Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

SEC Overreaches with Investigation Into Speakers’ Identities

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
EFF Argues that Subpoenas Threaten Users' Anonymous Speech Rights

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a federal appeals court Wednesday to block administrative subpoenas from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that would reveal the identities of three pseudonymous Gmail users without meeting the legal standards for identifying anonymous speakers.

In an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, EFF argued that the SEC failed to support its subpoenas with sufficient evidence to demonstrate a compelling need for the information that would overcome the emailers' constitutional right to speak anonymously.

"The First Amendment provides a baseline level of protection for speakers who choose to communicate their messages to the world anonymously or pseudonymously," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "Lawbreakers may not hide behind the First Amendment, but investigating agencies cannot force companies like Google to disclose the identities of their customers who are speakers without demonstrating the investigation is legitimate. Here, the SEC has failed to provide anything but speculation that a law was even broken."

The SEC's subpoenas are part of an investigation into a potential "pump and dump" scheme involving Jammin' Java, Inc. which saw its stock ...

Choose Privacy Week materials available now from the ALA Store

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Choose Privacy Week is May 1-7, 2012.  

The theme for this year’s CPW is “Freedom from Surveillance” – and we’ve got some great graphics for your library.  Get your posters, bookmarks, buttons, resource guide, and DVD at the ALA Store.  Order by April 12 to receive your materials in time using standard shipping.

Latino and Native Authors Keep Tucson Book Ban in the News

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

In late January, CBLDF joined a coalition of national anti-censorship organizations in protesting the dissolution of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program, which led to the removal of books and anthologies by Latino and Native American authors from classrooms. Many of the authors who contributed to the books that were banned from classrooms have taken their protest a step further by participating in caravans that have “smuggled” the banned books into Arizona.

Tony Diaz, a literature professor from Houston, Texas, organized and led the Librotraficante Caravan, which traveled from Houston to Tucson, “carrying a payload of contraband books, creating networks of Underground Libraries and leaving community resources in its wake.” In the official press release for the caravan, Diaz says:

“Every great movement is sparked by outrage at a deep cultural offense,” said Tony Diaz, founder of Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, which has led the charge, “When we heard that Tucson Unified School District administrators not only prohibited Mexican American Studies, but then walked into classrooms, and in front of young Latino students, during class time, removed and boxed up books by our most beloved authors — that was too much. This offended us ...

French President Sarkozy Sees Opportunity for Censorship, Seizes It

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

In the wake of a horrific rampage, in which Mohamed Merah (now dead after a 32-hour standoff with police) reportedly murdered three French soldiers, three young Jewish schoolchildren, and a rabbi, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has begun calling for criminal penalties for citizens who visit web sites that advocate for terror or hate.  "From now on, any person who habitually consults Web sites that advocate terrorism or that call for hatred and violence will be criminally punished," Sarkozy was reported as saying.

Apart from the obvious flaws in Sarkozy's plan--users, can, of course, use anonymizing tools to view the material or simply access it from a variety of locations to avoid appearing as "habitual" viewers--there are numerous other reasons to be concerned about criminalizing access to information.

First, there's no guarantee that criminalizing access to hate speech or terrorist content will end the very real problems of hate crime and terrorism.  Extremist violence didn't start with the Internet and it won't end with it, either.

Second, who defines "hate speech"?  In France, that definition includes Holocaust denial, which in the past resulted in Yahoo! discontinuing auctions of Nazi memoribilia (the collectors of which are not, by any stretch, all ...

This Week in Censorship: New Guidelines on Iran Exports, Salvadoran Journalists Under Threat, and More

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Salvadoran site threatened for reporting on organized crime

According to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Salvadoran site El Faro is under threat for investigative reporting conducted in February 2011 on an organized crime network in Northeast El Salvador. The crime ring, said CPJ, involved gang leaders, prominent businessmen, and local politicians, and resulted in journalists from the news site being followed and photographed. CPJ notes that Salvadoran journalists who report on organized crime in the country often report feeling threatened.

Extrajudicial threats allow governments to maintain the appearance of openness while simultaneously cracking down on speech. EFF is concerned for the safety of El Faro's reporters and joins CPJ in demanding the Salvadoran government accountable for their well-being.

China blocks "Ferrari" from social media after fatal crash

Following a fatal car crash in Beijing involving an unidentified Ferrari driver, the Chinese government has ordered the word "Ferrari" to be censored across the country's social networks. According to the Guardian:

Before the clampdown, the sinosphere was rife with rumour that he was the son of a party official. Bo Guagua, son of the recently disgraced Bo Xilai, was named initially; then speculation turned to the ...

Local News: March 22 — Public invited to program on ‘Tongue-Tied America’

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

On March 22 at 4:00 pm, ss part of the Virginia Festival of the Book, the Thomas Jefferson Center is sponsoring a program on Tongue-Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion with the books authors Robert Sayler and Molly Shadel.  The book is a must-have book for law students, lawyers, business-school students, or anyone who is ever called upon to present a persuasive argument or deliver a speech. The authors will discuss  the techniques and strategies behind organizing, writing, and delivering a speech, and will show video of iconic speeches both good and bad.  Sarah McConnell will moderate the discussion.

The program is free, open to the public, and begins at 4:00 pm in Charlottesville’s City Hall Chambers.

Robert Sayler, co-author of Tongue-Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion, is Ewald Law Professor at UVa. He was a trial lawyer in Washington, DC for thirty-five years.

Molly Shadel, co-author of Tongue-Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion, is a professor at the UVa School of Law. She has worked as an attorney in New York and D.C. She has also directed plays professionally.

