Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Obama Poised to Sign Protest Rights-restricting Bill

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Last week, Congress sent the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 to President Obama’s desk. If enacted, the law would broaden federal power to prosecute and levy penalties upon anyone who disrupts government or is deemed trespassing “without lawful authority” upon grounds that are protected by the US Secret Service. These grounds would not only include the White House, the vice president’s residence (US Naval Observatory) and other federal buildings but also anywhere the president or people protected by Secret Service are visiting.

The bill passed in the House of Representatives with only three dissenters—but they raise important points about potential misuse of this law and worry that it might make protesting in the presence of politicians much more difficult. Representative Justin Amash, a freshman Tea Party member from Michigan, noted on his Facebook account that current law already forbids people from entering these restricted areas:

[This] bill expands current law to make it a crime to enter or remain in an area where an official is visiting even if the person does not know it’s illegal to be in that area and has no reason to suspect it’s illegal. Some government officials may need extraordinary protection ...

Introducing Joseph Cohn

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

It's a pleasure and honor to introduce Torch readers to Joseph Cohn, FIRE's new Legislative and Policy Director. 

Joe, a 2004 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Penn's Fels Institute of Government, joins us here in Philadelphia from Utah, where he most recently served as the interim legal director of the ACLU of Utah. Joe was well prepared for that position, having also recently served as interim legal director of the ACLU of Nevada. But overseeing southwestern ACLU chapters is not all Joe has done! He's also served as a staff attorney for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, a law clerk in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, a staff attorney at the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, and an adjunct professor at his alma mater, Penn Law. As if that wasn't impressive enough, Joe's been named a "Lawyer on the Fast Track" by The Legal Intelligencer and Pennsylvania Law Weekly and a "Rising Star" by Super Lawyers magazine—in other words, he's kind of a big deal! 

As FIRE's Legislative and Policy Director, Joe will lead our efforts to ensure that legislation that touches upon civil liberties issues on university ...

Alabama Bill Would Make it a Crime to Annoy Someone Online

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Well-intentioned? Probably. Unconstitutional? Definitely. Alabama's House Bill 400 and its companion Senate Bill 356 seek to define "cyberbullying" to criminalize, amongst other things: (1) transmitting, posting, displaying or disseminating, through electronic communications "with the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm," (2) any communication, image, or information, which is (3) based on the actual or perceived traits of the recipient, and (4) that as a result (a) "has a substantial and detrimental effect on that person's physical or mental health," (b) "has the effect of substantially interfering with that person's academic performance, employment, or other community activities or responsibilities," or (c) "has the effect of causing substantial embarrassment or humiliation within an academic or professional community."  

Did you catch all that?  The fundamental problem with this legislation is not its goal of creating harassment-free professional and academic environments for all, but its expansive definition of harassment, which prohibits all sorts of protected speech. For example, if this bill becomes a law, it would be a Class A misdemeanor to send an email to classmates lampooning Canadians for their usage of the word "eh" or their inexplicable love of ice hockey, if that email has the effect of substantially embarrassing or ...

Four Charged for Plot to Attack Danish Paper that Printed Muhammad Cartoons

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

In 2005, Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten gained worldwide attention when it published a series of 12 editorial cartoons, several of which depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Depictions of Muhammad are forbidden by the Islamic faith, and the publication of the cartoons led to protests — many of which became violent — around the world. The Jyllands-Posten offices also became targets, weathering several threats. Most recently, four Swedes have been charged for allegedly planning a shooting attack on the offices. The four men have been charged with terrorism. For more on the story, visit The Washington Post and The New York Times.

Please help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work and reporting on issues such as this by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!

SPLC: Montana State Court Latest to Apply Common Sense to Colleges’ FERPA Excuses

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Over on the Student Press Law Center's blog, Frank LoMonte has an excellent post calling attention to a recent decision by a Montana state court in the case of Bozeman Daily Chronicle v. Montana State University

The case concerned Montana State University's refusal to fulfill an open records request made by student journalists seeking documents about a professor's alleged misconduct. The university had refused to turn over the records, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that limits schools from disclosing student files in certain instances. But as the SPLC and FIRE know all too well, FERPA is often cited inappropriately by schools concerned far less with student privacy and far more with concealing potentially embarrassing information about university decisionmaking. FERPA invocations are often particularly frustrating for journalists, whose ability to get to the bottom of important campus stories can be readily thwarted by administrators wrongly claiming that certain records are covered under FERPA. In fact, the Society of Professional Journalists has an entire section of its website dedicated to dealing with FERPA. 

Thankfully, as LoMonte explains, Judge Holly B. Brown recognized that the Montana State records requested by the student journalists ...

Last Round of The Muppet Show Sketch Variants Up for Auction!

Monday, March 5th, 2012

For the past few weeks, Ultimate Comics has been auctioning sketch variants of The Muppet Show #1 to benefit CBLDF. The last round of sketch covers went up last week, and it’s a doozy! This week’s batch includes covers by Geof Darrow (Shaolin Cowboy), David Mack (Kabuki), Georges Jeanty (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Guy Davis (B.P.R.D.), Casey Jones (New Warriors), Lance Sawyer (Geek Box), Robbi Rodriguez (Maintenance), and more! To bid, visit Ultimate Comics’ eBay page here. All funds raised by the auction go to CBLDF’s important First Amendment work.

Casey Jones David Mack Geof Darrow Georges Jeanty Guy Davis Lance Sawyer Robbi Rodriguez

ABFFE and NCAC Protest PayPal’s Erotic Content Policy

Monday, March 5th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and the National Coalition Against Censorship have written a letter to PayPal and parent company eBay in protest of PayPal’s threat to deactivate the accounts of publishers over certain kinds of erotic content.

