Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Prisoner-rights group sues over refusal of its publications

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Prison Legal News, a prisoner-rights group that publishes materials for inmates, has sued in federal court, contending that a California county and sheriff violated the First Amendment by censoring PLN's publications.

PLN publishes a monthly journal, Prison Legal News, which features commentary on court rulings, prison issues and other criminal-justice matters. The group alleges that since April 2010, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott R. Jones and other jail officials have refused to deliver its journal and related materials at Sacramento County Main Jail and the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center.

Its complaint in Prison Legal News v. County of Sacramento, filed April 5, alleges that the defendants' conduct “violates the First Amendment by censoring these expressive activities and has a chilling effect on future speech and expression directed at prisoners confined there.”

According to the complaint, mailed copies of the journal came back to PLN with a "return to sender" stamp that said "no staples."

“They claim it is because we have staples, but we have had staples since we started publishing in 1990 and they didn’t start censoring us until last year,” said Prison Legal News Editor Paul Wright.

Efforts to reach jail officials for comment were unsuccessful until April 11, ...

Ill. judge: Pharmacists don’t have to dispense ‘morning-after’ pill

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois pharmacists can't be forced to dispense emergency contraception, a judge ruled yesterday.

After a nearly six-year struggle, Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz said requiring pharmacists to sell the so-called morning-after pill violates state right-of-conscience law and the First Amendment.

The argument is not over. The ruling promises to lead to an appeal and likely a protracted battle.

Pharmacists Luke VanderBleek and Glenn Kosirog and the three drug stores they operate sued over the 2005 rule imposed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. A circuit court originally dismissed the claim, but the state Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that a court must hear it.

Francis Manion, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice and the plaintiffs' attorney, called the decision "a major victory for the rights of conscience."

"After six long years of litigation, our clients have finally prevailed against a state government determined to coerce them and pro-life pharmacists into violating their deeply held religious beliefs or give up their livelihoods," Manion said in a prepared statement.

"Plan B" emergency contraception contains a high dose of birth control pills and can be used to prevent pregnancy if taken within three days of unprotected sex ...

Man sues Va. prisons for denying literary CDs

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. — A Louisiana man sued Virginia’s prison system April 4, claiming a policy that prevents him from buying a spoken word CD by a renowned British author for an inmate but allows music and religious CDs is unconstitutional.

Owen North attempted to buy a CD titled Dylan Thomas: The Caedmon Collection as a Christmas present for his friend, Shawn Goode, a prisoner at Nottoway Correctional Center. The 11-disk CD features Thomas reading his poetry and prose, and also reading of some of his favorite writers, including W.H. Auden and William Shakespeare.

Prison officials denied the request, citing a policy that allows inmates to have only approved music and faith-based spoken-word CDs, such as religious sermons. The policy also prohibits outsiders from ordering CDs for inmates, even though family and friends are allowed to order other approved items, such as books and publications, from certain vendors as gifts.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Richmond, North claims the system’s policy is discriminatory, violates the First Amendment and equal-protection guarantees, and serves no compelling interest.

“I think everyone should have freedom of religion. However, I find the notion offensive that the state of Virginia can favor religious speech ...

Breyer: Apply Founders’ values pragmatically

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer argued yesterday that judges needed to apply the Constitution's values with an eye toward the changing times as he talked about the past successes and missteps of the nation's highest court.

Breyer told hundreds of people during an event in downtown Little Rock that a judge's job was to figure out how the Founding Fathers' values apply to modern issues.

"George Washington didn't really have a view about the Internet," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd of about 650 people at the Statehouse Convention Center.

Breyer touched on several issues as he discussed his latest book, Making Our Democracy Work, including recent controversial court rulings, justices' ideological differences and the landmark 1957 decision that allowed nine black students to enroll in a Little Rock high school just a few miles away. He called that ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, one of the Court's fundamental cases.

The 72-year-old Breyer, considered one of the Court's more liberal justices, said the Court should apply the Constitution's values with a pragmatic view toward present circumstances, rather than focusing only on the document's historical meaning.

That view conflicts with the approach of conservatives, ...

DePaul Alumnus Speaks out Against University’s ‘Managing’ of Ideas

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
As I wrote here a few weeks ago, the DePaul University administration has offered shifting explanations, none of them satisfactory or in line with the free speech promises DePaul makes to its students, for its refusal to recognize the student group Students for Cannabis Policy Reform. Regarding a February 28 article in The DePaulia, I wrote of DePaul Vice President for Student Affairs James Doyle (emphasis mine):

[I]n a February 28, 2011, article in the student newspaper The DePaulia, Doyle ... distorts SCPR's goals and confirms that the group is being discriminated against on the basis of its viewpoint, but nonetheless claims that free speech is alive and well at DePaul.

