Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

5 inductees join FOIA Hall of Fame

Friday, March 18th, 2011

WASHINGTON — Five people whose work has furthered the cause of freedom of information and open government have been added to the ranks of the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame.

The new inductees:

  • Jennifer LaFleur, director, computer-assisted reporting, ProPublica
  • Sean Moulton, director, federal information policy, OMB Watch
  • Tony Mauro, Supreme Court reporter, The National Law Journal
  • David C. Vladeck, director, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission
  • Anne Weismann, chief counsel, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The inductions were announced during the National Freedom of Information Day event March 16.

"The right to know what our government is doing is an important part of America’s democratic and First Amendment heritage,” said Gene Policinski, senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center, which administers the hall of fame. The hall is "a salute to those who have pursued the people’s right to know."

New members of the FOIA Hall of Fame are selected by a committee of open-government advocates every five years. Committee members are Paul McMasters, former First Amendment Center ombudsman; Gary Bass, OMB Watch; Patrice McDermott,; Lucy Dalglish, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; and Policinski.

The five 2011 ...

At ‘Minding the Campus,’ FIRE Chairman Takes on the Modern, Corporatized University

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Heads up, campus totalitarians: FIRE Co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate has got your number.

In a sweeping critique featured today on Minding the Campus, Harvey documents how the past three decades have seen colleges and universities stray from their educational missions, instead exalting student life bureaucrats and risk-averse lawyers.

Harvey first takes aim at a trend in higher education he's long criticized: the rise of non-teaching employeesadministrators, lawyers, public relations staffat the expense of educators:

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 71,758 new non-teaching positions were added at American colleges and universities between 2006 and 2009. Taking a modest estimate of the average administrative salary ($50,000 per year), we're left with the following picture: Over the course of the worst economic recession in some 80 years, American higher education has spent roughly $3.6 billion dollars on additional non-educational employees. Even as faculties, course offerings, and campus educational facilities were being cut back, campus life bureaucracies have managed to expand.

How this administrative bloat affects everyday campus affairs, from the stifling of student voices to the injustices doled out by student disciplinary bodies, is the core of Harvey's article.

It's a coda of ...

Merritt Fund to cosponsor Annual Conference reception with NMRT

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Every year at the ALA Annual Conference, the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund sponsors a “Reception for a Cause” to raise funds and promote the vital work of the Merritt Fund.

This year, with the conference moving to New Orleans, the Merritt Fund trustees wanted to have a real party!  So we will be joining forces with ALA’s New Members Round Table (NMRT) for a can’t-miss event!

Date:                      Sunday, June 26, 2011

Time:                      7:30 to 10:00 p.m.

Location:               L’Entrepot Gallery, 527 Julia, New Orleans, LA

All are welcome to attend!  There is no charge, although the Merritt Fund is very happy to accept donations.  Refreshments will be provided (although there will be a charge for drinks).

Visit for more information.  You can RSVP on Facebook.

Questions about the joint reception?

Please contact Jonathan Kelley,

Dalai Lama Rejects Appeals

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
Rule by kings, spiritual leaders 'out of date,' says the Nobel laureate.

Should Adjuncts Keep Their Mouths Shut?

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
James Madison University adjunct (now former adjunct) professor Isaac Sweeney suggests that they should, if they want to keep their jobs.

FIRE’s ‘Guide to Free Speech on Campus’ in Searchable HTML

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
FIRE's Guide to Free Speech on Campus, which has been viewed or downloaded hundreds of thousands of times in PDF or print form, is now fully online in HTML. Why is freedom of speech "an indispensable part of human dignity, progress, and liberty"? Why should our universities promote free speech instead of speech codes? Test your issue-spotting skills in the scenarios. Put the Guide on your must-read list today.

Chinese Flee Japan Nuclear Crisis

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
Embassy staff are racing to evacuate Chinese nationals as Japan faces a potential nuclear meltdown.

Video from FTRF’s 2010 Judith Krug Fund Banned Books Week grant recipients

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

We hope you’ll enjoy this short video showing highlights from Banned Books Week 2010.  The libraries, colleges, and other organizations featured were recipients of the first-ever Judith Krug Fund Banned Books Week grants, presented by the Freedom to Read Foundation in memory of Krug, who was FTRF’s executive director for four decades.

Applications for the 2011 Judith Krug Banned Books Week grants will open March 28.  Banned Books Week 2011 will take place from September 24-October 1.


Many thanks to Benjamin Tobey of the University of Michigan’s School of Information, who compiled the video as part of his Alternative Spring Break project, and to all the libraries, schools, book stores, and other organizations who supported Banned Books Week!

Tracking Protection Lists: A privacy enhancing technology that complements Do Not Track

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Yesterday, Microsoft released version 9 of Internet Explorer, which includes two significant new privacy features: Tracking Protection Lists (TPLs) and a Do Not Track (DNT) header that allows users to request that websites not track them. We've written about the virtues of the Do Not Track header previously. In this post we'll look more closely at privacy blocklists, a category of technologies that includes the popular AdBlock Plus browser extension and the new IE9 Tracking Protection Lists.

These lists are an important type of privacy technology, with distinct advantages over other approaches. They also have a number of inherent limitations, which makes them natural complements, rather than alternatives, to DNT.