Last week, it was revealed that PayPal had sent letters to several publishers threatening deactivation of their accounts if they did not remove content depicting incest, pseudo-incest, rape fantasies, bestiality (including non-human fantasy characters), and BDSM. In response, publishers of e-books, such as Smashwords, notified its authors that they would need to remove the content in question. In an email to its content providers, Smashwords wrote, “It is not feasible for us to switch to another provider, should such a suitable provider even exist.”

The full text of ABFFE and BCAC’s letter follows. You can also read their coverage here and here.

March 2, 2012

eBay Inc.
2065 Hamilton Avenue
San Jose, California 95125

PayPal USA
2211 North First Street
San Jose, CA 95131

Dear Sirs:

On behalf of The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), we write to express concern over recent reports that PayPal is refusing ...

Law Has Polling Firms Leery of Work in New Hampshire

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

New Hampshire’s attorney general is threatening legal action against some of the nation’s most prominent polling firms, invoking a state law against spreading negative information through poll questions in a way that could limit public opinion surveys in one of the nation’s most politically contested states.

An association of political consultants warned its members in a memorandum two weeks ago to “be very careful” about making polling calls to New Hampshire, citing an example of one firm that could face up to $1.4 million in fines for allegedly violating the law.

The law was a response to voter anger about telephone calls intended to spread politically damaging information in the guise of conducting surveys, called “push polling.”

But it is written so broadly that it has begun to ensnare some of the nation’s best-known political pollsters at a time when there is a flurry of polling by presidential candidates, interest groups, “super PACs” and news organizations.

“Until we are successful in keeping this law from being wrongfully enforced against genuine survey research, be very careful when conducting legitimate survey research in New Hampshire,” the American Association of Political Consultants wrote to its members on Feb. 15.

Officials at several polling ...

This Weekend: Brian Wood & Dark Horse Thank CBLDF Members With Exclusive THE MASSIVE Print!

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

This weekend only! Brian Wood and Dark Horse Comics are thanking new and renewing CBLDF members by giving away an exclusive print promoting the upcoming series THE MASSIVE by Brian Wood & Kristian Donaldson. The 17″ x 24″ print, which was given away exclusively at ComicsPRO was designed by Wood to evoke the classic Japanese model kits of his youth, and will come signed by the artist. This weekend only, we’re offering it as a thank you to everyone who joins the CBLDF at the $50 Supporter level or higher, while limited supplies last! Please join the CBLDF today!

FIRE Receives Fourth Four-Star Rating from Charity Navigator

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

FIRE is delighted to announce that Charity Navigator has given FIRE its highest charity rating of four stars for the fourth year in a row! Charity Navigator is the largest charity evaluator in America, and only 6% of the charities reviewed have received four consecutive four-star ratings. This fantastic designation recognizes that FIRE "outperforms most other charities in America." We encourage you to check out our four-star review here.

Charity Navigator's excellent rating of FIRE's accountability and fiscal responsibility underscores our tireless and effective work on behalf of students and professors across the country. Consider donating today to help FIRE protect fundamental rights on campuses nationwide.

Manga Bookshelf Examines Apple’s Policies for Adult Content

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

This week, Melinda Beasi at Manga Bookshelf took some time to examine how Apple handles adult content in their iOS App Store. Beasi opened her article by recalling past concerns over how Apple has handled LGBTQ content, rejecting mild sexual LGBTQ content while allowing similar heterosexual content, seemingly without reservation. Apple has since embraced LGBTQ publishers, but Beasi’s article indicates that LGBTQ material may still be singled out by Apple, affecting manga publishers in particular.

Beasi goes on to report that some manga publishers have decided to not develop iOS apps because of Apple’s policies regarding content. Digital Manga Publishing developed an app, releasing manga that Beasi describes as “ranging anywhere from sweet, chaste romances to racy adult fare.” DMP recently sent a message to their followers indicating that they will soon be removing some of their yaoi, or boy’s love, titles from their catalog. Beasi investigated, learning that the material was being removed for mature content.

Beasi didn’t conclude definitively that the content was being removed because it involved same-sex relationships, but she spent some time analyzing manga pages in comparison to pages from DC Comics titles. You can read her full article and see the side-by-side comparisons ...

Peace College to Critics: ‘Desist’ From Exercising Free Speech

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

In higher education, a significant transformation has been underway at Peace College in North Carolina, a women's college that will begin admitting men to its full-time undergraduate programs starting this fall. The proverbial "winning hearts and minds" is an important task for a college leader guiding her institution through a major transformation, and criticism from within and without is an inevitable part of the process. How colleges respond to such pressures can greatly affect their public perception. 

Pity, then, the way Peace College (which will be renamed William Peace University as part of its transformation) has responded to criticisms leveled by the Preserve Peace College Campaign. In response to a letter circulated by the coalition, Peace College (through an outside law firm) has not-so-kindly asked all signatories to the letter to "desist from further distribution" and "send letters of retraction" to atone for the letter's supposedly "damag[ing]" content. 

FIRE has been given a copy of both the "Save Peace College" letter that was circulated and one of the response letters sent by attorney Catharine Biggs Arrowood, of the law firm Parker Poe, on the college's behalf. In the copies FIRE received, the names of the signatories to the letter ...

Students Appeal Ruling in American Flag T-shirt Case

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

The Morgan Hill, Calif., high school students prohibited from wearing American-flag T-shirts on the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo in 2010 have appealed their case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The students from Live Oak High School contend in Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District that the First Amendment protects their right to engage in peaceful patriotic speech and accuse school officials of viewpoint discrimination. Viewpoint neutrality is the most fundamental of all free-speech principles in First Amendment jurisprudence: Government may not discriminate against speakers’ point of view.

School officials prohibited the students from wearing T-shirts bearing the flag on May 5, 2010, out of a concern that the shirts would offend Mexican-American and perhaps other students and might cause a disruption. In November 2011 a federal judge sided with the school officials, noting that they had received comments that the students wearing the  shirts could be threatened and that there was “ongoing racial tension and gang violence in the school.”

