Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Contact the Senate Judiciary Committee TODAY to Support Reforms to PATRIOT Act!

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

No Festive Cheer for Dissidents

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
Chinese prisoners of conscience are denied family visits at the New Year.

‘Protect the Interests of Our Country’

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
In a Jan. 28 broadcast, Aung San Suu Kyi defends Burmese monks’ and nuns’ right to political activity and urges Burmese businesspeople living abroad to examine the ethics of their dealings with Burma’s military rulers.

EFF Urges Supreme Court to Crack Down on Bad Patents

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), joined by Public Knowledge and the Apache Software Foundation, urged the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday to make it easier to invalidate bad patents -- a decision that would benefit software innovators both large and small.

In an amicus brief filed in Microsoft v. i4i, EFF argues that the existing high standard of proof for invalidating a patent in federal court unfairly gives the owners of bad patents the upper hand. Currently, when a defendant is accused of infringing a patent, the Federal Circuit wants to see "clear and convincing" evidence that that patent is illegitimate and the case against it unfounded. This is in contrast to the standard of proof for most civil cases, which is a "preponderance of the evidence" -- or a showing that more likely than not the allegations are true. In software cases, "clear and convincing" evidence of patent invalidity can be hard to come by, as source code is constantly changing over the life of a product and much of the original code is often unavailable. This is a particular problem with free and open source software, as the collaborative nature of the projects make documentation even ...

Activist’s Death ‘An Accident’

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
But Chinese netizens believe the land-rights advocate and village chief was deliberately killed.

EFF Files Comments with Copyright Office on Pre-1972 Sound Recordings

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

EFF yesterday filed comments in response to the Copyright Office’s recent Notice of Inquiry regarding the “desirability and means of bringing sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972, under Federal jurisdiction.”

Pre-1972 sound recordings are the vestigial tail of copyright law, a subset of works that are carved out of the federal Copyright Act and still receive protection under state law. The environment of uncertainty created by this carve-out has undermined the basic goals of copyright: to encourage the growth of a vibrant cultural commons. The tangle of fifty potentially inconsistent protection schemes is virtually impossible to reconcile; also, state copyright laws are largely undeveloped when it comes to exceptions and limitations such as fair use and the DMCA safe harbors that we count on under federal law. Even though these principles might prevail in state courts, the unpredictability is enough to chill preservation, distribution and creative re-use of these sound recordings. For example, libraries, archives, educational institutions and others have been discouraged from preserving and providing digital access to this group of works.

EFF has recommended that pre-1972 sound recordings be brought under federal jurisdiction, with several important caveats:

(1) Under federal jurisdiction, an infringing use of a pre-1972 ...

House panel chairman questions agency’s FOIA claims

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

WASHINGTON — The new Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee cited discrepancies yesterday between internal government documents and statements by a senior political adviser in the Homeland Security Department about how the government responded to requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act from citizens, journalists and others.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said he intends to interview the adviser, Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan, and other political appointees as part of a widening investigation into the department’s practice of sidetracking hundreds of requests for federal records to top political advisers, who wanted information about those requesting the materials. In some cases the release of documents considered politically sensitive was delayed, according to more than 1,000 pages of e-mails obtained last year by the Associated Press.

Callahan met in September with congressional investigators, months after AP’s reporting on the case, and assured them that the government was not inappropriately interfering with requests for records. Issa said Callahan’s assurances and a pending review by the Homeland Security inspector general’s office persuaded him to put his investigation on hold, until new materials that Issa obtained weeks ago raised further questions. Issa did not describe the new materials ...

11th Circuit: 2 girls in ‘Wild’ video to remain anonymous

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

ATLANTA — The names of two underage girls who filed a lawsuit against "Girls Gone Wild" video producer Joe Francis should remain under wraps, and a federal judge should reconsider whether the names of the other two plaintiffs should be made public, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals vacates the order of a Florida federal judge, who had rejected a request by the four women to remain anonymous while filing the lawsuit.

"The district court failed to give due consideration to the concerns the plaintiffs raised about being forced to maintain the suits in their own names," Chief Judge Joel Dubina wrote in Plaintiff B v. Francis. "Justice should not carry such a high price."

The women, who are now in their 20s, filed suit in federal court in Florida in March 2008 using only their initials. The lawsuit claims Francis exploited them by filming them flashing their breasts and engaging in other sexual activities in Panama City, Fla. It claims the women were ridiculed, ostracized and forced to leave school when the videos were released.

Attorney Rachael Pontikes argued at an October hearing that releasing their ...

Hawaii lawmaker pushes for renewal of journalist shield law

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

HONOLULU — A Hawaii law protecting journalists from having to reveal their anonymous sources and private notes is expiring this year, and House Minority Leader Gene Ward is pushing to make it permanent.

