US Censorship News

 2016: April-June



 Updated: Just correcting a typo...

Now the US authorities are working on getting their own snooper's charter


Link Here 23rd June 2016
FBI logo The latest surveillance battle gripping the technology industry is focused on a rewrite of US surveillance law that would mean the justice department would be able to access a citizen's web browsing history, location data and some email records without approval from a judge using a so-called national security letters (NSLs).

The FBI contends that such data is covered implicitly under current statute, which was written years ago and only explicitly covers data normally associated with telephone records.

Director James Comey now is lobbying Congress to extend the current definition to include internet data.

Technology companies including Google, Facebook and Yahoo have sent a letter warning Congress that they would oppose any efforts to rewrite law in the FBI's favor.

This expansion of the NSL statute has been characterized by some government officials as merely fixing a 'typo' in the law, the companies wrote:

In reality, however, it would dramatically expand the ability of the FBI to get sensitive information about users' online activities without court oversight.

Update: Censored whilst claiming to be uncensored

11th June 2016. See  article from theregister.co.uk

US Senate A sly attempt to grant the FBI warrantless access to people's browser histories in the US has been shot down by politicians.

Unfortunately, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) Amendments Act of 2015, which would have brought in some privacy safeguards for Americans, was cut down in the crossfire.

The bill was halted because of an amendment tacked on by Senator John Cornyn on Tuesday that would allow the FBI to obtain someone's internet browsing history and the metadata of all their internet use without a warrant. If Cornyn's amendment was passed, the Feds would simply have to issue a National Security Letter (NSL) to get the information.

The bill's sponsors, Senators Patrick Leahy and Mike Lee, told a session of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary that Cornyn's amendment had wrecked years of careful bipartisan negotiations and would seriously harm US citizens' privacy. As such, they weren't prepared to let the bill go forward.

Update: And again

23rd June 2016. See  article from theregister.co.uk

US Senate The US Senate has struck down an amendment that would have allowed the FBI to track internet histories and communications without judicial oversight, but a re-vote could be called under Senate rules.

The amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act would have given the FBI the right to use National Security Letters (NSLs), which compel communications companies to hand over a customer's transactional records, including their browsing history, time spent online, and email metadata, but not the content of messages.

In addition, it would have made permanent a provision in the Patriot Act that would allow the same powers for those deemed to be individual terrorists to be treated as agents of foreign powers, a measure aimed at tracking so-called lone wolf operators.

It was introduced on Monday by Senators John McCain and Richard Burr. Senator John Cornyn has named the issue the FBI's top legislative priority and has tabled a further amendment to allow similar powers to law enforcement.

 

 Offsite Article: Violent Video Games and The US Supreme Court:...


Link Here 14th June 2016  full story: Violent Games in the US...Attempts to restrict video games from minors
video game killer 5 years on since California was prevented from censoring video games in the name of child protection. By Christopher J. Ferguson

See article from huffingtonpost.com

 

 Update: Raging Bitch...

Brewery launches free speech group with damages won from Michigan's drinks censors


Link Here 23rd May 2016  full story: Drink Censors in the US...Objecting to beer labels
raging bitch beer This month Flying Dog Brewery is launching a 1st Amendment Society, funded by the damages the Maryland company won from Michigan officials who tried to ban its Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA.

The new organization, which will sponsor a journalism scholarship and talks on freedom of speech, is the product of a six-year legal battle that began in 2009, when members of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission took offense at the Raging Bitch label, which the agency had to approve before the beer could legally be sold in that state.

The Raging Bitch label features an illustration by Ralph Steadman shows a wild dog presenting human female genitalia as well as possessing semblances of human female breasts.

Michigan's alcohol regulators did not like the label. Initially, in November 2009, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission said the name of the beer and Steadman's message ran afoul of a rule prohibiting labels deemed to promote violence, racism, sexism, intemperance or intoxication or to be detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the general public.

See  article from reason.com for a full description of the subsequent court battles.

 

 Update: Lawmakers are a public health hazard...

Utah lawmaker proposes website blocking systems for mobile phones and libraries


Link Here 18th May 2016
Utah state seal Following Utah's resolution claiming pornography to be a public health crisis, a lawmaker is drafting bills to mandate anti-porn filters on cellphones and computers at public libraries.

Senator Todd Weiler, a Republican, said he is drafting legislation that would require cellphone makers to install porn-blocking filters on their devices, which would be removed if it's verified the owner is over 18.

Senator Weiler author of Utah's anti-porn resolution called it backwards that parents have to purchase and install filtering software on a child's phone, when manufacturers could make it a feature of the device.