“Although no school official can predict with certainty which threats are empty and which will lead to true violence, the Court finds that these school officials were not unreasonable in forecasting that the Plaintiffs’ clothing ...

Editor Held Over Sex Rumor

Friday, March 2nd, 2012
Authorities detain a Guangdong man for re-posting information online.

IF Action Round Up, Feb. 24-March 1

Friday, March 2nd, 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 February 24-March 1, 201

IF Action Round Up – February 24-March 1, 2012


Manhattan District Attorney Subpoenas Occupy Protester’s Twitter Account

White House, Consumers in Mind, Offers Online Privacy Guidelines 

Related: The problem with Obama’s privacy ‘bill of rights’

FBI Turns Off Thousands of GPS Devices After Supreme Court Ruling

Facebook sued over tracking members’ Internet use

Appeals court: Fifth Amendment protections can apply to encrypted hard drives

Opt-Out Provision Would Halt Some, but Not All, Web Tracking

I’m Being Followed: How Google—and 104 Other Companies—Are Tracking Me on the Web

Bits: Apple Loophole Gives Developers Access to Photos 

Google unified privacy settings unsettle users

Related: States Challenge Google Privacy Policy Change

Google implements privacy policy despite EU warning

New Google privacy policy has law-enforcement holes, say experts



Bill would have Bible in schools, ban other texts

One Million Moms Threatens Toys ‘R’ Us With ...

Mexico Adopts Alarming Surveillance Legislation

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

The Mexican legislature today adopted a surveillance legislation that will grant the police warrantless access to real time user location data. The bill was adopted almost unanimously with 315 votes in favor, 6 against, and 7 abstentions. It has been sent to the President for his approval.

There is significant potential for abuse of these new powers. The bill ignores the fact that most cellular phones today constantly transmit detailed location data about every individual to their carriers; as all this location data is housed in one place—with the telecommunications service provider—police will have access to more precise, more comprehensive and more pervasive data than would ever have been possible with the use of tracking devices. The Mexican government should be more sensitive to the fact that mobile companies are now recording detailed footprints of our daily lives.

In response to the law’s adoption, Mexican human rights lawyer Luis Fernando García told EFF, "Mexican policy makers must understand that the adoption of broad surveillance powers without adequate safeguards undermines the privacy and security of citizens, and is therefore incompatible with their human rights obligations."

Sensitive data of this nature warrants stronger protection, not an all-access pass. Human rights advocates will ...

Help EFF Bust the Dangerous Jones Patent

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Ridden the bus or train lately? Then you’ve probably checked your phone to find out when it will arrive. Or if you shop online, you’ve probably checked to see when your packages will arrive. If patent troll ArrivalStar has its way, this could all change. ArrivalStar has launched a blitzkrieg against municipalities and the U.S. Postal Service, among others, claiming that these types of tracking services infringe its patent, leaving those defendants with a few stark choices: fight the expensive lawsuit for years in court, settle and pay ArrivalStar to go away, or stop using the technology altogether (and even then, the municipalities could be forced to pay for their earlier use). ArrivalStar's dangerous suits show no sign of letting up: just this week, it sued Monterey, California and Cleveland. Given the current budget crunch facing many of these entities, the last thing they need is to spend their limited resources (and taxpayer dollars) fending off bogus patent attacks.

If left unchallenged, the broad language in ArrivalStar’s patent could potentially cover any system or technology that tracks a vehicle along a predetermined route and then notifies a potential passenger or package recipient of the vehicle’s status. Specifically, ArrivalStar’s patent ...

This Week in Censorship: Syrian, Moroccan Bloggers Under Fire; New Censorship in Uzbekistan

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Syrian Citizen Journalists Face Increasingly Grave Threats

We recently reported on the Syrian government raid on the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, during which two bloggers and more than a dozen activists were arrested. The six women arrested have now been conditionally freed and are required to report to state security offices daily. However, nine men including blogger Hussein Ghrer and Mazen Darwish, the director of the Center, remain imprisoned.

Blogger and activist Razan Ghazzawi, who was among those arrested, bravely published a call to free her colleagues on her blog demanding authorities release her "beautiful boss, friends and colleages" at the Center. She also republished the Center's official statement, which demands that Syrian authorities release all detainees "immediately and unconditionally." The Center holds the Syrian authorities fully responsible for the psychological and physical conditions of the detainees.

EFF supports the call from the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and reiterates its demand that the detaineesall prisoners of consciencebe released immediately and unconditionally.

Moroccan Blogger Walid Bahomane's Peculiar Conviction

As we've recently pointed out, Morocco appears to be once again cracking down on free expression, despite constitutional reforms ...

Art Succeeds in Starting a Conversation, But Some Call for the Cancellation of the Project

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Update: Lawrence, KS officials have banned the project, saying the proposed art installation would amount to animal cruelty.

The Kansas code allows “with respect to farm animals” for “normal or accepted practices of animal husbandry, including the normal and accepted practices for the slaughter of such animals for food or by-products and the careful or thrifty management of one’s herd or animals, including animal care practices common in the industry or region.” How does the re-contextualization of these same practices as art and giving them public visibility suddenly make them criminal? What are the lengths to which we will go as a society to refuse to examine our own practices?

Amber Hansen’s project seems to have hit a double target: the denial in which we live regarding the cycle of life, death and consumption, as well as the prevailing expectation that art is entertainment and spectacle – not so much a venue for exploring serious ethical issues. This case  is a perfect example of why controversy in art is healthy.


Previous post: February 17th, 2012

How does one gauge the success of public art engaged in social issues? It seems that a lively conversation around it would be one ...