More recently, FIRE accused DePaul of "denying recognition to the student group, Students for Cannabis Policy Reform - first saying that the university wasn't ready to "manage" the group's message, then saying that allowing the group on campus might promote poor decision-making in matters of student health," according Lukianoff's article [The Huffington Post's "The 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech," which includes DePaul]. DePaul's Vice President of student affairs, James Doyle, argues this, saying "My issue was advocating a group on campus ...

Protesters Block Power Plant

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
Elderly activists set up tents at a building's entrance, preventing trucks from going in.

Media Outrage Building over Whistleblowing UCLA Professor’s Case

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Hearings for University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) professor and scientist James Enstrom began yesterday. 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.

Last week, Reason.tv released a video about the implications of a professor being punished for claiming that his state's environmental policy relies on questionable science, and 12 California legislators wrote UCLA Chancellor Gene Block to express concern about academic freedom in the University of California system.

Since last week, Enstrom's story has been picked up by writers for a number of outlets, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, Instapundit, Carpe Diem, Hot Air, Canada Free Press, The Blaze, and the San Francisco Examiner (an article the UCLA Office of Media Relations linked to in its own press roundup). 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 ...

Gansu Protest Monks Die

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
Tibetan monks had spoken out to foreign journalists during an organized tour.

Senators Call For Response to Idiotic Burning of Qur’an, But What Kind?

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
A couple weeks ago, Terry Jones finally gave into his burning desire to burn a Qur’an. Over the weekend, Afghans rioted over online video of the burning, resulting in the deaths of up to 20 people. General Petreus called the burning a “security threat” to the Afghan occupation, and Senators Harry Reid and Lindsay Graham [...]

Appeals Court Hears Argument in the "Breast Cancer Gene" Case

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. heard oral argument yesterday in the closely watched “breast cancer gene” patent case. At issue are two patents covering naturally occurring human genes that, when present, signal an increased likelihood of developing breast cancer. The ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation filed the lawsuit in May 2009, representing 150,000 geneticists, pathologists, and laboratory professionals; in March 2010, the district court found in the plaintiffs’ favor and invalidated the patents.

Because Myriad owned the patents, testing on these two genes could only take place in Myriad’s own labs – meaning that others could not develop tests on those genes, depriving women from alternative (and cheaper) tests. This is the result of a troubling trend of patenting genes, despite long-standing Supreme Court precedent that, in order to be eligible for a patent, an invention must have a "new or distinctive form, quality or property" and may not be a product of nature. The district court agreed with plaintiffs that isolated breast cancer genes – genes that naturally exist in some women – did not meet this standard and invalidated the two patents.

Defendants appealed that ruling and the Federal Circuit heard argument yesterday. ...

Urban Homesteaders Fight Baseless Legal Claims Over Generic, Descriptive Term

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

San Francisco - Activists in the urban homesteading movement petitioned today to cancel the registration of bogus trademarks for the terms "urban homesteading" and "urban homestead" -- trademarks that have been used to threaten other urban homesteaders and remove online content and discussion.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has teamed up with the law firm of Winston & Strawn to represent Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, authors of The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, as well as their publisher, Process Media. The book, published in 2008, was the culmination of years of participation in the global urban homesteading movement, which supports sustainable living techniques in urban areas. Urban homesteading includes growing food, raising livestock, and producing simple food products.

Despite the fact that "urban homesteading" and "urban homestead" have been used as generic descriptions for decades, a group called the Dervaes Institute managed to register the terms as trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for "educational services" like blogging. Dervaes has used the trademark registrations to claim broad ownership rights and threaten urban homesteaders who use the term online.

"Dervaes got Facebook to take down pages that talk about ...

High court rejects Nader’s appeal of ballot rules

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has turned away Ralph Nader's appeal of a Hawaiian court's decision keeping him off the state's presidential ballot in 2004.

The high court refused yesterday to hear Nader's appeal.

Elections officials kept Nader off Hawaii's 2004 ballot because supporters had failed to submit the required number of signatures. He challenged that decision, saying the election rules made it harder for independent candidates to make it on a ballot than party candidates, but the rules were upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case is Nader v. Nago, 10-728.

N.J. teacher suspended for Facebook posts

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

PATERSON, N.J. — A New Jersey school district suspended a first-grade teacher after parents complained that she had posted derogatory comments about her students on her Facebook page.

The Record newspaper reports that the teacher wrote about feeling like “a warden” and referred to her 6- and 7-year-old students as future criminals.

The teacher, whose name was not disclosed, was removed from the classroom last week after several parents who saw the posts came to Paterson School 21 and asked that their children be removed from her class.

Superintendent Donnie Evans confirmed the suspension on April 1 and said the district was investigating. He declined further comment because it was a personnel matter.

Board of Education President Theodore Best told the newspaper that the teacher was suspended “because the incident created serious problems at the school that impeded the functioning of the building.”