Ward, R-Hawaii Kai, has asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Gil Keith-Agaran of Maui to consider H.B. 194, which would extended the shield law beyond its June 30 expiration date.

Ward said journalist protections are a necessary part of democracy that helps bring investigative reports to the public.

He said 49 states have shield laws or operate under court rulings that give news media and their sources protections.

The law was invoked in 2009 by a Big Island documentary filmmaker who used it to withhold unpublished interviews and raw video footage during court proceedings about a property dispute in Kauai.

Neb. student-speech act introduced

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

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Public school students in Nebraska would have enhanced free-speech protections if the Student Expression Act clears the Legislature.

Introduced Jan. 19 by state Sen. Ken Haar, the measure says ensuring students' free-speech protections would increase their appreciation and respect for the rights and values of a constitutional democracy.

Section 2 of the bill provides: “The Legislature finds that the State of Nebraska has an obligation to protect the First Amendment rights of public school students in order to instill in students the value of democracy and to prepare students for informed and active civic participation.”

The bill states that “student expression includes the rights of a student to: Express his or her thoughts and beliefs through speech and symbols; create, write, publish, perform, and disseminate his or her views; and assemble peaceably with other students on school property for the purpose of expressing opinions.”

The bill does limit student speech in that it says there is no protection for speech that is obscene or defamatory, that creates a substantial disruption in school, or that invades the privacy of others.

Measures like Nebraska's Student Expression Act are sometimes called anti-Hazelwood statutes, in reference to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ...

White House Counsel Calls for End to Judicial Gridlock

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

The Obama Administration is making another call for the Senate to stop its unprecedented holdup of the president’s judicial nominations. White House Counsel Bob Bauer said today that it’s time for the Senate to end its “cold war” over judicial nominees, reports TPM:

"We will do what it take to try to break through gridlock over some of these nominations," Bauer said at an American Constitution Society panel. He said the judicial crisis creates "egregious delays for Americans seeking their day in court around the country."

Bauer said there has been a disturbing lack of urgency in the political class about the crisis in the judicial system, but said he didn't want to get into the typical finger-pointing about who is responsible for the crisis.

"The facts speak for themselves," Bauer said, noting that the confirmation rate is perilously low and that the problem has been developing for a long time.

Numbers compiled by Senate Democrats in December said that the Senate saw the slowest pace of judicial staffing in a generation, with just 39.8 percent of Obama's judges being confirmed.

But however the process got to this point, Bauer said that there is a growing recognition that "we ...

EFF Urges Commerce Department to Embrace ‘Do Not Track’

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Support for a browser-header-based "Do Not Track" proposal is building in both the federal government and the private sector, which is good news for Internet users who are concerned about privacy. Friday, EFF submitted comments to the Department of Commerce Internet Policy Task Force, urging the department to embrace the system and support legislation that would authorize the Federal Trade Commission to act on Do Not Track.

Do Not Track will help consumers fight against the largely invisible, poorly understood, and continually escalating surveillance of their online activities. Not only would Internet users have the opportunity to opt-out of online tracking for advertising and marketing purposes, but the browser-header-based system would also help increase transparency and understanding by standardizing expectations. We all know that privacy policies on websites are hard to understand at best, making them unhelpful tools when it comes to making decisions about using a site or application. With a Do Not Track system, businesses will have a clear way to know what each consumer expects of them, and force them to disclose practices that are contrary to those expectations.

EFF's comments also strongly supported the Commerce Department's call for reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)...

Tibetan College Chief Sentenced

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
Chinese authorities, wary of ethnic unrest, rule against a man teaching Tibetan medicine in Inner Mongolia.

Authorities Urged to Investigate Attack

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
Vietnam must act to avoid a 'culture of impunity' around media killings.

Debate On Policies Slim

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
Burma's new parliament convenes with ethnic-based parties unhappy over election of key posts.

Policing The Sacred – College Art Association Panel – Wednesday, February 9th, 12-2 PM

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
Policing The Sacred, organized by the National Coalition Against Censorship, looks at the volatile relationship between art, politics and religion.In recent decades the tensions between these have become intense, evident in the American culture wars of the 90s, the Danish cartoon uproar, and ongoing battles over artistic depictions of religious figures, including the recent removal of a David Wojnarowicz video from a show at the National Portrait Gallery. The panel, open to the public, takes place on Wednesday, February 9th, from 12-2 PM.

Why Binghamton University is One of Our ’12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech’

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

By now, I hope you've had a chance to read our list of the "12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech," which we highlighted on The Huffington Post last week. Our "Dirty Dozen"which is made up of the six colleges and universities on our Red Alert list, as well as six other institutions that have shown a profound disregard for free speech rights over the yearshas quickly generated a good deal of attention and response.