Advantages of Privacy Blocklists

Blocklists like IE9's TPLs and AdBlock Plus for Firefox and Chrome are great privacy technologies because they can prevent your browser from transmitting information (via HTTP requests) about your reading habits to 3rd parties, and they can achieve that in a fairly user-friendly way. The importance of usability in the design of privacy tools cannot be overstated.

To enable a blocklist, the user subscribes to a list maintained by a group that spends a lot of time spotting the URLs used by tracking technologies, and in ...

Ruling: Ore. transit-ad policy violates free speech

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling that a Portland-area transit agency’s ad acceptance policy violates constitutional free-speech protections.

The Oregonian says TriMet has long maintained that it is acting in a “proprietary capacity” by establishing standards for the ads that Portland commuters see on its vehicles.

However, Judge Henry Breithaupt ruled in 2008 that because TriMet is a government agency, it was wrong to refuse a bus ad criticizing dams on the Klamath River.

The Court of Appeals upheld that ruling yesterday in Karuk Tribe of California v. TriMet.

Transit agency spokeswoman Mary Fetsch says TriMet has accepted all advertising while it awaited the higher court ruling, drawing about 175 complaints from commuters over several ads.

Now the agency says it will continue to fight for its policy. “We’re going to the state Supreme Court,” Fetsch said.

N.H. high court: Home-schooled girl ordered to public school

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire Supreme Court said yesterday that a lower court acted appropriately in ordering an 11-year-old girl to attend public school after her father claimed his ex-wife's strict Christian teachings were socially isolating the child.

Though religious-freedom groups trumpeted the cause of Brenda Voydatch of Meredith as a violation of her constitutional rights, the state Supreme Court disagreed, saying the case was a family court dispute between the parents that the court was well within its jurisdiction to resolve.

"While this case has religious overtones, it is not about religion. While it involves home schooling, it is not about the merits of home versus public schooling," the court wrote in its unanimous ruling.

"This case is only about resolving a dispute between two parents, with equal constitutional parenting rights and joint decision-making responsibility, who have been unable to agree how to best educate (their) daughter."

Voydatch and Martin Kurowski divorced when their daughter was two months old. The girl, who lives primarily with her mother but regularly visits her father in Portsmouth, was ordered to attend public school full-time starting in the 2009-2010 school year after her parents couldn't agree on an alternative to home schooling.


Rep. Issa protests ‘whistle-blower’ demotion

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security demoted a senior career employee who confidentially complained to the agency's internal watchdog that political appointees were improperly interfering with requests for federal records by journalists and others.

The chairman of the House committee investigating the alleged interference told the Obama administration that the demotion "appeared to be an act of retaliation." GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who leads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also said the treatment of the whistleblower had impeded the committee’s investigation.

"Obstructing a congressional investigation is a crime," Issa said.

The department said it had done nothing wrong.

Issa urged Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to remind employees about their rights and whistle-blower protections and to make agency managers "aware of the consequences for retaliation against witnesses who furnish information to Congress."

He accused the administration of improperly demoting Catherine Papoi, the former deputy unit chief in charge of the Freedom of Information Act. His charge raised the stakes in the broad congressional inquiry into President Barack Obama's promises to improve government transparency.

"Denying or interfering with employees' rights to furnish information to Congress is against the law," Issa wrote in a five-page letter obtained ...

‘Mobile Migration’ workshop set for April 1

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Registration is open for "Mobile Migration," a workshop April 1 in Nashville about the touch-screen tablet revolution and its implications for journalism.

The daylong workshop at the John Seigenthaler Center on the Vanderbilt University campus is co-sponsored by the Online News Association and the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, with underwriting help from the Scripps Howard Foundation.

"The arrival of touch-screen tablets has set off another disruptive technology in media and journalism," said Jack Lail, multimedia editor for the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel and a workshop organizer. "Apple's iPad is proving to be both a launch pad of opportunity and a landing pad for humbling crashes."

The workshop will explore a range of topics, including:

  • How the mobile web and high-quality content for tablet apps fit into The Dallas Morning News' new and ambitious paid-content strategies.

  • How to develop new, competitive publishing approaches amid accelerating disruption brought about by touch-screen tablets.

  • How magazines are learning to use screen publishing, targeting niche readers "ranging from parents to pet-owners to indie-music loving hipsters," Lail said.
  • Register here.

    The Power of Parody and Counter-Speech: Student Reaction to Alexandra Wallace’s Rant Video

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

    In the wake of the controversy surrounding the "Asians in the Library" video posted recently by UCLA student Alexandra Wallace, students and others have begun posting parodiesand they've quickly become hugely popular. Indeed, Wallace's video rant, which contains entirely protected speech, has unleashed a torrent of creativity aimed at debunking stereotypes of Asians, rebutting Wallace, and mocking her views.

    Here's a good example: a catchy mock-love song to Wallace with lyrics like "ching chong, it means I love you." Despite being posted just yesterday, it's already been viewed more than 160,000 times:

    Another video response uses hyperbole to skewer Wallace's imitation of Asian languages and her understanding of "Oriental manners":

    Not all of the video responses that are circulating YouTube are as genial. Some include much stronger condemnation of Wallacee.g., "Don't be mad because nobody loves you, bitch," as the video blogger below states. His response highlights stereotypes of both Asians and white people, arguing that Wallace's ancestors (his generic understanding of "white people") gave smallpox to Native Americans:

    Of course, if judged by the standards that UCLA is using to "investigate" whether Wallace's video constitutes discriminatory harassment, many of these videos, which critique Wallace's ...

