Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

‘FOX News’ Highlights Wesleyan’s Student Rights Abuses

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011


FOXNews.com is the latest to draw scrutiny to Wesleyan University's overbearing treatment of its students with its new policy prohibiting them from "participating in social activities" on the property of private organizations unrecognized by Wesleyan.

Unsurprisingly, the front-page FOXNews.com story by Patrick Manning detects a decidedly sour mood among Wesleyan's student body:

"It feels like you are still living with mom and dad," said Tom Miceli, a junior at the small Middletown, Conn., college.

They say the wording of the policy is unclear, and the college has gone too far under making the new revisions.

"Students want to be treated like they are adults," junior Jeff Tanendaum said.

[...]

Miceli, president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, which is affiliated with the university, said the rules give him anxiety about what the university can do under the new policy.

"It's a slippery slope. If they can pass this, what else can they pass?" he said.

Wesleyan University's student body president, Micah Feiring, said the new revisions were made without any student input.

"The administration is usually very good about working with students," he said, referring to policy revisions. "But this time they did not."

Manning's article also quotes FIRE's Adam ...

Similar Story, Different School – Magazine Vandalized at UNLV

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

On February 7, an article was ripped out of several copies of The Vagus Nerve, a monthly art and literature magazine of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and then symbolically defaced with Twinkies. The article in question argued that some girls should wear jeans instead of leggings and also "put down the Twinkie." This appears to be the second instance of college newspaper-related mischief so far this month, as 2,000-3,000 copies of The Towerlight, Towson University's student newspaper, were stolen from various campus locations on February 10.

As we have often stated on The Torch, newspaper vandalism is not only immoral, but usually counterproductive. Instead of suppressing speech, these actions have the opposite effect of piquing people's interest and increasing readership of the "controversial" article(s)/publication. Peter said it best in his blog post about the recent incident of newspaper theft at Towson University:

Not only is this form of censorship unprincipled and thuggish, it is nonsensicalwhatever content in the paper motivated the thefts, it has surely gained increased prominence as the censorship sends viewers to the papers' websites to learn what was so allegedly controversial.

Peter's statement underlines another important point. Even if ...

Justices turn away challenge to Nev. ban on brothel ads

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has turned away an effort to invalidate Nevada laws banning newspaper advertisements identifying places where prostitution is legal.

The Court today refused to hear an appeal from two newspaper companies, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Shady Lady Ranch, a Nye County brothel.

Laws went into effect in Nevada in 1979 prohibiting brothel advertising in counties where prostitution is illegal. Prostitution is illegal in counties with populations of 400,000 or more — which include Las Vegas and Reno — and 10 Nevada counties authorize prostitution by local ordinance.

U.S. District Judge James Mahan said those advertising laws were overly broad and unconstitutional but his decision was overturned by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case is Coyote Publishing Inc. v. Masto, 10-564.

High court won’t revisit Ky. commandments case

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court has passed up a chance to take another look at a six-year-old ruling that struck down the display of the Ten Commandments in two Kentucky courthouses.

McCreary and Pulaski counties had appealed recent lower court rulings barring them from posting the commandments, despite changes to the displays to include multiple religious and government documents.

The counties were hoping that those modifications, as well as critical changes in the composition of the high court since it ruled in the case in 2005, would lead the justices to take up their appeal.

But the Court declined to do so today, without comment.

‘Commentary’ Cites Greg on Free Speech at Yale

Monday, February 21st, 2011
Commentary's Michael Rubin cited Greg's recent Huffington Post column on the 12 worst schools for free speech in America in his article today about the climate for free speech at Yale University, a member in bad standing of Greg's list. Rubin points out that no less than three of the members of the Yale Corporation (Yale's main governing body) are deeply involved with the media and should be sensitive to concerns regarding Yale. Click through to read more.

Riding the Fences of the “Urban Homestead”: Trademark Complaints and Misinformation Lead to Improper Takedowns

Monday, February 21st, 2011

A leading candidate has emerged for the next EFF Takedown Hall of Shame induction: the Dervaes Institute, which is claiming broad ownership rights over the term “urban homesteading” — a term commonly used to describe a social movement dedicated to achieving more self-sufficient, sustainable living in cities. Last year, the Institute managed to register the term as a trademark (in connection with “educational services” such as blogging) and it is now sending takedown requests and warning letters targeting individuals and organizations that have been using the term for years.

The Dervaes campaign raises two related issues.

First, as explained in more detail in a letter EFF sent today on behalf of three of the targets (Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, authors of The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, and their publisher, Process Media), the legal claims are baseless. Even assuming the registration is valid — there are reasons to question it — the term “urban homesteading” is commonly understood to refer to a popular movement and related set of practices. Our clients — and anyone else — are free to use it in that descriptive sense, and that is exactly what they did.

Second, ...

Ohio high court rejects open-records lawsuit

Monday, February 21st, 2011

CLEVELAND — The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that volunteer committees that created recommendations for Cuyahoga County's charter government are not subject to the state's open-records laws.

The court sided with the county, rejecting a lawsuit filed by the Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU had accused county leaders of refusing to release public documents about the government transition. Thirteen committees met in open sessions during 2010.

The ACLU says the Feb. 16 ruling in ACLU of Ohio v. Cuyahoga County Board of Commissioners gives a "blank check" to public officials who want to conduct business behind closed doors.

