Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Hawaii Senate ends daily chamber prayers

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

HONOLULU — The Hawaii Senate last week silenced prayers previously offered before each of the chamber’s lawmaking sessions.

Fears that the state would be sued over religious practices caused senators on Jan. 20 to pass new rules that delete a sentence requiring an invocation, effectively ending the practice.

The Senate acted on legal advice from the state attorney general’s office that the way it previously handled prayers — by inviting clergy from various religions to give the invocations — wouldn’t survive in court, said Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria.

“Above all, our responsibility is to adhere to the Constitution,” said Galuteria, D-Downtown-Waikiki.

The Senate considered allowing nonsectarian, nonpolitical invocations that avoided references to deities, but the legislative body decided to do away with prayers altogether rather than constrain them.

The action came as the result of a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii that the invocations often included “decidedly Christian prayers — with reference to Jesus Christ.”

“They continue to threaten governments with lawsuits to try to force them into capitulating to their view of society,” said Brett Harvey, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, made up of Christian lawyers who defend religious speech. “Governments should take ...

Puzzle: U.S.-China Summit

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011
In the image below, U.S. President Barack Obama listens to remarks by Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington, Jan. 19, 2011. Photo: AFP. Shuffle the tiles and see if you have what it takes to solve the U.S.-China relations puzzle!

EFF Urges California Court to Grant Public Access to Electronic Mapping Data

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Last week, EFF joined a coalition of public interest and media groups in filing an amicus brief (pdf) urging a California Court of Appeal to uphold the public’s right to access electronic files created and stored by local governments. The case, Sierra Club v. Superior Court, focuses on the public’s right to access geographic information system (GIS) basemaps created by local governments in California.

GIS basemaps integrate basic property information such as parcel boundaries, addresses, and other property data. Additional information can then be "layered" on top of the basemaps, enabling users to understand, interpret, and visualize data in ways that simply aren't possible through the rows and columns of a spreadsheet. Individuals and organizations then use these maps for a variety of innovative purposes — for example, scientists use them, journalists and the media use them, and public interest organizations use them(pdf).

The Sierra Club filed a request under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) for Orange County’s property information — information the County used and maintained in a GIS format. The Sierra Club requested the GIS basemap as part of its mission to protect open spaces in California: using the basemaps, the Sierra Club ...

Early Lessons from the Tunisian Revolution

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Last week's post about the increasingly draconian and desperate measures the Tunisian government was taking to censor bloggers, journalists, and activists online was rapidly made irrelevant by subsequent events. Over the next few days, Tunisian dictator El Abidine Ben Ali promised not to run for re-election in 2014, then offered widespread reforms, including freedom of expression on the Internet, and finally stepped down from power and fled the country. The steps that EFF called on Facebook, Google, and Yahoo to take in order to protect the privacy and safety of their Tunisian users soon lost their urgency. For now, Tunisians are experiencing unprecedented freedom online after years of extensive government filtering and censorship of websites.

One early lesson from the Tunisian revolution has been that social networking sites can be powerful tools for communication. There has been a great deal of argument about the role of social networking sites in the Tunisian revolution. The Berkman Center's Ethan Zuckerman observes that the riots and protests in Tunisia did not receive even a fraction of the social media coverage that was lavished on Iran's Green Revolution:

For users of social media, the protests in Iran were an inescapable, global story. Tunisia, by ...

Don’t Sacrifice Security on Mobile Devices

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Increasingly powerful mobile phones are making Internet access and use more convenient than ever. However, the security of mobile operating systems is not as mature or as strong as that of workstation and server operating systems. Platforms like Windows and Ubuntu receive security scrutiny, and regular and frequent updates to resolve security problems. The open source/free software communities and Microsoft are more or less open about security problems and fixes. (For example, here is Ubuntu’s security notices page and Microsoft’s excellent Security Response Center blog.)

By contrast, mobile systems lag far behind the established industry standard for open disclosure about problems and regular patch distribution. For example, Google has never made an announcement to its android-security-announce mailing list, although of course they have released many patches to resolve many security problems, just like any OS vendor. But Android open source releases are made only occasionally and contain security fixes unmarked, in among many other fixes and enhancements.

This is odd for Google; their Chromium OS is a first-class open source project with regular and consistent source updates and a rewards program for friendly hackers who report vulnerabilities.

However, Google’s distribution of Android for “Google Experience Devices” such as ...

Conn. library cancels movie ‘Sicko’ under pressure

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

ENFIELD, Conn. — The Enfield Public Library has canceled a screening of the Michael Moore documentary "Sicko" about the American health-care system under pressure from the town council and mayor, leading to accusations of censorship.

The screening was canceled Jan. 19, a day after a resident complained about the film. Several councilors also objected to the film, which praises government-run health care.

Republican Mayor Scott Kaupin asked the town manager to talk to library Director Henry Dutcher, who said he was told by the town manager to cancel the screening. Kaupin said the decision to show the movie was stupid and threatened the library's funding.

"The sentiment by the majority is that it's a poor choice and that they should definitely reconsider," Kaupin told the Journal Inquirer.

