Richard Stallman gives a talk about "Free Software and education" in Marly-le-Roi, France (2012-06-27)
Richard Stallman gives a talk about "Free software, GNU and GCC" in Prague, Czeck Republic (2012-07-09)
Richard Stallman gives a talk about "The Free Software Movement and the GNU/Linux Operating System" in Leicester, UK (2012-06-23)
Let's start with the obvious: The patent system is broken. Inventors are shutting down their businesses, small developers are removing their products from the U.S. market to avoid bogus legal threats, and industry groups are warning members that obvious technological improvements might draw lawsuits.
Last year, Congress passed patent reform legislation; it didn’t help. The courts, too, have failed to pick up the slack. The result? A chill on innovation. American inventors—especially those who don’t often engage with the patent system until they’re facing a lawsuit—want to dedicate their resources to building the next great product or service, not fighting patent wars.
Now, here's the less obvious: We keep learning of more and more ways innovators can navigate the system and hack it to serve its original purpose. We’re particularly excited about the newest, the Defensive Patent License. Below we explain that and some other self-help options we’ve seen lately. Of course, some are better than others, but it’s fair to say that there’s an option for everyone.
The Defensive Patent License: Defensive patenting—acquiring patents to deter future litigation—is not a new idea. In fact, companies have been doing that for some time. Unfortunately, the practice has encouraged companies to seek patents for anything and everything, which—thanks to an overburdened Patent Office—has resulted in a generation of overbroad patents that, if the company folds, often end up in the hands of a patent troll.
The idea behind not-yet-operational Defensive Patent License (“DPL”) takes the good from defensive patenting (attempts to stem litigation) and removes the bad (the risk that patents obtained defensively will be used downstream by a troll). The license would work like this:
- DPL patent holders must offer a nonexclusive, royalty-free license for any patent they own to anyone who requests one, as long as the licensee agrees not to sue the licensor or any other member of the DPL community for patent infringement.
- The licensee must offer its patents under the DPL with the same conitions to anyone who requests one.
- The licenses remain in effect throught the patent's life, even if it is later sold.
- The licenses can only be revoked if an offensive patent suit is filed.
The DPL borrows heavily from the ethos surrounding the free and open source software community, honoring the important freedoms to operate and innovate openly. As such, it is those communities who will most likely use, and benefit from, the DPL.
The DPL represents an important answer to the fundamental problems with the patent system, but it’s not for everyone. For example, the DPL contemplates that a company will dedicate its entire patent portfolio to the license to avoid the problem of members only contributing their “junk” patents and holding on to their “crown jewels.” For various reasons, some companies may not be in a position to do that.
Luckily, the DPL is not the only self-help tool out there.
Twitter’s Innovator’s Patent Agreement: Earlier this year, Twitter announced its Innovator’s Patent Agreement (“IPA”), an important tool for companies looking to do right by their engineers. The IPA, currently up on GitHub for comments, is simple: if you assign your patent to Twitter, Twitter promises it won’t use that patent to sue anyone, except for defensive purposes.
Because the IPA doesn’t give any third party a license to the patents, it does not go quite as far as the DPL. Also, a party who adopts the IPA can chose to do so on a patent-by-patent basis. Importantly, however, the terms of the IPA will run with the patent, no matter to whom it gets sold. This means that if a patent ends up in the hands of a troll, that troll will be prohibited from using it offensively.
Open Source Licenses: The GNU General Public License (“GPL”), the most widely-used free software license, covers both copyright and patent rights. Its terms allow developers to use covered software for free, so long as those developers dedicate, free-of-charge, any changes or improvements to the public, also under GPL terms. The GPL is often cited as a crucial element in the successful rise of Linux.
Another important open source license that primarily protects Linux is the one at the heart of the Open Innovation Network ("OIN"). Founded by some of the largest Linux users, OIN allows any company to join the network, so long as it agrees to not use its patents offensively against Linux. By joining OIN, members get a license to the hundreds of patents OIN owns. As such, its mechanics are similar to the DPL, but its mission (and terms) are limited to Linux.
