Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Reader Privacy Act Introduced to Upgrade Book Privacy for the Digital Era

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Sacramento, CA - California Senator Leland Yee has introduced the Reader Privacy Act of 2011 (SB 602), with backing from the California Affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The law would bring a much-needed upgrade to match Californians' reading habits. Under SB 602 the government and other third parties would need a warrant or court order for access to sensitive reading records. This would establish protections for book records—both e-books and in physical bookstores—in line with long-established protections for library records and other expressive material. The bill mirrors the privacy and free speech safeguards in the California constitution and other areas of California law.

As Californians increasingly rely on online services to browse, read, and buy books, it is essential that state law keep pace and safeguard readers in the digital age. Digital books now outsell paperbacks on and over 18 million e-readers are expected to be sold in 2012. Many bookstores already collect information about readers and their purchases. Digital book services can collect even more detailed information: which books are browsed, how long each page is viewed, and digital notes made in the margins. Current law doesn't anticipate this ...

American University Says No to DOJ Grant Over Mandatory Sexual Assault Classes and Surveys

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

On the website, Amanda Hess has an interesting article about American University's (AU's) decision to block a campus initiative that would have made the university eligible for $300,000 in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Justice, aimed at addressing and preventing sexual assault on campus. Why did AU do it? Here's the key part:

The proposed education program would require all new students to attend a seminar and an individualized break-out session on the topics of "healthy relationships, consent, relationship violence, stalking, sexual assault and risks correlated with increased use of drugs and alcohol." Incoming students would also be required to complete surveys about sexual assault at two points during the year. In order to ensure compliance with the policy, students who failed to attend the training or complete the surveys would be blocked from registering for classes for the next semester.

That sanction proved a deal-breaker for Vice President of Campus Life Gail Hanson, who informed grant supporters this week that she would not sign off on the application, which is due to the Department of Justice on March 31. In an e-mail, Hanson questioned "whether it is appropriate to place stops on students' registrations if they ...

States’ Rights! Smaller Federal Government! But Not for DC

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

We should have known what was coming in January when the House GOP, in one of its first acts in the majority, took away the limited floor voting rights of the District of Columbia’s one delegate in Congress. The move was depressingly ironic coming from a party that had swept to power on a movement that claimed to echo the spirit of the American Revolution and its call for “no taxation without representation.” But the irony was lost on most of the GOP, and, it seems, hasn’t been found yet.

Today, the House will vote on whether to spend $100 million of federal tax dollars over five years to impose a school voucher program in the District that doesn’t work and that the local government doesn’t even want. The voucher program, which funnels federal money to religious schools, is a pet project of House Speaker John Boehner, who has shown no qualms about cutting other education programs—including Head Start and Title I grants for low-income school districts.

A similar program was eliminated in 2009 after it was found to be ineffective in increasing student achievement, and DC’s mayor and non-voting congressional delegate both oppose reinstating it.

The voucher bill, expected ...

Speech Code of the Month: University of Florida

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for April 2011: The University of Florida.

According to the University of Florida's (UF's) Student Rights and Responsibilities policy, "Organizations or individuals that adversely upset the delicate balance of communal living will be subject to disciplinary action by the University." Come again? If there has ever been a textbook illustration of unconstitutional vagueness, this policy is it. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that laws must "give a person of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know what is prohibited, so that he may act accordingly," or else they are unconstitutionally vague. Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108-09 (1972). If you were a student at UF, would you have any idea what might "adversely upset the delicate balance of communal living"? I certainly wouldn't. That's a problem for speech on campus because it forces students to guess at what speech might qualify as sufficiently "upsetting" to warrant punishment. In light of this uncertainty, many students will decide it's best just to keep their mouths shutthe very definition of a chilling effect on speech.

This policy also reeks of the paternalistic attitude too prevalent among college administrators. ...

Rollins College Finds Success in the Marketplace of Ideas

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Rollins College, a private university in Winter Park, Florida, near Orlando, has had a wonderful learning experience over the past week. The campus community has brought a wide diversity of perspectives to a controversial column titled "Illegal Babies Should [B]e Illegal Citizens" in the student newspaper, The Sandspur. According to a March 27 opinion piece by Mike Lafferty in the Orlando Sentinel, the columnist "argued that it was wrong for children to gain automatic citizenship when their parents are in this country illegally, and that taxpayers who are here legally shouldn't have to pay for benefits that child might receive." The Sandspur included this illustration with the column (credited to Allie Osterloh):

As of this writing, the original column has 338 comments, the first of which is from a Rollins professor who documents what she calls "a number of factual problems with [the columnist's] argument." The immediately following comments address the professor's data and sources, some agreeing, some disagreeing, and some providing alternative sources. Of course, plenty of other comments there are more like, well, just comments, or just expressing emotion. Still, even at the level of comments on a student newspaper column, it looks like the marketplace of ...

