Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

House VAWA Includes Millions for Controversial ‘Campus Safety’ Center

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2012—Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2012 (VAWA), which includes millions of dollars in federal funding to create a "National Center for Campus Public Safety." The proposed Center raises serious concerns for students, faculty, colleges and universities, taxpayers, and campus rights advocates. As the Senate and House versions of VAWA appear poised to be reconciled in conference committee, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is urging Congress to reexamine support for the Center.  

"While some aspects of both the House and Senate bills preserve due process protections for students," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, "the new Center risks threatening fundamental civil liberties both on and off campus."

The Center, which would be funded by $2.75 million in taxpayer funds annually from 2013 to 2016, would promulgate "policies, procedures, and best practices relevant to campus public safety," including "effective behavioral threat assessment and management models," among other aims. However well-intentioned those aims might be, FIRE's years of experience defending college student and faculty rights demonstrate that "threat assessment" programs often abuse their power by monitoring, censoring, and punishing the peaceful speech of students and ...

‘Julea Ward Freedom of Conscience Act’ before Michigan Legislature

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Torch readers may recall the case of Julea Ward, an Eastern Michigan University (EMU) student in counseling who was expelled for seeking to refer a gay client to another counselor when counseling would have required violating her Christian beliefs. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a victory for Ward in January (her lawsuit against EMU is currently back in district court), and we wrote about the case at that time. 

The State News, Michigan State University's student newspaper, reports that a bill is hitting the floor in the Michigan House of Representatives that seeks to provide statutory protections for students like Ward. House Bill 5040 was introduced last October and aims to prevent discrimination by Michigan universities against students in counseling, social work, and psychology who "refuse to counsel or serve a client as to goals that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of the student" provided that the student "refers the client to a counselor who will provide the counseling or services." FIRE will have more on this story as it progresses.

By popular demand: 2nd webinar on self-service holds

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Due to high interest in this issue, OIF will offer a second free webinar on self-service holds and reader privacy. This next live event will take place Tuesday, May 22 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. Central (3-4 Eastern, 1-2 Mountain, 12-1 Pacific).

The move to self-service holds (also known as open-shelf holds) has enabled many libraries to continue user hold services despite ongoing staff cuts and budget reductions. But many libraries have implemented self-service hold systems that reveal personally identifiable information – including users’ full names – that link the user to the specific book or materials on hold, thereby compromising the library user’s privacy and confidentiality. Such practices violate the ALA Code of Ethics and may, in some states, violate library confidentiality statutes. In response to this situation, the ALA Council passed a resolution addressing self-service hold practices that encourages both libraries and vendors to adopt self-service hold systems that preserve users’ confidentiality.

Join Deborah Caldwell-Stone, OIF Deputy Director, for a free webinar explaining the legal and ethical standards that support the move to privacy-protective hold systems. This small, interactive live event will also highlight options for self-service hold systems that both protect user privacy and save the library money. ...

This Weekend’s SpringCon Charity Auction Benefits CBLDF

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

SpringCon, the annual comic book celebration produced by the Midwest Comic Book Association, takes place this weekend at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul, Minnesota. This amazing event takes place May 19 – 20 and gathers hundreds of creators and many more fans for a comic marketplace, programs, and a huge charity auction. This year’s charity auction takes place at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 20, and all of the proceeds will be split between the Minnesota Lupus Foundation and CBLDF! In addition, the CBLDF will be there with a booth headed up by a local volunteer team lead by Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s Diana Green!

“Year after year, Nick Postiglione with Source Comics and Games and the MCBA are some of the most generous contributors to the CBLDF,” says CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein. “They’re a terrific organization that is a model of local effort to support creativity and fandom in the immediate community.  Likewise, their support of CBLDF makes an important difference on our work. This year’s support will help us contribute to the legal bills of their Minneapolis-St. Paul resident Ryan Matheson, who courageously fought Canada Customs when they wrongly accused him ...

Professor Who Criticized Muslims on Facebook Sues Purdue University Calumet

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Here's today's press release:

 CHICAGO, May 16, 2012—A professor has filed a free speech lawsuit against Purdue University Calumet after the university punished him in the wake of his remarks about Muslims on Facebook. The PUC Muslim Student Association and several students and faculty members had filed harassment complaints against professor Maurice Eisenstein after he criticized moderate Muslims who he believed had not condemned "radical Muslim" terrorism in Nigeria. Two faculty members had also filed retaliation complaints against Eisenstein, who came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.

"This is not the first time and it won't be the last time we will see a university punish a student or professor for constitutionally protected speech on Facebook," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "Professors at public universities should not have to go to court to defend their free speech rights."

Eisenstein's ordeal began on November 6, 2011, when he posted a photo on Facebook of "Christians killed by a radical Muslim group" in Nigeria two days earlier, writing: "Where are the ‘moderate' Muslims['] reaction[s] to this? Oh, I forgot they are still looking at the earth as flat according to the idiot Mohammad [sic], may his name ...

U.S. Law Professors Cast Further Doubt on ACTA’s Constitutionality – State Department Confirms No ACTA Pre-Review

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Fifty leading U.S. legal scholars cast fresh doubt on the constitutionality of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in an open letter to the Senate Finance Committee today. (Press Release). At issue is whether the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) had authority to enter into the controversial IP enforcement agreement on behalf of the United States when the Deputy U.S. Trade Ambassador signed ACTA in October 2011. The law professors say no, and call on the Senators to “exercise your constitutional responsibility to ensure that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is submitted to the Senate for approval as an Article II treaty, or to the Congress as an ex-post Congressional-Executive Agreement.”  

We, too, have wondered about the USTR’s authority to enter into this agreement. That’s why we made a request under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act to the State Department in February for key documents that set out the State Department’s analysis of the constitutional basis for ACTA – the “Circular 175” memorandum, and the accompanying Memorandum of Law.