    Why Doesn’t FIRE Condemn This Viewpoint I Hate?

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

    I'd like to take some time once again to address a criticism that FIRE sometimes receives: that we don't denounce the actual viewpoint of speech that people find to be offensive, racist, sexist, etc., with sufficient vehemence while we're in the process of defending the fundamental right of Americans to say such things. That suggestion has been raised with regard to my blog post from yesterday about the UCLA "Asians in the Library" video, and the subtext of it seems to be that FIRE is, in the end, sort of OK with racism, hate, or what-have-you.

    While this accusation is somewhat hurtful on a personal level for those of us who work for FIRE, we have excellent reasons for communicating the way we do. That's not going to change simply because we personally don't like to be accused of being insensitive or worse.

    First of all, all of us at FIRE are proud of the fact that FIRE is a nonpartisan individual rights organization that defends people with a huge variety of beliefs. From PETA to David Horowitz, from Bill Ayers to Tom Tancredo, from Christians to Muslims, from The Passion of the Christ to The Passion ...

    Peter Discusses ‘Snyder v. Phelps’ Decision in Latest ‘PolicyMic’ Column

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

    In his latest column for PolicyMic, our own Peter Bonilla discusses the Supreme Court's recent decision in Snyder v. Phelps, andthe expression in the case itself asidethe positive implications the decision carries for freedom of expression on college campuses (which are, of course, FIRE's area of concern).

    In Snyder, the Court upheld the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit's overturning of a damages award against the Westboro Baptist Church for picketing at a military funeral from a distance. The Court, affirming decades of its jurisprudence on free speech, held that the First Amendment protects speakers, even when their speech is truly "outrageous," against tort liability for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

    As Peter writes, this is a good thing for speech on the college campus:

    Indeed, the threat that an adverse ruling would pose to the rights of America's college students is what motivated my organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), to submit an amicus brief in Snyder, for if college administrators felt duty-bound to craft regulations prohibiting any "outrageous" speech on their campuses, whole classes of speech crucial toeven particular tothe ...

    Eugene Volokh on UCLA Video: Moronic, but Protected

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

    University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law professor and noted First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh has weighed in on the controversy surrounding the "Asians in the Library" YouTube video recently posted by UCLA student Alexandra Wallace. Citing both FIRE's letter to UCLA and Robert's blog post on the subject, Volokh concludes that Wallace's speech is "clearly constitutionally protected," as well as "moronic." Although he deems the views expressed to be "nonsense," Volokh argues that punishing this speech would open the door to punishing much other speech. He writes:

    The premise of the American university (and, I think, American self-government more broadly) is that people need to be free to express their views, whether the administrators and others see those views as morally right or morally wrong, so that social and political decisions can be reached based on actual discussion, and not mere force - and so that we can be confident that the things we believe are wrong are indeed wrong, rather than just that they have become unquestioned orthodoxy because challenging them can get you expelled. And to implement that premise, boneheaded statements have to be as protected as more well-reasoned statements.

    I couldn't agree more.


    EFF Lets the Sunshine In

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

    This week marks the seventh annual Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. As our little way to celebrate, EFF has recently posted nearly nine thousand pages of government documents to our site. For the majority of these documents, many of which were previously classified, this is the first time these files have been added to the public domain. The documents were all obtained in conjunction with EFF’s FOIA Litigation for Accountable Government (FLAG) Project, which aims to expose the government's expanding use of new technologies and to protect civil liberties by increasing government transparency.

    The trove of documents include:

    UCLA Administrator Equates Offensive Speech, Death Threats

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

    The UCLA student who posted the "Asians in the Library" video has apparently received death threats. If you want to understand what FIRE is up against when fighting censorship on campus, look no further than the response of UCLA Dean of Students Robert Naples to those threats. As our Robert Shibley noted yesterday, Naples told the student newspaper that "If she's received a death threat, I find that as deplorable as her original YouTube video." (Emphasis added.)

    That's right: a high-level administrator at UCLA has gone on the record that offensive but protected speech is the moral equivalent of a threat on someone's life. Think about that the next time you wonder why censorship on campus is so persistent.

    EFF Urges Judge to Reject Dangerous New Copyright Troll Strategy

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

    San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked an Illinois judge to quash subpoenas issued in a "reverse class action" lawsuit accusing thousands of people of illegally downloading pornography, and urged the court to dismiss the case. In a friend of the court brief filed Tuesday, EFF argued that the plaintiff's "class action" strategy is an improper attempt to sidestep the rights of the defendants.

    EFF has been involved in a number of copyright troll cases where content owners and lawyers team up to try to obtain the identities of thousands of anonymous alleged file sharers at once in order to extract settlements from them. In response, judges across the country have been cracking down on such abusive strategies. Thousands of unnamed "John Does" targeted in lawsuits filed in California, Washington D.C., Texas, and West Virginia have been severed, effectively dismissing over 40,000 defendants. These rulings may have a significant impact on this misguided business model, which relies on being able to sue thousands of Does at once with a minimum of administrative expense.

    In this case, OpenMind Solutions v. Does, the plaintiff has taken a new approach: calling its complaint a "class action" lawsuit against the alleged ...

