Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

SXSW: Two Programs Pushing the Censorship Envelope

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

This week, OIF Director Barbara Jones is blogging about her experiences at her first SXSW in Austin.

March 14, 2012

Two SXSW programs about free speech were especially provocative and VERY controversial.  In both cases, the projects use humor to present the impact of censorship in closed societies.  They both experiment with how far they can push the limits to free expression—one in Iran, the other in Sharjah (UAE).

Parazit means “static”—what viewers experience when the Iranian government jams the television signal.  Thus is named a popular TV show broadcast on Voice of America’s Persian service:  Coverage of the SXSW presentation, “Iranian Outlaws: Satire Vs. Censorship“, is available at

Saman Arbabi and Kambiz Hosseini, two Iranian expats, designed a type of Jon Stewart Daily Show for Iranians.  (They have indeed appeared on Stewart’s show.)  Though the Iranian government has declared watching the show “illegal,” people use illegal satellite dishes and the Internet.  Over 800,000 have “liked” the show on Facebook worldwide and Arbabi receives dozens of photos and videos showing Iranians watching it in crowded living rooms, in a traditional tea and multigenerational get-together.  Episodes are posted on You Tube.  Arbabi receives his inspiration ...

‘Hot for Teacher’ Case Hits the Press Again

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

The Detroit press has jumped on FIRE's case at Oakland University again following yesterday's FIRE press release. In fall 2011, student Joseph Corlett was enrolled in Oakland University's Advanced Critical Writing course, which included a requirement that students keep a journal, described as "a place for a writer to try out ideas and record impressions and observations." After two of Corlett's journal entries described the attractiveness of the course's instructor, Corlett was found guilty of "unlawful individual activities," suspended for three semesters, given persona non grata status, and told he may only return to his studies if he undergoes "counseling" for "sensitivity issues." Corlett lost his appeal at Oakland and is pursuing his case with the assistance of attorney Brian Vincent. 

Joseph Corlett's case has received a great deal of press attention this year. Last month it was covered frequently in the national and international press. The most recent coverage includes stories from:

In addition to these, Reason's blog Hit & Run and the Oakland University student newspaper The Oakland Post have reported on Corlett's case.

We expect that more coverage is ...

‘Reason’ Riffs on ‘Hot for Teacher’ Case

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Jacob Sullum of Reason's blog Hit & Run takes on the case of Joseph Corlett at Oakland University in an entry titled "When is Quoting Van Halen a Crime?" Sullum provides a rundown of the case, including the fact that Corlett's views on concealed carry on campus were used as evidence against him. Sullum notes, "It's pretty clear that Corlett's journal entries did not amount to sexual harassment. Are they nevertheless a kind of disruptive speech that universities should punish?" He also asks, "[W]hat, if anything, do his views on gun control have to do with it?" An excellent question—and one Oakland has yet to answer.

Self-Immolation as Students Protest

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012
A Tibetan monk sets himself on fire as thousands of students protest in Qinghai province.

Sunshine Week: EFF’s FOIA Work Shines Light on Government Activities in 2011

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

As Sunshine Week rolls on, we wanted to highlight EFF’s transparency work over the past year. In an era of excessive government secrecy, the FOIA process is becoming increasingly vital to both keeping the public informed and holding the government accountable.

During the past year, EFF’s FOIA team filed over 30 different FOIA requests, to dozens of federal agencies, seeking information on the government's use of technology and its effect on civil liberties. When the government doesn't respond to our requests, we are sometimes forced to file suit: in 2011, we filed three new lawsuits, and are currently litigating four others, stemming from the government's failure to release the records we've requested.

In this post, we’ll highlight some of the documents we’ve received over the past year that shed new light on government activities, ranging from law enforcement guides for getting information from social networking sites, to abuse of federal surveillance laws. Tomorrow, a second post  will discuss our three new FOIA lawsuits.

Some of the most important FOIA responses EFF received in 2011 include:

Social Networking Law Enforcement Guidelines

In November, Anonymous made headlines by leaking Facebook’s law enforcement guidelines, which described the company's policy on responding to ...

CBLDF’s Member Appreciation Events At WonderCon!

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

By Charles Brownstein

It’s March, and that means it’s time to make the trip to WonderCon, one of my favorite conventions on the calendar! WonderCon kicks off the Spring convention season with a fun, comics-focused program and exhibitor mix for the fans who come out to the show. CBLDF President Larry Marder, Deputy Director Alex Cox, and I will all be there, and we’ve got a lot of extraordinary thank yous for our members and a killer mix of premiums to thank folks for their donations. In addition to those thank you gifts, we’re also hosting a Live Art Jam with Jim Lee, Rebekah Isaacs, and Eric Powell, as well as a presentation on the history of comics censorship. WonderCon starts on Friday and runs until Sunday at the Anaheim Convention Center.

The member appreciation rewards at this show are top notch. You get your choice of either the signed Frank Quitely variant sketch cover of the 2011 CBLDF Liberty Annual or the CBLDF exclusive cover of Glory #23, signed by writer Joe Keatinge! All you need to do to claim your member appreciation reward is come by CBLDF booth #417 during WonderCon with your current year CBLDF ...

Tons of IF-related programs at PLA Annual Conference

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

The Public Library Association conference is getting underway in Philadelphia!  For those attending, check out this lengthy list of intellectual freedom programs (and a social event) below the break.  Warning: given the extensive selection, some programs conflict with each other.  Also, the list does not include Betty White’s closing speech, which may or may not feature an expletive.  Follow PLA Conference updates on Twitter using #pla12.