Peter explained on Friday why DePaul University was one of the schools outside of our Red Alert list to be selected for this dubious distinction. Today, we take a look at Binghamton University (BU) in New York, formerly SUNY Binghamton. Like all of the schools that comprise the "Dirty Dozen," BU's selection is well deserved.

BU earns its place on our list thanks in large part to its treatment of Social Work graduate student Andre Massena. Massena was suspended in 2008 for putting up posters protesting the Department of Social Work's employment of a faculty member who Massena felt was responsible for social injustice. Massena spoke out against David K. Tanenhaus, an adjunct professor who also served as executive ...

Questions Arise Over Israeli/Palestinian Event at Rutgers

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Rutgers University student newspaper The Daily Targum reported yesterday on the Saturday night dustup between the organizers and prospective attendees of an event called "Never Again for Anyone," which was described by one of its organizers as an event "intended to shed light on Jewish suffering during the Holocaust and Palestinian suffering in the 1948 ethnic cleansing known as 'Nakba' in order to show that all suffering affect[s] all humans." Outraged over this comparison of the Holocaust to the creation of the state of Israel, a group of between 150 and 400 supporters of Israel showed up to attend the event, which had evidently been advertised on Facebook and Craigslist as "free and open to the public."

As might have been predicted, this proved a volatile situation. Supporters of Israel who arrived at the event have a number of different complaints about their treatment at the hands of organizers. One source claims that organizers asked the police to bar students wearing kippas (yarmulkes) and eventually limited attendance to members of groups that supported the event. Another said that Israel supporters were "huddled into separate lines away from the other attendees." But one thing that everyone seems to agree upon ...

Brooklyn College Reinstates Professor after Controversy

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Brooklyn College (BC) has reinstated an adjunct instructor it fired just days ago. Kristofer Petersen-Overton, who is also a graduate student, had been fired shortly after his academic writings and his course, "Politics of the Middle East," were condemned by a member of the New York State Assembly, Dov Hikind. FIRE wrote BC President Karen L. Gould last Friday, raising questions about academic freedom and due process in its treatment of Petersen-Overton, and reminding BC of its duty to uphold constitutional rights on campus. Fortunately, BC has reviewed its actions and reversed course. While this incident should never have taken place, BC deserves praise for acting swiftly to protect academic freedom once outside critics called upon it to do so.

Public colleges and universities have a responsibility to safeguard their institutional academic freedom even when it becomes difficult politically. A marketplace of ideas cannot function on a campus where professors' jobs are subject to the preferences of the politicians in power at the time. Assemblyman Hikind, like every other American, has the right to complain about the hiring of Petersen-Overton or about any department or college that hires a professor he thinks is unqualified. But at a public college ...

Copyright Troll Gives Up in Porn-Downloading Case

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Dallas, TX - An adult video company has dropped its flawed lawsuit accusing hundreds of Internet users of illegally downloading pornography. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Public Citizen (PC) are counsel for the anonymous defendants at the request of the court.

Late last week, Mick Haig Productions dismissed its case against 670 "John Does," claiming they had infringed the company's copyrighted materials on a file-sharing service. The notice of dismissal came after EFF and Public Citizen argued that Mick Haig should not be allowed to send subpoenas for the Does' identifying information, because it had sued hundreds of people in one case, in the wrong jurisdiction and without meeting the constitutional standard for obtaining identifying information.

"Copyright owners have a right to protect their works, but they can't use shoddy and unfair tactics to do so," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "When adult film companies launch these cases, there is the added pressure of embarrassment associated with pornography, which can convince those ensnared in the suits to quickly pay what's demanded of them, whether or not they have legitimate defenses. That's why it's so important to make sure the process is fair."

Mick Haig Productions dropped the ...

Egyptian Actions Highlight Dangers in U.S. Cybersecurity Proposals

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

The Egyptian regime's shutdown of the Internet in an attempt to preserve its political power highlights the dangers of any government having unchecked power over our Internet infrastructure, and puts a fine point on the risks to democracy posed by recent Congressional proposals to give the President a broad mandate to dictate how our internet service providers respond to cyber-emergencies.

While the 2010 Senate Cybersecurity bill (sponsored by Senators Lieberman, Collins, and Carper) was an improvement on its draconian predecessors, the lesson of Egypt is that no one, not even the President of the United States, should be given the power to turn off the Internet.

Any proposal to give the President the ability to interfere with Internet access of Americans— whether to address cyber-attacks or for any other reason—must be tightly circumscribed. It must be limited to situations where there are serious and demonstrable external security threats and must be strongly checked by both Congressional and court review, to ensure that Internet users' rights to freely and privately publish and communicate over the Internet are protected. The U.S. Constitution has no provision suspending our rights during emergencies and Congress shouldn't try to create one either. EFF and a ...