    Spend an Evening with the EFF Activism Team Discussing Privacy and Government Surveillance

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

    On the evening on March 24, 2011, EFF staff activists will discuss the state of government surveillance and privacy in the United States at "Government Surveillance in a Digital World," an event hosted by San Francisco Intersection for the Arts, with a live video stream by

    One of the many topics to be discussed is the PATRIOT Act. For nearly ten years, EFF has fought to reform or repeal the overbroad authority granted to law enforcement through the PATRIOT Act, and this year, we have a chance to introduce significant reforms. Thanks to bipartisan opposition and the efforts of grassroots activists, Congress rejected a rubber-stamp reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act and instead vowed to spend three months debating reforms to this law. This gives us an incredible opportunity to speak out against the PATRIOT Act and tell Congress that we don’t want any laws that trample on our civil liberties.

    Join the EFF activism team in person or online for a a wide-ranging discussion on privacy in the digital world, online free expression, and how we can work together to stop Congress from reauthorizing a PATRIOT Act that enables excessive government surveillance.

    The event will ...

    WikiLeaks, Obama openness on FOI Day agenda

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

    WASHINGTON — The effects of WikiLeaks disclosures on classified data and Obama administration policies on the cause of freedom of information will be top questions at the National Freedom of Information Day Conference today.

    The 13th annual conference is being held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. See agenda.

    The keynote speaker will be First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams. In addition to WikiLeaks and Obama administration openness, panelists will discuss how best to classify — and declassify — digital data.

    Hosted each year by the First Amendment Center, the conference brings together open-records advocates, government officials, judges, lawyers, librarians, journalists, educators and others to discuss timely issues related to transparency in government and public access to official records.

    The program is conducted in partnership with the American Library Association, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, OMB Watch,, and the National Security Archive at George Washington University, and in cooperation with the annual Sunshine Week initiative sponsored by the American Society of News Editors.

    The conference includes the announcement by the American Library Association of recipients of its annual James Madison Award. The ALA presents the ...

    Witnesses: Open-records law still difficult to use

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

    WASHINGTON - The U.S. Freedom of Information Act remains an unwieldy and inefficient tool for obtaining government records despite President Barack Obama's promise to reinvigorate the law and improve his administration's transparency, experts told the Senate yesterday.

    The Obama administration, meanwhile, said it had made significant progress since January 2009, when the president directed federal agencies to disclose more information rapidly and reduce their backlogs of requests for records by citizens, journalists, companies and others.

    But John Podesta, president of the progressive Center for American Progress, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that federal agencies had not carried out Obama's order aggressively enough. Podesta, a former White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration, also said there was evidence that some agencies had reduced their backlogs of information requests through administrative maneuvering instead of providing the requested information.

    "The administration has the right policy," Podesta said. "The problem is in the implementation."

    Podesta's criticisms are significant because of his close ties to the White House. He guided Obama through the presidential transition after the 2008 election. He has long been an advocate for government openness. He told the committee that most government information should be automatically disclosed on the Internet.


    Md. county can’t enforce law on pro-life pregnancy-clinic signs

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

    GREENBELT, Md. — A federal judge has ruled that a portion of a Maryland county law targeting pro-life pregnancy clinics with sign requirements cannot be enforced.

    Officials in Montgomery County passed an ordinance last year that requires pregnancy clinics without licensed medical staff to post a sign. The ordinance requires the sign to note the absence of medical staff and say that the county encourages pregnant women to consult with a licensed medical provider.

    Chief U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow ruled yesterday that the county cannot enforce the part of the law in question while a legal challenge goes forward.

    Lawyers for the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal group, challenged the ordinance on behalf of a pregnancy clinic that does not provide birth control or abortions, saying the sign requirements are unconstitutional.

    9th Circuit revives Muslim woman’s headscarf lawsuit

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

    SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court yesterday unanimously reinstated a lawsuit filed by a Muslim woman who accused Southern California jailers of violating her religious freedom when they ordered her to take off her headscarf in a courthouse holding cell.

    An 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said in Khatib v. County of Orange that plaintiff Souhair Khatib had the right to wear the hijab, or headscarf, unless jailers could show it was a security risk.

    Khatib filed the lawsuit in 2007 against Orange County. She had been jailed for several hours in November 2006 after a judge revoked her probation for a misdemeanor welfare fraud conviction.

    A federal trial court judge and a three-judge 9th Circuit panel previously dismissed the lawsuit, saying holding cells aren't covered by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, a federal law that among other provisions, protects the religious practices of prisoners.

    Those courts held that it was impractical in transitory settings such as a holding cell to honor religious practices normally allowed in more permanent institutions such as prisons.

    But yesterday, the 11-judge 9th Circuit panel rejected that argument while allowing the case to ...

    Free speech no defense for urging suicide, says Minn. court

    Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

    FARIBAULT, Minn. — Freedom of speech is no defense for a former nurse who engaged in “lethal advocacy” when he encouraged an English man and Canadian woman to kill themselves after searching for depressed people over the Internet, a Minnesota judge said in delivering a guilty verdict against the man.

    The judge found William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, guilty yesterday of two counts of aiding the suicides of Mark Drybrough, 32, of Coventry, England, who hanged himself in 2005, and Nadia Kajouji, 18, of Brampton, Ontario, who jumped into a frozen river in 2008. Melchert-Dinkel declined a jury trial and left his fate to Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville.