Thursday, March 15, 10:45 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

Everyday Ethics: Tools for First Responders on the Library’s Front Lines

Pennsylvania Convention Center, Room 119-A-B

Concerns and complaints about services and programs aren’t scheduled. When facing an upset patron, there’s no time to brush up on library policies. How can you be prepared for that next public desk confrontation? What if you agree with the complainant? We’ll explore various ethical scenarios for front-line staff; offer “equip yourself” suggestions; and review available training resources and expert assistance. You will learn by observing and participating in role-playing exercises and group discussions.  Speakers: Martin Garnar, Regis University and Chair, ALA Committee on Professional Ethics; Theresa Jehlik, Omaha Public Library; Angela Maycock, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Thursday, March 15, 8:00-10:00 p.m.

Freedom to Read Foundation Meet & Greet


GONE TO AMERIKAY Launch Party Benefits CBLDF

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Gone to Amerikay, the new Vertigo original graphic novel by Derek McCulloch and Colleen Doran, will have a book launch party, benefiting the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.  McCulloch and Doran will both be at Harbor Lights Restaurant in New York City on March 30 from 6 to 8 pm, celebrating the release of their new book and demonstrating their support of the CBLDF’s mission.  All are welcome to join the celebration; admission will be free, though donations to the CBLDF are suggested.  There will be complimentary hors d’oeurves, and special guests from the comics community will be on hand to inaugurate Gone to Amerikay.  Copies of the book will be on sale, courtesy of Midtown Comics.

McCulloch, who sits on the board of The Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund, the Canadian counterpart to the CBLDF, said “I’m very proud of our work on Gone to Amerikay and all the more proud to be launching it with a benefit for the CBLDF.  The CBLDF and the CLLDF recently worked together to defend a reader in a legal battle with Canada Customs, and I’m hoping that this benefit will help defray the costs of that defense.”

Hailed by J. Michael ...

From SXSW: The Logistics

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

This week, OIF Director Barbara Jones is blogging about her experiences at her first SXSW in Austin.

March 13, 2012

Doing SXSW for the first time is like doing Tough Mudder.  Well, maybe not that tough, but still . . . Lots of walking, running, and, this year, torrential rains and standing in mud for the Barbecue Crash Course.  Hours of lines, hours to register, not enough vans thus running late.  The whole city taxi dispatch system crashed.  I now understand all the blog posts about “survival” and finding time to eat.  I now carry an apple and energy bar.  At the Librarians’ Meetup we all acknowledged how much we take for granted about ALA’s well-executed conference

The participant numbers are up this year—you hear anywhere from 20-30,000 have been through SXSW so far.  By the end of the week for the Music Festival, they predict 100,000 descending on a relatively small city.  But what a great, “weird” city, as Austinites will proudly tell you.  Like New Orleans, the sound of live music is never far away.  One of the best indy bookstores on the planet—Bookpeople.

SXSW has three tracks and, thanks to my husband’s gift for ...

EFF Backs ISPs in Battle to Quash Copyright Troll Subpoenas

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
Pornographic Film Companies Abusing the Law to Get Quick Settlements

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is backing Internet service providers (ISPs) in an effort to quash subpoenas issued in a predatory lawsuit over the alleged illegal downloading of adult material.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation and the ACLU of the Nation's Capitol joined EFF in the amicus brief submitted today, arguing that AF Holdings unfairly sued more than a thousand unnamed Internet users in the District of Columbia, even though the users were located all over the country. AF Holdings argues that it is allowed to obtain the identities of the ISPs' customers in D.C., because they might reside in the District or the alleged infringement may have occurred there. But the ISPs that were subpoenaed – including Cox, AT&T, and Verizon – told the court that it was easy to discover that only 20 of the IP addresses were associated with Washington, D.C.

"AF Holdings could have found out where the IP addresses at issue were probably located simply by using a geo-location service that costs about $8 per thousand addresses," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "But the company didn't do that, because ...

Companies Respond to Pakistan’s National Censorship Proposal

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Since we first wrote about Pakistan’s Telecommunications Authority’s (PTA) plan to create a national censorship and blocking system, there has been a global outpouring of criticism against the project. Bolo Bhi, a Pakistani advocacy group, along with the Business Human Rights Resource Centre, has publicly called on companies not to submit a proposal and to denounce the project entirely. While some have responded, a few companies have remained silent even amidst massive petitioning to urge them to join others in rejecting the plan.

The corporations that have so far come out against the initiative released statements that they do not intend to apply for the request for proposal. As we reported last week, Websense, which has recently become a model company in their dedication to transparency and human rights, has been leading the way by both rejecting the plan and calling other companies to also refuse to submit a proposal to enact mass censorship in Pakistan. They wrote:

Broad government censorship of citizen access to the Internet is morally wrong. We further believe that any company whose products are currently being used for government-imposed censorship should remove their technology so that it is not used in ...

PayPal Announces New Speech-Friendly Policy for Online Book Sales

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
EFF and Other Groups Led Campaign for Neutrality in Payment Services

San Francisco - Payment service provider PayPal has announced a new speech-friendly policy for online book sales, reversing plans to shut off payment processing to publishers of certain forms of erotic literature.

"Free speech in the 21st Century depends on a chain of electronic service providers, and financial services like PayPal play a critical role in the unfettered exchange of information and ideas in the digital world," said Rainey Reitman, Activism Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). "We are so glad that PayPal has clarified its policy, and won't interfere with lawful access to legal content."

EFF joined the National Coalition Against Censorship, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the ACLU of California and other groups in calling on PayPal to support free speech after online publishers and retailers – including Book Strand, Smashwords, and eXessica – were notified that their accounts would be closed unless they stopped selling any erotic books containing descriptions of rape, incest, and bestiality. In an open letter to PayPal, the coalition told the company that this would severely restrict the public's access to a wide range of legal material.

Today, PayPal announced ...

Supreme Court Decision on GPS Surveillance Sparking Good Court Rulings

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that warrantless installation of GPS devices violates the Fourth Amendment – United States v. Jones (PDF) – is already percolating through the court system, which is good news for our privacy rights.  Today, in a two sentence order (PDF), the Ohio Supreme Court vacated a lower court's opinion that upheld the installation of a GPS device without a warrant, and ordered the court to apply Jones. EFF and a number of civil liberties organizations filed an amicus brief (PDF) in the Ohio case last year, urging just such a result.