Dutcher said he could not remember when the council last intervened in the library's programming and had a film pulled.

Democratic Councilor Cynthia Mangini called it censorship and compared it to banning books.

Peter Chase, chairman of the Connecticut Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee, called the decision "absolutely deplorable."

"The health care debate in America is exactly the kind of controversial issue that people need information on, and this is exactly what the ...

The Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Today, in events around the country, Americans marked the anniversary of a Supreme Court decision that diminished the rights of individuals. Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate the 38th anniversary of a decision that took a great step toward recognizing the rights and liberties of individual citizens: Roe v. Wade.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has gathered reflections from a number of men and women on why Roe v. Wade and its guarantee of women’s reproductive choice matters to them. You can read those, and contribute your own, here:

And don’t forget to wear a silver ribbon to show your support for reproductive rights and justice.

Finally, a quote from Justice Louis Brandeis, who in 1928 spoke of the importance of the Constitution’s protections for individual Americans and our freedom “to be let alone”:

The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man's spiritual nature, of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They ...

Reporter Severely Burned

Friday, January 21st, 2011
A Vietnamese journalist is recuperating after what some say was a revenge attack.

PFAW and Allies Deliver 750,000 Constitutional Amendment Petitions to Congress

Friday, January 21st, 2011

This morning, a group of allied organizations held a rally at the Capitol to mark the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. At the rally, People For the American Way and others delivered over 750,000 petitions calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United to members of Rep. Donna Edwards’ staff. Rep. Edwards introduced a constitutional amendment in the House last year, and has been a strong supporter of efforts to reverse the decision.

Representatives from People For, Public Citizen, Move to Amend, Free Speech For People, and MoveOn deliver 750,000 petitions to members of Rep. Donna Edwards’ staff:

People For’s Marge Baker speaks to the crowd:

Protesters put a “for sale” sign on the Capitol:

A protester contests the notion of corporate personhood:

This Week in the News: Spotlight Report Stays Hot and Arizona Tragedy Sparks More Debate

Friday, January 21st, 2011

The legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one inspiration for FIRE to continue fighting for free speech this week.

FIRE's latest annual speech code report, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2011: The State of Free Speech On Our Nation's Campuses, made the news for the fifth consecutive week. Marsha Sutton summarized the report and FIRE's Spotlight ratings in a column for the Del Mar Times (CA), mentioning University of Massachusetts Amherst's policy regarding "controversial rallies" as an example of a restrictive policy. Maria Mauriello noted in The Chicago Maroon, the University of Chicago's student newspaper, that despite U of C President Robert Zimmer's repeated defenses of free speech, as well as language in support of free speech found in U of C's protest policy, the university remains a red-light institution.

Marshall University was designated FIRE's January Speech Code of the Month because, as Sam explains, five of its speech codes punish so much protected speech that there is very little students can say without fear of retribution. What's more, these policies also contradict Marshall's own Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities. This week, Kelley Bugler of The Parthenon, Marshall's student newspaper, highlighted the opinions ...

The Transmetropolitan Art Book Is Coming — If You Make It So!

Friday, January 21st, 2011

It has been nearly ten years since the release of the final issue of TRANSMETROPOLITAN, the Eisner-nominated comics series from writer Warren Ellis and artist Darick Robertson. Now an all-star ensemble of artists have joined forces to create a tremendous, one-time-only tribute art book with the proceeds going to the CBLDF. This project is being put together by volunteer Susan Auġér on Kickstarter. Preorder now to make it a reality!

TRANSMETROPOLITAN combines black humor, political scandal, and moral ambiguity to look into the gonzo mind of an outlaw journalist and The City he inhabits. Aided by his embattled Editor and his two Assistants, the protagonist blazes a path through a futuristic world of skyscrapers and technological wonders, dark alleys and unspeakable depravity.

All of the participating artists are donating new original art for the book. Those contributors include:

Aaron Alexovich
Martin Ansin
Brandon Badeaux
Edmund Bagwell
Joe Benitez
Rick Berry
Nicholas Bradshaw
Evan Bryce
Stephanie Buscema
Jim Calafiore
Cliff Chiang
Katie Cook
Molly Crabapple
Camilla d’Errico
Michael Dialynas
Aaron Diaz
Kristian Donaldson
Ryan Dunlavey
Gary Erskine
Simon Fraser
Richard Friend
Dan Goldman
Cully Hamner
Matt Howarth
K Thor Jensen
Anna-Maria Jung
Lukas Ketner
Sam Kieth
Clint Langley
Corey Lewis
Milo ...

Labor Camp Blogger Speaks Out

Friday, January 21st, 2011
Chinese authorities move against a writer who exposed their involvement in a casino.

