Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

NLD Launches Election Blitz

Thursday, January 12th, 2012
The Burmese opposition party’s chances of winning are good, but its influence over parliament may be minimal.

East Carolina University’s Pitiful Statement About Firing Advisor

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Whoever does damage control over at East Carolina University has been doing a pretty poor job. Not only has the university embarrassed itself nationally and locally (Channel 3, Channel 9, Channel 17 ...), but now ECU has put out a statement basically saying, "trust us," as though this will make all those pesky journalists and groups like FIRE, the Student Press Law Center, the National Press Photographers Association, and College Media Advisers go away. 

ECU has given the public not a single reason to trust it, having warned the student newspaper, The East Carolinian, that there would be "consequences" for its decision to publish uncensored photos of a streaker at an ECU football game. Those consequences have evidently included firing the newspaper's adviser, Paul Isom, who has stated publicly that right after he refused to censor the photos, ECU's administration markedly changed toward him, while his personnel file shows "nothing negative in it."

Oh, and then there's that lawsuit in which ECU was taken to the woodshed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit after ECU punished student editors for publishing a letter to the editor that used an expletive when criticizing ...

Univ. of Denver Fails to Scare Prof Away from Teaching Drug War Course

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Cory Lamz, Editor-in-Chief of the University of Denver (DU) student newspaper The Clarion, writes this week, as FIRE reported recently, that international studies professor Arthur Gilbert will again teach his course on "The Domestic and International Consequences of the Drug War."

This is no small thing, given that when Gilbert—whose service to DU spans roughly 50 years—taught the graduate-level course last year, two students submitted anonymous complaints of sexual harassment over the allegedly sexualized nature of the course topics and teaching, despite the ample warning given on the course's syllabus. Gilbert was never allowed to see the complaints for himself. His crime? Discussing masturbation in the context of historical "purity crusades." One would think adult graduate students could handle such a discussion.

Those familiar with the case know what happened after that. Gilbert was suspended for more than 100 days from the DU campus without a hearing. DU ultimately declared Gilbert to have created a hostile sexual environment in his classroom, ignoring multiple warnings that it must properly weigh Gilbert's academic freedom in the case. FIRE and both the DU chapter and the national office of the American Association of University Professors have protested his treatment. 

For ...

Quake Parents Protest in Sichuan

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012
Chinese officials deny compensation to families who lost children in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Study Questions Supreme Court’s Protection of the First Amendment

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

With the much ballyhooed wins for free speech in cases like Brown v. EMA and more, many commentators commended a John Roberts-led Supreme Court that upheld our right to free speech. A recent study questions whether the current Supreme Court is as supportive of free speech as we think it is.

The New York Times analyzed the findings of the study, including opinions from various sources about the Supreme Court’s record:

The studies acknowledge that the Roberts court has ruled for free speech rights in a handful of cases that have captured the public imagination, including ones protecting funeral protesters, the makers of violent video games and the distributors of materials showing the torture of animals.

“These free speech slam-dunks, with their colorful facts, were among the Roberts court’s cases that have attracted the most press attention, but they are hardly indicative of a conservative majority with an expansive view of First Amendment freedoms,” Monica Youn, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, wrote in a report titled “The Roberts Court’s Free Speech Double Standard.”

Floyd Abrams, the prominent First Amendment lawyer, said he was unimpressed by the new ...

This Week in Censorship: Grave Threats to Netizens the World Over

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Chinese netizen slapped with ten year sentence

China's repression of online dissent is no secret. The country leads the way in both sophistication and extent of its online censorship, and tops the list of countries that jail bloggers by a landslide.  In 2012, it would seem things are only getting worse.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), "online critic" Chen Xi, initially detained for activities unrelated to his writing, was sentenced to ten years in prison for "inciting subversion against state power" on December 26, with the court citing more than thirty articles published by Chen online. CPJ's Asia program coordinator Bob Dietz condemned the sentence, stating that it "indicates that Chinese authorities are tightening their control of dissent."

EFF condemns China's latest attempts at repressing online dissidents and will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Bahraini human rights activist attacked

As Bahrain's uprising approaches its one-year anniversary, the government's crackdowns on activists--many of whom are well-known for their online activity--continues. In mid-December, Zainab Al-Khawaja (who tweets prolifically as @angryarabiya) was brutally arrested while taking part in a protest. Last Friday Nabeel Rajab, director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was injured ...

Student Press Law Center on FIRE’s Speech Code Report: Virginia is #1

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Adam Goldstein of the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) blogged yesterday about FIRE's 2012 speech code report. SPLC's offices are in Virginia, so Adam was particularly proud of Virginia's designation as the best state for free speech in higher education:

The SPLC's offices are in Virginia, and while it's possible that's a coincidence, I'd like to think it's also possible that colleges are on their best behavior when I'm around. I need to make a "scare-dean" out of my old jeans and shirts stuffed with straw for when I visit other parts of the country. Then when someone asks a dean of students of a Virginia school to censor, he or she will peek out from the blinds and see my scare-dean in the parking lot and say, "I'm committed to free speech. For now." Of course, it's also possible it has something to do with the high quality of Virginia schools and a better understanding of the importance of dissent to our system of government.

For more of Adam's fun and insightful commentary on campus speech codes, read the full blog entry here.

National Press Photographers Association Criticizes ECU Firing of Newspaper Adviser

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

The National Press Photographers Association has joined FIRE, the Student Press Law Center, and the numerous others who have criticized East Carolina University (ECU) for its firing of newspaper adviser Paul Isom. As has now been widely reported, Isom was fired by ECU following the publication of unedited photos of a streaker at an ECU football game published by The East Carolinian, for which Isom served as adviser. FIRE quickly responded to this blatant assault on the newspaper’s rights with a letter to ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard last Friday. 