County Executive Ed FitzGerald was elected in November as the county's first executive, replacing three commissioners as part of a county government overhaul approved by voters.

FitzGerald's spokesman, John Kohlstrand, says the new county government is committed to transparency going forward.

King Co. doesn’t have to put anti-Israeli ads on buses

Monday, February 21st, 2011

SEATTLE — A federal judge says it is reasonable for King County officials to refuse to place advertisements critical of the Israeli government on Metro buses.

On Feb. 18, U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones refused to grant a preliminary injunction sought by the Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign that would have ordered the county to run the ads reading, "Israeli War Crimes: Your Tax Dollars at Work."

Jones wrote in Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign v. King County that threats of violence and disruption led bus drivers and law enforcement officials to express safety concerns and county officials had "a reasonable basis" to refuse the ads.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington argued the county's refusal violated the group's First Amendment rights.

The Seattle Times reported that county officials suspended new noncommercial ads and were drafting a new policy.

Univ. pulls controversial definition of religious bias from website

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO — The University of California at Davis has eliminated from its website a definition of religious discrimination that offended more than two dozen Christian students.

The wording that the students objected to defined religious discrimination in the United States as "institutionalized oppressions toward those who are not Christian."

It appeared in an online glossary to a "Principles of Community" diversity statement. Students and students groups at Davis were asked to pledge their commitment to the principles.

The statement dates back to 1990, but the university's Office of Campus Community Relations estimates the definition was added six or seven years ago, campus spokesman Julia Ann Easley said on Feb. 17.

The office took down the 77-term glossary on Feb. 16 after the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal aid group, notified UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi that the language on religious discrimination violated the constitutional rights of Christian students who had complained to the organization.

"If everyone is protected under a religious discrimination provision except for Christians, that is in itself discriminatory," said fund attorney David French.

French said he found the choice of words ironic, since he thinks Christian students are at higher risk of bias ...

FIRE’s Creeley Hits The College of New Jersey’s Speech Codes in Student Newspaper

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley provides some useful analysis of the state of free speech at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) in an op-ed written for the TCNJ student publication The Perspective. Be sure to check it out to get Will's take on the First Amendment problems in TCNJ policy and the ways in which students at the public institution are currently being deprived of their full free speech rights.

Will's op-ed takes aim primarily at TCNJ's definition of "abuse" in its "Violations of Community Standards" policy, found here. The policy defines "abuse" as follows:

AbusePhysical and/or verbal assault or conduct that threatens or endangers the health, safety, or well being of any person or group.

As Will writes, this provision not only abridges First Amendment rights, to which students at TCNJ are fully entitled, but also it fails the basic "South Park test":

As most Americans of college age know, the hallmark of Comedy Central's "South Park" is its bomb-throwing satire. The show is a celebration of sharp-edged snark, seemingly designed to offend as many sensibilities as possible. On that score, "South Park" has been successful, generating heated complaints over ...

Campaign-ethics panel exonerates Maine newspaper

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

AUGUSTA, Maine — A Maine newspaper that provided free advertising that advocated electing Portland mayors by popular vote has been cleared of wrongdoing by the state's election-ethics panel.

Former Portland Charter Commission member Thomas Valleau contended that The Portland Press Herald violated campaign-finance laws by failing to disclose the ads as campaign donations.

The newspaper said the ads were part of its ongoing relationship with the Portland Regional Chamber.

The Kennebec Journal reported that by a 4-1 vote, the ethics commission concluded that the newspaper did not have to register as a ballot-question committee and disclose the ads.

The ballot proposal to have a popularly elected mayor was approved by Portland city voters in November. The Elect Our Mayor/Yes on 1 political action committee reported that the ads were valued at nearly $47,000.

Wesleyan Pretends There’s Nothing to See Here

Friday, February 18th, 2011

A national news organization just spoke with me about Wesleyan's very recent policy banning students from engaging in social activities on the property of any private association that is not officially recognized by Wesleyan. Apparently, Wesleyan is saying that the policy isn't really newthat only the enforcement with disciplinary consequences is newand that it really is only about university housing. (Perhaps this is not what Wesleyan is saying, but the journalist repeated Wesleyan's statement to me a few times.)

If that's what Wesleyan is saying, Wesleyan is lying. Here's verbatim what the policy actually says:

Policy addition to take effect August, 2011:

[Wesleyan continues to recognize the right of private societies to organize and function at the University provided that they are formally recognized by the University and comply with applicable University rules and regulations.  Private societies formally recognized by Wesleyan may receive the privileges accorded to student organizations.

If a private society limits its membership to students of a single-sex, then in order to be recognized by the University it must satisfy the requirements for social fraternities and sororities established by Title IX of the federal Education Amendments of 1972. These requirements, as now ...

State Board of Education Suspends Idaho State’s Faculty Senate

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Within days of a faculty vote of "no confidence" in Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas, the Idaho Board of Education has voted to dissolve the university's faculty senate, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.) and others are reporting. This drastic action follows several months of increasingly sour relations between Vailas and the ISU faculty; as the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote recently, this was due at least in part to Valias' perceived treatment of dissidents in ISU's academic ranks, including the firing of tenured Professor Habib Sadid, who had frequently made remarks critical of the university. 