The Jones decision has been lauded as a "landmark ruling" and the FBI's own lawyer commented that Jones is perceived as a "sea change" within the FBI. And now its impact is starting to work its way through the judicial system as courts – like the Ohio Supreme Court – are beginning to reexamine prior cases dealing with the warrantless use of GPS devices. After issuing its opinion in Jones, the Supreme Court in late February issued brief orders (PDF) reversing two other decisions from federal appellate courts that had previously upheld the warrantless use of GPS tracking devices by law enforcement.

One of those decisions was in United States v. Pineda-Moreno...

Suu Kyi Speech Leaked

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
Burma gets a peek at the opposition leader’s campaign speech on YouTube.

PayPal Lifts Ban on Erotic Content

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

After widespread protest from free speech advocates around the nation, including CBLDF, PayPal has rescinded its overly broad threat to suspend the accounts of e-book publishers that release erotic material featuring incest, pseudo-incest, rape fantasies, bestiality (including non-human fantasy characters). Early word of PayPal’s revised policy was spread when e-book publisher Smashwords announced that they would be returning to their original terms of service, but PayPal has now made it official with an announcement on their blog.

Anju Nayar, Director of Communications for PayPal, writes the following:

Last week we posted here about PayPal’s policy concerning the use of our service for the sale of certain erotica content.  After talking with some of our affected merchants and other interested parties, we wanted to clarify exactly how we are going to implement the policy.First and foremost, we are going to focus this policy only on e-books that contain potentially illegal images, not e-books that are limited to just text. The policy will prohibit use of PayPal for the sale of e-books that contain child pornography, or e-books with text and obscene images of rape, bestiality or incest (as defined by the U.S. legal standard for obscenity: material that ...

Berkeley Columnist Calls for More Speech, Not Censorship

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
Last week on The Torch, I wrote about former FIRE intern Casey Given's award-winning column in UC Berkeley's campus paper, The Daily Californian. Casey's latest, "Haters gonna hate. So what?," merits a second mention. His column outlines the conflict between free speech and political correctness at Berkeley in light of two recent controversies, a YouTube pick-up video and a campus visit by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. He writes:

By now, both controversies have largely blown over, and, fortunately for the First Amendment, the two events unfolded unfettered by censorship. Indeed, to their credit, even the harshest critics of Farrakhan and Simple Pickup did not call for the administration to intervene. Nevertheless, their gut reaction to condemn and discourage discourse represents an illiberal element of our politically correct culture that is unhealthy for any free society. Rather, to protect individual rights and truly defeat bigotry, our campus should call for conversation surrounding such controversies, not silence.

Casey's call to fellow Berkeley students to answer controversial speech with more speech, not censorship, is worth your consideration. I highly recommend his article.

‘Hot for Teacher’ Student’s Appeal Denied: Suspended for Writing an Essay

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Here is today's press release: 

DETROIT, March 13, 2012—Oakland University in Michigan has denied the appeal of a student 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 instructors attractive. While the assignment specifically permitted students to write creatively about any topic, the university bizarrely classified his "Hot for Teacher" essay as "unlawful." Joseph Corlett came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.

"Oakland University made up its own definition of the 'law' in order to punish a student for his creative writing," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "The special irony here is that Joseph asked several times if it was really okay to write anything, and several times he was told it was. Now, because he took that instruction seriously, he is being kicked out of school and facing mandatory counseling. Having taken many, many writing classes myself, I know that essays often have racy topics, from drugs, to sex, to violence, but apparently a riff on a Van Halen song that seemed to be everywhere when I was a kid is a capital offense."

Corlett's ordeal ...

Brandon Graham’s King City Supports CBLDF

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

By Charles Brownstein

Brandon Graham is no stranger to boundary pushing comics. He cut his artistic teeth making experimental sex comics before going on to create his idea heavy works Prophet and King City. His groundbreaking collection King City just came out from Image, and he’s supporting the Fund by providing signed & sketched bookplates to raise money for our work. Brandon spoke out on why the Fund matters to him on his blog last summer. He wrote:

The idea of just getting in trouble for having a comic book on you is nuts, with no victim and the crime being an offensive combination of words and lines. It’s like trying to prosecute thoughts you don’t like.

I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the idea that something you could draw could lead someone else to be locked up just by having it on their person. And just looking at the list of books CBLDF has on their site that have had problems at the border (how awkward would it be to have to explain why you are carrying a copy of The bone ranger)
–I’ve read a lot of these, I have friends and have myself probably ...

Smashwords Restores Content Policies

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

Smashwords, one of the independent e-book publishers at the center of the PayPal erotic content censorship scandal, announced that they are returning their terms of service to what they were before PayPal sent letters threatening to close their account if they continued to sell certain types of erotic content. CBLDF was one of many free speech organizations that signed a letter in protest of PayPal’s policy to ban erotic content that featured incest, pseudo-incest, rape fantasies, bestiality (including non-human fantasy characters).

In a statement on their website, Smashwords founder and CEO Mark Coker indicated that PayPal will be revising their content policies:

PayPal update:  I met with PayPal this afternoon at their office in San Jose.  They will soon announce revised content policies that I expect will please the Smashwords community.  Effective immediately, we are returning our Terms of Service to back to its pre-February 24 state.  Beyond that, our friends at PayPal have asked me to hold off sharing additional details until they’ve had a chance to finalize their new policies. Thank you for your patience and support during this crazy last few weeks.

While it remains to be seen how PayPal intends to change ...

The 2012 Jefferson Muzzles Announcement is One Month Away!