He added: “You can’t simply fire someone for what they have on a Facebook page, but if that spills over and affects the classroom, then you can take action.”

The flap comes just weeks after a high school English teacher from outside Philadelphia was suspended for a profanity-laced blog in which she called her young charges “disengaged, ...

Mo. ethics law struck down on free-speech grounds

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Missouri Senate committee is considering legislation that could revive part of a 2010 ethics law struck down last week by a judge.

At issue is a provision that limited the ability of political action committees to shuffle money among other such committees. The bill's wording also barred state-chartered banks from contributing to political action committees.

A Cole County judge ruled March 31 that the restriction on bank contributions violated free-speech rights. The judge also struck down the entire 2010 ethics law because the legislation to which it was attached contained multiple subjects.

Attorney General Chris Koster said he would appeal the decision and wanted the judge to suspend the ruling from taking effect in the meantime.

"Our suggestion is that people continue to follow the law as it was passed until the judgment becomes final," said Koster spokeswoman Nanci Gonder.

Before the court ruling, the House had passed a bill lifting the ban on bank contributions. A Senate committee planned to consider that bill today. That bill could be expanded to revive other ethics-law provisions.

Besides the provisions about the public reporting of political contributions, the law also gives greater power to Missouri Ethics Commission ...

U. of Wis. chancellor to release some e-mails sought by state GOP

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

MADISON, Wis. — The chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison says she will release some of a history professor’s e-mails that were requested by the Republican Party of Wisconsin, but she's withholding others to protect "academic freedom."

The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Chancellor Biddy Martin responded on April 1 to a request for e-mails involving professor William Cronon, who had written about the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The council is an industry-funded nonprofit that has urged Republicans to introduce laws limiting collective bargaining in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

The request has sparked a debate about whether such requests are a legitimate use of the Wisconsin public-records law or an effort to intimidate a professor.

Martin says she has to balance the public's right to know with the freedom scholars need in their search for knowledge.

Take Action to Preserve Academic Freedom at UCLA

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Click here to write UCLA Chancellor Gene Block about the threat to academic freedom posed by UCLA's treatment of Dr. James Enstrom.

 

FIRE Issues Statement in Response to OCR ‘Dear Colleague’ Letter on Universities’ Obligations Regarding Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault

Monday, April 4th, 2011

FIRE has issued a statement in response to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights' (OCR's) "Dear Colleague" letter, sent today to federally funded colleges and universities, regarding schools' obligations under federal regulations to address sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Our statement reads, in full:

The April 4, 2011, "Dear Colleague" letter from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights raises questions about OCR's continued respect for the free expression rights enjoyed by students at our nation's college campuses.

In discussing the legal obligations borne by colleges and universities under Title IX to respond to both sexual harassment and sexual violence committed against students, OCR fails to sufficiently recognize the fact that public universities may not violate the First Amendment rights of their students and that private universities must honor their promises of freedom of expression to their students. Nowhere in Assistant Secretary Russlyn Ali's letter are free expression concerns mentioned, nor is OCR's 2003 "Dear Colleague" letter regarding the intersection of freedom of expression and harassment policies referenced or cited for further guidance. In that 2003 letter, former Assistant Secretary Gerald A. Reynolds made clear that "OCR's regulations and policies do not require or prescribe speech, ...

Campaign For Detained Artist

Monday, April 4th, 2011
Netizens launch blitz for the 'fat guy.'

EFF to Oregon Supreme Court: Police Need Warrant to Search Arrestees’ Cell Phones

Monday, April 4th, 2011

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged the Oregon Supreme Court to block warrantless searches of arrestees' cell phones Friday, arguing in an amicus brief that granting law enforcement free rein to search data on the devices violates basic privacy protections guaranteed by the Constitution.

Other state supreme courts have considered the issue, but they have split in their rulings.

In this case, a criminal suspect was arrested and placed in a holding cell. Forty minutes after the arrest, without a warrant, an investigator fished through the suspect's cell phone looking for evidence related to his alleged crime. Law enforcement officials claim they didn't need a warrant because the search was "incident to arrest" -- an exception to the warrant requirement intended to allow officers to perform a search for weapons or to prevent evidence from being destroyed in exigent circumstances.

"This is an empty excuse from the police -- the suspect was in custody and unable to destroy evidence on his cell phone," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable intrusions by the police and ensures that a neutral magistrate decides when the police can search private information. There was ...

‘North Carolina College Finder’ Website Features FIRE Free Speech Ratings

Monday, April 4th, 2011

The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy today launched its North Carolina College Finder, nccollegefinder.org, intended to give college-bound students better information about the state's colleges and universities. Among the ratings criteria are FIRE's Spotlight speech code ratings for every university in North Carolinaalso featured last year in a report from the Pope Center. FIRE welcomes the Pope Center's use of our Spotlight ratings as part of its rubric and hopes that other organizations that care about free speech on campus will soon follow suit. 