Sarah McConnell is the producer and host of the radio show ...

Graduated Response Deal Steamrollers On Towards July 1 Launch

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Last week, RIAA CEO Cary Sherman confirmed that the country's largest ISPs will voluntarily roll out by July 1 a "graduated response" program aimed at discouraging unauthorized downloading. A Memorandum of Understanding published last summer outlines the program, which was developed without user feedback. Under the new system, a rightsholder accusing an ISP subscriber of infringment will trigger a series of ever-increasing consequences. The responses are graduated in the sense that they escalate after each accusation, beginning with steps aimed at educating users about copyright and culminating in the Orwellian-sounding "mitigation measures" -- bandwidth throttling or account suspension.

As we said last year, this deal is tilted against subscribers. That's not surprising, given that no one solicited subscriber input in advance. In fact, some online commenters have expressed concern that the agreement runs afoul of antitrust law.

One key problem is the arrangement shifts the burden of proof: rather than accusers proving infringement before the graduated response process starts against a subscriber, the subscriber must disprove the accusation in order to call a halt to it. Worse, accused subscribers have to defend themselves on an uneven playing field. For example, they have only ten days ...

Appellate Court to Rehear Expansive Border Search Case

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

When it comes to the government's ability to search your electronic devices at the border, we've always maintained that the border is not an "anything goes" zone, and that the Fourth Amendment doesn't allow the government to search whatever it wants for any (or no) reason at all. And this week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to rehear a case that gave the government carte blanche to search through electronic devices at the border.

In September 2011, EFF and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed an amicus brief (PDF) before the Ninth Circuit, asking it to rehear its decision in United States v. Cotterman (PDF), which dramatically expanded the "border search" doctrine that generally allows law enforcement to search a person coming across the international border without a warrant or any suspicion of wrong doing. Cotterman involved a man who attempted to cross into the United States from Mexico at the Arizona border. Customs agents kept him at the border for 8 hours without suspecting him of carrying anything illegal. They seized two laptops and a digital camera without a search warrant, and transported them 170 miles to Tuscon. Still without a search warrant, they searched ...

SXSW: Privacy – A Hot Topic at Interactive

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Last week, OIF Director Barbara Jones attended her  first SXSW in Austin.  Here’s the third installment of her blog posts from the event.  See the other two here and here.

Privacy advocates, we have our work cut out for us!  There were plenty of programs on privacy, and not always very big audiences.  Some of the big players, like Google and Facebook, were “no shows” for a panel on big data management and privacy.   And the Q &A at the end of each program demonstrated a lack of understanding of privacy issues essential for startups.  (But at least there is a forum for asking!  SXSW saves the last half of every program for “interactive,” so that the audience becomes an essential part of each program and their questions are integral to discovery of the topic at hand.)

“Can Privacy Bootcamp Firm Up Your Bottom Line?”

SXSW Interactive attendees are overwhelmingly 20 and 30-somethings, and this excellent panel spoke to that audience.  Librarians would find the ACLU speaker’s contributions very familiar—the philosophical and constitutional importance of upholding the right to privacy.  The spark to this panel was Raman Khanna.  Khanna invests in early-stage startups and considers privacy considerations ...

NSA Chief Appears to Deny Ability to Warrantlessly Wiretap Despite Evidence

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

The former NSA official held his thumb and forefinger close together. “We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state,” he says. —Wired Magazine, April 2012

Last week, in Wired Magazine, noted author James Bamford reported on an expansive $2 billion “data center” being built by the NSA in Utah that will house an almost unimaginable amount of data on its servers, along with the world’s fastest supercomputers. Part of the purpose of this new center, according to Bamford, is to store “all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.’”

In the Wired article, Bamford interviewed former NSA official William Binney, a “crypto-mathematician largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network.” Binney further shed light on the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, first exposed by the New York Times in 2005 and the subject of EFF’s long running suit Jewel v. NSA, which challenges the constitutionality of the NSA’s program.

The NSA claims it only has access to emails and phone calls of non-U.S. citizens overseas, but Binney provides ...

FIRE Announces New Webinar Series

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

FIRE is pleased to announce the launch of a new series of webinars, designed to inform students, FIRE supporters, and other interested parties about issues surrounding free speech, due process, and individual rights on America's campuses. The first webinar in the series will take place during Free Speech Week, on Tuesday, April 3rd, at 6 p.m. Eastern, and will feature FIRE's Director of Legal and Public Advocacy William Creeley delivering a lecture titled, "An Introduction to Free Speech on Campus: Case Law and Common Policy Mistakes."

During the hour-long webinar, Will will provide an overview of the legal principles supporting the right to freedom of expression on campus. Will will introduce listeners to decades of precedent from the Supreme Court and lower courts upholding First Amendment protections on college campuses, emphasizing the primacy of free speech and academic freedom in higher education, and designating the university campus as peculiarly the "marketplace of ideas," where unfettered expression creates informed citizens and ultimately contributes to the health of our democracy. Will will also discuss unconstitutional and illiberal speech codes, providing listeners with an examination of the most common restrictions on student speech on today's campuses. A question and answer session ...

Discipline of Southern Mississippi Band Members Raises Possible Free Speech Concerns

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

The Associated Press reports that the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has taken disciplinary action against five members of the university's pep band for chanting "Where's your green card" at Kansas State University basketball player Angel Rodriguez while he shot free throws during a game against USM last week. The university confirmed in a statement issued yesterday that "[t]he students have had their pep band scholarships revoked, have been removed from the band, and will be required to complete a two-hour cultural sensitivity training course this week."

