial “Stop and Frisk” policy. In the words of one of the student organizers, “They decided not to cancel the lecture, so ...
Today, FIRE released our 2013 list of the worst colleges for free speech. Is your college on the list? Head over to The Huffington Post to find out!
It was “The Night Before Christmas.” At least that was the name of the story in Panic #1, a 1953 release from MC Gaine’s EC Comics. This story not only stirred controversy and was banned in the state of Massachusetts, but it also led to the arrests of both Bill Gaine’s associate, Lyle Stuart, and his receptionist, Shirley Norris. This is the story of the Christmas Panic.
The year was 1953. It was a year of political change. President Harry S. Truman announced to the world that the United States had developed the hydrogen bomb, shortly before leaving the Oval Office to his replacement, President Dwight D Eisenhower. On the other side of the Cold War, Nikita Khrushchev was selected First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party on March 14. It was also a year of innovation. In October, the UNIVAC 1103 was introduced as the first commercial computer to use random access memory. James D. Watson and Francis Crick of the University of Cambridge announced their discovery of the structure of the DNA molecule. In pop culture, “The Song from Moulin Rouge” by Percy Faith was the top song. In February, Walt Disney introduced his version of Peter Pan to ...
We started hearing rumblings of anti-porn censorship by European governments at the beginning of the year. Back in March, the E.U. Parliament voted on a proposal that would have set out the path for laws “banning pornography in all media” across the E.U., including the Internet. Fortunately, the controversial “porn ban” section of the proposal – not so aptly titled, “A Resolution on Eliminating Gender Stereotypes in the EU” – was struck down “amidst censorship concerns.”
Instead of genuinely examining the potential censorship issues with such overbroad legislation, the U.K.’s prime minister, David Cameron, decided to make the porn ban his pet project. But with the gender equality pretense falling on deaf ears, he went straight to the subject sure to incite moral panic at its finest – old faithful: saving the children.
After all, that refrain worked when the U.K. passed its ban on “extreme porn.” That law was recently used as justification for thousands of U.K. law enforcement officers to raid the homes of over 3,000 London residents and seize more than 1,000 DVDs, cell phones and other media, containing extreme porn. This sort of book-burning effort would never survive constitutional muster in the U.S., but the ...
U.S. government intelligence officials late last night released some previously secret declarations submitted to the court in Jewel v. NSA — EFF's long-running case challenging the NSA's domestic surveillance program – plus a companion case, Shubert v. Obama. The documents were released pursuant to the court’s order.
Surprisingly, in these documents and in the brief filed with them, the government continues to claim that plaintiffs cannot prove they were surveilled without state secrets and that therefore, a court cannot rule on the legality or constitutionality of the surveillance. For example, despite the fact that these activities are discussed every day in news outlets around the world and even in the president’s recent press conference, the government states broadly that information that may relate to Plaintiffs' claims that the "NSA indiscriminately intercepts the content of communications, and their claims regarding the NSA's bulk collection of ... metadata" is still a state secret.
"The government seems to be trying to reset the clock to before June 2013 or even December 2005," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "But the American people know that their communications are being swept up by the government under various NSA programs. The government’s attempt to block ...
We've certainly learned a lot this year about the surveillance state. Thanks to the cache of intelligence documents leaked by Edward Snowden, as well as the hoards of legal records we liberated through our Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, we've had immense amounts of new information to consume and process. But how many of the details do you remember? It's time for a pop quiz.
And Dec. 21 just happens to be the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle.
We've written about the word games top US officials play when defending the NSA's massive electronic surveillance system, so it felt especially appropriate to round-up the highlights in one big crossword puzzle. You can click the puzzle above for a larger image to print, or just download this PDF.
(A tip: Whenever we're asking for a name, we mean only the surname.)
1. NSA program that the government claims is justified by Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.
3. In its First Unitarian lawsuit, EFF argues the NSA is violating the First Amendment "Freedom of _________."
6. PINWALE, PRISM, NUCLEON, MAINWAY and ...
We were pleasantly surprised by Verizon’s announcement this week that it will become the first major telecommunications company to release a transparency report. In early 2014, Verizon will follow in the footsteps of companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple, and will finally adopt this best practice and begin to tell its customers, and the American public, the details about how often law enforcement comes knocking with requests for user data. Verizon’s welcome announcement came the same day that Google updated its transparency report, which it has regularly released since 2010. Google's latest report details significant and troubling increases in government requests to remove content from the Internet.
Verizon's announcement comes only after significant pressure. Last month, the telecom giant's shareholders wrote a letter demanding the company be more transparent about how it shares customer information with law enforcement and the government. But Verizon took a stance against its shareholders, claiming that the shareholders had no ground to demand the company take any action.