Judge Stays Discovery in OpenMind v Does

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

As we’ve been reporting for some time, a series of lawsuits has been filed across the U.S. against thousands of individuals accused of having illegally uploaded and downloaded copyrighted works in violation of copyright law. One of the latest of those suits is a case called OpenMind Solutions v. Does 1 – 2925, a case in which EFF filed an amicus brief asking the judge to quash the subpoenas seeking the identities of the nearly 3,000 anonymous defendants.

We are glad to report that the judge has decided to stay discovery pending a hearing on the issues EFF raised in its brief, which means that (at least temporarily), ISPs need not comply with the subpoenas sent out by OpenMind’s attorney John Steele.

The hearing in this case is scheduled for April 11. In the meantime, if you are an ISP or an anonymous Doe defendant, you should make sure your attorney is aware of the judge’s order. For more information, or if you have further questions, consult EFF’s Subpoena Defense Resources page.

FTRF announces competition for 2011 Banned Books Week grants

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Applications are now open for the 2011 Judith Krug Fund Banned Books Week event grants, sponsored by the Freedom to Read Foundation.  Four grants in the amount of $2,500 and $1,000 grants will be given to organizations in support of “Read-Outs” or other activities that celebrate Banned Books Week (Sept. 24 – Oct. 1, 2011).

Applications for the grants will be accepted through May 13, 2011, and the announcements will be made the week of Aug. 1, 2011.  Banned Books Week 2011 will be held Sept. 24-Oct. 1, 2011.

The first round of winners (2010) outdid themselves with a diverse and energizing set of events that garnered press attention and community involvement.  The 2010 grand prize winner, Iowa City Public Library, supported a “Rolling Read-Out” during the University of Iowa’s homecoming parade.  And the Dayton (Ohio) Metro Library provided “Book Club in a Box” kits to local school libraries to study Lois Lowry’s The Giver, a frequently challenged book.  A video of the various events can be found at

Organizations are required to submit an event description, timeline and budget with their application, as well as agree to provide a written report and video to FTRF following Banned ...

Ideological Exclusion and Malalai Joya

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011
Though the U.S. military has occupied Afghanistan for nearly a decade, we have rarely received the opportunity to hear about the lives of every day Afghans from the mouths of everyday Afghans. On the eve of one such opportunity, the book tour of Afghani activist and politician Malalai Joya, the State Department decided to deny her a [...]

First Amendment Rodeo 3/9-3/28, 2011

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Censorship / Book challenges

Fairbanks, AK School District decides whether to ban “Betrayed,” by P.C. and Kristin Cast

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – Committee recommends continuing to offer contested book

Board delays ‘objectionable’ book policy vote

Council bans pit bull book

Conn. Prisons Agency To Review Library Books

Censorship / Internet Filtering

Filter This:  Point-Counterpoint

U.S. Products Help Block Mideast Web

Parents Push For Filters On Computers

Parents: Use Internet porn filters

Public Library Internet Usage Bill Passes Committee

State lawmakers mull limitations on library Internet use

Technology protection bill for libraries sent to amending order

Editorial: Internet filtering bill offers host of headaches

Library Internet bill unnecessary, costly


Library Rights Are at Stake in New Supreme Court Copyright Case

Freedom of Speech

Editorial: Libel Tourism, R.I.P.?

Koran burnt in Florida church

Academic Freedom

Wisconsin Professor’s E-Mails Are Target of G.O.P. Records Request

Privacy and USA PATRIOT Act

Will the Supreme Court’s evolving view of privacy undermine the First Amendment?

Senate panel approves Patriot Act extensions

White House to Push Privacy Bill

Commerce to Back Privacy Legislation for Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights

Do not track tools push firms to crossroad


April 5: Call the White House to Demand PATRIOT Act Reform

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Tell Obama: Keep Your Promises and Demand PATRIOT Act Reform!

On April 5, 1792, President George Washington vetoed a bill the first time in U.S. history that the presidential veto was exercised. On the anniversary of this day, we're calling on Barack Obama to exercise his presidential powers to veto any PATRIOT Act renewal bill that does not include powerful reforms to safeguard civil liberties.

Mobile Carrier Delays Harm Internet Security

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

By delaying or even blocking security updates for mobile devices, mobile carriers put their users, their business, and the country’s critical infrastructure at unnecessary risk. Mobile security problems plague the entire software stack — the baseband, the kernel, the application frameworks, and the applications — and carriers continue to resist shipping regular and frequent updates.

For a specific example, consider the compromise of a Comodo certificate authority. The only “solution” for the problem of Comodo’s compromised CA is to update the browser and ship the new browser to every client computer. Without that update, browsers remain vulnerable to the hacker. While personal computer users might plausibly update their computers, mobile users have little or no control over the security status of their devices. There is unlikely to be any update they can get any time soon. Mobile devices will remain vulnerable to the fraudulent certificates for many months (or years) to come.

In fact, Ars Technica reported last week that Windows Phone 7 on AT&T is all but guaranteed to be months out of date at any given time — if it ever gets updates at all. Android and iPhone suffer from delayed updates as well.

Mobile carriers ...