Monday, March 12th, 2012



It’s that time of year again: the countdown to the announcement of the Jefferson Muzzle Award winners has officially begun!  We will be announcing the 2012 Jefferson Muzzles recipients exactly one month from today – on Thursday, April 12th.  In the meantime, be sure to follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook by clicking the respective icons in the top right corner of our page, so that you can receive our daily Jefferson Muzzles trivia questions about previous Muzzle Award winners.  Below is a list of the trivia questions and answers thus far:


3/13 Q: Which of these Presidents have received a Jefferson Muzzle – George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama?

3/13 A: All four of them!! Each of these Presidents was the winner of at least one Jefferson Muzzle award!

3/14 Q: In 2002, an IN resident spent 15 days in jail awaiting trial for a statute effectively ruled unconstitutional 13 years earlier. What did the statute outlaw?

3/14 A: A statute prohibiting desecration of the flag.

3/15 Q: In 1994, the Bradford County (Florida) Board of Education earned a Muzzle for not allowing Leanza Cornett (Miss America) to speak ...

Monk Self-Immolates on ‘Uprising Day’

Monday, March 12th, 2012
Tibetan protester sets himself ablaze beside a Chinese military office.

Jonathan Turley: ‘Free Speech Under Fire’

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Last Friday, Jonathan Turley penned an excellent column about new threats to freedom of expression at home and abroad in the Los Angeles Times. Turley, a well-known legal commentator and professor at The George Washington University Law School, surveys the legal landscape in both Europe and the United States and concludes that "Western nations appear to have fallen out of love with free speech and are criminalizing more and more kinds of speech through the passage of laws banning hate speech, blasphemy and discriminatory language." He notes that "[i]ronically, these laws are defended as fighting for tolerance and pluralism." 

Professor Turley writes: 

Most democratic constitutions strive not to allow the majority to simply dictate conditions and speech for everyone — the very definition of what the framers of the U.S. Constitution called tyranny of the majority. It was this tendency that led John Adams to warn: "Democracy ... soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.''

Legislators in the United States have shown the same taste for speech prosecutions. In June, Tennessee legislators passed a law making it a crime to "transmit or display an image" online that is likely ...

Burma Remains ‘Enemy of the Internet’

Monday, March 12th, 2012
A global watchdog’s report highlights Burma’s continued online censorship.

This Week’s Doonesbury Strips Relocated or Scrapped by Several Newspapers

Monday, March 12th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

If you usually read Garry B. Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” comic strip on the comics page of your local newspaper, you may find the latest strips moved to the op-ed page or missing entirely this week. This week’s strips feature a young woman who visits an abortion clinic in Texas, a state that requires compulsory ultrasounds before an abortion, and the strips liken Texas’s practice to rape. Because of the contentious nature of the topic, several newspapers have elected to not run the series, or they moved it to their opinion pages or online.

The Los Angeles Times is one of the newspapers that elected to move the strip to the op-ed page. Editors at The LA Times described why they made this decision:

“We felt the story line was a little over the top for a comics page,” said Alice Short, a Times assistant managing editor.

Sue Horton, the Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times, said the Op-Ed page was an appropriate place for the series.

“We carry both op-eds and cartoons about controversial subjects, and this is a controversial subject,” she said. Monday’s Op-Ed page is on Page A17.

In an Associated Press article ...

Forbes Contributor on Potential Reason for PayPal Erotica Ban: Credit Card Companies

Monday, March 12th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

CBLDF has joined a coalition of free speech advocates in protest of PayPal’s new policy regarding the sale of erotica, banning the sale of material that depicts incest, pseudo-incest, rape fantasies, and bestiality (including non-human fantasy characters). Over the weekend, Suw Charman-Anderson with wrote a pair of articles about what many consider the real culprit behind PayPal’s move to ban the sale of certain types of erotica: credit card companies. The connection to the credit card companies was rumored early on, and further analysis as the story has developed has reinforced the conclusion among many observers. However, at least one credit card company has already denied involvement.

Charman-Anderson’s first post — which references CBLDF’s support of manga collector Christopher Handley and quotes CBLDF board member Neil Gaiman’s “Why Defend Freedom of Icky Speech?” — reviews analysis written by Zachary Knight at TechDirt. Knight examined the response from Smashwords, one of the publishers most heavily affected by PayPal’s policy. He writes:

This is an unfortunate set back for Smashwords as well as for indie authors. While the government in the US is not able to censor speech in this manner, there is little preventing ...

EFF Wants to Make Every Week Sunshine Week with ‘This Week in Transparency’

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Today kicks off Sunshine Week—a week dedicated to focusing on the importance of open government and ensuring accountability for government officials at the federal, state and local levels. To celebrate, EFF is kicking off a new weekly feature to highlight important news regarding government transparency. We will report on important Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by EFF and other organizations, discuss important court cases, provide links to new FOIA releases by the government (voluntarily or through lawsuit), and track any progress—or lack thereof—made in important open government initiatives.

In advance of Sunshine Week, some reviews of the Obama administration’s transparency record over the last three years have already been released, and as in previous years, they show little progress towards being the “most transparent administration in history.” As EFF senior counsel David Sobel told Politico, “despite the positive rhetoric that has come from the White House and the attorney general, that guidance has not been translated into real world results in actual cases. … Basically, the reviews are terrible.”

An AP investigation published yesterday found that the administration still has not kept up with the increasing number of people filing FOIA requests and backlogs continue to grow. But ...

March 12: World Day Against Cyber-Censorship

Monday, March 12th, 2012

For a majority of users, the Internet is a space that encourages free expression and the valuable exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, there are numerous cases around the world in which various forces act to silence people's voices online.

World Day Against Cyber-Censorship

Today is World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, a day to remind ourselves that the Web continues to be a fractured battleground for free speech, and to rally users in fighting repression of online speech. Reporters Without Borders also created this day to celebrate the work of brave individuals who have promoted free expression on the Internet. The annual Netizen Prize is awarded to bloggers, online journalists, and cyber-dissidents, who have demonstrated exceptional dedication to this cause.

