Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

EFF Raises Concerns About the New AOL Instant Messenger

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

The new preview version of AOL Instant Messenger raised privacy concerns for us when it was first introduced, first because it started storing more logs of communications and second, because it apparently scanned all private IMs for URLs and pre-fetched any URLs found in them. We met with AOL to discuss how these features work and why the company should take greater care with your data, and we’re happy to say that AOL is promising to make some important changes as a result, especially in response to our second concern.

However, we still recommend that AIM users do not switch to the new version, as it introduces important privacy-unfriendly features. Unfortunately, AOL's moves are in keeping with a general trend toward more pervasive cloud-based services in which your personal chat data is centrally stored in plain text and an easy target for law enforcement and criminals. This shift toward central logging is troubling in many situations, including in chat.  

Chat Logging and the One-Way Toggle: More Change Needed

When you first sign into the new AIM, a flag is permanently set on your account to begin storing all of your conversations on AOL’s servers for up to two months, and ...

Why the Office for Civil Rights’ April ‘Dear Colleague Letter’ Was 2011′s Biggest FIRE Fight

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012
Looking back at the year just ending, it's extraordinarily easy to identify FIRE's biggest fight of 2011: the dramatic new regulations announced by the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in its April 4 "Dear Colleague Letter."

In my five years here at FIRE, I can't remember it ever being this easy to select a topic for my end-of-year review. Simply put, FIRE's legal work has been dominated this year by OCR's letter: analyzing OCR's new requirements of every college and university that accepts federal funding (read: virtually all of them); crafting and publicizing our response and concerns; answering critics of our defense of student rights; tracking the importation of the worst of OCR's new regulations into proposed federal legislation; documenting the impact OCR's letter has already had on individual students and schools nationwide; and more.

So while Greg already provided a round-up of the national media response to OCR's letter earlier this week, it is also useful to provide a summary of our work on this front throughout the year, and then to discuss what 2012 might hold.

Let's begin with an explanation of OCR and its April 4 letter.

OCR is the federal agency ...

MD Federal Judge Rules “Uncomfortable” Tweets/Blog Posts Are Protected Speech

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012
If 18th-century colonists were alive today, U.S. District Judge Roger Titus imagines that they would draw a parallel between public bulletin boards and Twitter and blogs. Titus, of U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, ruled in an opinion (PDF) yesterday that just as the colonists drafted the First Amendment with those public bulletin boards in mind, the same protections should be afforded to Tweets and other posts online. A federal grand jury indicted (PDF) William Cassidy in February of one count of interstate stalking, a federal crime. Titus granted Cassidy’s motion to dismiss (PDF) the case, finding that “while Mr. Cassidy’s speech may have inflicted substantial emotional distress, the Government’s Indictment here is directed squarely at protected speech: anonymous, uncomfortable Internet speech addressing religious matters.” According to Titus’ opinion, the trouble began when Cassidy was introduced in 2007 to the regional leader of a sect of Buddhism based in Poolesville, Md. The leader, known in court papers as A.Z., is an “enthroned tulku,” according to Titus’ opinion, meaning she is a leader by lineage within her community. According to the prosecutor’s affidavit, Cassidy claimed to be a tulku when he first met A.Z., but in February 2008, A.Z. ...

This is just cool!

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

A handy site that allows you to trace the history of when particular words and phrases appeared in Supreme Court cases.  The site generates a graph showing how often the words have been used over time, with links to opinions in which they were used.  Check it out.

Appeals Court Revives EFF’s Challenge to Government’s Massive Spying Program

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012
Justices Find that Spied-On Telephone Customers Have the Right to Sue

San Francisco - The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today blocked the government's attempt to bury the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF's) lawsuit against the government's illegal mass surveillance program, returning Jewel v. NSA to the District Court for the next step.

The court found that Jewel had alleged sufficient specifics about the warrantless wiretapping program to proceed. Justices rejected the government's argument that the allegations about the well-known spying program and the evidence of the Folsom Street facility in San Francisco were too speculative.

"Since the dragnet spying program first came to light, we have been fighting for the chance to have a court determine whether it is legal," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Today, the Ninth Circuit has given us that chance, and we look forward to proving the program is an unconstitutional and illegal violation of the rights of millions of ordinary Americans."

Also today, the court upheld the dismissal of EFF's other case aimed at ending the illegal spying, Hepting v. AT&T, which was the first lawsuit against a telecom over its participation in the dragnet domestic wiretapping. The court found that the so-called ...

Montana Supreme Court Decision Undermines Citizens United

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

The Montana Supreme Court restored the state’s century-old ban on direct spending by corporations on political candidates or committees in a ruling Friday that interest groups say bucks a high-profile U.S. Supreme Court decision granting political speech rights to corporations.

The decision grants a big win to Attorney General Steve Bullock, who personally represented the state in defending its ban that came under fire after the “Citizens United” decision last year from the U.S. Supreme court.

“The Citizens United decision dealt with federal laws and elections – like those contests for president and Congress,” said Bullock, who is now running for governor. “But the vast majority of elections are held at the state or local level, and this is the first case I am aware of that examines state laws and elections.”

The corporation that brought the case and is also fighting accusations that it illegally gathers anonymous donations to fuel political attacks, said the state Supreme Court got it wrong. The group argues that the 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, passed as a citizen’s ballot initiative, unconstitutionally blocks political speech by corporations.

“We feel Montanans do not forfeit their freedoms of speech and association simply because they associate as a ...

