Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

CBLDF Applauds Amendment to 2010 Massachusetts Law Removing Restrictions on Internet Speech

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Following a successful legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, local booksellers, and others, including the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Governor Deval Patrick yesterday signed into law an amendment to controversial 2010 legislation that imposed severe restrictions on Internet content, including discussion of topics such as literature, art, and sexual and reproductive health.

The amendment, which goes into effect immediately, is a direct response to the granting of a preliminary injunction by U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel last fall that found the law likely violated the First Amendment. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed the bill in order to address the constitutional flaws in the existing law. CBLDF joined the Harvard Book Store, Porter Square Books, the Photographic Resource Center, a licensed marriage and family therapist, trade associations, and the ACLU of Massachusetts in filing suit last July to block the law because it made providers of constitutionally protected speech on the Internet criminally liable if such material might be deemed “harmful to minors.”

“Comic book creators and retailers are pleased to see this amendment go into effect, because it protects their constitutionally protected works as they are circulated and sold online,” said Charles Brownstein, Executive ...

Joined by Broad Coalition, FIRE Files Brief in Support of Student Rights in ‘Barnes v. Zaccari’

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

On behalf of a broad coalition of 15 organizations concerned about student rights on public campuses, FIRE filed an amici curiae brief yesterday with the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in the case of Barnes v. Zaccari. The brief asks the Eleventh Circuit to uphold a federal district court's September 2010 ruling denying the defense of qualified immunity to former Valdosta State University (VSU) President Ronald M. Zaccari, arguing that public college administrators who violate the constitutional rights of students should be held liable for doing so.

The brief, authored by FIRE, was jointly submitted to the Eleventh Circuit by FIRE, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the Cato Institute, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Feminists for Free Expression, the Individual Rights Foundation, the Libertarian Law Council, the National Association of Scholars, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Youth Rights Association, Reason Foundation, the Southeastern Legal Foundation, and Students For Liberty. Atlanta-based attorney Cory G. Begner of Begner & Begner, P.C. represented FIRE and all signatory organizations in the brief's filing. 

Former VSU student T. Hayden Barnes' ordeal began in ...

EFF to San Francisco Entertainment Commission: Don’t Turn SF into a Police State

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

UPDATE: At the request of Mayor Ed Lee, the San Francisco Entertainment Commission has decided to postpone discussion of the proposed rules until its next meeting. EFF will provide more details as they become available.

The city of San Francisco has a long history of political activism and cultural diversity, which could be in danger if the San Francisco Entertainment Commission has their way. The Electronic Frontier Foundation joined civil liberties and privacy groups in criticizing a proposal from the San Francisco Entertainment Commission that would require all venues with an occupancy of over 100 people to record the faces of all patrons and employees and scan their ID’s for storage in a database which they must hand over to law enforcement on request. If adopted, these rules would pose a grave threat to the rights of freedom of association, due process, and privacy in San Francisco.

EFF will also present comments in person at a public hearing on the evening of April 12th. If you are in San Francisco, please attend the hearing and speak out against this dangerous and short-sighted proposal or email your comments to See details.

Events with strong cultural, ideological, and ...

Federal court rejects challenge to Ky. limits on attorney speech

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Public comments by attorneys in Kentucky may be restricted as part of a general effort to uphold public confidence in the judiciary, even if the comments are true but considered reckless, a federal judge ruled today.

U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves found that the Kentucky Supreme Court's regulations as enforced by the bar association on attorney speech are constitutional, even if they restrict some speech legally protected by the First Amendment.

"Although the rule extends to some constitutionally protected speech — namely, reckless true statements — it does not reach a substantial number of impermissible applications," Reeves wrote in the 16-page decision.

Reeves' decision comes in the case of attorney John M. Berry, who challenged the Kentucky Bar Association's ability to regulate what attorneys can say. The bar issued a warning letter to Berry in 2007 over comments he made criticizing the state's Legislative Ethics Commission.

Messages left for American Civil Liberties Union attorney William Sharp, who represented Berry, and the Kentucky Bar Association, were not returned in time for this story.

Berry, a Henry County lawyer, former state senator and brother of writer Wendell Berry, sued the Kentucky Bar Association in 2009 after receiving a ...

Hunger Games makes debut on list of challenged books

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

NEW YORK — Suzanne Collins didn’t expect everyone to approve of The Hunger Games.

“I’ve read in passing that people were concerned about the level of violence in the books,” Collins said of her dystopian trilogy that’s sold more than a million copies. “That’s not unreasonable. They are violent. It’s a war trilogy.”

In what’s become a virtual rite of passage for young adult sensations, a Collins novel has made its first appearance on the American Library Association’s annual top 10 list of books most criticized in their communities. The Hunger Games, the title work of Collins’ series about young people forced to hunt and kill each other on live television, has been cited for violence and sexual content. In recent years, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books and Stephenie Meyer’s vampire novels also have been on the association’s list.

