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January 10th, 2014

Freed from a UAE Prison, Shezanne Cassim Returns Home

Shezanne Cassim, the US citizen charged under the UAE's Cybercrime Act and sentenced to a year in prison, has returned home. According to a statement from the US Department of State, Cassim was released and deported after getting credit against his sentence for time served and for "good behavior."

Upon returning home to Minnesota, Cassim spoke out against the actions of the UAE's government: "Due to the political situation there, they're scared of democracy. They wanted to send a message to the UAE public, saying, 'Look what we'll do to people who do just a silly YouTube video, so imagine if you do something that's actually critical of the government.' It's a warning message, and we're scapegoats."

We are thrilled to hear that Shezanne Cassim is back with his family and doing well and we honor his courage in speaking out.

While Cassim is now free, his co-defendants remain behind bars. Furthermore, an Emirati human rights defender, Obaid Al-Zaabi, has been arrested after giving an interview to CNN in which he commented on Cassim's case. Al-Zaabi was previously detained for using his Twitter account to call for political reform and urge Emiratis to stand up to authorities. After his ...


January 10th, 2014

Victory: Prof Returns to Class after CU ‘Harassment’ Claim Fails

Here’s today’s press release:

BOULDER, Colo., January 10, 2014—The University of Colorado (CU) has backed down from last month’s cancellation of Professor Patti Adler’s popular and long-running “Deviance in U.S. Society” class after claiming that a lecture on prostitution that involved voluntary student participation could be seen as “harassing.” The rowback comes only days after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the National Coalition Against Censorship, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, and the Student Press Law Center issued a public statement to the university warning of the cancellation’s consequences for academic freedom. Adler will teach the course again this spring. 

“While we’re glad that Professor Adler will return to campus this spring, CU should never have attempted to force her out in the first place,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “This is yet another example of an institution misusing harassment policies to silence expression it finds inconvenient. After this embarrassment, CU must assure faculty and students that teaching and learning are CU’s primary concerns, not stripping the curriculum of any controversial matter in a misguided attempt to avoid liability.”

As the Boulder Daily Camera reported, “During a Nov. 5 lecture on prostitution, some ...

FIRE - The Torch

January 10th, 2014

Utah Art Center Gets $60k Settlement from City for Eviction, Censorship

After cries of censorship, an eviction and a lawsuit, The Central Utah Art Center (CUAC) will receive a $60,000 in a settlement with the city of Ephraim, it was announced Friday. The lawsuit was filed in early 2013 after the CUAC was evicted from the space they had inhabited for 20 years.

cuacThe city alleged the CUAC hadn’t fulfilled its promise to build community engagement programs; the CUAC said the eviction was censorship, retaliation for shows in 2011 and 2012 that investigated themes such as sexuality and gender identity. Art center Director Adam Bateman said he felt it was an identity issue: the contemporary works strayed from the norm for the town.

While the settlement is on its face a victory for the CUAC, some of the damage was already done. Though it found a new home in downtown Salt Lake City, the brouhaha caused the center to lose a year of grant applications for new exhibitions. So while Ephraim did not silence the Center for good, it did successfully force it out of the town. A new art center will soon move into the old CUAC building, presumably with walls full of tame, pastoral works.

Blogging Censorship

January 10th, 2014

February 11th: The Day We Fight Back Against NSA Surveillance

In January 2006, EFF filed our first lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of NSA mass surveillance.

In January 2012, the Internet rose up to protest and defeat SOPA, legislation that sought to censor the Internet in the name of copyright enforcement.

And in January of last year, we lost a dear friend and fierce digital rights advocate, Aaron Swartz. We vowed to defend the rights of Internet users everywhere in his memory.

Now we have a new challenge: ending mass surveillance by the NSA.

The Snowden revelations have provided us with disturbing details and confirmation of some of our worst fears about NSA spying. The NSA is undermining basic encryption standards, the very backbone of the Internet. It has collected the phone records of hundreds of millions of people not suspected of any crime. It has swept up the electronic communications of millions of people indiscriminately, exploiting the digital technologies we use to connect and inform.

But we aren’t going to let the NSA ruin the Internet. Inspired by the memory of Aaron, fueled by our victory against SOPA, EFF is joining forces with a coalition of liberty-defending organizations to fight back against NSA spying.

Today, on the eve ...


January 10th, 2014

What Makes a ‘Green Light’ Computer Use Policy?

FIRE has recently been examining some of the best “green light” university policies here on The Torch, including policies regarding harassment and civility. The policies discussed in those entries, maintained by Mississippi State University and North Carolina State University, respectively, are ideal examples for other schools to follow in crafting their own policy. Today, we examine computer and Internet usage policies. 

Many universities maintain broad restrictions on students’ ability to express themselves online and over email. Frequently, this occurs because computer use and network use policies are issued by university IT departments with little to no oversight from university administrators who may have a better understanding of the need to protect students’ free speech rights. Whatever the reason, the result is that these policies frequently prohibit wide swaths of constitutionally protected speech, such as “sexually, ethnically, racially, or religiously offensive messages,” any and all “rude” expression, and discussion of “religious or political causes.” Indeed, one need look no further than January’s Speech Code of the Month, a policy maintained by the University of West Alabama that bans “harsh text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, ...

FIRE - The Torch

January 10th, 2014

Mine, Not Thine: Somalia’s Al Shabaab Bans the Internet

Somali rebel group (and US-designated terrorist organization) Al Shabaab has reportedly banned the use of the Internet through mobile handsets and fiber optic cables throughout Somalia, giving telecommunications companies 15 days to comply with the order.