EFF remains dedicated to reporting cases of online censorship from all regions of the world, and to emphasize the importance of online anonymity in preserving individuals’ right to free speech. On our ongoing feature, This Week in Censorship, we cover global stories of imprisoned bloggers, filtered content, blocked websites, and instances of Internet disconnection.

A broad array of reasons are offered as justification for censorship. Bloggers in Thailand face imprisonment for criticizing the monarch. In Pakistan, the Telecommunications Authority has blocked websites, banned words from ...

Robert in PJ Media on Limbaugh-Fluke Campus Fallout

Monday, March 12th, 2012

In his most recent PJ Media article, FIRE's Robert Shibley reported on the campus fallout from the recent kerfuffle about radio commentator Rush Limbaugh's comments about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke. University of Rochester (UR) economics professor Steven Landsburg took to his blog to partially defend Limbaugh's comments and discuss the economic issues behind the demand that Catholic universities cover birth control in their insurance policies, leading Joel Seligman, UR's president, to release a statement condemning Landsburg's comments.

Robert points out that while Seligman had the right to disagree with Landsburg's posts (but not punish him for them), doing so might not be wise in the long run: "Once a university president takes the position that some expression (like Landsburg's) is beyond the pale, that president risks looking like a political hack when he or she fails to condemn equally controversial statements from the other side of the political spectrum." Robert also chastises UR for allowing at least 17 students to disrupt Landsburg's class in protest, without any consequences, calling this action "a textbook example of ‘mob censorship.'" Click through to read Robert's analysis of UR's disappointing actions. 

Court Declares Newspaper Excerpt on Online Forum is a Non-Infringing Fair Use

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Late Friday, the federal district court in Nevada issued a declaratory judgment that makes is harder for copyright holders to file lawsuits over excerpts of material and burden online forums and their users with nuisance lawsuits.

The judgment – part of the nuisance lawsuit avalanche started by copyright troll Righthaven – found that Democratic Underground did not infringe the copyright in a Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper article when a user of the online political forum posted a five-sentence excerpt, with a link back to the newspaper's website. 

Judge Roger Hunt’s judgment confirms that an online forum is not liable for its users’ posts, even if it was not protected by the safe harbors of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s notice and takedown provisions.  The decision also clarifies that a common practice on the Internet – excerpting a few sentences and linking to interesting articles elsewhere – is a fair use, not an infringement of copyright.

Righthaven CEO Steven A. Gibson dreamed of making himself rich off of lawsuits over trivial uses of newspaper articles.  Instead, his company is in ruins, his legal theories have been emphatically rejected and he is under investigation by the Nevada State Bar. His financial backer, an LLC affiliated with the Stephens family (who own the Review-Journal), ...

‘Fighting words’ case still making waves on 70th anniversary

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Seventy years ago today — March 9, 1942 — the U.S. Supreme Court issued a historic First Amendment decision involving a New Hampshire man who cursed at a law enforcement officer. In Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire the Court created the “fighting words doctrine” — defining them as words that “by their utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.”The Court’s decision ushered in a process of categorization in First Amendment jurisprudence, determining whether speech was protected or unprotected depending on whether it falls into an unprotected category of speech. In the process, the Court ruled against Walter Chaplinsky — probably unfairly. What happened?

Read David Hudson’s analysis in full.

Party Photos: EFF’s 22nd Birthday Bash

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Coders, free speech advocates, game developers, and a host of others flocked to Mighty in San Francisco on March 8 for EFF’s 22nd birthday bash. It was a terrific reunion for a community united in the fight to keep the Internet free and open and to protect free speech and privacy rights in the digital realm. EFF would like to thank the Humble Bundle for helping to make the evening possible.

Live performances by Trash80, CrashFaster, and Dual Core drew partygoers onto the dance floor. A variety of creative tech outfits and organizations -- from Noisebridge, to Radical Designs, to MonkeyBrains, to Tor, to the Humble Bundle -- were represented in the crowd, and some who were in town for this week’s Game Developers Conference at the Moscone Center joined in the fun, too.

Plenty of guests came decked out in their EFF garb, joining the ranks of those who made appearances on Twitter earlier that day for wearing their EFF swag to work.

Also in attendance at the EFF bash was local shutterbug Luke Thomas of the San Francisco blog Fog City Journal. Check out his photos below.

EFF would like to ...

Peter in ‘PolicyMic’ on Humor and Satire on Campus

Friday, March 9th, 2012
FIRE's Peter Bonilla has an article on PolicyMic today about campuses' strained relationship to satire, parody, and humor in general when it comes to controversial issues on campus. As Peter notes, "[t]renchant commentaries on contentious topics of race, class, politics, sex, and religion might be acclaimed for their brilliance on The Daily Show, but when student-authored, they not only are condemned on college campuses, they often result in punishment." Click through to read the entirety of Peter's excellent article.

Disruptive Protesters at UC Davis Called Out by University of California President

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Yesterday, in an open letter to the University of California (UC) community, UC President Mark G. Yudof made it clear that First Amendment rights do not protect substantially disruptive protests of an event held by others.

On February 27, as these videos show, one particularly persistent heckler and what look like dozens of other students intentionally disrupted an event called "Israeli Soldiers' Stories" at the University of California, Davis. The heckler said he wouldn't leave until he was arrested and that his intention was to shut down the event. The others all rose to leave at once, evidently during the event, greatly disrupting it, which suggests that they too planned their disruption.

In the open letter Yudof writes, in relevant part:

It was wrong for hecklers to disrupt speakers on the UC Davis campus .... Attempting to shout down speakers is not protected speech. It is an action meant to deny others their right to free speech.


[W]e cannot as a society allow what we regard as vile speech to lead us to abandon the cherished value of free speech. ... Again, the best remedy for bad speech is to surround it with good speech.