Senator Max Baucus Introduces Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United

Friday, January 21st, 2011

While Republicans in Washington are celebrating the anniversary of Citizens United by threatening to scrap the public finance system for elections and allow corporations to donate directly to candidates, Senator Max Baucus of Montana is standing up with the vast majority of Americans who want to see Congress curb the enormous political clout of corporations and overturn Citizens United. Yesterday, Senator Baucus said he will reintroduce a Constitutional Amendment that would give elected officials the right to regulate corporate contributions to political organizations and reverse the Court’s sweeping ruling:

“The foundation of democracy is based on the ability of the people to elect a government that represents them - the people, not big business or foreign corporations. As Montanans, we learned our lesson almost a century ago when the copper kings used their corporate power to drown out the people and buy elections. Today, we have some of the toughest campaign finance laws in the land, and they work. Now we've got to fight to protect the voices on hard-working Montanans and keep elections in the hands of the people, and that's just what I intend to do,” Baucus said.

In the Citizen’s United case, the Supreme Court ...

One Year After Citizens United, Right-Wing Demands Even More Corporate Money and Less Transparency in Politics

Friday, January 21st, 2011

As Americans remember the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United with calls for action to limit corporate influence in politics and reverse the Court’s reckless decision, pro-corporate activists and their Republican allies in Congress seek to further erode corporate accountability and transparency. As American University Constitutional law professor, Maryland State Senator, and People For Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin writes, Citizens United not only ushered an avalanche of corporate and secret money in elections but also paved the way for more attacks on restrictions on corporate power. Raskin asks:

Do you want to wipe out the ban on federal corporate contributions that has been in place since 1907? This should be a piece of cake. If a corporation is like any other group of citizens organized to participate in politics for the purpose of expenditures, why not contributions too?

Apparently, the answer is “yes.”  While the majority decision in Citizens United said that corporations can use money from their general treasuries to finance outside groups, the ban on direct donations from corporations to candidates was left intact. But as profiled in People For’s report “Citizens Blindsided,” corporations have a number of mouthpieces, ...

‘Chicago Maroon’ Reports on University of Chicago Speech Codes

Friday, January 21st, 2011

University of Chicago (U of C) campus newspaper Chicago Maroon has yet again highlighted FIRE's red-light rating of the private institution due to its speech codes. The Maroon had published an article last year on the speech codes as well. In recent years, U of C has racked up numerous free speech controversies, including censorship of a student's online speech, a Mohammed cartoon debacle, and censorship of a student's Facebook album.

In the latest Maroon piece, writer Maria Mauriello describes FIRE's free speech concerns about UC, particularly regarding its bias incident policy. U of C's speech codes employ vague and inescapably subjective definitions of the terms "offensive," "harassment," and "derogatory" such that they provide little to no clarity on which speech is actually protected or unprotected at the university. As Mauriello points out:

A review of the U of C's policy by Samantha Harris, the director of Speech Code research for FIRE, stated that the University's bias policy was "the most problematic." This policy allows the University to investigate offensive, but not necessarily illegal, speech acts on campus. Examples of such action, as stated in the University student handbook, include derogatory comments made in person or on ...

After Suspension for Facebook Postings, Former Public High School Student Wins Settlement

Friday, January 21st, 2011
In a decision that is likely to have ramifications for college students, a former Florida public high school student has agreed to settle the First Amendment lawsuit she filed against her principal after she was suspended for Facebook postings in which she was critical of one of her teachers. The former student, Katherine Evans, argued in her complaint that the suspension violated her First Amendment rights, and the district court agreed in a February 2010 order denying the principal's motion to dismiss the suit. Notably, the court's order denied the principal the defense of qualified immunity, finding that a reasonable official in his position would have recognized a violation of clearly established First Amendment rights. As part of the settlement with Evans, now a student at the University of Florida, the school has agreed to pay $15,000 in attorneys' fees plus $1 in nominal damages and to remove any record of Evans' suspension. 

Events Around the Country Mark the First Anniversary of Citizens United Decision

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Today is the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which lifted restrictions on the amount of money corporations can spend to influence federal elections. To mark the anniversary, people across the country are organizing rallies and house parties to spread awareness of the decision and to call for a constitutional amendment to reverse it. Click here to find an event near you.

And take a look at this video we put together following Citizen Jane as she runs for office in post-Citizens United America:

Bitcoin – a Step Toward Censorship-Resistant Digital Currency

Friday, January 21st, 2011

A few weeks ago, we mentioned a rather unusual technological endeavor to create an online currency. We received a few queries about this subject, so decided to provide a more thorough description of what digital currency is, how this system works, why it's appealing and how it might fall short of user expectations.

To understand digital currency, one must first note that money in the digital age has moved from a largely anonymous system to one increasingly laden with tracking, control and regulatory overhead. Our cold hard cash is now shepherded through a series of regulated financial institutions like banks, credit unions and lenders. Bitcoin, created in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto, is a peer-to-peer digital currency system that endeavors to re-establish both privacy and autonomy by avoiding the banking and government middlemen. The goal is to allow individuals and merchants to generate and exchange modern money directly. Once the Bitcoin software has been downloaded, a user can store Bitcoins and exchange them directly with other users or merchants — without the currency being verified by a third party such as a bank or government. It uses a unique system to prevent multiple-spending of each coin, which makes it an ...

