Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

11 More Vanderbilt Student Groups Revolt over New Discriminatory Policy

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

After Vanderbilt University issued a new, discriminatory policy that prevents religious student groups from maintaining belief-based membership and leadership requirements, 11 Vanderbilt student organizations have refused to accept second-class status at the university because of their beliefs. Organized together as Vanderbilt Solidarity, these organizations have applied for recognition as belief-based groups. Their decision follows the choice of the student group Vanderbilt Catholic to accept self-exile by no longer officially registering with Vanderbilt rather than lose its unique identity. 

Vanderbilt has refused to permit belief-based groups to maintain their missions despite significant national outrage, including intervention by FIRE and many others. Although Vanderbilt is a private university, it promises fundamental expressive rights to its students, and this revolt by a dozen student organizations demonstrates once again that Vanderbilt has broken its promise and its moral obligation to allow students to organize around shared beliefs, letting Christians be Christians, Muslims be Muslims, and atheists be atheists. 

Inside Vandy has the story.

EFF Sponsors California Bill to Protect Location Data

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Police shouldn’t be able to get your sensitive location data – information that can reveal your religion, health, hobbies, and politics – on a whim. That’s why EFF is a sponsor of a new bill in the California legislature that would ensure law enforcement obtains a warrant before acquiring a person’s location information from an electronic device like a cell phone.

Senate Bill 1434, introduced by California Senator Mark Leno, follows the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently ruled that it was unconstitutional for police to install a GPS device on someone’s car without a warrant. But GPS vehicle tracking isn’t the only way to collect details on where you are and when. Our cell phones create a location data trail throughout the day as they ping nearby cell towers.  Many other devices – like tablets – do the same, while mobile apps and other tools can collect even more detailed location information

This data is a powerful tool for law enforcement, and should be available to police when it’s appropriate. But this information is extraordinarily sensitive, revealing things like your place of worship, if you are visiting a medical clinic, and who you visit and ...

European Data Retention Directive At Work: Polish Authorities Abuse Access to Users’ Data

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

The Polish digital civil rights group Panoptykon Foundation recently published harrowing findings regarding abuses of Poland’s mandatory data retention law. Using a Freedom of Information Act request, Panoptykon obtained documents that reveal that in 2011, Polish authorities requested users’ traffic data retained by telcos and ISPs over 1.85 million times—half a million times more than in 2010. These findings underscore fundamental flaws in the Polish mandatory data retention law that was fast-tracked in legislation without public debate in 2009.

The law allows authorities to use the retained data in an almost limitless range of scenarios, including petty civil offenses and minor criminal investigations. Moreover, Polish authorities—ranging from law enforcement to intelligence agencies—can access the retained data without independent oversight and at no cost. Rather than require authorization from an independent judge, the law permits access to the data through a simple written or oral request authorized by the head of the Central Anticorruption Bureau, the Polish intelligence agency on anticorruption.

In addition, law enforcement agencies have no obligation to inform citizens that their privacy has been compromised. Under the law, though, telcos and ISPs are obliged to report annually to the Polish government the total number of requests received ...

LEAPING TALL BUILDINGS Launch Event to Benefit CBLDF

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

This Saturday, CBLDF’s favorite photographer Seth Kushner is celebrating the release of his new book with co-author Christopher Irving, Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comics, with an unforgettable event in Brooklyn and the release of series of limited edition prints that benefit CBLDF!

Kushner explains: “To celebrate the release of Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins Of American Comics, which I co-authored with Christopher Irving, I had the idea to commission artists who are featured in the book to create exclusive, limited edition art prints which would commemorate the book and give back to the comics community by having all proceeds go to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.”

The artists involved include: Becky Cloonan (DEMO, Conan), Dean Haspiel (HBO’s Bored to Death, Billy Dogma), Peter Kuper (Spy vs. Spy, Stop Forgetting To Remember), and Paul Pope (100%, Battling Boy).

On Saturday, April 14, Kushner will join an all-star cast of comics creators for a day-long event celebrating the release of Leaping Tall Buildings. The official press release has all the details:

To celebrate the release of Leaping Tall Buildings, powerHouse Books ...

FIRE Asks Cornell to Preserve Due Process

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Yesterday, FIRE asked Cornell University President David Skorton to choose robust student due process rights over the weak evidentiary standard required by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). In our letter, we argue that given the high stakes for students accused of sexual assault, they deserve much more than the "preponderance of the evidence" (more likely than not) evidentiary standard. Torch readers know that FIRE and many others have made this argument repeatedly, and in many forums, in the year following the release of OCR's April 4, 2011, "Dear Colleague" letter.

As we wrote yesterday, Cornell has been engaged in vigorous campus debate over whether to lower its evidentiary standard for students accused of sexual assault. Yesterday, Cornell's University Assembly passed a new policy that would mandate the preponderance of the evidence standard—if President Skorton approves it.

In a key part of our letter to President Skorton, we wrote:

[U]tilizing the lower standard of proof to adjudicate sexual assault cases serves to undermine the integrity, accuracy, reliability, and basic fairness of the judicial process. Implementing the preponderance of the evidence standard in hearings for sexual assault allegations turns the fundamental tenet of due process ...

Graphic Novel THE COLOR OF EARTH Is Second Most Frequently Challenged Book of 2011

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

This week, the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom released their list of the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2011. The second-most challenged book on that list was The Color of Earth, the first book of a critically-acclaimed Korean manwha, or comic book, series. In spite of numerous positive reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly, the School Library Journal, and other outlets that praise the book as “richly literate and imaginative” (Booklist) and “a work of great humanity” (Publishers Weekly), the coming-of-age tale is challenged due to nudity, sexual content, and suitability for age group.

Macmillan, which owns First Second, the imprint that published the book, describes the story:

First love is never easy.