Can They Do That? Saggy Pants Edition

Monday, April 4th, 2011
Perhaps you heard that the Arkansas State Legislature has banned students from wearing “clothing that exposes underwear, buttocks, or the breast of a female” at all school-related functions. So: Can they do that? Fire up the Free Speech Wayback Machine to 1969. In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the Supreme Court ruled [...]

Voluntary Surveilance, Crowdsourced Censors

Monday, April 4th, 2011
On Wednesday we featured an RSAnimate video about mutual knowledge as an essential element of dissent, as demonstrated by Wikileaks. Today we feature an RSAnimate on how authoritarian regimes can leverage dissent on the Internet for their own end: The speaker, Evgeny Morozov, notes a few phenomena of interest. First, in China, how blogs critical [...]

FIRE in the News: Adam Tours the Sunshine State and American University Refuses Intrusive DOJ Grant

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Adam has been very busy the last two weeks delivering speeches at six Florida universities. In anticipation of Adam's lecture on Monday at the University of Central Florida (UCF), KnightNews.com, an independent news source serving the UCF area, published an editorial strongly encouraging students to attend the talk and expressing its support of "every citizen's right to free speech at UCF." We at FIRE appreciate KnightNews.com's endorsement as well as its principled stance on individual rights.

Adam also visited Rollins College, where a column critical of illegal immigration led to a productive campus-wide discussion. Mike Lafferty of the Orlando Sentinel quoted Will and mentioned our most recent speech code report, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2011: The State of Free Speech On Our Nation's Campuses, in a column about the varied responses to the illegal immigration article. 

Adam is also featured in a video this week with Ted Balaker of Reason.tv (re-posted by the Student Free Press Association and Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit) regarding FIRE's support of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) professor James Enstrom, who is facing retaliation from UCLA after publishing politically inconvenient research about air pollution and leading a successful whistleblowing campaign ...

Federal judge sides with group sponsoring Muslim-defector bus ads

Monday, April 4th, 2011

DETROIT — A group that says it helps Muslims quit their faith has won a court order against Detroit's regional transit system for rejecting bus ads that ask, "Fatwa on your head? ... Leaving Islam? Got questions? Get answers!"

U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood granted a preliminary injunction on March 31 against the bus system, which was sued last year by the American Freedom Defense Initiative.

The advocacy group says the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation violated the group's First and 14th Amendment rights by rejecting the ads it submitted.

"There is a strong likelihood," the judge wrote, that the ad's promoters could show that the bus company's decision to reject the ads "was not reasonable but rather arbitrary and capricious." Hood set a conference on the case for April 11.

SMART declined comment on the case. In court filings, the bus system said its policies against political and several other types of ads were constitutional.

A self-described Christian-rights legal center representing the ads' sponsors said the bus company showed its double standard by accepting earlier atheism advocacy ads.

"In the past, SMART had no problem running an anti-religion ad ... that stated, 'Don't Believe in God? You ...

6th Circuit reinstates inmate’s retaliation claim

Monday, April 4th, 2011

A federal appeals court has reinstated a prisoner’s First Amendment claim that Michigan prison officials retaliated against him after he claimed he was receiving inadequate medical care.

Inmate Jerry Vandiver alleged that prison officials at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson denied him health care after he spoke out “concerning prisoners' health care needs” and sought access to the courts. Later transferred to the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional facility in Muskegon Heights, Vandiver said he received inadequate care there too.
 
The difficulty for Vandiver, a diabetic who suffers from hepatitis C, was that he had filed previous federal lawsuits that had been dismissed. This litigation history created a problem for him under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, a law passed in the mid-1990s in part to curtail excessive court filings by inmates.

The three-strikes provision of the act provides:

“In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that ...

High court allows Ariz. religious-school tax break

Monday, April 4th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court rejected a challenge today to an Arizona tax break that directs millions of dollars to private religious schools.

The justices, in a 5-4 ruling, said that Arizona taxpayers who filed a lawsuit to block the tax break have no legal claim because they are not forced to contribute to the state program that sends money to the religious schools.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the Court's majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Justice Elena Kagan dissented, along with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

For more than 13 years, Arizona has allowed residents to send up to $500 to a tuition-scholarship organization that they would have otherwise paid the state in taxes on their incomes. The scholarship groups have received nearly $350 million, Kagan noted.

There are also organizations for private secular schools, but the bulk of the money has been directed to religious schools.

The major complaint about the law has been that state money has wound up in the coffers of religious schools.

But Kennedy rejected the idea that the money at issue belongs to the state. "Contributions result from the ...

