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Digital Rights and the Black-led Movement Against Police Violence Intelwars Locational Privacy privacy Surveillance Technologies transparency

Emails from 2016 Show Amazon Ring’s Hold on the LAPD Through Camera Giveaways

In March 2016, “smart” doorbell camera maker Ring was a growing company attempting to market its wireless smart security camera when it received an email from an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Gang and Narcotics Division, who was interested in purchasing a slew of devices.

The Los Angeles detective wanted 20 cameras, consisting of 10 doorbell cameras and 10 “stick up” cameras, which retailed for nearly $3,000. Ring, headquartered in nearby Santa Monica, first offered a discount but quickly sweetened the deal: “I’d be happy to send you those units free of charge,” a Ring employee told the officer, according to emails released in response to California Public Records Act (CPRA) requests filed by EFF and NBC’s Clark Fouraker. These emails are also the subject of a detailed new report from the Los Angeles Times.

Email from Ring employee to LAPD officer

Ring offered nearly $3,000 worth of camera equipment to the LAPD in 2016, to aid in an investigation.

A few months later, in July 2016, Ring was working with an LAPD officer to distribute a discount code that would allow officers to purchase Ring cameras for $50 off. As a growing number of people used his discount code, Ring offered the officer more and more free equipment.

Officers were offered rewards based on how many people had used their personal coupon codes to order products.

These officers receiving free equipment, either for an investigation or for their “hard work” helping to promote the sale of Ring through discount codes, were not isolated incidents. Across the LAPD—from the gang division in Downtown to community policing units in East Los Angeles and Brentwood—Ring offered, or officers requested, thousands of dollars’ worth of free products in exchange for officers’ promotion of Ring products to fellow officers and the larger community, seemingly in violation of department prohibitions on both accepting gifts from vendors and endorsing products.

In another incident, the LAPD asked Ring for cameras to aid in an investigation involving a slew of church break-ins. Ring offered to send the police a number of cameras free of charge, but not without recognizing a marketing opportunity: “If the church sees value in the devices, perhaps it’s something that they can talk about with their members. Let’s talk more about this on the phone, but for now, I’ll get those devices sent out ASAP.”

While offering free cameras to aid in a string of church robberies, a Ring representative suggested marketing the cameras to the church’s members.

The LAPD released over 3,000 pages of emails from 2016 between Ring representatives and LAPD personnel in response to the CPRA requests. The records show that leading up to Ring’s official launch of partnerships with police departments—which now number almost 150 in California and over 2000 across the country—Ring worked steadily with Los Angeles police officers to provide free or discounted cameras for official and personal use, and in return, the LAPD worked to encourage the spread of Ring’s products throughout the community. The emails show officers were ready to tout the Ring camera as a device they used themselves, one they “love,” “completely believe in,” and “support.”

In an email, an employee of the LAPD says they recommend Ring’s doorbell camera to everyone they meet.

For over a year, EFF has been sounding the alarm about Ring and its police partnerships, which have in effect created neighborhood-wide surveillance networks without public input or debate. As part of these partnerships, Ring controls when and how police speak about Ring—with the company often requiring final say over statements and admonishing police departments who stray from the script.

Racial justice and civil liberties advocates have continually pointed out how Ring enables racial profiling. Rather than making people feel safer in their own homes, Ring cameras can often have the reverse effect. By having a supposed crime-fighting tool alert a user every time a person approaches their home, the user can easily get the impression that their home is under siege. This paranoia can turn public neighborhoods filled with innocent pedestrians and workers into de facto police states where Ring owners can report “suspicious” people to their neighbors via Ring’s Neighbors social media platform, or the police. In a recent investigation, VICE found that a vast majority of people labeled “suspicious” were people of color. Ring, with its motion detection alerts, gives residents a digitally aided way of enforcing who does and does not belong in their neighborhood based on their own biases and prejudices.

Ring also has serious implications on First Amendment activities. Earlier this year, EFF reported that LAPD requested footage from Ring cameras related to protests in Los Angeles following the police murder of George Floyd.

These emails further add to these concerns, as they point to a scheme in which public servants have used their positions for private gain and contributed to an environment of fear and suspicion in communities already deeply divided.

When confronted by police encouraging residents to mount security cameras, people should not have to decide whether their local police are operating out of a real concern over safety—or whether they are motivated by the prospect of receiving free equipment.

