Category Archives: cyberlaw

Senator Reid postpones vote on PROTECT IP Act, Romney and Gingrich come out against SOPA

This morning, Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said in a statement today that he will postpone next week’s vote on the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). Update: Rep. Lamar Smith followed with a statement that he would also halt consideration of SOPA. This is a historic victory for the Internet community. Collectively, millions of people rose up and told Washington that these bills shall not pass.

An unprecedented day of online protests over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and the PIPA in the U.S. Senate and the resulting coverage on cable and broadcast news networks had an effect.

“Senator Reid made the right decision in postponing next week’s vote on PIPA,” said Center for Democracy and Technology president Leslie Harris. “It’s time for a hard reset on this issue. We need a thoughtful and substantive process that includes all Internet stakeholders. We need to take a hard look at the facts and find solutions that honor the Internet’s openness and its unique capacity for innovation and free expression. We are thankful for the efforts of Senator Ron Wyden who from the beginning stood against this bill; his early opposition and leadership gave voice to the important concerns of the Internet community.”

Wikipedia, Google, BoingBoing, Reddit, O’Reilly Media and thousands of other blogs asked their communities to take a stand and contact Washington.

“The amazing thing is that the power of these networks delivered,” wrote David Binetti in TechCrunch. “By the end of the day, 25 Senators — including at least 5 former co-sponsors of the bill — had announced their opposition to SOPA. Think about that for just a second: A well-organized, well-funded, well-connected, well-experienced lobbying effort on Capitol Hill was outflanked by an ad-hoc group of rank amateurs, most of whom were operating independent of one another and on their spare time. Regardless where you stand on the issue — and effective copyright protection is an important issue — this is very good news for the future of civic engagement.”

I concur with that last point. Last night, we finally saw one of the most important questions about the future of the Internet and society asked in a presidential debate: all four GOP candidates for the presidential nomination came out against SOPA at the CNN debate.

As shown by ProPublica’s excellent SOPA Tracker, SOPA and PIPA now have 122 opponents in the House and Senate, four times as many as on Monday.

These bills are not “dead,” no matter what headlines you read today, although I can now say with some confidence that they will not pass in their current form. There are ongoing negotiations to redraft them, cutting DNS filtering provisions or search engine blocks in an effort to make them acceptable to technology companies like Google.

While the Internet mattered this week, it’s important to recognize that but for the efforts of Senator Ron Wyden, Rep. Darrell Issa, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Rep. Jared Polis and Rep. Zoe Logren, I believe SOPA and PIPA would likely have passed. Senator Wyden put a critical hold on the PROTECT IP Act after it sailed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Those representatives proposed dozens of amendments to SOPA in a marathon, days-long markup session that effectively filibustered the bill, delayed it until the House came back into session in January. That delay enabled hundreds of organizations and individuals, including newspaper editors, human rights advocates, academics, engineers and public interest groups, to rally to save the Internet as we know it.

“Supporters of the Internet deserve credit for pressing advocates of SOPA and PIPA to back away from an effort to ram through controversial legislation,” Issa said in an emailed statement. “Over the last two months, the intense popular effort to stop SOPA and PIPA has defeated an effort that once looked unstoppable but lacked a fundamental understanding of how Internet technologies work.

“Postponing the Senate vote on PIPA removes the imminent threat to the Internet, but it’s not over yet. Copyright infringement remains a serious problem and any solution must be targeted, effective, and consistent with how the Internet works. After inviting all stakeholders to help improve American intellectual property protections, I have introduced the bipartisan OPEN Act with Senator Rob Wyden which can be read and commented on at KeepTheWebOPEN.com. It is clear that Congress needs to have more discussion and education about the workings of the Internet before it moves forward on sweeping legislation to address intellectual property theft on the Internet. I look forward to working with my colleagues and stakeholders to achieve a needed consensus about the way forward.”

In the meantime, everyone who participated in this week’s unprecedented day of online action should know that what they did this week mattered. If you’d asked me about the prospects for the passage of these bills back in December — and many people did, after I wrote a feature at Radar in November that highlighted the threat these anti-piracy bills presented to the Internet, security and freedom of expression online — I estimated that it was quite likely. So did Chris Dodd, the head of the MPAA, who told the New York Times that these passage of these bills was “considered by many to be a ‘slam dunk.’”