2011 in Review: Four Cases That Promoted Transparency in 2011

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

2011 was an important year for court decisions interpreting the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Supreme Court issued two decisions that promoted government transparency and limited the scope of FOIA exemptions, while two district courts addressed how the government administers FOIA. All of those decisions will help shape FOIA to the benefit of the public.

Milner v. Department of Navy

In Milner (pdf), the Supreme Court severely limited federal agencies’ ability to withhold information “related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency,” also known as “Exemption 2” of FOIA.  Prior to the decision, agencies were permitted to use this exemption to withhold information under what is known as the “High 2” theory. Agencies could argue that if released, the information might risk circumvention of the law or regulation.

In the Milner case, the FOIA requester, Glen Milner, tried to obtain information on the Navy’s storage of explosives in and around his home in Puget Sound, Washington. The Navy denied the request, relying on the “High 2” exemption, and claiming that disclosure of the information would threaten the security of the base and the surrounding community. EFF joined with other transparency advocates to ...

2011 in Review: Internet Freedom in the Wake of the Arab Spring

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

As the year draws to a close, EFF is looking back at the major trends influencing digital rights in 2011 and discussing where we are in the fight for a free expression, innovation, fair use, and privacy.

For several years, discussions about global Internet freedom have focused primarily on what are widely considered the world’s two most restrictive countries: China and Iran.  But while China’s ‘Great Firewall’ is indeed the most sophisticated system of censorship and Iran’s persecution of bloggers unprecedented, the Arab world--the 22 Arabic-speaking states and territories stretching from Morocco to Saudi Arabia--is the most Internet-restrictive region on earth.

In 2010, four Arab countries (Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) were named to Reporters Without Borders’ Enemies of the Internet list, while two more (the UAE and Bahrain) were designated as ‘under surveillance.’  Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2011 report (released early in the year) saw two of the region’s countries (Tunisia and Egypt) slide backwards, and The OpenNet Initiative claimed in their most recent regional report that “Internet censorship in the Middle East and North Africa is on the rise, and the scope and depth of filtering are increasing.” Meanwhile, a glance at the ...

New Year’s Resolution: Full Disk Encryption on Every Computer You Own

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

The New Year is upon us, and you might be partaking in the tradition of making a resolution for the coming year. This year, why not make a resolution to protect your data privacy with one of the most powerful tools available? Commit to full disk encryption on each of your computers.

Many of us now have private information on our computers: personal records, business data, e-mails, web history, or information we have about our friends, family, or colleagues.  Encryption is a great way to ensure that your data will remain safe when you travel or if your laptop is lost or stolen. Best of all, it's free. So don't put off taking security steps that can help protect your private data. Join EFF in resolving to encrypt your disks 2012.

Here's some basic info about full disk encryption. You can read this and much more (including information on password security) in our recent whitepaper on protecting privacy at the border.

Full disk encryption uses mathematical techniques to scramble data so it is unintelligible without the right key. This mathematical protection works independently of the policies configured in the operating system software. A different operating system or computer cannot just ...

2011 in Review: Patents Misused to Stifle Innovation

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

As the year draws to a close, EFF is looking back at the major trends influencing digital rights in 2011 and discussing where we are in the fight for a free expression, innovation, fair use, and privacy.

2011 saw what many had written off as impossible: patent reform legislation became law. Despite the urgent need for reform to today’s patent system, the new law – the America Invents Act – managed to do almost nothing to address many of the most pressing problems facing innovators. To be sure, the law included some big changes – the shift from “first-to-invent” to “first-to-file” and alterations to the PTO’s funding and fee-setting authority – but it failed to create robust new procedures for effectively challenging bad patents. It also failed to address one of the biggest problems with the patent system today: predatory patent trolls. (We were at least encouraged to see that the bill’s language did signal that at least some in Congress are generally unhappy with business method patents.)

Speaking of patent trolls, 2011 also brought us a new, especially egregious, type of patent troll. Lodsys LLC, a company who makes and sells nothing, targeted app developers with threats of ...

Happy New Year 2012!

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

2011: FIRE’s Best Year Ever

Saturday, December 31st, 2011
By many measures, 2011 has been FIRE's best year ever, despite serious, ongoing threats to fundamental rights on campus.
  • FIRE has won hundreds of cases since our founding in 1999, securing the most victories ever in a single year. In 2011, FIRE won 31 public victories on 29 campuses, with total enrollments of more than 500,000 students. Our work has helped save the professional careers and academic futures of students and faculty members nationwide.

    Read Peter's post for a rundown of the highlights of the worst and craziest free speech cases of 2011, and read Azhar's post for a rundown of our most significant Individual Rights Education Program victories. We have more "green light" schools (those that maintain no policies that seriously imperil free speech) than ever, now including Arizona State University, which revised its speech codes to protect free speech for its more than 60,000 students.

    And since FIRE's Speech Code of the Month became a regular feature in June 2005, 31 universities have fully revised the policies that earned them that dubious distinction. As Sam's post explains, three of the schools listed in 2011 have already revised their policies. This is significant, as Bridget points out ...

2011 in Review: Hacking Law

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

As the year draws to a close, EFF is looking back at the major trends influencing digital rights on 2011 and discussing where we are in the fight for free expression, innovation, fair use, and privacy.

EFF has long been concerned about the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), a federal law that allows people to be sued civilly and charged criminally with a host of anti-hacking offenses. 2011 has been a landmark year for prosecutions under the statute, with the feds pursuing aggressive, high-profile cases against members of Anonymous and LulzSec, as well as open access advocate Aaron Swartz.