Other open source licenses, such as BSD licenses, the Apache License, and the Mozilla Public License, for example, cover various types of open source software. These licenses, each in its own way, ensure that important developments in open source software remain open. They do this job well, but unfortunately are limited to the software they specifically cover.
Private Companies: Private, for-profit companies also provide various ways to navigate the patent system. For example, RPX allows companies to buy into its large patent portfolio, which it promises to never use offensively against its customers. Moreover, RPX constantly grows its portfolio to cover its members’ particular needs.
Article One Partners offers a different service, providing a platform for the award of cash prizes to those who provide prior art that may be used to invalidate patents. Article One’s clients request research, which third parties provide. The third party who provides the highest quality research wins a $5,000 reward, and may form a relationship to further work with the Article One client. (Peer to Patent is Article One’s important non-profit analog.) This type of service streamlines the process of invalidating bad patents, something we’ve long supported.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg; other non-profit and for-profit organizations provide tools to help navigate a patent system gone awry, and we look forward to more joining the fray. None of these solutions is perfect, but each offers inventors of different sizes different ways to focus on innovating, and not fighting wasteful patent battles. The real solution is systemic: if software patents are here to stay, then the time to create a system that works for them is long overdue. EFF is working hard to make that happen. In the meantime, we encourage innovators to adopt one of these solutions that works best for them.Related Issues: Patents
The US Public Policy Council of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), representing ACM, came out against CISPA, the cybersecurity legislation recently passed by the US House. ACM is the world's largest organization for computer professionals. They are joining a diverse group of individuals and organizations opposing this bill, including a wide array of digital civil liberties organizations like EFF, computer scientists like Bruce Schneier and Tim Berners-Lee, and companies like the Mozilla Foundation.
CISPA is intended to protect America against cyberthreats, but destroys core privacy protections by providing vague definitions and unfettered access to personal communications by companies and government agencies. In one such example, ACM criticized the expansive definition for "cyberthreat information," which could "encompass everything from port scans to destruction of entire networks." We agree, and voiced identical concerns when CISPA was first released.
Vague definitions are accompanied by a vague standard for companies to make "reasonable efforts to limit the impact on privacy." Though the standard is well intended, ACM correctly identifies that the vague standard "fails to invoke any framework, standards, oversight, or controls to be used" for personal information. They also conclude that the bill creates "no meaningful support for collection minimization" and shares information that "could have nothing to do with cybersecurity"—problems that we have consistently highlighted in our commentary on CISPA. These large gaps in privacy protections highlight some of the core shortfalls we have voiced about CISPA.
Digital civil liberties groups, companies, and computer researchers are glad ACM joined the opposition to CISPA. The upcoming bills in the Senate share many similarities to CISPA and must be stopped. This is the reason why we vow to take the fight to the Senate, ask you to sign our petition against the Cyberspying Bills, and tweet your Congressmen.
Related Issues: PrivacyCyber Security Legislation | CISPA, SECURE IT, Cybersecurity ActFiles: USACMCISPAStatement.pdf
Earlier this week, an Access2Research petition supporting open access — specifically free access over the Internet to academic articles arising from taxpayer-funder research — crossed its target of 25,000 signatures, two weeks ahead of schedule.1 The Obama administration has promised to respond to petitions that pass that threshold, so the issue of access to research should be firmly on the White House agenda.
As well it should be. The open access movement, which began well over a decade ago, is garnering more and more attention lately. Earlier this year, we saw the resounding defeat of the misguided Research Works Act, which would have severely restricted the amount of research that could be released under open access conditions. A group of researchers launched the "Cost of Knowledge" campaign responding to the proposal, and allowed other academics to publicly boycott the bill’s primary supporter, the publishing behemoth Elsevier. In response to that boycott and other pressure, Elsevier withdrew its support for the Research Works Act in February, effectively killing the bill.