Finally, it is important ...

The ‘Fighting Words’ Doctrine Turns 70

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Today is the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire. That decision established the "fighting words" doctrine, which to this day remains one of the more vexing areas of First Amendment law. Our friends over at the First Amendment Center have a great piece today on the Chaplinsky decision, including some interesting background information and a discussion of the decision's ongoing impact on First Amendment law.

One of my favorite tidbits from the article is an amusing insight into how our society has changed in the last 70 years. In the incident that sparked the court case, Walter Chaplinsky was arrested and charged with a breach of the peace for telling a police officer that he was "a damned Fascist and the whole government of Rochester are Fascists or agents of Fascists." The article explains that

[Chaplinsky's lawyer] had argued that the New Hampshire law was too vague, as people would have to guess at what speech would be considered offensive or annoying. The New Hampshire high court disagreed: "The test is what men of common intelligence would understand would be words likely to cause an average addressee to fight."

The state high ...

IFAction Round Up, March 2-8, 2012

Friday, March 9th, 2012

OIF sponsors 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 2-8, 2012.


Chemerinsky: Supreme Court Weighs First Amendment, the Stolen Valor Act and the Protection of Lies

Related: The Freedom to Read Foundation submitted an amicus brief in this case, arguing that the Stolen Valor Act is unconstitutional.  For details, visit


Criticism grows over NYPD’s Muslim spying; NJ gov key 9/11 lesson ignored

Related: New York Times editorial:  Surveillance, Security and Civil Liberties

New privacy policy lets Google watch you — everywhere

U.S. court approves warrantless searches of cell phones

Obama admin wants warrantless access to cell phone location data

Mobile Users Need Bill of Rights, Privacy Advocate Says [Electronic Frontier Foundation]

Lawmakers question agencies snooping on employee emails

Facebook Loses Privacy Case in German Court Over Email

Govt Job Applicants, College Students Asked to Surrender Facebook Information

RSA 2012: Bruce Schneier on the Threat of “Big Data, Inc.”


Lawsuit filed against ...

NCAC Rebuts PayPal’s Response to Criticism of Erotica Policy

Friday, March 9th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

In response to complaints from Free Speech organizations around the country — including a protest letter signed by CBLDF — Anuj Nayar, the Director of Communications for PayPal, blogged in defense of PayPal’s erotic content policy. In their blog, the National Coalition Against Censorship, which was one of the original drafters of the letter that CBLDF signed onto, rebutted several of the points Nayar made.

In his blog, Nayar writes:

An important factor in our decision not to allow our payments service to be used to purchase material focused on rape, incest or bestiality is that this category of eBooks often includes images.

This type of content also sometimes intentionally blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction. Both these factors are problematic from a legal and risk perspective.

So the business risk associated with this content forms the basis for our policy, which has been in place for many years. Some feedback we’re getting is a belief that PayPal is forcing its moral beliefs on others and restricting people’s right to free speech. We can tell you with 100 percent conviction that this is not our intention. While we understand that people don’t always ...

Response to PayPal’s blog about its ban on sales of certain erotic literature

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Last week we sent a complaint to PayPal about its policy to shut down accounts of online merchants who sell erotica containing descriptions of rape, incest, and bestiality. Many other organizations have since registered their concerns over the policy.  Today, PayPal posted a response on its blog.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t say much.  It refers to “brand, regulatory and compliance risk associated with this type of content,” but doesn’t explain what those vague references mean. All PayPal does is process payments.  It already holds users “independently responsible for complying with all applicable laws in all of your actions related to your use of PayPal’s services, regardless of the purpose of the use.”  IF PayPal were ever charged with processing a payment for something illegal, they would surely deny responsibility and say that the buyers and sellers are solely responsible.

Besides, we’re not talking about illegal content.

Then there’s this peculiar statement: “This type of content also sometimes intentionally blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction.”  So what?  Why would non-fiction be more objectionable than fiction? Besides, how can they possibly divine the author’s intent?

Finally, there’s the comment that “this category of eBooks often includes images.”  The largest eBook distributor, ...

"A Time Bomb For Civil Liberties": France Adopts a New Biometric ID Card

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

This post has been authored by Angela Daly, EFF international legal fellow

On Tuesday March 6, the French National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale) passed a law proposing the creation of a new biometric ID card for French citizens with the justification of combating “identity fraud”. More than 45 million individuals in France will have their fingerprints and digitized faces stored in what would be the largest biometric database in the country. The bill was immediately met with negative reactions. Yesterday more than 200 members of the French Parliament referred it to the Conseil constitutional, challenging its compatibility with Europeans' fundamental rights framework, including the right to privacy and the presumption of innocence. The Conseil will consider whether the law is contrary to the French Constitution.1

The new law compels the creation of a biometric ID card that includes a compulsory chip containing various pieces of personal information, including fingerprints, a photograph, home address, height, and eye color. Newly issued passports will also contain the biometric chip. The information on the biometric chip will be stored in a central database. A second, optional chip will be implemented for online authentication and electronic signatures, which will be used for ...

‘News Record’ on Free Speech Zone Lawsuit at University of Cincinnati

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

The News Record at the University of Cincinnati (UC) reports on the latest in the federal civil rights lawsuit involving the university's "free speech zone." UC's chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (UC YAL) filed suit after the group was told that UC would call the campus cops if they were seen "walk[ing] around campus" gathering signatures rather than staying in UC's minuscule free speech zone—a pathetic 0.1% of the university's 137-acre West Campus.

Will wrote about the case yesterday, explaining that UC has no leg to stand on in pretending that it is "accommodating" its students, since UC actually threatened to call the cops on civic-minded students seeking to exercise their constitutional rights. Will also wrote about the temporary agreement that permits UC YAL to walk around campus while the lawsuit goes on. 