University sports teams and bands are not independent from the university in the way that student organizations (like a chess club or the College Republicans) are. As a result, universities do have more leeway to regulate those organizations, including conditioning membership upon adherence to certain standards of behavior. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that "[b]y choosing to ‘go out for the team,' [students] voluntarily subject themselves to a degree of regulation even higher than that imposed on students generally... students who voluntarily participate in school athletics have reason to expect intrusions upon normal rights and privileges." Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 657 (1995). So if the ...

"Net Freedom" for Iranians, Not Syrians

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

On March 20, to coincide with the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, President Obama recorded a video message in which he offered assistance to the Iranian people in communicating beyond Iran's borders. Consistent with the Department of State's "Net Freedom" initiative, Obama issued new guidelines to make it easier for American businesses to provide software and services to Iranians in order to facilitate communications using free technologies (as opposed to paid ones).  The new guidelines also include a "favorable licensing policy" through which U.S. individuals and companies can request approval from the Office of Foreign Assets Control for paid products like web hosting and services like Skype Credit and Google Talk.  The guidelines, which are basically clarifications, are helpful, but they could have gone much further.  

Justifying the new guidelines, a White House blog post outlined some of the ways in which the Iranian government has earned its titles as an "Internet enemy" (Reporters Without Borders) and one of the "top 10 online oppressors" (Committee to Protect Journalists), including:

  • Monitoring and filtering online content
  • Limiting access to the Internet
  • Suspending access to the Internet
  • Employing a "cyber army"
  • Prosecuting citizens for political speech
  • Spying in Internet cafes
  • ...

Applications open for 2012 Banned Books Week event grants, sponsored by FTRF’s Judith Krug Fund

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Applications are now open for the 2012 Judith Krug Fund Banned Books Week event grants, sponsored by the Freedom to Read Foundation. Grants in the amount of $2,500 and $1,000 will be given to organizations in support of “Read-Outs” or other activities that celebrate Banned Books Week (Sept. 30 – Oct. 6, 2012).

Applications for the grants will be accepted through May 11, 2012, and the announcements will be made in June.

The Freedom to Read Foundation – the First Amendment legal defense affiliate of the American Library Association – became an official sponsor of Banned Books Week this year. 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of Banned Books Week.

Seven organizations received grants in 2010, and six grants were awarded in 2011. Here’s a video featuring the 2011 grant awardees:

Organizations are required to submit an event description, timeline and budget with their application, and also agree to provide a written report and video to FTRF following Banned Books Week. For more information on Banned Books Week, visit A compendium of thousands of books that have been banned and challenged can be found in the 2010 Banned Books Resource Guide, available through the ALA Store. ...

WonderCon Reaches New Heights For CBLDF!

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

by Charles Brownstein

Last weekend big crowds mobbed the Anaheim Convention Center for WonderCon, the long-running California show that’s become a favorite on the comics convention circuit. This year’s event marked the first time the con was held in Southern California after years as a mainstay of the Bay Area comics culture, but the new market didn’t diminish the crowds or excitement of the show. Attendance was extremely strong throughout the con’s three days. CBLDF Deputy Director Alex Cox and I were there representing the Fund, and there wasn’t a moment that we weren’t busy. At the end of the weekend, contributions to CBLDF exceeded $12,500, making it our most successful showing at WonderCon in years.

Alex ran our booth, which was situated close to the main entrance and jam packed with signed comics and graphic novels. We thanked our members with a choice between a free copy of the CBLDF exclusive cover editions of Glory #23, signed by Joe Keatinge, or CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011 signed by Frank Quitely. We also debuted new member buttons and the Comics Code Authority Seal of Approval t-shirt from Graphitti Designs. Look for the t-shirts to hit our Rewards Zone online ...

Supreme Court Declines Cert in ‘Alpha Delta,’ Allowing Ninth Circuit’s Unfortunate Ruling to Stand

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States decided not to grant certiorari in the case of Alpha Delta v. Reed, declining the appeal request of two religious student organizations at San Diego State University (SDSU). The Supreme Court's decision lets stand a 2011 ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that found SDSU not to have violated the First Amendment rights of the student groups, a Christian fraternity and sorority, by denying them official recognition. The Ninth Circuit held that the university's actions, under a determination that the groups' requirement that members share the groups' religious beliefs violated SDSU's nondiscrimination policy, did not violate the groups' freedom of association.

The Ninth Circuit's decision puts religious students and student groups in a very tough and frankly disadvantaged position compared to other students. Religion is one of the traditional protected classes from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 along with race, color, national origin, and (to some extent) sex. However, it's the only one that is based on belief, not an immutable status. (While you can change your sex, it's a relatively rare procedure.) You don't have much of a choice about, say, your ...

The Supreme Court Gets it Right: No Patents on Laws of Nature

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

We're happy to report that the patent system is getting a much need jolt of sanity, in the form of a clear Supreme Court ruling affirming a basic, but sometimes forgotten, principle: laws of nature, and obvious methods of working with them, are not patentable.

Earlier this month, we bemoaned the Federal Circuit’s propensity to further confuse the standard for unpatentable subject matter in the wake of In re Bilski. Specifically, we wrote that a recent ruling in Ultramercial v. Hulu “could impermissibly (and dangerously) expand the scope of patentable subject matter.” 

So, we were pleasantly surprised yesterday by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Mayo v. Prometheus, where it unanimously struck down a patent covering a medical diagnostic test. You may remember that three categories of "inventions" are not patentable: laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas. In this case, Prometheus' patent covered a method of giving a drug to a patient, testing the metabolite levels in the patient, and tweaking the dosage accordingly. Correctly, the Supreme Court held the patent invalid because it took laws of nature and merely included “well-understood, routine, conventional activity previously engaged in by researchers in [the] field.”