We’re now in unexplored territory. I’ve been writing about how the Internet affects government and government affects the Internet for years now. This week was clearly a tipping point in that space. The voices of the people, expressed in calls, letters, tweets, petitions and protests, were heard in Washington. There are incredibly difficult challenges that face us as a country and as a global community, from jobs to healthcare to the environment to civil liberties to smoldering wars around the world. What happened this week, however, will reinvigorate the notion that participating in the civic process matters. Here’s to working on stuff that matters, together.

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Looking Back: The Best Interviews of 2010 [VIDEO]

2010 was full of amazing stories and experiences, both personal and professional. I’m grateful for the many opportunities I had speak to brilliant, fascinating people about technology, government, media and civil society. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from my interviews this year, many of which were captured on video. Some were filmed with my iPhone 4, others with a Canon 110si, others by O’Reilly Media’s professional video team after I joined the company as its new Gov 2.0 Washington Correspondent.

Regardless of the quality of light, image or sound, each interview taught me something new, and I’m proud they’re all available on the Web to the public. The list below isn’t exhaustive, either. There are easily a dozen other excellent interviews on my channel on YouTube, O’Reilly Media’s YouTube channel, uStream and Livestream. Thank you to each and every person who took time to talk to me this past year.

20. Professor Fred Cate on electronic privacy protections and email

19. Google Open Advocate Chris Messina on Internet freedom

18. Foursquare Creator Dennis Crowley on the NASA Tweetup and #IVoted

17. Co-Chairman of the Future of Privacy Forum Jules Polonetsky

16. NASA CTO Chris Kemp on cloud computing and open source

15. Portland Mayor Sam Adams on open data

14. Former Xerox Chief Scientist and PARC Director John Seely Brown on education

13. NPR’s Andy Carvin on CrisisWiki

12. ISE Founder Claire Lockhart on government accountability

11. Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior on the evolution of smarter cities

10. Ushahidi Co-Founder Ory Okolloh on crowdsourcing

9. Senator Kate Lundy on Gov 2.0 in Australia

8. Intellipedia: Moving from a culture of “need to know” to “need to share” using wikis

7. ESRI Co-Founder Jack Dangermond on mapping

6. Sunlight Foundation Co-Founder Ellen Miller on Open Government

5. HHS CTO Todd Park on Open Health Data

4. FCC Tech Cast with Expert Lab’s Gina Trapani

3. Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak on the Open Internet

2. United States CTO Aneesh Chopra on Open Government

1. Tim Berners-Lee on Open Linked Data

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Supreme Court rules on workplace sexting, upholds 1987 decision on electronic privacy

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court released an important decision on electronic privacy in the workplace today, which I’ve embedded below.

In the case of City of Ontario, California v. Quon, the court unanimously upheld a 1987 decision that recognized the workplace privacy rights of government employees.

“The case involved the use of text pagers issued to officers by the city police department,” said Jim Dempsey, the Center for Democracy and Technology’s vice president for public policy.

“When one officer consistently went over the allotted limit on messages, his supervisors obtained stored text messages from the service provider and found that many were personal, not work-related.  The officer claimed that the search violated the Fourth Amendment.  The Supreme Court held that the police department’s actions were reasonable, and thus did not violate the constitutional rights of the police officer.

“What is significant about the Supreme Court’s opinion is what did not happen,” said Dempsey. “Faced with an opportunity to curtail workplace privacy (or electronic privacy generally), the Court noted, applying a 1987 precedent, that government employees generally retain their Fourth Amendment privacy rights, and it assumed that government employees may have a reasonable expectation of privacy even in communications they send during work hours on employer-issued devices.

The case could have had very far-reaching implications because of the way in which work-related and personal communications have become so interwoven, in both the government and the private sectors, as employers expect workers to be always available by cell phone, text and email.  The Court recognized this trend, but declined to set any new rules.”

The New York Times also has published analysis of the ruling,” Justices Allow Search of Workplace Pagers.”

“This ended up as a workplace privacy case for government employees,” said Dempsey. “The message to government employers is that the courts will continue to scrutinize employers’ actions for reasonableness, so supervisors have to be careful. Unless a ‘no privacy’ policy is clear and consistently applied, an employer should assume that employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy and should proceed carefully, with a good reason and a narrow search, before examining employee emails, texts or Internet usage.”

The Supreme Court opinion is online at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-1332.pdf.

CDT and other privacy advocates filed an amicus brief, cited by the Court in its opinion, urging the Court to tread carefully and avoid casting any doubt on the privacy of new communications technologies. PDF: http://www.cdt.org/files/pdfs/08-1332_bsac_Electronic%20Frontier_Foundation_et_al.pdf.

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