The News Record writes that the agreement "does not, however, stretch to cover all UC students." So it looks like it takes a lawsuit just to get your fundamental rights recognized at the University of Cincinnati. Robert is quoted in the article:

"The fact that it took a federal lawsuit to get UC to open up more of its campus to free speech — even temporarily ...

Highlighting a Privacy Problem: Apps Need to Respect User Rights From the Start

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

A new iPhone app called Highlight is poised to be this year's breakout hit at South by Southwest, the Austin tech and media conference that has become known as a web service kingmaker after launching services like Twitter and Foursquare to a wide audience in years past. In the context of a major tech conference, Highlight makes an appealing promise: let it run in the background of your phone, persistently collecting your location data, and it will notify you when your friends, their friends, or people with shared interests are nearby. Highlight is only the most prominent in a collection of apps offering this sort of "ambient social networking."

These features are nifty, and could certainly help enhance serendipity for users in Austin and elsewhere. But the application and its website provide no privacy policy, data retention policy, or even any technical explanation for how it works in order to allow users to make an informed decision about their data. We've e-mailed Highlight to ask about their privacy policy, but haven't yet heard back.

Instead, upon installation, the application tells the user that it requires a connection to her Facebook profile and access to her iPhone's location ...

CBLDF Joins Free Speech Groups In Protesting PayPal Censorship

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

Last week, we reported on PayPal’s new policy regarding erotic content and their requirement that e-book publishers remove certain types of content — incest, pseudo-incest, rape fantasies, bestiality (including non-human fantasy characters) — or face deactivation of their accounts. In response, the American Book Sellers Foundation for Free Expression and the National Coalition Against Censorship sent PayPal a letter decrying the policy.

The list of organizations signing on to ABFFE and NCAC’s letter is growing, and CBLDF has joined the coalition against PayPal’s erotic content policy. The text of the letter CBLDF signed follows:

Tell PayPal: Don’t Censor Books

PayPal, which plays a dominant role in processing online sales, has taken full advantage of the vast and open nature of the Internet for commercial purposes, but is now holding free speech hostage by clamping down on sales of certain types of erotica.  As organizations and individuals concerned with intellectual and artistic freedom and a free Internet, we strongly object to PayPal functioning as an enforcer of public morality and inhibiting the right to buy and sell constitutionally protected material.

Recently, PayPal gave online publishers and booksellers, including, Smashwords, and eXcessica, an ultimatum: it would close their accounts and refuse to process all ...

Pakistan Openly Advertises for Web Censorship System

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

Free speech advocates are concerned over Pakistan’s recent advertisement for companies to install a nation-wide Internet filtering system that could potentially block access to millions of Web domains.

While relating that citizens of Pakistan generally face less Internet censorship than many people in the Middle East and Asia, an Associated Press article published by The Washington Post also discussed the overt nature of Pakistan’s move:

Few nations have so publicly revealed their plans to censor the Web as Pakistan is doing, however. Last month, the government took out newspaper and Web advertisements asking for companies or institutions to develop the national filtering and blocking system.

Pakistan has around 50 internet service providers, which are directed by Pakistan’s Telecommunications Authority to block certain websites. ISPs obey the PTA because they receive their licensing from the organization. The Pakistani government claims that they are not trying to limit speech, and the head of Pakistan’s ISP organization supports the move. From The Washington Post:

Pakistan’s Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan denied Wednesday that the government was seeking to curb the media.

“We want to see the media growing. We want to strengthen it,” Awan said, emphasizing that the proposals ...

Rogers’ “Cybersecurity” Bill Is Broad Enough to Use Against WikiLeaks and The Pirate Bay

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Congress is doing it again: they’re proposing overbroad regulations that could have dire consequences for our Internet ecology. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 (H.R. 3523), introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, allows companies or the government1 free rein to bypass existing laws in order to monitor communications, filter content, or potentially even shut down access to online services for “cybersecurity purposes.” Companies are encouraged to share data with the government and with one another, and the government can share data in return. The idea is to facilitate detection of and defense against a serious cyber threat, but the definitions in the bill go well beyond that. The language is so broad it could be used as a blunt instrument to attack websites like The Pirate Bay or WikiLeaks. Join EFF in calling on Congress to stop the Rogers’ cybersecurity bill.

Under the proposed legislation, a company that protects itself or other companies against “cybersecurity threats” can “use cybersecurity systems to identify and obtain cyber threat information to protect the rights and property” of the company under threat. But because “us[ing] cybersecurity systems” is incredibly vague, it could be interpreted to mean monitoring ...

Free Speech Coalition Calls on PayPal to Back Off Misguided Book Censorship Policy

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

EFF and a coalition of civil liberties organizations and publishers is calling on PayPal to reverse a policy that shuts off payment services to publishers of certain forms of erotic literature.  Under the policy, PayPal has threatened to shut down the accounts of online publisher Smashwords and others, unless they eliminate erotica featuring incest, rape, and bestiality. As scholars and booksellers can attest, these are themes prevalent in many forms of literature, from Grecian myths to the Bible. EFF joined ACLU of California, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, Authors Guild, National Coalition Against Censorship, and others in sending a joint letter to PayPal condemning this policy as contrary to free speech. 

Unfortunately, this is not the first time we’ve seen a payment services provider interfering with access to lawful speech. As we saw when Mastercard, Visa, and PayPal created a financial blockade against the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, financial service providers are an important part of the chain of intermediaries upon which online communication depends. When even one of those intermediaries caves to pressure or takes on a censorial role, our rights to read and speak freely are jeopardized. We need to send a signal to all back-end service providers ...