Among other things, the CFAA makes it illegal to "intentionally access[] a computer without authorization or exceed[] authorized access, and thereby obtain[] . . . information from any protected computer." Courts have struggled to figure out exactly what this hopelessly vague provision means. Over the past few years, private companies and the government have argued for a broad interpretation that would make it illegal to access computers in violation of private agreements like employment policies or website terms of use—the long, one-sided documents that users often "agree" to without ever having read. This is a bad idea because ...

“Karma’” Facebook Post Leads to Criminal Charges

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Is it a crime to wish bad karma on someone? A Pinellas County teenager says she was suspended from school and charged with a crime just for posting a karma comment on her Facebook page.

Allie Scott is a junior at Osceola High School. The 16 year old says it all started in the school parking lot last month when she parked her brother’s car in another girl’s spot. She was asked to move it, and when she did at the end of the day, the car had been scratched up with a key.

Without naming who she thought did it, she posted this comment on her Facebook page: “Oh, so you keyed my car. Your karma is going to be a whole lot worse than that.”

She wound up in the office and her mom was called.

“I started crying immediately. I didn’t know what to say. I’ve never been in trouble before,” Allie said.

Her mother drove to the school and also went to the office to meet with administrators.

“I had no idea what she was in trouble for and the severity of it until we got to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office,” Paula Scott recalled.

Allie ...

Academic Freedom and Scientific Integrity in Jeopardy at UCLA: New Document Posted

Friday, December 30th, 2011

FIRE has just posted a letter from the Academic Freedom Committee at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block. In the letter, the members of the committee express "unanimous concern that the decision by the School of Public Health not to re-appoint James Enstrom, Ph.D. in the Professional Research series may represent a violation of academic freedom."

FIRE has been fighting for Professor Enstrom's academic freedom and free speech rights at UCLA since August 2010. I encourage those who are new to FIRE to read about this disappointing case of a professor whose department cut short his career after decades of service to UCLA. In short, Dr. Enstrom and a few of his colleagues have disagreed strongly about research on environmental health issuesfor example, on the extent of the threat to public health posed by certain air pollutantsa topic of Enstrom's research which has been the subject of intense debate in California. His research on environmental health issues falls squarely within his department's research mission, but his department chair declared that "your research is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department."

Non-rehire decisions made because of a scholar's ...

Eighth Circuit: Administrators May Be Personally Liable for Political Discrimination in Faculty Hiring

Friday, December 30th, 2011

On Wednesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued a decision in Wagner v. Jones, No. 10-2588, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 25879 (8th Cir. Dec. 28, 2011). The opinion is an interesting read, even for non-lawyers.

The suit at issue was brought by Teresa Wagner, currently the Associate Director of the Writing Resource Center at the University of Iowa School of Law. Prior to this position, Wagner's applications for the position of Legal Analysis, Writing, and Research (LAWR) instructor were repeatedly rejected. Wagner subsequently filed suit in federal court against the dean of the law school, Carolyn Jones, alleging violations of her First Amendment rights of political belief and association. Specifically, Wagner alleged that she was denied the position because of her political views.

Wagner is an outspoken social conservative and pro-life advocate. She is a registered Republican and has worked with the National Right to Life Committee and the Family Research Council. In August 2006, she applied for a LAWR position with the University of Iowa School of Law and went through several rounds of selection, including two in-person interviews. At every stage of the process she was highly rated and received positive ...

Comics Reporter Talks To CBLDF’s Larry Marder & Charles Brownstein!

Friday, December 30th, 2011

The Comics Reporter’s Tom Spurgeon spoke to CBLDF President Larry Marder & Executive Director Charles Brownstein in an extensive interview on the organization’s current work. Check it out here!

Today In Comics Showcases First Wave of Comics Code Censorship Articles

Friday, December 30th, 2011

57 years ago today the first news of how the recently formed Comics Code Authority censored comics hit the wires, and Tim Stroup’s excellent “Today In Comics” blog has the clippings. Stroup gathers stories from five news services that covered Comics Code administrator Charles Murphy’s press conference touting the organization’s work to diminish the impact of images containing sexuality and violence within comic books.

Earlier this year the Comics Code Authority closed its doors and the CBLDF acquired the intellectual property rights to the Code’s Seal of Approval. Thus ended an era of censorship that sanitized the medium’s output, and established a stigma against comics that would endure until recent years. Dr. Amy Nyberg created a short history of the Seal of Approval for the CBLDF.

2011 in Review: Search Incident to Arrest and Your Cell Phone

Friday, December 30th, 2011

As the year draws to a close, EFF is looking back at the major trends influencing digital rights in 2011 and discussing where we are in the fight for a free expression, innovation, fair use, and privacy.

2011 saw 40% of all mobile phone users in the United States carrying web-enabled smartphones, creating a cycle that results in cheaper smartphones and more first-time users. People who carry smartphones are usually carrying all of their sensitive information with them too. Today, phones do more than just store contacts and dial phone numbers. Now, people are carrying years of email correspondence, text and instant messages, bank and financial records, personal photos, calendars, websites they've visited, places they've visited, even the books they read. So, with all the mobile computing smartphones are capable of, it comes as no surprise that law enforcement wants to get their hands on the digital goodies. And unfortunately, in 2011 courts gave them the ammunition to do so.

The Fourth Amendment's prohibition against warrantless searches and seizures applies to cell phones, and EFF has long advocated for the police to come back with a warrant before searching a cell phone. But in January 2011, the California Supreme Court ruled in People ...

