Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Wash. county says church flagpole needs permit

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

BOTHELL, Wash. — Snohomish County code-enforcement officers say they have a problem with a 90-foot flagpole at a Bothell church.

The county is threatening the Park Ridge Community Church with a $1,500 fine if the church doesn't get a permit.

The 90-foot tall wooden pole was erected about 10 years ago as a temporary cell-phone tower. The pastor, Brad Sebranke, says when the phone company no longer needed the pole, the church asked that it be left as a flagpole.

The church put a cross on top and has a lighted star on top in the Christmas season.

The Daily Herald of Everett reports that the church is appealing the fine. A county hearing examiner is scheduled to consider the case Jan. 4.

Federal magistrate: Ill. atheist’s lawsuit should be tossed

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

ST. LOUIS — A federal magistrate is recommending the court reject an atheist's challenge of a state grant given to help repair an 11-story Christian landmark in southern Illinois, ruling the state's economic-development agency has discretion in how it doles out its money.

Rob Sherman's lawsuit asked the court to order caretakers of the Bald Knob Cross of Peace to give back a $20,000 grant received in 2008, claiming the handout from a $5 million pot of money that the Illinois General Assembly channeled to the state's Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity was unconstitutional.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge David Bernthal, in a recommendation issued Dec. 10, sided with the state and the landmark's overseers, finding the grant was made by the state's executive branch and was not a designated legislative "earmark" as Sherman had alleged.

"Finding otherwise in this circumstance would interpose the federal courts as virtually continuing monitors of the wisdom and soundness' of state fiscal administration," Bernthal wrote. "Additionally, such judicial oversight of executive branch activities raises serious separation of power concerns."

Sherman originally filed his lawsuit in August in Springfield, Ill., arguing efforts to repair the cross using state money "has the primary effect of advancing ...

Another Year of Controversy Over "Offensive" Halloween Costumes

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Halloween has come to be seen as a day when people can shed their fear of societal norms and don costumes that they probably wouldn't wear any other day. These costumes come in many shapes and sizes, and can serve many purposes. Some are meant to ridicule, others to honor, while still others are meant just to be silly. An individual's costume choice is a manifestation of his or her individuality, especially during college, when choosing a costume is one of the many things that young adults can finally do without parental approval.

At least, that's the way most Americans expect it to be. Unfortunately, these recently liberated students might have to deal with a new set of judgmental parents who can dole out even more severe punishments: college administrators.

This past October, Thomas V. Wolfe, Syracuse University's Senior Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs, e-mailed all Syracuse students, encouraging them to "be thoughtful and sensitive when choosing [their] costume[s]," lest their costumes "threaten [their] safety or that of others." Unless a student is dressed as a chariot with razor-sharp blades sticking out, I find it difficult to imagine how any costume could threaten another student's safety. Costumes sometimes ...

FIRE’s 2010 Video Campaign: Why Multimedia Is So Critical to Our Mission

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

As we reach the close of 2010, it is fitting to review the great strides FIRE has made in reaching new audiences and capitalizing on new technology. In an era of increased connectivity and interaction, our social media programs and video outreach have, over the past year, helped us spread our message of liberty further than ever before. FIRE handles cases that are often so outrageous that words alone cannot do them justice; they must be seen to be believed. Our videos do just that.

FIRE has produced a number of excellent features on some of our most outrageous cases from the past several years. As evidence of the staying power of these videos, one need look no further than our video on the Orwellian orientation programs at the University of Delaware, which passed 100,000 views on YouTube this yearan achievement which exemplifies the quality and appeal of FIRE's multimedia projects.


While videos like this one and those on the Keith John Sampson case and the Hayden Barnes case have helped FIRE communicate our stories for years, in 2010 we have been able to improve and expand our video project through the generous support of our donors, welcoming ...

New EFF Member Cards

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

This week, EFF will introduce new annual membership levels and benefits. The most exciting part is that new and renewing members at the Copper Level or higher will receive an EFF Member Card! Back by popular demand, the EFF Member Card lets you show your commitment to online civil liberties.

The majority of EFF's funding comes from passionate individuals like you, so we like to offer members tokens of our appreciation. Choose from several free gifts, including t-shirts available exclusively to EFF members. EFF membership lasts for 12 months and you can select a gift every time you renew! All members receive a "Proud Member" bumper sticker and discounts on General Admission to EFF events!

In addition, EFF members who choose to accept email enjoy these benefits:

  • EFFector, EFF's weekly e-newsletter, providing up-to-date information about important legal battles, news, and events,
  • Action Alerts to notify you about urgent issues,
  • Invitations to members-only Speakeasy gatherings,
  • A digital EFF Member badge for your site or blog,
  • A 10% discount at EFF's online store,
  • A Magnatune.com gift card for DRM-free music, and
  • Discounts on Make Magazine, No Starch Press books, and Take Control eBooks.