7th Circuit won’t halt Wis. public-financing system

Monday, April 4th, 2011

MILWAUKEE — A federal appeals court turned aside a request April 1 to block the state’s public-financing system from providing matching funds to candidates for tomorrow’s state Supreme Court election.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling came hours after an anti-abortion group and other plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the financing system filed an emergency request for an injunction.

Wisconsin Right to Life, the Wisconsin Center for Economic Prosperity and school-choice advocate George Mitchell filed a lawsuit in 2009, contending the law establishing the public-financing system violated their free-speech rights. The groups sought to halt the public-financing process for this election, arguing that the matching funds led them to self-censor their spending.

On March 31, U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled against the plaintiffs, writing that he was upholding the law in light of the state’s compelling interest in avoiding the perception that Supreme Court elections are tainted with an appearance of bias.

The plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal on April 1 as well as an emergency motion asking the 7th Circuit to halt the law pending their appeal. The plaintiffs argued that the so-called rescue-fund provision is unconstitutional. That provision sends a candidate a matching amount ...

Calif. high court revives juror’s Facebook case

Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO — The California Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to reconsider the case of a Sacramento juror who refused to turn over his Facebook postings about the trial he was hearing.

Arturo Ramirez served on a jury in a 2008 gang-related beating case. After the defendants were convicted, defense lawyers discovered Ramirez's Facebook account.

The Sacramento Bee reported that Ramirez’s postings mostly chronicled his attendance and at one point called the evidence "boring."

The defense asked the judge to retrieve all the postings to see if they showed bias, but Ramirez and Facebook refused the order, citing privacy rights.

On March 30, the state's high court unanimously sent the case back to the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which previously had refused to take it up.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the high court order “frames a new issue for California courts: whether a federal law limiting compelled release of Internet records, or the constitutional right to privacy, outweighs the fair-trial rights of defendants who say their convictions may have stemmed from jury misconduct.”

Federal judge upholds Wis. campaign-finance law

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

MILWAUKEE — A federal judge ruled against two lawsuits yesterday that challenged Wisconsin's law on financing Supreme Court elections — less than a week before the vote.

Wisconsin Right to Life, the Wisconsin Center for Economic Prosperity and school-choice advocate George Mitchell filed a lawsuit in 2009, contending the law violated their free speech and wanting to halt the public-financing process for this election.

Legislators set up public financing in 2009 after critics contended Supreme Court races had grown too expensive, creating concerns justices were beholden to special-interest donors. The April 8 election marks the first time the system has come into play.

Both Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser and challenger Joanne Kloppenburg are using the public-financing option.

The lawsuit involving Wisconsin Right to Life challenges the so-called "rescue funds" provision that sends a candidate a matching amount of money, up to $900,000 in the general election, if the opponent or a third-party group outspends the candidate by a certain amount. The suit also challenged reporting requirements for third-party candidates and the $1,000 limit on campaign contributions by individuals and committees to privately funded candidates.

In his decision yesterday, U.S. District Judge William Conley wrote he was upholding the ...

12 California State Legislators Write UCLA, Decrying Retaliation Case

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Twelve members of the California State Legislature have written UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block and Provost Scott Waugh a letter decrying UCLA's treatment of longtime Department of Environmental Health Sciences faculty member James E. Enstrom. Professor Enstrom was let go from UCLA after some 34 years under circumstances detailed by FIRE and described in a video released yesterday from Reason.tv.

Led by Chief Republican Whip Dan Logue, Assemblymember, Third District, the legislators write that they "remain deeply troubled by the University's inability to provide credible cause for Dr. Enstrom's dismissal, and the appearance of political interference in the University's academic discourse."

They also raise concerns "as to the integrity of this process," since UCLA's allegation that Enstrom failed to meet his department's "minimum requirements" appears to have been based on a document dating back to 1995 that Enstrom had never seen and which might not be at all applicable to Enstrom's position. (I wrote about this document a couple of weeks ago.) The legislators write that "this policy of minimum requirements has neither been enforced with the Department, nor has the document been provided to Dr. Enstrom despite his specific request. This seems arbitrary and capricious and undermines the ...

Dearth of Critical Thinking on Display as NKU Library Removes Anti-Klan Artwork

Friday, April 1st, 2011

recent article in The Northerner, of Northern Kentucky University (NKU), reports that an art display has been moved from its place in an NKU library after administrators received complaints over its depiction of a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

More specifically, the work is an award-winning triptych of images by NKU professor Hanz Schellhas titled "First Class, Second Class," which the professor created during his days as a student at NKU as a critique of modern race relations. An NKU website describes the motivation and methodology of the piece:

Based on his own experience working for social justice in Cincinnati, Schellhas depicted a Klansman whose large portrait in the center of the triptych was created entirely with ink applied by rubber stamps with the words "FIRST CLASS." Flanking the Klansman on either side were smaller portraits of non-Klan protestors whose inked images were created with "second class" stamps.