Ehwa grows up helping her widowed mother run the local tavern, watching as their customers — both neighbors and strangers — look down on her mother for her single lifestyle.  Their social status isolates Ehwa and her mother from the rest of the people in their quiet country village.  But as she gets older and sees her mother fall in love again, Ehwa slowly begins to open up to the possibility of ...

Student: Tufts Must Improve Free Speech Record

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Last week, Tufts University student newspaper The Primary Source lamented Tufts' placement on FIRE's list of the 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech as well as its poor recent history with respect to freedom of speech. The editor's piece (PDF; see page 4) explores the issues that have caused Tufts to languish on FIRE's Red Alert list, reserved for the "worst of the worst" when it comes to liberty on campus, and to find itself on the "Worst Colleges" list for the second straight year.

Of course, The Primary Source knows all too well exactly what Tufts has done to earn these twin dubious distinctions: the university found that the student newspaper violated the university's harassment policy in 2007 for publishing two protected, satirical articles. For this, Tufts prohibited The Primary Source entirely from publishing anonymous items—ignoring the point that anonymous expression is essential under any meaningful conception of freedom of speech—and further instructed that the student government "consider the behavior of student groups" in future decisions about official recognition and funding. While Tufts, under heavy pressure and criticism from FIRE and others, eventually lifted the punishment, it has to this day failed to reverse the harassment finding. ...

College Risk Management Industry: Hoodies Are Threatening

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

After deadly shootings on college campuses in recent years, the risk management industry and universities have teamed up to design "threat assessment teams" to try to identify potential threats as early as possible. Unfortunately, innocent people often get caught up in the hysteria, like University of Wisconsin - Stout professor James Miller, who was reported to Stout's threat assessment team because of posters he put up outside his office door.

Yesterday, FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel pointed out in The Huffington Post that some in the risk management industry officially identify protected speech and hoodies as indicators of potential threats:

Sadly, there is a campus threat assessment model that actually identifies wearing "hoodies" as a sign of aggression. [...]

NaBITA [the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association] and its sister organization, NCHERM (the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management), have engaged a lot of resources advising universities about how to watch out for potential threats on campus. In a 2009 NaBITA advisory report, various kinds of speech and behavior are put on a nine-level scale, with a student at level 9 being the next mass shooter. At levels 1-3, the following behavior is identified:

This aggressor ...

Cornell Grad Urges University Not to Abandon Protections for the Accused

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Cornell University graduate Mike Wacker has an excellent column in today's Cornell Sun on the debate at Cornell over complying with the Department of Education's April 4, 2011, "Dear Colleague" letter (DCL). As FIRE has pointed out, the DCL strips important due process protections from students accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault. Wacker hits on many of the problems that Cornell students and faculty members are having with the idea that campus trials for these serious offenses will now be far less thorough and reliable than those for, say, vandalism. 

The entire column is a must-read. After summarizing the proposed changes necessary to bring Cornell's Campus Code of Conduct into compliance with the mandates announced by OCR in the DCL, Wacker writes: 

Advocates of these changes, including the Women's Resource Center, hope to create a system friendlier to sexual assault victims and more likely to bring the guilty to justice, which by itself is certainly an admirable goal. 

However, before anyone signs off on these changes, one critical question must be asked: How many innocent people must suffer to ensure that the guilty are brought to justice?

While the intentions behind these proposed changes are admirable, the basis for ...

Unconstitutional Funding Referendum Passes at University of Oregon

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Last week, students at the University of Oregon (UO) were asked to vote on a wide range of ballot measures affecting all aspects of campus life. One of these items was put to a referendum in the hopes of adopting new funding rules into the constitution of the Associated Students of the University of Oregon (ASUO), the student government body at UO. The question read:

Should students be allowed to vote directly on funding levels for certain fee-funded programs?

The referendum passed (.PDF) by an overwhelming vote of 4,228 to 553. Good for those 553 students who voted against it: They probably knew that it is almost certainly unconstitutional. 

As Oregon Daily Emerald (UO's daily student paper) opinion editor Franklin Bains aptly wrote last week in his editorial regarding the referendum:

It sounds great, and trust me, I value your ability to vote on things. But there's a reason that we don't do this now, and it goes back for more than a decade. The Supreme Court decided in the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin v. Southworth that public universities were allowed to collect mandatory student fees on the basis that they were distributed in a ...

Intrepid Alaska Third Grader Overcomes Classroom Comics Ban

Monday, April 9th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

Chris Wilson with The Graphic Classroom, a website dedicated to “promoting the use of high-quality comic literature in the elementary, middle school, and high school classroom,” shared a story over the weekend about a third grader in Alaska who used his science fair project to overcome his teacher’s ban on comics in the classroom.

Wilson writes about Sam, the student in question:

Sam wanted to read. He wanted to read comics, but his third grade teacher banned comics in class and refused to count them on his daily reading log. It is a common practice in elementary school across the nation to assign reading homework. Students must then log the books, pages, or minutes read on a form and then have it signed by a parent. The form is typically turned in on a weekly basis and assigned points for completion. Sam was okay with that, but he wanted to read comics: BONE, for instance. That was a no-go in his classroom.

Sam knew what he loved to read and refused to accept the ban lying down. With the support of his science-loving parents, Sam choose comics-in-education as his science fair project. One late night for me ...

9th Circuit Rejects Inmate’s Free-Speech Claim

Monday, April 9th, 2012
A federal appeals court avoided the question of whether Oregon prison officials violated an inmate’s First Amendment rights when they punished him for “posting” letters supporting his white-supremacist gang. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals simply sidestepped the larger constitutional question by concluding that the prison officials were entitled to qualified immunity because the law was not clearly established. Jacob Barrett, formerly housed at the Oregon State Penitentiary, contended that officials violated his free-speech rights for disciplining him for the content of his letters. Officials said Barrett, now imprisoned in Oklahoma, had been disciplined for “posting” letters in support of the Aryan Soldiers, a prison gang in which officials believed Barrett was a member. The word “posting” in the opinion leaves it unclear whether Barrett mailed or tried to mail the letters, or whether he displayed them in the prison in some manner. Barrett argued that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Procunier v. Martinez (1974) supported his claim. In Procunier, the Court invalidated several prison-mail rules of the California Department of Corrections, which had allowed officials to censor inmate mail if it contained “exaggerated complaints, magnified grievances” or “expressions of inflammatory political, racial or religious views.” The Court ...