Know Before You Go, Part 2: Burning Man Improves Ticket Terms But Retains Takedown Powers

Friday, January 21st, 2011

At EFF, we like to give credit where it is due. Over the past few years, we’ve repeatedly called out the Burning Man Organization (BMO) for using online ticket terms to require participants to assign to BMO, in advance, the copyrights to any pictures they took on the playa. The assignment was designed to allow BMO to send takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) if it discovers photos online that it finds objectionable. We also criticized how the terms limited participants’ ability to donate their works to the public domain or to license their works through Creative Commons, and restricted ticket holders' ability to make fair uses of BMO trademarks, such as the (trademarked) term "Burning Man," on any website.

Our comments sparked a small uproar in the Burning Man community, which eventually led to a series of conversations (some of which involved EFF) about Burning Man image use policies. Those conversations have at last borne fruit: Tickets for the 2011 event just went on sale, accompanied by new terms that were intended, in part, to acknowledge the concerns we had expressed. We’re happy to report that BMO has made some real progress. However, we have to ...

Verizon challenges FCC’s net-neutrality rules

Friday, January 21st, 2011

WASHINGTON — Verizon Communications Inc. yesterday filed a legal challenge to new federal regulations that prohibit broadband providers from interfering with Internet traffic flowing over their networks.

In a filing in federal appeals court in the District of Columbia, Verizon argued that the Federal Communications Commission had overstepped its authority in adopting the new "network neutrality" rules last month.

The rules prohibit phone and cable companies from favoring or discriminating against Internet content and services — including online calling services such as Skype and Internet video services such as Netflix, which in many cases compete with services sold by companies like Verizon.

The FCC's three Democrats voted to adopt the rules over the opposition of the agency's two Republicans just before Christmas. Republicans in Congress, who now control the House, have vowed to try to block the rules from taking effect. They argue that they amount to unnecessary regulation that will discourage phone and cable companies from investing in their networks.

Several key House Republicans, including House Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan, welcomed Verizon's actions yesterday as "a check on an FCC that is acting beyond the authority granted to it by Congress." The court challenge had been ...

Va. school board votes to rehang Ten Commandments

Friday, January 21st, 2011

PEARISBURG, Va. — Heeding the complaints of hundreds of parents, a southwest Virginia school system is returning copies of the Ten Commandments to all of its public schools.

The Giles County school board decided yesterday to rehang the commandments in the district’s five schools and technology center after the outpouring from parents.

The Roanoke Times reported that framed copies of the religious codes, which had been displayed alongside the U.S. Constitution for more than ten years, were removed in December after a letter was sent to school officials from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The organization said the displays violated the Constitution and should be removed. An attorney for the school district agreed, the newspaper reported, so Superintendent Terry Arbogast II complied.

If the dispute heads to court, Chairman Eric Gentry of the Giles County Board of Supervisors said the county would support the school in court.

Unpopular Speech Policy Draws Scrutiny at Washington’s Olympic College

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

In Washington State, a new speech policy at Olympic College has proven to be unpopularso unpopular, in fact, that a professor assigned to a committee tasked with reviewing the policy seems to have quit the post because of his significant issues with it. The Kitsap Sun reports:

Though previously part of a committee tasked with reviewing the policy, English professor Nat Hong resigned from it during a forum on the policy Wednesday and sat in the audience to offer his opinion.

"I think a free speech policy by its very nature is Orwellian ... You're trying to limit it for administrative purposes," he said.

The Sun points out that the policy (posted here) was devised partly in response to the activities on campus of an anti-abortion group unaffiliated with the college. The policy was adopted in August, but portions of it have been suspended after students complained over its restrictiveness.

Judging from the policy language, I can see what folks were complaining about. Among the requirements placed on outside organizations wanting to bring their message to the Olympic College campus, groups must give a minimum of 48 hours' notice to the administration, estimates on the number of people ...

Lamar Smith Needs to Get His Facts Straight on the 14th Amendment

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Rep. Lamar Smith, the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is introducing himself to the American people. Someone should have told him to get his facts straight before talking about important issues affecting the lives of millions of people.

Smith had a letter published in the LA Times earlier this week, saying:

Congress should act to end birth citizenship for three reasons. ... [T]hird, during the debate on the 14th Amendment in 1866, a senator who helped draft the amendment said it would "not of course include persons born in the United States who are foreigners."

Actually, as Media Matters pointed out long ago, that quotation cuts out the rest of the sentence, a change that completely alters its meaning. The actual quote is:

[The amendment would] not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons. (emphasis added)

So, contrary to Smith's assertion, the quote was limited to children born to diplomats.

Changing the comma to a period and eliminating the most important part of the ...

Social Media and Law Enforcement: Who Gets What Data and When?

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

This month, we were reminded how important it is that social media companies do what they can to protect the sensitive data they hold from the prying eyes of the government. As many news outlets have reported, the US Department of Justice recently obtained a court order for records from Twitter on several of its users related to the WikiLeaks disclosures. Instead of just turning over this information, Twitter “beta-tested a spine” and notified its users of the court order, thus giving them the opportunity to challenge it in court.