CFN Students Stand Up for Free Speech on Campus in 2011

Thursday, December 29th, 2011
2011 has been one of FIRE's most successful years yet, and the members of FIRE's Campus Freedom Network (CFN)—our coalition of students, faculty, and alumni fighting for individual rights on campus—are no exception. The CFN provides advice and resources to members of college and university communities across the country as they work to change the campus culture from within by fighting for speech code reform, organizing events that bring attention to the problem of censorship on America's campuses, and defending fellow students whose rights have been infringed upon.

One way to measure this culture change is the number of students and faculty who have committed to defending free speech on their campuses, and CFN membership has skyrocketed this year. Thanks in part to a record number of FIRE campus appearances in 2011, more than 700 new students signed up for the CFN, expanding our total network to more than 5,000 students, faculty, and alumni. With membership growing every day, FIRE is reaching more individuals than ever before—individuals who are working hard to make their campuses havens for free speech and fundamental rights.

As we mentioned above, the CFN connects interested students CFN members Kelly Jemison, Nico Perrino, Isaac Rosenbloom, Len Audaer, and Hayden Barnes at the 2011 CFN Conferencewith the resources necessary to reform oppressive speech ...

Marquette University Threatens Academic Freedom with Chilling Investigation of Classroom Speech

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Over at the blog Marquette Warrior, John McAdams provides a good example of how unwarranted investigations of campus speech can cause a deeply problematic "chilling effect" at a university. Universities must not pursue investigations of protected expression just because someone submits a complaint; as soon as it is clear that the expression in question is protected speech, the inquiry must end, even if there are other factual disputes. Prolonging the investigation tells everyone on campus that the university will pursue charges against you no matter how frivolous or malicious the complaint. The likely result is that people self-censor and keep their mouths shut rather than risk such investigation and a possible punishment.

It seems that Marquette University, where McAdams is a professor, made just such a mistake this month. According to McAdams, his introductory course in American politics discusses alleged media bias and takes an anti-feminist perspective:

Ambiguous sexual encounters, often fueled by alcohol, are defined as "rape" by feminist researchers, but not defined that way by purported victims.

We point out that feminists insist that if a women consents to sex under the influence of alcohol, she has been raped. [...] Often, some guy who hasn't yet learned ...

Viewing Justices, First Amendment Through Rhetorical Lens

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Of all the books I’ve read on the First Amendment, I can’t say I have ever read anything quite like the one recently offered up by Professor Craig R. Smith and his colleagues.

A First Amendment Profile of the Supreme Court (University of Delaware Press, 2011) is a book that First Amendment lawyers, scholars, and students of the First Amendment will want to consult for another lens through which to view their subject.

Reasoning from rhetoric

Building on Cicero’s general ideas on rhetoric, this collection of 12 original essays, written by eight communication scholars, focuses on the rhetorical framework in which the current justices (and former Justices John Paul Stevens and David Souter as well) cast their First Amendment opinions. The contributors profile each justice “in terms of his or her claims during the nomination hearings and the positions [each took] in significant Supreme Court decisions. The object,” says Smith, the book’s editor, “is to provide a rhetorical frame that each of these justices would find appealing regarding the First Amendment.”

In other words, lawyers arguing before the Court might improve their chances of success if they know how to communicate in the language of those whom they wish to ...

#1 Reason to Donate to FIRE in 2011

Thursday, December 29th, 2011
In the past two weeks, FIRE has been reviewing our many achievements of 2011 and counting down some of the top reasons to support us this year. You've heard about changes in the legal landscape and media reaction to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights' April 4 "Dear Colleague" letter, read the two most egregious speech codes we encountered this year, and celebrated a banner year for our defense programs and outreach projects. Not only are such efforts representative of FIRE's work this year, but they are also key examples of our broader mission to change the culture through systematic reform—the #1 reason to support FIRE this year.

Together with our work defending individuals whose liberty has been threatened and educating the public about their rights, FIRE works to reverse the culture of censorship on campus and restore universities to their vital roles as marketplaces of ideas. Our principled defense of free expression, nonpartisan nature, expert staff, and effective voice have made us a unique and powerful force on campus—one that continues to have a real impact with real victories.

FIRE knows that so long as dissent is not allowed on our nation's campuses—or ceases to exist ...

Time for Supreme Court to Weigh in on Forced DNA Collection

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Can the government force people who are arrested – but not yet convicted of a crime – to give a DNA sample without a search warrant, or does that violate the Fourth Amendment?  One arrestee is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider this important question, and this week EFF urged the court to take the case.

A federal law mandates DNA collection for those who have been arrested for felonies. The FBI analyzes the samples, and puts a profile into CODIS, a national database.  Those who aren’t eventually convicted of a crime can get their information removed if they request to do so, but data from other individuals remains indefinitely.  In this case from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S. v. Mitchell, the defendant argues that the DNA collection violates his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Some judges have considered DNA profiles in the same light as fingerprints – a means of identification.  But DNA is much more than that.  It can reveal your family background, your current health, and your future propensity for disease, among other personal details.  In the future, as technology advances, scientists will be able to read even more into ...

#MoveYourDomain to Protest the Internet Blacklist Bills

Thursday, December 29th, 2011


UPDATE (12/30): Namecheap finished their campaign after raising over $64,000 for EFF.  However, you can still transfer domains and automatically donate to EFF by using Gandi, Centuric, or Suspicious Networks - see below for details.