10th Circuit: Eagle feathers only for American Indians

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY — Restricting use of eagle parts and feathers to members of federally recognized American Indian tribes for religious purposes does not violate the religious freedom of non-Indians seeking the same right, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that such a prohibition, under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, does not violate the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Yesterday's ruling in U.S. v. Wilgus comes after several cases in which non-Indians, and one man from a tribe that is no longer recognized by the federal government, sought the right to use feathers in their religious practices.

Eagle feathers are believed by many Native Americans to be sacred.

Federal law requires that eagle carcasses be sent to the National Eagle Repository in Denver and that any tribe member wishing to use eagle feathers or parts in ceremonies apply for a permit to do so. The unanimous three-judge panel noted that the repository "receives significantly more requests than it has available eagle carcasses" so there is already a long waiting period to fulfill permits.

All the cases noted in yesterday’s ruling weighed freedom of religion against the government's ability to ...

Wis. man’s challenge of pot conviction goes up in smoke

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Comment? E-mail me

A Wisconsin man did not have a First Amendment right to possess marijuana, a state appeals court ruled last week.

Kenneth L. Driessen faced charges after a law enforcement officer noticed Driessen’s truck was driving down the wrong side of the road. During the ensuing traffic stop, the officer found marijuana and a brass smoking pipe in Driessen’s possession. A jury later convicted Driessen of possessing marijuana, possessing drug paraphernalia and operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

On appeal, Driessen argued that the state’s marijuana-possession laws were unconstitutional in part because they applied to individuals who believed marijuana was vital to their personal spiritual and religious development. He wrote that cannabis use was an “important part of his religious and spiritual experiences.”

In its March 22 decision in State v. Driessen, the Wisconsin appeals court rejected Driessen’s First Amendment argument. “Driessen fails to demonstrate he has a sincerely held religious belief that is burdened by the application of the state law criminalizing marijuana possession,” the court wrote.

The appeals court also noted that even if it were to accept that Driessen’s religious belief was sincere, the law would still be constitutional because it furthered the state’s compelling interest ...

Wyo. high court orders district to disclose teacher salary data

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A Cheyenne school district must disclose teacher salary information to a daily newspaper, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

The court upheld a district judge's earlier ruling that the Wyoming Tribune Eagle is entitled to inspect salary records at Laramie County School District 1.

"Of course, we're always thrilled, but in this case we're not surprised," Tribune Eagle Executive Editor D. Reed Eckhardt said yesterday of the ruling in Laramie County School District 1 v. Cheyenne Newspapers, Inc. "There never was a doubt in our minds that the salaries and the names are public information."

Eckhardt said the newspaper may create a searchable database for its website that would allow people to look up salary information.

"It's important that taxpayers, parents, business people, other stakeholders in the school system have a right to know what teachers are being paid and how they're being paid, and what raises their pay to different levels," Eckhardt said.

Mark Stock, district superintendent, said yesterday that the district intended to comply with the court's order.

"We felt like it was a legal question that really needed to be clarified," Stock said.

He said the district had already produced information on how much ...

4th Circuit rules against W.Va. mom in immunization case

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. — A lawyer for a West Virginia woman who unsuccessfully challenged the state’s child immunization law said yesterday that she will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

“We’re going to push this appeal as far as we can,” said attorney Patricia Finn. A federal appeals court last week ruled against Finn’s client, Jennifer Workman, in her lawsuit against West Virginia and Mingo County health and education officials.

Workman claims the state’s immunization mandate for all public school children conflicts with her religious belief that a child must not be injected with any potentially harmful substance. Her first child developed autism around the time she was immunized, and Workman feared the same would happen to her younger child.

She sued after Lenore Pre-K to 8 School refused to admit her daughter without the vaccinations against childhood diseases. U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin dismissed the lawsuit last year, saying there is little evidence that standard vaccinations are not safe.

Finn said she was disappointed that a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on March 22 unanimously affirmed Goodwin’s decision. The panel said in its ruling that the Supreme Court has consistently held ...

Why Academic Freedom is Implicated by the Wisconsin GOP’s Open Records Request

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Last Friday, I commented on the legal issues raised by the Republican Party of Wisconsin's recent open records request of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM). Specifically, the Wisconsin Republicans are asking that UWM turn over all emails sent and received by Professor William Cronon on his university email account that reference a variety of terms and names connected to controversial state legislation regarding the rights of public sector employees to bargain collectively.

I pointed out that while the request itself is perfectly legal, the question of whether Cronon must turn over "all emails into and out of" his university account isn't so cut-and-dry. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin ruled last year in Schill v. Wisconsin Rapids School District, 327 Wis. 2d 572 (2010) that personal emails sent by government employees on government computers and networks aren't necessarily records within the meaning of the state's open records law. Even if the emails are connected to a "government function" and thus count as records, a reviewing court must still "undertake a balancing test to decide whether the statutory presumption favoring disclosure of public records is outweighed by any other public interest." Were a court to undertake this balancing act in analyzing ...