‘Huffington Post’: Catholic Group Withdraws from Vanderbilt over New Policy

Monday, April 9th, 2012

FIRE is not alone in noting that the student organization Vanderbilt Catholic has withdrawn from Vanderbilt University due to Vanderbilt University's infringement on student groups' freedom of association. Writing for The Huffington Post, Tyler Kingkade points out that under Vanderbilt's new non-discrimination policy, a faith-based organization like Vanderbilt Catholic can no longer require that leaders of the group share its core beliefs and values. This fundamental denial of students' right to associate around shared beliefs has forced Vanderbilt Catholic (and possibly other groups in the near future) to disaffiliate with the school and lose official student organization status, which means they no longer have equal access to university funding, meeting spaces, organization mailboxes, and other resources.

This move isn't just unfortunate from the student group's vantage point. As the Huffington Post article highlights, it may also prove costly for Vanderbilt:

There is a non-discrimination exemption for fraternities and sororities on campus that allows them to exist as single-sex groups, per federal law. Without creating an exemption for religious groups, however, people like Vanderbilt alumnus and donor Thomas Singleton think the school is being hypocritical.

"If they insist on implementing this policy, I will probably stop all relationships ...

2011 Most Frequently Challenged Books List and BBW Materials now available through the ALA Store!

Monday, April 9th, 2012

The Office for Intellectual Freedom has released the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2011 as part of ALA’s State of America’s Library Report. OIF received 326 reports regarding attempts to remove or restrict materials from school curricula and library bookshelves.  The list includes the following titles; each title is followed by the reasons reported for challenging the book:

1)      ttylttfnl8rg8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

2)      The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
Nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

3)      The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
Anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence

4)      My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
Nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

5)      The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

6)      Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint

7)      Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit

8)      What My Mother Doesn’t Know, ...

Chicago State Abandons Effort to Muzzle Faculty

Monday, April 9th, 2012
Well, that was fast.

Chicago State University announced Friday that it has withdrawn a policy that would have required all faculty communications with media to be pre-approved by the university's public relations administrators. The withdrawal came just hours after the policy's restrictions made local news; Friday's Chicago Tribune featured a story on the policy, including criticism from FIRE's Robert Shibley and Cary Nelson of the American Association of University Professors.

Chicago State's embarrassing flirtation with top-down faculty censorship (and its sudden change in direction) proves once again that universities are often loath to defend in public that which they practice in private. FIRE is pleased that Chicago State has seen the light. Better late than never. 

Noted Exiled Chinese Dissident Dies

Monday, April 9th, 2012
Fang Lizhi had taken refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing in the wake of the Tiananmen crackdown before entering exile.

Premiering This Week!!

Monday, April 9th, 2012

Opening Soon!

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Anime Detour Hosts A Warm Welcome for Ryan Matheson & CBLDF!

Friday, April 6th, 2012

By Charles Brownstein

Last weekend I flew to Minneapolis-St. Paul for Anime Detour, one of the Midwest’s longest running and most well organized anime conventions. The con capped its attendance at 5,000 fans who took over the Doubletree in Bloomington, MN with a full slate of programs, screenings, room parties, and a dealer’s room. CBLDF was there for the first time, the result of the gracious invitation of Anime Twin Cities, a community-driven fan organization whose mission emphasizes performing charitable work. For several years they’ve included support for CBLDF among that work, alongside aid for community members in need and raising money for the Red Cross to aid the victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Last fall I ran into Anton Petersen, Detour’s head of guests, at the Minneapolis Indie Xpo, and told him we were looking to become more meaningfully involved in the manga community. Within a few short weeks, he had written on behalf of the con to invite me to come out to the show. Last weekend confirmed that posture of welcoming inclusion wasn’t a one-off gesture, but is at the heart of what the Detour community does.

CBLDF was provided with a spot ...

Chicago State’s Shameful Attempt to Muzzle Faculty

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Free speech for faculty? Not if Chicago State University can help it. 

Today's Chicago Tribune features a shocking report about Chicago State's efforts to control all faculty speech to the media. Jodi Cohen reports: 

In an email sent March 22 to faculty and staff, Sabrina Land, the university's director of marketing and communications, wrote that all communications must be "strategically deployed" in a way that "safeguards the reputation, work product and ultimately, the students, of CSU."

The policy applies to media interviews, opinion pieces, newsletters, social media and other types of communications, stating that they must be approved by the university's division of public relations.

"All disclosures to the media will be communicated by an authorized CSU media relations officer or designate," the policy says.

Simply put: You gotta be kidding me. And I'm not the only one to have this reaction: 

"Frankly, this policy is an obscenity and absurdity and is not tolerable," said Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors.

[...]

Pancho McFarland, an associate professor of sociology at Chicago State, fears the policy could restrict all types of communications by professors, including speaking engagements.

"It will put a chilling effect on our ability to ...

Silverglate and Schwartz on Arizona’s "Anti-Bullying" Legislation

Friday, April 6th, 2012

FIRE Board Chairman Harvey Silverglate and I have posted an article on Forbes.com pointing out the absurdity of the Arizona Legislature's recently passed anti-bullying initiative. The law, which criminalizes any electronic or digital communications that "annoy or offend," somehow has garnered bipartisan support. In other words, all pundits, bloggers, commentators, and writers should beware. Indeed, anyone who sends any email or text message should feel threatened. 

