In our 729th issue:
The House of Representatives is about to vote on a bill that would force online platforms to censor their users. The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) might sound noble, but it would do nothing to stop sex traffickers. What it would do is force online platforms to police their users’ speech more forcefully than ever before, silencing legitimate voices in the process.
EFF has been opposed to a similar bill called the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). A new amendment is about to combine the worst elements of SESTA and FOSTA into a monster of a bill that would be a disaster for Internet intermediaries, marginalized communities, and even trafficking victims themselves.
If you don’t want Congress to undermine the online communities we all rely on, please take a moment to call your representative and urge them to oppose FOSTA.
With a broken heart, EFF Executive Director Cindy Cohn announced the passing of EFF Founder John Perry Barlow the morning of February 7th. Barlow was a visionary whose leadership allowed for the developments and proliferation of significant parts of the Internet we all know and love today.
Barlow saw the Internet as a fundamental place for freedom, amplifying voices and allowing each of us to connect with others regardless of physical distance.
We will continue to work toward the realization of John Perry Barlow’s mission of making the Internet into “a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth… a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.”
Law enforcement use of face recognition is increasing rapidly. Surveillance cameras boast real-time face scanning and identification capabilities; and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have access to hundreds of millions of images of law-abiding Americans.
As more agencies adopt body-worn cameras, many in the law enforcement community hope to use these tools to identify people in the dark, match a person to a police sketch, or even construct an image of a person’s face from a sample of their DNA.
In Face Off, EFF’s recently released report on law enforcement use of face recognition technology, Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch notes, “People should not have to worry that they may be falsely accused of a crime because an algorithm mistakenly matched their photo to a suspect. They shouldn’t have to worry that their data will end up in the hands of identity thieves because face recognition databases were breached. They shouldn’t have to fear that their every move will be tracked if face recognition is linked to the networks of surveillance cameras that blanket many cities.”
Legislation is needed to place meaningful checks on government use of face recognition, including rules limiting retention and sharing, requiring notification when face prints are collected, ensuring robust security procedures to prevent data breaches, and establishing legal processes governing when law enforcement may collect face images from the public without their knowledge.
In a campaign to reveal how much data law enforcement agencies have collected using automated license plate readers (ALPRs), EFF and Muckrock are filing approximately 1,000 public records requests with agencies that have deals with Vigilant Solutions, one of the nation’s largest vendors of ALPR surveillance technology and software services.
Thanks to the chilling effects of an obscure copyright law—Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act—there’s a whole catalog of devices that are missing from our world. It’s often hard to notice what isn’t there, but we’re aiming to fix that through a little design fiction we call “The Catalog of Missing Devices.”
Google launched a new version of its Chrome browser with what it calls an “ad filter,” which means that it sometimes blocks ads but is not an “ad blocker.” While the filter is intended to dissuade aggressive ad formats, the problem has other dimensions. Whether it’s the use of ads as a vector for malware, the consumption of mobile data plans by bloated ads, or the monitoring of user behavior through tracking technologies, users have a lot of reasons to take action and defend themselves. But these elements are ignored.
In a win for free expression, a court has dismissed a copyright lawsuit against Happy Mutants, LLC, the company behind acclaimed website Boing Boing. From the outset of this lawsuit, we have been puzzled as to why Playboy, once a staunch defender of the First Amendment, would attack a small news and commentary website. Although the decision allows Playboy to try again with a new complaint, it is still a good result for supporters of online journalism and sensible copyright.
A consortium of media and distribution companies calling itself “FairPlay Canada” is lobbying for Canada to implement a fast-track, extrajudicial website blocking regime in the name of preventing unlawful downloads of copyrighted works. The proposal would require service providers to “disappear” certain websites, endangering Internet security and sending a troubling message to the world: it’s okay to interfere with the Internet, even effectively blacklisting entire domains, as long as you do it in the name of IP enforcement.
Over the years, Egyptian journalist Wael Abbas has experienced censorship at the hands of Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, and Yahoo!; four of Silicon Valley’s top companies. Although more extreme, his story isn’t so different from that of the many individuals who find themselves unceremoniously removed from a social platform. Abbas was only able to have his suspensions overturned after contacting EFF. For every prominent journalist documenting injustice who manages to get through their filters, how many more have lost the fight against the censors before they had a chance to reach a wider public?
Instagram obeys the Russian government’s request to remove a video (with over 5 million views) posted by opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s anti-corruption group. (BBC)
The remaining two “Zone 9” bloggers who were critical of Ethiopia’s government have been released as part of a larger release of hundreds of prisoners. (Yahoo! News)
German court tells Facebook their “real names” policy violates the law. (The Verge)
Vendors promise the technology is going to solve all the public safety problems… it doesn’t. (CityLab)
When kids apply for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, they fully transfer the copyright for their submission to Scholastic—even if they don’t win—and often without realizing it. (boingboing)
Two worrisome findings from a Consumer Reports study of Smart TVs: You can limit data collection, but you’ll lose a lot of functionality, like streaming Netflix or Amazon. (Consumer Reports)
Our members make it possible for EFF to bring legal and technological expertise into crucial battles about online rights. Whether defending free speech online or challenging unconstitutional surveillance, your participation makes a difference. Every donation gives technology users who value freedom online a stronger voice and more formidable advocate.
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Editor: Nathan Sheard, Grassroots Advocacy Organizer
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The media has a crucial role to play in exposing how police are invading privacy through new technologies, and the alternative press has long been the standard bearers. At the 2018 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Digital Conference, EFF Investigative Researcher Dave Maass will provide an overview of surveillance tech and describe how news organizations such as the The Stranger, LA Weekly, and OC Weekly have shined light on mass surveillance through reporting and the courts.
Join our Executive Director, Cindy Cohn, as she and UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ take the stage for a discussion around Free Speech and the Corporation, on day two of Shift Forum. This 25 minute conversation will be moderated by Nellie Bowles, of The New York Times and allow for a Q&A immediately following. NewCo Shift Forum brings together innovators, corporate leaders, legislators and academics to tackle some of the toughest questions of our time, concerning the future of Democracy, food production and distribution, automation in the workplace, and the inability of policy to keep pace with technology.
EFF is seeking an intellectual property staff attorney to join our legal team in San Francisco. Responsibilities include litigation, public speaking, media outreach, and legislative and regulatory advocacy, all in connection with a variety of intellectual property and cutting-edge technology matters.