    Melchert-Dinkel’s attorney, Terry Watkins, said the defense was disappointed with the verdict and planned to appeal. Watkins said appellate courts will have to answer whether Melchert-Dinkel’s actions rose to the level of a crime or were protected speech in the context in which they occurred, given the defense view that the victims were already predisposed to suicide and Melchert-Dinkel online statements didn’t sway them.

    In his ruling, Neuville stuck mostly to a dispassionate recitation of the facts in the case. The judge again rejected the defendant’s argument that his actions amounted to ...

    21st Annual Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference Seeks Program and Poster Proposals

    Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

    The 21st annual Computers, Freedom, & Privacy (CFP) is accepting program and poster proposals for this year’s conference, which will take place on June 14-16, 2011 in Washington, DC. The theme for the 2011 conference is “The Future is Now.”

    Past CFPs have explored what computing technology means for freedom and privacy, including its usefulness as a surveillance tool and its potential ubiquity. This year’s call for proposals will focus on the present state of technology and its impact on human rights struggles around the world.

    The call for proposals seeks contributions for this year’s agenda. The meeting will involve technologists, privacy policy experts, and policymakers in discussions about the information society and the future of technology, innovation, and freedom.

    Submission Deadlines:

    • April 3, 2011 Deadline for Poster Showcase Submissions
    • May 1, 2011 Final Deadline for Program Submissions

    Topics for consideraton at CFP 2011:

    • What is social media’s role in the charged democracy movement in the Middle East and North Africa?
    • How can technology and social media support human rights?
    • What is the impact of mobile personal computing technology on freedom and privacy?
    • Are the courts, policy and decision makers ready to address freedom and privacy in a 24/7 connected ...

    FIRE Intervenes in UCLA ‘Asians in the Library’ Case

    Tuesday, March 15th, 2011
    FIRE has sent a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block urging him to bring a quick end to UCLA's disciplinary investigation of a student who posted a controversial video titled "Asians in the Library."

    First Amendment Rodeo 2/21-3/7, 2011

    Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

    A biweekly round-up of intellectual freedom news around the nation


    Parents want Horry County School Board to ban “Push”
    See also
    Parents Fume Over Book

    Despite requests, libraries rarely pull materials

    Groups believe textbooks have pro-Islam slant

    A Censorship Issue – from Publisher’s Weekly Shelf Talker


    Freedom of Speech

    White power meeting put off

    Black Americana on display at Blount library creating dialogue
    See also:
    Blount County Library exhibit of Black Americana offends some patrons

    Teen’s six-month ban from local libraries for proselytizing ends today

    In fight for workers, free speech is at stake

    The Scopes Strategy: Creationists Try New Tactics to Promote Anti Evolutionary Teaching in Public Schools

    Sites Like Twitter Absent From Free Speech Pact




    UCLA Student’s ‘Asians in the Library’ Video Not Discriminatory Harassment

    Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

    For the last couple of days, controversy has been buzzing about a YouTube video (now with more than 4 million views) from a college student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), who chose to take to the Internet to complain about the behavior of Asian students in the UCLA library and elsewhere. The student, who has been identified as Alexandra Wallace, claims that the "hordes" of Asian students at UCLA (UCLA's undergraduate population is about 37 percent Asian and Pacific Islander) cause various annoyances like loudly talking on their cell phones in the library and having their extended families come over and do their chores for them.

    If you watch the video, it is easy to see why Asian students in particular, and others as well, might find it offensivealthough in my opinion it is really pretty tame, as far as Internet rants go. The uproar it has caused at UCLA, however, is remarkable, and unfortunately displays the common impulse of college students and administrators to turn to official power to silence unpopular or controversial expression rather than relying on informal social sanction. It also displays the unfortunate tendency of many college students to ask for ...

    FERPA Author to Colleges: Stop Violating FERPA!

    Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

    Another day, another attempt by a university to distort the intent of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This instance, according to The Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon), regards the records of an official NCAA investigation into the past activities of the University of Oregon men's basketball team. Aside from a token 127-word statement on the issue, however, the school since September has refused to provide The Register-Guard any information regarding any of the student-athletes involved.

    The Register-Guard doesn't know what's going on, because UO won't tell them. As the paper says, UO is arguing that "to provide any information, any document, of any kind" would be a FERPA violation.

    FERPA was designed to protect students' "education records," and it is not clear how an NCAA investigation would fit either the letter or the intent of the act. Yet the state of Oregon's Department of Justice has upheld UO's use of FERPA to refuse to reveal records to the paper. This decision has dismayed numerous experts:

    Carolyn Carlson, chair of the FERPA subcommittee of the Society of Professional Journalists and a journalism professor at Kennesaw (Ga.) State University, called it "an abuse of FERPA to conceal records of an NCAA investigation into possible ...

    March 19: Authors to discuss “We Must Not Be Afraid to Be Free”

    Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

    This coming Saturday, March 19, the Thomas Jefferson Center will be presenting a program as part of the 2011 Virginia Festival of the Book. In “We Must Not Be Afraid to Be Free” (2010) co-authors Ron Collins and Sam Chaltain explore the provocative issues and colorful people involved in the First Amendment controversies that have determined what free speech means in the United States today. The program begins at noon in the Charlottesville City Hall Chambers.  Admission is free.