The last four items are included in a one-time ...

2010 Trend Watch Update: Location Privacy

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

At the beginning of this year EFF identified a dozen important trends in law, technology and business that we thought would play a significant role in shaping digital rights in 2010, with a promise to revisit our predictions at the end of the year. Now, as 2010 comes to a close, we're going through each of our predictions one by one to see how accurate we were in our trend-spotting. Today, we're looking back on Trend #5, Location Privacy, where we predicted:

In 2010, awareness of location privacy as an issue will enter the mainstream in the U.S. as a critical mass of end users voluntarily adopt technologies that use or share their physical location — and start to wonder who has access to this information. Many more courts will grapple with these questions this year, building upon the important 2009 decisions in the Connolly case in Massachusetts and the Weaver case in New York. EFF is awaiting the decision in U.S. v. Jones in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where we asked a court to limit law enforcement use of these devices.

Looks like we hit the nail on the head with this one. As ...

Journalist Beaten ‘Brain-Dead’

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010
Colleagues dispute officials' explanation of the attack.

Commentary: Be wary of FCC official’s proposal

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

 

Those concerned about the future of broadcasting probably should add the “public value test” to their list of worries.

Introduced on Dec. 2 by Michael Copps, a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, the public-value test would make a broadcast licensee’s renewal dependent on whether the licensee has used the license to serve the public good. The seven criteria suggested by Copps include whether the station has made a meaningful commitment to news and public-affairs programming, developed sufficient disclosure of its programming and political ads, and reflected diversity. Under Copps’ plan, a station that failed to demonstrate measurable progress toward these goals would lose its license “to someone who will use it to serve the public interest.”

Read Douglas Lee’s commentary in full.

FIRE’s Kissel in ‘New York Post’ on Syracuse’s War on Satire

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010
Yesterday's New York Post featured an article by FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel about Syracuse University's ongoing and unjustifiable war on satire and parody. Syracuse's College of Law has been investigating student Len Audaer for more than two months over his alleged involvement in the anonymous SUCOLitis satire blog, which aimed to be like The Onion for the law school community. As Adam says in the article, instead of teaching the lessons of American freedom, "Syracuse is teaching the next generation of lawyers that the right not to be offended trumps the rights of free speech and due process."

This Month in FIRE History: The Battle over Freedom of Association on Campus

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

The fight for freedom of association at universities is an ongoing one, and we need look no further than FIRE's December archives to see how crucial these debates are to the preservation of liberty on campus. In light of this year's Supreme Court decision in CLS v. Martinez, it is more important than ever to review these cases and their importance.

In December 2002, school administrators at both Rutgers University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) attempted to shut down Christian groups because these organizations used religious criteria to select their leaders. Though both the InterVarsity Multi-Ethnic Christian Fellowship (IVMECF) at Rutgers and the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) at UNC had open membership for individuals of all faiths, university administrators labeled their guidelines for religious governance "discriminatory." The groups were derecognized and denied funding and official status on campus simply because they required that group leaders believe in the group's mission. In light of this violation of the students' freedom of association, FIRE publicly challenged UNC's administration to reinstate IVCF, and our Legal Network took action against Rutgers, filing a lawsuit against the university. Due to our legal efforts and public awareness campaign, both Rutgers and UNC backed ...

2nd Circuit upholds ex-sailor’s conviction for leaking classified info

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

NEW YORK — A federal appeals court yesterday upheld the conviction of a former Navy sailor serving a 10-year prison sentence after he leaked details about ship movements to a London-based website that supported attacking Americans.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan rejected defense arguments seeking to overturn the 2008 conviction of Hassan Abu-Jihaad of Phoenix. He was a signalman aboard the USS Benfold who was honorably discharged from the Navy in 2002.

Abu-Jihaad was sentenced last year to 10 years in prison by a federal judge in New Haven, Conn., after he was convicted on charges that he disclosed classified national defense information. Prosecutors at trial had labeled him a traitor. A message for comment left with Abu-Jihaad's defense lawyer was not returned in time for this story.

In upholding the conviction, the three-judge appeals panel ruled that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was constitutional and was used properly in the investigation to obtain evidence related to overseas communications.

In January 2008, U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz in New Haven ruled that the USA Patriot Act was constitutional, rejecting Abu-Jihaad’s claim that evidence against him was illegally obtained.

Abu-Jihaad was accused of leaking details of ship ...

Divided FCC adopts new rules on web traffic

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

WASHINGTON — A divided Federal Communications Commission has approved new rules meant to prohibit broadband companies from interfering with Internet traffic flowing to their customers.

The 3-2 vote today marks a major victory for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who has spent more than a year trying to craft a compromise.

The FCC's three Democrats voted to pass the rules, while the two Republicans opposed them, calling them unnecessary regulation. The new rules are likely to face intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill once Republicans take over the House. Meanwhile, public-interest groups decried the regulations as too weak, particularly for wireless systems.