We place the rather silly Arizona bill into a larger context, arguing that the effort is part of a decades-long trend, accelerated in recent years, toward renaming protected speech as something else, and then outlawing it. We also point out that we see this sort of thing on college campuses all the time: as part of absurdly broad definitions of sexual harassment and in more recent initiatives also dedicated to bullying prevention. We write

[P]erhaps the most under-discussed aspect of these bullying laws is that statutes already exist to protect against more serious offenses or threats to safety. As we argued in this space last year, there are already plenty of laws on the books to protect students; if a student follows another home from school and beats him up, he might be ...

IFAction Round Up, March 30-April 5, 2012

Friday, April 6th, 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 http://lists.ala.org/wws/subscribe/ifaction. For an archive of all postings to the list since 1996, visit http://lists.ala.org/wws/arc/ifaction. Below is a sample of articles from March 30-April 5, 2012.

Privacy

Supreme Court Ruling Allows Strip Searches for Any Arrest

Can Apple give police a key to your encrypted iPhone data?

Police Are Using Phone Tracking as a Routine Tool

Documents show cops making up the rules on mobile surveillance

Study: Most consumers ‘very concerned’ about online privacy

Tracking Twitter, Raising Red Flags

The Philosopher Whose Fingerprints Are All Over the FTC’s New Approach to Privacy

Campaigners criticise email and web monitoring plan (UK)

 

Censorship

Ohio School to Let Gay Student Wear T-Shirt 1 Day

‘Annoying, Offending’ Language Online Would Be Crime Under Arizona Bill

Related: Media Coalition leads opposition to HB 2549

Group looking to ban ‘Nickled and Dimed’ at Easton High gets no pay back

Bird-Flu Papers, Recently Deemed Too Dangerous, Are Freed for Publication

Book ban nixed: ‘The Glass Castle’ to remain part of school’s curriculum

 

Privacy ...

Pinterest’s Pernicious Terms of Service

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Pinterest's Terms of Service has been gaining widespread attention lately in the tech press. It began in late February with a blogpost from a lawyer "tearfully deleting" a Pinterest page because she feared potential legal liability for posting professional photographs, and gained a steady stream of press through March.

The photographer/lawyer, Kirsten Kowalski, was concerned about her legal liability because she often "pinned" professional photographs (her own and others) to her Pinterest board. She deleted one of her Pinterest boards after looking at Pinterest's Terms of Service because those terms compel users to assume all legal risk in using the site, and to indemnify, or agree to reimburse, the company for any losses connected to accessing and using the site.

Part of the problem is that Pinterest asked its customers to state that

You either are the sole and exclusive owner of all Member Content that you make available through the Site, Application and Services or you have all rights, licenses, consents and releases that are necessary to grant to Cold Brew Labs [Pinterest’s owner] the rights in such Member Content, as contemplated under these Terms.

Most users, however, make content available that they did not license from the ...

Hollywood Loves a Sequel — But Really, SOPA 2?

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Chris Dodd, Chair of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was quoted yesterday as saying he is "confident" negotiations for a SOPA revival are taking place. While it's tempting to write off that confidence as the result of watching one too many zombie movies, it should be no surprise that the MPAA is pushing for a new backroom deal.

It was just months ago that the unprecedented Internet blackout protests stopped SOPA and PIPA in their tracks, but even then Dodd said that Hollywood studio heads and the leaders of major tech companies should be the ones to sit down and hammer out a new agreement. Ignoring the role of Internet users in any proposed solution is irresponsible, but to do so after millions of them spoke out in unison borders on willful blindness.

Since January's protests, Internet users have been clear and consistent about rejecting backroom deals that would undermine their online freedoms in misguided attempts to preserve legacy business structures. Tens of thousands of people have protested in the streets of Europe against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), for example, and an offshoot of the online community Reddit is campaigning to unseat SOPA ...

Answering Questions from Tuesday’s Webinar

Friday, April 6th, 2012

I had an excellent time at Tuesday evening's inaugural FIRE webinar! Thank you to everyone who participated-all of us here at FIRE really appreciate your attendance. (And I'd like to personally thank you all for prompting me to finally put together a PowerPoint presentation!)

As folks who watched online know, we had a number of questions submitted at the end of the event that we unfortunately didn't have time to answer. So I'd like to take a little time to address a few of the best questions now. 

Where a public community college has designated free speech areas on campus, are there any restrictions that can be made on the exhibition of free speech through tents, art or other forms of expression?

Public institutions may impose reasonable "time, place, and manner" restrictions as long as these restrictions are narrowly tailored in service of a significant governmental interest, applicable without regard to the content of speech, and leave open ample alternative means of expression. Under that test, then, it's conceivable that a public community college could craft and enforce a permissible restriction on the erection of structures like tents on campus, but any such prohibition would have to meet these ...

April 2012, the State of Do Not Track: Lead Up to Tracking Protecting Working Group Negotiations in Washington, DC

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Things are heating up in the Do Not Track campaign. Next week, EFF Technology Projects Director Peter Eckersley will be joining Internet engineers, privacy advocates, and industry groups in Washington, DC for intense negotiations around the future of online tracking. Here’s our overview of the latest developments likely to influence the Do Not Track campaign during the crucial upcoming weeks.

W3C Tracking Protection Working Group Convenes in DC

On April 10, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Tracking Protection Working Group will be convening in Washington, DC. The W3C is an international community that develops protocols and guidelines that ensure the long-term growth of the web. Among other things, the Tracking Protection Working Group is charged with defining Internet standards for the Do Not Track flag, whereby a user concerned with protecting personal privacy can use a one-click setting in her browser to set an HTTP header that will tell websites she does not want to be tracked.

The W3C group is engaged in an intricate series of negotiations to achieve consensus around how websites should respond when they receive the Do Not Track header. The April meeting may see some of the most difficult discussions. According to the public ...

Does Harvard Deserve to be on the ‘Worst Colleges’ List?