Hopefully, the Federal Circuit ...

EFF Again Reminds Court Forced Warrantless DNA Collection Violates Fourth Amendment

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Over the last few years, we've been battling laws that require a person arrested to give a DNA sample as part of the routine booking process. The law makes this DNA collection automatic and mandatory; law enforcement do not need a reason to collect the DNA and they can do so without a search warrant. Given the incredibly sensitive information that DNA can reveal about a person - details like a person's medical history, predisposition to disease and even sexual orientation - government access to this information must be strictly limited. But a recent decision (PDF) by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found no constitutional problems with the government's ability to collect DNA from recent arrestees without a search warrant.

The case, Haskell v. Harris, is a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Northern California, challenging Proposition 69, a California initiative that requires the warrantless collection of DNA from any person arrested for a felony. The four plaintiffs in Haskell were all arrested for a variety of crimes, but ultimately none were convicted of anything. Nonetheless, at the time of their bookings, each person was required to provide a DNA sample to the police who, as required ...

Electronic Frontier Foundation Supports Unlicensed Spectrum

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
Asks FCC to Broaden Wireless Broadcast Realm

Electronic Frontier Foundation Media Release

San Francisco, CA - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today supported a spectrum policy proposal from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and asked the FCC to acknowledge its First Amendment obligation to allocate additional spectrum for unlicensed use. Unlicensed use of spectrum would permit the expansion of wireless communication, including Wi-Fi-style technology.

EFF asked the FCC to adopt the policy proposed in Notice of Inquiry 02-328, "Additional Spectrum for Unlicensed Devices Below 900 MHz and in the 3 GHz Band." In this notice, the FCC seeks comment on the allocation of additional spectrum for unlicensed use, similar to the allocation that makes Wi-Fi devices possible. The Commission proposes to carve spectrum for unlicensed use out of unused TV station frequencies, which would dramatically increase the "open" spectrum available for technological innovation.

"Spectrum regulation is a form of speech regulation," said EFF Outreach Coordinator Cory Doctorow. "We support the Commission's proposal to make more spectrum available for unlicensed applications like Wi-Fi, moving us closer to a world where we all may speak over the airwaves."

The FCC traditionally justifies regulating spectrum use on grounds of scarcity, arguing that if ...

Human Rights and Free Expression Groups Demand Release of Vietnamese Bloggers

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Last week, EFF joined eight international press and digital freedom organizations in sending a letter to the Vietnamese government to call on them to release five youth activists currently held in detention in Hanoi without access to legal counsel. The activists are all active bloggers and contribute to prominent citizen journalist sites.

Concerned individuals and organizations should send their own letters to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to support our opposition to the Vietnamese government's continuing crackdown on free expression. Addresses are provided below.

Letter text

12 March 2012

Nguyen Tan Dung
Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Office of the State
1 Bach Thao
Hanoi, Vietnam

Re: Request for the immediate release of Dang Xuan Dieu, Ho Duc Hoa, Nguyen Van Duyet, Nong Hung Anh and Paulus Le Van Son, and the dismissal of all charges

Dear Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung,

We write to express our deep concern over the unfounded arrest and detention of bloggers and human rights defenders Dang Xuan Dieu, Ho Duc Hoa, Nguyen Van Duyet, Nong Hung Anh and Paulus Le Van Son. We call on the Government of Vietnam for their immediate release.

The five are among a group of youth activists belonging to ...

Dangerously Vague Cybersecurity Legislation Threatens Civil Liberties

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

There is a spate of proposed cybersecurity legislation working its way through the House and Senate. The bills are aimed primarily at facilitating cooperation regarding so-called “cybersecurity” issues among different branches of government as well as between government and the private sector. The bills range from being downright terrible to appropriately intentioned, yet they all suffer from the fundamental inability to clearly define the threats which are being defended against and the countermeasures that can be taken against those threats. Without good definitions and an emphasis on transparency, we cannot be certain that government entities and corporations will refrain from abusing their power, interpreting the definitions in the statute expansively, and infringing on civil liberties. Below we provide some pitfalls of broad definitions, with a separate legal analysis forthcoming.

Defining threats too broadly

How do the bills define cybersecurity threat? Each bill has its own nomenclature, but the core concepts are quite similar. In Senator Joseph Lieberman's Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S. 2105), for example, a "cybersecurity threat" is what is being guarded against, and a  "cybersecurity threat indicator" is the activity of a possible cybersecurity threat that allows private or government entities to monitor and operate countermeasures. For technical ...

Wendy Kaminer Highlights VAWA’s Potential Impact on Campus Due Process in ‘The Atlantic’

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Wendy Kaminer, noted civil libertarian and member of FIRE's Board of Advisors, has a useful piece on The Atlantic's website discussing the threat to campus due process presented by the latest draft of the Violence Against Women Act's (VAWA's) reauthorizaton bill. 

Citing me, Kaminer writes: 

As Senate Republicans resist renewing the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), raising questions about immigration fraud and Indian tribal courts, and Democrats indignantly declare their support of it, civil libertarians should take a hard look at some of the Act's deceptively innocuous provisions. Section 304, which governs the treatment of sexual violence charges on college and university campuses, requires that cases involving allegations of violence or stalking provide for "prompt and equitable investigation and resolution."

What's worrisome about this language? Will Creeley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) points out that "prompt and equitable" is a term of art under federal anti-discrimination law. It's construed by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to require a low standard of proof ("preponderance of the evidence") in sexual misconduct cases. 