Of course, open access has long had the support of many scholars and major universities. For example, Harvard is among a large and growing group of schools that requires open access as a matter of policy. And earlier this year, the Harvard Faculty Advisory Council went a step further, issuing a memo that said "major periodical subscriptions cannot be sustained," and urging all faculty to submit their work to specifically open access journals. That memo was a wakeup call: if even Harvard was worried about the cost of academic journals, imagine the impact that cost must be having on institutions that don't have access to the same level of resources.
But now non-academics are paying attention, too, as the 25,000 signatures on the Access2Research petition attest. That support may reflect increased attention to issues related to copyright since January's blackout protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). Traditional journals insist that scholars sign over the copyright to their work, and then leverage those rights to charge institutions and taxpayers exorbitant fees for subscriptions or single articles — even though these are the same institutions and and taxpayers who supported the original research. By contrast, open access journals allow any users to "read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of their articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself."
Support for open access then, like opposition to bills like SOPA and PIPA, is a common-sense position that has traditionally been hampered by a concentrated lobby in Washington working against the diffuse public interest. Online activism campaigns are helping to focus and target that diffuse interest to make real change. What is more, we're moving from reacting to bad proposals toward promoting a positive copyright agenda. Open access should be central piece of that platform.
The fight for that positive agenda is far from over, but it’s exciting to see so many joining in. In a post responding to the 25,000th signature, Cameron Neylon of PLoS summed it up nicely:
We now know how much we can achieve when we work together with a shared goal. The challenge now is to harness that to a shared understanding of the direction of travel, if perhaps not the precise route. But if we, with all the diversity of needs and views that this movement contains, we can find the core of goals that we all agree on, then what we now know is that we have the capacity, the depth, and the strength to achieve them.
- 1. The petition is still open for new signatures, in case you haven't signed and wish to.
Worried about the Lieberman-Collins Cybersecurity Act? You should be. As we've explained before, it poses serious threats to online rights. Here's a one-page handout you can use as a reference. It's great for sharing with friends, handing to Senate staffers, publishing online, or using as talking points when explaining the issue to someone for the first time. Download it here and please spread it around!
The Cybersecurity Act (S. 2105) Threatens Online Rights
The Cybersecurity Act (S. 2105), sponsored by Sen. Lieberman and Sen. Collins, compromises core American civil liberties in the name of detecting and thwarting network attacks. While Internet security is of the utmost importance, safeguarding our networks need not come at the expense of our online freedoms. That’s why civil liberties groups, security experts, and Internet users oppose this bill.
The Cybersecurity Act is fundamentally flawed and dangerous for online rights:
- The bill uses dangerously vague language to define "cybersecurity threat indicators" (information that companies can share with the government), leaving the door open to abuse (intentional or accidental) in which companies share protected user information with the government without a judge ever getting involved.
- Data collected under the Cybersecurity Act can be shared with law enforcement for non-cybersecurity purposes if it “appears to relate to a crime” either past, present, or near future. This is overbroad and contrary to the spirit of our Constitution. Senator Wyden, talking about a similar provision in CISPA, noted “They would allow law enforcement to look for evidence of future crimes, opening the door to a dystopian world where law enforcement evaluates your Internet activity for the potential that you might commit a crime.” The CSA suffers the same "future crime" flaw.
- If companies overstep their authority, violating the privacy of Internet users for non-cybersecurity purposes or oversharing sensitive data with the government, it will be very difficult for individuals to hold these companies accountable by taking them to court. The bill puts incredibly high burdens on the plaintiff in such a case to prove that a company was not monitoring for the purpose of detecting cybersecurity threats and did not have a "good faith" belief that they were allowed to do it (whether they are right or wrong); or that they "knowingly" and "willfully" violated the restrictions of the law. Furthermore, the bill allows companies to bypass much of preexisting law designed to limit company disclosure of private communications – bedrock privacy law like the Wiretap Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
- The Cybersecurity Act would allow sensitive private communications to flow to the NSA, a U.S. military agency — contrary to a long held value that military agencies should not be engaged in collecting data on American citizens.