NPPA President Sean D. Elliot writes in the NPPA’s letter:

It is our understanding that the East Carolinian, while funded by student activity fees at the university, enjoys editorial independence. Rather than providing a "teachable moment” for students, actions such as this do just the opposite by chilling free speech.

As an institution of higher learning we would expect that the ECU administration would know better.

This sentiment is shared by FIRE and a rapidly growing contingent of free speech advocates. ECU Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Virginia Hardy, meanwhile, has issued a statement defending its firing of Isom, asking “all advocacy groups and the public to trust ...

Analyses of the Yesterday’s Supreme Court Oral Argument on Regulating ‘Indecent’ Broadcasting

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Analysis by Tony Mauro: Comments from four justices seem to bode well for the government, but five votes are needed to overturn 2nd Circuit’s ruling.

Analysis by David L. Hudson Jr. Incidents of alleged indecency in FCC v. Fox all occurred on TV; case cited in support of broadcast-indecency regulation involved radio.

Analysis by Dahlia Lithwick: Ifs, Ands, and Butts–The Supreme Court gets the full-monty treatment.

Analysis by the Free Expression Policy Project: Yesterday’s long-awaited Supreme Court argument on the constitutionality of the Federal Communications Commission’s rule against “indecency” on the airwaves was rocky and inconclusive.


Amazing Arizona Comic Con Raises $1,500 for CBLDF

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

The convention year began last weekend at Amazing Arizona Comic Con in Mesa, Az. Robert Kirkman, Rob Liefeld, and Greg Capullo led off the show’s guest list, signing autographs throughout the weekend. CBLDF was there offering a wide variety of items for donations including grab bags and exclusive prints, all of which raised $1,500 for the organization. CBLDF thanks Jimmy Jay of the Amazing Arizona organization and Jeff Kuperschmidt who volunteered to run the CBLDF’s booth.

Are Drones Watching You?

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Today, EFF filed suit against the Federal Aviation Administration seeking information on drone flights in the United States. The FAA is the sole entity within the federal government capable of authorizing domestic drone flights, and for too long now, it has failed to release specific and detailed information on who is authorized to fly drones within US borders.

Up until a few years ago, most Americans didn’t know much about drones or unmanned aircraft. However, the U.S. military has been using drones in its various wars and conflicts around the world for more than 15 years, using the Predator drone for the first time in Bosnia in 1995, and the Global Hawk drone in Afghanistan in 2001. In the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the US military has used several different types of drones to conduct surveillance for every major mission in the war. In Libya, President Obama authorized the use of armed Predator drones, even though we were not technically at war with the country. And most recently in Yemen, the CIA used drones carrying Hellfire missiles to kill an American citizen, the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. In all, almost one in every three U.S. warplanes is a drone, ...

Who Is Flying Unmanned Aircraft in the U.S.?

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012
Government Withholds Information on Drone Flight Authorizations

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit today against the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), demanding data on certifications and authorizations the agency has issued for the operation of unmanned aircraft, also known as drones.

Drones are designed to carry surveillance equipment – including video cameras, infrared cameras and heat sensors, and radar – that can allow for sophisticated and almost constant surveillance. They can also carry weapons. Traditionally, drones have been used almost exclusively by military and security organizations. However, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection uses drones inside the United States to patrol the U.S. borders, and state and local law enforcement are increasingly using unmanned aircraft for investigations into things like cattle rustling, drug dealing, and the search for missing persons.

Any drone flying over 400 feet needs a certification or authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration, part of the DOT. But there is currently no information available to the public about who specifically has obtained these authorizations or for what purposes. EFF filed a Freedom of Information Act request in April of 2011 for records of unmanned aircraft activities, but the DOT so far has failed ...

Speech Code Report 2012: Slowly but Surely, Green Lights Grow and Red Lights Recede

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

FIRE's sixth annual report on campus speech codes, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2012: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation's Campuses (web version / PDF version), was released today. From our perspective, there's a lot to like in this year's report-but there are worrying trends evident, too.

Let's take the good news first. While the vast majority of the 392 colleges and universities analyzed still maintain policies that seriously infringe upon the free speech rights of students, this number has dropped for the fourth consecutive year. We're now at 65% of schools surveyed receiving a red light for maintaining policies that clearly and substantial restrict free speech. That's a 10 point decline from our 2008 report. It's slow progress, but we'll take it.

The other positive sign in this year's report is the continuing increase in green light schools-that is, schools that do not maintain any policies that restrict student speech. We're happy to report that the number of schools earning a green light has nearly doubled in the past four years, moving from just eight schools to 14. We're very confident we'll be adding some more soon, too, so look for this number to keep rising.


Firing of ECU Media Adviser Sparks Widespread Response

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

East Carolina University’s decision to fire its Director of Student Media last week has sparked a widespread response. 

For those new to this case, Isom’s termination comes in the wake of a decision by the editorial board of student newspaper The East Carolinian to run uncensored photos of a streaker at an ECU game on the front page of their issue on November 8, 2011. As Jaclyn wrote on January 6, ECU’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Virginia Hardy called the decision to run the photos “in very poor taste,” and noted that ECU officials did not support the decision to print them. 

FIRE wrote ECU last Friday, and more responses are flooding in. Yesterday, the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) sent a letter to ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard and Board of Trustees Chairman Robert V. Lucas. In the letter, SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte urged the Board to conduct an independent investigation into the reasons for Isom’s firing. All signs are that Isom was terminated because of the editorial decision by the independent student editorial board of The East Carolinian, and he must be reinstated. 