I want to provide an explanation of why the "prompt and equitable" language is of concern here, and ...

Reporting Challenges: A Quick How-to Video

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

OIF produced the following short video, which explains the process of reporting challenges to library or school materials, and also answers some common questions about what information we collect and what kind of assistance we provide. Enjoy!

Report a challenge or download our free “Defend the Freedom to Read” artwork by visiting

Law Professor Explores Freedom of Association Controversy at Vanderbilt

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

In an article for the Witherspoon Institute's Public Discourse last week, University of St. Thomas law professor Michael Stokes Paulsen addresses Vanderbilt University's controversial decision to institute an "all-comers" policy for student organizations on campus. As Paulsen explains, the policy forbids students groups from "impos[ing] faith-based or belief-based requirements for membership or leadership."

In his piece, Paulsen explores what he calls the "irony" of the constitutional principles and court decisions relating to freedom of expressive association, noting that the same freedom that protects the rights of individuals to form organizations based on shared beliefs also guards Vanderbilt's ability as a private university to dictate the values and principles of the school.

In doing so, Paulsen's piece does an excellent job of analyzing the complexities behind the battle over freedom of association on campus. Most importantly, he highlights the current and potential consequences of these complexities-consequences that FIRE continues to emphasize as part of our effort to combat Vanderbilt's decision. For example, he writes:

[I]f Vanderbilt is truly committed to freedom and diversity—if that is the expressive identity it desires—it should embrace the same principle for its student groups: campus religious groups should be permitted to be who they want to ...

IFAction Round Up, March 9–19, 2012

Tuesday, March 20th, 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 March 9-19, 2012.


Papers move, scrap ‘Doonesbury’ abortion law strip

Knoxville, TN: Pornographic required reading in Knox Schools? (Looking for Alaska)

PayPal backtracks on “obscene” e-book policy

Criminal Charges Dropped In Canada Customs Manga Case

Rochester, MN: District’s decision to remove book generates pushback (And Tango Makes Three)

Related: ‘Tango Makes Three’ was pulled in error (Rochester, MN)

Aiken, SC: Schofield teacher on leave after parent complains of ‘pornographic’ sci-fi book (Enders’ Game)

Related: Three books at heart of investigation in Schofield teacher’s administrative leave

Cairnbrook, PA: Parents oppose book used in Shade-Central City classes (‘The Glass Castle’)

Lower Saucon Township, PA: School District Did Right by ‘Nickel and Dimed’


US Army: Geotagged Facebook posts put soldiers’ lives at risk

Identity Companies: Paid to Know About You

Minnesota girl alleges school privacy invasion

How Frictionless Sharing Could ...

‘Red’ Songs Banned in Chongqing

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
Chinese authorities roll back policies tied to ousted city Party chief.

Support CBLDF in Salt Lake City This Weekend

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

While CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein, founder Denis Kitchen, and board member Paul Levitz are in New York City for a symposium on how the city has influenced comics, nerds in the west will be able to geek out at SLC Nerd, a one-day event taking place March 24 and featuring live music, cosplay, gaming, and more. Amidst the nerdy festivities, Night Flight Comics is sponsoring a silent auction to benefit CBLDF!

SLC Nerd starts at 2:00 p.m. on March 24 in the Rockwell Room of The Complex (536 West 100 South, Salt Lake City, UT). Come out, get your geek on, and bid on original artwork and signed comics to support CBLDF!

The official press release and schedule of events for SLC Nerd:

Salt Lake City, Utah – February 21, 2012 – Gangrene Productions (producers of the Gangrene Comedy Film Festival) present a one day Nerd-stravaganza guaranteed (guarantee not legally binding) to get your geek on.

Produced by Gangrene Productions and sponsored by Night Flight Comics, the Complex and mediaRif, SLC Nerd promises to be “one big day of fun, filled to the brim with geekery and nerdata, featuring live music, costume contests, table top gaming and ...

San Francisco Ordinance to Safeguard Against SFPD/FBI Surveillance Abuses Faces Risk of Mayoral Veto

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to pass the Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance, legislation that ensures that the San Francisco Police Department's counterterrorism activities are controlled by San Franciscans, rather than by the FBI. The ordinance requires San Francisco police officers working with the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force to obey San Francisco's civil rights laws, follow San Francisco's anti-spying policies, and subjects them to civilian oversight by San Franciscans.

San Francisco has enacted especially robust protections for First Amendment activity to make sure that you can be yourself in public without worrying that the police are covertly tracking you. These protections include Department General Order 8.10, first adopted by the Police Commission in 1990, which requires that intelligence-gathering involving any First Amendment activity be based on reasonable suspicion of significant criminal activity. Additionally, the California Constitution requires an articulable criminal predicate for all intelligence-gathering activity.

Without local control, weaker federal standards apply. As things stand currently, there is no effective way to prevent SFPD inspectors assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force from joining FBI agents in collecting intelligence on San Franciscans without any particular factual predication, and without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. The ...

CBLDF Founder, Board Member, and Executive Director to Present at COMIC NEW YORK: A SYMPOSIUM

Monday, March 19th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

This weekend, CBLDF founder Denis Kitchen, board member Paul Levitz, and Executive Director Charles Brownstein will be participating in Comic New York: A Symposium, which will take place in the Low Library on the Columbia University campus. The two-day symposium “brings together creators and academics to discuss the intertwined histories of American comics and the town where they were born: New York City. From the role of New York as breeding ground for generations of comics talent to the political, periodical, and underground nature of the comics themselves, the best NYC has to offer celebrates this unique medium.”