- This bill has been criticized by open government groups who rightly point out that the bill creates new exemptions to FOIA—making it that much harder for people to understand how much and what kind of data is being shared with the government and ensure that the government and companies do not abuse this authority.
There is much our country can and should do to safeguard our networks, but sacrificing the civil liberties of Internet users is neither desirable nor necessary for that goal. As a constituent and an Internet user concerned about my online rights, I urge my Senator to support privacy protective amendments and oppose the Cybersecurity Act.
Related Issues: PrivacyCyber Security Legislation | CISPA, SECURE IT, Cybersecurity ActFiles: cybersecurity-act-handout.pdf
In an important ruling for free speech, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit today affirmed that a parody of a popular online video called "What What (In the Butt)" (NSFW, unless you happen to work at EFF!) was a clear case of fair use and that the district court's early dismissal of the case was correct.
South Park aired the "What What" parody in a 2008 episode critiquing the popularity of absurd online videos. Two years later, copyright owner Brownmark Films sued Viacom and Comedy Central, alleging copyright infringement. Recognizing the episode was an obvious fair use, a federal judge promptly dismissed the case. Brownmark appealed, claiming that fair use cannot be decided on a motion to dismiss, no matter how obvious. Viacom fought back, and EFF filed an amicus brief in support, explaining that being able to dismiss a case early in litigation—before legal costs can really add up—is crucial to protect free speech and discourage frivolous litigation.
The appeals court agreed, calling the district court’s decision “well-reasoned and delightful”:
We hold that the district court could properly decide fair use on [an early motion] . . . Despite Brownmark’s assertions to the contrary, the only two pieces of evidence needed to decide the question of fair use in this case are the original version of WWITB and the episode at issue.
The opinion joins a growing body of precedent affirming that it's proper to dismiss some copyright cases early, and that it's possible in appropriate cases to determine whether a use is noninfringing without engaging in lengthy discovery. These rulings are important not only to protect speech, but also in fighting back against copyright trolls. Trolls depend on the threat of legal costs to encourage people to settle cases even though they might have legitimate defenses. Citing EFF’s brief, Seventh Circuit acknowledged the problem:
[I]nfringement suits are often baseless shakedowns. Ruinous discovery heightens the incentive to settle rather than defend these frivolous suits.
Exactly. We’re pleased to see another court strike a blow in favor of free speech and explicitly recognize the growing problem of abusive copyright claims. Let’s hope future courts follow suit.Related Issues: Free SpeechIntellectual PropertyCopyright TrollsFiles: Brownmark v. Comedy Appeals Court Ruling
Once again, the federal government is trying its hardest to prevent the courts from determining whether it has broken (or is still breaking) the law through the NSA’s wiretapping program.
For nearly four years, the Obama Administration has followed in the Bush administration’s footsteps, invoking national security and a variety of procedural hurdles to shield itself from accountability in courts. In three separate lawsuits that have been churning in the federal courts, the government has used a menu of dodges to block the courts from considering the key underlying question — have they been breaking the law and violating the constitution by warrantlessly surveilling American citizens — over and over again.
And now the Obama Administration wants Congress to extend the broader surveillance powers passed by Congress in 2008.
Al-Haramain v. Obama
The latest example occurred last Friday, in a hearing before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, CA during a government appeal of the long running case al-Haramain v. Obama. In 2009, a federal court awarded the two plaintiffs—American lawyers who represented the now defunct Islamic charity, al-Haramain—$20,000 each and $2.5 million in legal fees, in what remains the only warrantless wiretapping case decided on the merits.
The plaintiffs in al-Haramain originally filed suit when the government accidentally provided them with a classified document that showed they had been subject to warrantless surveillance. Despite the government convincing the court to declare the document a “state secret” and exclude it from evidence, Judge Walker granted judgment in favor of al-Haramain based solely on publicly available evidence.