SPLC’s letter also notes that in Isom’s capacity as a student media adviser, ...

Legion of Superheroes: Great Darkness Saga, Deluxe Edition, signed by Paul Levitz!

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

The godlike Darkseid emerges in the 30th century with an ingenious plot to finally conquer the universe in this deluxe hardcover of Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen’s timeless Legion of Super-Heroes epic! Not only is The Great Darkness Saga collected here for the first time in hardcover, this edition also includes several Legion of Super-Heroes issues written by Levitz that have never before been collected in any format! This is the perfect edition of the classic Levitz storyline that was decades ahead of its time and still stands as one of DC’s most enthralling superhero tales! Collects LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #284-296 and ANNUAL #1.

Get your signed copy today!

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE Remains In School Library

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

In December, CBLDF and the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom wrote a letter to the superintendent of the Dixfield, Maine, school system in order to prevent the removal of the anthology Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age from library shelves. On Monday, the school board voted to leave the book on library shelves with the caveat the students must have parental permission to check out the book.

Stuck in the Middle was edited by Ariel Schrag and includes contributions from acclaimed graphic novelists Daniel Clowes, Dash Shaw, Gabrielle Bell, Lauren Weinstein, and more. The book received praise from Booklist, New York Times, and Publishers Weekly, and it was selected for New York Public Library’s “Books for the Teen Age” list in 2008.

“While we’re pleased to see the book retained in the library’s collection, we’re very disappointed that it is retained with restrictions,” CBLDF’s Executive Director Charles Brownstein said.

The school received a complaint objecting to language, sexual content, and drug references in the book. In their letter, CBLDF and ALA defended the book:

Like any book in the school library, Stuck in the Middle may not be right for every student at Buckfield Junior-Senior ...

Biometrics in Argentina: Mass Surveillance as a State Policy

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

A joint campaign with Fundacion Via Libre. The Spanish version of this article is available here.

Two years ago, the UK dismantled their national ID scheme and shredded their National Identity Registry in response to great public outcry over the privacy-invasive program. Unfortunately privacy protections have been less rosy elsewhere. In Argentina, the national ID fight was lost some time ago. A law enacted during the military dictatorship forced all individuals to obtain a government-mandated ID. Now, they are in the process of enhancing its mandatory National Registry of Persons (RENAPER) with biometric data such as fingerprints and digitized faces. The government plans to repurpose this database in order to facilitate “easy access” to law enforcement by merging this data into a new, security-focused integrated system. This raises the specter of mass surveillance, as Argentinean law enforcement will have access to mass repositories of citizen information and be able to leverage existing facial recognition and fingerprint matching technologies in order to identify any citizen anywhere.

In the waning days of 2011, Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner issued an executive decree ordering the creation of the Federal System of Biometric Identification (SIBIOS), a ...

UCLA Urged to Prioritize Academic Freedom in Search for Public Health Dean

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Public Health (SPH), a search is underway for a new dean to lead the school. Of the many important qualities UCLA will be considering as it assesses potential candidates, it is respect for academic freedom that will ensure the best environment for innovative research the public can trust. FIRE made this point last week in a letter to search committee chair Judy Olian (who is also dean of the UCLA Anderson School of Management). 

It is a little sad that FIRE even needs to remind UCLA about respect for academic freedom. But as the case of research professor James Enstrom illustrates, that quality has been sorely lacking at SPH. For those new to the case, provides a good overview (featuring commentary by FIRE’s Adam Kissel) in the video below:


As Adam writes for FIRE in our letter to Olian:

I encourage UCLA and its search committee to place academic freedom at the top of their agenda when considering candidates for the next dean of the SPH. The university has created a damaging and embarrassing "chilling effect" whereby research scientists now understand that if their research points ...

Privacy Roundup: Mandatory Data Retention, Smart Meter Hacks, and Law Enforcement Usage of "Silent SMS"

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

CDT Releases White Paper on Data Retention

The Center for Democracy and Technology has released a memo (PDF) on the economic costs, technical complications, and privacy implications of a data retention mandate. Data retention mandates would force Internet companies such as ISPs to keep records on their historical assignment of IP addresses and make that and other customer data available to law enforcement.  CDT’s memo points out the technical issues surrounding IP address assignment, noting that there are a multitude of situations in which IP addresses are shared (such as in coffee shops, work places, and airports) and that they can’t reliably identify an end user.  We couldn’t agree more. They also rightly note that "a data retention mandate would require the collection and management of vastly larger quantities of data than seemed necessary even a few years ago, at costs that could be prohibitive, especially for smaller and rural service providers, while yielding data less reliable in identifying end-user devices."

This memo couldn’t come at a better time. Congress is currently considering misguided data retention legislation that could compromise user privacy and burden ISPs. Learn more about the privacy issues surrounding data retention mandates by visiting EFF’s issue ...

Whistle-blower Journalist Mulls Appeal

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012
The wife of the jailed Chinese reporter highlights their plight.

Art Activist Refuses Food

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012
A Chinese performance artist expresses solidarity with an activist under house arrest.

‘New York Times’ Covers Theresa Wagner Case

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Adam Liptak, the Supreme Court correspondent for The New York Times, reports on Theresa Wagner’s recent victory at the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which I analyzed in a recent blog entry here on The Torch. An outspoken conservative, Wagner is suing the University of Iowa School of Law, alleging that it violated her First Amendment rights of political belief and association by denying her a position due to her political views.

Liptak does some interesting legwork, his piece concluding with this zinger from Walter Olson at the Cato Institute:

[T]here’s a karma factor here. Law faculties at Iowa and elsewhere have been enthusiastic advocates of wider liability for other employers that get sued [for discrimination]. They’re not really going to ask for an exemption for themselves, are they?