Called "net neutrality," the rules prohibit phone and cable companies from favoring or discriminating against Internet content and services, such as those from rivals.

The rules require broadband providers to let subscribers access all legal online content, applications and services over their wired networks — including online calling services, Internet video and other Web applications that compete with their core businesses. But the rules give broadband providers flexibility to manage data on their systems to deal with problems such as network congestion and unwanted traffic, including spam, as long as they publicly disclose their network-management practices.

The regulations prohibit unreasonable ...

LA MOCA – the false dichotomy between censorship and sensitivity

Monday, December 20th, 2010
The familiar “he said/ she said” binary so beloved of the media has shaped the controversy over LA MOCA’s whitewashing of a political mural as an opposition between those who define it as censorship and those who define it as sensitivity. Here is the LA Times: “Censorship,” some cry, referring to Deitch’s removal of Blu’s [...]

Top Five Reasons You Should Support FIRE: #5

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Throughout the remainder of the year, we will be counting down the top five reasons why donating to FIRE this holiday season is a great investment. We'll be posting a new reason every other day on The Torch, so be sure to check back for updates.

The number five reason to donate to FIRE is:

We are a uniquely nonpartisan organization, recognized across the political and ideological spectra as a serious and effective voice on behalf of student rights on our nation's campuses. We have deservedly earned a reputation as a principled defender of civil liberties and in 2010 alone have been invited to contribute articles and give interviews in many diverse and impressive media outlets.

FIRE has a politically diverse staff that believes in one thing above all else: the importance of preserving free speech and individual liberties on our campuses for the sake of our nation's future. FIRE has won more than 190 cases over the past 11 years, and we have done so defending people from all backgrounds and all beliefs. We have fought for the rights of students to host speakers from across the ideological spectrum on their campuses, as well as the rights of students ...

FIRE Releases Fifth Annual Report on Campus Speech Codes

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Earlier today, FIRE released its latest annual report on campus speech codes, Spotlight on Speech Codes 2011: The State of Free Speech on Our Nation's Campuses. The report reveals that 67 percent of the 390 colleges and universities we analyzed maintain policies that seriously infringe upon students' free speech rights. While this number has dropped for the third year in a rowlast year, the figure was 71 percentalarming trends on the horizon suggest that a surge in restrictions may be imminent if supporters of free speech do not remain vigilant.

Some of this year's most outrageous speech codes include:

  • Colorado College prohibits any act that causes any individual or group "ridicule, embarrassment, harassment, intimidation or other such result."
  • Cal Tech prohibits using electronic information resources to "offend" anyone.
  • The University of Florida prohibits "[h]umor and jokes about sex that denigrate a gender.

This year, the percentage of public campuses that clearly and substantially restrict student speech dropped from 71 percent to 67 percent, and the percentage of private campuses that do so declined from 70 to 65 percent.

However, recent legislation introduced in Congress and similar state bills threaten to undermine this progress. Federal and ...

NY Times Analyzes the Corporate Court

Monday, December 20th, 2010

As the latest example of the evolving media narrative of the Roberts Court, Sunday's New York Times had an extensive article accurately titled "Justices Offer Receptive Ear to Business Interests." The Times article discusses the successful long-term efforts of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to get the Court to focus on the rights of Big Business, which come at the cost of the rights of consumers, workers, governments elected by the people, and anyone else who tries to hold corporate giants accountable.

Almost 40 years ago, a Virginia lawyer named Lewis F. Powell Jr. warned that the nation's free enterprise system was under attack. He urged the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to assemble "a highly competent staff of lawyers" and retain outside counsel "of national standing and reputation" to appear before the Supreme Court and advance the interests of American business.

"Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court," he wrote, "the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change."

Mr. Powell ... got his wish - and never more so than with the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

The Roberts Court's favoritism toward Big Business has become ...

Free Speech Zones or Speech-Free Zones?

Monday, December 20th, 2010

As 2010 wanes, now is the time to reflect on all of the work that FIRE has been doing this year. Among the issues we faced concerning individual rights on campus, free speech zones continue to pose a significant threat to the rights of university students.

Free speech zones are small, often remote areas of campus that the administration has set aside for student speech and expressive activity. It is ironicif not outright sadthat in the university setting historically known for encouraging free speech, speech is now being censored and quarantined in small areas of campuses. Free speech can no longer be considered "free" if it is highly restricted and subject to administrative approval before it can take place. Indeed, the Supreme Court declared many years ago in the case of Widmar v. Vincent that "the campus of a public university, at least for its students, possesses many of the characteristics of a public forum." Similarly, a federal court in Texas, in striking down a free speech zone policy at Texas Tech University in the 2004 case of Roberts v. Haragan, noted the "interest of its students, for whom the University is a community, in ...

Teachers Protest in Zhengzhou

Monday, December 20th, 2010
Local authorities in China kept teachers at a low pay grade without benefits or pensions.