Yet on appeal, as Wired’s David Kravets reported, DOJ claims the court should dismiss the case outright because the government is immune from being sued for breaching the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act under a concept known as “sovereign immunity.” Sovereign immunity generally prevents the federal government from being sued unless an act of Congress authorizes it. Through it's a complex, technical argument, the government is essentially asserting the only way to hold anyone accountable for future illegal national security wiretapping is to sue them in their individual capacities (and apparently requiring them to pay any damages out of their own pocket). Given that the FISA was written in the midst of the uproar over rampant official government surveillance, this outcome would be outrageous.
And even assuming the government wins on its argument, would it then let the case go forward against FBI Director Robert Mueller, the one federal official named in his individual capacity? No way. After a question from one judge, the government admitted to the Court that it would then invoke the “state secrets” privilege to stop even that case and also raised the specter of other immunities that would then apply to protect the individual defendants. The Justice Department essentially told the Court, “heads we win, tails they lose.”
The fact remains that the district court sided with plaintiffs – holding that FISA waives sovereign immunity, has national security protective procedures that overwrite the state secret privilege here, and that plaintiffs had established a case, based purely on publicly available evidence, to satisfy their burden. We hope the 9th Circuit agrees.
Jewel v. NSA and Hepting v. AT&T
The state secrets privilege is also the first legal maneuver the government will likely try to use to prevent EFF’s own lawsuit against the government over warrantless wiretapping, Jewel v. NSA. In Jewel, based on evidence given to EFF by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein, Congressional admissions, and countless media investigations, EFF has argued the NSA violated federal surveillance laws and the Constitution by acquiring untold numbers of Americans’ emails, phone calls, and communications records.
After a recent procedural victory at the 9th Circuit revived the case, Jewel is back before a federal district judge in San Francisco. However, in proceedings over the next few months, the government will likely try to again wall itself off from accountability by asserting that the state secrets privilege requires the case to be dismissed without a determination of whether the government’s actions are legal. Yet, in passing FISA, Congress expressly created a secure process by which the legality of surveillance must be determined by a court. We expect the next round of the fight will be, as previous ones were, a set of arguments by the government about why, despite that carefully considered (and never amended) process, the case should still be dismissed immediately regardless of whether the government is actually illegally surveiling millions of Americans.
Separately, in March, EFF filed a petition asking the Supreme Court (pdf) to hear Hepting v. AT&T – EFF’s lawsuit against AT&T for their role in the government’s warrantless surveillance program, where the companies and the Executive branch strong-armed Congress into granting the President the right to dismiss cases against the telecom companies. The government has asked for several extensions to reply to EFF’s petition, but the Supreme Court will likely decide whether or not it will hear the case by this Fall.
Amnesty International v. Clapper
The ACLU is also challenging the legality of the FISA Amendments Act – the 2008 law which broadly expanded the government’s spying powers – in a separate suit, Amnesty International v. Clapper. Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court agreed to hear that case after the government appealled an appeals court decision ruling in the ACLU's favor.
The government has argued that the case should be dismissed completely on yet another procedural argument. It claims that because plaintiffs—a group of lawyers, journalists and human rights activists who reasonably expect their emails are being unconstitutionally monitored—don’t have “standing.” Like the government’s sovereign immunity argument in al-Haramain, the government is using a catch-22 argument in Amnesty: they say that plaintiffs have to prove they’re being monitored under the program for the suit even to begin, but, simultaneously, the only way they can prove this is if the government intentionally admits that it is surveilling them. Since the government refusing to admit or deny the surveillance, plaintiffs cannot have standing to decide whether the surveillance is legal or, more importantly, to stop it.
Despite the government’s arguments, the Second Circuit held that plaintiffs had established standing to sue based on their reasonable belief that they are being surveilled and the chilling affect that this illegal surveillance has on their communications. We hope the Supreme Court agrees.
President Obama and FISA Amendments Act Renewal
What makes the administration’s stances in these cases particularly heartbreaking is that Senator and then candidate Obama was a vocal critic of warrantless wiretapping, yet once in office has chosen to reverse himself on all counts. Even before he was elected, he reneged on his promise to filibuster telecom immunity in the FISA Amendments Act in the midst of a presidential race. As a candidate, he also promised to curtail the use of the “state secret” privilege, only to turn around and claim it in all of the wiretapping cases —along with many other lawsuits alleging constitutional violations.