Connectivity in Somalia is low, but growing: Fiber optics were introduced to the country last year, and 22.5 percent of the population has a mobile phone subscription. However, only 1.38 percent of the country's population uses the Internet, according to a 2012 statistic from the International Telecommunications Union.

Ironically, Al Shabaab has made prolific use of the Internet, sparking debate last year after emerging on Twitter. While Sen. Joseph Lieberman called for the group to be banned from the platform, EFF stood up for their right to tweet. The group was allowed to stay on for awhile, but ultimately banned after tweeting in support of the Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi this past September that killed 72 and injured hundreds. They nevertheless appear to have reemerged on the platform.

An authoritarian group using the Internet to spread propaganda while barring their citizens from the same access is no new thing: Iran's leaders enjoy engaging on Twitter while the platform remains banned in ...


January 10th, 2014

Using Graphic Novels in Education: Squish

Welcome to Using Graphic Novels in Education, an ongoing feature from CBLDF that is designed to allay confusion around the content of graphic novels and to help parents and teachers raise readers. In this column, we examine graphic novels, including those that have been targeted by censors, and provide teaching and discussion suggestions for the use of such books in classrooms.


“Earth. Our planet hosts a rich diversity of life…from lush rain forests to dry deserts.
But underneath this world lies another one. A microscopic world.
This is the home of the amoeba…”
Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Squish (Random House), pp.7–9

So begins the adventures of the amoeba Squish and his friends, Pod and Peggy (an amoeba and a paramecium) in their microscopic world of Small Pond. In this column, we take a closer look at Squish, written by Jennifer and Matthew Holm, (Random House), providing teaching suggestions for the first four books in the series.

Squish1Squish is a comic book-loving, Twinkie-eating, blubbery, super-swell amoeba “kid” who wrestles with good and evil in life around him and learns about life’s responsibilities. He faces all sorts of challenges with his friends Pod, a nerdy, mooching amoeba who’s always ...

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

January 9th, 2014

Why is this artist’s work “too controversial” for an art center exhibition?


Paul Carter/The Register-Guard

As a dues-paying member of the Emerald Art Center in Springfield, OR, Linda Cunningham prepared a piece of work for the monthly members’ show. The “pastoral” works of other members were accepted without incident, but Cunningham’s three-dimensional piece was deemed “too controversial” and rejected by the executive board of the Art Center, according to The Register-Guard

The piece conveys Cunningham’s response to recent school shootings, in particular the tragic shooting in Newtown, CT in December 2012. It features Dick-and-Jane-type illustrations and wording in a frame filled with used ammunition casings.

Though her first reaction was dismissal of the board’s action, now Cunningham is speaking out against the action of the board: “This is just plain censorship. At first I got mad, and then I tried to laugh it off. Then I thought, ‘Wait, this is important to me — this is censorship of my art.’”

Naturally, representatives of the art center do not feel the decision constitutes censorship (hint: they never do), saying instead that the exhibit “tries to steer away from controversy.” Case in point, the rest of the art is tame: “Everything else in this show is much more mild — very pastoral,” said ...

Blogging Censorship

January 9th, 2014

Chicago State Tries to Censor Faculty Blog … Again

Last November, in a blatant attempt to censor faculty speech, Chicago State University’s (CSU’s) legal counsel sent a cease-and-desist letter to Professor Phillip Beverly, claiming that Beverly’s CSU Faculty Voice blog infringed on the school’s trademarks and created the false impression that the website reflected CSU’s views as an institution. We at FIRE shared the blog contributors’ views that the site, with its frank criticism of the school and its banner reading “Crony State University” and “Where we hire our friends,” was clearly not CSU’s institutional website. However, CSU renewed its objections last week in a second letter demanding that pictures of the campus and references to CSU be removed from the site.

Like CSU’s first letter, the second one does not pass the laugh test. Among CSU’s complaints are the allegation that the URL, csufacultyvoice.blogspot.com, was chosen to confuse readers into thinking that it was an official CSU site. Nevermind the fact that university websites have their own top-level domain suffix—.edu—distinct from the masses of blogspot.com web pages. Hilariously, the letter takes issue with the blog’s use of an image depicting some “widely recognized CSU hedges,” which CSU claims is part of the university’s “trade dress.” Trade dress—a ...

FIRE - The Torch

January 9th, 2014

Do Kansas Regents’ New Social Media Restrictions Threaten Accreditation?

Professor Susan Twombly, chairwoman of the University of Kansas’ (KU’s) Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, believes that the Kansas Board of Regents’ new social media restrictions on faculty threatened the accreditation of KU. Why? The Lawrence Journal-World (Kan.) reports:

Her concerns largely center on one of the criteria for accreditation through the HLC, which requires that the university be “committed to freedom of expression and the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning,” as stated in an HLC accreditation guide. Another component requires the university to establish and follow “fair and ethical policies for its governing board, administration, faculty and staff.”

For those not up on the lingo of higher ed accreditation, the HLC refers to the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. In the United States, universities (and even K–12 schools) are accredited by regional bodies that each cover several states, and the North Central Association is the one that covers Kansas. Virtually every college is accredited by a regional body (with some for-profit schools being exceptions). If your college is not accredited, the odds are very low that any other accredited college will accept a diploma or ...

FIRE - The Torch