    Exile Website Hacked

    Tuesday, March 15th, 2011
    Pro-junta groups are suspected in an attempt to discredit a Burmese exile news site.

    EFF Seeks Cooperating FOIA Reviewers

    Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

    Are you an EFF member or supporter interested in helping out on EFF’s Freedom of Information Act cases and connecting with EFF’s FOIA attorneys? Are you looking for ways to volunteer with EFF but perhaps don’t live near our offices? EFF is setting up an email list to connect you to the important work we do to ensure government accountability.

    EFF strongly believes in government transparency and accountability and regularly files requests with federal agencies under the Freedom of Information Act to get information on how the government uses or misuses technology. And when the government doesn’t respond to our requests, we file suit to enforce the public’s right to access this information. Since we started our FOIA work, we have received hundreds of thousands of pages of documents on topics as diverse as abuse of the PATRIOT Act, the National Science Foundation’s funding of projects to create “smart dust,” and government monitoring of social networking sites. However, sometimes we get so many documents from the government, we can’t go through them all ourselves as quickly or comprehensively as we would like. This is how you can help us in this important work.

    Here's how the Cooperating ...

    A Privacy Emergency: Consumer Rights at Risk in Next Generation 911

    Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

    The federal government is working on revamping America's 911 service, with a project called Next Generation 911. The goal is to create a framework that will allow consumers to contact critically important emergency services through multiple means — including text message, photos, and email — in order to improve responsiveness and accessibility. This is a wonderful opportunity that could help keep Americans safer. But as this system develops, it's important to engineer in privacy safeguards. In comments filed with the Federal Communication Commission today, EFF outlines the critical privacy concerns at play in Next Generation 911: medical privacy, locational privacy, and anonymity.

    For example, one proposal for Next Generation 911 includes providing data like medical histories to first responders. It's an intriguing idea that could give emergency service teams a jump on providing urgent care to people in need. But in most places across the country, calls to 911 are subject to public disclosure. This has allowed communities to assess the responsiveness of emergency systems when considering funding and other questions. If medical histories and other sensitive data become part of Next Generation 911, the FCC should create provisions that specifically protect them from public disclosure.

    Another tricky area ...

    SPJ ‘honoring’ Utah governor for closing records

    Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

    SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's restrictive new open-records law has brought the state national recognition for reducing public access to government.

    The national Society of Professional Journalists plans to present Gov. Gary Herbert with a first-ever Black Hole award tomorrow to highlight the law, which increases fees for records requests and makes government text messages private.

    David Cuillier, SPJ's Freedom of Information Committee chief and a journalism professor at the University of Arizona, told the Associated Press that he would try to present the award to Herbert tomorrow.

    The award, Cuillier said, is part of Sunshine Week, an annual initiative begun in 2002 to promote greater transparency in government.

    Nominations were gathered from around the country, but Cuillier said "there was no question" the award should go to Herbert as the chief executive of the state.

    Herbert signed House Bill 477 last week. It passed the Legislature less than a week after being introduced.

    In a statement, Herbert's spokeswoman Ally Isom said the governor had forced the Legislature to delay the effective date until July 1. Before then, a committee of government officials, news-media representatives and citizen activists will review the law. Herbert has promised a special session in June ...

    Agribusiness, lawmakers attack secret videos of animal cruelty

    Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

    DES MOINES, Iowa — Angered by repeated releases of secretly filmed videos purportedly showing mistreatment of farm animals, Iowa's agriculture industry is pushing legislation that would make it illegal for animal-rights activists to produce and distribute such images.

    Agriculture committees in the Iowa House and Senate have approved a bill that would prohibit such recordings and punish people who take agriculture jobs only to gain access to animals to record their treatment. Proposed penalties include fines of up to $7,500 and up to five years in prison. Votes by the full House and Senate have not yet been set.

    Doug Farquhar, program director for environmental health at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said Iowa would be the first state to approve such restrictions but that Florida was considering similar legislation. The Iowa measure was introduced after a number of groups released videos showing cows being shocked, pigs beaten and chicks ground up alive.

    "It's very transparent what agribusiness is attempting to do here," said Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association, a California-based group dedicated to protecting farm animals from abuse. "They're trying to intimidate whistleblowers and put a chill on legitimate anti-cruelty investigations. Clearly the industry ...

    10th Circuit: Colo. man can sue Secret Service agents

    Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

    DENVER — A Colorado man can sue two Secret Service agents who arrested him after he touched former Vice President Dick Cheney on the arm in 2006 and told him his Iraq war policies were “disgusting,” a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

    The ruling means Steven Howards can try to subpoena Cheney to testify about the incident, said David Lane, Howards’ attorney.

    “I fully intend on deposing the former vice president,” Lane told the Associated Press.

    Lane has been trying for years to subpoena Cheney, but his motion has been delayed as judges weighed the question of whether the Secret Service agents were immune in the case. He has said he wants to subpoena the former vice president because he’s “the best eyewitness to the case.”

    A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Howards can sue agents Virgil D. “Gus” Reichle Jr. and Dan Doyle on First Amendment grounds. But the court ruled that two other agents named in the lawsuit are immune in the case.

    The judges ruled that the four agents are immune on Howards’ Fourth Amendment claim against them of unreasonable search and seizure.

    Howards was arrested after he approached Cheney ...

    When Should a University Reopen a Sexual Assault Case?