Check it out.

Justices to Hear Arguments on Full First Amendment Freedom for Broadcasting Today

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Is the Supreme Court ready to give broadcasters the same First Amendment freedom that newspapers, cable television and the Internet enjoy?

Oral arguments are set for today in the case of FCC v. Fox Television Stations may offer clues to how the Court may answer that question, as the justices hear debate over the constitutionality of the FCC’s regulation of broadcast indecency.

The arguments are the latest chapter in a long-running dispute over Bush-era regulations clamping down on networks and stations that broadcast fleeting expletives and brief, even partial nudity. Broadcasters initially challenged the rules as an arbitrary and unjustified change in policy, an argument the Supreme Court rejected in 2009. The case returned to a lower court for a determination of the regulations’ constitutionality. In 2010 the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the rules “unconstitutionally vague” and unjustified in part because of new technology.

Now the FCC will argue that the regulations are a constitutional way of furthering the government’s “compelling interest in protecting children.” Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., who as a private practitioner sometimes represented telecommunications companies, will defend the regulations.

For their part, lawyers for Fox and the other major networks will attack the ...

Blacklist Bills Becoming Hot Button Issue in 2012 Election

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

When Congress comes back into session at the end of January, both the House and the Senate are expected to make passing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT-IP (PIPA) a top priority. But represenatives may want to think twice before voting yes; voters are taking notice. Members of both parties are seeing election opponents explaining how SOPA will censor free speech and stifle innovation, and the presidential candidates are being asked pointed questions about whether they support the bill that will almost certainly kill jobs.

Yesterday, Rep. Paul Ryan, a member of the Republican House leadership, turned against SOPA after a backlash from the social news site Reddit.  After leading a successful boycott against Go Daddy, Reddit users decided to turn its sights on politicians supporting SOPA. Ryan had not explicitly endorsed SOPA, but as ABC News noted, “had previously released an unclear statement regarding his stance on SOPA that had the Internet pegging him as a supporter.” Regardless, Ryan’s Democratic challenger Rob Zerban emphatically denounced SOPA, and Reddit raised $15,000 for his congressional campaign against Ryan.

The pressure worked. Ryan was soon forced to release a statement saying he, in fact, was not a ...

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Unveils New Privacy Complaint Form

Monday, January 9th, 2012

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer advocacy and education center based in San Diego, recently launched a new tool to give users a way to speak out about privacy concerns.  Privacy Rights Clearinghouse is inviting individuals who have questions about consumer privacy issues, or who are upset about privacy-invasive practices, to use this online form to submit complaints. They promise to provide individual responses to the questions and complaints they receive within a couple days.

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse also offers users the option of allowing their concerns to be made available to the media or government regulatory agencies like the Federal Trade Commission. Complaints shared with government agencies will typically be entered into the Consumer Sentinel, which is a database shared by dozens of government agencies such as state attorneys general, the Department of Justice, the Department of Treasury, and many others. This information is also used as the basis for annual reports which serve to educate legislators about issues concerning to consumers. 

According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, the online complaint tool was created in response to a research project published in 2009 called KnowPrivacy.  The KnowPrivacy project was designed by UC Berkeley’s School of Information ...

Lawsuit Against Iowa Law School Pits Activism Against Diversity

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Teresa R. Wagner is a conservative Republican who wants to teach law. Her politics may have hurt her career.

An official of the University of Iowa College of Law, where Ms. Wagner applied for a job in 2006, certainly seemed to think so.

“Frankly, one thing that worries me is that some people may be opposed to Teresa serving in any role, in part at least because they so despise her politics (and especially her activism about it),” Associate Dean Jonathan C. Carlson wrote in 2007 to the law school’s dean, Carolyn Jones.

Ms. Wagner, who graduated from the law school in 1993 and had taught at the George Mason University School of Law, was not hired. She sued, alleging discrimination because of her political beliefs. Late last month, a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in St. Louis, ruled that her case should go to trial, saying she had presented enough evidence to suggest that “Dean Jones’s repeated decisions not to hire Wagner were in part motivated by Wagner’s constitutionally protected First Amendment rights of political belief and association.”

Read Adam Liptak’s article in full.

Speech Code of the Month: University of Southern California

Monday, January 9th, 2012

FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for January 2012: the University of Southern California (USC). 

USC’s policy on “Advertising, Promotion, and Literature Distribution” prohibits the posting or distribution of any printed materials that contain “derogatory language or material that is aimed at harming a specific person or an organization’s reputation.” This policy prohibits a large amount of expression protected by the First Amendment, including the kind of core political expression that lies at the heart of the First Amendment’s protections. Although USC is private, its policies “recognize[] the crucial importance of preserving First Amendment rights” and promise that “every member of the academic community shall enjoy the rights of free speech, peaceful assembly and the right of petition.” This policy is a serious breach of these promises (as well as a violation of California law, which requires secular private institutions to uphold students’ First Amendment rights). 

As primary season kicks off, political speech is making headlines. Today, a political action committee (a “super PAC”) supporting Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich released a trailer for a 27-minute movie attacking fellow presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. In the trailer, Romney is referred to as, among other things, a “predatory corporate raider” ...

Answering a Critic of Friday’s Open Letter to OCR

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Brett Sokolow’s response to our call for clarity on campus harassment standards from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is misleading and disappointingly inaccurate.  

Commenting on FIRE President Greg Lukianoff’s op-ed in last Friday’s edition of The Washington Post, Sokolow—a risk management lawyer who has founded consulting organizations including the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM) and the Association of Title IX Administrators (ATIXA)—criticizes FIRE’s request that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) require those colleges accepting federal funding to enforce a clear, consistent, speech-protective definition for campus harassment.  