Questions Surround Funding Freeze of UNF Student Paper

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

The racy cover photo from the latest issue of the University of North Florida (UNF) student newspaper, the Spinnaker, has caused a stir at the UNF campus and made some waves in the press. Chief among the media outlets to cover the matter is the Florida Times-Union, where Kate Howard has written a good summary of the controversy.

The cover itself is suggestive of a man performing oral sex on a womana way of promoting the issue's feature on the health risks of oral sex. Josh Gore, editor in chief of the Spinnaker, describes the cover's shock value as "minimal," and while readers can judge that for themselves, it clearly does not meet the legal definition of obscenity announced by the Supreme Court of the United States in Miller v. California (1973). Nonetheless, enough complaints have been received about the art that UNF President John Delaney has commented on it:

University President John Delaney said he has gotten many complaints, mostly from women, about the picture.

He said he thought the picture on the cover was distasteful and inappropriate, and a high school cheerleading camp held on campus this weekend compounded the problem. The Spinnaker ...

Update from the Frontlines in Ohio: Voter ID Bill Could Affect Poor and Minority Populations

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Poor and minority populations are again under attack in Ohio. With Ohioans putting all of our efforts into stopping Governor Kasich and Republican leaders from destroying workers’ rights, we’re being blindsided by a very troubling bill aimed at limiting access to the ballot box. Ohio’s new Voter ID bill, HB 159, which requires every voter to present a valid government issued photo ID in order to vote, sailed through the Ohio House of Representatives last week. This bill would put up unnecessary road blocks to the voting process and almost certainly cause mass confusion during next year’s presidential election.

Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, was Skyped in last week to testify to the Ohio House in favor of Voter ID restrictions. When asked by an Ohio legislator how many cases of voter fraud in Georgia led to the state’s Voter ID bill, he said “I don’t have a number in front of me,” adding, “It’s hard to put a number on it because you didn’t know that fraud was happening.” We then heard in-person testimony from the Deputy Secretary of State of Indiana (the same state where the current Secretary of State has been recently indicted on voter fraud). ...

As Several States Push Creationism Laws, Texas School Board Gears Up For Science Curriculum “Review”

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Last year, we wrote a report  on the Texas Board of Education’s controversial overhaul of the state’s history curriculum standards, in which the board conveniently reshaped the United States history schools taught to better reflect right-wing political talking points. Now, as the Texas Freedom Network has been tracking, the state’s school board seems to be gearing up for a right-wing overhaul of the science curriculum. Texas Board of Education Chairwoman Gail Lowe is busy lining up a panel of anti-evolution activists to review the state’s science curriculum this spring...and her track record on these issues doesn’t bode well for the scientific education of Texas children:

For example, when the state board was considering new science curriculum standards in 2008-09, Lowe appointed one of three anti-evolution activists to a special advisory panel. Her appointee, Baylor University chemistry professor Charles Garner, had signed on to an anti-evolution petition from the creationist Discovery Institute. Garner and the other two anti-evolution advisers urged the state board to adopt standards that would open the door to creationist/”intelligent design” arguments in public school science classrooms. The board ultimately did just that, essentially ignoring hundreds of respected scientists and scholars — including Nobel laureates — from ...

Why do YOU pay more taxes than G.E.?

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

GEDo you pay taxes? Guess who doesn't. America's largest corporation: General Electric.

G.E. did not pay any taxes on their $14 billion in profits last year and instead got a $3 billion tax refund.1 But it doesn't end at G.E....

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont put out a Top 10 list of corporations with high profits and no taxes in recent years including Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Boeing and Carnival Cruise Lines. Over the last two years, Wells Fargo earned $37 billion in profits but got a $4 billion tax refund.2 And Hewlett-Packard reported over $9 billion in profits last year, but paid the same amount in taxes as someone earning just $30,000 a year.3

Tell members of Congress: Before gutting the budget of necessary programs that help middle-class and poor Americans, make sure corporations are paying their fair share!

This is not about business incentives, which are fine and can be valuable in helping to kick start the economy. This is about a system gone completely off the rails in which corporations are getting an unnecessary free ride at the expense of everyone else.

Congress is on the verge of shutting down over ...

Concern Over Australian Blogger

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
An Australian political writer who blogs in Chinese has gone missing from a Guangzhou airport.

Does Holding Banks Accountable Count as “Terrorism”? Glenn Beck Thinks it Does.

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

This weekend, the New York Times told the story of a man named Charlie Engle who is in jail for being sold a bad loan. Engle did commit a crime by signing a so-called “liar loan,” in which he falsely stated his income to get a mortgage. But what is shocking is who got off scot-free: the financial executives who convinced millions of Americans like Engle to sign similar loans, helping to bring the economy to its knees.

I thought of this story when reading about the new campaign being waged by Fox News demagogue Glenn Beck to get a man who is trying to hold big banks accountable for their actions charged with “domestic terrorism.”

Stephen Lerner is a prominent figure in the labor movement. A former executive at the SEIU, he designed the Justice for Janitors organization, which has secured workers’ rights and living wages for thousands of janitors across the country. Recently, Lerner echoed the frustration of many in saying that big banks got off scot-free after their reckless lending procedures forced millions of Americans out of their homes and caused a major financial crisis. And he proposed a solution. Ezra Klein summarizes:

Like a lot ...

Women versus Wal-Mart at the Supreme Court Today

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Today the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Dukes v. Wal-Mart, a gender discrimination case brought by female workers of Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer. The workplace discrimination case is a complicated piece of litigation and has already been in the courts for a decade.

The women suing Wal-Mart won an important victory in 2004 when a district court ruled that they could pursue their case as a “class,” representing all similarly situated women working for Wal-Mart.

Class action cases are permitted under very limited circumstances but they serve as important vehicles for groups of plaintiffs who may not have the means or resources to individually take on a deep-pocketed defendant in court. Because without a class action case, most of the plaintiffs wouldn’t be willing to go through the difficult process of filing a suit, class actions mean that corporations are forced to deal with cases they could otherwise ignore. In addition, class actions raise the possibility that a company will have to pay an enormous monetary award and even punitive damages—a powerful incentive to settle out of court.

So it’s no surprise that Wal-Mart appealed the district court’s decision to let this case ...

Creating Change That Lasts: The 2011 YP4 National Summit

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

This past January, Young People For (YP4) convened over 250 young progressives, activists, and movement leaders from across the country for four days of dynamic skills and issue trainings during our 2011 National Summit in Washington, DC.

We were joined by Fellows from over 100 campuses in 28 states that spent the weekend building relationships with national progressive leaders, learning powerful strategies for making social change in their communities, and working on their Blueprint for Social Justice projects.

We are excited to debut our 2011 National Summit Video “Creating Change That Lasts” that provides an overview of our work as well as what Fellows experience in the YP4 Fellowship. We encourage you to share it with friends, partners, and anyone who might be interested learning more about YP4. On behalf of the entire YP4 team, thank you to our alumni, partners, and fellows who helped us make the Summit such a huge success.



What Location Tracking Looks Like

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Your cell phone company knows everywhere you go, twenty-four hours a day, every day. How concrete is this fact for you?

It's very concrete for Malte Spitz, a German politician and privacy advocate. He used German privacy law — which, like the law of many European countries, gives individuals a right to see what private companies know about them — to force his cell phone carrier to reveal what it knew about him. The result? 35,831 different facts about his cell phone use over the course of six months. As the German newspaper website Zeit Online reports:

This profile reveals when Spitz walked down the street, when he took a train, when he was in an airplane. It shows where he was in the cities he visited. It shows when he worked and when he slept, when he could be reached by phone and when was unavailable. It shows when he preferred to talk on his phone and when he preferred to send a text message. It shows which beer gardens he liked to visit in his free time. All in all, it reveals an entire life.

To show just how extensive this data is, Spitz chose to ...

PFAW Releases “How Not to Respond to Political Bullies” On Hide/Seek

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
NCAC participating organization, People For the American Way, has developed a detailed summary of the events around Hide/Seek complete with suggestions as to “what to do next time.” PFAW was one of the organizations who signed NCAC’s joint letter to the Smithsonian Board of Regents (PDF download). Click here to read the PFAW report online.

Jon Stewart Slams Republican Hypocrisy on Corporate Power

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart took Republicans to task for baselessly holding “parasitic” workers and “greedy” labor unions for the country’s economic and budget problems, while staying silent when many of the country’s largest corporations “pay no federal taxes” at all as a result of off-shore schemes and corporate tax breaks and loopholes.

Stewart also points out that the Supreme Court in Citizens United granted corporations the same political rights as people, defenders of corporations are fine when business giants like General Electric pay no taxes at all while cutting American jobs. “I know the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people, but what I didn’t realize is that those people are assholes.”

People For the American Way has launched a petition telling members of Congress that “cuts to social security and vital programs that help students, poor children and the unemployed should not be part of the deficit discussion before tax fairness and making corporations pay their fair share.” You can also join our Facebook page, “I pay more taxes than G.E.”

Divided 4th Circuit backs secrecy provision in whistleblower law

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. — A divided appeals court upheld the secrecy provision of a federal whistleblower law yesterday, declaring that it serves the compelling government interest of protecting the integrity of investigations.

The 2-1 ruling by a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected the American Civil Liberties Union's claim that the secrecy mandate undermines the nation's open court system and violates the right to free speech. The decision in ACLU v. Holder affirmed U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady's decision to dismiss the lawsuit.

The dispute involves the False Claims Act, which allows citizens to collect damages for reporting contract fraud against the U.S. government. The Civil War-era law was amended in 1986 to require that such complaints remain under seal for at least 60 days while the government investigates. The secrecy is intended to prevent tipping off an alleged fraudster to an investigation.

The sealing order can be extended if the Justice Department demonstrates it needs more time, and the ACLU claims the government has used that tactic to keep allegations of Iraq war profiteering and other fraud hidden from the public, sometimes for years. However, the appeals court's majority said the law is narrowly tailored to balance the ...

Maine labor mural comes down on governor’s orders

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

PORTLAND, Maine — A mural depicting Maine’s labor history was removed from the lobby of the state Department of Labor headquarters and put into storage over the weekend after a directive from the new Republican governor that it come down.

The 36-foot, 11-panel mural will be kept at an undisclosed location until a suitable spot can be found to put it on public display, said Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage.

The artwork was not appropriate for the Department of Labor because it is one-sided in favor of labor interests at the expense of business interests at a time when LePage is pushing a pro-business agenda, Bennett said.

The mural depicts Maine labor history with images that include a paper mill strike in the town of Jay, a strike at a shoe plant in Lewiston, women shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works and child laborers.

The LePage administration last week directed that the mural be taken down and that Department of Labor conference rooms named for labor leaders be renamed for mountains, counties or something else perceived as neutral. The rooms have yet to be renamed.

Plans to take down the mural have attracted state and national media attention at ...

Brewery accuses liquor board of trying to bottle up free speech

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Maryland brewery is accusing Michigan's liquor commission of censorship after the panel rejected labels for a beer that features an expletive in the name.

Flying Dog Brewery has filed a federal lawsuit in Grand Rapids asking that a judge override the commission's decision to reject labels for "Raging Bitch" beer and allow the brew to be advertised and sold in Michigan.

"Regrettably, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission and its members have taken it upon themselves to control not merely alcoholic beverages, but speech as well," the Frederick, Md.-based brewery wrote in the lawsuit filed on March 25. "Acting as a censorial board, defendants wield state authority to impose their personal tastes as a prior restraint against core First Amendment expression that happens to be placed on beer labels."

Sharon Martin, director of the commission's licensing division, said yesterday that the agency hadn't yet seen a copy of the lawsuit but noted the panel could lawfully reject labels that are "deemed to promote violence, racism, sexism, intemperance or intoxication" or are found to be "detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the general public."

Martin said Flying Dog's application to sell and market the beer, ...

Win One-on-One Time With Frank Quitely in San Francisco and New York!

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Frank Quitely is an illustrator who is universally acclaimed for his unique dynamic style — a style that perfectly complemented Grant Morrison’s visionary redefinition of Superman in All-Star Superman. He also lives in Scotland, so he’s a bit hard to find around these parts! However, CBLDF has talked him into a visit Stateside, and now you have a chance to join him for lunch during WonderCon in San Francisco or for drinks in New York!

CBLDF is auctioning off two chances to meet Quitely! Two lucky fans will get the rare chance to spend time with one of the superstars of modern comics!

For West Coast fans, you can bid on a chance to join Quitely for lunch one day during WonderCon, taking place in San Francisco, April 1 – 3, 2011. Bid on lunch in San Francisco here!

East Coast fans can join Quitely for drinks on April 5, 2011, in New York City. You can find the auction for drinks in New York here.

Don’t miss your chance to meet Frank Quitely during a rare US appearance! CBLDF is delighted to offer one fan the opportunity to join Quitely for lunch in San Francisco during ...

Greg in ‘LA Times’ on UCLA Student Video Case and the Role of Social Media in Combating Controversial Speech

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Controversy struck the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) this month when student Alexandra Wallace posted a YouTube video in which she complained about the behavior of Asian students in the campus library.

Fortunately, instead of punishing her for her protected expression, which happens too often at our colleges and universities, UCLA ultimately (after some initial hiccoughs) encouraged dialogue instead of discipline. Additionally, the use of social media spurred national discussion about this case, in which the use of video played a prominent role. 

Rick Rojas, writing for the Los Angeles Times, reported Greg's opinion on how the use of social media has strengthened students' First Amendment rights.

"Social media is teaching us, habituating us, to respond to speech with more speech," Lukianoff said.

Although there was a push for the universities to discipline or even expel the students behind the controversies, schools are often limited in what they can do. Lukianoff said that however reprehensible a student's words might be, their speech is protected by the First Amendment.

Greg also explained why having one's world view criticized (but certainly not punished) is so crucial for intellectual growth, and how social media fuels that process.

Lukianoff said that ...

Where’s EFF? Why EFF Is Sometimes Quiet About Important Cases

Monday, March 28th, 2011

When legal issues light up the Internet, people turn to EFF for answers.  Whether it’s attacks on coders' rights, overreaching copyright claims online, or governments' efforts to censor or spy on people, we are often among the first to hear about troubling events online, and we're frequently the first place people turn to for legal help. 

So why are there times when EFF is involved in an important case but is silent or gives only limited information about it?  Usually it’s for one of three reasons: to protect the people who have asked us for help, because of a specific court requirement or because we’re putting the strategy into place.   

First, the legal protections for attorney/client communications and attorney work product allow lawyers and their prospective or existing clients to speak frankly with each other and to honestly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their cases. But these communications and notes must be kept strictly confidential in order to remain protected.  If the confidentiality is broken, the person or a person's attorney can be required to reveal their communications, legal strategies, and evaluations to their opponents – including to prosecutors who can put them in jail or opposing civil ...

L.M. Montgomery and Anne of Green Gables

Monday, March 28th, 2011
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of this classic novel, scholarship explores the role of Montgomery's work in children's literature, Canadian culture, and popular memory.

Voting and Elections

Monday, March 28th, 2011
In time for the front-loaded primary season, a fully revised bibliography on campaigns, voters, and elections.

Financial Crisis

Monday, March 28th, 2011
Find insight and knowledge about the roots and potential scope of the current financial crisis in these books.


Monday, March 28th, 2011
Find key background to the events that focused the world on Cairo's Tahrir Square.


Monday, March 28th, 2011
Button brought back from the March 2011 Culture Wars symposium with the Corcoran and Transformer DC.

Culture Wars Live Stream Today!

Monday, March 28th, 2011
Can’t make it to Culture Wars: Then and Now at the Corcoran today in Washington DC?  Follow the discussion on Twitter (#CultureWars) or live stream ( and submit your questions to @CorcoranDC, @TransformerDC, or @ncacensorship for a live Q&A throughout the day!

Another New Study Shows That Filesharing Doesn’t Deter Artists From Making Music

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Further proof that the recording industry’s oft-repeated claims of the downfall of the entire music industry hold no water: a new report finding that filesharing has led directly to "reduced costs of bringing works to market and a growing role of independent labels." In other words, in the past decade, we have seen more music from independent outlets and at lower prices – something that consumers and music fans should all be happy about.

The study, by University of Minnesota economist Joel Waldfogel, proves just what we’ve been saying as recently as last week – that filesharing (unauthorized or not) has led more artists to create more music, and – just as importantly – more different music. U.S. copyright law is based on a compromise recognized in the Constitution that grants authors (or artists, or musicians) a limited monopoly designed to give those authors an incentive to make their creative works. As we’ve long known and as this study makes clear yet again, even in the face of filesharing, those incentives still exist.

Nuclear Review Raises Questions

Monday, March 28th, 2011
China would use more coal if it halts nuclear expansion, experts say.

E-mails show fed insiders had warned of political ‘meddling’

Monday, March 28th, 2011

WASHINGTON — Insiders at the Homeland Security Department warned for months that senior Obama administration appointees were improperly delaying the releases of government files on politically sensitive topics as sought by citizens, journalists and watchdog groups under the Freedom of Information Act, according to uncensored e-mails newly obtained by the Associated Press.

The highly unusual political vetting was described as "meddling," "crazy" and "bananas!" It is the subject of a congressional hearing later this week and an ongoing inquiry by the department's inspector general.

Concerns came even from the official put in charge of submitting files to the political staff of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for the secretive reviews. Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan, who was appointed by Napolitano, complained in late 2009 that the vetting process was burdensome and said she wanted to change it.

Callahan is expected to be a central witness during an oversight hearing March 31 by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. In e-mails, she warned that the Homeland Security Department might be sued over delays the political reviews were causing, and she hinted that a reporter might find out about the political scrutiny.

"This level of attention is CRAZY," Callahan wrote ...

Federal judge upholds Texas Open Meetings Act

Monday, March 28th, 2011

PECOS, Texas — A federal judge has upheld the Texas Open Meetings Act in a long-running case originally filed by members of the Alpine City Council.

The March 25 ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Junell found that the law doesn't muzzle the First Amendment right to free speech as had been alleged by a group of plaintiffs that included city council members from Alpine and 11 other Texas cities.

Junell wrote in Asgeirsson v. Abbott that the state law protects "the compelling interest of governmental transparency."

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the named defendant, praised the ruling as a victory for democracy and the First Amendment.

Junell held a bench trial on the issue last November after an appeals court reversed an earlier ruling.

High court to decide if teacher is religious or secular worker

Monday, March 28th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has said it will decide whether a teacher at a church-run school is a religious or secular worker when it comes to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The high court today agreed to hear an appeal from Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School of Redford, Mich.

Cheryl Perich, a teacher and commissioned minister, got sick in 2004 but tried to return to work from disability leave despite being diagnosed with narcolepsy. She taught third- and fourth- graders.

The school said she couldn't return because they had hired a substitute for that year. School officials fired her after she showed up anyway and threatened to sue to get her job back.

Perich complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sued the church.

The church wanted the case thrown out. Courts have recognized a "ministerial exception" to the ADA which prevents government involvement in the employee-employer relationship between churches and ministerial employees.

But the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said Perich's job as a teacher was secular, not religious, so the exception blocking the lawsuit didn't count. The church wants that decision overturned.

The Supreme Court is to hear arguments later this year ...

Utah Legislature votes to repeal contentious open-records law

Monday, March 28th, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY — After weeks of public flogging, the Utah Legislature has voted to repeal changes to the state's open-records law that exempts text messages from public scrutiny and increases the cost of records requests.