As the State Department’s website states, the Circular 175 procedure is the way that the State Department “seeks to confirm that the making of treaties and ...

FIRE to UC System President: Revise Systemwide ‘Intolerance’ Reporting System

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Yesterday afternoon, FIRE sent a letter to Mark Yudof, president of the University of California (UC) System, urging him to reform the “systemwide intolerance report form” in order to protect freedom of speech on the ten campuses of the UC system.

Like so many bias reporting protocols, the UC systemsCampus Climatepage defines reportable incidents to include large amounts of protected speech. For example, the page defines “expressions of bias” as “a general communication not directed toward a particular individual, which disparages a group of people on the basis of some characteristic”—a definition so broad that it could include almost anything that another person finds offensive.

While the policy does not specify whether all such incidents are punishable, even the threat of an investigation is sufficient to impermissibly chill protected speech. As we wrote in our letter,

It is insufficient to say that the Campus Climate policy provides only for the investigation, not the punishment, of protected speech. When the only conduct alleged is protected speech, the act of investigation threatens the First Amendment rights of the person being investigated. See Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 245, 248 (1957) (noting that government ...

THE GUARDIAN Analyzes Tintin in the Congo Case

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

In February, Belgian courts ruled that Tintin in the Congo should not be removed from bookstore shelves over charges that it violated Belgian laws regarding racism and inciting racial hatred. The court ruled that the book, which was serialized from 1930 to 1931 and collected in 1946 with significant revisions, was a product of its time and did not intend to incite racial hatred. This week, The Guardian reposted an analysis that Jogchum Vrielink wrote about the case and its impact on the sale of the book.

Vrielink’s analysis summarizes the details of the case:

Bienvenu Mbuto Mondondo, a Congolese national studying in Brussels, filed suit to obtain an injunction against the continued publication, distribution and sale of Hergé’s comic book Tintin in the Congo (Tintin au Congo), as well as seeking to have the book withdrawn from bookshops and libraries in Belgium. Mondondo did so on the basis of alleged violations of the Belgian anti-racism legislation. In subsidiary order he demanded that a disclaimer be printed on the comic’s cover, warning of its offensive nature, along with the inclusion of an introduction of a similar nature. Mondondo was supported in his claims by the minority ...

The So-Not-Dirty Cowboy Author Speaks

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

We were able to chat yesterday with Amy Timberlake, the author of The Dirty Cowboy, (illustrated by Adam Rex). The book that has been at the center of a censorship debate outside of Hershey, P.A.. Two parents of a child at an elementary school objected to the nudity of the cowboy, calling it pornographic. Most likely hoping not to rock the boat, the Annville-Cleona School Board subsequently voted to remove the book after a review.

Timberlake spoke out against the censorship on her blog and our Kids’ Right to Read Project has joined their voice as well, writing a letter to the Annville-Cleona school board which urges the return of the book.

NCAC: The idea for this book came from a story your grandfather used to tell you as a child, is that right? Tell me about your inspiration to write this book…
Amy Timberlake: Yes, The Dirty Cowboy is a story my grandfather used to tell us when my brother and I visited my grandparents in the summer. But here’s the crazy part: the story goes back even further than that. My grandfather heard the story from my great-grandfather who was a newspaperman for the Silver ...

Severe Penalties for Stealing Newspapers at Central Conn. State U.

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Invoking a deep commitment to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, President Jack Miller of Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) has announced severe penalties against two soccer coaches who apparently stole about 150 copies of the student newspaper, The Recorder, in early May. 

At least one of the coaches, Shaun Green, was caught on video taking the newspapers. Often the thieves in such cases are hard to find, but the surveillance cameras on campus (like them or not) made this investigation easy. 

As you might expect, the stolen issue of the newspaper included negative information about the soccer team. Editor Nicholas Proch told NBC Connecticut that the article concerned "the team's disqualification from next year's postseason due to NCAA academic sanctions."

In a press release yesterday, President Miller announced the punishment and the principles behind it, stressing that "we have built a culture of freedom of expression and freedom of the press and personally defended those freedoms even when the result is criticism of us." 

The punishments listed in the press release are severe and even extend to the Athletics Department budget:

First, Assistant Coach Paul Wright will not have his contract renewed when it expires on ...

This Week in Internet Censorship: India, Iran, Brazil, Russia, and More

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Iran Continues March Towards “Halal Internet”

This past weekend, Iran’s minister of telecommunications announced that domestic institutions including banks, telecom companies, insurance firms, and universities are now prohibited from dealing with emails that do not come from an “.ir” domain name. This means that customers who use foreign email clients such as Gmail, Yahoo!, and Hotmail will have to switch to domestic Iranian accounts, which are subject to Iranian legal jurisdiction.

While the announcement suggests that the use of foreign email clients leaves Iranian data vulnerable security breaches, the forced move to domestic email services makes it easier for the government to monitor its own citizens. The Telecommunications Ministry insists “that the crackdown is an attempt to ensure confidential information is safe” from foreign email providers who allegedly collect user data, making them insecure for Iranian institutional use.

The foreign email ban is the latest development in what is widely thought to be a transition towards a “Halal” Iranian Internet. The Iranian Telecommunications Ministry has denied “shutting off the Internet” for its residents, but what differentiates this email limitation from previous ones such as the restriction on secure (HTTPS) traffic is its overt nature.

Ustream Adds Russian-Language Option In Response ...

China Closes Tibetan Schools

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012
Chinese authorities move to restrict expressions of Tibetan culture and identity.

FIRE’s Legal Network Seeks a Few Good Attorneys

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Did I say a few good attorneys? Make that a few dozen, or even a few hundred. FIRE's Legal Network—a loose collection of affiliated attorneys nationwide who share our passion for protecting civil liberties on campus—can always use new recruits.  