Smithsonian board seeks changes after video flap

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Smithsonian Institution's governing board called yesterday for changes in how potentially objectionable exhibits are handled, while also standing behind the head of the museum complex amid accusations of censorship.

Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough came under fire after deciding in December to remove a gay artist's video that depicted ants crawling on a crucifix in an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. The scene angered some in Congress and a Catholic group that called it sacrilegious.

The board said it must be prepared to handle museum disputes and guard the freedom of curators against political pressure from Congress or other groups.

"We're in the business of often doing exhibits that are about flash points in American history, flash points in American culture, and we have to accept that with that responsibility comes some controversy," said Patricia Stonesifer, chairwoman of the Smithsonian Board of Regents and former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "We don't want curators or directors or others to think that 'above all, avoid controversy.'"

The video in question, "A Fire in My Belly," by the late David Wojnarowicz, explored the subject of AIDS. The artist died of the disease at age 37 in ...

Pa. prosecutor: Newspaper’s story killed prison probe

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

EASTON, Pa. — A prosecutor yesterday criticized a newspaper’s decision to run a story based on a sealed search warrant, saying its disclosure forced him to pull the plug on an investigation of prison corruption.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said the probe of an alleged $10,000-per-month smuggling ring inside the county lockup was compromised by the front-page story in The Morning Call of Allentown, published Jan. 27 over his concerns.

The story tipped off suspects and prompted confidential informants to stop cooperating, said Morganelli, adding that he had looked into whether he could charge the reporter and editors but concluded the paper had “an absolute First Amendment right” to publish.

The Morning Call made an editorial decision that a front-page headline and an ‘exclusive’ story was much more important than cleaning out corruption at Northampton County Prison,” Morganelli said. “The release of this information has essentially thwarted and terminated the investigation.”

David Erdman, the newspaper’s editor and vice president, said in a statement that Morganelli did not “strenuously object” to the story’s publication, nor did he escalate his concerns beyond a reporter “as he has done in the past, including contacting me directly when he has had ...

Air Force Academy faculty file suit to block prayer event

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

DENVER — Five Air Force Academy faculty members and a religious watchdog group asked a federal judge yesterday to block the school from sponsoring a National Prayer Luncheon event.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation and the faculty members filed a lawsuit in Denver federal court, saying the event appears to be sponsored and approved by the academy's command structure. The suit says that violates the constitutional requirement for separation of church and state.

Academy spokesman Lt. Col. John Bryan says the event is voluntary and that officials are aware of the lawsuit.

"We will let the legal process take its course and will certainly abide by the ruling issued from the court," he said in a written release.

The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to stop the Feb. 10 event, which is a lunch with retired Marine Lt. Clebe McClary as the speaker. Cadets, faculty and others at the school received invitations to attend.

McClary's website describes the retired Marine as a motivational and inspirational speaker. It says that for him, the Marine Corps abbreviation "USMC" means "U.S. Marine for Christ," and that now he is "in the service of the Lord's Army."

McClary said yesterday that he didn't understand ...

5th Circuit strikes down some La. lawyer-ad rules

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

NEW ORLEANS — Some of the Louisiana Supreme Court's new restrictions on lawyer advertising are unconstitutional, but several other rules can be enforced, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a blanket ban on ads that depict judges or juries or that refer to an attorney's past successes or results obtained for clients. In Public Citizen Inc. v. Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board, the panel also overturned a rule governing the font size and speed of speech in disclaimers.

But the 5th Circuit upheld rules that bar attorneys from promising results, using actors to portray clients without a disclaimer and limit the use of mottos.

Attorneys Morris Bart of New Orleans and William Gee III of Lafayette had asked the 5th Circuit to review U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman's ruling in the case.

"I would call it a split decision," said Bart's attorney, James Garner.

The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board has said the new rules, which took effect in October 2009, are designed to protect the public from deceptive ads.

The 5th Circuit, however, said ads depicting a judge or jury aren't inherently misleading.

"(The board's) argument to ...

Sentence Disappoints Netizens

Monday, January 31st, 2011
A high-profile drunk driver in China is convicted of manslaughter but many seem unhappy with the punishment.

‘Establish a Network for Democracy’

Monday, January 31st, 2011
In a program broadcast on Jan. 21, Aung San Suu Kyi discusses Burma's new national service law, encourages participation in opposition youth networks, and looks forward to the return of Burmese political refugees now living abroad.

Greg to Address Claremont Colleges Students on Wednesday

Monday, January 31st, 2011

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff will speak to students from the Claremont Colleges in California on Wednesday, February 2, in an event sponsored by the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum and the ACLU of the Claremont Colleges. In his lecture, "Unlearning Liberty: the Chilling Effects of Campus Censorship," Greg will discuss the state of free speech on campus and explain how students can promote liberty within their own communities.