Hunger Games ranked No. 5 this year and was joined yesterday by Meyer’s Twilight (No. 10), which debuted on the list last year, and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, winner in 2007 of the National Book Award for young people’s literature. Criticisms of Alexie’s novel include language, racism and sexual content.

“It almost makes me happy ...

N.M. to require agencies to provide electronic records

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A new law will require New Mexico government agencies to provide public records electronically if the records exist in digital form.

The measure, which passed both the House and Senate unanimously, goes into effect July 1. Gov. Susana Martinez signed it into law on April 8.

The bill's sponsors said they and their constituents had problems in the past with some agencies or departments not wanting to send records in an e-mail or download them to a CD.

Paper records are costlier and less convenient to use, said Democratic state Sen. Stephen Fischmann of Mesilla Park, who sponsored the measure in that chamber.

"A lot of departments, if they don't want you to know something they make it difficult," he said.

Before winning election to the Senate in 2008, Fischmann said he'd requested records from state government agencies that insisted on sending paper records.

"If these records are sitting there on someone's PC, why couldn't they e-mail it to me if it was a public record?" he said.

After he got into office, he began getting calls from constituents complaining that rather than sending electronic records, counties were making them pay 50 cents to $1 a page ...

Order returns land trust to polygamous church

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Editor's note: A federal appeals court temporarily halted on April 15 a ruling that would return control of a $114 million land trust to Warren Jeffs' polygamous church. The stay issued by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals blocks a preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge in Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge in Utah handed control of a $114 million communal land trust back to the leaders of Warren Jeffs' polygamous church last week, but a state judge yesterday moved to stop any handover of records related to the trust.

In an interim preliminary injunction order signed April 7, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson said church leaders, not the state of Utah, should manage the more than $110 million in assets held by the United Effort Plan Trust. The trust holds most of the property and homes in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., two nearby communities dominated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. There is also property in Bountiful, British Columbia.

Yesterday, however, Utah 3rd District Judge Denise Lindberg said a court-appointed accountant should not follow the federal court order to turn over records for the trust. She issued an ...

President of Maine College of Art Condemns Censorship of Maine Labor Murals

Monday, April 11th, 2011
Update: As the Boston Herald reports, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree has issued a statement insisting that the Maine Department of Labor mural (removed in late March by order of Gov. Paul LePage), should be put back up in the Department so the state won’t have to repay to the federal government most of its $60,000 [...]

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’? Create a Statue of Jackson With Child

Monday, April 11th, 2011
A statue commemorating the time Michael Jackson dangled his baby son out of a Berlin hotel window was unveiled in London this week. L.A. artist Maria Von Köhler has received death threats for the statute, entitled “Madonna and Child”.  Others have asked that the installation be removed. Enraged fan krazy4kitties asks, “This is disgraceful.  What [...]

Famous Art Censored For Sensitive Types

Monday, April 11th, 2011
In response to the disturbing story of a woman who attacked a Gauguin at the National Gallery, Flavorwire Art Editor Marina Galpernia has helpfully compiled a photo set of great works modified for those with…delicate sensibilities: Thou shall not show your wiener to God, Adam. Even if Michelangelo’s God is emerging out of an embracing [...]

NCAC Calls For Release of Ai Weiwei

Monday, April 11th, 2011
NCAC is adding to the global community of artists and institutions calling for the immediate release of the renowned Ai Weiwei, one China’s most innovative and socially engaged creators. He was arrested at Beijing Airport this week for “economic crimes”, and he alleges that in 2009 the security police attacked and beat him. Check out [...]

Save the Date: 2011 Campus Freedom Network Conference, July 14-16

Monday, April 11th, 2011

FIRE is proud to announce that the 2011 Campus Freedom Network Conference will be held July 14-16 on the campus of Bryn Mawr College, just outside of Philadelphia. The CFN Conference brings together committed students from across the country to learn from eminent First Amendment scholars and meet fellow advocates for free speech on campus.

The conference will begin with dinner on Thursday evening, followed by a day and a half of lectures, panels, and break-out sessions. Attendees will hear from distinguished keynote speakers, a panel of students involved in previous FIRE cases, and FIRE staff about the philosophical and legal arguments for First Amendment rights on campus and how they can improve the culture of free speech at their schools.

The Thursday night keynote speaker will be Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of and, which draws 2.5 million visits per month and features the staff blog Hit & Run, named by Washingtonian, Playboy, and others as one of the best political blogs.

Friday night's keynote speaker is Robert Corn-Revere, a partner at the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine in Washington, D.C., and a First Amendment expert with extensive experience in communications, media, and ...

New Guidance for Universities from Office for Civil Rights Would Deny Students Due Process, Argues Former OCR Attorney

Monday, April 11th, 2011

A former staff attorney for the United States Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is now denouncing the OCR's recent formal "Dear Colleague" letter instructing that universities use a "preponderance of the evidence standard to resolve complaints of sex discrimination." The preponderance of the evidence standard, which would allow universities to punish students for offenses like peer-on-peer sexual harassment and sexual assault if the evidence tips above 50 percent in favor of the accuser/alleged victim, is much lower than "the clear and convincing evidence" standard that many university disciplinary proceedings apply and is nowhere near as protective as the presumption of innocence for criminal defendants in a court of law.

