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Army comes clean about its recruitment AI, accidentally discloses info about pedophile- and terrorist-catching chatbots that roam the net

Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes, "Not too long ago, Boing Boing covered EFF's (at the time) unsuccessful attempt to retreive records about Sgt. Star (the Army's recruiter-bot) using the Freedom of Information Act. We've now received the files and compiled our research: It turns out Sgt. Star isn't the only government chatbot -- the FBI and CIA had them first.

The information about the terrorist/child-abuser bots only came to light because the spy agencies failed to fully redact their responses (the type was legible through the black strikeouts).

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Web developers: EFF needs your help with important pro-democracy tool!

Rainey from the Electronic Frontier Foundation sez, "The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Sunlight Foundation, and Taskforce.is have teamed up to build a public domain tool that makes it easier for everyday people to contact Congress. EFF wants to use it so that Internet users can effectively stop Congress from enacting laws that don't make sense for technology and advocate for laws that protect our rights. But once it's done, it will be free software that anybody will be able to use it and improve.

"There's already a functional prototype, but it's not quite finished: we need web developers to donate time to help us finish off creating individual files for each member of Congress. Please pitch in for a few hours if you can, and help us make the voices of Internet users heard in the halls (or at least the inboxes) of Congress."

Dear Web Developers: EFF Needs Your Help

(Thanks, Rainey!)

Vodo's indie science fiction bundle: comics, movies, novels, and more!


Jamie from Vodo writes, "We've launched Otherworlds, our first indie sci-fi bundle! This pay-what-you-want, crossmedia collection includes the graphic novel collecting Cory's own 'Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now', Jim Munroe's micro-budget sci-fi satire 'Ghosts With Shit Jobs', Robert Venditti's New York Times Bestselling graphic novel 'The Surrogates', and Amber Benson/Adam Busch's alien office farce, 'Drones'. Check out the whole bundle and choose your own price 5% of earnings go to the Electronic Frontier Foundation!"

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EFF seeks student activists for campus network


The Electronic Frontier Foundation is launching a major campus organizing initiative and is looking to build a network of trusted campus activists to work with. They're sending staffers on a road-trip to speak at universities and colleges and want to hear from you. They've released a set of community organizing tools to help you get started.

There are plenty of ways to take part, no matter how much organizing experience you have.

* Start a group: Talk to friends and community members to gauge who else in your network is interested in digital freedom. Form a group that can discuss the issues and plan ways of advocating for your rights. For some tips on getting started, check out our guide on how to build a coalition on campus and in your community.

* Bring digital rights to an existing group: These issues are everybody's issues, no matter where on the political spectrum you lie. You can work with existing political, civil liberties, activist, and computer-related groups and urge members to take on a digital rights campaign.

* Organize an event: We have plenty of suggestions for events you can throw, from film screenings to rallies, parties to speaker series.

* Let your voice be heard: We are all part of the digital rights movement together, and your voice is as important as ours. Learn how to coordinate with local and national campaigns, and amplify your message by reading our tips on engaging with the press.

While many student groups and local community organizations are working on surveillance reform in light of the recent disclosures about massive government spying, it’s not only the NSA that we’re fighting: we’re demanding open access to publicly funded research; we’re fighting to protect the future of innovation from patent trolls; we’re urging companies and institutions to deploy encryption; we're defending the rights of coders and protecting the free speech rights of bloggers worldwide—the list goes on.

EFF is Expanding into Student and Community Organizing, and We Need Your Help

Everything is a Remix vs Patent Trolls

Adi from EFF writes, "Engine Advocacy worked with artist Kirby Ferguson (of Everything is a Remix fame) to create this great primer on patent trolls. It beautifully and succinctly lays out the patent problem, which is one of the hottest topics on the Hill right now. EFF, Public Knowledge, and Engine are pushing for people to call their senators to demand strong patent reform, and we have a handy tool at fixpatents.org for all you to do so!"

Online test-proctoring: educational spyware that lets third parties secretly watch and listen to you through your computer

Rebecca from EFF writes, "How would you feel about having your computer taken over by online test-taking software - complete with proctors peering through your laptop camera? Reporters at the Spartan Daily (the student paper for San Jose State University) have an interesting story about new software in use there, and the legitimate concerns that some students have. The data-broker connection is especially chilling to those worried about their personal information." The company's response? "We're a customer service business, so it’s really not advantageous for us to violate that trust." Oh, well, so long as that's sorted out then.

Yahoo beefs up security in two meaningful and important ways

Yahoo has taken some serious steps towards protecting user-privacy, writes the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Seth Schoen. After revelations that the NSA and GCHQ had hacked its services, intercepted private video-chats, and harvesting mass data from its fiber optic links, the company has added forward secrecy and STARTTLS to its roster of default-on security measures. Of the two, forward secrecy is the most interesting, as it protects the privacy of old intercepted Yahoo data even if the company loses control of its keys. Bravo, Yahoo! Cory 7

HOPE X/EFF fundraiser

Emmanuel Goldstein from 2600 Magazine writes, "This summer's HOPE X conference is having a special EFF fundraiser for the entire month of April. Ten percent of every ticket sale will be donated to the Electronic Frontier Foundation as recognition of the essential work they're doing for the entire online community. In addition, there will be a huge EFF presence at the HOPE X conference, with multiple talks and presentations. HOPE X is being held July 18-20 at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City." Cory 2

Microsoft changes policy: won't read your Hotmail anymore to track down copyright infringement or theft without a court order


Microsoft read the email of Hotmail users without a warrant, in order to catch someone who'd leaked some Microsoft software. When they were caught out, the pointed out that they'd always reserved the right to read Hotmail users' email, and tried to reassure other Hotmail users by saying that they were beefing up the internal process by which they decided whose mail to read and when.