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

This week, a staff editorial in the Harvard University student newspaper The Harvard Crimson takes issue with FIRE's inclusion of Harvard in our list of the 12 "Worst Colleges for Free Speech." Our list, which appeared on The Huffington Post, has generated a good amount of online comments and discussion, student press coverage, and attention in major media outlets. 

Of course, we understand that folks may disagree vehemently with us when their school appears on the list, and that they may take issue with the criteria we use for naming our "Worst 12." However, the points raised by the Crimson piece are worth addressing in detail here. That's because Harvard absolutely deserves criticism for its record on free speech: Just take a look at the cases at Harvard in which FIRE has been involved over the years. In these and other matters, Harvard has established a pattern demonstrating that an anti-free speech culture exists on campus. Even worse, students, faculty, and administrators often fail to grasp the free speech principles in play in a given situation.

In the case of Professor Subramanian Swamy, several hundred people signed a student-led petition demanding that the administration "repudiate Swamy's ...

In the Wake of Protest and Public Scrutiny, Arizona Legislature Pulls Back Electronic Speech Censorship Bill

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

ABC 15, an Arizona affiliate is reporting that a sweeping electronic media censorship bill passed by the state’s legislature last week and headed to Governor Jan Brewer’s desk for signature has been pulled back in the wake of public outcry. Last week, CBLDF called attention to the bill and its constitutional deficiencies, helping to spark a wave of media coverage that turned the tide against the bill.

Lawmakers intended the law to protect people from online stalkers and bullies, but the law was so broadly worded that it would apply to the internet as a whole, not one-to-one communications, and the legislation does a poor job of defining the material that would run afoul of the law. As a result, anyone posting constitutionally-protected material could face charges if an individual deemed the material was intended to “annoy,” “offend,” “harass,” or “terrify.”

Media Coalition, a trade association that advocates for the First Amendment rights of content producers and whose membership includes CBLDF, wrote a letter addressing the root problems with the bill:

Government may criminalize speech that rises to the level of harassment and many states have laws that do so, but this legislation takes a law ...

Viacom v. Google: A Decision at Last, and It’s Mostly Good (for the Internet and Innovation)

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

The Internet can breathe a sigh of relief today.  In the latest twist in the long-running Viacom v. YouTube litigation, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals revived the entertainment giant’s suit against Google – but simultaneously eviscerated most of the legal theories on which the lawsuit was based.  

Here’s the quick and dirty: Back in 2010, a district court threw out Viacom’s suit against YouTube, finding that the safe harbors outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protected YouTube from all copyright liability.  Viacom appealed, based on unprecedented legal theories that, if adopted, would have rendered the DMCA safe harbors a dead letter.

Today’s decision largely affirms that earlier ruling, finding that YouTube is protected from liability except where the company actually knew of (or was willfully blind to) specific instances of infringement of material at issue in the case, or facts of circumstances indicating such specific infringement.  

The appellate court also held that YouTube could be on the hook if it was “willfully blind” to specific infringement – but stressed that YouTube did not have a duty to monitor user activities.  In other words, the company can’t have made a deliberate effort to avoid guilty knowledge, but ...

State Bill Attempting to Ease the Country’s Most Restrictive Wiretapping Laws Fails in Illinois House

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Yesterday the Illinois House voted down a bill which would have made it legal to record on duty police officers in public spaces. With 59 nays, the House voted to kill HB 3944, which would have exempted people who make a “recording of a peace officer who is performing a public duty in a public place and speaking at a volume audible to the unassisted human ear” from an eavesdropping violation. Though that law was ruled unconstitutional by a Cook County judge earlier this month, Illinois still remains a “two-party consent” state, which means both parties must give consent to record, whether or not the space is public.

Rep. Elaine Nekritz, sponsor of HB 3944 said last month the bill was necessary because “the law has yet to catch up to the thousands of citizen journalists and others who witness events, pull out their smart phones, and press record.”

Its detractors, however, argued differently. The State Journal-Register reports Rep. Jim Watson said “We should not be creating an atmosphere where people enter this ‘got you’ mode and try to tape law enforcement, trying to catch them (doing things).” Rep. Dennis Reboletti said “Why should (the police) have to go get ...

University of Louisville Nursing Student’s Case Dismissed

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Torch readers may recall the case of Nina Yoder, a nursing student at the University of Louisville who was expelled in 2009. As a nursing student, Yoder had witnessed a live birth and posted a detailed description of the event on social networking website MySpace.com. Yoder was quickly expelled for violating the school's Honor Code and a Confidentiality Agreement, and she commenced a suit in federal district court alleging violations of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Yoder sought reinstatement as a nursing student, as well as damages. 

Initially, the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky ruled in favor (.PDF) of Yoder on nonconstitutional grounds, finding that Yoder had actually not violated either the Honor Code or the Confidentiality Agreement. That ruling was overturned on appeal (.PDF) last April by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which held that the district court had reached an issue not raised by Yoder. In other words, the Sixth Circuit held that Yoder was arguing that the Honor Code and Confidentiality Agreement were unconstitutional, not that she hadn't violated them. The Sixth Circuit then remanded the case to the district court to determine not whether ...

27 Copyright Troll Cases With Over 3,500 Does Dismissed in Florida—Copyright Troll Lawyer Practicing Without License

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

In February, we documented how a judge in the Northern District of Florida halted 27 copyright troll cases naming over 3,500 individuals to determine whether the copyright troll lawyer, Tarik Hashmi, initiated the cases while being unlicensed to practice law in Florida.

In response to the judge, Hashmi did not deny practicing without a license and instead tried to substitute a lawyer to continue the cases. This week, as noted in the Order attached below, the court not only dismissed the substitution, but also all of the cases.

The Order notes that Hashmi had signed an affidavit promising not to practice law in Florida until he was properly licensed. It states that Hashmi "suggested no plausible reading" of the affidavit that nonetheless allowed him to file the actions. Finally, it noted that dismissal of the cases was proper because Hashmi's clients in the 27 cases had presented no evidence, including evidence that they were unaware of Mr. Hashmi's illegal status or whether they had "demanded settlements through Mr. Hashmi and retained the proceeds."