The lecture will begin at 6:45 p.m. in the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on the Claremont McKenna campus. This speech is open to the public, and FIRE supporters in the Los Angeles area are encouraged to attend.

Thank you to Jonathan Rice and Jeremy Merrill (two awesome 2010 CFN Conference attendees) for putting together this event! For more information about upcoming FIRE speeches, check the Calendar of Events and Speaker's Bureau map, or request a FIRE speaker for your school here.

Editorial Teaches Critics of the ‘UNLV Civility Statement’ about the True Purpose of Higher Education

Monday, January 31st, 2011
Recently, the University of Nevada - Las Vegas (UNLV) released the "UNLV Civility Statement," which urges students to act civilly, but welcomes "unpopular and unsettling ideas" as an integral part of intellectual inquiry. In response, The Rebel Yell, UNLV's campus newspaper, published a misguided editorial that called upon the administration to punish acts of incivility. Today, the Las Vegas Review Journal ran an excellent response to The Rebel Yell, kindly reminding it that the purpose of higher education is not to proscribe ideas, but to foster an atmosphere of learning where students are exposed to widely varying viewpoints, including those that one might find "uncivil."

Robert on ‘Viewpoints’ Radio Show to Discuss Behavioral Intervention Teams

Monday, January 31st, 2011
FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley will be on the Viewpoints radio show this evening at 5:15 p.m. ET on WTKF 107.1 FM and WJNC 1240 AM (Morehead City, N.C.) to discuss the formation of "Behavioral Intervention Teams" to evaluate potentially threatening students on college campuses in the wake of the shooting in Tucson. If you're in the area, please tune in, and if not, you can listen at www.thetalkstation.com

‘Harvard Law Review’ Note Tackles Complex Issue of Distinguishing Government Versus Private Speech

Monday, January 31st, 2011

A student note published in the most recent volume of the Harvard Law Review advances a cogent approach to differentiating between government and private speech that would lend clarity to First Amendment law. Unfortunately, the note (Three's a Crowd - Defending the Binary Approach to Government Speech, 124 Harv. L. Rev. 805 (2011)) supports a very robust usage of the "government speech doctrine" that might prove too deferential to the government.

According to the note,

With its 2009 decision in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, [129 S. Ct. 1125 (2009)], the Supreme Court held that a Ten Commandments monument placed by a city in a public park was government speech, even though the monument had been designed and submitted by a private group. The decision marked another step in the Court's increasingly confident use of the government speech doctrine, which seems poised to supplant forum analysis in many situations in which both private individuals and the public could be seen to be speaking.

Following this introduction, the Harvard Law Review note tackles the complex but important question of how to determine whether speech belongs to the government or to private citizens. This determination has a profound effect on the ...

In Overcrowded Courts, Justice Delayed

Monday, January 31st, 2011

We write a lot about “judicial emergencies”—situations where slow-downs in the judicial nominations process have led court systems to be woefully understaffed. These cases are not emergencies because judges have to work harder—they’re emergencies because when courts are overworked, access to justice is delayed.

Last week, Politics Daily’s Andrew Cohen explained what is happening in Arizona, where Chief District Court Judge John Roll was murdered when he stopped by an event with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to talk with her about the overcrowded courts. Roll had been planning to request that Arizona be labeled a “judicial emergency” in order to loosen restrictions on speedy trials:

Roll did not live to see his request granted. But on Tuesday, less than three weeks after he was shot by accused gunman Jared Lee Loughner, Roll's successor finally did declare a "judicial emergency" in the state after consulting with the 9th Circuit's Judicial Council. The move by Chief U.S. District Judge Roslyn O. Silver allows federal judges in the state to wait for as long as 180 days between the time of the indictment or complaint and the time of trial, even if a criminal defendant wants to go to trial more ...

Hundreds in California Protest Corporate Influence in Elections

Monday, January 31st, 2011

In the year since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, there has been new scrutiny on the increasingly cozy relationship between corporate funders of elections and national policy makers. Exemplifying that relationship have been the Koch brothers, billionaires whose dollars have helped to fund right-wing organizations and campaigns for years, and who were behind one of the most powerful outside groups in the 2010 elections, Americans For Prosperity. The brothers also hold twice-yearly meetings of influential donors, pundits, and politicians—past guests have included Glenn Beck, Sens. Jim Demint and Tom Coburn, and even Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas (both of whom were in the Citizens United majority).

The Kochs held their most recent strategy meeting at a spa in Palm Springs this weekend. Attending the secretive event was House Republican Leader Eric Cantor, among other undisclosed guests. Outside were 800-1,000 protestors, 25 of whom were arrested for trespassing. The LA Times reports:

Protest organizers said they hoped to raise awareness about the Koch brothers and what activists portray as their shadowy attempts to weaken environmental protection laws and undercut campaign contribution limits.