‘One-Child’ Policy to Stay

Monday, December 20th, 2010
But abuses continue as local officials strive to meet targets.

Ninth Circuit’s Amended Opinion in ‘Lopez v. Candaele’ Fails to Correct Legal Errors

Monday, December 20th, 2010

In October, student-plaintiff Jonathan Lopez asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its erroneous decision in Lopez v. Candaele. The federal appellate court, in a decision issued on September 17, had held that Lopez could not challenge the Los Angeles Community College District's (LACCD's) unconstitutional speech code because he did not suffer a concrete enough injury, even though he claimed that his speech was stifled by the code. In response to Lopez's motion for rehearing, the Ninth Circuit amended its opinion last week. Unfortunately, the Ninth Circuit's amended opinion wreaks further havoc upon the standing doctrine, making it more difficult for student-plaintiffs like Lopez to challenge unconstitutional speech policies.

The Lopez case is best known for its most shocking factsin particular that, in response to Lopez delivering a speech touching on his religious views in a speech class, his professor refused to give him a grade. When Lopez asked for a grade, the professor told Lopez, "Ask God what your grade is." In 2009, a federal district court ruled that LACCD's speech code, which prohibits, among other things, "actions and behavior that convey insulting, intrusive or degrading attitudes/comments about women or men," unconstitutionally ...

EFF Announces Intellectual Property Legal Team

Monday, December 20th, 2010

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is proud to announce its new lineup focusing on intellectual property issues: Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry; Senior Staff Attorney Abigail Phillips; and Staff Attorney Julie Samuels. EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl will also continue his dual role on EFF's Civil Liberties and IP teams.

Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry has been a staff attorney at EFF for more than five years, working on high-profile EFF cases including the Sony-BMG rootkit litigation and defending the Yes Men and other activists in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over a political parody. Corynne's practice focuses on fair use and free speech and includes both litigation and advocacy work, such as spearheading EFF's Takedown Hall of Shame campaign and providing public commentary on online copyright and trademark issues. Corynne is the author of "Who Owns Academic Work?: Battling for Control of Intellectual Property" (Harvard University Press, 2001).

Senior Staff Attorney Abigail Phillips recently joined EFF after more than five years at Yahoo!, where she was Senior Legal Director for copyright and advised product development teams such as Yahoo! Search, Flickr, and Yahoo! Video on a range of cyberlaw issues. At ...

Scalia Asked to Withdraw from Speaking to Bachmann’s Far-Right Caucus

Monday, December 20th, 2010

As first reported by Right Wing Watch, Justice Antonin Scalia is set to lecture about the Constitution for the opening class of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s new Constitutional Conservative Caucus. Bachmann, a favorite of Tea Party and Religious Right groups alike, hopes to promote to her peers her far-right and fringe perspective on the Constitution. For example, Bachmann bizarrely rejects the notion of “negative rights” as “infantilism,” even though negative rights are the basis of constitutionally protected non-interference, such as freedom of speech or the freedom from slavery.

But for Bachmann’s Tea Party-inspired caucus, the language and spirit of the Constitution is altered and manipulated to fit their ultraconservative outlook on the country.

On Saturday, the New York Times called on Justice Scalia to bow out from his class for Bachmann’s group in order to maintain the independence of the Supreme Court and to avoid lending credence to the Tea Party’s radical approach to the Constitution:

The Tea Party epitomizes the kind of organization no justice should speak to — left, right or center — in the kind of seminar that has been described in the press. It has a well-known and extreme point of view about the Constitution ...

Too ‘Evangelical’ for Astronomy Job at Kentucky?

Monday, December 20th, 2010
University of Texas astronomy professor C. Martin Gaskell sues the University of Kentucky for allegedly nixing his application because he was "potentially evangelical" and "had outspoken public views about creationism and evolution." (Gaskell denies being a creationist.)

Ind. county under fire for Nativity scene

Monday, December 20th, 2010

BROOKVILLE, Ind. — A county commissioner from eastern Indiana says a Nativity scene that's been erected on the courthouse lawn each year for more than a half-century will remain on display despite a challenge from a group that advocates separation of church and state.

Franklin County Commissioner Tom Wilson said Dec. 17 that the county had received two complaints about the scene depicting Jesus' birth from the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The group says the scene beneath a flagpole in front of the county courthouse violates the First Amendment.

"If this was on private property, fine. But when this is in a government setting with a flagpole it seems to be tying being a good American citizen with being a Christian, and that is making outsiders of non-Christians in your community," foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor told WXIX-TV in Cincinnati.

Wilson said the county planned to keep the Nativity scene on display through the holiday season and wouldn't remove it unless ordered to do so by a court. He said the manger scene that local firefighters set up each year is a tradition in the city of Brookville, about 60 miles southeast of Indianapolis, that reflects the predominantly ...