The cases were dismissed "without prejudice," meaning that they can still be refiled by other lawyers, but the order provides further evidence about ...

Campaign Targeting Syrian Activists Escalates with New Surveillance Malware

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Since the beginning of the year, pro-Syrian-government hackers have steadily escalated the frequency and sophistication of their attacks on Syrian opposition activists. We have reported on several Trojans, which covertly install spying software onto the infected computer, as well as phishing attacks which steal YouTube and Facebook login credentials.

The latest surveillance malware comes in the form of an extracting file which is made to look like a PDF if you have file extensions turned off. The PDF purports to be a document concerning the formation of the leadership council of the Syrian revolution and is delivered via Skype message from a known friend. The malware installs a remote administration tool called DarkComet RAT, which can capture webcam activity, disable the notification setting for certain antivirus programs, record key strokes, steal passwords, and more. It sends this data back to the same IP address in Syrian IP space that was used in several previous attacks, including the attacks reported by CNN in February, the Xtreme RAT Trojan EFF reported in March, and this sample from March 21st.

Syrian Internet users should be extremely cautious about clicking on suspicious-looking links, or downloading documents over Skype, even if the document purportedly ...

EFF Protests Video Game Labeling Law

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

CBLDF and other free speech advocates won an important victory last year when the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. EMA, striking down a California law that restricted the sale of video games to minors based on specious evidence that violence in video games causes violence in children. The law would have made violent speech a new category of unprotected speech, alongside obscenity.

A law proposed by Representatives Joe Baca and Frank Wolf has raised free speech concerns again. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has raised the issue, writing:

But under the proposed law, a label that says “WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior” would be a required addition for all games rated E (Everyone), E10+ (Everyone 10 and older), M (Mature), or A (Adult), regardless of the contents of the game. Only games released with an EC (Early Childhood) rating would be excluded from the labeling requirement. So games like Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 or Carmen Sandiego Adventures in Math would require the warning, but you could get away without for Dora’s Ballet Adventure.

Rep. Baca tries to cloak his anti-speech bill by the inapt comparison for ...

Megaupload Goes to Court: A Primer

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Does the government have a responsibility to protect innocent third parties from collateral damage when it seizes their property in the course of prosecuting alleged copyright infringement? That is the question a federal district court will consider next week in the latest skirmish in the legal battle between the U.S. government and Megaupload.

When the government shut down Megaupload three months ago, it made it impossible for innocent third parties, like our client Kyle Goodwin, to access their data stored on that site. Others—like service provider Carpathia—have also voiced legitimate complaints about their property getting caught up in the government’s dragnet. But the government has tried to wash its hands of all responsibility, insisting it doesn’t control the property anymore and that the court has no authority to intervene. On April 13, a judge in the Eastern District of Virginia will hear arguments concerning what should happen with Mr. Goodwin’s data and Carpathia’s servers. Ahead of that hearing, here are some specifics on who will be there and what they will argue: 

Kyle Goodwin: EFF represents Mr. Goodwin, who owns a business called OhioSportsNet that covers local high school sporting events in sports-crazed Ohio. Mr. Goodwin and his ...

NCAC and ABFFE Seeking Kids’ Right to Read Coordinator

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

The National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression — both frequent CBLDF collaborators in the fight for First Amendment rights — are looking for a New York-based coordinator to manage their Kids’ Right to Read Project. The full job posting has all of the details:

National Coalition Against Censorship and American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression Seek Kids’ Right to Read Project Coordinator

The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) are seeking a Coordinator for the Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP), which opposes efforts to ban books in public schools and libraries.  Since its launch in 2006, KRRP has defended over 250 titles in 31 states, including classics by Mark Twain, Richard Wright, John Steinbeck, and Kurt Vonnegut, and contemporary works by Judy Blume, Toni Morrison, Pat Conroy, and Cormac McCarthy.

While the suppression of books is the focus of this project, book censorship today occurs in a context of narrowing the free speech rights of young people. The KRRP coordinator will deal with a wide range of youth free speech issues.

Responsibilities include:

• Developing KRRP as the primary resource to oppose book censorship; working ...

One Year Later, Silence from Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights on Due Process, Free Speech Concerns

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Here's today's press release:

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2012—One year after issuing controversial federal regulations that require colleges and universities to reduce student due process rights, the United States Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) remains silent in the face of criticism from students, professors, alumni, university administrators, higher education lawyers, civil rights advocates, and the press. Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) renews its call for the revocation of the new mandates imposed by the letter.

OCR is the federal agency tasked with enforcing federal civil rights laws, including Title IX, in educational programs and institutions that receive federal funding. Under the new regulations announced in an April 4, 2011, "Dear Colleague" letter (DCL) from Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali, colleges and universities receiving federal funding must employ a "preponderance of the evidence" standard—a 50.01%, "more likely than not" evidentiary burden—when adjudicating student complaints concerning sexual harassment or sexual violence. Institutions that do not comply face federal investigation and the loss of federal funding. 

"OCR's Dear Colleague letter is making a bad situation for free speech and due process on campus even worse—and incredibly, the agency has thus far refused to even respond ...

Theresa Chmara discusses FTRF cases

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Theresa Chmara, General Counsel for the Freedom to Read Foundation, talks about the status of various cases FTRF is involved with in this new video, recorded after the 2012 Midwinter Meeting in Dallas.

UK Government Proposes Law Monitoring Every Email, Phone Call, and Text Message

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister David Cameron and the Interior Ministry were forced to defend a sweeping wiretapping proposal, which would aim to monitor every single email, text message, and phone call flowing through the whole country. The proposal would likely force all UK Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to install “black boxes” on their systems that use Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology, which would give authorities access to all communications data without a warrant or any judicial oversight.