Hans Bader writes in a column on the Washington Examiner's blog that the guidance provided by OCR's April 4, 2011, letter, if adopted by universities, strips students of their due process rights, contravenes Supreme Court precedent interpreting the responsibilities of universities under Title IX, and violates OCR's obligation as a government agency to invite comment from citizens before imposing new mandates on universities.

Bader's column is a must-read for those interested in OCR's current interpretation of Title IX, which "prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in ...

Power, Price Squeeze Amidst Inflation

Monday, April 11th, 2011
Rising coal prices may push China's government into a corner as power costs grow.

FIRE’s Creeley in ‘Chronicle of Higher Education’: ‘Why the Tyler Clementi Act Threatens Free Speech on Campus’

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley takes an incisive look at the free speech implications of the proposed Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act. The Act, about which we have written plenty and which no doubt rings familiar to many of our readers, was re-introduced in Congress last month by Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Rush Holt, both of New Jersey. It would amend the Higher Education Act to require colleges and universities to enact policies addressing student harassment in compliance with its terms in order to receive federal funding, and would redefine peer harassment in a way that conflicts with Supreme Court precedent and threatens students' expressive rights.

As Will writes, the first problem with this proposed legislation is that it is in fact redundant in light of these institutions' existing obligations under the law:

Colleges and universities already must maintain and enforce policies prohibiting discriminatory harassment under existing federal law. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg's office claims that the law would require "for the first time that colleges and universities have antiharassment policies on the books"-but this just isn't the case, as any student-conduct administrator worth his or ...

Authorities Increase Pressure on Activists

Monday, April 11th, 2011
The Chinese government detains more dissidents and targets online activists.

2010 Most Frequently Challenged Books List

Monday, April 11th, 2011

The Office for Intellectual Freedom has released its Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books list of 2010, as part of ALA’s State of America’s Libraries report during National Library Week. You can find more information in the ALA press release about the 2010 list.

  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
  3. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  4. Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
  6. Lush, by Natasha Friend
  7. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
  8. Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
  9. Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
  10. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

And Tango Makes Three is an award-winning children’s book about the true story of two male Emperor Penguins hatching and parenting a baby chick at New York’s Central Park Zoo. The book has appeared on the ALA’s Top Ten List of Frequently Challenged Books for the past five years and returns to the number one slot after a brief stay at the number two position in 2009 behind Lauren Myracle’s Internet girl series ttyl, ttfn, and l8r g8r. ...

House votes to repeal FCC’s ‘network neutrality’ rules

Monday, April 11th, 2011

WASHINGTON — House Republicans have passed a bill to repeal federal rules barring Internet service providers from blocking or interfering with traffic on their networks, saying the government should keep its hands off the Internet.

Republicans, in voting to repeal rules on "network neutrality" set down by the Federal Communications Commission, said the agency lacked the authority to promulgate the rules. They disputed the need to intervene in an already open Internet and warned that the rules would stifle investment in broadband systems.

"The FCC power grab would allow it to regulate any interstate communication service on barely more than a whim and without any additional input from Congress," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., sponsor of H.J.Res. 37. The Internet, he added, "is open and innovative thanks to the government's hands-off approach."

But in what has become a largely partisan battle, the Senate is not expected to go along with the House. Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he was "disappointed that House leadership wants to undo the integrity of the FCC's process and unravel their good work."

Even if measure cleared Congress, the White House has threatened to veto a bill it says ...

Ill. House votes to bar release of gun owners’ names

Monday, April 11th, 2011

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois House has approved legislation that would bar the state police from releasing the names of people legally allowed to own guns, a response to fears by many firearm owners that their privacy could soon be compromised.

The measure, H.B. 3500, would reverse last month's ruling by Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office that the list of people with Firearm Owner Identification cards is a public document.

The legislation, which was sent to the Senate on a 98-12 vote, also appears to bar state police from disclosing whether someone suspected in a shooting had a valid FOID card.

Madigan's office ruled that the list of cardholders was public information in response to a request from the Associated Press. The AP sought the list under the state Freedom of Information Act, but state police have withheld it, citing public safety concerns.

By ordering the gun records be private, Illinois would be following the lead of other states including Florida and Tennessee, where lawmakers voted to make gun-license information private after newspaper investigations found significant lapses in the permitting processes that allowed violent felons to carry guns.

Firearm advocates objected strongly when made her Madigan ruling. They argued it ...

The Muzzles Are Here! The Muzzles Are Here!

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

For the 20th consecutive year, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression celebrated the April 13 birth date of its namesake by awarding “Jefferson Muzzles” to those responsible for some of the more egregious or ridiculous affronts to free expression occurring in the previous year. Making up the list of “winners” receiving the 2011 Jefferson Muzzles are officials at every level of government—federal, state, local—and two private entities.