When the well-known domain name registrar Go Daddy threw its support behind the Stop Online Piracy Act, it led to a PR disaster: Internet users rebelled against the registrar, and called for Go Daddy customers to transfer their domains. In response to the boycott Go Daddy has switched their position, but some companies are deciding to take a stance against the Internet blacklist legislation. In a day of action scheduled for December 29th, these companies are publicly protesting the scary legislation that endangers our Internet infrastructure and threatens online free expression in the name of combating so-called rogue websites.

We’re incredibly grateful that these companies have chosen to donate funds to EFF to support our work fighting for free expression online.  Please check them out and, if possible, jump on board:

  • Namecheap The originator of the #MoveYourDomain Day event has issued a challenge to the Internet community to transfer domain names to Namecheap on December 29, 2011. Namecheap is offering ...

Tens of Thousands Watch FIRE’s New ‘Firefly’ Video

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Barely a day after its launch, FIRE's new video has already been viewed well over 25,000 times! Thanks to links from io9, Instapundit, Forbes, Hot Air, geekology, Geeks of Doom, reddit, and more, the new video has taken off!

The new video, Don't Mess with Firefly! How SciFi Fans Made a Campus Safe for Free Speech, details FIRE's work in defense of Professor Jim Miller of the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Miller faced censorship and threats of criminal charges from campus officials for his posters celebrating Joss Whedon's acclaimed sci-fi television series Firefly and condemning fascism. The video also features an interview with legendary sci-fi author Neil Gaiman, who alerted his 1.7 million Twitter followers to Professor Miller's unjust ordeal.

FIRE's October 2011 victory in the case received international attention, and our new video is already proving to be a hit of similar proportions. But don't take my word for it-check the video out for yourself, and pass it on.

One last thing: is awarding $500 in prizes to the best tweets about FIRE's Firefly victory. Get the details here. We've received some good entries already, so be sure to submit yours!

Reason #2 to Donate to FIRE in 2011

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011
Yesterday, we heard from Bridget about some of the individual students and professors FIRE has worked to defend this past year. Here's reason #2 you should support FIRE this holiday season:

FIRE nips college censorship in the bud by educating students about the basic rights afforded to them as Americans. By giving them the power and know-how to embrace the ideals of free speech, due process, and religious liberty, FIRE encourages students to be their own advocates for campus liberty.

Educating students about their constitutional rights is a critical part of FIRE's mission. By arming students with the resources and knowledge to recognize violations of individual liberty, FIRE is empowering a generation of students to fight campus censors and to defend freedom of speech. In 2011, FIRE's commitment to educating campus community members about their freedoms has been very successful
so successful, in fact, that our student outreach program won the Templeton Freedom Award.

FIRE's "Freedom in Academia" essay contest, which is part of our "Know Before You Go" initiative, further contributed to that success by expanding the impact of our student outreach program far outside the college campus. This year was particularly noteworthy, as FIRE received ...

24 State AGs file brief supporting FDA in tobacco label suit

Monday, December 26th, 2011

A group of Attorneys General representing 24 US states and territories filed an amicus brief with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday arguing that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can require cigarette packages to display graphic images of the dangers of smoking. The AGs believe that the government’s duty to inform the public of the risks that tobacco poses should trump tobacco companies’ free speech rights, saying that the government could require graphic labels for lethal and addictive products.

Read full article.

Occupy protesters sue over free speech, force

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Most major Occupy encampments have been dispersed, but they live on in a flurry of lawsuits in which protesters are asserting their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly and challenging authorities’ mass arrests and use of force to break up tent cities.

Lawyers representing protesters have filed lawsuits — or are planning them — in state and federal courts from coast to coast, challenging eviction orders and what they call heavy-handed police tactics and the banning of demonstrators from public properties.

Read the full article.


Boehner’s Office Cuts Off C-SPAN Cameras as GOP Takes Verbal Beating

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

A strange thing happened Wednesday morning on Capitol Hill.

As Rep. Stenny Hoyer (D-MD) attempted to call for a vote to extend a payroll tax cut to middle class and working Americans, his Republican colleagues adjourned the House and walked out of the chamber. And if that weren’t odd enough, it got even stranger: As Hoyer railed against them for failing to help working Americans, footage from C-SPAN went silent, then cut away.

Moments later, C-SPAN took to the Internet to explain that it wasn’t their doing, but someone working for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

The incident occurred mere moments after the House went into session. Hoyer made a motion for a vote on the Senate’s payroll tax cut extension, which would extend the lower rates for another two months, but the Republican presiding over the House did not acknowledge the motion. He instead adjourned the House, then got up and walked out.

“As you walk off the floor, Mr. Speaker, you’re walking away, just as so many Republicans have walked away from taxpayers, the unemployed, and very frankly, as well, from those who will be seeking medical assistance from their doctors, 48 million senior citizens,” Hoyer can be ...

U.S. Asks Journals to Remove Flu Study Facts, Citing Terror Concerns

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

For the first time ever, a government advisory board is asking scientific journals not to publish details of certain biomedical experiments, for fear that the information could be used by terrorists to create deadly viruses and touch off epidemics.

In the experiments, conducted in the United States and the Netherlands, scientists created a highly transmissible form of a deadly fluvirus that does not normally spread from person to person. It was an ominous step, because easy transmission can lead the virus to spread all over the world. The work was done in ferrets, which are considered a good model for predicting what flu viruses will do in people.