EFF has submitted a letter raising these concerns and calling on the California Attorney General to initiate a public integrity investigation into the relationship between Ring and the LAPD. The public has a right to know whether officers in their communities have received or are receiving benefits from Ring, and whether those profits have influenced when and if police have encouraged communities to buy and use Ring cameras. Although the incidents recorded in these emails occurred primarily in 2016, Ring’s police partnerships and influence have only spread in the resulting years. It’s time for the California Department of Justice to step in and use its authority to investigate if and when Ring wielded inappropriate influence over California’s police and sheriff’s departments.

Emails between the LAPD and Ring:
https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/20485679-19-4563-emails-binder-b-final/#document/p1097

EFF’s Letter to the California Department of Justice on the relationship between the LAPD and Ring:
https://www.eff.org/document/eff-letter-ca-ag-lapdring

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Intelwars transparency

Here Are 458 California Law Enforcement Agencies’ Policy Documents All in One Place

Dylan Kubeny, a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, served as the primary data hunter and co-author on this project. 

At this moment in history, law enforcement agencies in the United States face a long-overdue reevaluation of their priorities, practices, and processes for holding police officers accountable for both unconscious biases and overt abuse of power. 

But any examination of law enforcement requires transparency first: the public’s ability to examine what those priorities, practices, and processes are. While police are charged with enforcing the law, they too have their own rules to follow, and too often, those rules are opaque to the public. An imbalance in access to information is an imbalance of power. 

Today, EFF in partnership with Stanford Libraries’ Systemic Racism Tracker project is releasing a data set with links to 458 policy manuals from California law enforcement agencies, including most police departments and sheriff offices and some district attorney offices, school district police departments, and university public safety departments. This data set represents our first attempt to aggregate these policy documents following the passage of S.B. 978, a state law that requires local law enforcement agencies to publish this information online. 

These policy manuals cover everything from administrative duties and record keeping to the use of force and the deployment of surveillance technologies. These documents reveal police officers’ responsibilities and requirements, but they also expose shortcomings, including an overreliance on boilerplate policies generated by a private company. 

Download the data set as an CSV file, or scroll to the bottom to find a catalog of links. 

Until a few years ago, many law enforcement agencies in California were reluctant to share their policy documents with the public. While a handful of agencies voluntarily chose to post these records online, the most reliable way to obtain these records was through the California Public Records Act (CPRA), which creates the legal right for everyday people to request information from the government. Most people don’t know they have this power, and even fewer know how to exercise it effectively. 

To make these police records more accessible, California State Sen. Steven Bradford sponsored S.B. 978, which says all local law enforcement agencies “shall conspicuously post on their Internet Web sites all current standards, policies, practices, operating procedures, and education and training materials that would otherwise be available to the public if a request was made pursuant to the California Public Records Act.” 

The requirement became fully effective in January 2020, and now the public can visit individual websites to find links to these documents. However, despite the requirement that these records be posted “conspicuously,” the links can often be challenging to find. With our new data set, the public now has access to a catalog of hundreds of currently available documents in one place. 

EFF supported SB 978’s passage back in 2018 to increase government transparency through internet technology. We are currently collaborating with the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, to aggregate these policies. Stanford Libraries is using these records to build the Systemic Racism Tracker (SRT), a searchable database that harvests data about institutional practices that harm communities of color. The SRT’s goals are to serve as a growing collection of references, documents, and data to support research and education about systematic racism. The SRT also aims to empower people to take action against harmful practices by knowing their rights and identifying, appraising, and connecting with government agencies, non-profit organizations, and grassroots groups that address racism.

“In order to understand, interrogate and work towards changing the very structures of systemic racism in policing, it is vital that we collect both current and historical policy and training manuals,” said Felicia Smith, head of Stanford Libraries Learning and Outreach, who created the SRT project.

Although this data set is but the first step in a longer-term project, several elements of concern emerged in our initial analysis.

First and foremost, perhaps the most conspicuous pattern with these policies is the connection to Lexipol, a private company that sells boilerplate policies and training materials to law enforcement agencies. Over and over again, the police policies were formatted the same, used identical language, and included a copyright mark from this company. 