The senator is also drafting legislation that would require public libraries to install porn-blocking filters on computers to prevent minors from accessing adult-oriented sites on the internet.

The Utah Library Association expressed concerns about the proposed legislation. Dustin Fife, the president of the ULA, said most libraries have some form of filtering in place to qualify for state and federal funding and said Sen. Weiler's bill would be redundant. Fife said the ULA had concerns that filtering would block legal and useful materials protected by the First Amendment that some consider objectionable. He said libraries are places of inclusion, rather than exclusion. Fife added:

Libraries have a great duty to support their communities and to promote a diversity of thought, information, and dialogue. Be wary of any law that limits that traditional role. When it comes to the rights of parents and the First Amendment, only incredibly finite and thoughtful laws should be passed in order to avoid chilling intellectual freedom and promoting censorship.

 

  Chilly LA...

Weather girl made to cover her shoulders with a cardigan live on air


Link Here 17th May 2016
weather girl cover up video Los Angeles TV station KLTV, have embarrassed themselves by pandering to easily offended viewers who complained about a weather girls shoulder revealing dress.

Liberte Chan's was so 'revealing' it needed covering up, in the middle of a report, with a demure grey cardigan.

The cardigan was proffered supposedly in response to emails from 'outraged' and presumably easily offended viewers.

The behaviour of the station itself did not go down well with many online, who made perfectly reasonable comments such as Is this a joke? , Grow up and stop acting like Isis ..

News anchor Chris Burrous later tried to pass it off as a joke, but wasn't very convincing.

 

 Updated: Superhero vs evil censors...

Ryan Reynolds supports campaign against Salt Lake City censorship of a cinema pub showing Deadpool


Link Here 4th May 2016
Deadpool Blu ray Ryan Reynolds Deadpool actor Ryan Reynolds is supporting a Salt Lake City cinema pub being censored by Utah authorities.

Brewvies Cinema Pub is a 21 year old movie threaten that serves alcohol. Salt Lake City is persecuting the cinema, threatening a fine and a 10 day closure order just for showing the highly popular film Deadpool.

According to Utah censorship rules, an establishment that serves alcohol is forbidden to show a film that depicts a simulated sexual act, or shows a person being touched on their privates, or displaying genitals. There are numerous simulated sex acts in the film, which were noted by a state investigator.

Brewvies and their civil rights attorney, former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, have filed a federal lawsuit against the state pointing out that the theater's First Amendment right to free speech has been violated.

The theater has started a crowd-finding campaign at GoFundMe.com to fight against the censorship.

Ryan Reynolds, the actor who plays Deadpool,  has donated to the campaign and joked on Twitter, Thank god, they've found a way to legislate fun.

Update: Good triumphs over evil (at least temporarily)

4th May 2016. See  article from salon.com

A Utah cinema in trouble with state censors for serving alcohol during a showing of superhero film Deadpool will not get slapped with future citations under an obscenity law mostly regulating strip clubs, at least until the theater's lawsuit is heard in court.

The state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agreed that officials would not cite Brewvies for any screenings with alcohol as long as the films are rated R or less, state lawyers said during a federal court hearing in Salt Lake City.

Utah filed a complaint against the theater under a state law generally used to require strip clubs that serve liquor to keep their dancers wearing G-strings and pasties. But the law also bans serving booze during films with simulated sex or full-frontal nudity.

Playing Deadpool while serving alcohol violated the law because the movie includes nudity and simulated sex, including a suggestive scene in the film's credits involving a cartoon unicorn, the state said.

Brewvies argues that the law is so broad it would apply to an exhibit of Michelangelo's statue David. Brewvies attorney Rocky Anderson said the state has used the law to intimidate the theater and violate its free speech rights.

The theater will take advantage of its temporary grace period under the law this week by holding a midnight screening of Deadpool on Friday to raise money for its court battle.

 

 Update: Worldwide powers enabling US authorities to hack into your computer or phone...

A little known US Congress committee has proposed new hacking powers for government snoopers


Link Here 1st May 2016  full story: Internet Snooping in the US...Snooping continues after Snowden revelations
US Senate The EEF is a campaign group supporting people's rights in the digital world. The group writes:

The US government hacking into phones and seizing computers remotely? It's not the plot of a dystopian blockbuster summer movie. It's a proposal from an obscure committee that proposes changes to court procedures--and if we do nothing, it will go into effect in December.