    Monday, March 14th, 2011

    The Grand Forks (ND) Herald ran an editorial last week discussing the case of former student Caleb Warner, who was expelled from the University of North Dakota (UND) after a college tribunal found him guilty of charges stemming from an alleged sexual assault.

    Notice the word "alleged." The twist in this case is that his accuser is now wanted by the Grand Forks police on charges of filing a false police report with regard to the case. The police have even issued an arrest warrant for her; apparently, she has returned to her home state of California and has so far failed to return to face the charges. Warner, for his part, has always insisted that the sex was consensual. Despite this, UND has reportedly refused to reopen Warner's case, apparently on the grounds that this turn of events is not sufficiently "substantial" to warrant reopening the case.

    The Grand Forks Herald opines that "UND should consider reopening the case." In other words, UND should think about revisiting its original verdict. I'm going to go further than that and agree with FIRE Co-founder Harvey Silverglate, who said, "It seems to be that the campus tribunal has an obligationsurely ...

    Supreme Court to Hear Case on Copyright vs. the First Amendment

    Monday, March 14th, 2011

    The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear Golan v. Holder, a case that could redefine the relationship between copyright and the First Amendment.

    Writing for the First Amendment Center, David L. Hudson Jr recently analyzed Golan v. Holder. He writes:

    In 1994, Congress passed something called the Uruguay Round Agreements Act to bring the United States into compliance with international copyright treaties. Congress passed URAA and joined the treaty, supporters say, to protect the interests of American copyright holders abroad. But opponents counter that the law impeded creators in the United States, who no longer had free access to some materials in the public domain. Both sides agree the net effect of URAA was that the United States restored copyright protection to some foreign works that had fallen into the public domain.

    Two issues are identified in the legal papers before the Supreme Court.

    First is whether, by removing materials from the public domain, Congress exceeded its powers under the copyright clause. The clause gives Congress the power “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

    Second is ...

    Michigan Attorney General Supports Former Student’s Suit Against EMU

    Monday, March 14th, 2011
    The Detroit News reports that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has put his support behind Julea Ward, a former graduate student at Eastern Michigan University who is suing the school following her dismissal from its counseling program. The Detroit News writes that "Ward claims she was dismissed in March of 2009 after asking how to refer student clients to other advisers in the school's counseling practicum because the client's activities were in conflict with her Christian belief against homosexuality." Schuette has filed an amicus brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, where Ward's case is on appeal. A Friday press release from Schuette's office states that "[t]he religious freedoms enshrined in our Constitution do not evaporate when you step on campus."

    Discussion at USC Ignores Serious Free Speech Concerns on Campus

    Monday, March 14th, 2011

    Rachel Bracker of the University of Southern California's (USC's) student newspaper the Daily Trojan reported on a "campus conversation" on "free speech," held at USC last Tuesday and led in part by University Counsel Stephen Yamaguchi. Unfortunately, Bracker's report suggests that many students left disappointed because they still didn't possess a clear understanding of their free speech rights as USC students.

    Sherry Wang, a freshman majoring in creative writing, said:

    I came here because I wanted to see what the campus's actual policies were, but I felt like the information they gave was actually kind of vague.

    Perhaps the speakers didn't delve into USC's policies because the speech restrictions at USC actually deny students their right to free speech. USC has several policies that restrict students' ability to communicate freely. Take, for example, USC's University Policy on Sexual Harassment (.pdf), which forbids (in the context of an otherwise fairly reasonable definition of harassment) "verbal sexual harassment" in the form of

    written or spoken epithets; derogatory or sexually suggestive comments or slurs about an individual's body or dress; questions or statements about sexual activity, other than in an appropriate context such as academic study of such activity; sexual jokes and innuendo; whistling ...

    Environmental Health Sciences Professor Still Fighting for His Job at UCLA

    Monday, March 14th, 2011

    FIRE began reporting last September on the case of Dr. James Enstrom, an environmental health sciences professor at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), who has worked at UCLA as a researcher and professor since 1976. UCLA refused to reappoint him, stating that his controversial research failed to accord with the department's "mission." In reality, Enstrom had engaged in successful whistleblowing against a prominent member of the department, and there had been many years of debate between Enstrom and some of his colleagues over research on air pollution. After FIRE intervened, Enstrom was given an eight-month reprieve until March 31, 2011, or until his appeals are resolved. Since then, UCLA has been very slow to get through the process.

    UCLA has been so slow, in fact, that he has been given yet another reprieve to June 30, 2011. His grievance regarding his treatment has advanced to the point of formal arbitration hearings, which are scheduled to begin on April 4.

    At an earlier stage of the grievance, the case reviewer, UCLA School of Medicine Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs Richard H. Gold, determined way back on October 20, 2010, that

    Dr. Enstrom's research is fully aligned with the ...

    Candidates Support Dalai Lama’s Role

    Monday, March 14th, 2011
    Ahead of March elections, candidates debate a future Tibetan government-in-exile without the Dalai Lama’s leadership.

    Sunshine Week: Do Open Government Laws Still Matter in the Era of WikiLeaks?

    Monday, March 14th, 2011

    March 14-18, 2011 is “Sunshine Week”—a week to focus on the importance of open government and how we can ensure accountability for our leaders at the federal, state and local levels.