Now, citing the "'post-Snowden era' in which people rightly focus on the ways others use their personal information," the company has announced that it will not read its users' email anymore when investigating theft or copyright violations -- instead, it will refer this sort of thing to the police in future (they still reserve the right to read your Hotmail messages without a court order under other circumstances).

As Techdirt's Mike Masnick points out, this is a most welcome change. The message announcing the change by Brad Smith (General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Legal & Corporate Affairs) is thoughtful and forthright. It announces a future round-table on the questions raised by the company's snooping that the Electronic Frontier Foundation can participate in.

Smith asks a seemingly rhetorical question: "What is the best way to strike the balance in other circumstances that involve, on the one hand, consumer privacy interests, and on the other hand, protecting people and the security of Internet services they use?" That is indeed a fascinating question, but in the specific case of Hotmail, I feel like it has a pretty obvious answer: change your terms of service so that you promise not to read your customers' email without a court order. Then, if you think there's a situation that warrants invading your customers' privacy, get a court order. This is just basic rule-of-law stuff, and it's the kind of thing you'd hope Microsoft's General Counsel would find obvious.

The fact that the question is being raised casts more light on Microsoft's extensive "Scroogled" campaign, which (rightly) took Google to task for having a business-model that was predicated on harvesting titanic amounts of personal data. The takeaway here is that while Microsoft's business-model (at the moment) is less privacy-invading than Google's, that is not due to any inherent squeamishness about spying on people -- rather, it's just a practical upshot of its longstanding practices.

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LAPD says every car in Los Angeles is part of an ongoing criminal investigation


The Electronic Frontier Foundation is trying to figure out what the LAPD is doing with the mountains (and mountains) of license-plate data that they're harvesting in the city's streets without a warrant or judicial oversight. As part of the process, they've asked the LAPD for a week's worth of the data they're collecting, and in their reply brief, the LAPD argues that it can't turn over any license-plate data because all the license-plates they collect are part of an "ongoing investigation," because every car in Los Angeles is part of an ongoing criminal investigation, because some day, someone driving that car may commit a crime.

As EFF's Jennifer Lynch says, "This argument is completely counter to our criminal justice system, in which we assume law enforcement will not conduct an investigation unless there are some indicia of criminal activity."

This reminds me of the NSA's argument that they're collecting "pieces of a puzzle" and Will Potter's rebuttal: "The reality is that the NSA isn't working with a mosaic or a puzzle. What the NSA is really advocating is the collection of millions of pieces from different, undefined puzzles in the hopes that sometime, someday, the government will be working on a puzzle and one of those pieces will fit." The same thing could be said of the LAPD.

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Infographic: EFF's Freedom of Information Act files


Hugh from the Electronic Frontier Foundation sez, "Sunshine Week may be just seven days in March, but fighting for government transparency is a year-round mission for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In fact, it's not unusual for litigation over public records to drag on for years upon years. To help make sense of it all, here's a handy infographic illustrating EFF's current Freedom of Information Act caseload." (Thanks, Hugh!)

EFF Policy Fellowship for students: 10 week summer program

If you're a student interested in Internet and technology policy, you're eligible to apply for an EFF Policy Fellowship, a ten week placement with public interest orgs in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America. It pays $7500, and you get to work on global surveillance, censorship, and intellectual property. "Applicants must have strong research skills, the ability to produce thoughtful original policy analysis, and a talent for communicating with many different types of audiences." Cory 3

Fedbizopps: the US government's searchable database of defense-contractor opportunities


Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation sez, "The government often makes itself more accessible to businesses than the general public. For Sunshine Week, we compiled this guide to using FedBizOpps to keep an eye on surveillance technology contracts."

Fedbizopps is a weird, revealing window into the world of creepy surveillance, arms, and technology contractors who build and maintain the most oppressive and unethical parts of the apparatus of the US government. Everything from drone-testing of biological and chemical weapons to license plate cameras to weaponized bugs and other malware are there. The EFF post also has links to data-mining tools that help estimate just how much money the private arms dealers extract from the tax-coffers.

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EFF, Public Knowledge and Engine tell the USPTO how to improve patent quality

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge and Engine have submitted comments [PDF] to the US Patent and Trademark Office explaining how examiners could improve the quality of patents that the USPTO issues by expanding their search for "prior art" (that is, evidence that the thing under discussion has already been invented) by building searchable databases, and by seeing through the common, misleading practices of using synonyms for common words to make obvious things sound new.

As EFF points out in its post on the filing, the real answer for this is action from Congress to reform patents and end patent-trolling, but these are all useful steps for the USPTO to take in the meantime.

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Videos of individual Trustycon talks

I linked to the seven-hour video file from Trustycon, the convention held as an alternative to RSA's annual security event, inspired by the revelation that RSA took money from the NSA to sabotage its own products.

Now Al has broken down the video into the individual talks, uploading them to Youtube. This is very handy -- thanks, Al!

TrustyCon Videos Available (Thanks, Al!)