The virus, A(H5N1), causes bird flu, which rarely infects people but has an extraordinarily high death rate when it does. Since the virus was first detected in 1997, about 600 people have contracted it, and more than half have died. Nearly all have caught it from birds, and most cases have been in Asia. Scientists have watched the virus, worrying that if it developed the ability to spread easily from person to person, it could create one of the deadliest pandemics ever.

A government advisory panel, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, overseen by ...

#CommonSense: Blog Postings and Tweets Can Be Protected Anonymous Political Speech, Court Rules

Monday, December 19th, 2011

In a victory for free speech, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland has ruled that the portion of a federal anti-stalking statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2261A(2)(A), pertaining to causing emotional distress via an interactive computer service is unconstitutional as applied. The opinion in the case, United States v. Cassidy, can be found here

In this case, the federal district court held that the First Amendment protects anonymous posts online. The opinion, a textbook example of original public meaning jurisprudence, is rife with historical example. Here is a great analogy from the opinion: 

Because this case involves First Amendment issues, terms that were in use by citizens when the Bill of Rights was drafted may help in understanding the legal context of Blogs and Twitter. Suppose that a Colonist erects a bulletin board in the front yard of his home to post announcements that might be of interest to others and other Colonists do the same. A Blog is like a bulletin board, except that it is erected in cyberspace rather than in one's front yard. If one Colonist wants to see what is on ...

Check Out the Performances and Winners From the 2011 First Amendment Writes Competition

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Be sure to check out the performances for the 6th annual competition here.

Activists Silenced by Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) File Lawsuit

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Animal rights activists filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday to challenge the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), a law they say has violated their First Amendment rights and allows the government to label peaceful protesters as “terrorists.”

Plaintiffs Sarahjane Blum and Iver “J” Johnson, who have both been animal rights activists for more than a decade, said AETA intimidated activists into silence and squashed their movement.

“I spent years uncovering conditions on foie gras farms and educating the public about the way ducks and geese are abused,” said Blum. “I no longer feel free to speak my mind on these issues out of fear that my advocacy could actually convince people to stop eating foie gras – affecting those businesses’ bottom line and turning me into an animal enterprise terrorist.”

Critics claim AETA has implications for dissenters beyond the animal rights movement. Attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), who are representing the plaintiffs, told reporters that the Bush-era law is too broad and could be interpreted as designating certain acts of civil disobedience as terrorist activity.

Read the full article at

More on Sam Houston State Dropping Creepy Social Media Policy

Monday, December 19th, 2011
Last week, eCampusNews drew attention to the news of Sam Houston State University's (SHSU's) decision to ditch its proposed social media policy. The policy, which would have required any student group bearing the SHSU name to join the university's "social media universe," was the subject of controversy and student protest.

Under the proposed rule, those student groups choosing not to comply would have been required to change their groups' names. The policy would also have required student groups to hand over their emails and passwords, and allowed administrators to edit student group pages.

The abandonment of the policy is due in part to the efforts of student activists-efforts which sparked an interesting FIRE case earlier this fall. As Torch readers well know, during a "free speech wall" event hosted by multiple student groups protesting this proposed policy, an SHSU professor used a box cutter to cut out an insult against President Obama that a student had written on the wall.

eCampusNews quotes FIRE's Adam Kissel, who rightly points out that a student group's expression is not the same as a university's expression:

"It is almost unheard of for a university even to publicly contemplate coercing student organizations to hand over ...

Wrapping Up a Week Of Action Against SOPA

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Yesterday and today, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has hunkered down in the Capitol for markup sessions of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act. The basic facts looked bleak: this Internet blacklist bill is a disaster that stands at odds with the Constitution, but the deep pockets of its legacy media backers managed to make it enough friends in committee that its quick passage seemed possible. Judiciary Committee Chairman, author of the bill, and “Hollywood’s Favorite Republican” Lamar Smith scheduled just a single hearing, stacked the deck in his bill’s favor, and rushed it through to markup now, at the end of the legislative session.

But then a funny thing happened: the Internet fought back. It started in bits and pieces, from our coverage of the bill’s introduction to the citizens who took our action alert and told their Congressmembers that Internet censorship is unacceptable. Then more and more people began realizing the dangers of SOPA and finding their voice against it. One month ago today, American Censorship Day counted almost 6000 participating sites, tens of thousands of people called their Representatives, and more legislators started coming out against the bill.

It was clear then that ...

Help FIRE Expose Injustice on Campus

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote that "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." This is FIRE's unofficial motto, as we have found that time and time again, administrators cannot defend in public the actions they are all too eager to pursue in private. 

Since our founding, FIRE has won hundreds of cases using a simple and cost-effective strategy: expose the truth about the state of liberty on campus and encourage members of the public to speak up about it. Forced to defend their violations against liberty to thousands or millions of citizens due to media exposure, most universities bend to public pressure and reverse course. 

That is why FIRE invested significant resources in 2011 into raising public awareness. With your support, we reached more than 116 million people through print and online news outlets, appeared on dozens of radio programs, visited nearly 40 campuses, and released what I think is our best video yet, "Silencing U: Five Outrageous Cases of Campus Censorship." And the year's not over yet! 

This strategy helped FIRE secure the most victories ever in a single year in 2011. 

FIRE plays a crucial role in investigating ...

New Developments in Egyptian Blogger Cases

Friday, December 16th, 2011

We've written before about Maikel Nabil Sanad and Alaa Abd El Fattah, two Egyptian bloggers under fire.  Though their cases differ dramatically--Sanad was arrested for content written on his blog, while Abd El Fattah was charged in relation to his alleged involvement in the October 9 Maspero massacre--the two men have two things in common: both are being targeted for their opposition to military rule, and both--as civilians--have refused to recognize the right of a military court to try their cases.