Lexipol has come under fire for writing policies that are too vague or permissive and for significantly differing from best practices. More often than not, rather than draft policies specifically tailored to the specific agency, these agencies simply copied and pasted the standard Lexipol policy. Mother Jones reported that 95% of agencies in California purchased policies or training materials from Lexipol. Our data showed that at least 379 agencies published policies from Lexipol. 

This raises questions about whether police are soliciting guidance from the community or policymakers or are simply accepting the recommendations from a private company that is not accountable to the public. 

In addition, we made the following findings: 

  • Although most agencies complied with S.B. 978 and posted at least some materials online, many agencies still had failed to take action even a year after the law took effect. In those cases, we filed CPRA requests for the records and requested they be posted on their websites. In some instances the agencies followed through, but we are still waiting on some entities such as the Bell Police Department and the Crescent City Police Department to upload their records. 
  • While most agencies complied with the requirement to post policies online, only a portion published training materials. In some cases, agencies only published the training session outlines and not the actual training presentations.
  • Link rot undermines transparency. As we conducted our research over just a few months, URLs for policies would change or disappear as agencies updated their policies or relaunched their websites. That is one reason we include archived links in this data set. 

In the coming months, Stanford Libraries aims to introduce a more robust tool that will allow for searching policies across departments and archiving policy changes over time. In the interim, this data set brings the public one step closer to understanding police practices and to holding law enforcement agencies accountable.

SB 978 Policy and Training Catalog 

The table below contains links to the SB 978 materials made available by local law enforcement agencies across California. There is little to no consistency across agencies for how this information is published online. Below you will find links to the primary page where a user would find links to SB 978 documents. In some cases, this may just be the agency’s home page, which includes an SB 978 link in the sidebar. Because we have found that these links break quite often, we have also included an archived version of the link through the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. We have also included direct links to the policies and training materials, however in many cases this is the same link as the primary page. 

We used the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training’s list of California law enforcement agencies to prioritize municipal police, sheriff’s offices, university and school district police, and district attorneys in our data collection. Future research will cover other forms of local law enforcement.

Download the data set as an CSV file.

Primary Law Enforcement Agency Page

Archived Link

Policies

Training Materials

Alameda County District Attorney

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Alameda County Sheriff’s Office

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Alameda Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs, 2, 3, 4

Albany Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Alhambra Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Alpine County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Alturas Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Amador County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

American River College Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Anaheim Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Anderson Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Angels Camp Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Antioch Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Apple Valley Unified School District Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Arcadia Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Arcata Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Arroyo Grande Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Arvin Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Atascadero Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Atherton Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Atwater Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Auburn Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Avenal Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Azusa Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Bakersfield Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Banning Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Barstow Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Bear Valley Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Beaumont Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Bell Gardens Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Belmont Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Belvedere Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Benicia Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs, 2, 3

Berkeley Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Beverly Hills Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Blythe Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Brawley Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Brea Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Brentwood Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Brisbane Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Broadmoor Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Buena Park Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Burbank Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Burlingame Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Butte County Sheriff’s Department/Coroner

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Cal Poly University Police

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Cal State LA Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Calexico Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

California City Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Calistoga Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Campbell Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Capitola Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Carlsbad Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Carmel Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Cathedral City Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Central Marin Police Authority

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Ceres Department of Public Safety

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Chaffey Community College District Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Chico Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Chino Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Chowchilla Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Chula Vista Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Citrus Community College District Department of Campus Safety

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Citrus Heights Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Claremont Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Clayton Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Clearlake Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Cloverdale Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Clovis Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Clovis Unified School District Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Coalinga Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Coast Community College District Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Colma Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Colton Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Colusa County District Attorney

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Colusa County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Colusa Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Concord Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Contra Costa Community College District Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Contra Costa County District Attorney

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department/Coroner

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Corcoran Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Corona Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Coronado Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Costa Mesa Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Cosumnes River College Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Cotati Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Covina Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

CPSU Pomona Department of Public Safety

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

CSU Bakersfield University Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

CSU Channel Islands University Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

CSU Chico University Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

CSU Dominguez Hills University Police and Parking

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

CSU East Bay University Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

CSU Fresno University Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

CSU Fullerton University Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

CSU Long Beach University Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

CSU Monterey Bay University Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

CSU Northridge Department of Police Services

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

CSU Sacramento Public Safety/University Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

CSU San Bernardino University Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

CSU San José University Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

CSU San Marcos University Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

CSU Stanislaus Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Cuesta College Department of Public Safety

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Culver City Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Cypress Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Daly City Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Davis Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Del Norte County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Del Rey Oaks Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Delano Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Desert Hot Springs Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Dinuba Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Dixon Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Dos Palos Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Downey Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

