May 25, 2004

FBI's "National Security Letters" Threaten Online Speech and Privacy

EFF Urges Court to Find USA PATRIOT Act Powers Unconstitutional

San Francisco -- The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) yesterday filed a friend-of-the court brief supporting the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a suit challenging the constitutionality of National Security Letters (NSLs). Authorized by the USA PATRIOT Act and issued directly by FBI agents without any court supervision and without a show of probable cause, the letters are used to demand detailed information about people's private Internet communications from ISPs, web mail providers, and other communications service providers. The people whose communications are searched are not notified, and every letter is accompanied by a gag order that prohibits the letter's recipient from ever revealing its existence.

"Before PATRIOT, the FBI could use National Security Letters only for securing the records of suspected terrorists or spies," said EFF Attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow Kevin Bankston. "Now the FBI can use them to get private records about anybody it thinks could be relevant to a terrorism or espionage investigation, without ever having to show probable cause to a judge."

In its brief, EFF argues that the portion of the PATRIOT Act authorizing these warrantless government demands is unconstitutional, violating both First Amendment free speech rights and the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. By allowing FBI agents to access the complete online history of innocent Americans without proper safeguards against abuse, PATRIOT threatens to chill free speech on the Internet and make it impossible for Internet users to share unpopular ideas or associate with controversial groups anonymously.

"Using National Security Letters, the FBI can see what websites you visit, what mailing lists you subscribe to, who you correspond with, and much more -- all without judicial oversight of any kind," Bankston explained. "Yet this unrestrained power to examine innocent citizens' First Amendment activities online is merely one of the unconstitutional surveillance authorities granted to the FBI by the PATRIOT Act."

A favorable judgment in the ACLU's case would prohibit the FBI from using the National Security Letters any further.

Co-signatories to the EFF brief include the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Online Policy Group, Salon Media Group's division the WELL, and the U.S. Internet Industry Association.

Download the brief.

Contact:

Kevin Bankston
Attorney, Equal Justice Works / Bruce J. Ennis Fellow
Electronic Frontier Foundation
bankston@eff.org
+1 415 436-9333 x126

Lee Tien
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
tien@eff.org
+1 415 436-9333 x102 (office), +1 510 501-8755 (cell)

Posted at 01:09 PM


May 18, 2004

EFF Argues That Californians Can Have Secure Voting by November

Amicus Brief and White Paper Support Shelley's Plan for Secure, Accessible E-Voting

San Francisco, CA -- EFF today filed an amicus brief in Benavidez v. Shelley (case number 2:04-cv-03318-FMC-PJW), a suit brought by Riverside County and several disability rights groups against California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley. The suit seeks to delay Shelley's order, issued April 30, that every California voter have the option to cast a paper ballot in the November presidential election. In its brief, EFF, joined by VerifiedVoting.org, the California Voter Foundation and VotersUnite!, argues that the court should deny this request. “There is substantial evidence supporting Shelley's decision,” said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. “A long list of incidents involving electronic voting machines in California and nationwide shows that Shelley's concerns about security are strongly justified.”

In addition, EFF argues that the suit sets up a false distinction between secure electronic voting machines and ones that provide access for the disabled to vote in privacy. Peter Benavidez, a partly blind man in Los Angeles, initiated the suit because he believed he wouldn't be able to vote without assistance if the state de-certified its electronic voting machines. But this isn't true. “There is technology available right now that would give the disabled access while not compromising security,” said Cohn. She added that there is additional evidence showing that many of the electronic machines already in use aren't more accessible in practice than ones that produce a paper trail.

The false distinction between accessibility and security in electronic voting machines is also the subject of an EFF white paper released today. “Accessibility and Auditability in Electronic Voting,” authored primarily by EFF Activism Coordinator Ren Bucholz, demonstrates that there are many already-existing technologies which would give California voters, including the disabled, a chance to leave a paper trail when they vote in November. Bucholz offers several ways for California counties to comply with Shelley's order, using currently existing technologies, while also remaining accessible.

“Opponents of Shelley's order imply that the push toward secure, verifiable elections must pull us away from accessible elections,” Bucholz said. “But accessible, federally-certified machines are available today and more are scheduled for release in the coming months.”

Contact:

Ren Bucholz
Activist
Electronic Frontier Foundation
ren@eff.org
+1 415 436-9333 x121 (office), +1 415 254-9945 (cell)

Cindy Cohn
Legal Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
cindy@eff.org
+1 415 436-9333 x108 (office), +1 415 307-2148 (cell)

Posted at 09:01 AM


May 13, 2004

Electronic Frontier Foundation Announces $50,000 Grant from The Parker Family Foundation

Donation to Support Patent-Busting Project

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the leading civil liberties organization working to defend freedom in the digital world, has received a $50,000 grant from The Parker Family Foundation of Lexington, Massachusetts, for EFF's Patent-Busting Project.