Though Sanad had successfully appealed an earlier sentence of three years, on Wednesday he was sentenced once again, and this time to two years in prison by the Supreme Military Court of Appeals.  Because Sanad, a civilian, was tried by a military court, the decision cannot be appealed.

On Thursday, 27 out of 28 detainees arrested in relation to the events of October 9 were released, leaving Abd El Fattah the sole detainee left in prison.  According to The Daily News Egypt, lawyers said that since Abd El Fattah had already filed appeals that were rejected, he legally has no right to file another appeal for 30 days, whereas the released detainees had not appealed ...

USF Polytechnic Clears Student of Disciplinary Charges For Sending Critical Emails

Friday, December 16th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the troubles faced by University of South Florida Polytechnic student Michael Nacrelli. To bring you up to speed: Nacrelli, a Student Government senator, faced charges of "disruptive conduct" and "failure to follow instructions" last month following a series of emails criticizing student government on which he copied several of his fellow Senators, in spite of requests from a USF administrator that he not do so. (USF's newspaper, The Oracle, gives a good rundown.) 

Fortunately, as Mary Toothman of The Ledger (Lakeland, Fl.) now writes, USF Polytechnic has cleared him of any potential disciplinary charges. As Toothman writes, Nacrelli had a state senator in his corner:

Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, has kept an eye on the situation and attended Nacrelli's meeting with [Dean of Students Jan] Lloyd in late November. Dockery just listened. The senator said in an email she is glad the situation did not escalate.

"I'm happy to see this situation resolved in a manner that ensures that students have the right to freely express their views, both at meetings or via electronic media," Dockery said. "Any other outcome could have had a chilling effect on student senators, ...

CBLDF’s The Spirit of Giving Donation and Gift Drive Ends Today!

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Thanks to the generous help of The Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation, CBLDF has had a wonderful holiday season with The Spirit of Giving drive!

Throughout the drive, The Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation has made a contribution of $1 for every donation and gift order placed on CBLDF’s website. Today marks the end of the $1 contributions, so be sure to order gifts for your friends and family (or yourself)! If you’re not sure what to get for the comic fan in your life, check out CBLDF’s gift guide here.

Through December 31, The Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation is also donating $5 for every new or renewed membership. You can join the fight by becoming a member, or conscript your friends by getting a gift membership today!

FIRE Announces Winners of 2011 ‘Freedom in Academia’ Essay Contest

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Today, FIRE is pleased to announce the winners of the 2011 "Freedom in Academia" Essay Contest.

Vincent Kelley, a homeschooled student from Eugene, Oregon, won first prize with his essay, "Civil Liberties in Academia." Rachel Anderson from A.W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, Florida, won second prize and a $2,500 college scholarship for her essay, "That We May Think What We Like—Or Not At All?"

In addition, five runners up each will receive a $1,000 scholarship: Matthew Abel, Katherine Gerton, Blaire Landon, Michael Munther, and Zachary Trama.

FIRE's "Freedom in Academia" Essay Contest invites high school seniors to watch two short documentaries about key FIRE cases and submit an essay explaining why free speech is important in higher education. Vincent's winning entry argues that "freedom of speech is not an issue of left or right, liberal or conservative—it’s a direct preservation of our very democracy." I highly recommend reading his full essay, which is reprinted below.

The essay contest is an important part of FIRE's "Know Before You Go" initiative, which educates high school students about the danger of college censorship before they get to campus. Since the essay contest began in 2008, more than 8,000 ...

MILK AND CHEESE deluxe Hardcover, signed by Evan Dorkin

Friday, December 16th, 2011

A carton of hate. A wedge of spite. A comic book of idiotic genius. The Eisner Award-winning dairy duo returns in this deluxe hardcover collecting every single stupid Milk and Cheese comic ever made from 1989 to 2010, along with a sh*t-ton of supplemental awesomeness. This has everything you need! Don’t judge it — love it! Or else!

This 240 page hardcover is a must-have for fans of humor, and dairy violence. It is signed by the cartoonist, Mr. Evan Dorkin!

Spoil yourself today!

Good Omens softcover, signed by Neil Gaiman

Friday, December 16th, 2011

A modern classic co-written by superstar author (and CBLDF Board Member) Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, the comedic novel Good Omens is available for aficionados both old and new!

Get your copy now!

Read ‘The Torch’ in December and Catch Up on 2011

Friday, December 16th, 2011

FIRE had a huge year in 2011, and we have a lot of good news to report as we look forward to an even bigger 2012. Over the next couple of weeks, FIRE staff will highlight the most important and interesting cases, victories, events, trends, legal developments, and news you might have missed in 2011.

We'll also be releasing Spotlight on Speech Codes 2012: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation's Campuses, with new graphs, arresting findings, and key trends. Which states have the best and worst percentages of schools with deeply restrictive "red light" speech policies? Which colleges improved their speech code ratings in 2011, and which ones regressed? Find out soon right here at

CBLDF Releases Year-End Appeal Comic!

Friday, December 16th, 2011

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is proud to release The Comic Book Fan’s Worst NIGHTMARE!, our 2011 year-end comic showcasing our current casework. Boasting new work by Jeffrey Brown, Ming Doyle, J. Gonzo, Michael Kupperman, Tony Shasteen, and more the comic is available for free on Comixology and at!