Law enforcement would have access to IP addresses, email addresses, when you send an email, to whom you send it, and how frequently—as well as corresponding data for phone calls and text messages. The government has claimed this proposal is needed to fight “terrorism and serious crimes,” but of course, it would be available to law enforcement for all purposes.

As the Washington Post reported, many privacy advocates in the UK say, “the move would intrude so deeply into the lives of British citizens that it would rival or exceed measures used by totalitarian governments.” While there’s still no public draft of the proposal, the government insists that law enforcement will not have access to the content of communications; ...

Kissel on Free Speech in Purdue University Calumet Student Paper

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Following a talk by FIRE's Adam Kissel at Purdue University Calumet last week, The Purdue University Calumet Chronicle has published an article reiterating Adam's points about free speech on campus. The Chronicle highlights Adam's discussion of the importance on a college campus of allowing a full exchange of ideas to take place:

"What are the true ideas, what are the false ideas? What are the beautiful ideas, what are the ugly ideas?" Kissel said. 

He stressed that we must allow ourselves to get offended regularly, because surrounding oneself with homogenous groups of people limits learning and the ability to analyze and develop an effective counter argument.

His solution to dealing with an offensive person is simple, "The right remedy for bad speech is more speech." Kissel went on to stress that if all one does is get the person who offended us in trouble, then the necessary dialogue does not take place. For one to converse with the person whose individual beliefs disgust them is exercising what Kissel called "intellectual humility." He defined it as, "thinking you can be persuaded."

Of course, Adam's discussion is particularly salient at Purdue University Calumet because it follows the case of Professor Maurice Eisenstein...

Local Cops Following Big Brother’s Lead, Getting Cell Phone Location Data Without a Warrant

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

New data from law enforcement agencies across the country has confirmed what EFF has long been afraid of: while police are routinely using cell phone location tracking information, only a handful of agencies are bothering to obtain search warrants.

Since 2005, we've been beating the drum loudly, warning that the government's attempts to track a person's physical location through their cell phone requires a search warrant. As we've said again and again, because cell phone tracking can give the government a snapshot of a person's life through their movements, a search warrant is necessary to safeguard against privacy intrusions.

Now new data -- obtained from a coordinated FOIA request by the ACLU -- shows just how pervasive cell phone tracking is throughout the United States. The ACLU obtained 5,500 pages of records from over 200 different law enforcement agencies. The records revealed that most law enforcement agencies are using location tracking information routinely, with only 10 out of the more than 200 claiming they had not tracked cell phones.

And even more troubling, the records demonstrate that different agencies use different standards to obtain this information, with only a few agencies obtaining search warrants in order to track. It looks like ...

FIRE Speakers Spend Free Speech Week on Campus

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Free Speech Week is this week, and FIRE is celebrating by giving public lectures on seven campuses-tying the previous record for Speakers Bureau events in one week! Torch readers already heard about Azhar's trip to the University of Chicago yesterday from Lyzi. Here are the other FIRE speaking events coming up around the country this week:

Robert Shibley at the University of Central Florida

Tuesday, April 3 
8 p.m. EDT
UCF Student Union Cape Florida room 316B

 

Jaclyn Hall at American University 
Wednesday, April 4
8 p.m. EDT
Ward 301

 

Robert Shibley at Winthrop University
Wednesday, April 4
7 p.m. EDT
Dina's Place

 

Adam Kissel at Texas State University
Wednesday, April 4
5:30 p.m. CDT
McCoy College of Business Room 119

 

Adam Kissel at the University of Texas-San Antonio
Thursday, April 5
6 p.m. CDT
UTSA Science Building 2.02.06

 

Peter Bonilla at the University of Pennsylvania
Thursday, April 5
6 p.m. EDT
Huntsman Hall F88

Thank you to all of the awesome student organizations who invited FIRE speakers to celebrate Free Speech Week on their campuses. We are looking forward to seeing you all this week!

Can't make it to one of these events? Don't ...

Tucson School Board Tightens Security

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Imagine going through a security check more involved than anything you face before taking a flight, even if you’re a small child. You must be entering a high-security building, like the White House, right? You may also be entering a school board meeting in Tucson, Arizona.

The Tuscon Unified School District beefed up security at their school board meetings in response to the outrage fostered when the Tucson school district decided to end the Mexican American Studies program and removed several books by Mexican and Native authors from classrooms. Even small children are not exempt from being wanded and searched by security. When a Latino father took a photo of his 9-year-old son being searched before a meeting, his photo went viral and was embraced as emblematic of the anti-Latino and anti-immigrant attitude many feel is endemic in Arizona.

According to officials, the additional security was implemented in response in part to a meeting takeover by local students:

In January, the program was formally dismantled. Tucson school board member Michael Hicks said the board had no choice but to follow state law.

The move angered students and supporters of the program who fought to save it. Last April, a ...

Graduated Response Program: Let’s Press the Reset Button

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

It can't be easy to convince millions of subscribers that there's no reason to be worried when their service providers agree to collaborate with big content to tackle online infringement -- especially when those subscribers weren't given a chance to review or comment on the deal. But yesterday's announcement of the membership of the executive and advisory boards for the Center for Copyright Information, which is in charge of implementing the "graduated response" program announced last year, seemed to be an attempt to do just that. The press release stressed the free speech credentials of the executive director and the identified the various consumer advocates who have agreed to serve on the advisory board. So, all will be fine, right?

Wrong. An advisory board is just that: a group of advisors, not decisionmakers. No matter how you slice it, subscribers don't have a seat at the table now any more than they did in the earlier negotiations.

For those who haven’t been following this, here’s a brief sampling of issues subscribers might have wanted to address, if they'd been given a chance:

  • The alerts and other measures contemplated in the original "memorandum of understanding" released last summer are ...