The Spokesman-Review writes:

Board President Richard Westerberg said, "The impasse between the leadership of the senate group and the administration has reached a point where the prospect of any kind of progress was simply non-existent. It's time to start over." The board, meeting today in Boise, instructed Vailas to implement an interim faculty advisory structure, and come back to the board with a model to review by April.

The full background of this case is complex and not yet clear to FIRE, but the snapshot suggested by Westerberg's statement (notably, the board has supported Vailas against the faculty) is decidedly ...

University of Delaware Celebrates Jan Blits’ Academic Freedom Award … But Why?

Friday, February 18th, 2011
The University of Delaware has noted that University of Delaware professor and FIRE friend Jan Blits received the Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick Academic Freedom Award last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) from Michael Grebe of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. 

If you only read the university's announcement, however, you wouldn't have any idea what Professor Blits did on behalf of academic freedom to earn this prestigious award. In fact, Professor Blits, along with Professor Linda Gottfredson, was instrumental in helping FIRE put an end to the university's own coercive, mandatory program of thought reform in the university's residence halls back in 2007. If you don't know about this truly outlandish case, you should read about it and watch the short video.

Thanks to the National Association of Scholars for pointing out this omission. We're glad that the University of Delaware now seems to recognize the service that Professor Blits performed by helping stop the indoctrination of its students, but we feel it's necessary to point out that the people behind the discredited program are still directing the university's Office of Residence Life.

China Deletes Egypt Song

Friday, February 18th, 2011
Those behind the song say it was meant to "educate" local people while backing the Egyptian revolt.

Pt II: EFF Evaluates the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules in its “Report and Order”

Friday, February 18th, 2011

In Part I of this post, we looked at the FCC’s stated basis for its authority to regulate the Internet in its Report and Order, issued in late December 2010.

Now, we turn to the substance of the FCC’s Order, and specifically how the Order stacks up against the concerns we raised in our January, 2010, comments to the FCC about the FCC’s October 2009 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). (The Order raises other concerns for us as well, like the exclusion of wireless, that aren’t addressed here; this post just tracks the issues discussed in our NPRM comments.) While we’re big supporters of an open Internet and neutrality in practice, we were concerned that the proposed rules would create large loopholes for non-neutral behavior and barriers to entry for small noncommercial providers.

Unfortunately, it appears the FCC doesn’t share our concerns—or at least not enough to make real changes. While the new rules do take account of some of our smaller points about the NPRM, the FCC has made only a cosmetic effort to tackle the bigger problems.

Definition of “Reasonable Network Management”

Our first major substantive concern with the proposed rules had to do with the definition ...

Wesleyan Students Rally at Noon Today for Freedom of Association

Friday, February 18th, 2011

As Peter wrote on Wednesday, Wesleyan University has imposed a breathtakingly broad policy (to take effect in August 2011) restricting students' freedom of association rights, violating Wesleyan's moral and legal obligation to its students dating back to 1969.

The new policy effectively bans students from participating in social activities on a vast amount of off-campus property including churches and other houses of worship, the Middletown Elks Lodge, the Italian Society of Middletown, and a wide variety of private societies throughout Connecticut. It substantially violates Wesleyan's promise that "As citizens, students should enjoy the same freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, and the right of petition that other citizens enjoy ... both on and off campus" in Wesleyan's "Joint Statement on the Rights and Freedoms of Students."

FIRE sent a letter to President Michael S. Roth on Wednesday in defense of students' fundamental rights at Wesleyan, calling upon Wesleyan to honor its longstanding promise of freedom of association. There is simply no way to reconcile Wesleyan's noble statement of principle with the current actions of Wesleyan's administration, and we are holding them accountable.

Today at noon, Wesleyan students are holding a rally at Wesleyan's Usdan University Center to advocate for the rights that students ...

FIRE Joins 1 for All First Amendment Campaign

Friday, February 18th, 2011

We're pleased to announce that FIRE has joined the 1 for All campaign to help raise awareness and understanding of the First Amendment. As described on the campaign's website:

1 for All is a national nonpartisan program designed to build understanding and support for First Amendment freedoms. 1 for All provides teaching materials to the nation's schools, supports educational events on America's campuses and reminds the public that the First Amendment serves everyone, regardless of faith, race, gender or political leanings. It is truly one amendment for all.

As one of many Friends of 1 for All, FIRE joins a broad coalition of national organizations committed to the mission of educating Americans in the freedoms of the First Amendment. Other supporters of 1 for All include civil liberties organizations such as the Student Press Law Center and the National Coalition Against Censorship, as well as media organizations including The New York Times Company, The Huffington Post, Google, and hundreds of statewide and regional news publications.

FIRE is happy to join 1 for All's campaign to build understanding and awareness of the First Amendment, and looks forward to contributing our work on America's campuses to its cause.

Temporary extension of Patriot Act provisions sent to president

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Editor’s note: The Associated Press reported that President Barack Obama signed the three-month extension of key surveillance provisions of the Patriot Act on Feb. 25.

WASHINGTON — Congress yesterday gave itself three more months to consider changing provisions of anti-terrorism law that have been valuable in tracking security threats but have drawn fire from defenders of privacy rights.

The House voted 279-143 to renew for another 90 days the three provisions, including two that were part of the USA Patriot Act enacted shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Senate approved the measure on Feb. 15.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill before the provisions expire on Feb. 28.