All this serves as a backdrop to the current debate about whether portions of the FISA Amendments Act should be renewed by Congress when it expires at the end of the year. As we reported, a House Judiciary Committee recently held a hearing on the subject, where witnesses and members of Congress alike pointed to the fact that the law appears to allow for dragnet surveillance of Americans’ phone calls and emails without a warrant, something that has never been held to be constitutional by any court.
Unfortunately, Obama, who once insisted he would reform the law in the name of civil liberties as president—even after voting for it—has gone back on that promise as well. Renewing the Act with no changes is now his administration’s “top priority,” even as he continues his aggressive resistance to any judicial review.
It will be EFF’s top priority to oppose it.Related Issues: NSA Spying
This Week in Internet Censorship: Tiananmen Square Censorship, Libya's Article 37, Malaysia's Backslide, Kuwaiti Repression, and a Hunger Strike in Tunisia
Chinese social media outlets expanded their lists of censored words in anticipation of the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests. On June 4, the date of the anniversary, Twitter-clone Weibo went so far as to block searches of the characters for “today” (??) and “tomorrow” (??). Weibo also removed its candle emoticon and blocked searches for the character for candle (?) to prevent references to the annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park. After users questioned the disappearance, Weibo’s parent company Sina announced that the icon was being “optimized” and replaced the emoticon with an Olympic torch.
Weibo also blocked all forms of the numbers eight, nine, six, and four, which resulted in accidental censorship of reports about the Shanghai Stock Exchange when the market index fell 64.89 points.
In the same week, Google added a search feature warning Chinese users when their terms are likely to produce blocked results. Searching a prohibited term in China will not only produce an official error message, but will also cut users’ connection to Google for a couple of minutes. Senior vice president Alan Eustace wrote, “By prompting people to revise their queries, we hope to reduce these disruptions and improve our user experience from mainland China." Chinese state censors do not normally disclose which terms are censored at any given time.Libya: Anti-Sedition Laws Under Constitutional Review
Libya’s Supreme Court will review the constitutionality of Article 37, a series of laws which criminalize speech glorifying Gaddafi, insulting the revolution and Islam, or weakening the morale of Libyan citizens by questioning the country’s “people, slogan, or flag.” The National Transition Council passed these laws on May 2, prompting outrage from many Libyan legal experts and civil society organizations. Violations of Article 37 carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Libya’s new deputy culture minister Atia Lawgali has called the law “a joke” and “a sign of weakness from the NTC.”
Article 37 clearly flies in the face of Libya’s transition towards democracy and the goals of the popular revolution. “When I looked at Article 37 I was pleased with the reaction… there was total agreement that this law is a disaster,” said Lawgali. The government defends that Article 37 is necessary to “re-establish the state” as Libya transitions towards elections this month, and that there will be little need for such laws afterwards.Malaysia: Officials Backpedal on Promise of a Censorship-Free Internet
Malaysia’s commitment to freedom of expression on the Internet faces new challenges from government officials, past and present. Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has publically called for new online content regulations, saying: “When I said there should be no censorship of the Internet, I really did not realize the power of the Internet to create problems and agitate people.”
Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim has echoed the former Prime Minister’s sentiments suggesting that bloggers and website-owners should regulate themselves so that only “facts” are posted online, and suggested that content should be of a “society-building nature” and not contain libel. The government has already amended the law so that Internet intermediaries are legally accountable for all seditious or libelous content that third parties may upload, so websites are already likely to discourage and delete politically or religiously sensitive material. Malaysia’s Internet has no national content filters at this time, though the government has tried to install them twice. Vigorous protest from Malaysian Internet users on both efforts forced the government to back down.Kuwait Hands Down Ten Year Sentence for Twitter Criticism
In the small Gulf country of Kuwait a young man, Hamad al-Naqi, has just been handed a ten-year sentence for criticizing the kings of neighboring Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and allegedly "insulting" the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter. According to Human Rights Watch, Kuwait’s Court of First Instance sentenced Hamad al-Naqi, 26, on those charges on June 5, 2012.