As a small nonpartisan, nonprofit organization with a national mission, FIRE depends on our Legal Network attorneys to help us defend student and faculty rights on campuses across the country. We don't directly litigate or represent students and faculty in legal actions; instead, when students and faculty require counsel, we refer them to our Legal Network members. We also involve our Legal Network attorneys when we coordinate litigation in certain instances—for example, when filing constitutional challenges against speech codes as part of our Speech Code Litigation Project

Being a member of the Legal Network is simple and largely informal, and there are no dues, requirements, or other commitments. Membership in the Legal Network entails receiving referral emails from time to time about FIRE cases across the country that we believe merit legal attention. The level of attorney involvement might range from a simple letter of inquiry to full litigation. Some of the cases involve requests ...

CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein to Participate in Conference on Creative Expression in Japan

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

This weekend sees CBLDF events around the country and around the world: CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein is headed to Japan to talk about the challenges creative expression faces in Japan and abroad.

Japanese manga and anime have strong appeal worldwide, and as their popularity has increased, they have faced challenges in Japan and overseas, including in the United States. Japanese censors have actively called for and passed laws that regulate the sale of manga and the depiction of sexuality in manga. In the United States, a Korean manwha — the equivalent of manga — is near the top of the list of the most-challenged books in 2011, and the ownership of manga led to the prosecution of Christopher Handley and Ryan Matheson.

The conference addresses the challenges faced by manga and anime and the detrimental effect of regulation on creative expression in Japan. During the symposium, Brownstein will join local and international experts to talk about the censorship of content in manga and anime in both Japan and overseas.

The discussion takes place Friday, May 18, 2012, at 6:30 p.m., at the Hibiya Library Cultural Center Convention Hall (Hibiya Park, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo). The event ...

NCAC Interview: Linda Tyndall Fights for “Fifty Shades”

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

When Linda Tyndall heard that copies of the best-selling novel Fifty Shades of Grey had been removed from the Brevard County Public Libraries, she was concerned and decided to take action. Her petition on has over 1,600 signatures. Tomorrow, Tyndall and other petitioners will make their voice heard at a meeting of the County Library Board.


TPP: Internet Freedom Activists Protest Secret Trade Agreement Being Negotiated This Week

Monday, May 14th, 2012

The U.S. content industry will try anything to preserve its profit margin and power over the creative content market at the expense of the Internet. They will use any tactic that circumvents democratic processes to make new rules for the Internet that favor their interests and not the interests of Internet users or the technical community that actually builds the Internet as we know it. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is yet another example of these tactics.

The TPP is a secretive plurilateral1 agreement that includes provisions dealing with intellectual property, including online copyright enforcement, anti-circumvention measures, and Internet intermediary liability. Due to the secrecy of the negotiations, we do not know what is in the current version of the TPP’s IP chapter; the general public has only seen a leaked February 2011 version of the U.S. IP chapter proposal [pdf]. Based on the one-sided nature of the groups directly involved, and the content of what has already leaked, we should all be concerned about the prospect of the TPP including provisions that will harm online expression, privacy and innovation on the Internet.

TPP rally outside the Dallas Intercontinental Hotel where negotiaitons are taking place
(Image credit: Twitter user ...

DHS Considers Collecting DNA From Kids; DEA and US Marshals Already Do

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Documents just released by US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) in response to one of EFF’s Freedom of Information Act requests show that DHS is considering collecting DNA from kids ages 14 and up—and is exploring expanding its regulations to allow collection from kids younger than that.

The proposal appears to be working its way through DHS in the wake of regulations from the Department of Justice that require all federal agencies—including DHS and its components such as ICE—to collect DNA from individuals arrested for federal crimes as well as “from non-United States persons who are detained under the authority of the United States,” whether or not they have been involved in criminal activity.  While the law specifically exempts a few classes of “aliens,” the documents we received show DHS may start DNA collection from anyone it fingerprints.  Currently, that’s any child over 14 who’s detained, but we also found records that show ICE could lower that age even more.

DHS estimates that as many as 1 million people who are subject to administrative detention or arrest annually could now be subject to DNA collection.  But it’s important to note that many of these people are not ...

‘Crimson’ Reports on Due Process Concerns as Harvard Revises Sexual Assault Policy

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Last Friday, The Harvard Crimson updated readers on Harvard University's ongoing study of its sexual assault policies, noting that the university's policy options have been affected by the controversial April 4, 2011, "Dear Colleague" letter from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Zeroing in on the ongoing debate about OCR's decision to mandate the use of the "preponderance of the evidence" standard of proof in campus sexual misconduct proceedings, Crimson staff writer Rebecca D. Robbins writes:

As Harvard's peer institutions move to update their sexual misconduct policies by lowering the standard of evidence required for a guilty conviction, two lawyers interviewed for this article say that these universities' changes may encourage Harvard to follow suit. 

The University is currently in the midst of a two-year process of reviewing its sexual assault policies to ensure that it is compliant with federal anti-discrimination law.

In April 2011, the Office for Civil Rights released a "Dear Colleague" letter outlining stricter guidelines for colleges and universities for dealing with sexual assault complaints in the wake of a stream of Title IX complaints filed against institutions of higher education, including Harvard Law School

Last month, both the University of Pennsylvania and ...

Clampdown on Activist’s Wedding

Monday, May 14th, 2012
Police detain and beat guests of Chinese activist Qin Yongmin's marriage celebration.

UMass Lowell: Be Careful How You Address Controversial Speech

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Yet another joke issue of a college student publication has encountered controversy on campus for being intentionally offensive in order to comment on a variety of issues. The good news is that the dean of students at University of Massachusetts Lowell, Larry Siegel, has taken punishment of the independent student newspaper, the Connector, off of the table. The Lowell Sun reports

Siegel said the university "holds in high regard the freedom of speech" and so "in no way are we going to censor the student paper," which is run independently.