At issue are law enforcement powers to set roving wiretaps to monitor multiple communication devices and to ask a special federal court for access to "any tangible thing" — from business records to library checkouts — that could be relevant to a terrorist threat. The third provision, from a 2004 intelligence act, gives the FBI court-approved rights for secret surveillance of non-American "lone wolf" suspects not known to be tied to specific terrorist groups.

Unlike other sections of the Patriot Act, the provisions were not made permanent ...

House Republicans move to block net-neutrality rules

Friday, February 18th, 2011

WASHINGTON — House Republicans yesterday moved to block the Federal Communications Commission from enforcing new rules that prohibit broadband providers from interfering with Internet traffic on their networks.

With a 244-181 vote, Republican leaders succeeded in attaching an amendment to a sweeping spending bill that would bar the FCC from using government money to implement its new “network neutrality” regulations.

The rules prohibit phone and cable companies from favoring or discriminating against Internet content and services, including online calling services like Skype and Web video services like Netflix that could compete with their core operations. The FCC’s three Democrats voted to adopt the regulations late last year over the opposition of the agency’s two Republicans.

The rules are already facing court challenges from Verizon Communications Inc. and Metro PCS Communications Inc. Republicans in both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation to try to repeal the rules outright.

Republicans argue that the net-neutrality rules amount to onerous and unnecessary regulations that will discourage phone and cable companies from continuing to upgrade their broadband networks by making it too hard for them to earn a healthy return on those investments. They also maintain that the FCC overstepped its authority in adopting the ...

College of William and Mary Law School wins top honors

Friday, February 18th, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The team from the College of William and Mary Law School in Virginia won the 21st Annual National First Amendment Moot Court Competition today at the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. Winning team members were Stephen P. Barry and Brandon L. Boxler.

Runner-up in the two-day competition, sponsored by the First Amendment Center and Vanderbilt University Law School, was Boston University School of Law. Team members were Leigh Campbell and Jen Mikels.

The competition problem was a hypothetical case involving student speech. The question was whether public school officials have the authority to punish a student for online expression off-campus that officials deem vulgar, invasive of the rights of others or potentially disruptive to the classroom. Teams of student advocates from 34 law schools argued both sides of the case.

The topic "was perfectly timely; certainly the proliferation of speech on the Internet and hateful speech, in particular, has become a problem and a challenge that needs to be dealt with and the extent to which it is the duty of public schools to be a part of solving that problem is a novel and important question," said Barry from the winning College of William and ...

4th Circuit concurs Md. strip-club law too broad

Friday, February 18th, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. — A federal appeals court has ruled that a Maryland law restricting the attire and conduct of performers in strip clubs is unconstitutional.

In an opinion issued yesterday by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the judges upheld a lower court's permanent injunction issued in April 2009. The judges concluded the Maryland law was too broad and could have applied to dramatic stage performances and ballet.

The Maryland law was challenged by two adult clubs in Prince George's County, the Legend Night Club and the Classics Night Club.

An attorney for the clubs, Jimmy A. Bell, said the Maryland law was so restrictive that it essentially would have outlawed adult entertainment.

US Warned Over Web Speech

Thursday, February 17th, 2011
China says the U.S. employs double standards in its policy on Internet freedom.

In Censoring Art Gainesville State College President Violates Academic Freedom

Thursday, February 17th, 2011
Stanley Bermudez’ Heritage? (above) had been displayed for just over two weeks at the Gainesville State College Gallery before Martha Nesbitt, the President of GSC, ordered its removal. The painting, which layers images of a Klansman and a lynching upon a Confederate battle flag, drew protests spurred by a post on Southern Heritage Alerts. The [...]

Handful of Protesters Cause $800+ Unconstitutional Security Fee for Pro-Life Group

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

The Alliance Defense Fund has written a letter to the University of Michigan (UM) after learning that the university burdened the UM group Students for Life with unconstitutional security fees connected to an event featuring Alveda King, niece of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Life News reports:

Students for Life hosted a two-part speaking event featuring King in October. Upon learning that a few students opposed to King's views planned to protest at the event, the university insisted on providing Department of Public Safety officers even though Students for Life believed such security was unnecessary.

Approximately 250 people attended the evening portion of the King event. Only four or five pro-abortion protesters showed up and no incidents occurred at that time or at the invitation-only breakfast the following morning. Yet, following the event,  the university billed Students for Life more than $800 for the security personnel despite the group's objections.

Whether four, five, or five hundred protesters had planned to show up, UM's levying of such security fees on Students for Life is unconstitutional. It's pretty clear why this should be so: If intolerant protesters sensed that all they had to do to prevent events from occurring ...

FIRE’s Erica Goldberg in ‘The Tufts Daily’ on Censorship at Tufts

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

FIRE's Justice Robert H. Jackson Legal Fellow and Tufts alumna Erica Goldberg has an op-ed column in today's Tufts Daily. Erica's op-ed responds to two articles published earlier this week in the Daily that take FIRE to task for placing Tufts on our Huffington Post list of the 12 worst colleges for freedom of speech. Erica's column cuts right to the heart of why the impulse of so many at Tufts to allow "free speech" as long as it is not "hate speech" is both unworkable and a bad idea.

Erica’s column, reprinted from the Tufts Daily in full below, exposes how, at Tufts, too many students seem willing to give up the essential liberty of freedom of speech to purchase the appearance of a harmonious campus that comes with silencing unpopular viewpoints.

