Oct 172009
 
 October 17, 2009  Business, Court, Featured News, Govt, Surveillance, U.S. Comments Off

Richard Esguerra of EFF updates us as to developments over the past 48 hours:

This evening (October 15), the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice filed yet another emergency motion with the Ninth Circuit, asking for a stay of the deadline to release telecom immunity lobbying documents, less than 24 hours before the documents are due to be released to the public.

Almost simultaneously, a report appeared on Politico.com, claiming that the government will be releasing some documents, while fighting in court to hide the remainder. Despite this report, the government’s motion seeks to delay disclosure of all the documents, and no new documents have been released just yet.

For those following this saga, this is deja vu all over again. Last week, when the documents were due to be turned over by Friday, October 9, the government asked the Court of Appeals for a stay, a motion that was denied by the Ninth Circuit in short order. Later that same afternoon, the government asked Federal District Court Judge Jeffrey White for an additional delay, a request that Judge White ultimately denied, giving the government a new deadline of Friday, October 16, by 4 p.m. Pacific time.

This has been a long fight — since 2007, EFF has been working towards the release of these records after media reports revealed an extensive lobbying campaign seeking immunity for telecoms that participated in the government’s unlawful surveillance program. As we’ve said before, we look forward to receiving the documents and making them public so that they can play a much-needed role in the active congressional debate over repealing telecom immunity.

UPDATED October 16, 3:15pm: Friday morning, EFF filed opposition to the government’s motion. The government then filed a reply.

3:50pm: In order to give itself more time to decide whether to grant the requested stay, the Ninth Circuit Court has extended the deadline for disclosure of documents another week, until 5pm PT on Friday October 23.

Read more on EFF, Related Cases: FOIA: Telecom Lobbying Records

To which I say: Enough already! The role of the telecoms and any deals cut is a matter of public concern. This administration, despite its rhetoric on transparency, is following in its predecessors footsteps by trying to keep the public in the dark on vital issues such as the telecoms and torture of detainees. It’s time for the courts to end the secrecy. And shame on Congress for approving legislation that would pre-empt the Freedom of Information Act.

Oct 072009
 
 October 7, 2009  Business, Court, Online Comments Off

Cindy Cohn of EFF writes:

Today EFF along with the ACLU and the privacy authors and publishers they represent, the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries and the Association of College and Research Libraries, CDT, EPIC, SFLC, Professor James Grimmelman sent a joint letter to Google urging it to include privacy protections along with its reconsidered Google Book Search Settlement.

The Court considering the Google Book Search case granted the parties more time to renegotiate the settlement. The Court had received approximately 435 submissions about the settlement by both class members and amici. The American Library Association did a helpful analysis that estimates that 390 of the submissions object to the settlement and another 8 submissions support the settlement but with significant reservations. Shortly thereafter, the Department of Justice weighed in with serious reservations as well, leading the plaintiffs to seek the extension. The Court will still meet with the parties for a status conference on October 7.

Read more on EFF.

Sep 242009
 
 September 24, 2009  Court, Featured News, Govt, Laws, Surveillance, U.S. Comments Off

In a clear victory for transparency, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White today ordered the government to release more records about the lobbying campaign to provide immunity to the telecommunications firms that participated in the National Security Agency (NSA)’s warrantless surveillance program. The government has been ordered to provide the records to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) by October 9, 2009.

EFF’s freedom of information request is part of their long-running battle to gather information about telecommunications lobbying conducted as Congress considered granting immunity to companies that participated in illegal government electronic surveillance. Immunity was eventually passed as part of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) of 2008, but a bill that would repeal the immunity — called the JUSTICE Act — was introduced in the Senate last week.

“Today’s ruling is a major victory for government transparency,” said EFF Staff Attorney Marica Hofmann. “As
the court recognized, it was unlawful for the government to deny Americans access to this information in the midst of the debate over telecom immunity last year. We’re pleased these records will now be available to the public as Congress considers the JUSTICE Act.”

Officials in the Bush Administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) and Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) were vocal supporters of the immunity proposals, and had denied EFF’s request for records, claiming that the records were protected by FOIA exemptions covering agency deliberations and other privileged communications. But in today’s order, the judge ruled that because the communications were with Congress and lobbyists, the exemptions did not apply. The judge also found that the identities of telecom representatives who lobbied for immunity could not be kept from the public on privacy grounds.

“Today’s ruling shows that aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act is necessary to challenge government secrecy,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. “We cannot allow the government to drag its feet in making relevant information available to the American public.”

EFF also represents the plaintiffs in Hepting v. AT&T, a class-action lawsuit brought by AT&T customers accusing the telecom of violating their rights by illegally assisting in widespread domestic surveillance. In June of 2009, a federal judge dismissed Hepting and dozens of other lawsuits against telecoms, ruling that the companies had immunity from liability under the FAA. EFF is appealing the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, primarily arguing that the FAA’s immunity provision is unconstitutional in granting the president broad discretion to block the courts from considering the core constitutional privacy claims of millions of Americans.

For the full order:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/foia_C0705278/OrderGrantSJ-Sep09.pdf

For more on the litigation:
http://www.eff.org/issues/foia/cases/C-07-05278

Sep 052009
 
 September 5, 2009  Business, Court, Featured News, Online Comments Off

Cindy Cohn of EFF has a commentary on Google’s new privacy policy for Google Books that suggests that the new policy is better, but not sufficient. Cohen writes:

Late yesterday afternoon, September 3, 2009, Google finally issued a privacy policy for Google Books, both the current service and the extensive new book-related services they hope to have a federal court approve in October.

While there are some good things in the policy — many that EFF and its coalition partners the ACLU of Northern California and the Samuelson Clinic at Berkeley Law School have long been urging Google to do — it is still falls well short of the privacy protections that readers need, both substantively and in whether it will be permanent and readily enforceable by readers. Our coalition on behalf of authors and publishers seeking to protect reader privacy will still be filing an Objection to the Settlement in Court on Tuesday, September 8.

First, and most importantly, the privacy policy fails to address our core concerns about the standards for disclosure of reading habits to the government and private litigants.

[…]

Second, the privacy policy is procedurally insufficient to protect readers and authors who depend on reader privacy. While a privacy policy could be written to create enforceable promises, Google has issued a “website business as usual” privacy policy. Those policies can be changed at any time and may be unenforceable by readers whose privacy has been violated.

[…]

Third, Google also failed to include many other items in the list of privacy demands we published in July…

[…]

Read the full EFF analysis and commentary  here.

In related developments, Ryan Singel of Epicenter reports that:

A key privacy group is seeking to intervene in the ongoing copyright lawsuit over Google’s plan to build the library and bookstore of the future, arguing that reader privacy is at risk no matter how much Google promises to have a good privacy policy.

EPIC, or the Electronic Privacy Information Center, asked federal court judge Denny Chin on Friday to allow it to formally intervene on behalf of readers’ privacy interests in the suit pitting Google against the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers.

For a European privacy-centric perspective, see the commentary by Open Rights Group.

And Michael Zimmer has more on the objections of academic authors to the proposed court settlement.