Biden: U.S. trying to stop WikiLeaks disclosures

Monday, December 20th, 2010

WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden says the Justice Department is looking at what the U.S. can do to stop more document releases from WikiLeaks.

Biden says he won't comment on that process, but has strong words about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Biden says if Assange conspired to get classified documents with a member of the U.S. military, then "that's fundamentally different" than if a reporter were given classified material by a source.

The vice president told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he would argue Assange was closer to being "a high-tech terrorist" in this case, as opposed to a government leaker of information such as in the Pentagon Papers case. In 1971, the federal government was rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court when officials tried to stop The New York Times and The Washington Post from publishing the so-called Pentagon Papers, a government study about U.S. involvement in Vietnam leaked to the press.

An Army private is suspected of passing classified information to WikiLeaks.

Fla. officials arrest pedophilia how-to book author

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Editor's note: The next day, Greaves waived his right to fight extradition and was transferred to Polk County, Fla., to face obscenity charges.

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Florida sheriff's deputies have arrested on obscenity charges a Colorado man who wrote a guide for pedophiles.

Polk County deputies arrested Phillip Ray Greaves II at his home in Pueblo, Colo., early today on a warrant out of Florida.

Polk Sheriff Grady Judd says his office was able to arrest Greaves on Florida obscenity charges because Greaves sold and mailed his book, The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct, to Polk deputies. Judd says Greaves even signed the book.

The self-published book offered advice to pedophiles on how to make sexual encounters with children as safe as possible. It was briefly for sale on Amazon, but the website removed it.

"He very proudly sold us his personal copy," Judd told the Associated Press. "I was outraged by the content. It was clearly a manifesto on how to sexually batter children ... . You just can't believe how absolutely disgusting it was."

Laurie Shorter, spokeswoman for the Pueblo County Sheriff's Department, said Greaves would be held in the county ...

Progress in Maryland Voter Suppression Investigation

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

There has been a development in investigating one of the Election Day efforts to suppress the Democratic vote.

On Election Day, Maryland Democrats received telephone calls late on Election Day telling them that Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley had won reelection, so they could "relax" (i.e., not vote). It was soon discovered that the calls were generated by an operative working for the campaign of O'Malley's Republican opponent, former Governor Bob Ehrlich.

On Friday, state police raided that operative's home. According to the Baltimore Sun:

Investigators for the state prosecutor on Friday raided the home and office of Julius Henson, the political operative who ordered the controversial Election Day robocalls for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich. ...

Henson, a Democratic operative who was working this year for the Republican Ehrlich, ordered more than 112,000 robocalls before the polls closed on Election Day last month.

The calls focused on Democratic precincts in Baltimore and Prince George's County. The recorded message featured a female voice suggesting that Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley had already won the election and encouraging supporters to stay home. ...

Ehrlich, who paid Henson $111,000 for "community outreach," told the Annapolis Capital last week that the calls were ...

White House Memo on Scientific Integrity released

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

The White House Office of Science & Technology Policy released the long-awaited Memorandum on Scientific Integrity today.
 
If fully implemented by federal agencies and departments, the directive could help protect government scientists from pressure by special interests, and would ensure that the government can make fully informed decisions about public health and the environment.
 
The directive instructs federal agencies and departments to come up with detailed scientific integrity plans that include:
giving the public better access to the science considered in making policy decisions
establishing principles for conveying scientific and technological information to the public
clarifying government scientists’ right to share their research and scientific analyses with the public and the press
setting clear standards that govern conflicts of interest
removing roadblocks that had kept scientists from staying current on the latest research
 
The memo also promises forthcoming guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding its process for reviewing congressional testimony of executive branch officials, specifically scientific testimony. The memo does not lay out the specific timeline for the additional guidance. The memo also does not challenge the long-standing practice of OMB review of testimony, nor does it question OMB’s role in ...

Pa. high court may open doors to video cameras

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania's highest court may soon allow cameras into its courtrooms to record its proceedings.

Though details must be hashed out before the Supreme Court votes on whether to lift its long-standing ban on cameras, a decision expected sometime in 2011, Chief Justice Ronald Castille said Dec. 14 that limited video coverage would help educate citizens about what the court does and demystify the state's judiciary.

"It kind of puts a face on the whole system," Castille told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from his Philadelphia office. "Those that are interested [could] see the actual workings of the highest court in the state."

As part of a test first reported by the Legal Intelligencer, the Pennsylvania Cable Network was recently permitted to record arguments before the court in Harrisburg using three remote-controlled video cameras. The video isn't being aired, but DVDs are being distributed among the justices as they consider a prospective new policy.

The justices will discuss the topic again early next year and decide whether they want to conduct a follow-up test during a March argument session in the court's Philadelphia courtroom, the chief justice said.

Castille said the test revealed that lighting in ...