In Tuesday's edition of the Daily, the editorial "FIRE is wrong in naming Tufts in its ‘12 worst'" and the op-ed "More speech, not less, and certainly not hate speech" respond to Tufts being placed on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's (FIRE) "12 Worst Schools for Free Speech" list in The Huffington Post. These two opinion pieces level fairly common criticisms of FIRE ...

UC Davis Backtracks on Discriminatory Definition of Religious Discrimination

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

In my nearly five years with FIRE, I've seen a lot of terrible campus speech policiesincredibly restrictive speech codes, tiny free speech "patios", wildly overbroad harassment policies, and more. But just when I thought I'd seen it all, along comes a school that infringes on student rights in an altogether new and fascinating way.

Congratulations, University of California at Davis: You've impressed me.

As Casey Mattox of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) documents here, until yesterday, UC Davis' Office of Community Campus Relations defined "Religious/Spiritual Discrimination" as:

The loss of power and privilege to those who do not practice the dominant culture's religion. In the United States, this is institutionalized oppressions toward those who are not Christian.

The implications of this definition are obviously deeply problematic. Where to start? For one, UC Davis apparently was comfortable with defining the United States as a Christian nation. That's sure to be shocking news to all UC Davis students, regardless of faith.

Even more shocking is the fact that under this definition, Christians cannot be the victims of religious discrimination. No, because Christianity is "the dominant culture's religion," UC Davis maintained that Christians cannot themselves be ...

Newly Released Documents Detail FBI’s Plan to Expand Federal Surveillance Laws

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

EFF just received documents in response to a 2-year old FOIA request for information on the FBI’s "Going Dark" program, an initiative to increase the FBI's authority in response to problems the FBI says it's having implementing wiretap and pen register/trap and trace orders on new communications technologies. The documents detail a fully-formed and well-coordinated plan to expand existing surveillance laws and develop new ones. And although they represent only a small fraction of the documents we expect to receive in response to this and a more recent FOIA request, they were released just in time to provide important background information for the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing tomorrow on the Going Dark program.

We first heard about the FBI’s Going Dark program in 2009, when the agency’s Congressional budget request included an additional $9 million to fund the program (on top of the $233.9 million it already received). Late last year, the New York Times linked the program to a plan to expand federal surveillance laws like the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). We issued FOIA requests to the FBI in 2009 for information on Going Dark and in 2010 for information on the agency’s plans to ...

Don’t Mess With Texas Continued: Thousands of Defendants Severed

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

When we said that Texas was no place to file suit if you want to bypass due process, we weren't kidding. Senior federal judge Royal Furgeson has "severed" thousands of Does in these and several other cases. (see below for sample order). Judge Furgeson is the same judge that ordered the plaintiffs in five cases to explain why the court should not appoint attorneys to represent the Does' interests.

In essence, these rulings mean that the plaintiff in each case must re-file against each Doe defendant individually, rather than attempting to sue hundreds (or thousands) of Does at once, something that may make these cases less lucrative for the lawyers hoping to turn copyright trolling into a business model.

This is the latest court to accept the joinder argument EFF -- along with the ACLU and Public Citizen in some cases -- pioneered in multiple cases across the country (D.C.,West Virginia Illinois, and Texas).

The argument is that the fact that hundreds of defendants happened to allegedly download the same movie with the same software is no basis for lumping them together in the same lawsuit. Citing one of recent decisions by a West Virginia ...

Will the Rise of Wikileaks Competitors Make Whistleblowing Resistant to Censorship?

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Since it began publishing a trove of classified United States Embassy cables on November 28, 2010, Wikileaks has faced an onslaught of censorship that demonstrated how online speech is vulnerable when intermediaries refuse to host contentious or unpopular speech. When payment providers, service providers and even visualization software services cut off services, Wikileaks struggled to keep their site online, going down for periods of time and reducing the content they carry. But while the availability of Wikileaks content was restricted, the demand from readers and media organizations to access that information stayed strong. Now a new generation of Wikileaks-inspired websites is populating the Internet — decentralizing the concept of whistleblowing and making it harder to shut down speech merely by cutting off services to one site.

There are numerous other online whistleblower sites cropping up; here is a sampling of some of the newcomers:

  • OpenLeaks is the most well-known of the new online whistleblowing sites. Founded by several former members of Wikileaks, including former Wikileaks spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg, OpenLeaks aims to avoid some of the controversy around Wikileaks by passing all material directly to news organizations, rather than publishing material themselves. The source submitting the documents will have ...

Righthaven sues dozens over unauthorized use of pat-down photo

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

DENVER — A law firm that targets the unauthorized use of news content on the Internet has filed 32 lawsuits in federal court in Colorado seeking to stop the use of a Denver Post photograph showing an airport pat-down.

The lawsuits are being closely watched by news companies struggling to protect content as more people rely on the Web for news, and traditional ad revenue in printed newspapers dwindles.

The lawsuits filed by Las Vegas-based Righthaven LLC claim various websites have used the photo of a Transportation Security Administration agent and passenger without authorization. The defendants live in several states and include former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Righthaven acquires copyrights to online content from MediaNews Group Inc., parent company of The Denver Post, then files suits over alleged violations of copyright law. With dozens of other publications, MediaNews is the nation’s second-largest newspaper publisher.

Righthaven has been criticized by some for suing first, rather than asking bloggers or operators of websites to remove copyrighted content.