Choose Privacy Week web badges and call for events

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

There’s less than a month before the start of the third annual Choose Privacy Week (CPW – May 1-7)!  This week, OIF is pleased to offer new resources to help you plan for and promote your events and other commemorations.

We have just uploaded CPW web badges for you to put on your blogs and other websites, use as an avatar, or tattoo on your arm. Below is a sample:

         

We’re also in the process of updating our CPW Events Page.  Please let us know what events are being planned in your library, school/university, and community! If you’d like suggestions for some events, check out the Choose Privacy Week Resource Guide.

And of course, we have plenty of CPW posters, buttons, bookmarks, and other material available at the ALA Store.  Order by April 12 to receive your materials in time using standard shipping.

Thanks to everyone for their support of Choose Privacy Week – we’re really looking forward to it!

Speech Code of the Month: Oakland University

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for April 2012: Oakland University in Michigan. Oakland has been on our radar for some time now due to its severe discipline of student Joseph Corlett, who was barred from campus, suspended for three semesters, and required to undergo "sensitivity" counseling for authoring a class assignment in which he stated that he found his instructor attractive.

As it turns out, Oakland's treatment of Joseph Corlett is not the only way in which the public university is disregarding its obligation to uphold students' First Amendment rights. The university also maintains a number of speech codes that impermissibly restrict students' expressive rights on campus. The worst, by far, is the Student Handbook's policy on "telephones," which despite its title actually regulates communications over "any telephone or other communications device." Specifically, the policy provides that

No person shall use any telephone or other communications device to harass, offend, or disturb any other person, nor shall any person use threatening, obscene, immoral, or insulting language over any telephone or other communications device. 

A law or regulation can violate the right to free speech by being vague or by being overly broad. This policy ...

This Week in Transparency: Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking, Drones, and FBI Surveillance

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

ACLU Public Records Requests Shed New Light on Use of Cell Phone Tracking

Over the weekend, the ACLU released an exhaustive study of state and local law enforcement’s surveillance practices in regards to how often police forces are tracking citizens’ movements through their cell phones. The findings were staggering. As the New York Times reported, the documents prove warrantless cell phone tracking “has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.”

Thirty-five ACLU affiliates helped file over 380 public records requests, and they received over 5,500 pages of documents in response from over 200 local law enforcement agencies. Despite the invasive nature of cell tracking, “only a tiny minority”—10 agencies total—consistently obtained a warrant before tracking someone through their cellphone.

EFF has repeatedly argued that law enforcement should be required to get a warrant before tracking someone’s movements through their phone. The ACLU’s important work shows that the problem is much more widespread than previously reported and underscores the need for either Congress or the courts to definitively declare that a warrant should be ...

EFF Signs Joint Coalition Letter Urging Pakistani Authorities to Abandon National Internet Censorship Plans

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has signed on to a joint statement with a global coalition of organizations to demand the Pakistani Ministry of Information Technology, the Information Communication Technology Research & Development Fund, and the Prime Minister, to publicly commit to stop all efforts to mandate a national Internet filtering and blocking system.

As we've previously covered, the Ministry of IT together with the ICT R&D Fund, publicized a Request for Proposal calling on institutions to design and implement a large-scale URL filtering and blocking system that would automate censorship on a mass scale. We have joined Access Now, ARTICLE 19, Bolo Bhi, Center for Democracy & Technology, Citizen Lab, Global Voices Advocacy, Index on Censorship and Reporters Without Borders in condemning this plan. We urge the government to recognize the potential incalculable damage this could cause the Pakistani economy, and call on the government to uphold values of individual privacy, free speech, and access to information.

The full letter is below.

~

Addressed to: Ministry of IT, ICT R&D Fund & Prime Minister

This statement is in pursuance of the verbal commitment made by the Secretary IT, Mr Farooq Awan, that the ...

Proposed Laws in Lebanon and Iraq Threaten Online Speech

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

More than a year after the start of the "Arab Spring," large portions of the Middle East remain in upheaval. Even in the most stable of countries, press freedom--and by extension, online freedom--remains up for debate. We've highlighted the ongoing debate in Tunisia over online filtering, and have touched on new threats to bloggers in several countries. This week it is legislative proposals in both Iraq and Lebanon that have us on alert.

Iraq's Harsh Informatics Crime Law

All eyes are currently on Baghdad, where an Arab League Summit is taking place. But, as the Economist notes, "once the dignitaries and television cameras [have departed]," a broadly-worded bill that would severely punish thought crimes is due to come up in front of Iraq's Parliament. According to a translation from the Centre for Law and Democracy, Article 3 of the Act includes mandatory life sentences for using computers or the Internet to:

  • "compromise" the "unity" of the state;
  • "subscribe, participate, negotiate, promote, contract or deal with an enemy ... in order to destabilize security and public order or expose the country to danger";
  • "damage, cause defects, or hinder [systems or networks] belonging to security military, or intelligence authorities with ...

In the Middle of an Uprising, Syrians Rediscover Satire

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

One of the side effects of the clashes and protests against President Bashar al-Assad that have seized Syria is the ability to speak more openly against the government, an ability that had been previously stifled by the regime. In the midst of this political discourse, some Syrians have embraced satire, generating videos, plays, and cartoons that use humor to counter the horror, frustration, and civil unrest that has affected citizens of the nation.

A recent report by Michael Rundle on the Huffington Post describes the role of satire in the protests, including the work of one cartoonist in particular, Ali Ferzat:

Much of the satire of the Syrian uprising draws on a rich tradition of dark humour in the country’s cultural past.

From the social criticism inherent in the plays and poems of Muhammad Al-Maghou in the 1970s, to the satire which bloomed in Syria’s (brief) ‘spring’ after Bashar al-Assad’s ascension to power in 2000, irony and self-deprecation is nothing new in the country.

Neither is the danger associated with expressing it. Now, as then, some of Syria’s top satirists are paying the consequences for their work.

One of those is Ali Ferzat, a cartoonist who was ...