We have been investigating how the government seeks information from social networking sites such as Twitter and how the sites respond to these requests in our ongoing social networking Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, filed with the help of UC Berkeley’s Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic. As part of our request to the Department of Justice and other federal agencies, we asked for copies of the guides the sites themselves send out to law enforcement explaining how agents can obtain information about a site’s users and what kinds of information are available. The information we got back enabled us to make an unprecedented comparison ...

Roles of Justices Scalia and Thomas in Citizens United Under Scrutiny

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas raised eyebrows and ethics questions late last year when they attended a conference sponsored by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who head Koch Industries. A comprehensive expose from The New Yorker reported on the Koch Brother’s immense financial and ideological ties to right-wing and pro-corporate groups, and the Koch-sponsored event that Scalia and Thomas attended was held “to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it.” The Koch Brothers have greatly benefited from the Supreme Court’s pro-corporate rulings, including the Citizens United decision which allowed corporations to use funds from their general treasuries to finance, sometimes secretly, political organizations. Tomorrow is the first anniversary of Citizens United, and Common Cause is requesting that the Justice Department look into whether Justices Scalia and Thomas should have recused themselves from the case:

The government reform advocacy group Common Cause today asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia should have recused themselves from the landmark Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision because they were involved with an array of conservative groups that ...

FIRE’s YouTube Channel: Free Speech in Motion

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

We always say that public awareness is our number one weapon at FIRE, which is why Twitter and Facebook have proven to be such powerful outlets for us in the fight for free speech on campus. But, as Greg pointed out in his six-part blog series on FIRE's short films, "FIRE handles cases that are often so outrageous that words alone cannot do them justice; they must be seen to be believed." FIRE's YouTube channel provides our online communities with a visual alternative for viewing and circulating our messages, which is essential to our success.

FIRE's short films help you understand our cases and issues in just a few minutes eachand provide a fun way to introduce others to FIRE's work. Subscribe to our channel to watch the story of University of Georgia student and scooter-rider Jacob Lovell's battle with Parking Services unfoldand have a laugh! Or, witness the shocking story of Andre Massena, who was almost expelled from SUNY Binghamton after he publicly criticized a faculty member. You can even see some of Penn State student Joshua Stulman's censored artwork, as he discusses his exhibition "Portraits of Terror," which expressed his views of terrorism ...

Obama, Hu Confront Rights Issue

Thursday, January 20th, 2011
China's leader says mutual respect is the key to cooperation.

Hu Pushed on Tibet Dialogue

Thursday, January 20th, 2011
The U.S. president calls on his counterpart to restart talks with the Dalai Lama for greater Tibetan autonomy.

Ore. judge: 2 county officials violated open-meetings law

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

EUGENE, Ore. — A judge has ruled that two Lane County commissioners violated Oregon’s public-meetings law in 2009 and are personally liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses in the case.

Commissioner Rob Handy lined up votes to approve personal assistants for commissioners and worked with Commissioner Pete Sorenson in advance to script a vote, making the resulting public process a "sham," Coos County Circuit Judge Michael Gillespie wrote in a 44-page opinion.

"It was orchestrated down to the timing and manner of the vote so as to avoid any public discussion," Gillespie wrote.

Handy and Sorenson defended their actions and their commitment to open government, The Register-Guard reported.

"We will be looking (today) and in the future at whether we will appeal this," Handy said, during a news conference Jan. 18 with Sorenson at the county Public Service Building in Eugene. "My personal feeling is that we should."

Former Lane County Commissioner Eleanor "Ellie" Dumdi and retired Eugene businessman Ed Anderson filed the lawsuit. Eugene's Seneca-Jones Timber Co. was also involved in filing the complaint, according to court documents and records.

Gillespie handed down his ruling on Jan. 18 after hearing three days of testimony in ...

‘Daily Texan’ Addresses Berkeley Chancellor’s Chilling Campus E-mail

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
The Daily Texan at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) has published a compelling editorial examining University of California, Berkeley, Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau's recent e-mail to the campus community following the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. The Daily Texan questions Birgeneau's e-mail in the context of his prominent position, pointing out that "this power can be used to stifle discourse." The editorial also draws connections between the chilling effect of Birgeneau's e-mail and the speech codes at UT that restrict student speech. In addition to The Daily Texan's forceful piece, be sure to read Adam Kissel's and Erica Goldberg's insightful commentary here on The Torch.   

Help FIRE Recruit Summer Interns

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

"A short time at FIRE is enough to convince virtually anyone that our First Amendment rights are, both legally and philosophically, an indispensable component of American society. Working environments such as the one at FIRE are rare gems which stimulate intellectual development and model the kind of free-thinking milieu they hope to restore throughout academe."
- Brian Mink, 2008 FIRE Intern, University of Georgia

FIRE internships provide incomparable opportunities for undergraduates and law students to spend the summer defending individual rights on campus. Our interns return to school well-informed about their rights and energized to defend fellow students on their campuses. They write articles, host FIRE speakers, and campaign to change speech codes in order to achieve green-light status at their schools. Some even go on to fight for free speech full-time as FIRE staff members.