Kitchen and Brownstein are participating on Saturday, March 24. Kitchen will join Peter Kuper, Sabrina Jones, and John Carey for “Political New York,” a panel that takes place from 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. From 3:00 – 4:00 p.m., Brownstein joins Bill Griffith, R. Sikoryak, and Julia Wertz for “Alternative New York.” Levitz will be at the symposium on Sunday, March 25, from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. for “Comic New York and the Academy,” which also includes academics Jonathan W. Gray and N.C. Christopher Couch.

Join Kitchen, Levitz, and Brownstein as they celebrate how New York City ...

KU’s Student Senate Votes to Protect Students’ Speech Rights

Monday, March 19th, 2012

The University Daily Kansan reports that the University of Kansas' (KU's) Student Senate has acted to protect students' speech rights when expressing themselves online or in social media. The Student Senate's policy changes, which are subject to the approval of KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, will be reflected in the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

The Kansan reports:

Article 8 of the code on campus expression was updated, and expands student's [sic] freedom of speech. Students cannot be punished for what is said on social media websites or through other online communication unless it is disruptive to the University's operations.

While we're waiting to see the exact language of the changes, this is seemingly good news for KU students wishing to express themselves freely on social media sites and in other online platforms, on matters both big and small. Students at a public institution of higher learning such as KU should expect to enjoy their full First Amendment rights when engaging in such expression. Indeed, in this day and age, it is paramount. Unfortunately, at schools such as Sam Houston State University and the University of Illinois, FIRE has recently learned that that understanding isn't always present.

So, kudos ...

Sunshine Week Wrap-up: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Last Friday marked the end of Sunshine week, a national initiative to promote dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. It’s the third year for the Obama administration, which has been taken to task for reversing early promises on transparency. Have they improved? Here’s our review:

The Good

Ahead of Sunshine Week, the Obama administration debuted a welcome addition to government transparency: the newly-redesigned, which, as Politico reported, “puts various public records databases in a centralized location, including White House Visitor Records, lobbyist disclosure records, and campaign finance reports. Most of these databases were previously available online, but users can now search across all available datasets simultaneously.”

Attorney General Eric Holder also gave a speech touting that the Justice Department has  “made meaningful, measurable progress in improving the way our Departmentand its partners and counterpartsrespond to disclosure requests.” He claimed the DOJ released documents in either full or in part 94.5% of the time and reduced its backlog by 26%. He also said the Justice Department will begin posting monthly lists of Freedom of Information Act requests and will publicly identify the subject matter of the requests.

The Bad

Unfortunately, the ...

Brown University’s Sexual Misconduct Policy Threatens Fundamental Fairness

Monday, March 19th, 2012

About a month ago, Brown Daily Herald journalist Hannah Abelow wrote about changes to Brown University's sexual misconduct policy. Things aren't looking good for justice at Brown.

First, as Abelow notes, students who have alleged sexual misconduct are now allowed to appeal even if the accused is found to be innocent. Far from being a "minor" change as stated in the article, this change creates a "double jeopardy" situation, as FIRE has noted before, where a student can be tried a second time for an offense of which he or she has already been found not guilty.

It's hard to blame Brown too much for making this change, since it is now required by the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) whenever a university evaluates claims of sexual misconduct. 

Furthermore, since Brown offers the accused the prospect of a lesser sanction as a result of the appeal, Brown now offers the accuser a chance to increase the sanction on the accused:

For hearings involving charges under Offense III and Offense IV for harassment based on sex/gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, the complaining witness shall have the right to appeal on the same terms ...

Win New Artwork for Your Walls in Latest Round of CBLDF Auctions

Monday, March 19th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez
Last week, CBLDF announced two important victories: Canada Customs dropped criminal charges against comics fan Ryan Matheson and PayPal rescinded their erotic content policy. In the latter case, CBLDF contributed $20,000 to Matheson’s defense. However, Matheson is still $45,000 in debt, and CBLDF is working to help him pay it off.

You can support the effort by making a donation or becoming a member of CBLDF. Or, you can bid on the gorgeous exclusive prints that CBLDF has up for auction. From Abe Sapien to Moebius to Sin City, CBLDF has a piece of artwork that will look great on your walls! Check out the gallery below, and place your bids here!


ABE SAPIEN print, signed by Mignola and Alexander French SIN CITY Poster, signed by Frank Miller Moebius Print, 1991 Moebius Print, 1991 SIN CITY Print, signed by Frank Miller XERXES Print, signed by Frank Miller

TJ Center Clinical Course Co-Instructor Bruce Brown Weighs in on the Constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act in WaPo Op-Ed

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Bruce Brown is a partner at the law firm Baker Hostetler, and is co-director of the Center’s First Amendment Practice Clinic, which filed an amicus curiae brief in this case

While we hold the military’s honor sacred, the government cannot penalize speech, whether true or false, simply because it might harm this honor.

Any law that seeks to protect the government’s reputation runs afoul of the most basic bargain of sovereignty, reflected in our Constitution. James Madison said, “The censorial power is in the people over the Government, and not in the Government over the people.” In this context, it is doubtful that the government can ever be libeled by a citizen, any more than a citizen can libel himself. We don’t let the government sue for libel — only individual officials. And even if the government could be libeled, the First Amendment forbids laws banning speech that challenges or impugns the government’s reputation.

The 2006 Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime to falsely hold oneself as the recipient of military decorations, is challenging these precepts anew. Unfortunately, if the recent oral argument at the Supreme Court is a guide, the basis of the law’s unconstitutionality is being ...

