Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Further Controls on Microblogs

Thursday, January 19th, 2012
Chinese authorities want netizens to register their real names before blogging, lest they post sensitive information.

After Historic Protest, Members of Congress Abandon PIPA and SOPA in Droves

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Yesterday, in the largest online protest in Internet history, more than 115,000 websites altered millions of web pages to stand in opposition to SOPA and PIPA, the Internet blacklist bills. Some sites — Wikipedia, Reddit, Boing Boing, Craigslist and others — completely shut down for the day, replacing their sites with material to educate the public about the bill’s dangers. Others, like Google and Mozilla, sent users to a petition or action center to express their concerns to Congress.

While the final results are still being tabulated, EFF alone helped users send over 1,000,000 emails to Congress, and countless more came from other organizations. Web traffic briefly brought down the Senate website. 162 million people visited Wikipedia and eight million looked up their representatives’ phone numbers. Google received over 7 million signatures on their petition. Talking Points Memo has a great round up of more of the staggering numbers. The sum of the protest, as the New York Times declared, sent “an unmistakable message to lawmakers grappling with new media issues: Don’t mess with the Internet.”

And members of Congress were quick to react.

Republican Marco Rubio started the day by announcing his opposition, despite formerly being a co-sponsor. ...

Maoist Writer Jailed for Subversion

Thursday, January 19th, 2012
The lengthy prison sentence comes amidst a crackdown on calls for political reform in China.

Victory: Syracuse Drops Expulsion Hours after FIRE Press Release

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Here is today's press release:

SYRACUSE, N.Y., January 19, 2012—Syracuse University's School of Education has readmitted a graduate student it had expelled from its teaching program after he complained on Facebook about a racially charged comment made in his presence by a community leader. Syracuse had told Matthew Werenczak that his only chance for reinstatement was to undergo a special course of diversity training and counseling for "anger management"—all because he expressed annoyance over a community leader's complaint that student teachers were coming from Syracuse rather than historically black colleges. Within hours of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) bringing his case to the public, Werenczak was readmitted.

"Syracuse kicked a student out of school for complaining on Facebook about comments he thought were racist, and only reversed its decision in the face of public outrage," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "It's long past time for Syracuse to live up to its promises of free speech and stop treating its students as second-class citizens."

On July 20, 2011, Werenczak was student teaching with Danforth Middle School when he was introduced to a member of the city's Concerned Citizens Action Program (CCAP). Shortly afterward, in the presence of Werenczak ...

At Syracuse, Expelling a Student without Charges or a Hearing is ‘Standard Process’

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Today, FIRE announced a free speech victory at Syracuse University, whose School of Education (SOE) expelled a graduate student due to his expression of concern on Facebook over a city leader's comment about hiring teachers from historically black colleges versus Syracuse University. SOE never filed any charges against the student, Matt Werenczak, and never gave him a disciplinary hearing. But when SOE expelled him, the school gave him two unappealing choices: he could withdraw and never be seen again, or he could undergo anger management counseling and a special cultural sensitivity course and write a paper demonstrating growth "regarding cultural diversity." If he met the requirements, a committee might let him return.

And then, yesterday, a Syracuse representative told The Chronicle of Higher Education that this is SOE's "standard process." Really? Take a look at the disciplinary letter that Syracuse sent to Werenczak, and see if it in any way matches what Syracuse outlines in its various handbooks. It looks like SOE cooked up a new process from scratch, one lacking any semblance of formal charges, a hearing, or an opportunity to appeal.

Also quite problematic is Syracuse's decision to blame SOE's accreditor, NCATE (the National ...

This Month in FIRE History: Controversy at Harvard Business School

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Nine years ago this month, FIRE happily announced the resolution of a case at Harvard Business School involving an overzealous administration and an egregious violation of free speech. Unfortunately, almost a decade later, Harvard continues to be host to such violations of liberty. 

The case began in October 2002, when The Harbus, a student newspaper at Harvard Business School, ran an editorial cartoon that criticized the school's Career Services office for severe and chronic technical problems during a crucial week for student job searches. The cartoon suggested that members of the office were "incompetent morons." In response, the school issued a "verbal warning" to Harbus editor-in-chief Nick Will, which led him to resign rather than face disciplinary charges. Harvard Business School Dean Kim B. Clark then released a statement that "Each of us first and foremost is a member of the Harvard Business School community, and as such, we are expected to treat each other respectfully. Referring to members of our community as 'incompetent morons' does not fall within the realm of respectful discourse." 

FIRE stepped in to remind Harvard of its duty to protect free speech, noting in our letter that "A rule that outlaws speech that offends ...

Internet Blackout Day Fires Up Digital Rights Activism Around the World

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Yesterday was a defining moment for the global Internet community. The effects of the massive online blackout in protest of U.S. Internet blacklist legislation, SOPA and PIPA (H.R. 3261 and S. 968), were felt around the world as countless numbers of websites, including Google, Wikipedia, Mozilla, Reddit, BoingBoing, Flickr, Wired, and many others joined in the global action against over-broad and poorly drafted copyright laws that would break the fundamental architecture of the Internet. To quote [pdf] last year’s landmark Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion: “...Censorship measures should never be delegated to a private entity, and [..] no one should be held liable for content on the Internet of which they are not the author...” The massive opposition from both companies and individuals around the world demonstrates how much these and similar laws would hurt business and innovation, and most importantly, restrict online free expression.