Commerce Department’s Online Privacy Report a Positive Step, But Self-Regulation Isn’t Enough

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Online privacy continues to be a hot topic in Washington, D.C. A few weeks ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a staff report calling for greater protection of online consumer privacy. A House subcommittee heard testimony on the increasingly popular idea of “do not track” for the Internet. Soon thereafter, Microsoft announced a new tracking protection mechanism for Internet Explorer 9.

Yesterday, the Department of Commerce chimed in with its own “green paper” on online privacy, which echoes many of the concerns we’ve discussed here—in particular, the enormous gap between consumer privacy expectations and business reality in the online environment, where increasingly sophisticated yet largely hidden tracking mechanisms are routinely deployed against the general public. Everyone agrees that there’s a problem.

However, there’s still no agreement on what should be done about it. To its credit, the Commerce Department (and many of the companies that commented on the original notice of inquiry) strongly supported greater adherence to the well-known Fair Information Practice Principles. We were also glad to see that the Commerce Department expressly discussed the need to reform the Electronic Communications Privacy Act given the rise of cloud computing and growing concern about law enforcement access to data ...

Syracuse Law Professor Tries to Gag Audaer and SSDP Continues to Make Headlines

Friday, December 17th, 2010

A terrible storm of injustice is raging in central New York, but FIRE is working hard to quell it.

Torch readers by now are all too familiar with the story of Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL) student Len Audaer. After two months of being investigated for "harassing" statements that he allegedly made on the satirical blog SUCOLitis, he is now being asked to sign a gag order by faculty "prosecutor" Gregory Germain.

This development has sparked media interest across the nation. In sunny Nevada, Thomas Mitchell of the Las Vegas Review-Journal criticized Syracuse for not abiding by its own free speech guarantees and warned about the dangers of punishing offensive speech. Marc Parry of The Chronicle of Higher Education noted that Syracuseunsurprisinglywill not divulge much information about the case to the press and related how Audaer's supporters are trying to feature his story on The Daily Show. Such publicity would be a very welcome development and FIRE would love to see how Germain and company respond to being mocked in front of a national television audience. Right in the lion's den, Peter's letter to the editor, in which he argued that ...

Viacom Round-Up: Still Complaining about YouTube Even as They Profit from It

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Viacom’s appeal of the district court’s decision in Viacom v. YouTube is well underway, and now the amicus briefs supporting Viacom have been filed as well. The arguments in Viacom’s opening brief largely rehash many of the same arguments Viacom made—unsuccessfully—the first time around: Generalized awareness of some infringing content, and failure to take down such unidentified content, disqualifies a service provider from the DMCA’s safe harbors; YouTube’s compliance with the DMCA proves its DMCA-disqualifying ability to control the infringing activity on its network; DMCA protection for YouTube’s “storage” of uploaded content does not include the display of the content on the site; and so on.

Amici chime in with their familiar doomsday refrain. For instance, the American Federation of Musicians’ filing states: "YouTube is more than a widespread infringer of copyrights; it was a catalyst and engine for copyright infringement on a global scale, unleashing a Pandora’s box of illegal activity that will continue to threaten the output of America’s creative industries for years to come." Other briefs make similarly dire predictions.

This kind of language would not have been surprising five years ago. Big media has a long history of knee-jerk opposition to disruptive innovation. But it’s curious ...

Not-So-Gentle Persuasion: US Bullies Spain into Proposed Website Blocking Law

Friday, December 17th, 2010

It’s no secret that the US government has used its annual Special 301 Report to intimidate other countries into adopting more stringent copyright and patent laws by singling out particular countries for their "bad" intellectual property policies, and naming them on a tiered set of "watch lists". Listing results in heightened political pressure and in some cases, the potential for trade sanctions, which encourages foreign trading partners to change their laws to mirror those in the US. But now some of the cables provided by WikiLeaks to Spanish newspaper El Pais confirm that the US government has pushed other countries to adopt measures that go beyond US law, unleashing the fury of Spanish Internet users.

A set of cables reported on by El Pais make clear that the US government played a key role in Spain’s controversial website blocking law – the 2009 Sustainable Economy Bill, which the Spanish government is now trying to sneak it through a Committee in a pre-holiday session on 21st December. (Spanish readers, please see Action you can take below).

El Pais reports that in February 2008 the US government threatened to put Spain on the annual Special 301 Watch List issued by ...

Q&A on the Syracuse Free Speech Case

Friday, December 17th, 2010

FIRE has learned that Syracuse University Chancellor Nancy Cantor and Syracuse University College of Law (SUCOL) Dean Hannah Arterian have been replying to the many messages they have received from supporters of free speech in the case of the wrongful investigation of law student Len Audaer (see FIRE's case page for details). Their replies essentially say that Syracuse is right and FIRE is wrong (they are long on complaint and short on evidence). Obviously, we disagree. FIRE does not get involved in a case unless we have clear and convincing documentation of a rights violation on campus. The bottom line is that the expression on the blog SUCOLitis is satire and parody and is protected by Syracuse's strong, binding, contractual promises of free speech as well as the First Amendment in the larger society. Therefore, there is nothing for Syracuse to investigate.