Citing the continued maintenance of unconstitutional and illiberal harassment policies at colleges nationwide despite decades of court rulings striking down such policies, FIRE asked OCR to act, sending an open letter signed by a broad coalition of ten additional organizations: Accuracy in Academia, the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Feminists for Free Expression, the Heartland Institute, the National Association of Scholars, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University, and the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance.  

I am pleased ...

Library Censorship Awarded Jefferson Muzzle

Monday, January 9th, 2012

As each year begins, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression “awards” individuals and organizations around the country with Jefferson Muzzles “as a means to draw national attention to abridgments of free speech and press and, at the same time, foster an appreciation for those tenets of the First Amendment.”

The 2011 Muzzles have been awarded, and recipients include the Obama Administration, BP, the TSA, and more, but one recipient in particular ties in with CBLDF’s work to protect books and comics in libraries. From the Jefferson Center:

For failing to insist that the library’s official policy be implemented, as well as for appearing to set a precedent that any disgruntled community member can trigger the removal of controversial materials from the entire library system, we bestow upon the public library system of Burlington County, New Jersey, a 2011 Jefferson Muzzle.

Gail Sweet, the director of the Burlington County Library System, received the dubious honor of a Muzzle because she unilaterally pulled a book from shelves after receiving one complaint about its content. The book’s removal was in violation of library policy, which requires review of complaints by a committee of staff members before a book is ...

FIRE Intervenes after East Carolina University Fires Newspaper’s Adviser over Streaker Photo

Monday, January 9th, 2012

On Friday, Jaclyn wrote about East Carolina University's ill-advised decision to fire Paul Isom, adviser to student newspaper The East Carolinian, after the newspaper printed an uncensored photo of a man who streaked at a football game. The East Carolinian and the Student Press Law Center had already run stories on the case, and the Chronicle of Higher Education had a story on it by the afternoon. By Friday night, FIRE had intervened with a letter to East Carolina University (ECU) Chancellor Steve Ballard, explaining that the university had violated the First Amendment when it fired Isom.

FIRE's letter pointed out that The East Carolinian is an independent, student-run newspaper, and that the constitution of ECU's Media Board protects The East Carolinian's freedom of expression and acknowledges its editorial independence:

Editorial policy of an individual medium shall be excluded from board control. The board shall uphold and support the First Amendment guarantees granted to the print media under their oversight.

This is wise not only because it respects the First Amendment rights of student journalists but also because it shields ECU from liability incurred by student expression, as courts have indicated that institutions exerting control over student publications ...

Study Challenges Current Supreme Court’s Image as Defender of Free Speech

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

The Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the conventional wisdom goes, is exceptionally supportive of free speech. Leading scholars and practitioners have called the Roberts court the most pro-First Amendment court in American history.

A recent study challenges that conclusion. It says that a comprehensive look at data from 1953 to 2011 tells a different story, one showing that the court is hearing fewer First Amendment cases and is ruling in favor of free speech at a lower rate than any of the courts led by the three previous chief justices.

Read Adam Liptak’s full article in The New York Times.


Judge Rules Twitter Must Hand Over Information on WikiLeaks Supporters

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

A year ago this week, it was learned that a US grand jury had secretly issued subpoenas for the Twitter account information of several WikiLeaks supporters.

The subpoenas have been held up by challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but now U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady has ruled that Twitter must provide the data, reasoning that the grand jury investigation is being delayed and that he does not believe the challenge is likely to succeed.

“Litigation of these issues has already denied the government lawful access to potential evidence for more than a year,” O’Grady stated. “The public interest therefore weighs strongly against further delay.”

The subjects of the subpoenas are Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of the Icelandic Parliament; Rop Gonggrijp, a Dutch activist; and Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security researcher who once represented WikiLeaks at a conference. They had argued that the subpoena violates their rights under the First Amendment.

“We’re disappointed with the decision,” ACLU attorney Aden Fine told Mashable. “Before…constitutional rights are infringed, individuals need to have an opportunity to go to court to protect their rights.”

Read the full article at

The Truth about the Economics Behind the Blacklist Bills

Friday, January 6th, 2012

In the face of mountains of evidence that the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA) will censor online speech, hurt Internet security and infrastructure, and criminalize tools used by human rights activists in oppressive regimes, supporters of the blacklist bills say one subject trumps all others: jobs.

Yet for unknown reasons, Congress is ignoring that SOPA/PIPA would depress the growing tech sector, all while citing the MPAA's misleading and debunked numbers on how piracy is “decimating” their industry.

The tech sector has been a huge economic driver in a time of general economic stagnation. In 2011, California “created more jobs than any other, adding 233,000 workers to the payrolls in the past year — 6,500 in just the last month,” according to CBS News. “The hot spots: high-tech centers where jobs are up in Silicon Valley, San Diego, San Francisco and Orange County.” Another study shows Facebook apps and mobile apps alone are responsible for almost 200,000 jobs over the last few years.

The tech sectors have been crucial to the recovery of local economies.  For example, San Francisco is seeing job growth reach levels near the dot com peak in the mid 1990s. In fact, ...