The brothers control Koch Industries, the nation's second-largest privately held ...

Syracuse Law Student Apologizes, Claims ‘School Betrays Promises Made In Negotiations’

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Syracuse University and the Syracuse University College of Law have continued to botch the prosecution of an innocent student, but it looks like Syracuse might finally have a way out now that the student has apologized for having a role in the fake-news blog SUCOLitis. Law student Len Audaer has been under threat of expulsion for months for "harassment" because of the anonymous blog.

Robert explained on Friday how Syracuse University Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric Spina cemented his university's spot on FIRE's list of the 12 Worst Schools for Free Speech, which we published last week on The Huffington Post. Robert wrote that Spina had released a statement that was "so atrocious that the only way to thoroughly address it is to take each point line by line," which Robert did.

Then, Audaer himself published a statement noting that while he has now apologized, this apparently is not enough (yet) for Syracuse. Please read the whole statement, but here's the main part:

What I had understood from our discussions was that a public apology and admission of complicity was to form the basis for the agreement. This I have consistently been enthusiastic to do and ...

Column in ‘La Jolla Light’ Highlights Findings of FIRE’s ‘Spotlight’ Report and Issues of College Censorship

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Writing for the La Jolla (Calif.) Light, Marsha Sutton details the many noteworthy findings contained in FIRE's latest annual speech code report, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2011: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation's Campuses, and discusses the various issues of campus censorship that college students and faculty face today. Sutton's column does a thorough job of analyzing the import of our Spotlight report's findings, and it paints an accurate picture of the current status of free speech in academianamely that while there has been some improvement in the percentage of colleges and universities that restrict free speech in their policies, the vast majority of schools out there still have legally indefensible speech codes on the books, and students and faculty still have reason to worry about facing punishment for engaging in the "wrong" kind of expression.

Starting with the Spotlight report, Sutton recites our data showing that the vast majority of schools surveyed nationally earned either a red light or a yellow light for their speech codes. She then gets to the sobering conclusion to be drawn from this:

That means that about 260 colleges out of the combined total of 390 were ...

Experts surprised by report of Minn. News Council’s closure

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Two news-industry experts said today they were surprised by the news that the Minnesota News Council had announced it was shutting down after 40 years in operation. They both added, however, that it was remarkable the organization had lasted as long as it did.

Council President Tony Carideo said that fewer complaints by the public and reductions in corporate funding were the main reasons the organization was closing down. He announced the decision at the Minnesota Newspaper Association convention in Bloomington on Jan. 27.

Rem Rieder, editor and senior vice president of American Journalism Review, said the Minnesota council’s longtime success made its shutdown unexpected.

“While news councils have hardly flourished in the U.S., the Minnesota News Council was part of the journalistic landscape for a long time,” Rieder said in an e-mail to the First Amendment Center Online. “It seemed like one of the rare successes in the world of news councils.”

News councils look into complaints by the public about news coverage, such as inaccuracy and bias. The Washington News Council’s mission describes the purpose of news councils: “To help maintain public trust and confidence in the news media by promoting fairness, accuracy and balance, and by creating ...

N.J. governor signs law requiring more local budget info online

Monday, January 31st, 2011

TRENTON, N.J. — Expanded budget information for more New Jersey towns will soon be posted online.

Gov. Chris Christie recently signed legislation that requires the Department of Community Affairs to immediately post the current budget — and the last three adopted budgets — of any municipality or county that does not have its own website.

Those with their own sites already were required to post their current budgets. But they also now are required to post their last three adopted budgets.

Proponents say putting more financial data online will increase governmental transparency and make it much easier to access public information.

Most of the state's 566 towns and 21 counties have websites, but the quality of those sites and what material gets posted varies greatly. And for those in communities without websites, obtaining information can be troublesome and time-consuming.

"If a municipality or county doesn't have a website, a taxpayer seeking to inspect either the county or municipal budget would have to travel to the local library or a government facility," said Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Turnersville, one of the bill's primary sponsors in that chamber. "That may be inconvenient or even impossible for some taxpayers, especially senior citizens, depriving them ...

Charles Haynes discusses legislative prayers

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Civil Beat, an online news service that provides information about issues facing Hawaii, recently talked to Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum, about the Hawaii Senate's recent decision to end daily chamber prayers.

See the website’s story here.

Federal judge strikes down Baltimore abortion-sign law

Monday, January 31st, 2011

BALTIMORE — A federal judge has struck down a Baltimore ordinance that requires pregnancy counseling centers to post a disclaimer if they don’t provide abortions or birth control.

In a ruling issued Jan. 28, U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis said the ordinance violates the First Amendment and is unenforceable.

Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien challenged the ordinance last March, saying it violated the freedoms of speech, assembly and religion. The archdiocese and fellow plaintiff St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic church provide rent-free space to the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, which was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. (The judge found that O’Brien and St. Brigid’s lacked standing to act as plaintiffs in the case, but he allowed them to participate as amici curiae, or friends of the court.)

Baltimore’s ordinance took effect last year, but the city agreed not to start enforcing it while the matter was litigated.

Garbis ruled that the city’s ordinance amounted to compelled speech and violated the center’s free-speech rights.

“Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is ‘pro-life’ or ‘prochoice,’ it is for the provider — not the Government — to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods,” Garbis wrote. “The Government cannot, ...

EFF Uncovers Widespread FBI Intelligence Violations

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

EFF has uncovered widespread violations stemming from FBI intelligence investigations from 2001 - 2008. In a report released today, EFF documents alarming trends in the Bureau’s intelligence investigation practices, suggesting that FBI intelligence investigations have compromised the civil liberties of American citizens far more frequently, and to a greater extent, than was previously assumed.

Using documents obtained through EFF's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation, the report finds:

Evidence of delays of 2.5 years, on average, between the occurrence of a violation and its eventual reporting to the Intelligence Oversight Board

Reports of serious misconduct by FBI agents including lying in declarations to courts, using improper evidence to obtain grand jury subpoenas, and accessing password-protected files without a warrant

Indications that the FBI may have committed upwards of 40,000 possible intelligence violations in the 9 years since 9/11

EFF's report stems from analysis of nearly 2,500 pages of FBI documents, consisting of reports of FBI intelligence violations made to the Intelligence Oversight Board — an independent, civilian intelligence-monitoring board that reports to the President on the legality of foreign and domestic intelligence operations. The documents constitute the most complete picture of post-9/11 FBI intelligence abuses ...

Lawsuit against Calif. campus newspaper editor dismissed

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

BERKELEY, Calif. — A court has dismissed a small-claims lawsuit filed against a college newspaper editor by the father of a deceased University of California-Berkeley football player.

Harvey Purtz sued Rajesh Srinivasan, executive editor and president of The Daily Californian, last October, claiming the editor intentionally inflicted emotional distress by refusing to remove from the newspaper’s online archives a 2006 article and two 2007 blog posts. The articles were about Chris Purtz’s October 2006 altercation at a San Francisco adult club and his suspension from the football team. Chris Purtz died in June 2010.

In a Jan. 26 decision, Assistant U.S. Attorney and judge pro tem Mark Cullers ruled against Harvey Purtz, who was seeking $7,500 for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Fresno Bee reported that Cullers dismissed the lawsuit, “citing a two-year statute of limitations and also that Harvey Purtz did not have standing to bring the civil suit related to a deceased relative.”

The Fresno podiatrist had argued the October 2006 article was a "major triggering event" in his son's life that led to his dropping out of school and contributed to his mental deterioration. The Fresno Bee reported on Jan. 19 that “when the acting judge ...

‘No New Year Visit’ For Liu

Friday, January 28th, 2011
Chinese authorities offer no response to requests for a family visit to jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.

This Week in the News: Greg’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ Makes a Big Splash and ‘Spotlight’ Report is Still Hot

Friday, January 28th, 2011
An East Coast blizzard was no match for FIRE's determination to advance free speech this week.

Greg's article in The Huffington Post (one of the most popular items right now, according to the front page ), "The 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech," was cited multiple times in the news almost as soon as it appeared yesterday. Geoff Herbert of Syracuse, New York's The Post-Standard  wrote about how Syracuse University College of Law's ongoing prosecution of student Len Audaer for "harassment" and its speech-chilling policies, such as a ban on "offensive" e-mails, led Greg to put Syracuse University first on the list. Herbert further notes that Syracuse's fellow New York institution, Binghamton University, is also on the list for suspending a social work student who had criticized a faculty member and expelling another apparently for innocent classroom expression. Karen of The Lonely Conservative also bashed Syracuse University, ironically commenting that Syracuse Chancellor Nancy Cantor must be extremely proud that her university was designated the worst violator of free speech.

Nikita Lalwani also wrote a piece for the Yale Daily News about Yale University's unfortunate place in this list, a result of administrators censoring an ...

PFAW Calls On Smithsonian Secretary to Step Down

Friday, January 28th, 2011

People For the American Way has called on Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough to resign following his handling of a censorship controversy that resulted in a work of art being removed from one of the Smithsonian’s museums. In the Huffington Post today, People For’s president, Michael Keegan, writes:

The controversy around "Hide/Seek" will not be an isolated incident. Instead, with the rise of the Tea Party and the GOP takeover of the House, the far right has found new and stronger voices in its effort to rewrite American history, redefine American values and narrow the range of the American experience. House Speaker John Boehner has already promised "tough scrutiny" of the Smithsonian's budget--and, presumably, its collections and research. Like with the right-wing campaigns against climate science and American Muslims, the campaign against the Smithsonian is likely to be loud and sensationalized. The institution, one of our greatest national resources, deserves a leader who will stand up for its integrity and fight for its future, not one who will so easily cave to the political pressures of the moment.