"But you can't let your own amusement under the guise of a once-a-year-joke go to this level of disrespect," Siegel said, adding that based on what happened this year, there would be discussions with the newspaper's editors and dismayed student leaders on how to prevent something like this from happening again.

"They can't let their egos run rampant," he said. "There's a responsibility here. And this is immature, careless and callous.

"Words are very powerful," he added. "And these kind of public words are ones you are going to be accountable to."

What did the paper print? Here's how the Lowell Sun described it:

Rife with profanity, it ...

Free webinar Tuesday on self-service holds

Monday, May 14th, 2012

The move to self-service holds (also known as open-shelf holds) has enabled many libraries to continue user hold services despite ongoing staff cuts and budget reductions. But many libraries have implemented self-service hold systems that reveal personally identifiable information – including users’ full names – that link the user to the specific book or materials on hold, thereby compromising the library user’s privacy and confidentiality. Such practices violate the ALA Code of Ethics and may, in some states, violate library confidentiality statutes. In response to this situation, the ALA Council passed a resolution addressing self-service hold practices that encourages both libraries and vendors to adopt self-service hold systems that preserve users’ confidentiality.

Join Deborah Caldwell-Stone, OIF Deputy Director, for a free webinar explaining the legal and ethical standards that support the move to privacy-protective hold systems. This small, interactive live event will also highlight options for self-service hold systems that both protect user privacy and save the library money. We encourage you to bring your questions and ideas for small group discussion.

Registration is limited to 25 attendees and closes at 4 p.m. (Central) today. The webinar will be recorded and an archived webcast will be available at a ...

In Defense of Maurice Sendak’s IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN

Monday, May 14th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

Legendary illustrator and writer Maurice Sendak passed away last week at the age of 83. His Caldecott Medal winning work Where the Wild Things Are is indelibly etched into the minds of children and adults throughout the world as a flawless portrait of childhood, incorporating both the sublime and acrimonious aspects of youth. Sendak remains the only American to win the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for illustration and is well-known for creating honest characters that are headstrong, boisterous, and even unlikable.

Sendak’s books have been frequently challenged in libraries, in particular his children’s book In the Night Kitchen, another award-winning book that features a young boy’s dream journey through a baker’s kitchen. The book upset many librarians and adults because its young protagonist, Mickey, was depicted in the nude. Many librarians censored the book by painting diapers over the boy’s genitals, and in some cases the book was even burned.

Letters of Note recently ran a letter written by Sendak’s editor, Ursula Nordstrom. Nordstrom wrote to one of the librarians who burned copies of In the Night Kitchen:

I am indeed distressed to hear that in the year 1972 you burned a copy of a ...

Video: “Fifty Shades of Grey” Fans Speak Out Against Library Ban

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

We spoke to fans of Fifty Shades of Grey about libraries that have banned their beloved trilogy, and erotica in general. This video was shot at an appearance by Grey author E.L. James at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in NYC. What do you think about libraries that have chosen to exclude all erotica, even while they carry works like Fanny Hill and The Story of O?

IF Action Round Up May 4-10, 2012

Friday, May 11th, 2012

OIF sponsors IFAction, an email list for those who would like updated information on news affecting intellectual freedom, censorship, privacy, access to information, and more. To subscribe to this list, visit For an archive of all postings to the list since 1996, visit Below is a sample of articles from May 4-10, 2012.


Senate to examine Obama plan for online privacy ‘bill of rights’
FBI: We need wiretap-ready Web sites – now
Passing the buck on location tracking
Schools can’t stop wondering what students are up to on Facebook
Twitter Hits Back at Court, Prosecutors Over ‘Occupy’ Order
Few Companies Fight Patriot Act Gag Orders, FBI Admits
Senators clash over Internet privacy
Dem lawmakers move to protect employee Internet passwords
Privacy labels aim to control prying eyes, personal data
Finger scanning at theme parks
Assembly votes to keep Facebook passwords private from employers



Brevard libraries pull erotic best-seller ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’
Facebook Spam Filter Catches Some By Surprise
Petition seeks return of ‘Dirty Cowboy’
Sumner bans novel over teen sex scene
Controversial ‘In the Night Kitchen’ could return to Norridge school’s library
Iran’s Web censorship filters supreme leader’s own statement




Global Network Initiative Gets an Inside Look at Tech Firms’ Human Rights Practices

Friday, May 11th, 2012

On April 18, the Global Network Initiative (GNI) released its annual report documenting third-party assessments conducted in 2011 and 2012 for GNI’s three founding corporate participants: Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft. GNI was formed to bring major Internet companies together with human rights organizations to improve practices around human rights, privacy and freedom of expression on the Internet. In the past year, GNI expanded to include two more corporate participants—Evoca and Websense—and Facebook has recently joined the organization as an observing member. GNI has also added seven new non-corporate members—NGOs and investors from all over the world.

Phase I of GNI’s long-term strategy for improving free speech and human rights policies consisted of self-reporting by the companies. Phase II took the much more meaningful step of recruiting independent assessors to crack open company records and “determine whether the companies had the systems, policies and procedures in place to support the implementation of the Principles within their organization,” according to the report.

Those principles—which establish guidelines on freedom of expression, privacy, responsible decision-making, multi-stakeholder collaboration, accountability and transparency—can be found here.

“For the first time, third-party assessors received unprecedented access to these ICT sector companies to assess their policies and processes,” ...

ALA Announces Graphic Novel Conference

Friday, May 11th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

Today, the American Library Association announced the addition of ALA GraphiCon, a new mini-conference occurring within the ALA Annual Conference, which takes place June 21 – 26, 2012, in Anaheim, California. GraphiCon will provide programming that supports the inclusion of graphic novels and comic books in library collections.