IFAction News Roundup, January 1 – 5

Friday, January 6th, 2012


NYTimes Op-Ed:  Internet Access Is Not a Human Right 

No Warrant Needed for GPS Monitoring, Judge Rules

How the Feds Are Tracking Your Kid

Data-Crazy Department of Education Throws Privacy Out the Window
Daniel Solove: Student Privacy in Peril: Massive Data Gathering With Inadequate Privacy and Security

First Amendment Rights

Judge Rules ‘Uncomfortable’ Tweets and Blog Posts Are Protected Speech

Freedom of Expression

Copyright Infringement and Enforcement in the US

Anti-internet piracy law adopted by Spanish government

The Media Equation:  The Danger of an Attack on Piracy Online 

Censorship in the Library

New Hampshire Lawmakers Pass Law Allowing Parental Objections To Curriculum

Libraries walk a tightrope on porn

ACLU sues library for blocking Wiccan websites

Related: Full press release
Legal Complaint

Library in polygamist town vandalized

Science and Security Clash on Bird-Flu Papers

Related: Seeing Terror Risk, U.S. Asks Journals to Cut Flu Study Facts

Valley View School Board bucks effort to remove the book ‘The Kite Runner

Related: ‘Kite Runner’ too Islamic, school board told 
School Board considers ban of ‘The Kite Runner’ UPDATE

~~ Erin Sommerfeld

Joined by Coalition, FIRE Urges Department of Education to Protect Freedom of Speech on Campus

Friday, January 6th, 2012

In an open letter sent today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and ten other organizations urge the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to defend free speech on campus by ending the lingering confusion surrounding the definition of student harassment.  

While the last two decades have provided a consistent string of First Amendment defeats for unconstitutional harassment codes in court, restrictions on student speech continue to be enforced by universities nationwide. In response, the letter’s signatories ask OCR to publicly affirm that harassment means no more and no less than the speech-protective standard for student harassment announced by the Supreme Court in a 1999 decision. 

FIRE is joined in signing today’s letter by Accuracy in Academia, the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Feminists for Free Expression, the Heartland Institute, the National Association of Scholars, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University, and the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance. The open letter’s call for clarity is echoed in an op-ed by FIRE President Greg Lukianoff published today in The Washington Post

“Since ...

EFF Asks Supreme Court to Tackle Important First Sale Questions

Friday, January 6th, 2012

EFF joined Public Knowledge and U.S. PIRG today in urging the Supreme Court to tackle Kirtsaeng v. Wiley, a case with the potential to fundamentally change the way the right of first sale works in the United States.

The first sale doctrine allows you to resell, lend, or give away the products that you own that may be copyrighted or contain copyrighted materials.  It’s what protects used bookstores, libraries, garage sales, and eBay, among many other things.  However, some copyright owners are trying to undercut first sale rights by claiming the law only covers goods made in the United States.  That would mean anything that is made in a foreign country and contains copies of copyrighted material – from the textbooks at issue in the Kirtsaeng case to hair care products with copyrighted labels – could be blocked from resale, lending, or gifting without the permission of the copyright owner.  That would create a nightmare for consumers and businesses, upending the secondary market for products and undermining what it really means to “buy” and “own” tangible goods.

The first sale issue is one that has concerned us for a long time, and as new technologies make it easier ...

U.S. Government Threatens Free Speech With Calls for Twitter Censorship

Friday, January 6th, 2012

[T]he ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas....That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.”
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, dissent in Abrams v. United States, 1919

EFF has witnessed a growing number of calls in recent weeks for Twitter to ban certain accounts of alleged terrorists. In a December 14th article in the New York Times, anonymous U.S. officials claimed they “may have the legal authority to demand that Twitter close” a Twitter account associated with the militant Somali group Al-Shabaab. A week later, the Telegraph reported that Sen. Joe Lieberman contacted Twitter to remove two “propaganda” accounts allegedly run by the Taliban. More recently, an Israeli law firm threatened to sue Twitter if they did not remove accounts run by Hezbollah.

Twitter is right to resist.  If the U.S. were to pressure Twitter to censor tweets by organizations it opposes, even those on the terrorist lists, it would join the ranks of countries like India, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Syria, Uzbekistan, all of which have censored online speech in the name of “national security.”  And it would be even worse if Twitter were to undertake its own censorship regime, which would ...

SPIRIT OF GIVING Helps Raise Over $75,000 For CBLDF!

Friday, January 6th, 2012

Last holiday season, The Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation sponsored The Spirit of Giving, a holiday gift drive encouraging membership and donations to CBLDF with incentives that included signed and personalized graphic novels by some of the industry’s greatest creators. Over 450 donations came in over the course of the Spirit of Giving campaign, including more than 200 memberships. All told, the Spirit of Giving drive contributed to raising more than $75,000 for the CBLDF’s important First Amendment program work as we closed 2011, allowing us to pay off all of our 2011 program obligations and enter 2012 with a clean slate.

CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein says, “Everyone on the CBLDF staff and Board of Directors is extremely grateful to the holiday generosity shown by our community of supporters and the Eisner Family Foundation. We’re currently in the midst of some extremely important casework, and this surge of support insures we can enter 2012 in a positive position to perform that work. We’re thankful to everyone who contributed for their extraordinary support.”

Carl Gropper, of the Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation says, “The CBLDF was important to Will Eisner and its goals are as important today as ...

Following Publication of Streaker Photos, Student Newspaper Adviser Fired

Friday, January 6th, 2012

The East Carolinian and the Student Press Law Center both reported yesterday that Paul Isom, Director of Student Media at Eastern Carolina University (ECU), was fired on Wednesday. Isom's advising portfolio included the campus radio station, television station, yearbook, and several student magazines. But it was a student editorial decision by The East Carolinian, the independent campus newspaper, that apparently landed him in hot water with ECU administrators. 

On November 8, 2011, The East Carolinian published uncensored photos—including a sort-of-full-frontal shot—to accompany an article about a streaker at an ECU football game. The pictures prompted some outcry, and copies of the issue were reportedly stolen. Virginia Hardy, ECU's Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, responded with a statement saying that running the photos was "in very poor taste" and that ECU officials did not support the decision to print them. 