Now, one day after the White House Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies released its recommendations for NSA reforms, Verizon appears to have made an about-face on comments the company made earlier this year that mocked ...
In July, three people, including Akira Ōta, who heads the editorial department at Core Magazine, were arrested in Japan amid accusations of obscenity. According to CBLDF’s source in Japan, the Core Magazine case went to court, and despite predictions of a court fight, the defendants pled guilty, likely because Japanese authorities backed away from some of the charges, so they felt the guilty plea would be a better option than a protracted legal battle.
Those arrested were accused of selling magazines and manga that had sexual content that was insufficiently censored, a violation of Article 175 of the Japanese Penal Code, which forbids obscene content. Translator, manga expert, and CBLDF guest blogger Dan Kanemitsu has reported on the story extensively. In a post for his blog, Dan Kanemitsu’s Paper Trail, Kanemitsu describes how material is supposed to be censored in order to avoid obscenity accusations. From his post entitled “Orwellian Obscenity“:
For nearly 10 years, the industry standard was that obscuring the crown of the penis (the part that funnels out near the tip,) and clitoris, and instances of physical contact that constitutes sexual intercourse (i.e. insertions of objects into the vagina or the rectum) would absolve the ...
For the last month, a parent in Brunswick County, North Carolina, has been waging a war against Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple. CBLDF has joined a coalition led by CBLDF-sponsored Kids’ Right to Read Project to send a letter in support of the book. CBLDF joins coalition efforts like this one to protect the freedom to read comics. Censorship manifests in many ways, and the unique visual nature of comics makes them more prone to censorship than other types of books. Taking an active stand against all instances of censorship curbs precedent that could adversely affect the rights upon which comics readers depend.
Brunswick Country Commissioner Pat Sykes began her campaign against the book, citing “the immorality, the filth, the F word, and N word” as reasons the book should be banned. She even equated the book with pornography in her original complaint: “You need to be 21 to drink but we provide porn.” The review committee unanimously supported the retention of the book, but Sykes remains adamant in her crusade. She appealed the decision to the county commissioner, who also ruled the book appropriate. The book’s fate now rests in the hands of ...
When you read a book or an article on your Android device, how much power—and access to your personal data—are you giving the app? A new comparison of 17 of the most popular reader apps, compiled by Matt Bernius, answers that question, and in some cases users may be revealing much more than they think. Nearly a quarter of the apps tested required access to location information; half of them ask for "phone state and identity", which would let them grab people's phone numbers and IMEI numbers; and a couple can retrieve a list of other running apps.
Android apps are required to specify what sort of access to the phone they can use, but these "permissions requests" screens can be opaque, and without a chart like this one, it can be difficult to tell if there are subtle but legitimate reasons why a particular class of app needs a particular type of permission.
Click the chart to view it full-size. This chart is another valuable resource for readers looking to bring their privacy into the digital world. We've previously compared the privacy practices of different sources of ebooks.
Unfortunately, Android permissions operate on a "take it ...
Shezanne “Shez” Cassim, the American citizen currently detained in the UAE for uploading a satirical video to YouTube, remains in a maximum security prison in Abu Dhabi, the judgment in his case postponed for the sixth time.
As we previously wrote, Cassim faces charges under Article 28 of the UAE’s arcane cybercrimes law, instituted in November 2012, one month after he posted the video. The law has been widely condemned by human rights organizations.
Cassim has been detained since April. On September 30, he was told that he would be handed a judgment on October 28, but that judgment has been postponed five times since then as the judge waited for authorities to translate the video into Arabic, a request that came in November, seven months into Cassim’s detention. Cassim has now served 260 days without a conviction, for the “crime” of uploading a satirical video.
Famous comics including Will Ferrell and Adam McKay have come out in support of Cassim, making a video to show support. Supporters can donate to Cassim's legal fund; #FreeShez t-shirts are also being sold to support the fund.
We condemn the charges against Cassim and call on the UAE to immediately release him. ...
2013 saw a significant increase in book challenges, especially in the last quarter: CBLDF-sponsored Kids’ Right to Read Project just released a press release announcing a three-fold increase in challenges over the last three months, and a greater than 50% increase in challenges over all of 2013. Fortunately, the involvement of KRRP, CBLDF, and other free speech advocates has also meant an increase in defeated challenges!
CBLDF has joined KRRP in defending several books this year, including The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (which was challenged several times over the course of 2013), Invisible Man, Neverwhere, The Diary of Anne Frank, and many more. CBLDF joins coalition efforts like this one to protect the freedom to read comics. Censorship manifests in many ways, and the unique visual nature of comics makes them more prone to censorship than other types of books. Taking an active stand against all instances of censorship curbs precedent that could adversely affect the rights upon which comics readers depend.