ALA describes GraphiCon in their official press release:

LA GraphiCon is an innovation for 2012 ALA Annual Conference, offering a wide range of programs, events and exhibits specially for graphic novel and comic fans and anyone wanting to learn more about their role in the library. GraphiCon 2012 @ Annual includes the following programs, with details in the Conference Scheduler:

  • Animated Tales: Storytelling in comics and animation and everything in between;
  • (Re)telling Stories: Fanart, authorship and how stories are shared, reconstructed and retold;
  • Graphic Novels & Comic in Libraries MIG Meeting; Conversation Starters: Convincing the Naysayers – Why Graphic Novels Deserve a Legitimate Place on Your Library Shelves;
  • Ignite Session: Graphic Nonfiction – a 21st century way to present information; Ignite Session: The Freakiest Comic Moments of Osamu Tezuka.

Artist Alley is a new space in the exhibits hall, next to the Graphic Novel/Gaming Pavilion. Attendees can meet ...

NY Twitter Decision Fails to Recognize Content and Location Data Require a Warrant

Friday, May 11th, 2012

A New York judge's broad opinion, ordering Twitter to comply with a subpoena (PDF) and turn over account information about one of its users arrested for disorderly conduct in connection with an Occupy Wall Street protest, is worse the deeper you dig into it. 

The judge ruled (PDF) that the user, Malcolm Harris, lost ownership of his tweets once he posted them online, and therefore had no legal standing to challenge the subpoena. This decision prompted several worried responses, including our own, because our Fourth Amendment privacy rights should not be surrendered simply because we use online service providers that store information remotely. Even Twitter stepped in to defend Harris, filing a motion to quash (PDF) the subpoena.

But two other troubling legal rulings in the opinion have received less scrutiny, even though they also put basic privacy rights in jeopardy. The court threw away one of the most important procedural protections enshrined in our constitution -- the Fourth Amendment's search warrant requirement -- by lowering the standard for government access to both the contents of communication, and information about a person's location.

First, the court allowed the government to get the contents of communication -- in this case, Harris' tweets -- with a mere ...

And the Privacy Invasion Award Goes To …

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Who’s playing fast and loose with your data? The Big Brother Awards, billed as the “Oscars for data leeches” by the hackers and privacy advocates who hand out the prizes, shine a high-intensity spotlight on companies and individuals with poor privacy track records. Since 1998, Privacy International and a host of affiliated organizations have singled out the worst privacy violators in various countries including the UK, Austria, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, Japan, New Zealand and the U.S. The title evokes the totalitarian cult personality featured in George Orwell’s 1984, set in a dystopic world of mass surveillance.

In Germany, privacy advocates held their annual edition of the Big Brother Awards in April. The panel of judges was made up of representatives from privacy advocate FoeBuD and other organizations campaigning for data protection and human rights. Curious to know who made Germany’s list of privacy offenders? Here’s the rundown.

Markus Ulbig, Saxon Minister of the Interior

Markus Ulbig, Saxon Minister of the Interior, snagged a Big Brother Award in the category “Government and Administration” for presiding over a veritable data tsunami that swept up mobile phone data belonging to hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens.  Police ...

James Madison Student Praises ‘Vibrant’ Free Speech Wall

Friday, May 11th, 2012
Last month, I wrote a Torch post highlighting student activism that took place on campuses across the country during Free Speech Week, April 1-8. For one of the most popular demonstrations, many student groups built free speech walls to provide an open forum for student expression. Students constructed temporary walls out of cardboard or wood, or covered building walls with paper, and provided markers for fellow students to write, draw, or post anything they wanted.

Student group Madison Liberty at James Madison University (JMU) decided to host a wall, and I recently came across a blog post about their experience that I want to share. Luke Wachob, a student in the group, writes:

The wall's sprawling mess of politics, social commentary, school pride, and non sequiturs filled my heart with joy every time I walked by it. That probably sounds like hyperbole, but it's not. This was a physical manifestation of the abstract concept of liberty: it was open to all but forced on none, it was vibrant and ever-changing, it was delightfully contradictory. And above all, it was peaceful.

Sounds like a great time! Luke also talks about JMU's recent "green light" rating from FIRE, which he and his ...

Top 5 Reasons to Attend the 2012 CFN Conference

Friday, May 11th, 2012

FIRE's annual CFN conference—happening this year July 27-29, just outside of Philadelphia—unites student advocates for free speech from across the country. Attendees learn from distinguished First Amendment scholars, fellow student activists, and FIRE staff about the philosophical and legal arguments for student rights on campus. I went to my first CFN conference as a FIRE intern in 2008, and it is truly a fantastic experience. The 2012 CFN Conference is fast approaching and I think all interested students should apply, but don't just take my word for it. Here are the top 5 reasons to attend the CFN conference, according to past student attendees:

5. "The speakers are absolutely fantastic. Never have I had such a good time listening to really intelligent and informed people speak about important issues so well."

4. "The conference provides a fast paced intro to student rights and motivational cases to inspire activism."

3. "The sessions provide insights into many different aspects of FIRE's work and highlight a variety of obstacles to free speech on college campuses."

2. "The socials are one of the best things about the conference-it is a great chance to socialize and discuss ideas."

1. "Biggest strength - eating dinner ...

Names Missing from Voter Rolls

Friday, May 11th, 2012
Cambodians are finding themselves left off voter lists or unable to register ahead of commune elections.

Join CBLDF Executive Director for CLE Credit Program Discussing PROTECT Act

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

On Wednesday, May 23, CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein will be part of a continuing legal education program discussing the PROTECT Act, the federal law under which Christopher Handley was prosecuted for the possession of child pornography. Authorities alleged that Handley’s manga collection contained obscene depictions of children in sexual situations. Several other individuals have been prosecuted and convicted under the law, which legislates that non-photographic images depicting minors in sexual situations is child pornography. Certain parts of the law have been struck down as unconstitutional, but some still stand. Brownstein will join NYU School of Law professor Amy Adler and Michael Delohery, the chief of Westchester County DA’s Office’s High Technology Crime Bureau, for a discussion about the law and the concerns of creators, publishers, and collectors of various forms of entertainment, including comics.