The East Carolinian's editor, Caitlin Hale, defended the paper's decision to run the photos, saying, "we felt that our audience, which is primarily the ECU student body, should have access to unedited and factual photos of the streaking incident." As newsworthy photos of a streaker do not meet the Supreme Court's Miller test for obscenity, they are constitutionally ...

The Good Fighters: Mike Richardson

Friday, January 6th, 2012

In 1986 — the same year CBLDF was established — Mike Richardson founded Dark Horse Comics, which has since grown into one of the largest and most influential comics publishers in the world. From Aliens to Hellboy to Sin City and more, Dark Horse has released some of the most beloved — and occasionally controversial — books in comics.

Inexorably energetic, Richardson isn’t content to only preside over a comics publishing company. He writes, produces films, and owns popular comics retailer Things From Another World. Towering close to seven feet tall, Richardson exudes the same aura held by some of the superheroes found in the books he publishes. But his heroism is all too real: He is one of CBLDF’s most devout supporters.

In celebrating more than 25 years of both the CBLDF and Dark Horse Comics, CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein sat down with Richardson to talk about censorship and his experience as a publisher for this edition of The Good Fighters.

CBLDF: Talk a bit about some of the risks Dark Horse has had to take, specifically with an eye to expression issues. When you were publishing Sin City, which people don’t really bat an ...

FIRE Intervenes at Harvard after Faculty Fires Economics Professor over Political Article Published in India

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Today, FIRE has asked Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) to reverse its action against a controversial economics professor after it canceled all of his courses due to an op-ed he published in India in the wake of last year's Mumbai terrorist bombings. Although Harvard's administration had defended Professor Subramanian Swamy's rights after intervention by FIRE, FAS blatantly and shamefully violated them in its meeting in December. Anyone reading the op-ed will have no trouble detecting why it was controversial, but this action by the Harvard faculty places speech and academic freedom in danger at Harvard. 

On July 16, 2011, Swamy published an opinion piece in the Indian newspaper Daily News & Analysis in response to a series of terrorist bombings in Mumbai on July 13 that killed 26 people and injured 130 more. The column made several suggestions about how to "negate the political goals of Islamic terrorism in India," advocating that India "[e]nact a national law prohibiting conversion from Hinduism to any other religion," "[r]emove the masjid [mosque] in Kashi Vishwanath temple and the 300 masjids at other temple sites," and "declare India a Hindu Rashtra [nation] in which non-Hindus can vote only if they proudly acknowledge ...

A Roundup of 2011′s Faculty First Amendment Rights Case Law

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Last year saw a handful of important cases related to university faculty First Amendment rights in the courts. Particularly, a number of cases dealt with the application of the United States Supreme Court case Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006). Yesterday marked the first day of the annual meeting of the American Association of Law Schools; tellingly, the theme of this year's meeting is academic freedom, and the AALS notes that after Garcetti, the "zone of protected professorial speech is shrinking." 

We have written about this worrying case many times before. To recap, Garcetti deals with when, precisely, the government acting as employer may regulate its employees' speech. Breaking with prior precedent, the Garcetti Court ruled that when public employees engage in expressive activity pursuant to their official duties, that speech is normally not protected by the First Amendment. The Court in Garcetti declined to apply its holding to public university professors; Justice Kennedy's majority opinion states that the Court "need not, and for that reason do[es] not, decide whether the analysis we conduct today would apply in the same manner to a case involving speech related to scholarship or teaching." 

Following Garcetti, FIRE and ...

Remembering Civil Rights Legal Pioneer and Friend of the First Amendment, Robert L. Carter

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

In February 2000, Judge Carter participated in a conference at Howard University sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Center on the lasting impact of the NAACP v. Button


Many will mourn this week’s passing of Robert L. Carter, a former U.S. district judge in New York and a pioneering attorney who fought for the cause of racial equality during his long career. Carter, 94, also made great contributions to First Amendment jurisprudence, arguing numerous cases before the U.S. Supreme Court while an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Carter cared deeply about the First Amendment and saw it as an essential tool for the advancement of equality. Carter noted in his book, A Matter of Law: A Memoir of Struggle in the Cause of Equal Rights, that he wrote his thesis at Columbia Law School (where he earned a master’s in law in 1941) “on the essentiality of the First Amendment for the preservation of a democratic society.”

Read the full article at the First Amendment Center website

Victory for Free Speech: California’s Chico State Scraps Unconstitutional ‘Speech Code of the Year’

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Today's press release announces a welcome victory: After FIRE named California State University-Chico's definition of sexual harassment one of two "Speech Codes of the Year" for 2011, the university has scrapped the language in question.

As of mid-December 2011, Chico State maintained an informational page on sexual harassment stating that faculty members committed sexual harassment if they "implicitly devalue[d] students for their gender or sexual orientation." Examples of such harassment included "reinforcement of sexist stereotypes through subtle, often unintentional means," including the use of "stereotypic generalizations" and the "continual use of generic masculine terms such as to refer to people of both sexes or references to both men and women as necessarily heterosexual."

Citing its shocking vagueness and striking breadth, FIRE named this restriction on protected speech our "Speech Code of the Month" for March 2011. Sam pointed out just how this policy could be cited to shut down academic discussion on campus:

Unintentional reinforcement of sexist stereotypes is sexual harassment? Statements that subjectively "trivialize" people on the basis of gender or sexual orientation are sexual harassment? A look through CSU Chico's course catalog reveals that, as would be expected at a major university, the university offers courses that ...

CBLDF Kicks Off The Convention Year At Amazing Arizona Comic Con!