The Smithsonian’s board will be meeting in Washington on Monday. We’ll be joining ART+ there in a demonstration calling for Clough’s ouster. ...

Syracuse Statement Cements School’s Top Spot on ’12 Worst Schools for Free Speech’ List

Friday, January 28th, 2011
Yesterday, FIRE placed Syracuse as number one on the list of the 12 Worst Schools for Free Speech that we published on The Huffington Post. Fittingly, on that very day Syracuse cemented its spot on the list by releasing a statement about its persecution of law student Len Audaer--a statement so deceptive and dishonest that we are frankly shocked that Syracuse released it. (For those just tuning in, FIRE has posted an extensive Q&A about the case.)

You can read the entire text of Syracuse's statement on its own website, but it is so atrocious that the only way to thoroughly address it is to take each point line by line, which I will do below.
Statement from Syracuse University Vice Chancellor and Provost Eric Spina Regarding Law School Student Blog Matter

In October, our Law School received complaints from a number of students alleging that another student had violated the College's code of conduct by posting false comments about them on a public website. The College of Law has an obligation to investigate any complaint filed by a student, and that investigation is underway.

If the College of Law does indeed have an obligation to investigate "any" ...

Syracuse ‘Post-Standard’ on Inclusion of Syracuse and Binghamton in Free Speech ‘Dirty Dozen’

Friday, January 28th, 2011
Geoff Herbert of Syracuse, New York's The Post-Standard is one of the latest to write about how Syracuse University College of Law's ongoing prosecution of student Len Audaer for harassment and its speech-chilling policies, such as a ban on "offensive" e-mails, led Greg to put Syracuse University first on the list of the worst colleges for free speech at The Huffington Post

Herbert notes that Syracuse's fellow New York institution, Binghamton University, is also on the list. Binghamton suspended a social work student who had criticized a faculty member and expelled another apparently for innocent classroom expression.

Rabbit Film Satire Axed

Friday, January 28th, 2011
Censors ban an animated video which bashes China's human rights record.

How Did DePaul University Get on FIRE’s ‘Worst 12′ List?

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Hopefully by now you've seen FIRE's picks for "The 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech" at The Huffington Post. Six of them were relatively obvious choicesthose being the six schools currently on FIRE's Red Alert list, the "worst of the worst," as we often say.

Given the hundreds of other schools out there, many with one or more red-light speech codes as rated in FIRE's Spotlight database, what went into deciding which others made our "dirty dozen"? Well, repeat run-ins with FIRE, repeated free speech offenses over the years, and having incredibly bad speech codes that violate clear promises of free speech are great ways for a college to proclaim its candidacy, and by that yardstick DePaul University was a shoo-in.

DePaul, a Catholic university in Chicago, and the only private religious institution on our list, stands as a reminder that a university's chosen religious identity does not exempt it from scrutiny by FIRE. DePaul is one of the many religious universitiesincluding Georgetown University, Boston College, and University of Notre Dame, to name a fewthat promise freedom of speech and inquiry to their students and faculty even though such ...

Conform or Be Cast Out

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Right Wing Watch has a post this morning on how the Religious Right is bringing back the "Halal Meat Panic," exposing their fight to prevent stores and restaurants from selling Halal food:

WorldNetDaily believes it's time for another right-wing panic over "creeping Sharia law" in supermarkets and restaurants, and Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association is happy to help. Fischer warns against eating the food of "the demon God-Allah" and lends his support to a messianic Jewish leader's campaign against all foods Halal.

Ominously, far right activists are increasingly comfortable expressing their intense hatred of Muslims. In certain ways, their crusade against Halal is similar to their battles against "happy holidays," government uses of language other than English, and any acknowledgment in schools or government forms that children are being raised by same-sex parents.

For all their rhetoric about "freedom" and "liberty," far-right activists have little tolerance for those whose views diverge from their narrow sense of appropriateness.

In their view, if you're not like them, you're not part of America.

Adam on ‘The Big Talker’ to Discuss Syracuse and the other ‘Dirty Dozen’ Schools

Friday, January 28th, 2011
FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel will be featured on Syracuse, New York's The Big Talker radio show with Gary Nolan on WXTL 105.9 FM at 5 p.m. ET today. Tune in or listen live to hear him discuss why Syracuse landed at the top of our Huffington Post list of the 12 worst schools for free speech and which other schools comprise the "dirty dozen."