CEO Steve Gibson defended the strategy Feb. 15, saying many people wrongfully assume that if something is posted on the Internet, it’s in the public domain and can be used for free.

“I ...

Pa. teacher strikes nerve with ‘lazy whiners’ blog post

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

FEASTERVILLE, Pa. — A high school English teacher in suburban Philadelphia who was suspended for a profanity-laced blog in which she called her young charges "disengaged, lazy whiners" is driving a debate by daring to ask: Why are today's students unmotivated — and what's wrong with calling them out?

As she fights to keep her job at Central Bucks East High School, 30-year-old Natalie Munroe says she had no interest in becoming any sort of educational icon. The blog has been taken down, but its contents can still be found easily online.

Her comments and her suspension by the middle-class school district have clearly touched a nerve, with scores of online commenters applauding her for taking a tough love approach or excoriating her for verbal abuse. Media attention has rained down, and backers have started a Facebook group.

"My students are out of control," Munroe, who has taught 10th, 11th and 12th grades, wrote in one post. "They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying."

And in another post, Munroe — who is more than eight months pregnant ...

The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen, Signed!

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Signed by CBLDF Founder, cartoonist, and comics publishing legend Denis Kitchen, this handsome book serves as not a tribute to a great underground artist, but a biographical trip through some of the most important moments in comics. Featuring an introduction by Neil Gaiman, this full-color hardcover is a must-read for fans of great cartooning. Available now!

Action Philosophers The More Than Complete Edition Signed by Fred Van Lente and Brian Dunlavey

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Signed by CBLDF Supporters Fred van Lente & Brian Dunlavey! All nine issues of the award-winning, best-selling comic book series have been collected into a single volume and arranged in historical order, making this a comprehensive cartoon history of ideas from pre-Socratics to Jacques Derrida, including four all-new stories not available anywhere else. A 320 page comic book history of Philosophy! This signed edition benefits the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! Available Now!

Moebius Marshall Blueberry Signed & Numbered HC

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

CBLDF Exclusive! Our friends at Graphitti Designs recently unearthed a small quantity of limited edition Moebius hardcover collections from the 1980s and contributed copies to aid the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund! This is the ninth volume in the series, collecting Marshall Blueberry graphic novel The Lost Dutchman’s Mine and the Moebius graphic novel Mississippi River. These deluxe, full color editions were limited to 1,500 pieces, and remain the definitive English language Moebius editions to date. A true rarity benefiting a great cause! Available Now!

EFF Appoints Jonathan Zittrain to the Board of Directors

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

EFF is extremely pleased to announce a new addition to our Board of Directors: Harvard Law and Computer Science Professor Jonathan Zittrain.

For many of you, Jonathan does not need an introduction, as he is one of the true luminaries of Internet scholarship. His work encompasses the critical issues at the heart of EFF's work, including privacy, speech, digital property, and the role played by private intermediaries in Internet architecture.

Jonathan co-founded Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. He is the author of the pathbreaking "The Future of the Internet -- and How to Stop It" as well as co-editor of books documenting Internet filtering worldwide, "Access Denied" and "Access Controlled." He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Internet Society.

We are thrilled that Jonathan will be joining EFF's board of directors. We look forward to his insights to help us further EFF's mission. Welcome, Jonathan!

New Policy at Wesleyan University Makes a Mockery of Freedom of Association

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Today, FIRE sent a letter to Wesleyan University President Michael S. Roth, along with several senior faculty members and administrators at Wesleyan, after the college imposed a breathtakingly broad policy (to take effect in August 2011) restricting students' freedom of association rights.

Here is the campus-wide e-mail sent by Vice President for Student Affairs Michael J. Whaley on or around February 14:

Dear Students:

I write to notify you of a revision to Wesleyan's residency requirement designed to clarify the University's rules concerning off-campus housing. In brief: beginning Fall 2011, Wesleyan students will be prohibited from residing in - or using for social activities - houses or property owned, leased or operated by private societies that are not recognized by the University. You can find the revised policy online at http://www.wesleyan.edu/studenthandbook/residency.html

Students found to be in violation of this policy will be subject to disciplinary measures by the University, including suspension.

President Roth asked for this policy revision to address the problematic issue of having residential organizations that appear to function as Wesleyan entities yet have no Wesleyan oversight. DKE, Psi U, and Alpha Delt are recognized as part of program housing and are thus not affected by ...

Trial of Independent Media Pioneer Chiranuch Premchaiporn Begins in Thailand

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

We and many other Internet freedom advocates have been closely watching the prosecution of Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the director of a popular alternative Thai news portal. Chiranuch, also known by her online handle Jiew, is being charged for defamation of the Thai royal family, or lèse majesté, under a particularly disquieting set of conditions.

The disturbing part about this case is that Jiew is being prosecuted not because of anything she said, but instead for being the director and webmaster of a news site where pseudonymous visitors submitted comments and posts that the Thai government considered to be inappropriate. Internet freedom advocates have documented how unclear and subjectively interpreted laws, such as those that punish lèse majesté, have been used in recent years to censor political commentary and chill freedom of expression, but what is particularly worrisome in this case is that a mere intermediary could be held liable for lèse majesté thanks to Thailand's Computer-Related Crime Act.

Followers of Internet freedom issues are probably becoming very familiar with the recurring concept of the "Internet intermediary," a way to refer to any of the the many different kinds of entities that receive, host, and transmit communications on ...