We rely on you, Torch readers, to spread the word about FIRE's cases and mission, and we need your help to find the best interns for this summer. Please share these postings about our internship opportunities for undergraduates and law students with students you know who might be interested in spending the summer with FIRE:

  • For undergraduates, FIRE offers a 10-week, ...

Sony v. Hotz: Sony Sends A Dangerous Message to Researchers — and Its Customers

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Co-authored by Corynne McSherry and Marcia Hofmann

For years, EFF has been warning that the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act can be used to chill speech, particularly security research, because legitimate researchers will be afraid to publish their results lest they be accused of circumventing a technological protection measure. We've also been concerned that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act could be abused to try to make alleged contract violations into crimes.

We've never been sorrier to be right. These two things are precisely what's happening in Sony v. Hotz. If you have missed this one, Sony has sued several security researchers for publishing information about security holes in Sony’s PlayStation 3. At first glance, it's hard to see why Sony is bothering — after all, the research was presented three weeks ago at the Chaos Communication Congress and promptly circulated around the world. The security flaws discovered by the researchers allow users to run Linux on their machines again — something Sony used to support but recently started trying to prevent. Paying lawyers to try to put the cat back in the bag is just throwing good money after bad. And even if they won — ...

This Month in FIRE History: FIRE Publishes Its ‘Guide to Free Speech on Campus’

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Six years ago this month, FIRE published its Guide to Free Speech on Campus, a book that has become an indispensable resource for students and faculty members across the country. Written by former FIRE president David A. French, current president Greg Lukianoff, and Co-Founder and Chairman Harvey A. Silverglate, this Guide provides an examination of the philosophy that undergirds our First Amendment rights and serves as a practical how-to handbook for those facing censorship on campus. In addition to FIRE's other guides, the Guide to Free Speech on Campus has been widely praised as a key part of our effort to educate the public on the significance of free speech, protect victims of campus censorship, and ensure that the urge to restrict speech is eclipsed by a recognition of the importance of open inquiry and debate at our universities. It has reached more than 100,000 people since it was first released.

FIRE will be updating the Guide to Free Speech on Campus in the coming months with new information on how to deal with the latest threats to freedom on campus, so stay tuned!

Fuzzy Boundaries: The Potential Impact of Vague Secondary Liability Doctrines on Technology Innovation

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Last year, Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and Josh Goldfoot from the DoJ's Criminal Division directly confronted some of EFF's concerns about overreaching theories of secondary copyright infringement. Playing on EFF founder John Perry Barlow's seminal essay, Judge Kozinski and Mr. Goldfoot titled their work "A Declaration of the Dependence of Cyberspace," and in it, they argue that current secondary liability doctrines can and should be used aggressively to tackle online infringement.

Former EFF intern and accomplished photographer Paul Szynol has responded with an interesting essay, which will be published today in Next Digital Decade, Essays on the Future of the Internet. In his response excerpted below, with which we generally agree (although we differ somewhat on the details) Paul cogently warns that today's vague, secondary liability rules may smother innovation from inventors big and small.

The book launch for Next Digital Decade will be streamed live from 9:45am to 2:30pm Pacific (12:45 to 5:30pm Eastern).

Broadly stated, the rationale at the heart of the secondary liability doctrine is this: an entity that knowingly helps to facilitate the commission of an illegal act (such as copyright infringement, for example) should be penalized for its contribution to the illegal ...

More Voices Call For a Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United as Ruling’s Anniversary Approaches

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Friday is the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which helped unleash massive corporate spending in the 2010 elections, and more voices have emerged to denounce the Court’s wrongheaded and extreme ruling. The decision’s impact on public policy debates became more apparent today as the House of Representatives prepares to vote to repeal the health care reform law after pro-corporate groups spent handsomely to discredit the law with bogus charges and attack Congressmen which supported reform.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, along with companies like Patagonia, Stonyfield Farms and Honest Tea, have launched Business for Democracy, “a coalition of like-minded businesses to protest a Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on corporate campaign spending in candidate elections.” The Wall Street Journal reports that “members of ‘Business for Democracy’ believe ‘the decision is inconsistent with the basic ideal of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people,’" and support a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision.

In today’s Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel discussed how the vast corporate spending to influence the midterm elections was “just an experiment” compared to how corporations ...

Another Step Forward for LGBT Equality

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

In a step forward for LGBT equality, the Obama Administration's new hospital visitation regulations go into effect today. Under the rules, hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid can no longer deny visitation privileges based on factors including sexual orientation or gender identity. To forcibly separate loving couples when one of them is sick or even dying is cruel and wrong.

The Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement writes:

This significant policy change is due in no small part to the journeys of two incredibly courageous and passionate women, Janice Langbehn and Charlene Strong. Both lived through unimaginable experiences with the loss of their wives and life partners. While I never had the opportunity to meet Janice's wife Lisa Pond, or Charlene's wife Kate Fleming, I have had the honor to meet and work with Janice and Charlene. I want to thank them for bringing us all into their lives and for sharing themselves and their families with us, and for using their voices to make lives better for LGBT families.