“Looking back over the past 20 years, it becomes apparent that, although the office holders may change, many in the same offices have made repeat appearances,” said Center director Robert O’Neil. “For example, with the Obama Administration receiving a Muzzle this year, every presidential administration of the last 20 years, Republican and Democrat, has been deemed deserving of a Muzzle. Similarly, the Smithsonian Institution, the Virginia Department of Corrections, and Albemarle High School are making repeat appearances on the 2011 list.”

Below is a list of all the 2011 Jefferson Muzzle “winners.”  To learn what they did to earn this dubious distinction, please visit the official Jefferson Muzzle webpage.

1) It’s for your own safety. Those oily pelicans are really disguised terrorists.

The Obama Administration and BP


Ore. judge seals some records in congressman’s divorce

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. — An Oregon judge has sealed some documents in a divorce case involving U.S. Rep. David Wu and his estranged wife.

The Oregonian reports the documents include affidavits filed last week by Michelle Wu in support of her petitions for financial support and parenting time.

The judge sealed the affidavits at the request of David Wu's attorney, saying it was in the best interests of their children.

The newspaper asked the judge on April 7 to unseal the records, saying they could shed light on questions that have been raised about the Democratic congressman's use of alcohol and pills.

David Wu has been under scrutiny since some staff members quit in response to his erratic behavior.

He has apologized and said he has received medication and counseling for undisclosed mental health issues.

Records on MLK Day bomb to remain sealed

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

SPOKANE, Wash. — Documents related to the arrest of a man in the planting of a bomb along a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade route will remain sealed for now, a federal judge said this week.

U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush on April 7 said he was concerned that the release of the documents would make it difficult for Kevin Harpham, 36, of Addy, to receive a fair trial.

Harpham, who has extensive ties to white supremacist groups, was charged with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an unregistered explosive device. He faces up to life in prison if convicted of planting the bomb, which was found and disabled before it could explode.

The judge said the documents in question, which include details of the FBI investigation that led to Harpham’s arrest on March 9, likely contain information that would be inadmissible in the trial. “Hearsay is not admissible,” Quackenbush said.

The ruling came after three news organizations, including Cowles Publishing Co., the Associated Press, and The Seattle Times, requested the public release of files that were given to the defense as part of the discovery process. They contended that since those materials ...

Widener Law Professor, Targeted For Firing, Sues Dean for Defamation

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Late last month FIRE took public the story of Widener Law School Professor Lawrence Connell, whose law school is attempting to fire him for extremely dubious violations of the school's harassment code. His alleged offenses include using the term "black folks" in class and using the names of law school dean Linda L. Ammons and other law school colleagues as characters in hypothetical examples for his criminal law class (a common practice, as we've discussed). Although a faculty committee recommended the charges against him be dismissed, Dean Ammons and the Widener administration have refiled charges against him using another, more secretive, process. 

With his job on the line, Professor Connell filed suit today against Dean Ammons in the court of Sussex County, Delaware, on several claims of libel and slander. The complaint, which can be read in its entirety here, discusses six alleged defamatory acts against Professor Connell by Dean Ammons. Connell is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in an unspecified amount, as well as legal costs.

As I said in our March 23 press release, "All signs indicate that Widener University School of Law's senior administration is stringing together vague, ambiguous, misconstrued, and downright false ...

This Week in the News: Hearings Begin for Whistleblowing UCLA Professor

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Hearings for University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) professor and scientist James Enstrom began on Monday of this week. Torch readers will remember that Dr. Enstrom is fighting for his job after UCLA retaliated against him for his exposure of a California Air Resources Board (CARB) scientist with a fake Ph.D. as well as other staffing irregularities, and for Enstrom's scientific critique of findings by CARB that were used to create air pollution regulations in the state.FIRE's efforts to protect Enstrom's rights have been picked up by writers for a number of outlets, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, Instapundit, Carpe Diem, Hot Air, Canada Free Press, and The Blaze. Former FIRE President David French also covered the case for Phi Beta Cons on National Review Online and Reason's Nick Gillespie has continued Reason's coverage as well. The caseincluding the audio from the videoalso was featured on The John and Ken Show based in the Los Angeles area (KFI, AM 640).

The other big story of the week was that of student Ethel Borel-Donohue of Sinclair Community College (SCC) in Dayton, Ohio, who was banned from ...

China Concerned Over Radiation

Friday, April 8th, 2011
But the government says detected amounts pose no threat to public health.

Pa. board limits news-media access to ‘election central’

Friday, April 8th, 2011

LANCASTER, Pa. — A central Pennsylvania county elections board has taken final action barring reporters from the building where election night ballots are tabulated, a move media organizations say would obstruct what should be an open and public process.

The plan by Lancaster County election officials, approved April 6, will move the news media across the street from the warehouse building in a business park where votes are counted.

Members of the media previously were allowed to sit at a table in a corner of the warehouse, though they could not access the office in the warehouse where votes were counted. Candidates and political party officials would still be allowed inside “election central.”