Article 15 of Kuwait's National Security Law sets a minimum sentence of three years for spreading statements or rumors that "harm the national interests of the state" while Article 111 of the Penal Code prohibits mocking religion.
Al-Naqi's sentencing is just one instance in a series of repressive events the country has seen this year. In June, the Emir of Kuwait rejected parliamentary legislation that would have authorized the use of capital punishment or life imprisonment for anyone mocking "God, the prophets and messengers, or the honor of his messengers and wives." The veto can still be overriden by a two-thirds majority of members of parliament and cabinet ministers.
As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Kuwait must protect the rights of freedom of expression. EFF joins Human Rights Watch in condemning Kuwait's increasing repression of speech.Tunisia: Citizen Journalists Continue Hunger Strike
Tunisian citizen journalist Ramzi Bettaieb has been on a hunger strike since May 28 to defend press freedom in the country after last year’s revolution. Bettaieb, who writes for the activist blog Nawaat, said that soldiers confiscated his cameras when he tried to film the trial of ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and others who were involved in violently suppressing anti-regime protests in the towns of Thala and Kasserine. The army prohibited reporters from shooting more than three minutes of video footage during the trial.
Nawaat, which was blocked in Tunisia until January last year, was instrumental in channeling popular opposition to the Ben Ali regime and covering the protests that culminated in his removal. Bettaieb’s hunger strike is partly in order to show the world that the political revolution is not yet complete. He protests the new government’s lack of transparency in holding these important trials through a military tribunal rather than through public court or an independent commission. Bettaieb stated, “I demand that all cases be withdrawn from the military court. It is not independent, and is under constant pressure and threat… it is in conflict with the Ministry of Interior or at least with whatever corrupt body still lingers there.” Five other bloggers have joined Bettaieb’s hunger strike, and he also commands wide support from other regional journalists.Related Issues: Free SpeechBloggers Under FireInternational
DNA is the most intimate and revealing part of the human body, with the potential to reveal a person -- and their family's -- medical history and predisposition to disease. Because it's so sensitive, we've filed an amicus brief (PDF) in the California Supreme Court urging it to rule that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the warrantless collection of DNA from individuals presumed innocent who are not yet convicted of a crime.
Over the last few years, the federal government has been building up a massive DNA database called CODIS that stores DNA samples collected by local, state, and federal law enforcement officials investigating crimes. While CODIS was initially concerned only with the collection of DNA of convicted felons, the government is quickly expanding its reach to cover two more populations: individuals entering the immigration system, and arrestees. There are now over 10 million DNA samples in CODIS from all over the country, and 17% of them are from California.
We recently published a white paper explaining in detail biometric collection in the immigration system. And we've repeatedly warned courts across the country in numerous amicus briefs that the government's warrantless collection of DNA from arrestees -- individuals who have not yet been convicted of a crime -- is unconstitutional. While federal courts have upheld the practice, last summer the California Court of Appeal ruled in People v. Buza (PDF) that California's warrantless DNA collection, and the placing of the samples into CODIS, is unconstitutional. And earlier this year, the Maryland Court of Appeal found in King v. State (PDF) most warrantless arrestee DNA collection unconstitutional.
With the Buza decision now on review to the California Supreme Court, our amicus brief urges the affirmance of the lower court's decision. We note that advances in technology have made DNA collection cheaper, and thus easier and more widespread. And while the Fourth Amendment acknowledges that privacy rights of individuals convicted of a crime are diminished, expanding warrantless DNA collection to individuals merely arrested for a crime -- along with individuals in the immigration system who have no criminal record -- are steps on a course towards a future where everyone's DNA is collected and maintained by the government, whether they were ever suspected of anything at all.