To have a White House publication referring to "Janice's wife Lisa" or "Charlene's wife Kate" is no small indication of societal change. Words have ...

Waterbury CT School District Attempts to Cancel August Wilson Play

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
Censorship continues full front attacks on all the arts. Two weeks into 2011, we’ve already seen censorship of David Wojnarowicz at the National Portrait Gallery; a new edition of Mark Twain’s Huckelberry Finn hit the bookstores, without the N-word; the arrest of Belarus theater director Nikolai Khalezin of Belarus Free Theatre and now the Waterbury [...]

Shanghai Alters Property Rules

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
New laws will limit residents of China's most cosmopolitan city in seeking compensation.

Church Leader Barred from Travel

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
A Chinese underground church leader is blocked from attending a conference in Hong Kong.

High court says NASA background checks can continue

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled today that background checks of low-risk employees at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California can continue.

The high court overturned a lower court decision that had stopped the space agency's investigations of the contract workers.

The workers claimed NASA was invading their privacy by requiring the investigations, which included probes into medical records and questioning of friends about everything from their finances to their sex lives.

If they didn't agree to the checks, the contract employees were to be barred from the laboratory grounds and fired.

Lower courts had said the questions threatened the rights of workers, including a constitutional right to informational privacy. But Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority in NASA v. Nelson that the government's interests as "employer and proprietor," and the rules against unauthorized disclosure of the information, outweigh the privacy concerns.

In a concurrence joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with the outcome of the case, but wrote that because no constitutional right to informational privacy exists, the high court had no reason to consider whether the government is in violation of it.

New Ala. governor: Only Christians are his brothers, sisters

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told a church crowd just moments into his new administration that those who have not accepted Jesus as their savior are not his brothers and sisters, shocking some critics who questioned yesterday whether he could be fair to non-Christians.

“Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother,” Bentley said Jan. 17, his inauguration day, according to The Birmingham News.

The Anti-Defamation League yesterday called Bentley’s remarks shocking.

“His comments are not only offensive, but also raise serious questions as to whether non-Christians can expect to receive equal treatment during his tenure as governor,” said Bill Nigut, the ADL’s regional director.

Speaking at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church after the official inaugural ceremony, Bentley told the crowd that he considered anyone who believed in Jesus to be his brothers and sisters regardless of color, but anyone who isn’t a Christian doesn’t have that same relationship to him.

“If the Holy Spirit lives in you that makes you my brothers and sisters. Anyone who has not accepted Jesus, I want to be ...

Reporters claim new Fla. gov. trying to limit press access

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Journalists who cover Florida's capital complained to news-industry leaders yesterday that the new administration of Gov. Rick Scott is skirting free-press traditions and attempting to control their work by limiting access to events and being slow to provide public records.

Speaking to the board of the Florida Society of News Editors, nine Tallahassee correspondents said Scott's team is imposing an unprecedented level of control over access to the new Republican governor and to events that previously would have been considered open. The reporters also said that the governor's office has tried to "cherry-pick" reporters to provide pooled reports to the rest of the press corps, instead of allowing the journalists to choose.

Bob Rathgeber, senior staff writer for The News-Press of Fort Myers, said Scott, a former health care executive, apparently wanted to continue operating as if he were still in the private sector, not public office.

"He doesn't care whether we have complaints or not," Rathgeber said. "He's from the private sector and he's a private guy."

The journalists pointed to several examples, including a post-inauguration reception held on the scenic 22nd-floor of the state Capitol, where Scott's staff restricted access only to a select few.


Blog: Fla. lawmaker tries again to bar saggy pants

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

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Saggy, baggy pants apparently bother Florida state Sen. Gary Siplin. He has again introduced a bill to ban such fashion statements in public schools.

Senate Bill 228 would require school districts in the state to prohibit students from wearing their pants too low. Under the measure, school districts would include in codes of student conduct an “explanation of the responsibilities of each student with regard to appropriate dress, respect for self and others, and the role that appropriate dress and respect for self and others has on an orderly learning environment.”

Each school district’s conduct code would have to include a dress code that prohibits students “from wearing clothing that exposes underwear or body parts in an indecent or vulgar manner or that disrupts the orderly learning process.”

This part of the measure appears tailored to try to meet the standards for student-speech law established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Bethel School District v. Fraser (1986) and Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969). Under Fraser, school officials can prohibit student speech that is vulgar or lewd. Under Tinker, school officials can prohibit student speech that substantially disrupts school activities.

The Florida bill also ...

Comcast wins government approval to take over NBC

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

WASHINGTON — The government yesterday cleared the way for Comcast Corp., the country's largest cable company, to take over NBC Universal in a deal certain to transform the entertainment-industry landscape.

Comcast is buying a 51% stake in NBC Universal, home of the NBC television network, from General Electric Co. for $13.8 billion in cash and assets.