Here are some questions and answers to help readers understand the main issues in the case.

Q. Is Syracuse violating freedom of speech by investigating a student for allegedly hurtful comments on the satire blog SUCOLitis?

A. Yes. SUCOLitis is quite obviously a satirical blog, like The Onion, with fake news stories. It explicitly states that this ...

Season’s Greetings from EFF’s International Team

Friday, December 17th, 2010

The Internet is global, and so are threats to digital freedom. That’s why EFF works in a range of international policy venues and with partner organizations worldwide to defend your digital rights. Here are some of the great things EFF achieved this year with our global partners and supporters like you:

  • Protecting Freedom of Expression. EFF has defended Wikileaks’ right to publish truthful information and the rights of Internet users to read and comment on that information under Article 19 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights. We are working with people across the globe to encourage governments and Internet intermediaries to take a stand against Internet censorship.

  • Ensuring Corporate Responsibility. EFF has worked with human rights organizations and leading technology companies in the Global Network Initiative to create a framework for public accountability to ensure that technology companies resist pressure from government censors in repressive countries and advance freedom of expression in their products and services.

  • Opposing Mandatory Data Retention. EFF has worked with public interest groups in Europe, and Latin America to campaign against mandatory data retention regimes in national laws and in international policy venues including the Internet Governance Forum.

  • Fighting Abuse of Cybercrime Legislation. EFF has ...

Rights Abuses Rooted in Past

Friday, December 17th, 2010
Nostalgia for China's imperial period is misplaced, author says.

Knowledge is Power: Facebook’s Exceptional Approach to Vulnerability Disclosure

Friday, December 17th, 2010

It's no surprise to EFF members that the Internet is full of security flaws, some of them severe. Yet many Internet companies try to deal with these problems internally, or not at all. They don't encourage outsiders to report flaws discovered when using or testing a website, and may even be hostile toward those who reveal facts they don't want to hear. Well-meaning Internet users are often afraid to tell companies about security flaws they've found — they don't know whether they'll get hearty thanks or slapped with a lawsuit or even criminal prosecution. This tension is unfortunate, because when companies learn what needs to be fixed, their services will be better and their users safer.

Facebook has set itself apart from other Internet companies by recognizing this problem and working to overcome it. The social networking site has become one of the first to publish a policy intended to make those who discover vulnerabilities more comfortable coming forward to report them:

We encourage security researchers who identify security problems to embrace the practice of notifying website security teams of problems and giving them time to fix the problems before making any information public. To make researchers feel comfortable bringing ...

FIRE Announces Winners of 2010 ‘Freedom in Academia’ Essay Contest

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Today, FIRE is pleased to announce the winners of the Third Annual "Freedom in Academia" Essay Contest.

Kristen Lemaster, a senior at Shiloh High School in Shiloh, Georgia, received first prize and a $5,000 college scholarship for her essay "Freedoms and Education." Mollyanne Gibson, a homeschool student from Topeka, Kansas, wrote the second prize essay, "Freedom of Expression in Higher Education." She will receive a $2,500 college scholarship.

Five runners up were also selected, and each will receive receive a $1,000 scholarship: Abigail Averill, Zach Beims, Miriam Creach, Adam Spangler, and Jackson Wilson.

FIRE's "Freedom in Academia" Essay Contest invited high school seniors to watch two short documentaries about key FIRE cases, "Think What We Think...Or Else: Thought Control on the American Campus" and "Political Correctness vs. Freedom of Thought - The Keith John Sampson Story," and submit an essay explaining why free speech is important on campus and how the schools depicted in the videos violated the spirit of free inquiry that should define the university.

Kristen's winning essay (printed in full below) argues that the role of education is for students to connect with their individuality as they explore the world, and that universities should provide an open ...

“Falsely shouting fire in a theatre”

Friday, December 17th, 2010

 “Falsely shouting fire in a theatre” may be the most recognizable phrase in all of First Amendment law. Written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1919, it stands for the principle that the First Amendment does not protect all forms of speech. It’s a phrase that has entered the cultural lexicon — used in movies, book titles and even sports press conferences.

Read the rest of David Hudson’s examination of the origin and history in law and culture of Justice Holmes’ famous phrase.

Fort Worth transit bans religious ads on buses

Friday, December 17th, 2010

FORT WORTH, Texas — Fort Worth buses will no longer carry religious advertisements because of a furor sparked by an atheist group's ads that proclaim, "Millions of Americans are Good Without God."

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority unanimously voted Dec. 15 to ban religion-related ads, in a decision that many atheists and church leaders applauded during the packed meeting. Board member Gary Havener called the atheist ad divisive.