PayPal Threatens Deactivation of Publishers’ Accounts Over Erotic Content

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

Starting February 18, PayPal began contacting independent e-book publishers about new policies regarding erotic content. PayPal told publishers that they cannot sell erotic material that depicts incest, pseudo-incest, rape fantasies, bestiality (including non-human fantasy characters), and BDSM. Selling these materials will result in the deactivation of the publishers’ PayPal accounts. As a result of PayPal’s new policy, many publishers are taking down erotic work.

Anyone who uses PayPal is subject to their terms of service. The banning of the erotic work may have less to do with PayPal’s opinion of the work and more to do with business practices. Commentary on both ZDNet and Daily Kos notes that erotic work carries a high likelihood of buyer’s remorse, and credit card companies charge higher fees for returns on such high-risk content. PayPal likely instituted to practice to avoid these fees.

For more on the story, visit ZDNet, Daily Kos, and TechCrunch.

Please help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work and reporting on issues like this by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!

Betsy Gomez is the Web Editor for CBLDF.

Federal Judge Finds Proposed Graphic Cigarette Warning Labels Violate Free Speech

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

The following is analysis from Bruce Carton at Legal Blog Watch:

Since November 2010 I’ve been following here and here and here the effort of the Food and Drug Administration to require nine new, graphic warning labels on cigarette packs and advertisements. As I previously summarized,

The graphic images include corpses with their chest sewed up, smokers with smoke coming out of a hole in their throat, disgusting-looking lungs that are yellow and diseased from smoking, a close-up of someone with mouth cancer, a suffering baby, and so on. If the purpose of the new warning labels is to convey the message that smoking is dangerous and gnarly, then mission accomplished.

With each of the updates I offered above, however, the FDA’s chances of success seemed to diminish a bit further. On Wednesday, the FDA campaign may have died out altogether, as U.S. District Judge Richard Leon granted summary judgment in favor of five tobacco companies who objected that the proposed warnings would violate their free speech rights, cost millions of dollars to print and require them to feature anti-smoking advocacy more prominently than their own brands.

In his opinion issued Feb. 29, Leon wrote that it was clear to him that, and the government had effectively conceded, “the Government’s actual ...

Will IU’s ‘Free Speech Zone’ Fall Next? A Former FIRE Intern Investigates

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

In the Indiana Daily Student this week, former FIRE intern and senior Nico Perrino writes about free speech issues at his school, Indiana University-Bloomington (IU). His piece discusses the recent lawsuit filed by students at the University of Cincinnati challenging that campus's restrictive "Free Speech Zone." As Nico points out, IU has similar restrictions on how students can use public spaces on campus, limiting "free speech" to just two areas on campus and spontaneous events to just one. He writes compellingly about the confusion sown by contradictory and unevenly enforced policies:

While it might seem like IU does not always enforce these policies, their mere existence creates a chilling effect, whereby students or faculty who wish to speak or assemble don't do so for fear of being reprimanded.

If IU wishes to avoid lawsuits similar to the one levied against the University of Cincinnati and also desires to remain in accordance with its responsibilities under the First Amendment, it would be well served to eliminate its free speech zones and open up all public areas of campus to assembly and demonstration.

For a better understanding of IU's policies, I recommend reading Nico's article in full and visiting FIRE's Spotlight database ...

HTTPS and Tor: Working Together to Protect Your Privacy and Security Online

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

This week EFF released a new version its HTTPS Everywhere extension for the Firefox browser and debuted a beta version of the extension for Chrome. EFF frequently recommends that Internet users who are concerned about protecting their anonymity and security online use HTTPS Everywhere, which encrypts your communications with many websites, in conjunction with Tor, which helps to protect your anonymity online. But the best security comes from being an informed user who understands how these tools work together to protect your privacy against potential eavesdroppers.

Whenever you read your email, or update your Facebook page, or check your bank statement, there are dozens of points at which potential adversaries can intercept your Internet traffic. By using Tor to anonymize your traffic and HTTPS to encrypt it, you gain considerable protection, most notably against eavesdroppers on your wifi network and eavesdroppers on the network between you and the site you are accessing. But these tools have important limitations: your ISP and the website you are visiting still see some identifying information about you, which could be made available to a lawyer with a subpoena or a policeman with a warrant.

Protecting your security and anonymity against real-time government wiretapping ...

Victory: All Nine Complaints Dismissed for Professor Who Criticized Muslims

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

After investigating nine complaints of harassment and discrimination against Professor Maurice Eisenstein, Purdue University Calumet has dismissed all of them. Among other comments on his personal Facebook page, Eisenstein had criticized "‘moderate' Muslims" who he believed had not condemned violence after an attack by "a radical Muslim group" killed Christians in Nigeria. Faculty members, students, and the Muslim Student Association filed the complaints. FIRE intervened in January after the university's investigation dragged on for more than two months, chilling expression on campus.

The case has been covered this week by the Associated PressThe Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Journal & Courier (Lafayette, Indiana). 

The case is not necessarily over, since the parties have 20 days to appeal the decisions, all of which were handed down on February 22, and part of the case remains confidential. FIRE will keep you informed about further developments.

Keep the Pressure On: Canadian Online Surveillance Bill on Pause, But the Fight Continues

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Last Saturday, the Canadian government announced it would put proposed online surveillance legislation temporarily "on pause" following sustained public outrage generated by the bill. Since its introduction two weeks ago, Canadians have spoken out en masse against Bill C-30, the Canadian government’s latest attempt to update police online surveillance powers. As currently drafted, the bill represents a dramatic and dangerous attempt to leverage online service providers as agents of state surveillance.

The bill introduces new police powers that would allow Canadian authorities easy access to Canadians’ online activities, including the power to force ISPs to hand over private customer data without a warrant. Adding insult to injury, the proposed legislation would also pave the way to gag orders that would prevent online service providers from notifying subscribers that their private data has been disclosed—a move that would make it impossible for users to seek legal recourse for privacy violations. C-30 is the misshapen offspring of the Cybercrime Convention. Countries have been using this treaty as an excuse to invade citizens’ privacy for years since it was first opened for signature in 2001. Many of these new surveillance powers go far beyond the Convention’s intended levels of ...