Democracy Now: Journalist Searched On Return From Haiti

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Democracy Now! reports the Obama administration is continuing the Bush regime’s policy of directing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to search and copy computers, smartphones, cameras, and hard drives of “listed” Americans returning to the United States. ACLU (NCAC member!) staff attorney Catherine Crump says “many journalists and lawyers who often work abroad have also [...]

Debate Over Internet Backdoors Heats Up in Congress and in Court

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Two hearings tomorrow—one in court and one in Congress—will highlight the brewing debate over whether Congress should expand federal surveillance laws to force Internet communications service providers like Facebook, Google and Skype to build technical backdoors into their systems to enable government wiretapping.

• First, at 10:00 AM EST on Capitol Hill, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled ”Going Dark: Lawful Electronic Surveillance in the Face of New Technologies”, where law enforcement representatives are expected to make their case for expanded Internet wiretapping capabilities.

• Then, at 1:30 PST in San Francisco, EFF Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch will argue in federal court for an end to the government’s stalling on the release of documents about the government's Internet surveillance plan that EFF is seeking under the Freedom of Information Act.

We filed that FOIA lawsuit last fall, shortly after the New York Times first revealed the FBI’s push to convince Congress to expand “CALEA”—the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994—to require online communications service providers to redesign their systems to accommodate the government’s interception of internet communications. As we’ve said before, EFF thinks that any expansion of CALEA would be the very definition ...

ICE Seizures Raising New Speech Concerns

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

As legislators in DC contemplate expanding government copyright enforcement powers, there's new reason to worry that government agents are misusing the Internet policing powers they already have -- with disastrous consequences for thousands of innocent bystanders. Torrentfreak is reporting that the Department of Homeland Security's ICE agents temporarily shut down 84,000 websites, possibly by accident, in the name of shutting down just ten websites that allegedly contained child pornography.

We're still getting a handle on the details, but it appears that the government took down all sites associated with a dynamic DNS service called afraid.org, in particular subdomains beneath mooo.com. One or more of the subdomains may have been hosting child porn, but instead of seizing that subdomain alone, the takedown targeted mooo.com. What is worse, it also appears that the perfectly legal sites were temporarily plastered with a notice suggesting they trafficked in child porn.

We'll keep watching this one -- we'd really like to see the actual seizure order -- but what we've heard so far raises serious free speech problems. Simply put, an order taking down a legal website is a prior restraint on speech, and we don't generally allow such an order unless the restraint is ...

Law Professor Could Lose Job over Fake Classroom Examples

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

At Widener University in Delaware, a law professor commonly used examples involving murder scenarios in his classes on criminal procedure. To make the examples memorable, he used recognizable nameshis own and his dean's.

"Instead of saying Plaintiff A or Defendant B, teachers use names that will grab the attention of students, wake them up from their distractions and make things memorable," his attorney, Thomas S. Neuberger, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The professor, Lawrence J. Connell, reportedly is a tenured faculty member who has been teaching at Widener for 26 years. According to Neuberger, Connell reportedly was pressured to admit that he "was engaging in racist, sexist statements," since the dean is black and a woman. He refused to comply with this demand, since it appears to be a violation of his academic freedom. Connell has been put on administrative leave and was barred from campus, and he now faces formal charges.

FIRE is following this case with interest. We will let you know what happens next.

23 Academic Organizations Insist on Right to Safely Disagree about Controversial Issues

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Take a look at "The Freedom to Conduct Research, Write, and Share Ideas Without Fear of Violence is Fundamental to American Democracy," a public statement released yesterday by 23 academic organizations or their boards. The statement calls for "all parties [to] respect the rights of others to disagree without fear of violent reprisal."

Peter Wood of the National Association of Scholars provides additional context for this statement from an alternative point of view, as summarized by Instapundit here.

EFF Argues for Privacy in Hearing Over Twitter Records

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

EFF, the ACLU, and others were in court Tuesday to try to block government attempts to obtain Twitter account records about three individuals in connection to its WikiLeaks investigation. We also asked the judge to reveal whether any other companies had received similar orders from the government.

As EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn told Bloomberg today:

There are First Amendment implications because information being sought pertains to speech...We also think there are Fourth Amendment implications because some of the information reveals location.

These secret government requests for information only came to light because Twitter took steps to ensure their customers were notified and had the opportunity to respond. In fact, EFF was only able to speak publicly about the hearing and the motions we filed on behalf of our client, Icelandic Member of Parliament Birgitta Jonsdottir, after petitioning the court to lift the seal on the legal proceedings. We also asked the court Tuesday to go further with its unsealing, and make more documents public. The issues at hand -- WikiLeaks, privacy, free speech, and social networking -- are all important matters of public interest, and the orders and motions before the judge should be available to inform public debate.

...

Secretary Clinton Unveils New Funding for Activism Technology, Rhetorical Refresh in Internet Freedom Speech

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Earlier today, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a speech about Internet freedom titled, "Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices and Challenges In A Networked World." In her remarks, Clinton built on prior statements about the U.S. Government's commitment to a free and open Internet, responding in part to the uprisings in the Middle East and Cablegate — major, ongoing international developments adding to the swell of debate about the parameters of Internet freedom.