The program takes place at Sotheby’s Institute of Art (570 Lexington Avenue, 6th Floor, New York) on May 23, 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. and it open to the public. For more details and to register for the program, visit the New York State Bar Association’s website here.

Tufts President Responds to FIRE in ‘Cox’ Case

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Tufts University President Anthony P. Monaco has replied to FIRE's letter of May 2 regarding the suspension of several members of the Tufts men's crew team due to their "check out our cox" T-shirts. In an email to FIRE, Monaco states that the Tufts administration (at least from the decanal level or above) did not pressure the coaching staff to take action. If we learn any new, credible information to the contrary, we will report it.

President Monaco also wrote: 

I can assure you that our coaches share with Tufts University and me a strong commitment to the principle of freedom of expression. 

President Monaco's email refers us to his letter to the team, in which he acknowledges Tufts' "commitment to an environment that supports free expression." As I wrote last week:

Tufts' pattern of violating its free speech promises could finally end under President Monaco. I look forward to the possibility of working with him to restore Tufts' reputation. 

If all of this means that President Monaco is ready to get Tufts off of our Red Alert list (where it currently belongs due to Tufts' determination that certain examples of student parody and satire were punishable expression), we ...

EFF to Testify at Hearings on Expanding DMCA Exemptions for Jailbreaking and Video Remixing

Thursday, May 10th, 2012
Copyright Office to Hear Public Testimony in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles

Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles - Experts from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will testify at public hearings held by the U.S. Copyright Office this month, urging officials to renew and expand the critical exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that the Copyright Office granted in 2009 in response to EFF's requests to protect the rights of American consumers who modify electronic gadgets and make remix videos.

EFF Staff Technologist Dan Auerbach will testify on Friday, May 11th, in Washington, D.C., demonstrating the technology of "jailbreaking" – liberating gadgets to run operating systems and applications from any source, not just those approved by the manufacturer. On Thursday, May 17th, in Los Angeles, EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann will testify about why it's important to clarify the legality of jailbreaking smart phones, tablets, and videogame consoles. At the same hearing in Los Angeles, EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry will testify to why artists and critics deserve legal protection for creating and using short excerpts of video content to make new works of commentary and criticism. Hofmann and McSherry will testify again on June 4 and ...

The 2012 DMCA Rulemaking: A Primer

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Every three years the U.S. Copyright Office considers granting exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s prohibition against circumventing measures that control access to digital copyrighted works. The first hearing in the 2012 DMCA rulemaking proceeding is set for this Friday, May 11, and we thought folks might want to know a bit about how the process works. 

Let's start with some background.  In a nutshell, the DMCA anti-circumvention provisions forbid the making, distribution and use of technologies that allow people to "circumvent," i.e., break, digital rights management (DRM) and "other technical protection measures" used to lock down copyrighted works. While this ban was meant to deter copyright infringement, many have misused the law to chill competition, free speech, and fair use.  But Congress did create a kind of safety valve, authorizing the Copyright Office to consider granting exemptions to the DMCA's ban on circumvention where the DMCA is interfering with otherwise lawful, non-infringing uses.  

Now, some nitty gritty: The exemption consideration process, or “rulemaking,” is generally conducted every three years.  Exemptions that are not renewed will expire. The Copyright Office can’t grant exemptions for the creation or distribution of circumvention tools ...

OIF statement on “Fifty Shades of Grey” controversy

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

The American Library Association supports libraries and librarians across the country, who face difficult decisions every day about how to allocate scarce resources in order to meet the wide-ranging information needs of their communities.

To guide decisions about what materials to select for a collection, libraries develop selection policies, which outline the principles and priorities they will follow in selecting items for the library.  Libraries also strive to be responsive to the requests of community members in choosing materials.  Selection is an inclusive process that seeks out those materials that will best satisfy the community’s needs for information, entertainment, and enlightenment.

Recent controversy over the novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” has sparked discussion about the line between selection and censorship in libraries.  Where selection decisions are guided by the professional ethics of librarianship – which emphasize inclusion, access, and neutrality – libraries choosing not to purchase materials that fall outside their defined collection policies and needs are not censors.  Where partisan disapproval or doctrinal pressure guides libraries’ decisions to select or remove materials, then censorship can result.

Materials like “Fifty Shades of Grey” challenge libraries’ professional ideals of open, equitable, unbiased access to information.  They raise important questions about how ...

Pledge to Legalize Student Union

Thursday, May 10th, 2012
Aung San Suu Kyi will work within Burma’s parliament to make the banned union a legal entity.

Spread the Word: FIRE’s High School Essay Contest is Growing!

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

FIRE will be busy this summer with our annual conference and other projects as we map out our goals for the coming year. That makes the coming season an ideal time for FIRE to spread the word about exciting new changes coming to our annual high school essay contest! The contest offers high school juniors and seniors the chance to compete for college scholarships by writing an essay explaining why free speech and First Amendment rights are crucial to higher education. This year, we are pleased to announce that the scholarship prizes will be bigger, the essays will address brand-new FIRE videos, and even more high school students will be encouraged to participate. Students will now have the chance to win a $10,000 scholarship award, along with smaller scholarship prizes of $5,000, $1,000, and $500. Most importantly, contestants will learn invaluable lessons that will prepare them to exercise their expressive rights as college students in America. 

As we launch these new features, we want to appeal to our supporters to help us spread the word! Let your friends, family, and colleagues know about this great opportunity. Most of all, be sure to tell any and all high school students, ...