The space where the news media were allowed is needed to store election supplies from poll workers, Mary Stehman, the county’s chief elections clerk, told the election board April 6. Such supplies include materials provided by the county to run a polling place, except for voting machines.

“So we’re moving the media across the street to a lounge that is very nice. It has a very strong Wi-Fi signal, it has electrical outlets, comfortable chairs,” Stehman said. “There’s even a gas fireplace.”

The proposal as originally written ...

Calif. judge: Gay-rights group can canvass outside Target

Friday, April 8th, 2011

SAN DIEGO — A judge ruled yesterday that a San Diego pro-gay marriage group can continue canvassing outside of Target stores in California, but the group's volunteers must stay 30 feet away from store entrances and canvass at just one entrance at a time.

The Minnesota-based retail giant had sought an injunction barring the activists from every Target store in the state, alleging they harass customers by cornering them near store entrances to discuss gay marriage, solicit donations and collect signatures on petitions.

Rights advocates have warned that the legal battle between Target and Canvass For A Cause could further damage the retailer's already strained relations with the gay and lesbian community.

Tres Watson, Canvass For A Cause director, called yesterday's ruling a win for not only his organization, but also for free speech.

"I think this is a victory for every American that cherishes our fundamental values," he said.

Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Barton said some Target stores may fall under California's law that considers shopping centers to be public forums. Also, canvassing over the last year occurred mainly without incident and Target failed to demonstrate that customers were being harassed, he said.

"Target has not met its burden ...

Girls Gone Wild founder cleared in civil case

Friday, April 8th, 2011

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — An all-female federal jury decided yesterday that Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis is not liable for the emotional distress four anonymous plaintiffs claimed to have suffered from appearances in one of his videos.

The verdict followed an eight-day trial in Panama City. The jury of eight women took 14 hours to reach a decision.

The lawsuit claimed Francis exploited them by filming them flashing their breasts and engaging in other sexual activities in Panama City. It also claimed the women were ridiculed, ostracized and forced to leave school when videos were released.

Francis said he was relieved by the verdict.

"I'm feeling fantastic," Francis told the Panama City News Herald. "I'm just happy it's over. This thing has dragged on long enough."

The four plaintiffs sued in March 2008, shortly after Francis pleaded no contest to state criminal charges related to their case. Francis maintained his innocence, saying he made a plea deal only to get out of jail. Those charges were based on a 2003 raid of his Bay County hotel rooms and corporate jet.

The plaintiffs are now adults, but they were allowed to file their suit using only their initials because they ...

IRS awards $4.5 million to whistleblowing accountant

Friday, April 8th, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — An in-house accountant who raised a red flag about a tax lapse that his employer then ignored, leading him to tip off the IRS, has received $4.5 million in the first IRS whistleblower award.

The accountant's tip netted the IRS $20 million in taxes and interest from the errant financial-services firm.

The award represents a 22% cut of the taxes recovered. The program, designed to encourage tips in large-scale cases, mandates awards of 15% to 30% of the amount recouped.

"It ought to encourage a lot of other people to squeal," Sen. Charles Grassley told the Associated Press. The Iowa Republican helped get the IRS Whistleblower Office authorized in 2006.

The IRS mailed the accountant's lawyer a $3.24 million check that arrived in suburban Philadelphia by first-class mail yesterday. The sum represents the award minus a 28% tax hit.

Attorney Eric L. Young of Blue Bell says he won't release the name of his client or the firm because his client remains a small-town accountant, and hopes to continue to work in his field.

"It's a win-win for both the government and taxpayers. These are dollars that are being returned to the Treasury that otherwise wouldn't be," Young ...

Artist Probed For ‘Economic Crimes’

Thursday, April 7th, 2011
Chinese authorities link Ai Weiwei to a charge commonly used to silence activists.

Welcome to the Social Age

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

For students, the days of pen pals and old fashioned lectures are coming to an end. Communications are now simultaneous and instantaneous, aided by the advancement of technology. And now that everyone has settled down with their Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts, we're starting to see the social age creep into the classroom by way of "social learning."

As FIRE's public awareness associate, I attended the American University Social Media Club's 2011 Social Learning Summit last weekend. The first of its kind, the summit aimed to bring students, educators, and professionals together to discuss the intersection of social media, technology, innovation, and education. I happened across the summit while scouring the Twitterverse for free speech and media related streams. Students, speech, and social mediait was almost too easy. Naturally, my smart phone and I hitched a train to D.C. for the weekend.

Little did I know that I wasn't hanging out at AU to discuss the social age for the day; I was living the social age. I felt as if I had stepped into a Twitterverse that I could smell and touch. Before the first keynote panel even kicked off the Saturday morning sessions, a swath of ...

Lawsuit Against YouTube Threatens Global Growth of Political Speech

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of advocacy groups have asked a federal appeals court to reject attempts to thwart federal copyright law and saddle online communities with new litigation fears in the appeal of Viacom v. YouTube.