Victory: Probation Dropped for UC Davis Med Student; Unconstitutional ‘Civility’ Policy Remains

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

The University of California, Davis (UC Davis) School of Medicine has removed a student from probation after punishing him for telling a fellow student to stop monitoring the mailing list for his entering class. The School of Medicine (SOM) conflated Curtis Allumbaugh's personal emails with professional practice when it invoked the UC Davis Principles of Community to punish his lack of "courtesy," then added insult to injury when it threatened to put any med student who violated the Principles of Community on academic probation. Allumbaugh came to FIRE for help.

Allumbaugh's ordeal began after he emailed the "med2014" mailing list (or "listserv") on July 19, 2010, regarding a party he was organizing. The listserv was widely used for a variety of non-academic purposes. Allumbaugh's email provided the address of the party, detailed the available space, and listed the variety of alcohol that would be available at the party. The email noted that others had signed up to bring snacks and mentioned that some things were still lacking for the party, such as music, fruit juice, and beer. Prior to Allumbaugh's message, others had sent similar emails using the same listserv about their own parties, such as a "kegger" one student ...

Kansas Officials Halt Artist’s Plan to Slaughter Chickens in Public

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Officials have banned an artist from publicly slaughtering chickens in eastern Kansas, saying the proposed art installation would amount to animal cruelty.

Lawrence’s Assistant City Attorney Chad Sublet said Tuesday that artist Amber Hansen told him she “intends to abide by the city ordinance.” Violating the animal cruelty ordinance could lead to a fine of up to $1,000 and six months in jail. Even keeping the chickens on private land would require her to meet other city codes on animal care.

Sublet said Hansen is considering alternatives to draw attention to the process of slaughtering animals, including a public sculpture.

Through the project, called “The Story of Chickens: A Revolution,” Hansen originally planned to display coops of chickens at locations across Lawrence, where they would be cared for by volunteers. The birds would later be publicly slaughtered by a local farmer and served as a meal.

“By building a relationship with the birds, the project will transform the contemporary view of chickens as merely ‘livestock’ to the beautiful and unique creatures they are, while promoting alternative and healthy processes of caring for them,” Hansen, an artist in residence at the University of Kansas, wrote on her project’s website.

Read the full ...

One Million Moms Targets Toys “R” Us Over LIFE WITH ARCHIE #16

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

by Betsy Gomez

One Million Moms — a division of the American Family Association, a conservative non-profit organization that “promotes traditional family values” — recently made news over their boycott of retailer JC Penney over hiring lesbian TV host Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson. They are in the news again with recent reports that they will be boycotting Toys “R” Us over the display and sale of Life with Archie #16, which features the marriage of openly gay character Kevin Keller.

Both CBR and The Huffington Post report on the boycott. The following appears on the One Million Moms website, in conjunction with an online petition:

Select Toys ‘R’ Us stores are now selling ‘Archie’ comic books with a same-sex wedding displayed on the front cover. The front cover reads “Just Married” with two men marrying and one is wearing a service uniform. This comic book is being sold in select stores across the country. One example is the Queensbury, NY location in the upstate New York area.

Toys ‘R’ Us employees do not actually set up the displays; they leave this up to the vendor, but they should be aware of the merchandise being sold in their stores nonetheless. ...

Adam’s Speech Raises Awareness of Red Alert Status at MSU

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

As we wrote last week, FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel recently visited Michigan State University (MSU) to address two student audiences. His second talk focused on the school's Red Alert status and inclusion on FIRE's 2011 list of the "Worst Colleges for Free Speech." 

Free Speech at MSU - FIRE VP Adam Kissel from The Other Side Blog on Vimeo.

FIRE's campus visit was picked up by The State News, which published an article recalling the series of events that landed MSU on the Red Alert list: the school brought charges against student Kara Spencer in 2008 for emailing professors about a proposed change in the academic calendar, then instated a restrictive "spam" policy that says students can be punished for any unsolicited email sent to 10 or more recipients over 48 hours. Robert wrote more about this absurd policy last spring.

Hopefully, now that more students are aware of MSU's poor record on free speech, they will encourage their school to respect student speech rights and get off our Red Alert list.

HTTPS Everywhere & the Decentralized SSL Observatory

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Earlier this week we released version 2.0.1 of HTTPS Everywhere for Firefox, and also, a new beta version for Chrome! You can install HTTPS Everywhere here:

(Firefox 2.0.1 Download)

Firefox users will find a number of improvements in version 2.0. In addition to support for four hundred more sites, a crisper user interface, and translation into a dozen languages, there is a new optional feature called the Decentralized SSL Observatory. It detects and warns about security vulnerabilities as you browse the Web. Firefox users can turn on this setting from the Tools->HTTPS Everywhere->SSL Observatory Preferences menu, or from the HTTPS Everywhere toolbar button, which looks like this:

Screenshot of HTTPS Everywhere Firefox toolbar button

In that Preferences page, check the box marked "Use the Observatory":

Screenshot of SSL Observatory preferences

If you turn on this feature, it will send anonymous copies of certificates for HTTPS websites to EFF's SSL Observatory database, which will allow us to study them and detect problems with the web's cryptographic and security infrastructure. The Decentralized SSL Observatory is also capable of giving real-time warnings about these problems.

At the moment, the Observatory will give warnings if you connect to a router, VPN, firewall or similar device that has an insecure private key due to the random number generator vulnerabilities that were recently discovered by two teams of researchers, using data from the SSL Observatory and other sources. We will be adding more kinds of certificate and key auditing to the Decentralized Observatory in the future.

EFF Tells Supreme Court that No Means No in Wiretap Act

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Yesterday, EFF and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed an amicus brief (PDF) in support of certiorari, asking the Supreme Court to enforce the plain text of the Wiretap Act and its absolute prohibition against the use of illegally intercepted communications.