The proposal comes from the advisory committee on criminal rules for the Judicial Conference of the United States. The amendment would update Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, creating a sweeping expansion of law enforcement's ability to engage in hacking and surveillance. The Supreme Court just passed the proposal to Congress, which has until December 1 to disavow the change or it becomes the rule governing every federal court across the country. This is part of a statutory process through which federal courts may create new procedural rules, after giving public notice and allowing time for comment, under a "rules enabling act." 1

The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure set the ground rules for federal criminal prosecutions. The rules cover everything from correcting clerical errors in a judgment to which holidays a court will be closed on --all the day-to-day procedural details that come with running a judicial system.

The key word here is "procedural." By law, the rules and proposals are supposed to be procedural and must not change substantive rights. But the amendment to Rule 41 isn't procedural at all. It creates new avenues for government hacking that were never approved by Congress.

The proposal would grant a judge the ability to issue a warrant to remotely access, search, seize, or copy data when the district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means or when the media are on protected computers that have been damaged without authorization and are located in five or more districts. It would grant this authority to any judge in any district where activities related to the crime may have occurred.

To understand all the implications of this rule change, let's break this into two segments.

The first part of this change would grant authority to practically any judge to issue a search warrant to remotely access, seize, or copy data relevant to a crime when a computer was using privacy-protective tools to safeguard one's location. Many different commonly used tools might fall into this category. For example, people who use Tor, folks running a Tor node, or people using a VPN would certainly be implicated. It might also extend to people who deny access to location data for smartphone apps because they don't feel like sharing their location with ad networks. It could even include individuals who change the country setting in an online service, like folks who change the country settings of their Twitter profile in order to read uncensored Tweets.

There are countless reasons people may want to use technology to shield their privacy. From journalists communicating with sources to victims of domestic violence seeking information on legal services, people worldwide depend on privacy tools for both safety and security. Millions of people who have nothing in particular to hide may also choose to use privacy tools just because they're concerned about government surveillance of the Internet, or because they don't like leaving a data trail around haphazardly.

If this rule change is not stopped, anyone who is using any technological means to safeguard their location privacy could find themselves suddenly in the jurisdiction of a prosecutor-friendly or technically-nave judge, anywhere in the country.

The second part of the proposal is just as concerning. It would grant authorization to a judge to issue a search warrant for hacking, seizing, or otherwise infiltrating computers that may be part of a botnet . This means victims of malware could find themselves doubly infiltrated: their computers infected with malware and used to contribute to a botnet, and then government agents given free rein to remotely access their computers as part of the investigation. Even with the best of intentions, a government agent could well cause as much or even more harm to a computer through remote access than the malware that originally infected the computer. Malicious actors may even be able to hijack the malware the government uses to infiltrate botnets, because the government often doesn't design its malware securely . Government access to the computers of botnet victims also raises serious privacy concerns, as a wide range of sensitive, unrelated personal data could well be accessed during the investigation. This is a dangerous expansion of powers, and not something to be granted without any public debate on the topic.

Make no mistake: the Rule 41 proposal implicates people well beyond U.S. borders. This update expands the jurisdiction of judges to cover any computer user in the world who is using technology to protect their location privacy or is unwittingly part of a botnet. People both inside and outside of the United States should be equally concerned about this proposal.

The change to Rule 41 isn't merely a procedural update. It significantly expands the hacking capabilities of the United States government without any discussion or public debate by elected officials. If members of the intelligence community believe these tools are necessary to advancing their investigations, then this is not the path forward. Only elected members of Congress should be writing laws, and they should be doing so in a matter that considers the privacy, security, and civil liberties of people impacted.

Rule 41 seeks to sidestep the legislative process while making sweeping sacrifices in our security. Congress should reject the proposal completely.

 

  Verified as chilling...

Louisiana judge blocks law requiring age verification for online sales that are deemed harmful to chidlren


Link Here 30th April 2016
Louisiana State Seal A federal judge has blocked enforcement of a Louisiana criminal law that requires online booksellers, publishers and other website owners to electronically verify customers' ages before providing access to material that could be deemed harmful to children.

U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson granted a preliminary injunction requested by two New Orleans bookstores and other plaintiffs in a lawsuit backed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Jackson said the 2005 law's vagueness would cause a chill on protected speech. He wrote:

A possible consequence of the chill caused by (the law) is to drive protected speech from the marketplace of ideas on the Internet

ACLU attorneys argued that the law imposes unconstitutional, overly broad restrictions on anyone who wants to distribute material over the Internet. And they questioned whether it could have any practical effect on children's access to online pornography, or other potentially harmful material, since the law only applied to material published in Louisiana.

 

  Drawing a little prick...

Donald Trump's team bullies artist who imagined him nude with a tiny penis


Link Here 18th April 2016
donald trump The artist who painted an unflattering nude of Donald Trump with tiny penis said she has been threatened with legal action if she sells the notable piece.