In an amicus brief filed Thursday, EFF argues that the infringement claims made by Viacom and the other plaintiffs threaten to undermine the "safe harbor" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) -- safe harbors that have fostered free speech and innovation around the globe. Without the clear legal structure of the DMCA process, companies that host user-generated expression could be hit with potentially massive damage awards, which would encourage over-blocking of content or even the shutdown of services altogether.

"If the DMCA safe harbors are undermined in the way Viacom and the other content companies would like, the free flow of information will be seriously threatened," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Abigail Phillips. "Communications platforms like YouTube have enabled political and other speech to flourish online. We've all seen the critical role digital communications have been playing in protests across the Middle East. The safe harbors make posting of user-generated content like this possible."

At ...

Landmark Fourth Circuit Ruling Protects Faculty Speech

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

In a victory for freedom of expression, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit yesterday issued a landmark defense of First Amendment rights for faculty at public colleges and universities. The Fourth Circuit reversed a federal district court's ruling in part, holding that the lower court had improperly dismissed First Amendment claims brought by Professor Mike Adams of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

In his complaint, filed against the university in March of 2007 with the backing of the Alliance Defense Fund, Adams alleged that his application for promotion had been denied in part due to the conservative political viewpoints expressed through his work as a columnist. As a result, Adams argued that the university's rejection of his application constituted retaliation against protected speech in violation of his First Amendment rights. Adams also alleged that he had suffered religious discrimination and an equal protection violation.

In a ruling issued in March of 2010, the federal district court rejected Adams' claims. With respect to his First Amendment retaliation charge, the district court found that because Adams had included the conservative columns in his application for promotion, the content of the columns became speech "made pursuant to ...

Nadine Strossen’s Speech on Judicial “Inactivism” Now Available for Viewing On-Line

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

On April 1, 2011, Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1991-2008, delivered the Thirteenth Annual Henry Abraham Distinguished Lecture Series sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Center.  Strossen, the first woman and the youngest person to head the ACLU, spoke on the issue of “Judicial ‘Inactivism,’” when courts invoke various technical “door-closing” doctrines to deny any judicial review for litigants seeking justice on matters ranging from gross human rights violations to government abuses in the context of the post-911 “War on Terror.”  The lecture is now available on-line.

Mass Copyright Litigation Roundup: Positive Trend for Due Process?

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Judicial decisions are starting to come fast and furious in the movie copyright troll cases – and the trend is mixed but promising for those of us who care about protecting due process.

The good news is that judges continue to recognize the fundamental flaws in these cases. In the Northern District of Illinois, for example, Judge Blanche Manning recently severed Millennium v. Does 1-800, effectively dismissing the case against almost every Doe defendant. The court also suggested that the suit had been brought in the wrong place:

The plaintiff is a Hawaii corporation with its principal place of business in California. As far as the plaintiff knows, none of the defendants are located in Illinois and it merely alleged, without any basis the court can discern, that “on information and belief each Defendant may be found in this district and/or a substantial part of the acts of infringement complained of herein occurred in this District.” Amended Comp. at ¶7. Indeed, apparently none of the Doe defendants who have filed motions to quash are located in Illinois and it appears that easily accessible tools exist to verify the locations of the IP addresses of the other named Doe defendants, ...

The Logic of the Censor

Thursday, April 7th, 2011
Susan Burns, the woman who tried to tear a Paul Gauguin painting off a wall at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., stated her reasons thus: “I feel that Gauguin is evil. He has nudity and is bad for the children. He has two women in the painting and it’s very homosexual. I [...]

Fully-qualified Nonsense in the SSL Observatory

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Yesterday, I posted about how internet certification authorities will sign unqualified names, which have no meaning on the internet.

In addition to unqualified names being meaningless — or, worse than meaningless — there are also meaningless fully-qualified names. And, yes, CAs will sign those names too.

As you may know, the internet domain name system (DNS) has a hierarchical structure: at the top are the top-level domains (TLDs) like .com, .org, and .net. Additionally, each two-letter ISO country code like UK, JP, and CN is also a valid country-code TLD (ccTLD). Finally, there are the lesser-known TLDs like .mobi, .museum, and .int.

Although you can register most any name (that contains letters, numbers, dashes, and arguably underscores) underneath the TLDs, the set of TLDs is fixed. Although ICANN might someday approve a .mars TLD for the red planet, they have not yet done so. If you try to browse to www.olympus-mons.mars, you won’t get anywhere. (Yet.)

However, CAs will sign certificates vouching for the identities of servers under non-existent TLDs and for names that are not legal DNS names (such as phrases containing spaces). Attached to this post, below, is a file containing a list of all ...

Work for EFF’s Activism Team This Summer

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Are you an undergraduate or graduate student who is interested in protecting civil liberties online and fighting for a free and open Internet? Do you have strong writing and research skills? Do you love delving into the latest issues in technology, privacy, intellectual property, and transparency? Apply for EFF’s Summer Activism Internship!