We're optimistic that with the decisions in Buza and King, courts are beginning to fully grasp the ability of technology to shrink privacy -- and see that DNA collection should be narrowed, not expanded.Related Issues: BiometricsSearch Incident to ArrestFiles: EFF Amicus Brief in Support of Buza
A lot of people interested in free software, and user autonomy and network services are very worried about Facebook. Folks are worried for the same reason that so many investors are interested: the networks effects brought by hundreds of millions of folks signed up to use the service.
Network effects -- the concept that a good or service increases in value as more people use it -- are not a new problem for free software. Software developers target Microsoft Windows because that is where the large majority of users are. Users with no love for Microsoft and who are otherwise sympathetic to free software use Windows because programs they need will only run there.
Folks worried about Facebook are afraid for similar reasons. Sure, you can close down your Facebook account and move to Diaspora. But who will you talk to there? You can already hear people complaining about Facebook the same way they've been complaining about Windows or Office for years. People feel that their hands are tied and that their software, and their social network, will be determined by what everybody is doing.
I'm worried about Facebook. But I'm not too intimidated by Facebook's network effects for two reasons.
First, using Facebook doesn't preclude using anything else.
Twitter has enormous overlapping functionality with Facebook. Sure, people use the systems very differently. But they both ask you to create lists of friends and followers and are designed around sending and receiving short status messages. Millions of people do both and both systems are thriving. For the millions of people who use both Facebook and Twitter, the two services have had to negotiate their marginal utility in a world they share with the other one. People decide that Twitter is for certain types of short messages and Facebook is for others. But these arrangements shift over time.
And the relationships between services aren't always peaceful coexistence. Remember Friendster? Remember Orkut? Remember Tribe? Remember MySpace? MySpace, and all the others, are great examples of how social networks die. They very slowly fade away. MySpace users signed up for Facebook accounts and used both. They almost never just switched. Over time, as one platform became more attractive than the other, for many complicated reasons, attention and activity shifted. People logged in on MySpace less and Facebook more and, eventually, realized they were effectively no longer MySpace users. Anyone that has been on the Internet long enough to watch a few of these shifts from one platform to another knows that they're not abrupt -- even if they can be set in motion by a particular event or action. Users of social networking sites simply don't have to choose in the way that a person choosing to boot Windows and GNU/Linux does.
I'm sure the vast majority of people with Diaspora accounts use Facebook actively. This is not a problem for Diaspora. It is how Diaspora -- or whatever else eventually achieves what many of us hoped Diaspora would -- could win.
Second, Facebook is for the ephemeral.
Facebook is primarily used for information that was produced very recently. This week if not today. If not this hour. Facebook has an enormous amount of data that users have fed it that may be hard to get out and move somewhere else. But most people don't care very much about having any regular access to the large majority of this information. What people care deeply about is having access to the data that they and their friends created today. And that data can just as easily be created somewhere else tomorrow. Or, with the right tools, created just as easily in both places.
Compare this to something like Windows where moving away would require learning, converting, and perhaps even writing, new software. Perhaps even in new programming languages that most developers don't know yet. Compared to Windows, a migration away from Facebook will be easy.
Facebook's photo galleries are an example of an important place where this holds less well. Social network information -- i.e., the list of who is friends with who -- is another example of something that is persistently valuable. That said, people really enjoy the act of finding and friending. Indeed, this process was part of the initial draw of Facebook and other social networks.
None of this means that Facebook is over. It doesn't even mean that its ascendancy will be slowed. What it does mean is that Facebook is vulnerable to the next thing more than many technology firms that have benefited from network effects in the past. If users are given compelling reasons to switch to something else, they can with less trouble and they will.
That compelling reason might be a new social network with better features or an awesome distributed architecture that allows freedom for users and the ability of those users to benefit from new and fantastic things that Facebook's overseers would never let them have and without the things Facebook's users suffer through today. Or it might be a sexier proprietary box to store users' private information. It doesn't mean that I'm not worried about Facebook. I remain deeply worried. It's just not very hard for me to imagine the end.