The case arises out of the federal government's investigation of New York attorney Robert Simels for conspiracy to obstruct justice. As part of its investigation, the government asked a judge for authorization to wiretap conversations between Simels and his client. The Wiretap Act requires that intercepts be "minimized," meaning the government can only capture conversations relevant to the ongoing criminal investigation. The judge issued the wiretap but required the government to contemporaneously minimize the communications it was intercepting. Later, a different judge found the government failed to comply with the court's order and suppressed the wiretaps, preventing the government from using them at trial. The court suppressed under 18 U.S.C. § 2515, which says that when a communication has been illegally intercepted in violation of the Wiretap Act, "no part of the contents of such communication and no evidence derived therefrom may be received in evidence in any trial."

After Simels testified in his own defense at trial, the government asked ...

SHARE Conference 2012: Uniting Digital Rights Activists, New Media Artists, and Tech Innovators

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

12 years ago, hundreds of thousands of Serbians filled the streets of Belgrade, blocking the entire city in protest of Slobodan Milošević’s regime. At the time such a widespread protest had seemed unimaginable. Before the uprising, the mood in the country was melancholic, cynical, and hopeless amid disillusionment with a government that became plagued with corruption, repression, and war. An unprecedented campaign of civil resistance against the Milošević regime paved the way for eventual democratic reform and the Serbian independence in 2006. One influential aspect to this movement was the young students who inspired their country to leap into political and creative action through a 100 day plan—100 days of debate, dancing, performances, and workshops.

These days, activism and political engagement continues to be prevalent around the world. People are now largely relying on the Internet for raising political awareness and organizing campaigns in their communities. Through the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, Internet protests against SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA, as well as other popular movements, the world continues to see how the Internet unleashes the creative potential of the masses to transform political attitudes and policy debates. The SHARE Conference in Serbia builds ...

Activists Slam ‘Rigged’ Ballot

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
Chinese authorities block candidates seeking to run for office outside Communist Party control.

Labor Camp for Petitioning Activist

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
A court hands down the sentence following an expose of China's 'black jails.'

Legal Censorship: PayPal Makes a Habit of Deciding What Users Can Read

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

PayPal has instituted a new policy aimed at censoring what digital denizens can and can’t read, and they’re doing it in a way that leaves us with little recourse to challenge their policies in court. Indie publisher Smashwords has notified contributing authors, publishers, and literary agents that they would no longer be providing a platform for certain forms of sexually explicit fiction. This comes in response to an initiative by online payment processor PayPal to deny service to online merchants selling what they deem to be obscene written content. PayPal is demonstrating, again and to our great disappointment, the dire consequences to online speech when service providers start acting like content police.

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, described the new policy in a recent blog post. The policy would ban the selling of ebooks that contain “bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica.” Trying to apply these definitions to all forms of literary expression raise questions that can only have subjective answers. Would Nabokov’s Lolita be removed from online stores, as it explores issues of pedophilia and consent in soaring, oft-romantic language? Will the Bible be banned for its description of incestuous relationships?

This isn’t the first time PayPal has tried ...

FIRE Q&A at West Chester University Wednesday

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Tomorrow, February 29, FIRE's own Peter Bonilla, Assistant Director of the Individual Rights Defense Program, will be visiting West Chester University for an event sponsored by the WCU Students For Liberty. The club is hosting a screening of the film Indoctrinate U, followed by a Q&A session featuring Peter and WCU Professor Chris Stangl:

WCU Students For Liberty Presents: Indoctrinate U
Wednesday, February 29, 6 p.m.
Swope Music Building-Gates Family Recital Hall

For supporters in or around West Chester, Pennsylvania, this is a great opportunity for a double dose of FIRE: President Greg Lukianoff is featured in the film, and Peter will be there to discuss student rights in person. Too far away to attend? If you are interested in hosting a FIRE event on your campus, visit the FIRE Speakers Bureau page or email me at

NYU Journal of Law and Liberty Examines Issue of Off-Campus Student Speech

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

The New York University Journal of Law and Liberty's Law and Liberty Bulletin blog has an overview of the split among federal circuit courts concerning school regulation of off-campus student speech. The Supreme Court of the United States denied certioriari earlier this year in three cases that together might have settled the issue. An excerpt:

[D]iscordant rulings have left school administrators in a confounded state, not knowing whether they can respond to off-campus student speech made online addressing school officials or students. As the principal in the [one of the cases] exclaimed, "If it happens again, what do I do?"

We would suggest not censoring your students. Check out the full post here.  Kudos to my former journal for examining this important issue!

Saudi Journalist Faces Threats from Militants

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Earlier this month, EFF called for the protection of Saudi blogger and journalist Hamza Kashgari, who had fled Saudi Arabia after tweets he wrote about the Prophet Mohammed provoked clerics to demand that he be tried for apostasy, and members of the public to call for his murder. Kashgari had been a columnist for the Jeddah-based newspaper Al Bilad until outrage over the tweets, when Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Abdul Aziz Khoja ordered Kashgari “not to write in any Saudi paper or magazine,” an order which Kashgari also posted to his Twitter account. As outrage mounted, Kashgari retracted his statements, deleted his Twitter account, apologized for the comments, and finally fled the country in response to mounting threats on his life.

Upon arriving at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on his way to seek refuge in New Zealand, Kashgari was arrested by security officials at the request of the Saudi government. Malaysia and Saudi Arabia do not have an extradition treaty, but they do maintain good relations. EFF was among the many organizations that called on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak release Kashgari from detention and stop extradition proceedings, reminding the Prime Minister that Malaysia that ...

CBLDF Attends MangaNext

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

By Alex Cox

Over the past weekend, while half of the CBLDF staff was on the West Coast on the floor at Image Expo, the other half made the arduous trek through the Lincoln Tunnel, all the way out to Northern New Jersey, to spend some time at MangaNext, one of the only completely fan-run manga shows in the country.

With the current “Brandon X” case involving manga, the CBLDF is making an effort to be more involved in that community, reaching out to fans of yuri, BL, shonen, shojo, seinen, and everything else in between. Manga is often scrutinized and demonized more than American comics, and it is increasingly important for fans of Japanese material to understand our mission and know that we exist in case their rights are infringed upon.

Our booth was staffed by Intern Kelly Tsou and ongoing Volunteer Erica Friedman, who is a well-loved journalist and publisher in the yuri community. She represented us on the MangaNext “State of the Industry” Panel on Sunday morning and discussed the censorship specter that continues to haunt Japanese comics as they are translated and distributed in North America. It was a great booth crew, ready and able ...

‘Philadelphia Inquirer’ Reports on FIRE’s Letter to Villanova Regarding Cancellation of Gay Artist’s Workshop

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

In a joint letter on Friday, FIRE and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) asked Villanova University to explain how academic freedom and free speech are safe in the wake of Villanova's decision to cancel a workshop scheduled by faculty and led by gay performance artist Tim Miller. While the workshop had been scheduled for months, it was only recently, when Villanova began to be criticized for allowing Miller to lead the workshop, that the university decided that it was unacceptable. This suggests that the decision was made out of political considerations rather than principle, which is unacceptable at a university that, like Villanova, promises academic freedom to students and faculty. 

Our joint letter was reported in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, which quotes NCAC Director of Programs Svetlana Mintcheva:

Censoring something is not a way to get rid of a problem. They're finding this out.

According to the Inquirer, a Villanova spokesman "said the university had just received the letter and, if appropriate, would respond to the organizations that sent it." In the meantime, you can read what others are saying about our letter on the Facebook group "Villanova's Tim Miller Controversy — A Forum."

And tonight at ...

New ‘HTTPS Everywhere’ Version Warns Users About Web Security Holes

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
Firefox Browser Extension Detects and Notifies Users of Encryption Weaknesses

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) launched the 2.0 version of HTTPS Everywhere for the Firefox browser today, including an important new update that warns users about web security holes.

The "Decentralized SSL Observatory" is an optional feature that detects encryption weaknesses and notifies users when they are visiting a website with a security vulnerability – flagging potential risk for sites that are vulnerable to eavesdropping or "man in the middle" attacks.

"In recent weeks, an unexpected weakness in the encryption used by many routers, firewalls and VPN devices made big news," said EFF Technology Projects Director Peter Eckersley. "The new version of HTTPS Everywhere for Firefox will let users know when they connect to a website or device that has a security problem – including weak key problems like the ones that were disclosed two weeks ago – giving people the information they need to protect themselves."

The HTTPS Everywhere browser extension has already been installed more than a million times since it was first launched in 2010 in collaboration with the Tor Project. HTTPS Everywhere helps secure web use by encrypting connections to more than 1,400 ...

Slate for Freedom to Read Foundation trustee election

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Eleven candidates for the Freedom to Read Foundation Board of Trustees have been slated for the 2012 election by the Nominating Committee, composed of Trustees Judith Platt, Chris Finan, and James G. Neal, Chair.  There are five vacancies on the Board to be filled.  Trustees are elected to two-year terms.

Candidates for Freedom to Read Foundation Board, 2012–2014

J. Douglas (Doug) Archer, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN

Carol Brey-Casiano, U.S. Department of State, Brasilia, Brazil

Christopher Bowen, Westmont, IL

Julius C. Jefferson, Jr. Library of Congress, Washington, DC

Pamela R. Klipsch, JeffersonCountyLibrary, High Ridge, MO

Charles Kratz, The University of Scranton Weinberg Library, Scranton, PA

Mary Minow,, Cupertino, CA

Judith Platt, Association of American Publishers, Washington, DC

Raymond Santiago, Miami-Dade County Library System, Miami, FL

Eric Suess, Marshall Public Library, Pocatello, ID

Dr. Nancy P. Zimmerman, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC

Ballots will be mailed April 1 to all persons holding paid memberships in the Foundation as of that date.  To join the Freedom to Read Foundation or renew your membership, call (800) 545-2433 x4226 or visit

Western Kentucky U. Getting Tough on Social Media at Expense of First Amendment

Monday, February 27th, 2012

As reported late last week by the College Heights Herald and today by the Associated Press, Western Kentucky University is making alarming inroads against its students' use of social media. First, WKU President Gary Ransdell took to the university's official Facebook page with this message for students about "responsible" use of social media applications. Ransdell wrote in part that  

We, at WKU, have become particularly conscious lately of some who are misusing social media and using some poor judgment. So my message here is "Be smart." Use social media thoughtfully; always remember what you send is permanent and can be viewed years from now. Employers do their homework. They can and will track ways in which prospective employees have used social media. We, at WKU, track such things as well. Be smart and remember the Golden Rule. It applies as much to the use of social media as it does to how we conduct our daily lives. Think twice before you hit the "post" button or "send" key. Be smart, Hilltoppers! 

According to the Herald, this was partially in response to the existence of a "Fake Gary Ransdell" Twitter account (@PimpRansdell), which at WKU's instigation ...

Save the Date: Fifth Annual Campus Freedom Network Conference, July 27th-29, 2012

Monday, February 27th, 2012
Christina Hoff Sommers

FIRE is pleased to announce that the 2012 Campus Freedom Network Conference will be held July 27-29 at Bryn Mawr College, just outside of Philadelphia. Over the past 4 years, more than 200 students have attended CFN conferences to learn about their rights from eminent First Amendment scholars, discuss cases with FIRE staff, and hear from fellow students about the best ways to advocate for change. Our 2012 CFN conference promises to be the best one yet!