The Activism Intern will work closely with EFF’s activism team to create new campaigns, action alerts, and issue pages, research new issues in digital civil liberties, and update existing web pages on EFF’s sprawling website.

EF is seeking candidates with the following qualifications:

  • Familiar with EFF’s core issues: privacy, transparency, intellectual property, and freedom of expression.
  • Available to work from June through August at EFF’s office in San Francisco, CA.
  • Have strong writing and research skills.
  • Comfortable updating blogs and social media. Experience maintaining a website preferred.

Candidates should email a cover letter and resume to by April 22nd. Please include 2-4 links to online writing samples. Replies will be sent by May 9th. This internship is an unpaid position.

Md. prisons won’t ask for keys to job seekers’ social-media accounts

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Maryland's prison agency said yesterday that it would no longer ask prospective correctional officers for the keys to their social-media accounts after the American Civil Liberties Union complained that requiring job applicants to divulge Facebook usernames and passwords violates privacy laws.

Instead, background investigators will ask those seeking guard jobs and other security-related positions to voluntarily log in to their personal websites so that investigators can review them. Refusal to do so won't jeopardize their employment chances, according to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

ACLU of Maryland Legal Director Deborah Jeon says the policy is still improper because most applicants will feel coerced to comply. The agency may as well ask job applicants if it can monitor their calls, read their e-mail and search their houses, she said.

Jeon says the policy also may violate Facebook's "terms of use" designed to protect the privacy of those who have "friended" the job applicants.

She says the ACLU will ask Public Safety Secretary Gary Maynard to further reconsider the policy.

"I consider it problematic in that it places pressure on job applicants to open their social-media accounts to the government, and it subjects friends of the ...

ACLU questions cancelling of Cuban music concert in Fla.

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

MIAMI — The American Civil Liberties Union said yesterday the cancellation of a South Florida music festival featuring artists from Cuba may have violated the event organizers’ constitutional right to free speech.

Organizers made official yesterday a February decision to cancel the Fuego Cuban Music Worlds Festival, which had been scheduled for April 9. They have filed a civil suit in Miami-Dade County Court against the Homestead Miami International Speedway, where the event was to take place.

The ACLU and concert organizers are calling for an investigation of local officials’ involvement in the concert’s cancellation.

Exiles are mixed in their views of Cuban artists, who receive support from their island’s communist government and are generally only allowed to travel if they remain in its good graces. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell represents Homestead and said she would do everything in her power to stop the event.

“We have assurances that this concert dealing with the Cuban artists from Cuba is not going to take place,” she said during a Feb. 7 interview with Radio Caracol 1260 in Miami. “We understand free speech and will defend free speech but not when public facilities and public funds are being utilized.”

Bell did ...

News media barred from hearing in slaying of NFL player

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

MIAMI — Reporters and cameras will be barred from a key evidence hearing in the case against four men accused of fatally shooting Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor during a botched 2007 robbery at his home, a judge ruled yesterday.

Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy agreed with defense attorneys that the hearing on whether to allow purported confessions or incriminating statements at trial should be closed so that prospective jurors aren't exposed to material that might skew their view of the high-profile case.

"There is not an automatic right to be present for pretrial hearings," Murphy said. "Closure is necessary for these defendants to receive a fair trial."

Murphy set the closed hearing for May 20. A trial date has not yet been scheduled for the four men, all from the Fort Myers area: 20-year-old Eric Rivera Jr., identified by police as the alleged shooter; Charles Wardlow, 21; Jason Mitchell, 23; and 19-year-old Timmy Lee Brown. A fifth suspect, 23-year-old Venjah Hunte, pleaded guilty to murder and burglary charges and is expected to testify against the others.

Taylor, an All-Pro safety with the Redskins who also starred at the University of Miami, bled to death after he was shot in the ...

Federal judge orders national park to release documents

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — A former Acadia National Park restaurant employee has won his lawsuit seeking documents about a 2008 confrontation between rangers and a group of young people atop the park’s Day Mountain that left him with serious facial injuries.

The Bangor Daily News says federal Judge John Woodcock has ordered the documents released to Timothy Wild through his Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Woodcock issued his ruling Jan. 31 but sealed it 60 days to give the National Park Service time to appeal, which it declined to do, the newspaper said. The park service also has agreed to pay Wild’s $24,000 legal bill pertaining to the lawsuit. The park service previously paid $45,000 to settle Wild’s separate lawsuit claiming rangers violated his rights.

Wild was injured when rangers detained a group of about 40 people — many of them employees at the Jordan Pond House restaurant — who had gathered on the mountain top for an annual tradition.

Appeals Court Hands Big Win to Advocates of Free Faculty Speech in Ruling on Pundit-Professor

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

 In a ruling that breaks from other recent federal court decisions chipping away at the speech rights of public colleges’ faculty members, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held on Wednesday that the University of North Carolina at Wilmington could not deny a promotion to a faculty member, the prominent conservative commentator Michael S. Adams, based on writings that university administrators had deemed job-related.

Read more.

Read the amicus brief filed in the case by the Thomas Jefferson Center.