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

The Amazing Arizona Comic Convention debuted to huge crowds last year, and it looks to be even bigger in 2012, with superstar guests Robert Kirkman, Rob Leifeld, Greg Capullo, Scott Lobdell, and more! This year, CBLDF will be part of the first comic convention of 2012, exhibiting at booth #123!

The Amazing Arizona Comic Con takes place January 6 – 8, at the Mesa Convention Center (263 N. Center Street, Mesa, AZ 85211). Come on out and use get the gifts you really want and support Free Speech from the CBLDF! We’ve got a great array of grab bags, signed comics, signed graphic novels, and more! Get the best collectibles for a great cause from CBLDF at booth #123 during Amazing Arizona Comic Con, this weekend in Mesa, Arizona!

Hans Bader Deconstructs Widener’s ‘Retaliation’ Argument

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012
Over at Minding the Campus, Hans Bader exposes the flimsy legal underpinnings of Widener University's finding this past July that Professor Lawrence Connell was guilty of "retaliation" for defending himself against baseless charges of racial discrimination.

We've covered Connell's ordeal extensively here on The Torch, but in case you've forgotten the shocking details, here's Bader's useful summation of the case:

Connell was convicted of "retaliation" because he and his lawyer denounced meritless racial harassment charges against him over his classroom teaching .... Connell, who is white, was charged with racial harassment and removed from Widener's campus because he discussed hypothetical crimes in his criminal law class, including the imaginary killing of the law school dean, Linda Ammons, who happens to be black. (He was also accused of harassment because he "expressed his philosophical concerns about the fairness and utility of hate crime" laws).

But there was never any evidence that Connell used the dean in these hypotheticals because of her race. (Comments are not "racial harassment" unless they target a victim based on her race, and are severe and pervasive, according to Caver v. City of Trenton, a ruling by the appeals court that has jurisdiction over ...

A 2011 Harvard Retrospective

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

The bucolic red-brick environs, falling leaves, and austere columned library bespeak an institution rife with history and a word Chaim Topol popularized with his portrayal of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof: "tradition." Indeed, Harvard has developed and grown over its 375 years, forging for itself new qualities with every generation, yet maintaining its identity as a unique backdrop to the education of the country's elite. Harvard has been around longer than the government of the United States—140 years longer—making it the oldest continuous institution founded in the country. Harvard not only teaches American history—it has long produced educated men and women who have helped create American history.

While many wonderful traditions still abound at the most famous of American universities, a new one has developed which can erode any university's fundament, and runs counter to the school's stated purpose. Two events this year—one involving freshmen students, the other a longtime faculty member—remind us that despite the pursuit of "Veritas," Harvard remained in 2011 among the vanguard of the politically correct, embracing a cynical suppression of speech and academic discourse in favor of dishonestly built ideas of comfort.

Swearing an Oath to Kindness 

At the outset of the 2011-12 ...

ACLU Files Suit to Stop Missouri Library From Censoring Minority Religious Websites

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Eastern Missouri today filed a lawsuit charging the Salem Public Library and its board of trustees with unconstitutionally blocking access to websites discussing minority religions by improperly classifying them as “occult” or “criminal.”

Salem resident Anaka Hunter contacted the ACLU after she was unable to access websites pertaining to Native American religions or the Wiccan faith for her own research. After protesting to the library director, Glenda Wofford, portions of the sites were unblocked, but much remained censored. Wofford said she would only allow access to blocked sites if she felt patrons had a legitimate reason to view the content and further said that she had an obligation to report people who wanted to view these sites to the authorities.

“It’s unbelievable that I should have to justify why I want to access completely harmless websites on the Internet simply because they discuss a minority viewpoint,” Hunter said. “It’s wrong and demeaning to deny access to this kind of information.”

Hunter’s attempts to complain about the policy to the library board of trustees were brushed off.

Read more in the ACLU’s press release, or read the filed complaint here.

ACLU Asks Missouri Library to Stop Censoring Websites

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

In addition to protecting our right to free speech, the First Amendment also guarantees freedom of religion, including the ability to find information on various faiths. Today, the ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit charging the Salem Public Library with unconstitutional censorship for blocking access to information about minority religions. In particular, information about Native American practices and Wicca were blocked because they were classified as “occult” or “criminal.”

In their press release, the ACLU justifies their action:

“The library has no business blocking these websites as “occult’ or ‘criminal” in the first place and certainly shouldn’t be making arbitrary follow-up decisions based on the personal predilections of library staff,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “Public libraries should be facilitating access to educational information, not blocking it.”

Such censorship by libraries has chilling implications, as the blocking of material could be extended to impact other legitimate educational material, including comics. You can find ACLU’s official press release here.

John Green to highlight Freedom to Read Foundation event in Dallas

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

On January 22, in conjunction with ALA’s Midwinter Meeting, bestselling Young Adult author John Green will be appearing at the Freedom to Read Foundation’s annual Banned Author Event.  Green, author of the challenged book “Looking for Alaska” and the forthcoming “The Fault in Our Stars,” is a major voice in the YA world, and we’re thrilled to have him!  John will be signing books after his presentation (you can bring your own or purchase them onsite, with proceeds benefiting FTRF).

Sunday, January 22, 2012: FTRF presents John Green

Dallas Public Library, O’Hara Room
1515 Young Street, Dallas, Texas
6:00 reception, 7:00–8:30 p.m. presentation & book signing

Refreshments provided!

This event is open to the general public, with a suggested donation of $25 ($10 for students).  Reserve your spot now by making a donation to the Freedom to Read Foundation. Visit our secure online donation page and write “John Green event” in Comments.  Or call (800) 545-2433 x4226 to donate by phone.

We hope to see you there!

John Green

John Green - photo by Ton Koene

Thanks to Penguin Young Readers Group for their support of this event!