The atheist ads, which were purchased by the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason, will continue until the 30-day contract expires in early January. The 2.5-by-12-foot ads first appeared on the sides of four of the fleet of about 150 buses earlier this month, and are similar to those that have run in other cities nationwide in recent years.

Terry McDonald, the coalition's organizer, said yesterday that the group did not initially plan for the ads to run during the Christmas season but that he hoped the message would bring comfort to those who feel left out during the holidays. He said the ads were not intended to undermine anyone's belief in God.

He called the new ban a "secular victory," because he said churches had been buying ads on buses for years ...

N.J. judge blocks town’s pre-council meeting prayers

Friday, December 17th, 2010

TOMS RIVER, N.J.— A shore town will have to cease its practice of allowing individual borough council members to say a prayer before meetings, a judge ruled today in a decision that likely won't end a dispute that has inspired vigorous debate among residents and advocates.

The ruling by state Superior Court Judge Vincent Grasso effectively voided a recent policy created by the Point Pleasant Beach borough council in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a Jewish resident who objected to the council's practice of reading the Lord's Prayer before meetings.

The lawsuit was dropped when the council agreed to discontinue reading the Lord's Prayer and have a moment of silence instead. During two meetings this fall, some audience members stood up and recited the prayer during the silent period.

The council then adopted a policy that allows an individual council member to give an invocation "in his or her capacity as a private citizen, and according to the dictates of his or her own conscience." Some council members chose to make invocations with religious overtones, and the ACLU sued again.

The policy "permits and, arguably, encourages a sectarian message" with no ...

Art school pulls student pieces from exhibition

Thursday, December 16th, 2010
A photograph of a male nude by Savannah College of Art & Design student Nicole Craine was among the several artworks taken down before an Open Studio Exhibition at the school in October. Reportedly, the students were given no explanation as to why their work was taken down. College administrators later admitted that the content [...]

LA MOCA whitewashing – is it censorship?

Thursday, December 16th, 2010
A mural announcing LA MOCA’s upcoming Art in the Streets exhibition, a survey of street art over the past four decades, was painted over - upon orders from the Museum - shortly after it appeared on December 8th. Was this an act of censorship or an exercise of legitimate curatorial control? The answer may depend on your definition of both terms.

NPG Censorship Protest in New York City – Sunday, December 19th, 1:00 PM

Thursday, December 16th, 2010
Stop the Censorship! Put the Wojnarowicz video back! Protest in New York City – Sunday, December 19th, 1:00 PM (details below) Send a message to the Smithsonian Institution and all of its museums: Stop the Censorship. Late in November the Smithsonian’s head, G. Wayne Clough, did something unconscionable and shocking – he ordered the National [...]

NCAC censored!

Thursday, December 16th, 2010
Censorship incidents on the web are more and more common, but it’s still rare when they happen to an anti-censorship organization like the NCAC. Network Solutions, a company providing web services, has threatened to remove TheFileroom.org, an interactive archive of worldwide censorship cases administered by the National Coalition Against Censorship, unless a photograph of two [...]

Protest against Censorship at National Portrait Gallery

Thursday, December 16th, 2010
This is from an attendant at the protest organized by Transformer on Thursday, Dec. 2nd: The protest’s silence was very effective.  The rows standing mute along the entire width of north steps of the Portrait Gallery for about 25 minutes until the museum closed at 7:00 was eloquent and impactful in a way beyond the [...]

Production of to Kill a Mockingbird will go forward!

Thursday, December 16th, 2010
Victory: the Flagler Palm Coast High School production of Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD will be staged in the auditorium on February 24, 25, and 26 (two shows). It will be staged AS WRITTEN! The production was canceled last month by the school’s principal, who was concerned about the use of the word “nigger” [...]

David Wojnarowicz – censored once again

Thursday, December 16th, 2010
If David Wojnarowicz were alive to witness his video, Fire in the Belly, attacked by the Catholic League and removed from the National Portrait Gallery, he probably would not have been surprised. Wojnarowicz’s work received its share of controversy during the culture wars of 1989-90. His essay Postcards from America: X-rays From Hell caused National [...]

National Portrait Gallery Removes David Wojnarowicz Video from Exhibition

Thursday, December 16th, 2010
Yesterday (Nov 30th), in response to complaints from the Catholic League and several Republican representatives the National Portrait Gallery decided to remove Fire in My Belly, a video by multimedia artist David Wojnarowicz. The video was part of Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, an exhibition exploring issues of sexuality and specifically gay sexuality [...]

Free Speech Matters 2010 Benefit

Thursday, December 16th, 2010
The NCAC Free Speech Matters Benefit was a great success. Over 200 people came to the City Winery in downtown Manhattan to celebrate free speech and honor YA writer Lauren Myracle, school librarian Dee Ann Venuto, and YFEP 2009 Film Contest Winner Jordan Allen. All three work hard to promote free expression. Lauren Myracle is [...]