Notably, Secretary Clinton announced that the State Department plans to award $25 million in grants to technology, tools, and training projects that support Internet freedom. Moreover, the State Department appears to be committed to diversity in the projects it awards, with Secretary Clinton stating, "We support multiple tools, so if repressive governments figure out how to target one, others are at the ready." We hope to see that commitment to diversity translate into real improvement for the best tools for online anonymity, circumvention of censorship, and the technologies that help protect lives and move ideas throughout the world.

Otherwise, while Secretary Clinton argued strongly against authoritarian regimes' attempts to control information on the Internet, she mostly steered clear of addressing the more complicated concerns about private ...

2nd Circuit upholds Vt. cop’s action on loud preacher

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

MONTPELIER, Vt. — An appellate court has upheld a Vermont ruling dismissing a First Amendment challenge by a sidewalk preacher who was given a warning by Burlington police for being too loud.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in New York, ruled Feb. 14 against William Ray Costello, who was issued a warning by police in 2007 for yelling on Burlington's Church Street Marketplace, in violation of the city's noise ordinance.

A police officer told Costello to lower his voice, but Costello said he had a right to preach the gospel with a loud voice. After being given a written warning, he filed a civil suit challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance.

According to court records, Burlington Police Sgt. John Sgt. Lewis told Costello, “I’m not telling you that you can’t preach, I’m telling you that you can’t be out here shouting and yelling anything, and disrupting other folks that are trying to use the same space that you are.”

Costello responded that he had a “right to preach the gospel with a ... loud voice ... to lift up [his] voice.”

6th Circuit OKs church-state challenge to outsourced education

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A federal appeals court has ruled that two East Tennessee teachers can sue their school board over its decision to outsource its alternative-education program to a Christian-based academy.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that David Kucera and Vickie F. Forgety are entitled to sue the Jefferson County school board on claims that the board violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

In a divided opinion, the judges found that the two teachers have the right to sue because their taxes are being used to fund the provision of government education by a religious institution.

In 2003, the school board voted to eliminate its own alternative learning center where the two teachers worked and instead send the students to the private Kingswood Academy.

The board said the decision was a cost-saving move and was not related to the academy’s Christian curriculum. Kingswood is a facility licensed by the state to deal with troubled youth.

The question before the court was whether the teachers, as taxpayers, have the right to sue over what they claim is a constitutional violation. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that taxpayers cannot challenge via federal lawsuit decisions ...

Patriot Act extension clears Senate

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Editor’s note: In this story about the Senate voting to extend anti-terrorism measures, the Associated Press reported erroneously that a "lone wolf" provision in a 2004 law permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. individuals not known to be linked to a specific terrorist activity. The law does require the government to convince a judge there is probable cause to believe that the person targeted for surveillance is engaged in or preparing terrorist activity. The government does not have to establish a connection between the person targeted for surveillance and a specific terrorist group.

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted yesterday to extend for 90 days the legal life of three post-Sept. 11 terrorism-fighting measures, including the use of roving wiretaps, which are set to expire at the end of the month.

The short-term extension gives lawmakers a chance to review the measures that critics from both the right and left say are unconstitutional infringements on personal liberties.

The Senate voted 86-12 a day after the House agreed to extend the three provisions, including two from the 2001 USA Patriot Act, until Dec. 8. The two chambers must now agree on a common approach. With Congress in recess next week, there is ...

Government defends tactics in WikiLeaks probe

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Federal prosecutors yesterday defended as routine their efforts to obtain information on the accounts of at least four Twitter users as part of a criminal investigation into the release of secret documents by the WikiLeaks website.

Lawyers for three of the account holders, including a member of Iceland's parliament, asked a federal magistrate to vacate an order she issued late last year requiring Twitter to turn over detailed information on the accounts in question. All of the account holders have some association with WikiLeaks.

The judge, Theresa Carroll Buchanan, did not rule on the lawyers' motions at yesterday's hearing, and said she would instead issue a written ruling at a later date. Any ruling she issues can be appealed to a district court judge.

The trio's lawyers argued that the government is on a fishing expedition and the information sought by the government amounts to an unconstitutional assault on their freedoms of speech and association. They said the information would essentially give the government round-the-clock knowledge of the account holders' whereabouts by allowing tracking of the computers used to send the tweets.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Davis said the information sought by prosecutors is routine data that ...

Teams to tackle case of off-campus, online student speech

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The 21st annual National First Amendment Moot Court competition, sponsored by the First Amendment Center and Vanderbilt University Law School, will be conducted Feb. 17-18.

Recognized as one of the nation’s finest constitutional-law competitions, it attracts many of the nation’s top law schools. The competition this year focuses on a hypothetical case involving student speech — whether school officials' authority extends beyond the schoolhouse gate to online student expression that officials deem vulgar, invasive of the rights of others or potentially disruptive to the classroom.

Teams of student advocates from 34 law schools will argue both sides of the hypothetical case, which challenges the student competitors to immerse themselves in complex First Amendment issues.

“This annual competition gives future lawyers an opportunity to consider fundamental First Amendment questions,” said Gene Policinski, senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center.

More than 100 attorneys, professors, federal and state judges, and legal scholars will judge the preliminary rounds and final rounds in the two-day Moot Court Competition.

Awards are presented to winning, runner-up and semi-finalist teams, and to individuals for “best brief” and “best oralist.” Competition is conducted in rounds held both at the Vanderbilt University ...