CBLDF is able to perform our important work defending the right to read thanks to the direct contributions of our members and supporters. Your donations ...
Sports fans all over the country were baffled over the University of Auburn’s recent defeat of the University of Alabama in the Iron Bowl. As a result, the University of Alabama’s student newspaper, The Crimson White, published a satirical cartoon depicting an Auburn football player trampling past an Alabama football player with the caption “This is What Happens in Obama’s America.” There was a public outcry that the cartoon had racist intentions, which caused the editorial staff to quickly issue an apology letter.
The editor-in-chief explains:
“The cartoon, in fact, was intended as a lighthearted look at some of the more absurd explanations given for Alabama’s collapse at the end of the Iron Bowl game against Auburn last Saturday. Many fans across the state took to social media and personal platforms to place blame for the team’s loss. To The Crimson White, and much of the student body, the blame was based on ridiculous and unfounded reasons.”
The cartoon is actually a nod to the popular “Thanks, Obama” internet meme. The sarcastic meme is poking fun at the country blaming all of its problems, especially trivial personal problems, on the President. These memes feature Obama ...
Fifty-four civil liberties and public interest groups sent a letter to Congressional leadership today opposing S. 1631, the FISA Improvements Act. The bill, promoted by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), seeks to legalize and extend NSA mass surveillance programs, including the classified phone records surveillance program confirmed by documents released by Edward Snowden this summer.
On Monday, a federal judge found the phone records program that Senator Feinstein’s bill supports was likely unconstitutional. In a sharply worded opinion, Judge Leon explained, “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analyzing it without judicial approval.”
Senator Feinstein has been promoting the bill as a way to rein in NSA overreach, but legal experts have criticized the bill for attempting to sanction the worst of the surveillance abuses. The letter published today calls on members of Congress to reject the FISA Improvements Act and champion reform that would end mass surveillance by the NSA.
If the FISA Improvements Act were to pass, the NSA would continue its collection of the telephone ...
On Monday, NCAC joined with other organizations on an friend of the court brief (.pdf) to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Barnes v. Zaccari, an important case involving the speech rights of college students.
The case began in 2007, when Hayden Barnes was expelled from Valdosta State University in Georgia over his vocal criticism of a plan to build a new parking garage on campus because of its environmental impact. VSU President Ronald Zaccari claimed that Barnes’ satirical facebook page about the plan was an implicit threat, at the same time that he admitted that Barnes’ actions had embarrassed him personally and that he “could not forgive” him. The trial court ducked the issue of whether Zaccari’s action was in retaliation for Barnes’ protest activities, but ruled that Zaccari had acted unconstitutionally in failing to provide Barnes with advance notice of the grounds for dismissal and an opportunity to respond.
As a result, Barnes prevailed on his claim that the college violated his constitutional right to due process of law, and was even awarded damages against the college president. However, the decision failed to vindicate his First Amendment rights, a wrong the ...
Updates are coming in on the threat to academic freedom at the University of Colorado Boulder. According to the Daily Camera (via the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s Ticker blog), CU professor Patricia Adler might still have a chance to teach her “Deviance in U.S. Society” course as early as the Spring 2014 semester–if the class clears a review of Sociology faculty, with the possible participation of faculty from other departments.
The sociology department came to that agreement on Tuesday, and the Faculty Assembly convened an emergency meeting this morning with the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to discuss the incident and the university’s treatment of Adler.
A few other points to note:
- This is a rollback from the university provost’s earlier statement that “Steven Leigh, the College of Arts and Sciences dean, and sociology chairwoman Joanne Belknap ‘determined that Professor Adler would not teach the class in the spring semester (2014).’”
- Adler has to request the review, but once she does so it will be “fast-tracked”.
- The Camera reported that CU Spokesman Mark Miller appeared to confirm “retirement incentives” for “select faculty” that match a description of the buyout package Adler claims she was offered ...
Why is it that every time sex enters the conversation in academia, harassment always appears to shadow it? How perverse – and unfair to real victims of harassment - that this serious charge is used against a professor for nothing else than creatively doing her job. In a lecture on prostitution, a highlight of her regular course on deviance, University of Colorado Boulder sociology professor Patricia Adler had volunteer teaching assistants role play sex workers in different economic and social situations.
According to Inside Higher Ed:
During the lecture, Adler talks with [the undergraduate teaching assistants in character] about such issues as their backgrounds, “how they got into the business,” how much they charge, the services they perform, and the risks they face of violence, arrest and AIDS. The class is a mix of lecture and discussion, just like most classes, she said.
Using role-play to teach about social issues could be a successful teaching technique that one can imagine being used to teach about the experience of any social group with which students are unlikely to have direct contact from sweatshop workers to disabled athletes and, yes, also prostitutes.
Following the lecture, however, Adler was suspended from teaching ...