The CBLDF’s new comic recounts our work defending Brandon X, an American citizen facing a minimum sentence of one year in prison for possessing horror and fantasy manga on his laptop computer. His case is expected to go to trial in 2012, and legal expenses are estimated to run $150,000. Please make a tax-deductible contribution to CBLDF today to help us defend this case, and to create tools for retailers, librarians, and readers to help protect against cases like this happening in the future!

The CBLDF exists because of the grass-roots support of individuals like you! Please support our work by making a tax-deductible donation, signing up or renewing your membership, or signing up a friend for a gift membership. Contributions and membership donations are tax-deductible in the year they’re given. In addition, the Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation will make a $5 donation to the CBLDF for every new or renewing membership contribution made by 12/31.

Please help the CBLDF continue our important work — donate today!

Free Speech’s Weak Links Under Internet Blacklist Bills

Friday, December 16th, 2011

The Internet Blacklist bills — the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) — would have a disastrous effect on online freedom of speech. In order to understand the ways a site placed on the blacklist could be denied a chance to connect with an audience, we’ve used our Free Speech is Only as Strong as the Weakest Link chart.


The Internet Blacklist bills would subject non-domestic platforms and webhosts to the possibility of court injunctions that could require to payment interruptions or even DNS blocking in the U.S. Preparing for and responding to this legal action would be expensive, and would create an incentive for those platforms to impose more restrictions on user uploads. Further, platforms that haven't yet been developed will have more difficulty getting off the ground without a legal team.


The Internet Blacklist Legislation would allow the U.S. government and individual rights holders to seek court orders requiring payment processors and ad networks to stop doing business with blacklisted sites – even if those sites contain non-infringing content.


The Internet Blacklist Legislation would require service providers to limit access to a blacklist of ...

Judge: Prosecution of Online Critic Under Anti-Stalking Law Is Unconstitutional

Thursday, December 15th, 2011
Twitter Criticism of Public Figures Protected by First Amendment

San Francisco - A federal district court judge in Maryland today blocked the government's use of a federal anti-stalking law to prosecute a man for posting insults and criticism of a public figure to Twitter, ruling that "the First Amendment protects speech even when the subject or manner of expression is uncomfortable and challenges conventional religious beliefs, political attitudes or standards of good taste."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed an amicus brief in this case, arguing that the revised federal anti-stalking statute – expanded in 2006 as part of the Violence Against Women Act to criminalize causing emotional distress by means of an "interactive computer service" – was unconstitutionally vague and ran afoul of First Amendment protections as an unlawful content-based restriction. EFF argued that even though some criticism of public figures may be offensive, emotional distress was not a sufficient basis on which to criminalize speech.

"Speech on social networking sites – as with speech anywhere – has the potential to inform and enlighten as well as to outrage," said Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "It is imperative that courts recognize and uphold First Amendment protections in order to ...

UC Riverside: Told You So

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Just two weeks ago, writing about free speech in the University of California system, I noted:

UC Riverside's policy with the misleading name "Freedom of Speech in Promoting Events and Organizations" states that "[P]ublicity should not contain ... violent images or language against individuals or groups" and goes even further to state, "When considering forms of expression to promote your organization or event, check to make sure ... [t]he expression does not portray negative or belittling images of others." 

This is an unconstitutional threat to free speech. UC Riverside students are not allowed to, say, portray UC Davis Lieutenant John Pike (of pepper spray infamy) or campus police generally in a negative or belittling way, or to portray violent images of police action designed to spur others to protest police overreactions to student activism. Furthermore, UC Riverside requires prior scheduling for any protest activity that "can reasonably be expected to attract a crowd of 25 or more," essentially prohibiting spontaneous demonstrations in response to unfolding events. 

UC Riverside (UCR) might not have gotten the message, since its latest attempt to regulate such speech hit some snags this week. According to the website "Say No to UCR Protest ...

Celebrate the 220th Anniversary of the First Amendment by Tweeting Today

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

On December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights officially became part of the U.S. Constitution when Virginia ratified those first ten amendments, becoming the eleventh state to do so. Ken Paulson of the First Amendment Center has some reflections on the importance of this milestone and notes that President Franklin D. Roosevelt did declare the day a national holiday back in 1941-but before it could be celebrated, the Pearl Harbor attack intervened. 

Now, 220 years later, FIRE, along with the 1 for All First Amendment campaign, is celebrating the adoption of the Bill of Rights by encouraging our supporters, and especially students, to participate in the "Free to Tweet" campaign. We say "especially students" because 14- to 22-year-olds can put themselves in contention for one of no fewer than 22 $5,000 scholarships by composing the best tweet about the First Amendment and adding the hashtag #freetotweet. This is a great opportunity to earn some real money for college, so we hope students who support FIRE will participate. 

FIRE will also be tweeting about the First Amendment throughout the day. Follow us @theFIREorg on Twitter and search for the hashtag #freetotweet for more!

Help us plan for Banned Books Week 2012

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

OIF is planning for Banned Books Week 2012, the 30th Anniversary of the Week, and we would like to incorporate your opinions about the Banned Books Week 2011 products. Please take a moment to answer the brief survey linked below. Survey results will help us focus and prioritize BBW product offerings for next year.

The survey should take about 5 minutes to complete and will be open until December 22. After completing this survey, participants can register for a chance to win an I Read Banned Books tote bag. Five winners will be selected at random and will be notified after December 22, 2011. Thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts!