Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

This Week in the News: UCLA Controversy Continues to Reverberate

Friday, March 25th, 2011
Last week, former University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) student Alexandra Wallace was under investigation for harassment after she took to video to complain about the behavior of Asian students in the campus library where she studies-a video that has now generated more than 6.1 million views on YouTube. UCLA dropped its investigation of Wallace last Friday, the same day that Wallace announced she would be leaving UCLA for "personal safety reasons." 

This week, news outlets have continued to report on the story. FIRE's role in UCLA's decision to drop the investigation was reported by Larry Gordon and Rick Rojas of the Los Angeles Times (reprinted in the The Kansas City Star), as well as by Lisa Brenner of laist. Meanwhile, Ken of Popehat praised FIRE for focusing exclusively on defending constitutionally protected speech without making value judgments about it.

Elsewhere, The Moral Liberal reprinted Will's March 11 blog post about the reintroduction in Congress of the speech-chilling "Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act"; Samantha's March 3 blog post about the Speech Code of the Month, California State University-Chico's blatantly unconstitutional definition of sexual harassment; and Peter's March 8 blog post about the censorship of ...

ACLU and EFF Appeal Ruling In Case Challenging Government Attempt To Obtain Private Data in WikiLeaks Investigation

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Alexandria, VA - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today appealed a ruling that the government can collect the private records of three Twitter users as part of its investigation related to WikiLeaks. The ruling further held that the users cannot learn which other Internet companies were ordered to turn over information about them to the government. EFF and the ACLU are challenging the ruling on behalf of Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic parliamentarian who is appealing jointly with fellow Twitter users Jacob Appelbaum and Rop Gonggrijp.

The secret government demands for information about the subscribers' communications came to light only because Twitter took steps to ensure its customers were notified and had the opportunity to respond. The ACLU and EFF have also asked the court to make public any similar orders to any other companies.

"Except in very rare circumstances, the government should not be permitted to obtain information about individuals' private Internet communications in secret. This is not one of those circumstances," said Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. "If the ruling is allowed to stand, our client might never know how many other companies have been ...

Demand for Emails of Wisconsin Professor Raises Legal Questions

Friday, March 25th, 2011

FIRE has received inquiries today regarding the Republican Party of Wisconsin's request, using the state's Open Records law, that the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM) turn over emails of UWM history professor William Cronon. This turn comes shortly following Cronon's March 15 entry on his blog Scholar As Citizen, in which he discussed recently passed legislation in Wisconsin that reduces the powers of public sector employees. On March 17, UWM Senior University Legal Counsel John C. Dowling received the following email, reprinted on Scholar as Citizen:


From: Stephan Thompson [...]
Sent: Thursday, March 17, 2011 2:37 PM
To: Dowling, John
Subject: Open Records Request

Dear Mr. Dowling,

Under Wisconsin open records law, we are requesting copies of the following items:

Copies of all emails into and out of Prof. William Cronon's state email account from January 1, 2011 to present which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell.

We are making this request under Chapter 19.32 of the Wisconsin state statutes, through the ...

Google Funds Web Detection Tool

Friday, March 25th, 2011
Netizens suspect China of Internet disruptions and interference.

Earthquake Rattles Southeast Asia

Friday, March 25th, 2011
Tremors unnerve residents of Burma and Thailand just two weeks after a devastating quake hits Japan.

Utah House votes to repeal open-records changes

Friday, March 25th, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah House 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.

House Bill 1001 now moves to the Senate after passing 60-3 through on today.

The Senate Republican caucus remains split about whether to repeal the bill.

Gov. Gary Herbert called for the special session March 21 after the House Republican caucus decided to support a repeal of House Bill 477.

Herbert says he expects the repeal to pass, despite some opposition from Senate Republicans.

A working group is already reviewing the open-records law to find ways to adapt it to new technologies, including text messages, voice mails and e-mails.

6th Circuit: Man who called cop a ‘fat slob’ can sue over arrest

Friday, March 25th, 2011

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Calling a police officer a "fat slob" is not an offense that can usually get someone charged, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday, allowing a lawsuit over the arrest to go forward.

Kevin O. Kennedy sued the city of Villa Hills, Ky., and Joseph Schutzman, a police officer and building inspector, after he was arrested in May 2005 during a dispute over permits to expand a strip mall near his home.

The argument arose at the Villa Hills city building when Kennedy confronted Schutzman, according to court documents. When Schutzman refused to discuss the strip mall's permit because of pending litigation, Schutzman went into the parking lot, while Kennedy spoke with three city employees.

Later, Schutzman came back into the building and confronted Kennedy. Kennedy then called Schutzman a "fat slob," according to court documents.

Kennedy sued in 2007, shortly after charges of disturbing the peace were dismissed.

Judge Karen Nelson Moore, writing for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, noted that Kennedy was likely yelling during the dispute. Schutzman arrested Kennedy on a charge of disorderly conduct, writing on the citation "verbal abuse in front of public works employees."

The unanimous three-judge 6th Circuit panel ...

Federal court throws out lawsuit over ethics-probe leak

Friday, March 25th, 2011

DETROIT — A judge dismissed a lawsuit yesterday by a former terrorism prosecutor who accused the U.S. Justice Department of violating privacy law by leaking details of an ethics investigation to the Detroit Free Press.

Richard Convertino cannot show that the government acted willfully and illegally without knowing the identity of the leaker, said U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington. The case has been in litigation for seven years.

Convertino handled the first major terrorism trial after 9/11, but the convictions were thrown out because evidence was withheld. He was criminally charged over the case but acquitted and now is a lawyer in private practice in the Detroit area.

Convertino’s lawyers repeatedly tried to force Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter to reveal his source for a 2004 story about an internal ethics probe so they could gather evidence for the lawsuit against the government.

But Ashenfelter refused and finally invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when he was ordered to answer questions in a deposition in 2009.

Separately, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General investigated and couldn’t determine the identity of the leaker. It found that 30 people who had access to information about the ethics referral ...

US Citizens Released Following Protest

Thursday, March 24th, 2011
Authorities in Vietnam expel three activists who joined demonstrations against graft.

Maine Governor to censor labor mural

Thursday, March 24th, 2011
Earlier this week, Maine Governor Paul LePage ordered that a mural in the Department of Labor depicting scenes from Maine’s labor be removed. Why? Because the mural “sends a message that we’re one-sided, and I don’t want to send that message.” Of course – why else would the Department of Labor have a mural of [...]

Win at UCLA Marks FIRE’s Landmark 200th Victory

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Since our founding in 1999, FIRE has fought for student and faculty rights on campuses all across the nation. This week, we celebrate a landmark in that fight by marking our 200th public victory for individual rights at America's colleges and universities.

We are proud that, with our most recent victory at UCLA, FIRE has now secured victories (sometimes more than one) at 142 different colleges and universities with a total enrollment of more than 2.9 million students. FIRE has also helped change 97 unconstitutional or repressive policies, advancing freedom of expression for more than 2.2 million students (and countless more who will eventually set foot on those campuses). These results speak volumes about FIRE's passionate determination to ensure that America's colleges and universities are restored as the marketplaces of ideas they were created to be. Each new victory further stems the tide of censorship and helps to spread a campus culture devoted to open discourse and vigorous debate.

Of course, none of these victories would have been possible without the generous support of our donors and the energetic advocacy of our allies. We are truly grateful for your contributions over the years, and our work stands as evidence of ...

Commentary: Shariah hysteria: unwarranted, unconstitutional

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

In a new column, Charles C. Haynes Director, Religious Freedom Education Project at the First Amendment Center, responds to the critics of an earlier column in which he sounded an alarm about rise of Islamophobia in the United States, and called attempts in various states to pass anti-Shariah legislation an attack on religious freedom.


Wendy Kaminer on Bullying, Harassment, and Free Speech

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

In a new blog entry for The Atlantic, author, lawyer, and FIRE Board of Advisors member Wendy Kaminer takes on a recent "Dear Colleague" letter sent from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to school administrators across the country last October. Noting that the letter "provides a definition of actionable harassment considerably broader than the definition supplied by the Supreme Court some ten years ago" in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, Kaminer writes:

[T]he Court limited school liability in private-damage actions to the most grievous cases in which school officials displayed "deliberate indifference to known acts of harassment ... so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victims' access to an educational opportunity or benefit." The Court added that actionable harassment would generally involve persistent, repeated misconduct, not simply one offensive incident.

Compare the Court's approach here to the administration's definition of harassment.  According to OCR's letter, the alleged misconduct need not be repeated; it may involve one incident and it need only be "sufficiently severe, pervasive, or (not "and") persistent so as to interfere with or limit a student's ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities or ...

Iranian hackers obtain fraudulent HTTPS certificates: How close to a Web security meltdown did we get?

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

On March 15th, an HTTPS/TLS Certificate Authority (CA) was tricked into issuing fraudulent certificates that posed a dire risk to Internet security. Based on currently available information, the incident got close to — but was not quite — an Internet-wide security meltdown. As this post will explain, these events show why we urgently need to start reinforcing the system that is currently used to authenticate and identify secure websites and email systems.

There is a post up on the Tor Project's blog by Jacob Appelbaum, analyzing the revocation of a number of HTTPS certificates last week. Patches to the major web browsers blacklisted a number of TLS certificates that were issued after hackers broke into a Certificate Authority. Appelbaum and others were able to cross-reference the blacklisted certificates' serial numbers against a comprehensive collection of Certificate Revocation Lists (these CRL URLs were obtained by querying EFF's SSL Observatory databases) to learn which CA had been affected.

The answer was the UserTrust "UTN-USERFirst-Hardware" certificate owned by Comodo, one of the largest CAs on the web. Comodo has now published a statement about the improperly issued certs, which were for extremely high-value domains including, and (this last ...

Minn. high court rebuffs plan to allow cameras in criminal trials

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — News cameras remain all but banned in Minnesota criminal proceedings after the state Supreme Court recently turned back a push by news-media organizations for greater access. But the high court opened the door a crack by agreeing to allow cameras into civil cases for a two-year test starting July 1.

The Supreme Court was responding to a petition by several Minnesota news organizations to loosen the state's restrictions on video cameras, still cameras and audio recording in district courts. The high court kept in place the state's longstanding restrictions for criminal cases, which require the judge and all sides in a case to agree to electronic coverage. As a practical matter, that hardly ever happens.

News organizations are hoping a tryout in civil courts will let the media prove that their recording devices won't be a problem at criminal trials, which are often of much higher interest to their readers and viewers.

"I hope we the media can build some trust in a judiciary that has some serious concerns about cameras and recording devices," said Tom Lindner, news director at KARE-TV in Minneapolis. "We really are quite good at doing this and not interfering with people's rights. We'd ...

Texas bill would bar officials from texting during meetings

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas lawmaker wants to ban e-mails, text messages and Internet postings by city and state leaders when they are doing the public’s business.

A bill by Rep. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi would amend the Texas Open Meetings Act. The proposal, H.B. 2977, says an official would be committing an offense if he or she transmits an electronic message during a public meeting.

The Austin American-Statesman reports, for today’s editions, that Hunter is considering how violators should be punished. Hunter also says the update is necessary for Texas to take the open-meetings law into the digital age.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports Hunter became involved in the issue after a spat during a city council meeting involving two members texting each other.

Good and Bad in Google Book Search Settlement Decision

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Yesterday’s decision rejecting the proposed settlement in the Google Books case, Authors Guild v. Google, got a number of things right. For starters, as we wrote shortly after the decision was announced, we’re glad that the court acknowledged the importance of the privacy concerns we helped to raise.

With respect to the class action analysis, the court correctly concluded that the settlement did not take account of the interests of all of the class members, such as academic authors. As UC Berkeley law professor (and EFF board member) Pamela Samuelson noted in a letter quoted by in the decision,

Academic authors, almost by definition, are committed to maximizing access to knowledge. The [Authors] Guild and the [Association of American Publishers], by contrast, are institutionally committed to maximizing profits.

For example, academic authors, if they had been represented at the negotiating table, might have pushed harder for settlement terms that would have allowed readers open access to orphan works.

On the policy front, the court recognized – as do we – the extraordinary potential benefits of the settlement for readers, authors and publishers. We firmly believe that the world's books should be digitized so that the knowledge held within them can ...

Adam Kissel Kicks Off Florida Speaking Tour

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

FIRE's Vice President of Programs, Adam Kissel, begins his Florida campus speaking tour this week with speeches at Florida Gulf Coast University today and at the University of South Florida on Thursday.

Florida Gulf Coast University
"Threats to Students' Rights at FGCU: And What You Can Do About It!"
Wednesday, March 23, 7 p.m.
Academic Building 3, Room 115
Sponsored by the Eagles for Liberty

University of South Florida
"How to Defend Students' Rights at USF"
Thursday, March 24, 6 p.m.
BSN 225
Sponsored by the USF Young Americans for Liberty

Next week, Adam's tour will continue with speeches at the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, Florida State University, and the University of North Florida. For full details on all of these speeches and other upcoming FIRE events, check out FIRE's Calendar of Events or the Speakers Bureau Map.

Sponsors propose amendment to Tenn. Shariah bill

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Opponents of legislation that would make it a felony to follow some versions of the Islamic code known as Shariah say a proposed amendment that strips out any reference to a specific religion would make the measure tougher to fight in court if it passes.

The original bill (S.B. 1028/H.B. 1353) gave the state’s attorney general authority to designate an entity a “Shariah organization” if he finds the group knowingly adheres to Shariah, which the legislation defines as “any rule, precept, instruction, or edict arising directly from the extant rulings of any of the authoritative schools of Islamic jurisprudence of Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali, Ja’afariya, or Salafi.”

Muslims, who say the original measure is too broad, fear it would outlaw central tenets of Islam, such as praying five times a day toward Mecca, abstaining from alcohol or fasting for Ramadan.

Gadeir Abbas, an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the original bill’s direct reference to Shariah made it easy to be challenged under the First Amendment, but the new version would change that.

“Now you really have to challenge it under like a due-process violation, saying that designating someone as a terrorist organization ...

Judge rejects settlement between Google, book industry

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

NEW YORK — A federal judge yesterday rejected a deal between Internet search leader Google and the book industry that would have put millions of volumes online, citing anti-trust concerns and the need for involvement from Congress while acknowledging the potential benefit of putting literature in front of the masses.

Judge Denny Chin said the creation of a universal library would "simply go too far," and he was troubled by the differences between Google's views and those of everyone affected by the settlement. Still, he left the door open for an eventual deal, noting that many objectors would drop their complaints if Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc. set it up so book owners would choose to join the library rather than being required to quit it.

The $125 million settlement had drawn hundreds of objections from Google rivals, consumer watchdogs, academic experts, literary agents and even foreign governments. Google already has scanned more than 15 million books for the project.

Google's managing counsel, Hilary Ware, called the decision disappointing and said the company was considering its options.

"Like many others, we believe this agreement has the potential to open up access to millions of books that are currently hard to ...

Calif. judge to school district: Count signatures on charter petition

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

COMPTON, Calif. — A Superior Court judge has ruled that the Compton Unified School District violated parents' First Amendment rights by imposing an onerous signature-verification process on a disputed parent petition for a charter school.

On March 21, Judge Anthony J. Mohr ordered administrators to count the signatures by April 1 over the objections of the district, which had argued that the school board rejected the petition over technicalities.

Mohr said the verification process that the district had demanded, including requiring a photo ID and a personal interview with administrators, violated parents' First Amendment right to petition their government.

Mohr suggested the signatures be counted by a neutral party, such as the League of Women Voters, but the district rejected that recommendation. A call seeking comment from the district was not returned in time for this story.

The decision is the latest step in what has turned into a protracted legal battle over the first use of California's landmark "parent trigger" law, which allows parents to demand a turnaround at failing schools through a petition signed by a majority of parents at the school.

A group of parents at McKinley Elementary School filed the petition in December, demanding that the ...

Google Books Decision: "The Privacy Concerns are Real"

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

A federal district court in New York today issued a long-awaited ruling in the Google Books case, Authors Guild v. Google, rejecting the proposed settlement between the parties.

EFF participated in the case as counsel to a collection of authors and publishers, including Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem and Cory Doctorow, who objected to the settlement based on concerns about reader privacy. EFF worked with the ACLU and the Samuelson Clinic at University of California at Berkeley on the objection.

While noting that "[T]he privacy concerns are real," the court decided that they were not a basis, in themselves, to reject the proposed settlement. It noted that the settlement contained privacy protections for Rightsholders and also noted that Google had "committed" to certain safeguards for readers, while acknowledging that those were voluntary only. The court closed with a strong nudge to Google: "I would think that certain additional privacy protections could be incorporated, while still accommodating Google's marketing efforts."

We look forward to continuing our discussions with Google about implementing additional privacy protections in whatever form the Google Books project takes as it moves forward. In the meantime, EFF and the ACLU are also working together on digital book privacy ...

FIRE President to Speak at Oberlin College on Thursday

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff will address students at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio on Thursday, March 24. At the event, sponsored by the Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians, Greg will discuss student rights on campus and explain how students can promote free speech in their university community.

The lecture will begin at 7 p.m. in the West Lecture Hall, located on the first floor of the Science Center. The event is free and open to the public, and FIRE supporters in the Cleveland area are encouraged to attend.

For more information about upcoming FIRE speeches, check the Calendar of Events and Speaker's Bureau map, or request a FIRE speaker for your school here.

China Accused of Hacking Gmail

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011
Disruptions appear tied to the timing of annual sessions of parliament and to calls for 'Jasmine' protests.

David French on Cert Petitions to U.S. Supreme Court in Important Student Standing Cases

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

David French, former FIRE President and now Senior Legal Counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), writes over at Phi Beta Cons about ADF's petitions for writ of certiorari before the United States Supreme Court, filed last week, in the cases of Lopez v. Candaele and Rock for Life - UMBC v. Hrabowski. (UMBC is University of Maryland, Baltimore County.)

ADF is arguing that Lopez, a case decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Hrabowski, a Fourth Circuit decision, threaten the ability of college students to bring constitutional challenges to their institution's speech codes when those policies by their very terms restrict protected expression. Because both federal appellate courts decided against the respective students in these two cases and denied them the opportunity to challenge their schools' speech codes, ADF is appealing to the Supreme Court and asking the Court to reverse the rulings and uphold the relaxed standing requirements that studentsand all other plaintiffshave traditionally enjoyed in First Amendment cases. Given the important nature of this issue, FIRE will be filing an amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) brief before the Supreme Court in support of the petitions for ...

Gadhafi Lauded By CCTV

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011
China's state television network calls Western powers involved in Libyan air strikes 'aggressors.'

Fair Use For the Win in Righthaven Case

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Last Friday, a judge in the Nevada federal district court patiently explained why fair use disposes of Righthaven's copyright claim arising from the republication of an entire news article by a nonprofit organization. The hearing was in one of the now-250 Righthaven copyright cases. A written order, which will help set a persuasive precedent for other copyright troll cases, will be issued later.

The hearing was in Righthaven v. Center for Intercultural Organizing. Righthaven sued CIO, an Oregon non-profit organization promoting immigrant rights, alleging copyright infringement of a Las Vegas Review-Journal article. Righthaven did not create the news article, but claims the right to sue based on an assignment from the LVRJ.

The copyright troll's business model is to search for blogs and websites that include a newspaper's material, acquire the right to sue on particular articles from the paper, and then file a lawsuit without any prior notice to the defendant. Righthaven seeks the maximum damages under the Copyright Act as well as control over the domain name, but is willing to settle for four-figure sums that seem calculated to be less than the cost of defense. Meanwhile, the actual articles that Righthaven sues over remain available ...

Full 9th Circuit refuses to rehear Stolen Valor Act case

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

PASADENA, Calif. — A federal appeals court yesterday refused to review an earlier ruling by three of its members that a law making it illegal to lie about being a military hero violates free speech.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision strikes down the so-called Stolen Valor Act passed by Congress in 2006.

It also vacates a judgment and fines leveled against Xavier Alvarez, of Pomona, Calif., a water district board member who said at a public meeting in 2007 that he was a retired Marine who received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration. Alvarez had never served in Marines or in any other branch of the armed forces, according to the court ruling.

Alvarez was indicted in 2007. He pleaded guilty on condition that he would be allowed to appeal on First Amendment grounds. He was sentenced under the Stolen Valor Act to more than 400 hours of community service at a veterans hospital and fined $5,000.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, concurring with the majority’s denial of a full-court rehearing of the case, said making lies of the sort in this case illegal would ensnare speech that is a significant part of everyday conversation. ...

Utah governor calls special session on new open-records law

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature will meet in a special session on March 25 to consider the repeal of a new open records law that exempts text messages from public scrutiny and increases the cost of records requests.

Gov. Gary Herbert issued the special session call last night, only a few hours after House Republicans voted in a closed caucus to support the repeal of House Bill 477. Instead of the changes taking effect July 1, a working group will study the issue and recommend ways to adapt the state's open-records law to new technologies, including text messages, voice mails and e-mail.

Earlier this month, the bill was passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor in less than a week.

"It is clear to me that H.B. 477, both in process and substance, has resulted in a loss of public confidence," Herbert said. "By repealing H.B. 477 and forming a working group, the Legislature now has the opportunity to work with the media and the public to restore that confidence."

Changes to the law should meet three principles, Herbert said, including protecting the public's right to know, preserving individual privacy and reducing costs for taxpayers.

House ...

Justices turn away GOP challenge to campaign-finance rules

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court won't hear a Republican-backed challenge of federal campaign-finance restrictions.

The Court yesterday refused to hear an appeal by former U.S. Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao of Louisiana and the Republican National Committee.

Cao wanted the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional the $42,000 federal limit on what state and national parties could spend in 2010 in coordinated efforts on behalf of a candidate in his race. Currently, the state and national parties cannot consult with each other on money spent beyond that limit.

State party leaders have said can lead to duplicative or contradictory messages.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last September that the campaign-finance limit was constitutional.

Cao lost his seat last year to Democrat Cedric Richmond.

The case is Cao v. Federal Election Commission, 10-776.

In-District Meetings: an Offline Tool for Defending Your Online Rights

Monday, March 21st, 2011

In the EFF Action Center, we provide you tools to defend online civil liberties. But if you really want to make a difference, one of the best things you can do is have an in-district meeting with your Congressional representative.

In fact, Congress is on recess this week and again at the end of April.  That means now is the optimal time to contact your elected official for an in-district meeting to emphasize the importance of PATRIOT Act reforms. 

What's an in-district meeting?

Senators and Representatives don't spend all their time in Washington; they also head home to visit with their families and constituents. This happens frequently -- in fact, Congress is only in D.C. about 137 days per year.  When they aren't in D.C., they're at home - and you can go visit them! You can either schedule a meeting with your elected leaders in person or engage them in a public event, like a town hall meeting or fundraising event.

When can I catch my Senators and Representative at home?

Congress is in recess and at home this week, and will go on recess again for two weeks in mid-April. You can see the Senate’s ...

Stony Brook Follows South Florida’s Playbook, Denies Funding to YAF

Monday, March 21st, 2011

For the past few weeks, FIRE has been in contact with the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) at Stony Brook University in New York, after the group was denied recognition by Stony Brook's Undergraduate Student Government (USG). The USG declared the group too similar to Stony Brook's College Republicans. This puts us in territory remarkably similar to where FIRE was last fall, when a new YAF chapter at the University of South Florida was denied recognition after an administrator deemed the group too similar to the group Young Americans for Liberty.

YAF at Stony Brook had, in fact, encountered this argument from the USG before; in the spring of 2010 its recognition was initially rejected for the same perceived similarities to the College Republicans. YAF clarified and corrected this impression, and successfully gained recognition.

This past winter, YAF submitted the required paperwork to be eligible for USG funding for the Spring 2011 semester, and met initial approval. When the group's application was sent to the USG Senate for final approval, however, YAF was told:

After reviewing your club's mission statement, the Special Services Council has come to the conclusion that your club is very similar to the College Republicans. We ...

Did You Catch Harvey’s Latest?

Monday, March 21st, 2011
Over at Minding the Campus, be sure to check out the valuable discussion generated in response to FIRE Co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate's article last week on illiberal trends in higher education. Boston Herald editor (and FIRE supporter) Tom Mashberg, for one, offered a trenchant quote from economist Walter Bagehot: "A bureaucracy is sure to think that its duty is to augment official power, official business, or official members, rather than to leave free the energies of mankind." On campus, where these energies are meant to be most free, bureaucrats have taken over, as Harvey's piece explains.

An Introduction to the Federated Social Network

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Lately, EFF's work to protect rights and liberties in the online world has focused rather heavily on social networking sites and their policies. The logic is borne out by the numbers — Facebook and Twitter combined claim hundreds of millions of worldwide users, so advocating for stronger privacy and less censorship from these kinds of websites will mean a better Internet for lots and lots of people.

But ultimately, what we want to see in the long-term is for users to gain more control over their activity online. Unfortunately, giving facts, photos, locations, and other personal details to monolithic, company-owned social networking websites — whose business models are generally based on gathering, using, and monetizing data about you; and which may be vulnerable to government pressure tactics — will always be a trade-off. That's why there's a great deal of excitement around a new path for social networking online, known as "federated social networks" or "distributed social networks." Federated social networks (software like, Diaspora, and many others also in development) are a vital step towards fulfilling values often lacking in the existing social networking ecosystem: user-control, diversity of services, innovation, and more. While there is still ...

UGA Professor Calls for School to Reform Speech Codes in ‘Atlanta Journal-Constitution’

Monday, March 21st, 2011

For University of Georgia (UGA) journalism professor William E. Lee, UGA's decision to review its current Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy is a step in the right direction. Not so that the screws can be tightened on free speech, as is too often the case, but so that UGA officials can put the policy in line with the First Amendment.

In his guest column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Lee reminds readers that "UGA's current anti-harassment provisions lack the precision the U.S. Supreme Court requires for the regulation of speech, 'our most precious' freedom," and points out that "UGA's policies are as flawed as the infamous University of Wisconsin and University of Michigan policies federal courts found to be unconstitutionally vague and overbroad."

Lee is also keen to the fact (as are we at FIRE) that adding "bullying" to the list of prohibited offenses at UGA would further muddy the waters:

But last month's revelation that student affairs officials want to add "bullying" to the anti-harassment section of the conduct code will further muddy an already-unclear provision.

UGA's current policies are rife with ambiguous terms such as "verbal abuse" and "harassment," terms courts have found "can mean anything." Vague laws create ...

Domain ‘.xxx’ approved for porn websites

Monday, March 21st, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO — You've heard of ".com" and ".org." Joining them soon will be their bawdy cousin: ".xxx."

On March 18, the board of directors of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees the Internet's naming system, approved the creation of a red-light district online for pornographic websites. It follows a decade-long battle over such a name.

The uproar over the idea has brought together unlikely bedfellows.

Religious groups argue that giving adult websites their own corner of the Internet legitimizes the content.

Pornographers worry it will ghettoize their sites. Although it's meant to be voluntary, they fear governments could try to mandate the domain's use, so that pornographic content is more easily blocked.

Diane Duke, executive director of the adult entertainment industry's Free Speech Coalition, said in a statement that ICANN has "disregarded overwhelming outpouring of opposition from the adult entertainment industry — the supposed sponsorship community" and dismissed the "interests of free speech on the Internet."

Supporters have maintained that approving the domain is in keeping with the principle of openness that has fueled the Internet's growth.

While the idea of ".xxx" has provoked a philosophical debate, for the U.S. company that submitted the application ...

High court won’t consider halting Fed release of loan data

Monday, March 21st, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today decided not to stop the release of Federal Reserve Board documents identifying financial companies that received Fed loans to survive the financial crisis.

The high court, without comment, refused to hear an appeal from an association of bankers trying to keep the information from becoming public.

News Corp.'s Fox News Network LLC and Bloomberg L.P. had sued separately for details about loans that commercial banks and Wall Street firms received and the collateral they put up. Other news agencies, including the Associated Press, filed briefs with the appellate court in their support.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City had said that such information wasn't automatically exempt from requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

But the Fed had argued that if it identified banks which drew emergency loans, it could cause a run on those institutions, undermine the loan programs and potentially hurt the economy. The Fed acts as lender of last resort for banks that can't get money from private sources.

The Obama administration had asked the high court not to hear the appeal. But The Clearing House Association, which represents some of the nation's largest banks, wanted ...

Mich. high court sides with Dr. Dre in spat over concert footage

Monday, March 21st, 2011

DETROIT — Detroit officials who were backstage at a concert featuring hip-hop stars Dr. Dre and Eminem had no right to privacy when they confronted organizers in a videotaped exchange that turned up on a DVD, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled late last week.

The March 18 ruling dismissed a lawsuit against Dr. Dre, whose real name is Andre Young, that was filed by City Councilman Gary Brown and other Detroit officials after the 2000 show.

Brown was a high-ranking police official at the time and warned concert organizers that power would be turned off if they showed a sexually explicit video at the Joe Louis Arena. The conversation was taped and later used in behind-the-scenes tracks on a popular DVD highlighting the “Up in Smoke” national concert tour that also featured rappers Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube.

Brown had argued that his privacy was violated by the video, but Dr. Dre’s lawyer Herschel Fink said there was no privacy when police were doing their job.

Fink said on March 19 that the court’s decision was more narrow than he expected, with the ruling dealing only with the event instead of broader privacy issues, but “as I said in an ...

Hawaii bill targeting visitor guides violates free speech, critics say

Monday, March 21st, 2011

HONOLULU — A bill moving through the Hawaii Legislature would require the authors of visitor guidebooks or websites about Hawaii to warn readers of potentially hazardous conditions at any recommended site located on private land.

State lawmakers are seeking to reduce the number of injuries and deaths that occur when sightseers venture onto private property that may be unsafe, but critics have warned their approach infringes on free-speech protections.

If a guidebook reader is seriously hurt or killed at one of those sites, the guide’s author would have to defend and provide financial compensation to the landowner in the event of a lawsuit. The regulations also would apply to publishers who have a hand in authoring the guides.

The bill, H.B. 548, is backed by members of the state’s tourism industry and some of its largest private landowners, who say the legislation is all about safety. They say some guidebooks and websites lure visitors into dangerous situations, such as Kauai’s Kipu Falls, where three people have drowned since 2008, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports.

