California's cell-phone kill switch is a solution that's worse than the problem


As the California legislature moves to mandate "kill switches" that will allow owners of stolen phones to shut them down, the Electronic Frontier Foundation sounds an important alarm: if it's possible for someone to remotely switch off your phone such that you can't switch it back on again, even if you're physically in possession of it, that facility could be abused in lots of ways. This is a classic War on General Purpose Computation moment: the only way to make a kill-switch work is to design phones that treat their possessors as less trustworthy than a remote party sending instructions over the Internet, and as soon as the device that knows all your secrets and watches and listens to your most private moments is designed to do things that the person holding it can't override, the results won't be pretty.

There are other models for mitigating the harm from stolen phones. For example, the Cyanogen remote wipe asks the first user of the phone to initialize a password. When it is online, the device checks in with a service to see whether anyone using that password has signed a "erase yourself" command. When that happens, the phone deletes all the user-data. A thief can still wipe and sell the phone, but the user's data is safe.

Obviously, this isn't the same thing as stolen phones going dead and never working again, and won't have the same impact on theft. But the alternative is a system that allows any bad guy who can impersonate, bribe or order a cop to activate the kill-switch to do all kinds of terrible things to you, from deactivating the phones of people recording police misconduct to stalking or stealing the identities of mobile phone owners, with near-undetectable and unstoppable stealth.

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Every congresscritter now has an email address, thanks to Sunlight and EFF


Many congresscritters don't have public email addresses -- instead, they have hard-to-locate webforms that slow down activist email campaigns and make it harder for constituents to get in touch. EFF and the Sunlight Foundation has fixed this, giving every member of Congress her or his own email address -- an address that you can send to that will be automatically forwarded through the appropriate webform.

Sunlight has some spam-checking to stop this from being abused, and gathers some of the other information the forms collect so that they can be fully populated by the scripts. Once you're setup in the system, you can email "myreps@opencongress.org" and your message will automatically be forwarded on to you senators and house reps.

88% of Congressional staffers say that their bosses' decisions are affected by constituent email. The data and scripts are up on Github for you to build on.

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Five dumb things that NSA apologists should really stop saying


The Electronic Frontier Foundation has rounded up the five most discredited arguments advanced by apologists for NSA spying, including "The NSA has Stopped 54 Terrorist Attacks with Mass Spying"; Just collecting call detail records isn’t a big deal"; "There Have Been No Abuses of Power"; "Invading Privacy is Okay Because It’s Done to Prevent Terrorist Attacks"; and "There’s Plenty of Oversight From Congress, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and Agency Watchdogs." Each of these claims is meticulously debunked in the post.

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Blind Eye Sees All: surveillance sculptures that benefit EFF


Jud Turner's latest sculpture is the haunting "Blind Eye Sees All (No Secrets Anymore)" (above); he's produced 50 miniatures (right) based on it whose sale benefits the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He writes, "I am saddened at what my country has become in the last 30 years. I read '1984' in 1984 as a 14 year old, and have worried about the rise of the surveillance state ever since. I don't know what to do other than to make art that communicates, and support entities like EFF."

Thank you, Jud.

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Appeals court nukes the copyright troll business-model

Yesterday, a federal judge in the DC circuit court of appeals handed Prenda law -- the most loathed and evil porno copyright trolls in the business -- its own ass on a plate, and struck a blow against copyright trolling everywhere. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Mitch Stoltz has a deep dive into the case, which EFF participated in.

Prenda (previously) is one of the leaders in the shady practice of accusing people of downloading pornographic films with embarrassing titles and then demanding money in exchange for not filing a lawsuit against them, using the threat of having your name associated with "Anal Invaders XII" in public records forever as a lever to get you to settle even if you've done nothing wrong. In AF Holdings v. Does 1-1058, Judge Tatel struck an important blow against this practice by ruling that trolls have to file cases in the same jurisdiction as their victims in order to get court orders to reveal the victims' names and addresses, without which the cases cannot proceed. But filing cases in the correct jurisdiction will likely cost more than the average blackmail payment that Prenda extorts from its victims, making the whole thing into a losing business.

The court also held that merely being accused of having, at some point, participated in a Bittorrent swarm does not join you with everyone else who ever joins that swarm, and that there is only joint liability for people who download from one another, as part of the same swarm at the same time. This is the first-ever federal ruling on copyright trolling's most evil practices, and it represents a major victory for the good guys.

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New NYT editor spiked NSA spying story

Dean Baquet.


Dean Baquet.

Mostly lost in the past week's media gossip around NYT executive editor Jill Abramson's ouster, and Dean Baquet's promotion to her role: Baquet is the former LA Times editor who killed the biggest NSA leak pre-Edward Snowden.

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Surveillance state: the NSA doesn't stand alone


The NSA is supposed to be America's offshore spy agency, forbidden from spying on Americans. But as an important article by the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Nadia Kayyali points out, the FBI, DEA and other US agencies have closely integrated the NSA into their own efforts, using the NSA's mass surveillance to gather intelligence on Americans -- as Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide discloses, the NSA isn't a stand-alone agency, it is part of an overarching surveillance state.

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Mozilla CAN change the industry: by adding DRM, they change it for the worse

Following on from yesterday's brutal, awful news that Mozilla is going to add DRM to its Firefox browser, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Danny O'Brien has published an important editorial explaining how Mozilla's decision sets back the whole cause of fighting for a free and open Internet.

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How to fight for Net Neutrality at the FCC


With the Federal Communications Commission set to gut Net Neutrality and allow ISPs to slow down traffic from services that don't pay them bribes, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a timely, important guide to participating in FCC proceedings. The upcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is just one way to participate -- there's also a mass-protest planned at the FCC building in DC on May 15 (this Thursday!) at 9AM.

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EFF on the White House's Big Data report: what about privacy and surveillance?

Last week, I wrote about danah boyd's analysis of the White House's Big Data report [PDF]. Now, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has added its analysis to the discussion. EFF finds much to like about the report, but raises two very important points:

* The report assumes that you won't be able to opt out of leaving behind personal information and implicitly dismisses the value of privacy tools like ad blockers, Do Not Track, Tor, etc

* The report is strangely silent on the relationship between Big Data and mass surveillance, except to the extent that it equates whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden with the Fort Hood shooter, lumping them all in as "internal threats"

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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!"