But SOPA and PIPA are really only the tip of the iceberg. The same forces behind these domestic U.S. laws have continued to both push for other states to pass similar domestic laws, as well as to secretly negotiate ...

D.C. Court Of Appeals Holds Washington Post Has A First Amendment Right Of Access To Jury Questionnaires In Chandra Levy Murder Trial

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

The following text is taken from the summary of the court’s opinion in In re: Access to Jury Questions; The Washington Post, Appellant:

Soon after the start of Ingmar Guandique’s trial for the murder of Chandra Levy, The Washington Post (“The Post”) sought access to the jury questionnaires completed by the sixteen empaneled jurors. When informal attempts to gain access were denied, The Post filed a motion to intervene, arguing that both the common law and the First Amendment create a presumption of public access to jury questionnaires used in voir dire. After the trial ended, the court issued an oral ruling denying access, concluding that disclosure of the jury questionnaires would discourage juror candor and intrude on juror privacy. The Post appealed. We hold that The Post, as a surrogate for the public, has a presumptive right of access to the jury questionnaires used in this case, and the trial court erred in not recognizing that right. We further hold that the trial court erred by failing to exercise its discretion in making specific findings about the protectible privacy interests at stake and considering alternatives to complete closure. We therefore reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Dissident Writer Describes Abuse

Thursday, January 19th, 2012
An activist who relocated to the U.S. details harassment and torture by Chinese authorities.

OIF webcasts now available for purchase

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

In 2011, OIF presented two series of webinars – Intellectual Freedom Summer School and Intellectual Freedom across the Globe – that were recorded and are now available for purchase.  To purchase any of them, visit and click on the “Register” link to the right of the webcast you’re interested in. You will need to enter your ALA ID and password. If you do not have an ALA ID, you will be asked to create one in order to register.


  • Single webcast – Individual: $15 (ALA member); $20 (non-member)
  • Single webcast – Group*: $35
  • Series – IF Summer School: $60 (ALA member); $80 (non-member)
  • Series – Intellectual Freedom across the Globe: $40 (ALA/IFLA member);  $50 (non-member)

The webcasts are listed below (click on a title for more information on its content).

Syracuse Folds on Ed Student’s Expulsion

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Things have moved quickly at Syracuse University since FIRE issued its press release yesterday calling out Syracuse's appalling treatment of graduate student Matthew Werenczak. As we reported, Werenczak was effectively expelled from Syracuse's School of Education (SOE) after posting a comment on his Facebook page in response to a racially tinged remark made by a local official visiting a school where Werenczak was working as a tutor. When the SOE got wind of this, it removed him from his student teaching assignments and gave him two unappealing choices to avoid expulsion: withdraw immediately from the program, or submit to a roster of remedial exercises that, even upon completion, would not guarantee him readmission. When the SOE dithered on considering his bid for reinstatement even after he fulfilled all of his requirements, FIRE got involved. 

Only hours after issuing yesterday's press release, Werenczak and FIRE were informed that Werenczak will indeed be readmitted to the program. We're working on a press release right now, and several outlets have picked up on this quickly developing story. 

In an excellent report by local ABC affiliate WSYR, FIRE's Robert Shibley points out:

"Syracuse promises free speech to its students and in this case it ...

Thank You, Internet! And the Fight Continues

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Today was a truly inspiring day in Internet history.  Working together, we sent a powerful message to Big Media and the misguided proponents of the Internet blacklist legislation: we will not stand idly by and let you hamper innovation, kill jobs, wreak havoc on Internet security, and undermine free speech.  Supporters of SOPA and PIPA say the Internet Blackout day was a "publicity stunt."  We say it was a wake-up call.  

EFF's anti-blacklist crew gathers around laptops showing websites participating in the protest

The numbers are pretty amazing.  More than 1 million messages (and counting!) were sent to Congress today via the EFF action center. More than 4.5 million people signed Google's petition registering their opposition to the bills. And that's just the beginning. Many lawmakers abandoned the legislation (at least 13 senators today alone!) and we expect to see more defections as a result of today's protests.  

Also notable was the broad spectrum of opposition.  We knew security engineers, human rights activists, technology investors, law professors and innovators large and small were against the bill, but today's action brought together everyone from independent artists to gaming companies to organizations that normally stay ...

Syracuse Expels Ed Student for Complaining on Facebook about Racial Comment

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Here's our press release today: 

SYRACUSE, N.Y., January 18, 2012—Syracuse University's School of Education has effectively expelled a graduate student from its teaching program after he complained on Facebook about a racially charged comment made in his presence by a community leader. Syracuse told Matthew Werenczak that his only chance for reinstatement was to undergo a special course of diversity training and counseling for "anger management"—all because he expressed annoyance over a community leader's complaint that student teachers were coming from Syracuse rather than historically black colleges. After completing all requirements but still being denied readmission, Werenczak turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.

"Syracuse already has a bad reputation for free speech, but kicking a student out of school for complaining on Facebook about comments he thought were racist is an outrageous new low," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "Syracuse's shocking decision to punish a student for innocuous online speech is the latest betrayal of the school's promises of free expression."