EFF Backs Judge Calling for Warrant in Cell Phone Tracking Case

Monday, March 19th, 2012
Recent Supreme Court Ruling Brings New Questions About Long-Term Surveillance

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation and the ACLU Foundation of Texas Friday in backing a judge who required a search warrant before approving the seizure of two months of cell phone location data by law enforcement.

In this case, the government asked a magistrate judge to approve a request to two cell phone companies for 60 days of cell phone location records as part of a routine law enforcement investigation. The judge denied the request, saying it was necessary for the government to get a warrant based on probable cause before it could obtain the records. In an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, EFF argues that the judge was correct, as getting a warrant is essential to ensuring Fourth Amendment protections.

"The Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in United States v. Jones that the GPS tracking of a vehicle without a warrant violates the reasonable expectation of privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. This is a very similar situation," said EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury. "People carry ...

Something Fishy in Wyoming

Monday, March 19th, 2012 brings to us a disturbing story from Laramie County Community College in Wyoming, where a student says that administrators took some troubling actions to prevent his Campus Conservatives group from holding an "affirmative action bake sale" protest on campus:

Once the university realized that my event would expose their racial preferencing policies, I was called into the dean's office of campus living and learning. I was told that what I was doing was border line racist and harassment. They said I would be better off not doing the bake sale at all. The dean even called the faculty advisor for my group and convinced her to quit.

Admittedly, this is not quite as severe as what happened at FIRE Red Alert school Bucknell University, where administrators actually shut down an affirmative action bake sale using bogus excuses that are disproven on tape. Indeed, the student, Jake Dagel, was ultimately able to have his protest. But if administrators at the college did indeed pressure the group's advisor to quit because of the group's planned event, that's a clear attempt at censorship. (Especially considering that on many campuses, groups cannot maintain official recognition and access to university resources without an ...

Sunshine Week: Forecast Looks Cloudy for PATRIOT Act Transparency

Friday, March 16th, 2012

As we noted in an earlier post, EFF received the first batch of records from the DOJ in our FOIA lawsuit related to Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act yesterday. The government released approximately 300 pages of records to EFF, but (not surprisingly) none of those records shed any light on the information EFF sought in the first place -- the government's secret interpretation and use of Section 215.

Section 215 allows the government to apply to and obtain orders from a secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Those secret, classified orders can require businesses, like ISPs or phone companies, to turn over "any tangible thing" relevant to a foreign intelligence or terrorism investigation. According to the Washington Post, 80% of those orders are for internet records. A 215 Order also gags the recipient -- that is, the order specifically prohibits the company from ever disclosing the fact that the order was received.

And that's just what the text of Section 215 says. Elected officials briefed on the way the government has interpreted and used the section claim that there are really two Section 215's: one consistent with the language of the statute, and one that ...

China Ends Microblog Anonymity

Friday, March 16th, 2012
Authorities implement a new measure to monitor the country's blogosphere.

‘Virginia Advocate’ Praises UVA’s Green Light Rating

Friday, March 16th, 2012

In The Virginia Advocate, an independent student newspaper at the University of Virginia, Wendy Morrison writes a brief column noting with pleasure the university's rank as a "green light" school after having seen FIRE's latest national survey of campus speech codes

"This ranking was no faint praise," Morrison writes, "when you compare UVA to other top tier Universities like Yale, who were given yellow lights and whose profiles cited many examples of seemingly unreasonable censorship." 

Indeed, it is no faint praise, though it is praise we give out far less often than we'd like. Currently only sixteen colleges nationwide (with Ole Miss being the newest of the lot) earn a green light from FIRE, our highest speech code rating, meaning that no policies on their books place free expression at risk. 

Morrison concludes:

Indeed, as our founder Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "For here we are not tolerate error so long as reason is free to combat it." That sentiment is one that I believe encompasses the main tenet behind FIRE's mission: that expression, unless directly in violation of other's rights, should not be censored so long as we rely on our reason to distinguish right from wrong. 


Labor Camp for Petitioning Mother

Friday, March 16th, 2012
Additional details surface about the treatment of activists during China's annual parliamentary meeting.

March Student Spotlight: Allen Mendenhall of Auburn University

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Each month, the CFN Student Spotlight features a student member who is working to promote individual rights on his or her campus. For March, I am pleased to announce that our featured student is Allen Mendenhall of Auburn University. As a Ph.D. candidate and teacher at Auburn, Allen has helped establish an environment open to free speech and robust debate both in the classes he teaches and the classes he attends. He maintains an open-door policy for students and he encourages them to speak their minds in his classroom, regardless of their opinions. He also advocates actively for free speech on campus, most recently by writing an op-ed in the Montgomery Advertiser about FIRE's recent, ongoing case at Auburn regarding selective enforcement of a rule prohibiting window postings in dorm rooms.

Read Austin's story at our Student Spotlight page, and keep checking The Torch to hear more about CFN student accomplishments!

George and Nick Clooney Arrested at D.C. Protest

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Police arrested actor George Clooney and others Friday during a protest at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington. The arrested protesters included congressmen, human rights activists and faith leaders, and Clooney’s father Nick. For a number of years, George and Nick Clooney have actively worked to create greater awareness of the humanitarian crisis in the Darfu region of Sudan where violent conflict has left an estimated 400,000 dead.

Read more.


CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein Discusses The Contested Art & Legal Repercussions of R. v. Matheson

Friday, March 16th, 2012

CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein talked to Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter about the art at issue in R. v. Matheson, the CBLDF’s legal case that recently concluded with criminal charges against the client being dropped.

Of the art, Brownstein said:

While both of these comics are adult material, I can’t see any reasonable adult viewing those images and convicting them as depictions of child sex abuse. Particularly in the context of the expert testimony we were prepared to deploy.