The Justice Department and five state attorneys general said yesterday they had reached a court settlement allowing the companies to proceed with their combination, subject to conditions intended to preserve competition among video providers.

In addition, the five-member Federal Communications Commission voted 4-1 yesterday to approve the transaction, subject to similar but broader conditions.

Among other things, the government is requiring Comcast to make NBC programming available to competitors such as satellite and phone companies, as well as new Internet video services that could pose a threat to the company's core cable business. Officials want to guarantee that online video services from companies such as Netflix Inc., Inc. and Apple Inc. can get the movies and TV shows they need to grow — and potentially offer a cheaper alternative to monthly cable subscriptions such as Comcast offers.

The government's conditions will help ensure ...

Tibetan Democracy Moves Forward, Faces Challenges

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
Tibet's exile community will elect a new prime minister in March, but he may have limited power to act, and challenges to democracy remain.

$125,000 Settlement for Professor in Religious Discrimination Suit

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports this afternoon that the University of Kentucky (UK) will pay $125,000 to astronomy professor C. Martin Gaskell and his attorneys to settle a lawsuit alleging religious discrimination. The Herald-Leader writes that "Gaskell claimed that he was passed over for the [directorship of] UK's MacAdam Student Observatory three years ago because of his religion and statements that were perceived to be critical of evolution." An earlier motion by UK to dismiss the suit was denied, and the case was scheduled to begin trial on February 8. 

Cue the Violins: Inanimate Corporations Have Feelings, Too

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

On Wednesday, in a case involving the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the nation's corporate giants are asking the Supreme Court to rule that they have a right to "personal privacy" just as people do. If the Corporate Court ignores the ordinary meaning of the term "personal privacy" and grants corporations their wish to have the same rights as people, as in Citizens United, corporations will be able to block the news media and government watchdogs from accessing important government records that corporations would prefer remain hidden.

The case started several years ago, when the FCC investigated alleged overcharges by AT&T. After the investigation, AT&T's competitors filed a FOIA request to get the FCC to release documents on what they had found. The FCC said it would not disclose confidential commercial information about AT&T, pursuant to a specific exemption in the FOIA statute. However, the company argued that certain additional material would cause the company embarrassment and therefore fell into a separate statutory FOIA exemption - Exemption 7(C) - allowing government agencies not to disclose material compiled for law enforcement purposes that would "constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

The FCC ruled that Exemption 7(C) does not cover ...

Former Student Wins Public Records Suit Against University of Florida

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
The Independent Florida Alligator reports that a Florida state court has ruled in favor of University of Florida (UF) graduate Frank Bracco, who filed suit against the university after it denied him access to video and audio recordings of UF Student Senate meetings. UF had claimed that the recordings were confidential educational records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The court rejected this contention, finding that UF's actions were in violation of Florida's public records law. Read the full story here.

Roosevelt University Professor Fired after Telling Joke in Class

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

A professor at Roosevelt University in Illinois was charged with harassment, but the university would not tell him who had charged him or for what.

Professor Robert Klein Engler was summoned to a meeting last year to discuss an unnamed student's allegation, but Professor Engler wanted to know the identity of his accuser and the nature of the accusation before showing up for this disciplinary meeting. How is it reasonable to expect someone to defend himself without knowing, for instance, whether he should bring in evidence that could disprove the allegation and end the case right away?

For insisting on such basic rights, Engler eventually was fired by Roosevelt University.

As Fergus Hodgson writes over at (picked up by and Amy Alkon's Advice Goddess Blog):

Officially, Engler's termination was for noncooperation with the harassment investigation, since he repeatedly chose not to attend meetings that would address the allegation.

Engler said he was willing to cooperate but the department refused to put the allegation in writing. When he brought legal counsel to an appeal meeting, university administrators immediately canceled it.

It wasn't until the student newspaper wrote about the case months after his dismissal that he learned of ...

No Public Reading of ‘Huck Finn’ Allowed on Mississippi Campus

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
Hinds Community College (HCC) barred a paramedic student from one of his classes last year and denied him financial aid after a professor initiated a verbal confrontation with him over his language outside of class time. After FIRE intervened, HCC backed down. FIRE obtained the assistance of attorneys Robert B. McDuff and Sibyl Byrd, who took up Isaac Rosenbloom's case and secured a settlement in his favor. HCC removed the finding and demerits from Rosenbloom's record and restored his financial aid. But that's not the end of the story. HCC maintains an anti-vulgarity policy that apparently dates back to 1998. Rosenbloom sent us this picture from campus: It reads: "NO public profanity, excessive noise, vulgarity, or cursing allowed / This includes music with obscene lyrics / $25 FINE 1st Incident / $50 FINE 2nd Incident / Suspension 3rd Incident / Citations will be issued by Campus police or any official designated by the Dean of Students/Dean. / Effective: December 1, 1998" This is a classic example of an unconstitutionally overbroad speech code. While it permissibly bans "excessive noise" (presuming that this vague proscription is clarified in campus policy) and obscenity, it impermissibly bans a great deal of protected expression. Whether or not ...