East Bay Regional Parks District Department of Public Safety

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

East Palo Alto Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

El Cajon Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

El Camino Community College District Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

El Centro Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

El Cerrito Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

El Monte Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

El Segundo Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Elk Grove Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Emeryville Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Escalon Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Escondido Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Etna Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Eureka Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Exeter Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Fairfax Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Fairfield Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Farmersville Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Ferndale Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Firebaugh Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Folsom Lake College Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Folsom Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Fontana Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Fort Bragg Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Fortuna Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Foster City Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Fountain Valley Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Fowler Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Fremont Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Fresno County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Fresno Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Fullerton Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Galt Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Garden Grove Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Gardena Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Gilroy Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Glendale Community College District Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Glendale Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Glendora Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Glenn County Sheriff’s Department/Coroner

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Gonzales Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Grass Valley Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Greenfield Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Gridley Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Grover Beach Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Guadalupe Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Gustine Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Hanford Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Hawthorne Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Hayward Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Healdsburg Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Hemet Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Hercules Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Hermosa Beach Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Hillsborough Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Hollister Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Humboldt State University

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Huntington Beach Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Huntington Park Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Huron Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Imperial Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Indio Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Inglewood Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Inyo County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Ione Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Irvine Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Irwindale Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Jackson Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Kensington Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Kerman Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Kern County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

King City Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Kings County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Kingsburg Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

La Habra Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

La Mesa Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

La Palma Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

La Verne Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Laguna Beach Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Lake County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Lakeport Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Lassen County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Lemoore Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Lincoln Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Lindsay Department of Public Safety

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Livermore Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Livingston Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Lodi Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Lompoc Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Long Beach Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Los Alamitos Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Los Altos Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Los Angeles City Department of Recreation and Parks, Park Ranger Division

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Los Angeles County District Attorney

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Los Angeles County Probation Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Los Angeles Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Los Angeles Port Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Los Angeles School Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Los Angeles World Airports Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Los Banos Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Los Gatos/Monte Sereno Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Los Rios Community College District Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Madera County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Madera Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Mammoth Lakes Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Manhattan Beach Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Manteca Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Marin Community College District Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Marin County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Marina Department of Public Safety

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Martinez Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Marysville Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

McFarland Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Mendota Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Training Docs

Menifee Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Menlo Park Police Department

Archived Link

Policy Docs

Not Available

Merced Community College Police Department

Archived Link

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Intelwars News Update transparency

Federal Court Agrees: Prosecutors Can’t Keep Forensic Evidence Secret from Defendants

When the government tries to convict you of a crime, you have a right to challenge its evidence. This is a fundamental principle of due process, yet prosecutors and technology vendors have routinely argued against disclosing how forensic technology works.

For the first time, a federal court has ruled on the issue, and the decision marks a victory for civil liberties.

EFF teamed up with the ACLU of Pennsylvania to file an amicus brief arguing in favor of defendants’ rights to challenge complex DNA analysis software that implicates them in crimes. The prosecution and the technology vendor Cybergenetics opposed disclosure of the software’s source code on the grounds that the company has a commercial interest in secrecy.

The court correctly determined that this secrecy interest could not outweigh a defendant’s rights and ordered the code disclosed to the defense team. The disclosure will be subject to a “protective order” that bars further disclosure, but in a similar previous case a court eventually allowed public scrutiny of source code of a different DNA analysis program after a defense team found serious flaws.

This is the second decision this year ordering the disclosure of the secret TrueAllele software. This added scrutiny will help ensure that the software does not contribute to unjust incarceration.

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Intelwars transparency

EFF joins Dozens of Organizations Urging More Government Transparency

EFF has joined 42 other organizations, including the ACLU, the Knight Institute, and the National Security Archive calling for the new Biden administration to fulfill its promise to “bring transparency and truth back to government.” 

Specifically, these organizations are asking the administration and the federal government at large to update policy and implementation regarding the collection, retention, and dissemination of public records as dictated in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Federal Records Act (FRA), and the Presidential Records Act (PRA).

Our call for increased transparency with the administration comes in the wake of many years of extreme secrecy and increasingly unreliable enforcement of record retention and freedom of information laws. 

The letter request that the following actions be taken by the Biden administration:

  • Emphasize to All Federal Employees the Obligation to Give Full Effect to Federal Transparency Laws.
  • Direct Agencies to Adopt New FOIA Guidelines That Prioritize Transparency and the Public Interest.
  • Direct DOJ to Fully Leverage its Central Role in Agencies’ FOIA Implementation. 
  • Issue New FOIA Guidance by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Update the National FOIA Portal.
  • Assess, Preserve, and Disclose the Key Records of the Previous Administration. 
  • Champion Funding Increases for the Public Records Laws.
  • Endorse Legislative Improvements for the Public Records Laws.
  • Embrace Major Reforms of Classification and Declassification. 
  • Issue an Executive Order Reforming the Prepublication Review System. 