The Northerner further notes that "Schellhas said he created the trio of images after witnessing how Cincinnati Police handled race riots in 2003. The riots began after two black men died within 24 hours of each other while in police custody."

Here is the piece in the context in which ...

April Fool Site Deleted

Friday, April 1st, 2011
Authorities target an online post that lampoons problems in Chinese society.

Crackdown on Memorials

Friday, April 1st, 2011
Chinese authorities keep a wary eye ahead of the grave-sweeping festival.

Choose Privacy Week Webinar: Slides and Archive Now Available!

Friday, April 1st, 2011

ALA offered a Choose Privacy Week webinar on March 31, featuring a panel of experts on “hot topics” in privacy – plus practical tips and tools for developing programs to engage library users.

Slides are now available at http://www.slideshare.net/alapubishing/al-oif-chooseprivacyweekwebinar2011, and an archived version of the webinar can be found at https://alapublishing.webex.com/alapublishing/lsr.php?AT=pb&SP=EC&rID=3444182&rKey=8d140b37318985c1.

Topics included the USA Patriot Act and reader privacy (presented by Deborah Caldwell-Stone of OIF); airport screening and surveillance (presented by Ginger McCall of EPIC); current research on privacy attitudes of young people (presented by Michael Zimmer of UW-Milwaukee); and how libraries can develop programs and events to start conversations on such issues in their communities.

‘Swallowing Some Horse Pills For Liberty’

Friday, April 1st, 2011
Over at the John Locke Foundation's Carolina Journal Online, Donna Martinez reminds readers, with the help of FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, that even speech with which one disagrees can be an integral part of discourse, as the cases of Alexandra Wallace and Snyder v. Phelps remind us.

House panel grills Homeland Security officials about FOIA delays

Friday, April 1st, 2011

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress objected yesterday to the Homeland Security Department’s now-rescinded practice of requiring secretive reviews by political advisers of hundreds of requests for government files under the Freedom of Information Act. The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said the process “reeks of a Nixonian enemies list” and was unacceptable.

The senior official in charge of submitting files for the reviews, Mary Ellen Callahan, acknowledged there had been “management challenges” in the program and said the political scrutiny “at times took longer than anticipated.” But Callahan deflected suggestions by the committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., that the process injected political considerations into decisions about federal records the government was turning over to journalists, watchdog groups or even members of Congress.

“At no point during this awareness review process did anyone other than a career FOIA professional or an attorney in the office of the general counsel make a substantive change to a proposed FOIA release or a substantive determination regarding what should be released or redacted,” Callahan testified yesterday during a hearing before the oversight committee.

Democrats vigorously defended the department and, by extension, the Obama administration. The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah ...

Obama gets openness award in closed session

Friday, April 1st, 2011

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama accepted an award for making the government more open and transparent — presented to him behind closed doors with no news coverage or public access allowed.

The discrepancy between the honor and the circumstances under which it was delivered bothered open-government advocates in attendance, they said yesterday. They were even more perturbed when they discovered later that the meeting hadn't even been listed on Obama's public schedule, so there was no way for anyone to know about it.

"To have such a meeting not be transparent is the height of irony. How absurd can that be?" said one participant, Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, which keeps tabs on the White House Office of Management and Budget.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: "Given the number of pressing items on the president's agenda, the White House didn't carve out time for a public event on the president's schedule for the sole purpose of accepting an award from journalists praising his commitment to government transparency."

The award was given by Bass' group and several others on March 28 to recognize Obama's work toward government openness and encourage him to do more.

Obama took office promising ...

EFF to Council of Europe: Ensure privacy, transparency, and freedom of expression in search engines

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

This week the Council of Europe's expert committee on new media (MC-NM) met in Strasbourg to examine the comments received on the draft recommendation and proposal for guidelines for search engines.

In written comments, EFF urged the Council of Europe to revise its recommendation and guidelines to ensure that they promote transparency on search records requests, protect privacy vis-à-vis the government, and preserve freedom of expression rights, including readers’ rights to read information online. EFF also commented favorably on language that acknowledges that search engines play a central role as intermediaries by enabling the public to seek, impart and receive information and ideas worldwide.

Because search engines play a central role as intermediaries, search engine records contain sensitive information about a person's intellectual, political, cultural, religious, psychological, and physical (health) beliefs, conditions and actions that can be of interest to state actors and civil litigants. These search records pose the most obvious privacy threat, since they represent some of the most sensitive data about individuals. Other potential threats to personal data come in the form of subpoenas, unauthorized access, civil litigants’ requests, computer hackers, and compelled disclosure of search records to law enforcement and national security investigators.

EFF has ...

