• Tag Archives 1st Amendment
  • Holding Twitter Responsible for Providing Material Support to Terrorists Would Violate Users’ First Amendment Rights

    A lawsuit claiming that Twitter provides material support to terrorists by providing accounts to users who discus or promote terrorism threatens the First Amendment rights of Internet users and Twitter, EFF told a federal appellate court in a brief filed on Wednesday.

    The brief [.pdf] also argues that the lawsuit jeopardizes one of the Internet’s most important laws: 47 U.S.C. § 230, enacted as part of the Communications Decency Act (known simply as “Section 230”).

    The case, Fields v. Twitter, seeks to hold Twitter responsible for the deaths of two Americans killed in a 2015 attack in Jordan. The family members argue that by providing accounts to users they describe as posting content advocating for terrorism, Twitter violated a federal law that prohibits individuals and organizations from providing material support to terrorists.

    The federal trial court hearing the case dismissed the lawsuit in November 2016, ruling that Section 230 barred the claims and also that the family members had not shown that Twitter caused the attacks at issue in the case. The family members appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

    In the brief, EFF and the Center for Democracy & Technology argue that making Twitter legally responsible for providing accounts to users who discuss or promote terrorism will violate the First Amendment in several respects.

    First, it will interfere with Internet users’ First Amendment right to access information on controversial topics or from unpopular speakers.

    “Depriving users of their right to receive and gather information discussing terrorism will do far more than simply limit which content is available online­; it will stunt people’s ability to be informed about the world and form opinions,” the brief argues.

    the First Amendment does not permit ad hoc judgments regarding the social value of speech to determine whether that speech is protected

    Second, it will violate Twitter’s First Amendment rights to publish speech about terrorism because the vast majority of such speech is fully protected. There is no categorical prohibition on speaking about terrorism, the brief argues, because “the First Amendment does not permit ad hoc judgments regarding the social value of speech to determine whether that speech is protected.”

    The brief also argues that making Twitter liable for the speech of its users will undermine Section 230’s legal protections for all Internet platforms. That will jeopardize the continued availability of open platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

    “By creating Section 230’s platform immunity, Congress made the intentional policy choice that individuals harmed by speech online will need to seek relief from the speakers themselves, rather than the platforms those speakers used,” the brief argues.

    Finally, the brief argues that if online platforms no longer have Section 230’s immunity, platforms will take aggressive action to screen their users, review and censor content, and potentially prohibit anonymous speech.

    “Because platforms will be unwilling to take a chance on provocative or unpopular speech, the online marketplace of ideas will be artificially stunted, despite such speech being protected by the First Amendment,” the brief argues.

    Source: EFF to Court: Holding Twitter Responsible for Providing Material Support to Terrorists Would Violate Users’ First Amendment Rights | Electronic Frontier Foundation


  • Printer Tracking Dots Back in the News

    Several journalists and experts have recently focused on the fact that a scanned document published by The Intercept contained tiny yellow dots produced by a Xerox DocuColor printer. Those dots allow the document’s origin and date of printing to be ascertained, which could have played a role in the arrest of Reality Leigh Winner, accused of leaking the document. EFF has previously researched this tracking technology at some length; our work on it has helped bring it to public attention, including in a somewhat hilarious video.

    One of the experts, Rob Graham, used a tool that we created to decode the dots. Whenever someone’s liberty is at stake, we are extra careful in our public statements, but we offer the following thoughts on the situation:

    •  The affidavit that led to Winner’s arrest described how the government identified its suspect. The affidavit did not mention the use of the tracking dots at all, but referred only to other sources of information. It’s quite possible that printer dots did not play any role in this investigation at all.
    • However the government identified its suspect in this case, it’s worth remembering that forensic techniques are very powerful and can often reveal the origins of documents in unexpected ways.
    • This tracking technology is pervasive in color laser printers, and is a result of secret agreements between governments (the U.S. is not the only one) and the printer industry, dating back more than a decade. Some printer manufacturers openly acknowledge that such a tracking mechanism exists, but offer few other details. The original motivation given for the tracking technology is investigating counterfeiting of currency, although nothing in the technology limits its use to that purpose. Overall, this secret nonconsensual tracking makes it more difficult to publish any kind of document anonymously, which implicates both privacy and speech.
    • Not all printers’ tracking information is readily visible. Some of the documents we obtained about this technology showed that there is a subsequent generation of tracking technology, which apparently works by slightly rearranging dots that the printer is expected to print, rather than by adding new dots. Anyone using a color laser printer should assume that it uses some kind of tracking mechanism, whether or not tracking dots are visible in its output.
    • This technology is one way that governments secretly pressured industry to change products to undermine privacy and anonymous speech when the law did not require it. This should make us all wonder how else the government is working in secret to undermine privacy and speech.  We should insist that companies be transparent about how government requests have affected the design of the products we use, since those designs can have profound implications.

    Source: Printer Tracking Dots Back in the News | Electronic Frontier Foundation


  • Border Security Overreach Continues: DHS Wants Social Media Login Information

    Now more than ever, it is apparent that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), are embarking on a broad campaign to invade the digital lives of innocent individuals.

    The new DHS secretary, John Kelly, told a congressional committee this week that the department may soon demand login information (usernames and passwords) for social media accounts from foreign visa applicants—at least those subject to the controversial executive order on terrorism and immigration—and those who don’t comply will be denied entry into the United States. This effort to access both public and private communications and associations is the latest move by a department that is overreaching its border security authority.

    In December 2016, DHS began asking another subset of foreign visitors, those from Visa Waiver Countries, for their social media handles. DHS defended itself by stating that not only would compliance be voluntary, the government only wanted to access publicly viewable social media posts: “If an applicant chooses to answer this question, DHS will have timely visibility of the publicly available information on those platforms, consistent with the privacy settings the applicant has set on the platforms.”

    As we wrote last fall in comments to DHS, even seeking the ability to view the public social media posts of international travelers implicates the universal human rights of free speech and privacy, and—importantly—the comparable constitutional rights of their American associates. Our objections are still salient given that DHS may soon mandate access to both public and private social media content and contacts of another group of foreigners visitors.

    Moreover, as a practical matter, such vetting is unlikely to weed out terrorists as they would surely scrub their social media accounts prior to seeking entry into the U.S.

    Such border security overreach doesn’t stop there.

    There have been several reports recently of CBP agents demanding access to social media information and digital devices of both American citizens and legal permanent residents. Most disturbing are the invasive searches of Americans’ cell phones, where CBP has been accessing social media apps that may reveal private posts and relationships, as well as emails, texts messages, browsing history, contact lists, photos—whatever is accessible via the phone.

    Such border searches of Americans’ digital devices and cloud content are unconstitutional absent individualized suspicion, specifically, a probable cause warrant. In light of the DHS secretary’s statements this week, we fear that DHS may soon take the next step down this invasive path and demand the login information for American travelers’ online accounts so that the government can peruse private, highly personal information without relying on access to a mobile device.

    Source: Border Security Overreach Continues: DHS Wants Social Media Login Information | Electronic Frontier Foundation