You can read the full letter here: 

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Intelwars Patents transparency

Victory! EFF Scores Another Win for the Public’s Right of Access against Patent Owner Fighting for Secrecy

Patents generate profits for private companies, but their power comes from the government, and in this country, the government’s power comes from the people. That means the rights patents confer, regardless of who exercises them, are fundamentally public in nature.

Patent owners have no right to keep their patents rights secret. The whole point of the patent system is to encourage people to disclose information about their inventions to the public by giving certain exclusive rights to those who do. But that doesn’t stop private companies from trying to keep information about their patents secret—even when their disputes to go court, where the public has a right to know what happens.

A recent decision by a federal court in a long-running transparency push by EFF affirmed the public’s right to access important information about a patent dispute. For more than two years, we have been working to vindicate the public’s right of access to important sealed court documents in Uniloc v. Apple. The sealed documents supported Apple’s argument that the case should be dismissed because Uniloc lost ownership of the patents when it sued Apple, and thus lost the right to bring the suit. But as filed, the documents were so heavily redacted that it was impossible to understand them. So EFF intervened to oppose the sealing requests on the public’s behalf—and we won. When Uniloc asked for reconsideration, the court refused—and we won again. When Uniloc appealed, the Federal Circuit overwhelmingly upheld the district court’s decision—and for the third time, we won.

EFF hoped that the string of victories would mark the end of our intervention and that the parties would promptly file properly-redacted documents as required at last. But they did not do so.

In October 2020, after more than three months had passed since the Federal Circuit’s ruling, we discovered Apple had filed a new motion to dismiss against Uniloc. Again, the motion and exhibits were so heavily redacted that it was impossible to know what Apple’s argument for dismissal was. So EFF moved to intervene, challenging Uniloc’s failure to comply with the Federal Circuit’s ruling as well as its new failure to submit proper sealing requests. The district court agreed, and for the fourth time, we won.

That EFF had to intervene underscores the problem of excessive sealing in patent cases between private companies. No matter how much they disagree on other issues, otherwise-warring sides often have a mutual interest in wanting to keep information about the litigation secret. When that happens, both sides are motivated to make excessive requests to seal court records—but not to oppose them. If there’s no opposition, there’s no guarantee a judge will weigh the request against the public’s right of access. To make sure that happens, EFF often intervenes in patent cases to vindicate the public’s access rights.

In its December 2020 decision, the district court did not mince words, excoriating both parties for their casual attitude toward the public’s right of access. The court emphasized the perils of “collusive oversealing,” which happens in cases such as this where “both parties seek to seal more information than they have any right to and so do not police each other’s indiscretion.” Although Apple did not request secrecy, it had ample opportunity to challenge Uniloc’s sealing requests, but “opted instead to grab its December 4 victory on the standing issue and head for the hills.” Seeing Apple and Uniloc’s mutual interest in secrecy, the court realized that “[w]ithout EFF, the public’s right of access will have no advocate,” and granted our motion for intervention with thanks.

The court then denied all of Uniloc’s sealing requests—including the requests to seal the names and amounts paid by Uniloc’s licensees. In doing so, the court emphasized the public’s right to information about U.S. patents in addition to the right to access court records. As it explained: “a patent is a public grant of rights. . . . The public has every right to account for all its tenants, all its sub-tenants, and (more broadly) anyone holding even a slice of the public grant.” It also emphasized the public’s “interest in inspecting the valuation of the patent rights . . . particularly given secrecy so often plays to the patentee’s advantage in forcing bloated royalties.” We commend the court for recognizing the gravity of the public’s right—and need—for information about the ownership, licensing, and valuation of U.S. patents.

We hoped this victory would convince Uniloc to admit defeat and change its sealing practices, but it has decided to appeal its loss to the Federal Circuit again. EFF’s fight for access to Uniloc’s licensing secrets will continue. In the meantime, we hope this decision will encourage judges and litigants to enforce the public’s right of access, especially when the adversarial process collapses.