Documents Obtained by EFF Reveal FBI Patriot Act Abuses

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

In yesterday's Senate Judiciary Hearing, "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation," FBI Director Robert Mueller testified about the Bureau's desire to extend three expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act -- PATRIOT Section 215, authorizing secret court orders for the Internet and financial records of innocent Americans; the "lone wolf" wiretapping provision, which unconstitutionally allows foreign intelligence investigators to bypass traditional wiretapping protections and spy on people inside the U.S. who have no link to any foreign organization; and the "John Doe" roving wiretap provision, which allows blank-check wiretapping orders that don't identify the suspect or the particular phone or Internet connections to be tapped.

During the question and answer portion of Mueller's testimony, Senator Grassley asked the FBI Director: have "any of these three provisions been subject to any negative reports of finding abuse?" Mueller responded, "I'm not aware of any." Well, Director Mueller -- EFF is aware of some.

As part of EFF's FLAG Project, we issued a FOIA request for records of intelligence violations stemming from the FBI's use of the expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act. In the FBI's response to our request, we uncovered evidence of multiple reports of potential ...

"Operation in Our Sites" Moves Ahead

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

The numbers confirm the anecdotal evidence: Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is stepping up intellectual property–related enforcement, launching almost half as many cases in the past two months as it had in total in 2010. That’s according to ICE's own statistics, summarized in a larger presentation recently delivered by DHS Assistant Deputy Director Erik Barnett to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy (CACP). That's the Chamber of Commerce of HBGary notoriety, a private trade association that lobbies hard for IP enforcement.

The presentation discusses "Operation in Our Sites," ICE’s no-longer-new domain name seizure strategy for "Taking Aim to Stop the Sale of Counterfeit and Pirated Items." We’ve written about this program before and its questionable tactics for trying to counter online infringement. What's more, DHS seems to have read our posts! We refer you to slide 23 of the presentation.

Given that ICE's "primary mission is to protect national security, public safety and the integrity of our borders through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal law governing border control, customs, trade and immigration," we continue to be surprised by its focus on IP issues ...

IFRT Monthly Video Series: Nathan Wright on Youth & Privacy

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

The latest Intellectual Freedom Round Table video is now available!  This video features Nathan T. Wright, founder of Lava Row, at the Privacy and Youth Conference, which took place in Chicago, March 24 -25.  Wright talks about how today’s youth view privacy.

Nathan’s presentation from last weekend’s conference can be found at http://www.lavarow.com/2011/03/30/youth-privacy-in-the-age-of-social-media/.

If you have any topics you would like to see featured in upcoming videos, please contact IFRT chair Loida Garcia-Febo directly at loidagarciafebo@gmail.com.  Click here to view other intellectual freedom videos.

Wikileaks and “mutual knowledge”

Thursday, March 31st, 2011
When it comes down to it, most of the documents in Wikileaks’s Cablegate release refer to issues that had already been covered in the press. Did we really need Wikileaks to tells us that Mexico isn’t doing a great job combating corruption and cartels?  Or that the war in Afghanistan is going poorly?  Or that [...]

Defense Plan Amid Cyberwar Fears

Thursday, March 31st, 2011
Beijing publishes a white paper laying out its military vision.

FIRE’s Adam Kissel Discusses Case of Whistleblowing UCLA Professor with ‘reason.tv’

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

A new video from reason.tv discusses the case of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Professor James Enstrom, who is facing retaliation from UCLA after publishing politically inconvenient research about air pollution and leading a successful whistleblowing campaign against the California Air Resources Board. Enstrom, who has been denied reappointment by UCLA's School of Environmental Health Sciences after 34 years, offers his personal perspective on the case, while FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel discusses UCLA's attack on Enstrom's academic freedom. The video also exposes UCLA's shifting justifications for denying Enstrom's reappointment and the fragile nature of academic freedom in the scientific community.

 

In Pursuing Theft of Towson Newspapers, State’s Attorney Chooses Expediency Over the Law

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

I wrote here last month about the theft of 2,000 to 3,000 issues of the Towson University campus newspaper The Towerlight. I wrote then, as did The Baltimore Sun on March 2, that The Towerlight intended to press charges against the perpetrators of the thefts, if they were caught, under the Maryland Newspaper Theft Statute. It appeared progress was being made in the investigation. As the Sun wrote:

University spokeswoman Carol Dunsworth said that campus police identified suspects in the case and that those suspects have been referred to the office of student conduct for possible punishment.

But that's not good enough for Gross, the Towerlight's editor in chief. Though the newspaper is free, he wants the thieves to face misdemeanor charges under a Maryland law that prevents a person from seizing "unauthorized control over newspapers with the intent to prevent other individuals from reading the newspapers."

My hope was that brighter news for The Towerlight was on the horizon, but assistant state's attorney John Cox saw things differentlydeciding that the inconvenience suffered by the Towson community (not to mention the paper and its advertisers) didn't merit prosecution. As the Sun wrote in a blistering ...