Radio Broadcasters Detained

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011
Vietnam is accused of bowing to pressure from China in its arrest of two Falun Gong practitioners.

Kaminer on the "Loneliness of the Civil Libertarian Feminist"

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011
In her most recent column for The Atlantic, author, lawyer, and FIRE Board of Advisors member Wendy Kaminer makes her case that "Civil libertarian feminists have always been a political minority, but these days we seem on the verge of extinction," using the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigation of Yale University for allowing misogynistic speechnot actionsby male students as an example. Kaminer also opines that the recent "Dear Colleague" letter to colleges from OCR, about which FIRE issued a statement on Monday, "displays much more concern for the sensitivities of accusers over the rights of the accused." Be sure to check out Kaminer's insightful column!

China Slams Concern Over Artist

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011
A Chinese official daily warns of a 'price' that has to be paid.

Adam to Speak at Iowa State First Amendment Day 2011

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

This Thursday, FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel will be travelling to Ames, Iowa, to speak at the First Amendment Day 2011 celebration at Iowa State University (ISU). Adam will take part in two events, a lecture entitled "Making Your Entire Campus a Free Speech Zone" at 2:30 p.m. and a panel discussion on the Supreme Court of the United States' recent decision in Snyder v. Phelps at 4:45 p.m.

"Making Your Entire Campus a Free Speech Zone"
Thursday, April 7, 2:30 p.m.
Cardinal Room of the Memorial Union

Panel: "Snyder v. Phelps: Defending Speech You Hate."
Thursday, April 7, 4:45 p.m.
Cardinal Room of the Memorial Union
Panelists: Gene Policinski, Executive Director of the First Amendment Center; Frank LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center; Adam Kissel, Vice President of Programs for FIRE; and Jeffrey J. Hunt of the law firm Parr, Brown, Gee and Loveless in Salt Lake City, Utah. Moderator: Richard Doak, Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication lecturer.

For information on all the First Amendment Day 2011 events at ISU, check out the full schedule at

Arizona Bill Would Allow Student Organizations to Exercise Expressive Association

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Last month, House Bill 2625 passed both houses of the Arizona state legislature and is now awaiting the governor's signature. The bill contains a provision that would require universities to allow religious and political student organizations to select members and leadership based on a commitment to the organization's mission.

This provision appears to be enacted in response to last year's Supreme Court decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, which held that universities may constitutionally prohibit student organizations from denying membership to any interested student. As we have argued extensively (and as I contend in scholarship that will soon be published in the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights), enacting the type of "all-comers policy" that was at issue in Martinez, and denying student organizations the ability to select membership and leadership on the basis of shared beliefs, infringes upon students' First Amendment right to expressive associationalthough the Supreme Court held otherwise in its 5-4 decision.

Although the Martinez Court held only that universities may enact "all-comers policies," the Court did not require universities to do so. The new Arizona bill seeks to ensure that Arizona public universities and community colleges cannot enact ...

Ohio College Prohibits Student from Peacefully Distributing Literature on Abortion, Birth Control

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

FIRE announced in a press release today that Sinclair Community College (SCC) in Ohio has banned a student from distributing literature about abortion, birth control, and breast cancer to her classmates after class. The college also bans all distribution of literature on vast areas of campus. Although FIRE has tried to persuade SCC to relent, SCC has persisted in violating the First Amendment.

"The right to distribute literature about controversial topics is one of Americans' most hallowed rights," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said in the press release. "If someone's claim to be offended by speech were all it took to overrule the First Amendment, we would all be reduced to silence. Thankfully the Constitution does not recognize a ‘right not to be offended.'"

On a single occasion during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month last October, SCC student Ethel Borel-Donohue distributed roughly 15 flyers relating to National Breast Cancer Awareness Month to various students in her Probate Law I course after class. Borel-Donohue is a student in SCC's Paralegal Program. The flyers discuss possible risks of breast cancer related to birth control and abortion.

Borel-Donohue was summoned to the office of Judge Michael Brigner, Paralegal Program Chair, and they met on ...

Unqualified Names in the SSL Observatory

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Internet certification authorities (CAs) are charged with the task of vouching for the identities of secure web servers. When you browse to, your browser knows it’s the real because VeriSign, a CA, says it is.

However, if CAs don’t validate the identities of the sites they vouch for, the whole system breaks down. In this post, I’ll discuss one way in which CAs frequently fail.

Using data in EFF's SSL Observatory, we have been able to quantify the extent to which CAs engage in the insecure practice of signing certificates for unqualified names. That they do so in large numbers indicates that they do not even minimally validate the certificates they sign. This significantly undermines CAs’ claim to be trustworthy authorities for internet names. It also puts internet users at increased risk of network attack.

Normally, a public CA like Verisign or Comodo should sign only public names. On the internet, only fully-qualified domain names are public and routable. For example, “” is a fully-qualified name. By contrast, the name “www” is unqualified or not fully-qualified. This name is not globally unique, and may refer to a different computer on my network than it does on ...