On July 20, 2011, Werenczak was student teaching with Danforth Middle School when he was introduced to a member of the city's Concerned Citizens Action Program (CCAP). Shortly afterward, in the presence of ...

Facebook Ploy to Criminalize Add-On Service Hurts Users and Innovation

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
EFF Urges Judge to Block Facebook's Dangerous Claims

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a district court judge Tuesday to block Facebook's attempts to criminalize an add-on service that helped users aggregate all of their social networking data in one place.

Power Ventures created a web-based tool to let users view information from different social networking accounts in the same browser window, enabling them to get a complete picture of what's happening across various platforms. Facebook has been trying to kill the service for several years and is currently claiming that criminal computer intrusion laws were violated when Facebook's users logged into their Facebook accounts automatically using Power's aggregation tool. In an amicus brief filed Tuesday, EFF argues that Facebook's claims are wrong legally and dangerous as a matter of policy.

"Facebook wants to prevent users from choosing follow-on innovation that it doesn't like, so it's asking the court to broaden computer crime laws in ways that would let it manufacture and cherry-pick lawsuits against users and competitors," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "Facebook's position would create legal uncertainty for tech start-ups everywhere, stifling innovation and competition. No one would want to challenge a behemoth ...

FIRE Speaker in Philadelphia Thursday

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Tomorrow, January 19, FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel will lead a dinner discussion hosted by the Harvard Radcliffe Club of Philadelphia. Adam, a Harvard alumnus, will discuss "Harvard's Tradition of Oppressing Controversial Speech," including several recent cases:

  • In 2011, Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to fire a professor of economics after he published a controversial op-ed in India.
  • Last fall, the dean of Harvard College instituted a Freshman Pledge stating that "kindness" was "on a par with intellectual attainment" at Harvard, and pressured students to publicly pledge to such official Harvard College values.
  • In 2010, the dean of the law school asserted that as a "social justice" law school, HLS ruled certain ideas automatically out of bounds

The dinner will begin at 6:45 pm at Aqua, a Malaysian-Thai restaurant located at 705 Chestnut Street. Tickets are $35 for members and $40 for non-members, and can be purchased here.

To request a FIRE speaker to visit your campus, check out our Speakers Bureau page or email me at

Retailer Advisory: How To Manage A Media Attack

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

By Charles Brownstein

Today Bleeding Cool ran a piece linking to a local news promo promising a titillating exposé on modern comics that will offer tips on “HOW TO K.O. THESE COMICS BEFORE THEY CORRUPT YOUR KIDS!” These media scare stories are nothing new. They’ve been plaguing comics since the very beginning, whether it was massive public comic book burnings in the 1940s, Frederic Wertham’s attacks in the 1950s, or the retailer stings of the 1980s that led to the CBLDF being formed. While we’ve seen this type of story arise time and again, it should never be taken lightly. Below we offer some tips on how to deal with hostile cameras if they come to your store.

  • Know Your Rights. You control the media’s access to your store, not them. While media people can shoot common spaces not maintained by your store, such as public parking lots and walkways, they cannot enter your store and shoot without permission, and they cannot block access to your store.

  • Develop and Maintain a Media Communications Policy. Whether you’re a sole proprietor with occasional fill-in help, or a full-service chain, every comic book, manga and graphic novel retailer should develop and maintain ...

‘No Regret’ For Loss: Mother

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
A Tibetan mother says she is proud of her son’s sacrifice to protest Chinese rule.

The Day the Internet Went Dark – A Look at the Protests Against SOPA Taking Place Today

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

As anyone with an internet connection may have heard, several major websites across the web are “going dark” today in protest against the proposed pieces of legislation “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and “PROTECT IP Act” (PIPA).  Below we’ve collected a few examples of the protest from around cyberspace:


There are numerous others and too many to possibly list, but this gives a good sampling of the breadth of sites involved in the black out.

The response has been so dramatic that it appears to have overwhelmed the U.S. Senate’s email servers.

For more information about SOPA and the black out generally, please visit any of the blacked out sites, as most of them have provided helpful FAQs or links to more information about SOPA.

Singaporean Minister Meeting with MPAA to Discuss Anti-Piracy Legislation

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

As protests against the U.S. bills SOPA and PIPA sweep the world, Singaporeans are under threat of censorship from their own government. According to Channel News Asia, Singapore Minister for Law K Shanmugam recently revealed that his ministry is in discussion with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) over piracy issues. At an event organized by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS), Shanmugam reportedly stated: "We will have to work with the ISPs. And the government will have to work with the ISPs and whether it should be a voluntary regime vis-a-vis the ISPs, or whether it should be legislated." 

As the New Asia Republic (which is proudly displaying an anti-SOPA banner) explained, Singapore is a party to the United States Free Trade Agreement (USFTA) and the yet-to-be-passed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), and therefore must commit to similar legislation should SOPA or PIPA become law in the United States.

On Shanmugam's own Facebook page, where the minister posted a link to the aforementioned Channel News Asia article, Singaporeans have left numerous comments protesting the potential move.  One citizen wrote:

Adopting a law (similar to SOPA or PIPA) will not just be detrimental to ...

The Internet at its Best

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Today, we watch in awe as the Internet rallies to fight dangerous blacklist legislation, the PROTECT-IP Act in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House. The originality, creativity, and magnitude of action we’re seeing represents exactly what these bills would harm most: the value of a vibrant and open Internet that fosters these activities.

As the day goes on, we will continue to update you on Twitter (@EFF) and in this space. In the meantime, here are some of today’s #SOPAblackout highlights. Thank these organizations for their participation and go here to make your voice heard!








The Raw Story



Internet Archive



Center for Democracy and Technology


Even the Motion Picture Association of America, a major supporter of the bills, was forced to acknowledge the impact of today's
protest, criticizing websites for going dark for a day when "people rely on them for information."  If a day without these websites is "irresponsible," as the MPAA says, how much more irresponsible is giving the Justice Department, or the MPAA itself, the power to shut them down, or cut off their funding, without notice?

The MPAA's statement ended with a cry for help to ...

Dissident Charged Over ‘Subversive’ Poem

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
Authorities look to bring a founding member of a banned Chinese opposition party to trial.

January 18: Internet-Wide Protests Against the Blacklist Legislation

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Join EFF and websites across the world in protesting the dangerous censorship legislation currently pending in Congress. 

On January 18th, EFF will join websites across the world in standing up against the proposed blacklist bills (SOPA in the House and the PROTECT IP Act in the Senate).  EFF is calling on websites to be part of the protest by blacking out their logos, posting statements opposing the bills, and linking to our action center.  Websites are also encouraged to follow the powerful examples of Reddit, Wikipedia and others by “blacking out” their entire site for a day. If you do choose to take down your website in protest, please be sure to post a message about why you oppose the blacklist bills and consider linking to the EFF action center so site visitors can take the next step and contact Congress.

On the 18th, EFF will censor our banner logo and black out the background of We’ve also created a new activism platform at Sites are encouraged to direct traffic here so users can contact Congress to make their voices heard in opposition to this misguided censorship legislation.

The blacklist bills are dangerous: if made into ...

Inter-Parliamentary Union Condemns Government Investigation into Member of Iceland’s Parliament

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

For more than a year, Icelandic Member of Parliament and EFF client Birgitta Jonsdottir—along with security researchers Jacob Appelbaum and Rop Gonggrijp—has fought the efforts of the Department of Justice to force Twitter to give up information about their online activities. In December of 2010, the government obtained a court order requiring, among other things, Twitter to hand over their IP addresses at login (which can be used to trace their locations) along with a long list of other information. EFF, with the ACLU and a host of private attorneys, fought back, but the U.S. courts rebuffed our efforts

The courts’ analysis is troubling on many grounds. One such ground is the fact that the courts determined Ms. Jonsdottir’s information could be seized despite the fact that Ms. Jonsdottir, whose actions on behalf of Wikileaks all seem to have occurred in Iceland, appears to have complete immunity against this investigation under Icelandic law as a member of the Icelandic Parliament. 

While Ms. Jonsdottir’s specific situation is unique, many non-U.S. users of Twitter are rightfully unnerved. At least according to the magistrate and judge in Virginia, all of a users' communications records can be subject to review by the ...

Attempt to Ban Mohammad Cartoon Sparks Global Debate

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

When the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society of University College London used an image of Jesus and Mohammad sharing a pint on a Facebook event page, the organization probably didn’t expect to start a global debate over free speech. However, when the student union at University College London protested the use of the image, the atheist society refused, gaining support from secularists such as Richard Dawkins.

An online petition demanding free expression in support of the atheist society was signed by thousands of people, and the student union relented from their demand that the cartoon be removed. The atheist society declared a victory for free speech. From The Guardian:

In a statement on its Facebook page, the [atheist] society’s president, Robbie Yellon said: “University College London Union has recognised that mistakes were made and that the initial correspondence with our society was flawed. The union is to review its stance on such matters and has said that this will not happen again. They can no longer call on us to withdraw the image. We welcome these developments, which set an important precedent for other universities. We also feel it appropriate to recognise the swift response of the union, which ...

Supreme Court Will Not Review Online Student Speech Cases

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

This morning, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to review three cases involving the off-campus, online speech rights of students at public K-12 schools: Blue Mountain School District v. J.S., Layshock v. Hermitage School District, and Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools. Stephen Wermiel of SCOTUSBlog provided a helpful summary of what review might have meant earlier this month.

As FIRE staffers have previously discussed here on The Torch, J.S. and Layshock represented significant victories for the First Amendment. In both cases, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that school officials cannot discipline pupils for vulgar, lewd, or offensive speech posted on the Internet while the speaker is off school grounds. In Kowalski, by contrast, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dealt a significant blow to student rights by upholding the school's disciplinary sanctions for off-campus, online speech. 

While public grade school and high school students do not enjoy the full protection of the First Amendment in the way that their public college counterparts do, these cases are nevertheless important for First Amendment rights in higher education because of the unfortunate tendency of many courts ...

Check out FTRF’s 2011 Krug Fund video and photos

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

The six recipients of 2011 Banned Books Week grants from the Freedom to Read Foundation’s Judith F. Krug Memorial Fund sent in clips from their many excellent activities – and we’ve compiled them in a new video just out today.

The video features a montage of activities from the “Living Banned Books” Read-Out by the North Dakota Library Association, the Free Speech Wall from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, “Censorship=Slavery” at Bennett College, and events with the Springfield-Greene County (Mo.), Skokie (Ill.), and Bay County (Fla.) Public Libraries.

In addition, dozens of photos from all six recipients are posted on Flickr.

Great job to all the recipients, and many thanks to the supporters of the Judith Krug Fund for making this possible. Applications for 2012 grants will open this spring. If you would like to make a donation to the Judith Krug Fund, visit

January Student Spotlight: Moriah Costa (Arizona State University ’14)

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

There are over 5,000 members of FIRE's Campus Freedom Network, our coalition of students, faculty members, and alumni committed to promoting free speech and individual rights on campus. Our members write op-eds for local and national publications, invite FIRE speakers to their schools, attend FIRE's CFN Conference in the summer, and hold events on their campuses to draw attention to censorship in higher education. To highlight the amazing work our members are doing, we are launching a monthly feature on The Torch and on the CFN's website: the CFN Student Spotlight.

Each month, the CFN Student Spotlight will feature a student member who is working to promote individual rights on his or her campus. For January, I am pleased to announce that our inaugural featured student is Moriah Costa, Arizona State University ‘14. Moriah, with her group ASU Students for Liberty (SFL), held a "free speech wall" event in late November 2011, in collaboration with ASU's chapters of the College Republicans and the Network of Enlightened Women. A free speech wall is a freestanding, temporary wall built by event organizers upon which students can express themselves by drawing or writing whatever they wish. Through this event, ...

Tibetan Culture Remains Strong

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
The culture in the 21st century is one of youth, music, and nationalism.

CBLDF and BOOM! Town Join Forces for Free Comic Book Day

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Free Comic Book Day has become every comic fan’s favorite holiday, and the lineup of books for FCBD 2012, which takes place May 5, is definitely impressive.

Among the offerings for this year’s FCBD: BOOM! Town’s The Censored Howard Cruse, a sneak peek of The Other Sides of Howard Cruse. The Other Sides of Howard Cruse celebrates the groundbreaking work of Stuck Rubber Baby creator Howard Cruse.

The official description of The Censored Howard Cruse from the FCBD website:

In conjunction with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, BOOM! Town presents The Censored Howard Cruse! Get a special sneak-peek at this summer’s upcoming The Other Sides of Howard Cruse graphic novel. He’s known for his gay comix, but that’s not all that’s been on his mind! From his Underground days up through present day, Howard wrote on a slew of topics, including freedom of speech, civil rights, drugs, and interesting uses for toothpaste. Get a taste of his impressive catalog of works, just with a few tastefully-placed black boxes. You’ll have to get the OGN for the uncensored version!

Don’t miss picking up your copy of The Censored Howard Cruse on Free Comic Book Day, May ...

Honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, January 16th, 2012

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent."

—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, we can honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. by letting his words inspire us to redouble our efforts to continue fighting for individual rights and liberties wherever they are threatened. For those of us at FIRE, this means continuing to fight for the rights of free speech and expression on campus. For students out there facing censorship for exercising their right to free speech, this means standing up for your rights even if it makes your path more difficult. 

FIRE cannot do our work without students who refuse to be silenced by administrations that are unwilling to brook any criticism or unrest on their campuses. Consider students like Andre Massena, who faced expulsion from his social work program for publicly protesting what he believed to be social injustice. Or students like Hayden Barnes, an environmental activist who was deemed a "clear and present danger" to the Valdosta State ...

Double Standard at Auburn: Ron Paul Banner Banned from Dorm Room Window While ‘Total Ban’ Goes Unenforced

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Auburn University has discriminated against a student by ordering him to remove a Ron Paul banner from his dormitory window. Although the university has nominally instituted a "total ban" on window decorations, a dozen or more other window decorations have been permitted. Moreover, the university has failed to provide any evidence that such a total ban is necessary.  FIRE has asked Auburn to justify its both lax and discriminatory enforcement of the "total ban" on this form of student expression.

On November 7, Auburn University ordered a Ron Paul for President campaign banner removed from the inside of undergraduate Eric Philips' dorm room window. Philips used his iPad to gather photographic evidence of the double standard and came to FIRE for help. FIRE sent a letter to Auburn President Jay Gogue on December 9, informing him of the unconstitutional double standard apparently in place at Auburn and noting that "such selective enforcement and viewpoint-based discrimination is untenable at Auburn, a public university bound by the First Amendment."

More than two months after ordering Philips to remove his banner, however, Auburn has failed to remedy its double standard. Auburn Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Amy Hecht responded to FIRE on ...

Chris Bliss: This is Your Mind on Comedy

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Chris Bliss, comedian, Bill of Rights activist, and long-time friend of the Thomas Jefferson Center, explores the inherent challenge of communication, and how comedy opens paths to new perspectives in a presentation for TEDx Rainier.

Click here to view the embedded video.



How PIPA and SOPA Violate White House Principles Supporting Free Speech and Innovation

Monday, January 16th, 2012
Take Action Against the Bills

Over the weekend, the Obama administration issued a potentially game-changing statement on the blacklist bills, saying it would oppose PIPA and SOPA as written, and drew an important line in the sand by emphasizing that it “will not support” any bill “that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."

Yet, the fight is still far from over. Even though the New York Times reported that the White House statement "all but kill[s] current versions of the legislation," the Senate is still poised to bring PIPA to the floor next week, and we can expect SOPA proponents in the House to try to revive the legislation—unless they get the message that these initiatives must stop, now.  So let’s take a look at the dangerous provisions in the blacklist bills that would violate the White House’s own principles by damaging free speech, Internet security, and online innovation:

The Anti-Circumvention Provision

In addition to going after websites allegedly directly involved in copyright infringement, a proposal in SOPA will allow the government to target sites that simply provide information that could help users get around the bills’ censorship mechanisms. Such a provision would not only amount to ...

US House postpones hearings on Internet bill SOPA

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) announced Saturday that the US House of Representatives will postpone hearings on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a day after the bill’s main sponsor Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) agreed to remove the highly contested Domain Name System (DNS) blocking provision of the bill. That section would have required Internet Service Providers (ISP) to block any foreign website suspected of copyright infringement. The bill is aimed at expanding the power of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and holders of copyrights to stop the spread of copyright infringement and counterfeit goods through the Internet. If the bill passes, the DOJ and copyright holders will be allowed to obtain court orders requiring advertising agencies and others who use a site’s services to stop payments to the accused site.

Read full article in The Jurist.

‘Ames Tribune’ on Iowa State’s Speech Codes

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Following FIRE's release of our 2012 speech code report earlier this week, an article yesterday in the Ames Tribune drew attention to the unfortunate state of free speech at Iowa's public universities, particularly at Iowa State University. 

As a public university, Iowa State is obligated to protect its students' First Amendment rights, but its policies explicitly reserve the right to punish protected speech. Its policy on discrimination and harassment (.pdf), for example, provides that "this policy may cover those activities which, although not severe, persistent, or pervasive enough to meet the legal definition of harassment, are inappropriate and unjustified in an educational or work environment." And a second harassment policy (.pdf) states that "Engaging in First Amendment protected speech activities may not rise to the level of harassment, depending on the circumstances." (Emphasis added.) 

In these troubling policies, Iowa State is explicitly reserving the right to discipline students for constitutionally protected speech-something it simply may not do. 

For more on Iowa State's policies, including comments from FIRE's Adam Kissel and from Iowa State administrators, read the full article here.

Commentary: Anti-piracy legislation must balance copyright, First Amendment

Friday, January 13th, 2012

There’s an ongoing battle in Congress that will have a significant impact on the future of the Internet, but its roots are in the 18th century.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) being considered in the Senate and the companion Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the House of Representatives are designed to prevent foreign websites from plundering copyrighted content and distributing it in the United States. Its supporters point to this nation’s very strong commitment to copyright protection. It is so strong, in fact, that it has its origins in the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in 1789. The notion that creators are entitled to compensation is a core American principle.

Another core American principle was firmly established two years after the Constitution was adopted. With the ratification of the Bill of Rights, America made a firm commitment via the First Amendment that all could speak freely without government interference.

The heart of the debate over SOPA and PIPA comes down to honoring both principles.

Read Ken Paulson’s commentary in full.

The Month’s Survey of Legal Scholarship on Academic Issues

Friday, January 13th, 2012

The past month has seen a number of articles regarding academic rights published in law reviews and law journals across the country. 

  • Scott Moss puts a human face on some of the landmark free speech student plaintiffs in his article. Moss reviews several cases and notes that for free speech ...

Japanese Censors Discuss Banning Comics for “Making Kids Gay”

Friday, January 13th, 2012

In 2010, the Tokyo government signed the Tokyo Metropolitan Ordinance Regarding the Healthy Development of Youths, a vaguely-worded bill that restricts the sale and rental of manga, anime, games, and other media that can be “considered harmful to a minor’s mental health regarding sexuality.”

The intent of the bill was to keep drawn erotic material involving children out of the hands of minors, but it raises concerns among advocates for free expression. In a 2010 article, The Escapist Magazine discussed the implications of the bill:

Anti-censorship devotees may already be shaking their heads, but a lot of people might be going, “Okay, so what? What’s wrong with that?” If the Tokyo government wants to keep material including sexual depictions of rape, incest or pedophilia out of the hands of children, isn’t that a good thing? A lot of that stuff is pretty messed up, right? The problem, again, lies in the language used – for instance, under this law, the provisions regarding “marriage” would not just include incest, but homosexual relationships as well.

Furthermore, the bill would end up restricting any content which is “considered harmful to a minor’s mental health regarding sexuality,” which is an awfully vague condition. ...

Auburn Student Blasts University’s Window Policy

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Auburn University doctoral student Allen Mendenhall has written an op-ed for today's Montgomery Advertiser criticizing Auburn's decision to censor a Ron Paul banner in the dormitory window of student Eric Philips. 

Allen, a FIRE Campus Freedom Network member, explains that Philips' case is of particular concern to him because of his extensive family connections to Auburn and his love of the school—he describes himself as "bleeding orange and blue." Allen expresses his frustration at Auburn's seemingly flippant attitude towards the First Amendment and student rights, writing:

President Gogue and the Auburn administration ought to revise these strict policies. The prohibition of all window displays is unreasonable and, when it is selectively enforced, potentially unconstitutional. The selective enforcement of Auburn's policy may constitute discrimination against the viewpoints of those who agree with Congressman Paul. If that's the case, Auburn is flirting with a lawsuit.

It is one thing to regulate student behavior on campus. It is quite another to run afoul of the guarantees of the First Amendment.

We're not surprised to see that Auburn's double standard and overt censorship has drawn the ire of not only a wide network of free speech activists, but of those for whom free speech ...

Writer Vows to Continue Struggle

Thursday, January 12th, 2012
Exiled Chinese activist says he was tortured and deprived of the freedom to write and practice his religion.

EFF Demands Withdrawal of Bogus Time Zone Database Lawsuit

Thursday, January 12th, 2012
Frivolous Case Threatens Essential Tool for Engineers Around the World

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has demanded the withdrawal of a bogus copyright infringement lawsuit against the operators of a database of time zone information relied on by software engineers across the globe.

Last September, an astrology software company called Astrolabe filed the suit against Arthur David Olson and Paul Eggert, the researchers who coordinated the database's development for decades. Astrolabe claimed that its copyrights were infringed, because the database relies in part on information in an atlas in which Astrolabe claims to own copyright. Notified of the threat, Olsen took the database offline, leaving users and developers without a critical tool to determine local time for time-stamping emails and other files.

EFF signed on to defend both researchers against this absurd lawsuit. It's a fundamental principle of copyright law that facts are not copyrightable, and Astrolabe should have known that was all the researchers took from the atlas. Today, EFF has asked for Astrolabe to officially withdraw the lawsuit or face a motion for sanctions.

"The law requires litigants to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the facts and the law before filing a lawsuit like this," ...

Oregon Defamation Decision Could Chill Free Speech

Thursday, January 12th, 2012
EFF Urges Court to Grant New Trial for Blogger

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged an Oregon district court in a friend-of-the-court brief filed Wednesday to overturn a multi-million dollar defamation verdict against a blogger that could chill free speech.

In December, a jury found Montana blogger Crystal Cox liable for defaming Oregon lawyer David Padrick in a highly critical blog post and awarded him $2.5 million in damages. In the brief filed Tuesday, EFF supported several arguments raised by Cox in her motion for a new trial, arguing that the court applied the wrong First Amendment defamation standard and that the jury's award was excessive and unsupported by the evidence. Under the First Amendment, EFF argued, all speakers are entitled to the same defamation standard, regardless of their media status. Moreover, as most of the plaintiff's "reputational harm" came as the result of protected speech, the jury's $2.5 million verdict was unsupportable.

"The Supreme Court has repeatedly made clear that the mainstream press does not enjoy any special First Amendment privilege beyond that enjoyed by other speakers," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "Whether or not Ms. Cox is a journalist, the First Amendment requires ...

The Internet Goes to Washington on January 18

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Security Experts and Tech Investors Scheduled to Testify; Worldwide Internet Protest Gathering

There’s some good news in the efforts to stop the Internet blacklist bills (SOPA/PIPA): Representative Darrell Issa, an outspoken SOPA critic and the author of alternative legislation called the OPEN Act, has announced that the Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on January 18 to hear from actual technical experts, technology job creators, Internet investors and legal scholars.

EFF’s activists will be providing live coverage of the event through our EFFLive Twitter account. A number of online activists are strategizing plans for a “SOPABlackout” — “censoring” websites and logos to draw attention to the hearing and showcase the widespread opposition to the censorship bills. We’re glad to see lots of sites participating and we’re urging folks to use social networks on January 18 to help spread the word.

The Oversight Committee hearing will address the topic of Domain Name Service (DNS) and search engine blocks generally, and explore ways for the government to avoid legislation that would hamper economic growth. Of course, as active and controversial legislation, SOPA and its evil twin in the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) are certain to ...

Just the Facts: Lawsuit Against TimeZone Database Deserves Sanctions

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

If there were ever a lawsuit that invited sanctions against the people who filed it, this one is it: a case against two database developers by a company that claims a copyright in the time of day.

Quick background: last fall, Astrolabe, an astrology software company, sued Arthur David Olson and Paul Eggert, researchers who have coordinated the development of a database of time zone information for decades.  The database is an essential tool used by computers around the world to determine local time so, for example, files and email messages can organized and time-stamped accurately.  Astrolabe claimed that Olson and Eggert had infringed its copyright because the database relies, in part on information in an atlas to which Astrolabe owns the rights (the ACS International Atlas).  

We’ve seen a lot of bogus lawsuits over the years, but this one is a doozy.  Facts are not copyrightable, which means the developers were free to use the Atlas as a source. What is more, it appears that Astrolabe knew that the database contained only facts from the Atlas – its Complaint states repeatedly that the database developers copied “information” – i.e., facts. Indeed, the case would ...

CBLDF Now Hiring: Office Manager

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

With more than 25 years of defending free speech for the comics community, CBLDF has firmly established itself as the premiere non-profit organization in the field. Now you can join the fight against censorship by becoming part of the CBLDF team! CBLDF is currently looking for an Office Manager:

(Full-Time, Salaried)

Works with the Deputy Director in the further development of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, with an emphasis on managing the day-to-day financial and practical operations of the organization.

The Operations Manager’s responsibilities include:
• Bookkeeping and day-to-day financial management of the organization, including but not limited to: entry of all income; bank deposits; bill entry and payment; supervision of document retention; and preparation of materials for treasurer and accountants.
• Responsible for processing all invoices, payables, receivables, expenses, and general reporting.
• Management of all workplace compliance, and preparation and responsibility for insurance, utilities, and supply vendors, with the oversight of the Deputy Director.
• Management of shipping and processing premiums and donor acknowledgments. This includes oversight of physical inventories of fundraising premiums.
• Management of bulk mailings, mailing lists, and membership data.
• Recruitment, training, and supervision of volunteers and interns for office and ...

VA Supreme Court Hears Dispute Between Cuccinelli and UVa on Academic Freedom Questions

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

A top deputy to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli asked the state’s highest court this morning to reverse the decision of an Albemarle County judge who blocked Cuccinelli’s quest for documents related to the work of a former University of Virginia climate scientist.

The hearing before the Supreme Court of Virginia was the latest round in an extraordinary legal battle between Cuccinelli and the university over an inquiry targeting former UVa professor Michael Mann, a prominent climate researcher who now works at Penn State University.

Cuccinelli’s office has said it is investigating “possible violations” of the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act by Mann in obtaining five research grants while at UVa, where Mann worked from 1999 to 2005. Cuccinelli in 2010 issued  a “civil investigative demand” – similar to a subpoena –  seeking emails and other documents related to Mann’s work.

Albemarle Circuit Judge Paul Peatross ruled in 2010 that Cuccinelli failed to show why he suspects Mann may have violated the fraud statute. University lawyers have argued that Cuccinelli’s pursuit amounts to an assault on academic freedom. Other academics have accused the Republican attorney general of going to excessive lengths to challenge the science behind global warming.

Cuccinelli issued a more ...

University of Florida Revises 2011 Speech Code of the Year; Many Problems Remain

Thursday, January 12th, 2012
Just one day after FIRE announced that the University of Florida (UF) maintained the only remaining Speech Code of the Year for 2011, UF deleted the offending language from its policy.

UF earned co-Speech Code of the Year "honors" for its Student Rights and Responsibilities policy, which warned students that  "Organizations or individuals that adversely upset the delicate balance of communal living will be subject to disciplinary action." Precisely what would be deemed to upset this undefined "delicate balance"-and, therefore, what students would be punished for saying or doing-was left completely to the discretion of administrators. This impermissible vagueness meant that students were left without any way of knowing beforehand what speech would and would not be prohibited. In naming this speech code one of the year's worst in late December, Samantha Harris, FIRE's Director of Speech Code Research, wrote:

If there has ever been a textbook example of unconstitutional vagueness, this is it-there is absolutely no way for students to know what this policy actually prohibits, so they can only guess at what speech or expression might lead to discipline. What's more, the policy is painfully paternalistic. Discipline for anyone who upsets the "delicate balance of communal ...

Iran Escalates Campaign Against Online Expression

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

The Iranian regime is doing everything they can to scare their citizens into silence. Ranked among the worst in the world in terms of online censorship, Iran has taken harsher, increasingly sophisticated steps to stifle free expression online and condemn the act of information sharing in light of increasing political and economic tensions. While a recent initiative to create a national “halal” Internet would essentially block Iranians from the outside world, last week the country’s Ministry of Information Communication Technology (MICT) also issued regulations that force Internet cafés to install security cameras, document users’ browsing history and usage data, as well as collect personal information for each session of use.  Worse still, bloggers continue to be arrested, detained, and now, even sentenced to death.

This week, Reporters Without Borders reported that two bloggers sentenced to death in January 2011 over charges of promoting anti-state, anti-Islamic sentiments have just had their sentences confirmed.  Both men have been detained since 2008 and have reported torture.

Vahid Asghari, a 24-year-old student in India, was arrested on May 11, 2008 at Tehran Airport and accused of hosting websites with “pornographic” content critical of the government. Amnesty International reports that Asghari wrote ...

Seeing Social Media More as Portal Than as Pitfall

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

More than a hundred years ago, when the telephone was introduced, there was some hand-wringing over the social dangers that this new technology posed: increased sexual aggression and damaged human relationships. “It was going to bring down our society,” said Dr. Megan Moreno, a specialist in adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Men would be calling women and making lascivious comments, and women would be so vulnerable, and we’d never have civilized conversations again.”

In other words, the telephone provoked many of the same worries that more recently have been expressed about online social media. “When a new technology comes out that is something so important, there is this initial alarmist reaction,” Dr. Moreno said.

Read full New York Times article.

East Carolina University Digs Deeper Hole with Second Public Statement in 2 Days

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Yesterday I deconstructed East Carolina University's pitiful public statement invoking the "just trust us" defense after it fired the adviser to The East Carolinian because the independent student newspaper (like it or not) published uncensored photos of a streaker at an ECU football game.

Today, I repeat: Whoever does damage control over at East Carolina University has been doing a pretty poor job. This is because ECU put out another public statement yesterday, basically claiming that if it only could release confidential information about fired adviser Paul Isom, everyone would know that ECU has been right all along.

What's so confidential about the decision to (as ECU has labeled it) merely "change leadership"? ECU needs to get its fake story straight: is this about a secret new direction for advising student media (secret because apparently there is zero documentation and this story came as a surprise to everyone), or is it about a secret personnel issue? The truth is that every single sign outside of ECU's institutional spin tells us that this case is really about punishing a student newspaper and its adviser for content protected by the First Amendment.

Besides, as various local outlets including The News & Observer ...