“We are concerned about the growing number of illegitimate software and Internet patents,” said Glenn Parker, trustee of The Parker Family Foundation. “By investing in EFF, we know that we will be helping to protect the rights of individuals, nonprofits and others that have legitimate noncommercial uses of software and Internet technology.”

EFF is disturbed by the way innovation is stymied by increasing demands for patents that are overly broad (for example, hyperlinks) or exceptionally trivial (such as patenting a piece of software based on adding a single line of code). As a result, technologies built upon prior invention can be tied up in litigation for years over patent disputes.

“We seek to attack these types of patents,” said Jason Schultz, EFF staff attorney and project leader. By doing so, we hope to clear the way for the public to enjoy the benefits of these technologies and help build the case for stronger reform to the patent system. These patents strip our right to use publicly available knowledge, disrupt ongoing research and innovation, and threaten to shut down important community-based projects.”

The patents will be challenged under a legal process called Re-exam, which allows third parties to advocate affirmatively for the invalidity of the patents.

"We'd like to thank The Parker Family Foundation for its generous contribution," added EFF Executive Director Shari Steele. "EFF would not be able to take on important projects like this without the kind support of our funders."

Contact:

Jason Schultz
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
jason@eff.org
+1 415 436-9333 x112

Shari Steele
Executive Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
ssteele@eff.org
+1 415 436-9333 x103

For more information on EFF's Patent-Busting Project, see: http://www.eff.org/Patent/

Posted at 05:31 PM


May 12, 2004

EFF at DMCA Reform Hearing

After Daylong Debate, the Future of H.R. 107 Looks Bright

Washington, D.C. - Today at 10:00 AM., the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Trade, Commerce and Consumer Protection held a hearing on H.R. 107, also known as the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act (DMCRA). Introduced by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) and Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA), the DMCRA aims to reform the DMCA and require the recording industry to label CDs containing technological barriers that restrict consumers' rights.

EFF staff attorney Fred von Lohmann attended the hearing and reported that news from the Capitol is promising. “As of today, DMCA reform has a very real chance of passing the U.S. Congress,” he said. “The biggest ray of hope came during a lunch session that took place during a recess in the testimony of the 13 witnesses. Rep. Barton announced that he intends to see the bill marked up, passed by the subcommittee, passed by the full committee, passed by the full House of Representatives, and ultimately signed into law by the President.”

Rep. Barton's statements aren't enough to assure the bill's success, but because he is Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, his support is crucial.

“Today was a good day for fair use, for consumers, and for our nation's tradition of balance in copyright law,” concluded von Lohmann. “Fortunately, despite the efforts of Hollywood lobbyists, the message that the DMCA is broken and needs fixing got through.”

This is the first time a DMCA reform bill has made it to the hearing stage. Its success is a testament to the efforts of the roughly 30,000 citizens who have used EFF’s Action Center to write to Congress to support the DMCRA, as well as the efforts of 321 Studios, which has hired lobbyists to explain the importance of fair use in the digital age.


Contact:

Fred von Lohmann
Senior Intellectual Property Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
fred@eff.org
+1 415 436-9333 x123 (office), +1 415 215-6087 (cell)

Posted at 04:49 PM

EFF is Invited to Attend WIPO Meeting on Broadcasting Treaty

The World Intellectual Property Organization of the United Nations (WIPO) has accredited EFF to attend and observe the 11th session of the WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights in Geneva on June 7-10, 2004.

The committee meeting will discuss the proposed Broadcasting Treaty, which would extend the scope and duration of rights of broadcasters, cablecasters, and possibly, webcasters. EFF is concerned that, as currently drafted, this treaty may frustrate the free flow of information, even if that information is in the public domain. EFF will be attending with a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the Consumer Project on Technology (CPTech), which aims to educate national delegates about the public interest concerns with the treaty's more problematic clauses.

"Big entertainment companies are present in force at these meetings, and it's high time that public-interest groups took a seat at the table to explore a range of balanced approaches," said Cory Doctorow, EFF European Affairs Director.

"We welcome the opportunity to participate in this important discussion and look forward to working together with the delegates in future meetings." added EFF staff attorney Gwen Hinze.

Posted at 11:13 AM


May 05, 2004

EFF Comments in FCC "Cognitive Radio" Proceeding

EFF this week filed comments (PDF) in the FCC's "Cognitive Radio" proceeding (ET Docket No. 03108) asking the Commission to answer empirically the question of what spectrum is actually in use (as opposed to simply allocated to a licensee), and to uphold its duty under the First Amendment by creating opportunities for flexible, software-defined radios to thrive on open hardware and in open systems.

"Radios built on PCs present unique enforcement challenges for the Commission," said Cory Doctorow, EFF's European Affairs Coordinator. "But retarding innovation in the hope that its enforcement tools will remain effective is the wrong way to meet these challenges. Instead, the Commission should assume
that our computers will be the basis of open, frequency-agile radios, then determine how best to address the problem of radios that harmfully interfere."

Posted at 10:58 AM