    In the year since Sunshine Week 2010, the world of open government has been rocked by the WikiLeaks leaks. Early last April, WikiLeaks released a video of a 2007 US Army air attack in Baghdad that left 12 dead, including two employees of the news agency Reuters. This wasn’t the first controversial information the site ever posted, but it swiftly put WikiLeaks in the center of a dialogue about what information the public has a right to access and whether releasing that information will put lives and national security at risk.

    Since that time, WikiLeaks also published (on its own and through reporters at several national newspapers) several hundred thousand intelligence reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and is in the process of publishing over 250,000 state department cables. While some of the leaks have merely provided us with a little gossip and a window into other cultures, some of the information has taught us about the abuses that have occurred during the wars, the ...

    W.Va. Legislature passes reporter-shield bill

    Monday, March 14th, 2011

    CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia lawmakers have passed a bill protecting journalists from disclosing confidential sources in most legal proceedings.

    The House of Delegates passed the measure on March 12, agreeing to a Senate amendment on the final day of the 60-day legislative session. The measure now goes to acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for his signature.

    The bill would shield reporters from being required to identify confidential sources in civil and criminal trials, before grand juries and in administrative proceedings. It also covers documents that could identify a source.

    The bill exempts testimony that would prevent imminent death, serious bodily injury or unjust imprisonment. It also offers protection to student and part-time journalists.

    Twitter must turn over account info in WikiLeaks probe

    Monday, March 14th, 2011

    ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A federal magistrate ruled late last week that prosecutors can demand Twitter account information of certain users in their criminal probe into the disclosure of classified documents on WikiLeaks.

    The prosecutors’ reasons for seeking the records remain secret and it’s unknown how important they are to the investigation of the largest leak ever of classified American documents.

    The Twitter users argued that the government was on a fishing expedition that amounted to an unconstitutional violation of their freedoms of speech and association.

    But in a ruling issued March 11, U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan said the government’s request was reasonable and did nothing to hamper the Twitter users’ First Amendment rights.

    “The freedom of association does not shield members from cooperating with legitimate government investigations,” Buchanan wrote in her 20-page opinion.

    The efforts by the Twitter users marked the first legal skirmish in the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of the WikiLeaks disclosures, but is unlikely to be the last. The Twitter users’ lawyers, including attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have said they will appeal.

    Cindy Cohn, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s legal director, said she was troubled by several aspects ...

    Neb. prison officials agree to recognize pagan religion

    Monday, March 14th, 2011

    OMAHA, Neb. — Two Nebraska inmates have succeeded in getting a pagan religion recognized by state prison officials and will be able to hold their own worship services.

    Wolfgang Rust, 59, and Bobby Conn, 30, reached a settlement in December with the state Department of Correctional Services over their fight to practice Theodish Belief at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. The state will pay $12,400 to cover the inmates’ attorneys fees under the deal approved last week in federal court.

    The agreement calls for the prison system to recognize Theodish Belief and allow worshippers to procure items for religious ceremonies, including drinking horns, a boar’s tusk, a hobby horse and organic food.

    Messages left for a prison spokeswoman weren’t returned in time for this story.

    The inmates’ lawsuit, filed in August 2008 in U.S. District Court in Lincoln, said they had been forced to combine worship services with Asatru followers in violation of to their constitutional rights and federal law. Both religions are forms of heathenism practiced in northern Europe about the 5th century but are as distinct as the Christian religions of Catholicism and Protestantism, according to the filing.

    “Plaintiffs are dedicated to practicing the religion of our ...

    Little transparency progress under Obama

    Monday, March 14th, 2011

    WASHINGTON — Two years into its pledge to improve government transparency, the Obama administration handled fewer requests for federal records from citizens, journalists, companies and others last year even as significantly more people asked for information. The administration disclosed at least some of what people wanted at about the same rate as the previous year.

    People requested information 544,360 times last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act from the 35 largest federal agencies, up nearly 41,000 from the previous year, according to an analysis by the Associated Press of new federal data. But the government took action on nearly 12,400 fewer requests.

    The administration refused to release any sought-after materials in more than 1 in 3 information requests, including cases when it couldn't find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was determined to be improper under the law. It refused more often to consider information requests quickly about subjects described as urgent or especially newsworthy. And nearly half the agencies that AP examined took longer — weeks more, in some cases — to give out records last year than during the previous year.

    There were some improvements. The administration less frequently invoked the ...

    Openness in state government? AP survey shows mixed results

    Sunday, March 13th, 2011

    NEW YORK — More openness in government. Lawmakers across the country, including the Republicans who took control in many states this year, say they want it. But a survey of all 50 states by the Associated Press has found that efforts to boost openness often are being thwarted by old patterns of secrecy.

    The survey did find signs of progress in a number of states, especially in technological efforts to make much more information available online. But there also are restrictions being put in place for recent electronic trends, such as limits on access to officials' text messages.

    The AP analysis was done in conjunction with this year's Sunshine Week, an annual initiative begun in 2002 to promote greater transparency in government. To observe Sunshine Week, which runs today through March 20, AP journalists in all 50 statehouses reported on both recent improvements and the obstacles that still exist in many places.

    First, the positive: In Alabama, where Republicans won control of the Legislature for the first time in 136 years, lawmakers can no longer bring up budget votes without warning. And Budget Committee meetings are now streamed live online. In the past, legislative leaders typically wrote state budgets in ...