House Oversight Committee Investigates DHS FOIA Review Practices—EFF’s Requests Were Singled Out

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Today the House Oversight Committee held a hearing titled, “Why Isn't the Department of Homeland Security Meeting the President’s Standard on FOIA?” As we wrote last October, redacted DHS emails revealed the agency was targeting certain Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and certain FOIA requesters—such as activist groups, watchdog organizations, and journalists—for an extra layer of review by politically-appointed officials within and outside the agency. The emails further revealed EFF was one of the organizations explicitly targeted, and three of our FOIA requests are mentioned specifically. Given the delay between when we filed these FOIA requests and when we finally received records, we assume our requests and the documents produced in response to them went through this extra vetting.

The Oversight Committee has now released a report (pdf) discussing the delays due to DHS's political review process, as well as efforts by agency lawyers to obstruct the Committee's investigation. While these are serious problems, we now think the issue may be much larger than the report finds and we first thought. Since we wrote our blog post, we have learned through litigation in our social networking FOIA case that not only did DHS drag its feet on producing ...

N.Y. legislators propose limits on posting crime-scene images

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y. — Staten Island lawmakers have proposed making it a felony for New York emergency personnel to take and circulate unauthorized crime-scene images or videos, citing a photo posted on Facebook that showed a woman found strangled in her apartment in 2009.

Yesterday, Democratic and Republican legislators, joined by the mother of victim Caroline Wimmer, said the posting compounded the pain and horror. They said that shouldn't happen to anyone else, and their bill should be a model for laws around the country. Convictions would mean one to four years in jail.

"What if it was your daughter?" Marti Wimmer said. "It could be a fire. It could be a car accident."

Bills introduced in the Senate and Assembly would make it a crime for public servants on duty to take unauthorized pictures or videos of crime scenes and circulate them.

The Albany Times Union reported that the measure would apply to workers who take photos "outside of the course of conduct of the public servant's official duties," and not to photographers authorized by police to take photos for evidence.

Paramedic Mark Musarella responded to the emergency call after Wimmer's body was found in her apartment. He was sentenced ...

New Ark. measure would hitch up saggy pants in schools

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Exposed underwear and portions of buttocks and breasts may be a thing of the past in Arkansas schools, as the state Legislature has passed a bill that prohibits the wearing of clothing in such revealing ways in public schools and at school-sponsored events.

Introduced earlier this year by Rep. Tracy Steele, the measure — Arkansas House Bill 1936 — provides:

“A school district shall include in its student discipline policies a provision prohibiting students from wearing, while on the grounds of a public school during the regular school day and at school-sponsored activities and events, clothing that exposes underwear, buttocks, or the breast of a female.”

The Arkansas House passed the measure on March 17 and the Senate followed suit on March 28. The bill now heads to the governor for signing.

In its legislative findings, the measure states the reasons for the bill: “The General Assembly finds that the wearing of clothing that exposes underwear, buttocks, or the breast of a female by students in the public schools often preoccupies and distracts students from their major purpose for being in school, that of becoming educated in math, science, English, history and other subjects.”

The legislative findings also claim that ...

9th Circuit blocks judge from unsealing ruling on FBI files

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

PASADENA, Calif. — A federal appeals court has blocked a judge from unsealing his ruling in a dispute over FBI records without first redacting information the government says could compromise national security.

The case involves several Muslim groups and activists who claim they have been unfairly spied on and questioned by the FBI. Nearly five years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union and 11 Islamic organizations and activists sought to obtain records they say would prove the FBI is unlawfully targeting Muslims in Southern California.

The FBI released four pages of records but redacted large portions of the documents, claiming they were beyond the scope of the groups’ Freedom of Information Act request. The groups then filed suit, and the FBI later released more than 100 pages of redacted documents.

U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney ordered the FBI to turn over unaltered versions of the files so that he could review them in private and determine whether there was a valid reason for the redactions. During that review, Carney learned that the agency had discovered other documents that it had not revealed to the court or to the plaintiffs.

Carney later ruled that the FBI had properly withheld most of ...

House Passes DC Vouchers, Bypasses DC Rights and Church-State Separation

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

This afternoon, the House of Representatives passed a bill to resurrect private school vouchers in the District of Columbia.

While Tea Party Republicans are claiming to take the high ground on government spending, they vote to throw millions of dollars at reviving a program that the Department of Education has shown is ineffective. After studying the program for four years, the Department found that use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading. The results were the same when the Department looked only at students who had applied from schools in need of improvement. As the Obama Administration stated in opposing the bill: "The Federal Government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students. Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement."

So if the program doesn't educate kids effectively, what exactly does it do?

For one thing, it helps religious schools stay open. This voucher program has been in existence since 2003, and more than three fourths of the students in it have used these government funds for private religious schools. While Congress is slashing government spending ...