Illma Gore's Make America Great Again , named after the Republican candidate's campaign slogan is valued at 1 million.

Now the artist says she has received a phone call from an anonymous number threatening legal action if the painting was sold. She told the Independent: They claimed to be from Trump's team.

The painting has now been banned from public display in the US and was pulled from social media following the filing of a Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice, claiming that the content infringed copyright.

 

  Recommended Books...

The American Library Association publishes its annual list of the books that attract calls for censorship


Link Here 13th April 2016

John Green Looking Alaska The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) receives reports from libraries, schools, and the media on attempts to ban books in communities across the country. We compile lists of challenged books in order to inform the public about censorship efforts that affect libraries and schools. The top ten most challenged books of 2015 are:

  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

  2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other ("poorly written," "concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it").

  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.

  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other ("wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints").

  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other ("profanity and atheism").

  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.

  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other ("graphic images").

  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.

  9. Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.

  10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other ("condones public displays of affection").

 

 Update: Endangering the people...

The US proposes that people should be denied the security of encryption and be more open to scammers and thieves


Link Here 10th April 2016
US flag A draft copy of a US law to criminalize strong encryption has been leaked online. And the internet is losing its shit.

The proposed legislation hasn't been formally published yet: the document is still being hammered out by the Senate intelligence select committee. The proposal reads:

The underlying goal is simple, when there's a court order to render technical assistance to law enforcement or provide decrypted information, that court order is carried out. No individual or company is above the law. We're still in the process of soliciting input from stakeholders and hope to have final language ready soon.

The draft legislation, first leaked to Washington DC insider blog The Hill, is named the Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016 , and would require anyone who makes or programs a communications product in the US to provide law enforcement with any data they request in an intelligible format, when presented with a court order.

The bill stems from Apple's refusal to help the FBI break into the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone, but goes well beyond that case. The bill would require companies to either build a backdoor into their encryption systems or use an encryption method that can be broken by a third party.

On example of the tech community response was from computer forensics expert Jonathan Dziarski who said:

The absurdity of this bill is beyond words. Due to the technical ineptitude of its authors, combined with a hunger for unconstitutional governmental powers, the end result is a very dangerous document that will weaken the security of America's technology infrastructure.

Update: Pakistan and Turkey too

12th April 2016. See article from vocativ.com

At least two other countries--Pakistan and Turkey--already have versions of such laws on the books. The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority has previously instructed the country's internet service providers to ban encrypted communication, though it's largely VPN use, which can be used to circumvent location-based internet censorship, that has been actively restricted there, and WhatsApp is still popular. Turkey takes the anti-encryption law on its books more seriously, and used it to initially charge Vice journalists arrested in southeastern Turkey in September 2015.

Meanwhile, France's National Assembly passed a bill in May to update its Penal Code to fine companies that don't find a way to undo their own encryption when served with a warrant in a terrorism investigation. The french? Senate version of this bill excludes this provision, and seven members from each house will now begin a compromise.

Update: Bill stalls

13th May 2016. See article from click.actionnetwork.org

Thanks to the attention brought to the importance of encryption via Apple vs FBI from Fight for the Future and other strong voices, Compliance with Court Orders Act of 2016 - one of the worst national security bills ever drafted - is stalled.

 

 Update: Abusive lawmaking...

MPAA protests against overbroad revenge porn legislation being considered in Minnesota


Link Here 5th April 2016  full story: Revenge Porn in the US...American states go over the top with legislation
Minnesota state seal The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has opposed draft revenge porn legislation that is being considered in Minnesota. The MPAA said the Minnesota draft law could restrict the publication of items of legitimate news, commentary, and historical interest .

Revenge porn refers to the sharing of intimate images after the end of a relationship, but the definition is being 'stretched' a broader sense to describe any publication of explicit images without consent, for example when private photographs of a celebrity are leaked online.

Opponents of revenge porn legislation have argued that some of the new laws are too broad in scope, and that existing copyright, communication and harassment laws sufficiently cover the subject. 'Intent to harass'

The MPAA, which represents six major Hollywood film studios, said the Minnesota law could limit the distribution of a wide array of mainstream, constitutionally protected material . It cited images of Holocaust victims and prisoners at Abu Ghraib as examples of images depicting nudity which are shared without the subjects' consent.

The MPAA called for the legislation to clarify that images shared without consent only broke the law if they were shared with an intent to harass . In a statement, the organisation said:

The MPAA opposes online harassment in all forms. While we agree with the aims... we are concerned that the current version of the bill is written so broadly that it could have a chilling effect on mainstream and constitutionally-protected speech.