“People direct them to a place they know, one, is private and, two, they know people get hurt there, and drown there. Why would you want to ...

Tenn. lawmaker calls on college to punish Capitol protesters

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

NASHVILLE — State Sen. Randy McNally has urged the University of Memphis to take action against a student group that he said was involved in protests last week at the Capitol that resulted in seven arrests.

On March 17, McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said the protests two days earlier were worse than when anti-income tax protesters threw rocks through Capitol windows and banged on the doors of the chamber a decade ago.

Protesters opposing anti-union bills like one seeking to strip teachers' collective-bargaining rights chanted accusations of "union busting" by legislators. The protesters also refused to leave a committee hearing.

On March 15, seven protesters were charged with misdemeanors for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after the disruption, which lasted about half an hour.

"I've been down here a fairly long period of time," McNally said on the Senate floor. "And I've never seen a situation like that."

Democrats were quick to criticize McNally's statements.

"This is still America, people have the right to protest," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville. "We've not taken that right away yet; however it feels sometimes we're heading down that road."

McNally said several of the pro-labor protesters were affiliated with the ...

Roadblocks, inconsistencies slow Obama’s transparency drive

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

WASHINGTON — One government agency is still trying to find correspondence for a political reporter between federal officials there and prospective presidential candidates — from the 2008 election. Another censored 194 pages of internal e-mails about President Barack Obama’s new rules on open government. Another agreed to hand over records of travel expenses then changed its mind and refused to turn them over.

Two years after Obama pledged to reverse the Bush administration’s penchant for secrecy and comply more closely with the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, the Associated Press grapples with many of the same frustrating roadblocks and head-scratching inconsistencies. Several recent examples are described below. Exasperating delays and denials also affect ordinary citizens, researchers and businesses, and they frustrate the administration’s goal to be the most transparent in history.

Obama’s administration this week defended its progress in disclosing more information rapidly and reducing backlogs of requests for information. Agencies also are posting online large sets of data on auto safety, air quality, crime, health care and employment, which means fewer requests have to be filed in the first place, they said.

“Greater transparency and a more open government are happening right now,” said Melanie Pustay, director of the ...

Breaking News: UCLA Will Not Punish Student for Video

Friday, March 18th, 2011

The Los Angeles Times reports that University of California, Los Angeles, will not punish student Alexandra Wallace for her "Asians in the Library" YouTube video:

"While we were appalled and offended by the sentiments expressed in the video, we have uncovered no facts to lead us to believe the student code of conduct was violated. The campus has no intention of pursuing the matter further," UCLA spokesman Phil Hampton said in a telephone interview Friday.

The campus code prohibits students from making specific threats against anyone and forbids racial or sexual harassment that is severe or pervasive enough that it impairs another person's participation in university life. The video by Alexandra Wallace, a third-year political science major, did not meet those standards, he said.

In a letter sent on Tuesday, FIRE urged UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block to end its investigation of the matter, as the content of the video was protected by the First Amendment. Following FIRE's letter, UCLA School of Law Professor Eugene Volokh commented on the controversy on his popular legal blog, The Volokh Conspiracy. Today, The New York Times editorial board urged UCLA not to punish Wallace, quoting Volokh and noting the importance of First ...

This Week in the News: UCLA Launches, Ends Harassment Investigation of ‘Asians in the Library’ YouTube Video

Friday, March 18th, 2011

It's no mystery that the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has been a major source of campus free speech news this week. Student Alexandra Wallace was put under investigation for harassment after she took to YouTube to complain about the behavior of Asian students in the campus library where she studiesa video that has now generated more than 4.7 million views.

In response to UCLA's investigation, FIRE pointed out on our blog and in a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block that Wallace's speech does not rise to the level of punishable discriminatory harassment. These arguments were picked up on The Volokh Conspiracy by UCLA School of Law professor and noted First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh, who concluded that Wallace's speech is "clearly constitutionally protected" (as well as "moronic") and argued that punishing this speech would open the door to punishing much other speech.

The New York Times quoted Volokh's article in an editorial published today, arguing that Wallace should not be disciplined for her video. While the Times stated that Wallace's speech was racist and should be criticized, the Times emphasized that UCLA "would do a great disservice to itself and the First Amendment if it ...

‘Illegal’ Internet Cafes Closed

Friday, March 18th, 2011
The closure is part of Beijing's long-term strategy to regulate cybercafes.

‘New York Times’ Editorial Board: Campus Free Speech Crucial for Education, Democracy

Friday, March 18th, 2011

In an eloquent articulation of the importance of free expression on college campuses, The New York Times published an editorial today arguing that UCLA student Alexandra Wallace should not be disciplined for harassment as a result of her "Asians in the Library" video. The editorial argues that although Wallace's speech was racist and should be criticized, the Times emphasizes that UCLA "would do a great disservice to itself and the First Amendment if it goes ahead and disciplines her for the content of her words."   