A Tale of Two Encryption Cases

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

In the last two months, two different federal courts have ruled on whether the Fifth Amendment's right against self-incrimination applies to the act of decrypting the contents of a computer. We wrote amicus briefs (PDF) in each case arguing the Fifth Amendment did prevent forced decryption when that act would incriminate a witness. And while our arguments were similar in both courts, the results were different.1 A district court judge in Colorado ruled (PDF) that Ramona Fricosu could be forced to decrypt information on a computer seized by law enforcement in connection with a mortgage fraud case.2 But the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled (PDF) that the 5th Amendment prevented the government from forcing a suspect in a child pornography investigation to decrypt the contents of several computers and drives seized by law enforcement.3 So how can these two cases be reconciled? To understand, it's important to take a close look at not only the facts of each case, but also the law regarding the Fifth Amendment.

Decryption May Be "Testimonial" Under the Fifth Amendment

The Fifth Amendment protects a person from being "compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." To ...

EFF Urges Supreme Court to Take Stand on Abstract Patents

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Last fall, we filed a brief asking the Federal Circuit to rehear Ultramerical v. Hulu, a case that found an abstract idea patentable when the invention took place on the Internet. The Federal Circuit declined, so now we've raised the stakes.  In a brief filed today, EFF, along with CCIA and Red Hat, asked the Supreme Court to take a look and reverse this dangerous case that only further confuses the standard for what is too abstract to be patented (which is already somewhat of a mess).  

The patent in Ultramercial claims a process for doing basically no more than viewing ads online before accessing copyrighted content. The Federal Circuit admitted that "the mere idea that advertising can be used as a form of currency is abstract," yet found that when that idea would "likely" require "intricate and complex computer programming," it was no longer abstract. 

In other words, the Federal Circuit seemed to say that if you take an idea that is abstract, and put it on the Internet, it somehow becomes not abstract. (To add to the confusion, the Federal Circuit has recently held that tying an abstract invention to a computer will not save ...

This Week in Censorship: Blocking Sites in Denmark and Tajikistan

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Danish Police Accidentally Block 8,000 Sites

For years, Denmark has continued to block websites hosting sexually abusive images of children. In a recent attempt to do so, Danish police accidentally censored thousands of websites for several hours, including Google and Facebook. Visitors to the blocked sites were met with a page stating that the sites had been made inaccessible by the country's High Tech Crime Unit.

Observers have questioned how a list of 8,000 sites were accidentally blacklisted without oversight. Denmark's IT-Political Association has issued a statement (in Danish) calling for ISPs to cease cooperation with the voluntary scheme, typically used to block child sexual abuse content. According to a report from TorrentFreak, the group stated: “Today’s story shows that the police are not able to secure against manual errors that could escalate into something that actually works as a ‘kill switch’ for the Internet.”

Tajikistan Goes After Facebook

Never a heavy censor of online content, Tajikistan has reportedly blocked Facebook along with two local news sites. They blocked the sites for hosting articles critical of President Imomali Rakhmon, who has been in power since 1992. One of the three blocked sites, Russian news website, published a ...

With Federal Lawsuit Filed, University of Cincinnati Allows Student Group Temporary Reprieve From Free Speech Zone — But Continues to Defend Illiberal Policy

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Apparently, it takes nothing short of a federal civil rights lawsuit before the University of Cincinnati will allow a student group to gather signatures outside the confines of its restrictive "free speech zone." 

That's the depressing lesson learned by UC's chapter of Young Americans for Liberty (UC YAL), whose members may now collect signatures in support of a state ballot amendment following a temporary agreement reached by the group's attorneys and the university. Under the terms of the "standstill agreement," UC YAL members may now gather signatures and talk to their fellow students outside of the university's free speech zone—a pathetic 0.1% of the university's 137-acre West Campus—and may do so without first requesting permission from the administration. Just last month, UC YAL president Christopher Morbitzer was told by university administrators that if any YAL members were seen "walk[ing] around campus" gathering signatures, the campus cops would be called.

The temporary agreement reached by the university and UC YAL, represented by Ryan Walters and Maurice Thompson of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and Ohio attorney Curt C. Hartman, does not end the lawsuit. Instead, the agreement simply "freezes" the situation while the legal proceedings continue, and a ...

International Reactions to Google’s New Privacy Policy

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Google’s new privacy policy took effect last Thursday, following several weeks campaigning to educate users on the changes. The policy will allow them to consolidate users’ data across all of its services and platforms, in a move they claim will both improve user experience and make their policy “easier to understand.” The international privacy community, however, is having none of it. Lawmakers, privacy authorities, technical experts, and privacy organizations around the world are releasing public statements and direct letters to Google representatives that are critical of the new policy. Advocacy groups criticize and condemn the changes, and the European Union, Japanese, and Canadian privacy authorities have released statements indicating that the new policy may violate their domestic privacy laws. Google meanwhile, seems to be ignoring the global outcry, dismissing criticism as “chatter and confusion.”

The opposition to Google’s changes expresses several points of concern. The privacy commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart concisely described the specific concerns. First, it will share users’ data across its more than 60 services, including all Google applications, subsidiary websites such as Youtube, and Android phones. Additionally, the consolidation of all of the previous service-specific plans makes it hard to tell what ...

Wichita State Drops Viewpoint Discrimination in Student Fee Funding

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

There's some good news out of Wichita State University (WSU), which recently had decided to enact a rule that prohibited any "non-scholarly religious" student group from receiving student fee funding. The good news is that WSU has now un-enacted that rule.

The reasoning usually offered for this type of rule is that it is intended to prevent religious groups from using student fee money to advocate for their religion on campus, or to engage in worship or other activities to which others might object. But when these rules are confined to only religious student groups (as opposed to groups engaged in political, social, and other forms of expression and advocacy), what they amount to is the official disfavoring of religion compared to other viewpoints. For example, WSU allows the viewpoints of such student groups as "That Gay Group," College Republicans, College Democrats, Young Democratic Socialists, and Wichita Students for Liberty to exist on campus. WSU has a large number of other groups as well, many of which have viewpoints they wish to promulgate, even if it's just appreciation for contemporary art. If other student groups continue to receive funding from student fees for ...