He also discussed the big picture of these types of prosecutions:

Ultimately, I think these issues are still very much in play both internationally, and here in the United States. And I think that they’re an easy get for prosecutors because individuals tend to be automatically predisposed to assume guilt wherever an allegation of child pornography is made. Even in this case, where the charges against Ryan were dropped, and he’s been cleared of any wrongdoing, you’re still seeing a lot of internet comments suggesting that he must have possessed some form of child pornography. Well, no, he didn’t. If he did, there’s not a reality in which the Crown wouldn’t have proceeded to trial.

Brownstein sees this ...

Fake YouTube Site Targets Syrian Activists With Malware

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Last week, EFF reported on two instances of pro-Syrian-government malware targeting Syrian activists through links sent in chats and emails. This week, we've seen new Windows malware dropped by a fake YouTube site hosting Syrian opposition videos.

Below is a screenshot of the fake YouTube page, which attacks users in two ways: it requires you to enter your YouTube login credentials in order to leave comments, and it installs malware disguised as an Adobe Flash Player update.

This phishing site has been taken down, but if you encounter a similar page do not enter your YouTube login credentials to comment. If you have already logged in to the site (or a similar site) to leave a comment follow the steps outlined below to see if your computer has been infected, and change your YouTube and Gmail passwords from an uninfected computer immediately. You may also wish to take some additional steps to make sure that your Gmail account is secure, including enabling 2-factor authentication and checking to see if any suspicious forwarding addresses or delegated accounts have been added to your account.

If you encounter a similar page do not click "Install" to update Flash. Clicking "Install" drops ...

Criminal Charges Dropped in Canada Customs Manga Case

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund are pleased to announce that the Crown has withdrawn all criminal charges in R. v. Matheson, the case previously described as the “Brandon X case,” which involved a comic book reader who faced criminal charges in Canada relating to comic books on his computer.  The defendant, Ryan Matheson, a 27-year-old comic book reader, amateur artist, and computer programmer has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

The total legal costs of this case exceeded $75,000.  After taking the case last summer, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund contributed $20,000 to the defense, and the Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund contributed $11,000.  The CBLDF also participated in shaping the defense, including recruiting expert testimony for the trial.  The organization is currently seeking funds to help pay off the $45,000 debt Matheson incurred as a result of his case, and to create new tools to prevent future cases.  To make a contribution to these important efforts, please visit

After a search of his laptop in 2010, Matheson was wrongfully accused of possessing and importing child pornography because of constitutionally protected comic book images on that device.  He ...

Ryan Matheson’s Personal Statement

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

My name is Ryan Matheson. I am currently a 27-year-old software engineer and a resident of Minnesota in the United States. I am a fan of Japanese anime and manga and Japan in general. The following is my own personal statement about the criminal case filed against me in Canada. I was 25 at the time the case started. In a nutshell, I was wrongfully arrested, detained and prosecuted based solely on drawn Japanese manga comic book images on my computer.

On April 15th, 2010, I traveled to Ottawa, Canada for a 5-day vacation trip to visit a friend I have known for well over a decade. It was my first time traveling to Canada and my first time traveling outside of the United States. Since both my friend and I are geeks and programmers, I brought some of my electronics, including my laptop computer. There was nothing bad or illegal on my computer. Through the customs and immigration process, I was immediately picked out and searched by a pair of customs officers. I knew I didn’t have anything to hide, so I willingly gave them my password to log in to my computer. Through an unusual search that lasted ...

This Month in FIRE History: FIRE Secures the Rights of Penn State Student Group

Thursday, March 15th, 2012
Eleven years ago this month, FIRE secured an important victory for freedom of association at Pennsylvania State University (PSU).

The case first began in December 2000, when PSU's undergraduate Student Government Supreme Court informed the school's chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) that the words of its constitution and mission statement (which had been adopted by the national organization in 1960), identifying rights as "God-given," constituted religious "discrimination," because the words reflected a "devotion to god." Despite appeals from the YAF chapter, PSU's Student Government Supreme Court upheld their decision and called on the chapter to remove the words. After taking the issue to the Appeals Board, the students were told that if the chapter's constitution was not revised, the organization would lose official recognition on campus-effectively, a death sentence for the group.

After YAF contacted FIRE, we wrote to then-PSU President Graham Spanier, reminding him of the school's responsibility to uphold freedom of association on campus. Spanier immediately undertook a review of the case, and subsequently called on the Appeals Board to reverse its decision.

Sean Clark, who was Vice Chairman of the YAF chapter during the controversy and now serves as FIRE's Director of Finance and Operations, ...

FIRE Speaker at High School Journalism Workshop in Chicago Friday

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

This Friday, March 16, FIRE Associate Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Azhar Majeed will talk to high school students about their rights at a journalism workshop hosted by Roosevelt University in Chicago. Azhar will lead two sessions discussing student press rights under the First Amendment and some of the cases and common issues FIRE has seen involving student newspapers.

Journalism Workshop at Roosevelt University
FIRE session featuring Azhar Majeed
Friday, March 16
8:30 a.m. & 10:30 a.m.
The Gage Gallery at Roosevelt University, 18 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL

To request a FIRE speaker for your campus or conference, visit our Speakers Bureau page or email

Calls for Fair Election

Thursday, March 15th, 2012
A U.S. envoy’s visit highlights lingering issues amid Burma's reforms.

Language Policy Comes Under Scrutiny

Thursday, March 15th, 2012
Student demonstrations in China's Qinghai province highlight concerns over change in the medium of instruction in schools.