Unlearning Liberty at ‘The Chronicle of Higher Education’

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff's upcoming book Unlearning Liberty explores how higher education has trouble dealing with differing opinions in a tolerant and sophisticated way—a culture that FIRE has been fighting against since our founding—and argues that this difficulty has real ramifications for our society. Unfortunately, recent events at The Chronicle of Higher Education, which recently fired blogger Naomi Schaefer Riley following a controversial blog entry, have once again demonstrated that higher education can be averse to dissenting or unpopular opinions.

As has been covered by many bloggers, and by Riley herself in The Wall Street Journal, Riley was fired from The Chronicle's group blog, Brainstorm. Riley was fired after she wrote a post questioning the validity of black studies programs by citing titles of dissertations highlighted in a recent Chronicle article on black studies, and then wrote another blog post defending herself. In her second post, Riley acknowledged that she did not read the entirety of the dissertations she attacked, but argued that it would be unreasonable to expect her to do so for the purposes of writing a 500-word blog post.

At the outset, it's important to acknowledge that The Chronicle could have fired Riley ...

Twitter Fights Back Against NY Judge’s Sweeping Order

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

In our inaugural "Who Has Your Back" campaign, we applauded Twitter for being one of the rare technology companies to fight for and defend their users' rights in courts. We're happy to see that they're continuing to stand up to protect the free speech and privacy rights of one of their users.

In February, we wrote about the New York City District Attorney's attempts to subpoena information from Twitter regarding the account of Malcolm Harris, one of the 700 people arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge in an October 2011 Occupy Wall Street protest. After Harris challenged the subpoena in court, Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino issued a written opinion (PDF), denying Harris' motion to quash and ordering Twitter to comply with the subpoena. Yesterday, Twitter filed it's own motion to quash the subpoena (PDF), arguing that complying would violate the law. And we're grateful they did, because Judge Sciarrino's order presents a serious risk to online privacy. 

First, the court ruled that Harris had no standing -- or a demonstrated connection to the legal claim -- to challenge the subpoena. Twitter's terms of service states that users give Twitter a license to use their tweets. According to the court, "Twitter’s license to use ...

George Carlin 2012 Birthday Celebration Announcement

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Click here to view the embedded video.



This video contains some adult language that may be unsuitable for children.

This is a 2 minute time lapse video showing the creation of a fantastic mural of the late comedian, created on the First Amendment Monument in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The mural and video also serve as an announcement of a comedy benefit organized by Kelly Carlin celebrating the 75th anniversary of her father’s birthday to be held at the Hermosa Beach Comedy & Magic Club on May 17.

Tickets still available!!:

Law Professors Call for TPP Transparency

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

As the opaque proceedings surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) continue, a group of 32 law professors from current and potential future negotiating countries have written a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk condemning the lack of transparency. The letter comes as a new round of negotiations begins in Dallas, where the USTR has canceled full-day stakeholder presentations. Given that there has been no publicly released version of the text, the lack of a meaningful stakeholder forum means that the only private individuals not shut out of the agreement are the members of the Industry Trade Advisory Committee on IP, which is "dominated by brand name pharmaceutical manufacturers and the Hollywood entertainment industry."

As the law professors explain, this trajectory towards an even more extreme lack of transparency is the wrong course.

Now is (indeed, yesterday was) the time to ramp up participation mechanisms that might bolster the agreement’s legitimacy and fairness, not dial them back – if the goal is to create balanced law that stands the test of modern democratic theories and practices of public transparency, accountability and input.  Please restore the stakeholder sessions and release negotiating texts now.

EFF joins these professors in ...

Following Controversial Blog Entry, ‘Chronicle of Higher Education’ Firing Makes Waves

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Last week, author Naomi Schaefer Riley posted a blog entry criticizing the field of black studies on Brainstorm, a blog maintained by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Riley's entry, titled "The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations.", contained a sharp critique of several doctoral theses featured in an earlier Chronicle article, "A New Generation of Black-Studies Ph.D.'s." 

Riley's entry generated instant controversy: An online petition calling for her firing garnered thousands of signatories (now more than 6,500); Riley's fellow Brainstorm bloggers criticized her piece; and the graduate students themselves responded as well. Riley followed her initial post with a defense of its content and a response to her critics, and the Chronicle's editor, Liz McMillen, weighed in with a call for more discussion and debate. McMillen wrote:  

When we created the Brainstorm blog five years ago, we hoped it would be a forum for debate — where views about higher education, academic culture, and ideas could be aired and discussed and often challenged. It is a blog for opinion, sometimes strong opinions, not news reporting by the staff. The writers on the blog—13 in all, from institutions around ...

Steven Booth receives 2012 FTRF Conable Conference Scholarship

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Congratulations to Steven Booth, who was chosen among dozens of great applicants as the recipient of the 2012 Gordon M. Conable Conference Scholarship, sponsored by the Freedom to Read Foundation.  As the Conable Scholarship recipient, Booth will have his registration, travel, housing, and other expenses paid to the 2012 American Library Association Annual Conference.  The conference will be June 21-26 in Anaheim.

Steven, who holds an MLS from Simmons College in Boston, is an archivist with the National Archives and Records Administration.  His expressed interest in connecting librarians and archivists working to promote intellectual freedom values was a main factor in his selection.

Steven will attend FTRF’s various meetings and events, and will be officially introduced at the FTRF Member Reception, Thursday, June 21, 5:00-6:30 p.m. in room 201A of the Anaheim Convention Center.

The Freedom to Read Foundation’s Gordon M. Conable Scholarship was created to advance two principles that Gordon Conable held dear: intellectual freedom and mentorship.  Conable was a California librarian and intellectual freedom champion who served several terms as president of the Freedom to Read Foundation.  His unexpected death in 2005 inspired his wife, Irene Conable and the FTRF Board to create the Conable Fund...