We are thrilled to announce that our Saturday evening speaker will be ChristinaCFN Conference 2012 Hoff Sommers, a former philosophy professor and an author best known for her books Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys. Robert Corn-Revere, a partner at the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine in Washington, D.C., a First Amendment expert, and a featured speaker from the 2011 conference, will return this summer to update attendees on Barnes v. Zaccari, a federal civil rights case with major implications for student rights on campus. Other sessions will feature members of the FIRE Speakers Bureau and panels led by students who have been involved in FIRE cases and reforming campus speech codes. Check back on The Torch and at ...

Upcoming Supreme Court Case May Be Key To Holding Spy Tech Companies Responsible For Human Rights Violations

Monday, February 27th, 2012

The world’s attention has recently turned to the question of how to hold companies accountable for knowingly marketing, selling and adapting the tools of surveillance to repressive regimes. U.S. and E.U. companies’ equipment has been linked to torture and other human rights violations in many Middle East and North African countries, along with longstanding cases involving similar allegations in China. Most recently, evidence suggests prominent American journalist Marie Colvin may have been tracked via her satellite phone before being killed by government forces in Syria. Public pressure on companies to “Know Your Customer” and take other actions to avoid having their tools used as part of human rights violations is intensifying. The European Parliament has begun the first steps in banning sales of this technology to authoritarian governments, and the U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced a bill, the Global Online Freedom Act, which is in part aimed at this problem.

But there is another avenue for justice: the U.S. courts. 

Aiding and abetting, and conspiracy to commit crimes, have long been illegal under U.S. law, and it’s not difficult to see how surveillance tools used to commit human rights violations — especially ones specifically ...

EFF to European Parliament: Protect Coders’ Rights

Monday, February 27th, 2012

As the European Parliament considers passing a directive that would target hacking, EFF has submitted comments urging the legislators not to create legal woes for researchers who expose security flaws.

In the United States, laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act have created a murky legal landscape for researchers who conduct independent analysis of technology for security threats. Throughout the world, the Convention on Cybercrime has caused similar problems. Now, new vague and sweeping computer crime legislation is back on the European Union's agenda threatening coders' rights: the European Commission’s proposal on a draft Directive on Attacks Against Information Systems [pdf].

All told, the European Commission needs to make a stronger case for why this directive is needed at all. We believe it is largely duplicative of the Convention on Cybercrime, which itself is riddled with problems. Should the proposed directive move forward, however, we urge the Parliament to improve several aspects.

No criminalization of tools

The main so-called “novelty” of the draft directive is the criminalization of the use, production, sale, or distribution of tools to commit attacks against information systems. In our submission to the European Parliament, ...

This Isn’t a Hoax: Pakistan Requests Proposals for a National Filtering and Blocking System

Friday, February 24th, 2012

The Pakistani government is looking for new ways to censor the Internet.

This week, the Pakistani Telecommunication Authority (PTA) released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the development, deployment and operation of a “National Level URL Filtering and Blocking System,” calling on institutions to submit by March 2nd a feasible proposal that would allow the government to institute a large-scale filtering system. Shockingly, the RFP requires: “Each [filtering] box should be able to handle a block list of up to 50 million URLs (concurrent unidirectional filtering capacity) with processing delay of not more than 1 milliseconds.” While content filtering and blocking has existed in Pakistan for the past few years, it has been executed manually and has thus been inconsistent and intermittent.1 The state’s latest effort to subsidize a comprehensive, automated censorship regime is deeply troubling.

The RFP, posted on the National ICT R&D Fund website, details various requirements for the system, as well as details for applying for the grant. Its terms of reference describe how this system would address the supposed “problem” that Pakistan does not currently have a sufficient mechanism to filter and block content:

Many countries have deployed web filtering and blocking systems at ...

NCAC and FIRE Issue Joint Letter To Villanova U. on Cancellation of Tim Miller Artist-In-Residency

Friday, February 24th, 2012

This week, Villanova University’s administration cancelled a weeklong, artist-in-residency program led by performance artist Tim Miller. NCAC and FIRE are calling on Villanova to reverse this decision. The joint letter (below) points out that the decision to cancel Miller’s residency violates the principle of academic freedom.

Miller is known as one of the “NEA Four” – four artists whose grants were vetoed by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1990 because of the content of their performances, and who subsequently fought against content restrictions on NEA grants. Much of his work contains material concerning gay identity.

The faculty who initiated Miller’s planned program at Villanova were aware of his material, and it appears they did not see it as detrimental to his ability to teach a in the artist residency program. It was only after Catholic bloggers attacked Villanova this month that the administration interceded. Villanova cannot afford to undermine its own declared principles of academic freedom and integrity by caving to outside hecklers.

Link to PDF on

Tibetan Comedian Detained

Friday, February 24th, 2012
He is at least the third Tibetan cultural figure to be held this month amid tensions in Tibetan regions.

Man’s Facebook Rant Violated Protective Order; Judge Says He Can Post Apology or Go to Jail

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Photographer Mark Byron was so bothered by his pending divorce and child visitation issues that he blasted his soon-to-be ex-wife on his personal Facebook page.

That touched off a battle that resulted in a Hamilton County judge ordering Byron jailed for his Facebook rant – and to post on his page an apology to his wife and all of his Facebook friends or go to jail, something free speech experts found troubling.

“The idea that a court can say ‘I order you not to post something or to post something’ seems to me to be a First Amendment issue,” Enquirer attorney and free-speech expert Jack Greiner said.

Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney with the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the rulings are unique and “raise quite a few” free speech issues.

“There haven’t been a lot of cases that have dealt with this particular issue,” he said.

Mark and Elizabeth Byron had a son in July 2010, but their marriage soon became troubled. She accused him of verbally abusing her, threatening her with his fist and threatening to “end” her life.

While Mark Byron, an Over-the-Rhine photographer who has worked freelance assignments for The Enquirer, was exonerated of criminal ...