The repeal of House Bill 477 passed on March 25 with a strong majority in the House and Senate during a special session of the Legislature, which was called less than two weeks after the end of the general session.

The House passed it 60-3 and the Senate passed it 19-5.

The repeal now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert, who says he intends to sign it. He said in a statement the repeal would "restore public confidence" in the legislative process.

Despite the vote, Republican legislators were not happy about being called back to cancel a bill they passed barely three weeks earlier.

Senate Republicans reluctantly supported the repeal but made it clear they wanted revisions to the current law as soon as possible.

Those recommended changes are to come from a working group that includes legislators, media representatives, bloggers and government staffers.

Legislators want private conversations with family, friends and constituents to be protected and reduce the workload created by the sheer volume ...

Should Tibetans Have Protested in 2008 or Not?

Sunday, March 27th, 2011
An outspoken poet discusses the protests that rocked Tibet in March 2008.

Amish, state square off over safety triangles for buggies

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — An argument over whether a state law requiring bright orange safety triangles to be displayed on certain slow-moving vehicles violates religious freedom came before the Kentucky Court of Appeals late last week.

A lawyer for nine Amish men from western Kentucky argued before the court on March 24 that they should not have to put the symbols on their horse-drawn buggies.

William Sharp of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky argued that the requirement violates the modesty code of the men, members of the strict Old Order Swartzentruber Amish sect, and requires them to trust their safety to a manmade symbol rather than God, The Courier-Journal reported.

"This case is about the right of Kentuckians to freely exercise their religious beliefs and by necessity the limits of government's ability to impose a substantial burden on that right," Sharp said.

The case involves a decades-old state law requiring the triangles be placed on certain slow-moving vehicles, such as horse-drawn buggies and farm equipment.

During the hearing, held at the University of Louisville law school, state Assistant Attorney General Christian Miller said the state has the right to regulate safety in the face of what he called "a ...

N.J. toll takers accuse officials of retaliation

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

TRENTON, N.J. — A union representing highway toll collectors is suing the New Jersey Turnpike Authority over attempts to privatize their jobs.

The federal lawsuit, filed March 24, claims the workers’ First Amendment rights were violated when the Turnpike Authority eliminated a provision giving workers a “right of first refusal” to privatized jobs.

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers claims the provision was eliminated after the union protested the privatization effort now under way. It is seeking to stop the authority from moving ahead with privatization until the workers’ right of first refusal is restored.

“This was an ugly and immoral thing to do to workers who have devoted their lives to public service,” said Fran Ehret, president of IFPTE Local 194, in a statement. “It was illegal and violates our First Amendment right to speak out against privatization.”

Labor lawyers for the Turnpike Authority recommended that the provision be modified after workers flooded private companies interested in taking over toll collections with job applications, said Ronnie Hakim, the authority’s executive director.

The original request for proposal stipulated that private bidders agree to offer jobs to laid-off workers before hiring others. It now suggests that the private firms ...

Microsoft Shuts off HTTPS in Hotmail for Over a Dozen Countries

Friday, March 25th, 2011

UPDATE (3/26/11): HTTPS is again available for those in the countries discussed below. Microsoft denies deliberately blocking access to HTTPS, blaming the problem on a bug:

We are aware of an issue that impacted some Hotmail users trying to enable HTTPS. That issue has now been resolved. Account security is a top priority for Hotmail and our support for HTTPS is worldwide – we do not intentionally limit support by region or geography and this issue was not restricted to any specific region of the world.

If you've been waiting for a golden opportunity to download EFF's HTTPS Everywhere Firefox add-on, this is it.

Microsoft appears to have turned off the always-use-HTTPS option in Hotmail for users in more than a dozen countries, including Bahrain, Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Hotmail users who have set their location to any of these countries receive the following error message when they attempt to turn on the always-use-HTTPS feature in order to read their mail securely:

Your Windows Live ID can't use HTTPS automatically because this feature is not available for your account type.

Microsoft debuted the always-use-HTTPS feature for ...

It’s Time for the Recording Industry to Stop Blaming "Piracy" and Start Finding A New Way

Friday, March 25th, 2011

As many — EFF included — have been saying for years, filesharing is not the reason that the recording industry has fallen on hard financial times. In fact, the recording industry’s complaints that the sky is falling really only apply to the recording industry, and not musicians and the fans, who have seen increased music purchases, increased artist salaries, and the availability of more music than ever before. And now two new reports further debunk the recording industry's myth.

First, the London School of Economics released a paper finding that while filesharing may explain some of the decline in sales of physical copies of recorded music, the decline “should be explained by a combination of factors such as changing patterns in music consumption, decreasing disposable household incomes for leisure products and increasing sales of digital content through online platforms.” And even if the sales of recorded music are down, there is an important distinction to draw: the recording industry may be hurting, but the music industry is thriving. For example, the LSE paper points out that in the UK in 2009, the revenues from live music shows outperformed recorded music sales.

We’ve also seen more and more ...