Iranian Cartoonist Sentenced to Lashes for Depiction of Conservative MP

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

Iranian political cartoonist Mahmoud Shokraye has been sentenced to 25 lashed for his depiction of conservative Member of Parliament Ahmad Lotfi Ashtiani. Ashtiani was among a group of Iranian politicians who had been criticized for interfering with the country’s sports. In his cartoon, Shokraye depicted Ashtiani dressed as a soccer player. Ashtiani sued Shokraye, claiming he was insulted by the cartoon. The resulting sentence of 25 lashes is an unprecedented punishment.

The Guardian covered the story, discussing the fallout for Iranian cartoonists:

[Shokraye's] sentence has triggered outcry among Iran‘s online community with many calling on cartoonists to draw new caricatures of the MP. Many have expressed their anger on Twitter and Facebook.

Speaking to the Guardian, Nikahang Kowsar, a prominent Iranian cartoonist who fell foul of the Iranian regime after famously caricaturing a prominent cleric like a crocodile in a series of cartoons, said: “This verdict is a direct threat to each and every cartoonist working inside Iran. From now on, if this sentence is not set aside, any public official could sue the cartoonists for portraying him/her in a cartoon.”

Kowsar, a member of the board of Cartoonists Rights Network International, has also participated in ...

Bring Fifty Shades of Grey Back to Brevard County

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

E.L. James’ erotic romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey first made headlines as a phenomenal best-seller, topping the, New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists at 3 million copies sold. Now, not surprisingly, the book is getting attention for a different and disturbing reason: censorship. The book has been removed from public libraries in Brevard County, Florida, reportedly because of its sexual content (some reviewers have dubbed Fifty Shades “mommy porn”). Despite overwhelming demand and long wait lists for library copies, some other libraries across the country are refusing to even acquire the book.

The NCAC wrote a letter to the Director of Library Services in Brevard County expressing our concern over the censorship of Fifty Shades of Grey. The letter and a statement regarding the incident can be found on

Libraries certainly aren’t obligated to purchase every book ever printed and literary merit is a legitimate consideration before buying a book. But whether or not Fifty Shades is a classic work of literary genius that will stand the test of time, the Brevard County libraries thought the title worthwhile enough that they bought 19 copies. And they were removed because one or more ...

University of Chicago Student Makes Clear the Threats to Student Rights Presented by OCR, Bias Incident Policies

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

In the pages of The Chicago Maroon, University of Chicago (UC) student Bryant Jackson-Green takes on the myriad threats to student free speech and due process rights presented by new mandates from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR), as well as by UC's own policies regarding campus bias incidents. 

Jackson-Green, who is also a member of FIRE's Campus Freedom Network (CFN), writes at length about the fact that OCR's April 4, 2011, "Dear Colleague" letter leaves those students across the country accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault with diminished due process rights, in particular by mandating universities incorporate the low "preponderance of the evidence" (i.e., more likely than not) standard of proof into their sexual harassment and sexual assault policies. Jackson-Green has an excellent grasp of the impact that this new requirement has had, and will continue to have, on accused students, writing:

It's worth considering the consequences for sexual harassment proceedings. The accused face, at the very least, permanent marks on their academic record and ruined reputations; at worst, blacklisting from future employment, expulsion, and criminal charges. According to a survey conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, 39 of the top ...

Farewell to Sendak, but not to Censorship

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

We were saddened to hear today about the passing of beloved children’s book author Maurice Sendak at the age of 83. His books, the most well-known being Where the Wild Things Are, captivated the imaginations of readers both young and old with their sometimes dark, fantastical stories.  Because of the nature of his tales, many critics and censors marked his work as inappropriate or too dark for young children. Most notably, his 1970 book In the Night Kitchen, was one of the most challenged books in the 1990s because it features a young boy who, in his dream world, falls out of his clothes and into a bowl of cake batter.

Just a few months ago, Stephen Colbert interviewed Sendak on The Colbert Report, discussing, among other things, the sexual content some have projected onto his works.

Wondering why Sendak drew the protagonist of In the Night Kitchen naked, Colbert said: “Boys wear pants.”

“Not when they’re dreaming,” Sendak replied, smiling.

Sadly, not much has changed. In Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, the Annville-Cleona School Board voted to remove Amy Timberlake’s award-winning book The Dirty Cowboy, from library shelves. The book, which is inspired by the life of ...

Adam on CBS Radio Tomorrow

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel will be interviewed on WTIC News Talk 1080 AM in Hartford, Connecticut, Wednesday at 6:20 a.m. Adam will discuss the ongoing controversy over The Chronicle of Higher Education's firing of journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley for a controversial blog post.

If you're in the area, be sure to tune in, or listen live online.

Harvard Business School Fails to Live Up to Its Own Standards

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

"The teaching of ethics here is explicit, not implicit," proclaims the Harvard Business School (HBS) website, as the school sets for itself the goal of constructing "a model of the highest standards essential to responsible leadership in the modern business world." But the case of Ben Story, a student who recently ran afoul of the HBS administration, seems to demonstrate the illusory nature of the school's proud claim. 

A student proudly displayed on the HBS website, Ben Story graduated from UCLA with a degree in theater and hopes to pursue a career that combines business and art, "something in media and entertainment." Story therefore seemed like a natural fit to be co-president of the annual HBS Show, the student-written/produced/performed musical that celebrates and parodies the business school experience. The problems for Story began very soon after the performance. According to an op-ed he wrote in The Harbus, the independent student newspaper at HBS,

After the April 13th HBS Show performance, several empty alcohol containers were found in Burden Auditorium by the cleaning staff. No one reported drinking to event organizers that night, no property damage occurred, and no one suffered injury. I was out of town so ...