Quoting UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh's recent blog entry on Wallace, the Times writes:

On his blog, Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment scholar at U.C.L.A., counseled why Ms. Wallace's video is "clearly constitutionally protected," no matter how obnoxious. A purpose of the American university, he said, is to debate major decisions about social and other policies - to build consensus and the foundations of community. To assure worthwhile debate, it's necessary to protect some worthless, even hurtful, opinion.

The video doesn't justify the basis on which U.C.L.A. is considering punishing her: that her words amount to a form of harassment against a group of students. Her most offensive words - said while mimicking ...

This Month in FIRE History: Controversy at Colorado College

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Three years ago this month, FIRE began a battle for free speech and individual rights at Colorado College that continues to this day.

FIRE first became involved at Colorado College when the school targeted two students for distributing a parody mocking a Feminist and Gender Studies program newsletter, "The Monthly Rag," a publication that had included a reference to "male castration," an announcement about a lecture on "feminist porn" by a "world-famous prostitute and porn star," an explanation of "packing" (pretending to have a phallus), and a quotation from The Bitch Manifesto. In response, the two students had produced their own flyer titled "The Monthly Bag." Published by "The Coalition of Some Dudes," the newsletter included references to "chainsaw etiquette," the shooting range of a sniper rifle, a quotation regarding a sexual position from the website, and a quotation about "female violence and abuse" of men from the website As Greg has pointed out, a side by side comparison shows that it "could not be clearer that the Bag is merely making fun of the Rag."

According to the school, however, the parody included "threatening and demeaning content" that violated Colorado College's ...

CBLDF Advisory: Legal Hazards of Crossing International Borders With Comic Book Art

Friday, March 18th, 2011

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund today published the advisory document “Legal Hazards of Crossing International Borders with Comic Book Art.” The advisory was created in response to an increasing number of reports from travelers who have been stopped, searched, and/or detained by customs agents because of comic book art they carried in print and electronic forms. CBLDF legal counsel Robert Corn-Revere prepared the advisory for the Fund’s constituents and members.

“Most people do not know that their constitutional rights are not guaranteed, even from U.S. Customs agents, when they cross international borders,” Corn-Revere said. “Their books, papers, laptop computers, and even cell phones are subject to routine search and possible seizure by the government, even without any suspicion of criminal activity. This is important to know in an age when many people carry with them a great deal of highly personal information in electronic form.”

The CBLDF’s advisory shines light on Immigrations and Customs Enforcement policies pertaining to the search of information, and also explains how border searches lack traditional legal protections otherwise afforded to speech. Finally, the document offers suggestions for avoiding intrusive border searches and protecting the safety of your information.

The CBLDF Advisory is available here ...

House votes to cut federal funds to NPR

Friday, March 18th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The House yesterday voted to end federal funding to National Public Radio. Republican supporters said it made good fiscal sense, and Democratic opponents called it an ideological attack that would deprive local stations of access to programs such as "Car Talk" and "All Things Considered."

The bill, passed 228-192 along mainly partisan lines, would bar federal funding of NPR and prohibit local public stations from using federal money to pay NPR dues and buy its programs. The prospects of support in the Democratic-controlled Senate are slim. Seven Republicans broke ranks to vote against H.R. 1076.

NPR received almost $5 million in federal funding in fiscal year 2010. In that year its revenues also included $2.8 million in dues and $63 million in programming fees from local stations, its largest single source of revenue. Under the bill, stations would still be allowed to buy NPR programs using private funds and use federal funds to produce their own programs.

"It is time for American citizens to stop funding an organization that can stand on its own feet," said Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., the sponsor. He said it was not a question of content — which many conservatives say has a ...

Pa. university’s foundation loses bid to block access to records

Friday, March 18th, 2011

EAST STROUDSBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s highest court has upheld a ruling entitling a newspaper to donor financial information from East Stroudsburg University’s foundation.

The Pocono Record reports the state Supreme Court issued an order March 16 refusing to hear the university’s appeal of a lower court ruling.

The action is expected to clear the way for the newspaper to inspect donation records related to East Stroudsburg’s Science and Technology Center and examine meeting minutes of the university foundation.

The school had denied the paper’s initial request in February 2009, which came as a former foundation executive director was being investigated on allegations of sexual and financial impropriety.

The state-owned university had argued its foundation was not subject to the open-records law.

University spokesman Doug Smith declined comment.

Court blocks contentious Wis. union law

Friday, March 18th, 2011

MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin judge issued a temporary restraining order today blocking the state’s new and contentious collective bargaining law from taking effect, raising the possibility that the Legislature may have to vote again to pass the bill.

Lawmakers had passed Gov. Scott Walker’s measure last week, breaking a three-week stalemate caused by 14 Senate Democrats fleeing to Illinois. Demonstrations against the measure, which would strip most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights, grew as large as 85,000 people.

Dane County District Judge Maryann Sumi granted the order in response to a lawsuit filed by the local Democratic district attorney alleging that Republican lawmakers violated the state’s open-meetings law by hastily convening a special committee before the Senate passed the bill.

Sumi said her ruling would not prevent the Legislature from reconvening the committee with proper notice and passing the bill again.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie would not comment on whether the governor would push to call the Legislature back to pass the bill again, either in its current form or with any changes.

The Senate couldn’t pass the bill in its original form without at least one Democrat to meet a 20-member quorum requirement for ...