 

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Intelwars News Update transparency

No Secret Evidence in Our Courts

If you’re accused of a crime, you have a right to examine and challenge the evidence used against you. In an important victory, an appeals court in New Jersey agreed with EFF and the ACLU of NJ that a defendant is entitled to see the source code of software that’s used to generate evidence against them.

The case of New Jersey v. Pickett involves complex DNA analysis using TrueAllele software. The software analyzed a DNA sample obtained by swabbing a weapon, a sample that likely contained the DNA of multiple people. It then asserted that it was likely that the defendant, Corey Pickett, had contributed DNA to that sample, implicating him in the crime.

But when the defense team wanted to analyze how that software arrived at that conclusion, the prosecutors and the software vendor insisted that it was a secret. They argued that the defense team shouldn’t be allowed to look at how the software actually worked, because the vendor has a commercial interest in preventing competitors from knowing its trade secrets.

The court correctly ruled in favor of the defendant’s right to understand and challenge the software being used to implicate him. The code will not be publicly disclosed, but will be made available to the defense team. The defense needs this information about TrueAllele so that it can fairly participate in a procedural step known as a Frye hearing, used to ensure that a defendant’s rights are not undermined through the introduction of unreliable expert evidence.

In previous instances, defense experts have found fatal flaws in this kind of software. For instance, a complex DNA analysis program called “FST” was shown to have an undisclosed function in the code with the potential to tip the scales against a defendant. After the defense team found the issue, journalists at ProPublica persuaded the court to have the source code disclosed to the public.

This issue has arisen all around the country, and we have filed multiple briefs in different courts warning of the danger of secret software being used to convict criminal defendants. No one should be imprisoned or executed based on secret evidence that cannot be fairly evaluated for its reliability, and the ruling in this case will help prevent that injustice.

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behavior modification Big tech brainwashing Censorship Donald Trump enforcement action Facebook free speech freedom Headline News Intelwars killing free speech looting Masters Nazi Germany Obey Orwellian dystopia Ownership permanently suspending accounts power Psychological Operation psyop Riots Self-ownership slaves Social Media stocks tumbled the Great Purge The Purge transparency Twitter United States wake up

Twitter Purge: Our Orwellian Dystopia Is Now Our Present

In a Monday night blog post, Twitter laid out all the latest details of a historic purge that started with the permanent suspension of President Donald Trump.  Isn’t it odd how none of those considerations emerged during the summer when United States cities were literally burning as a result of countless violent protests and frequent riots?

According to a report by ZeroHedge, the Great Purge, which is a big tech censorship campaign rivaled only by that of Nazi Germany’s, has begun.  With the suspension of 70,000 accounts since Friday, the crackdown on dissent and those who know they are being lied to propagandized is here.  The Orwellian dystopia we were all warned about has arrived.

In twitter’s own words: “It’s important to be transparent about all of this work as the US Presidential Inauguration on January 20, 2021, approaches.” In the aftermath of the biggest censorship purge in Twitter history, the company’s stock tumbled. The justification for the mass censorship campaign dubbed “the purge” by ZeroHedge and others is justified if you believe Big Tech:

We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm. Given the violent events in Washington, DC, and increased risk of harm, we began permanently suspending thousands of accounts that were primarily dedicated to sharing QAnon content on Friday afternoon.

Already, the American Civil Liberties Union is warning the public that the Big Tech firms are expanding their power.

“Unchecked Power” Warning After Trump’s Permanent Suspension From Social Media

Social media platforms will soon be an echo chamber for authoritarians while those who have been censored move to other sites that allow the free flow of information.

Click here to read Twitter’s entire statement on the censorship of dissenting voices.

This situation will amp up as we approach the inauguration. Things are about to get chaotic as people increasingly become silenced as Big Tech continues to foment division.

The post Twitter Purge: Our Orwellian Dystopia Is Now Our Present first appeared on SHTF Plan – When It Hits The Fan, Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You.

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ACLU american civil liberties union Big tech Censorship Communication Donald Trump fascism corporatocracy free speech government is slavery Headline News Intelwars Kate Ruane liberty Mainstream media masses permanent suspension public Reality Social Media transparency unchecked power wake up

“Unchecked Power” Warning After Trump’s Permanent Suspension From Social Media

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is warning the public of big tech’s “unchecked power” in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s permanent suspension from social media.

Kate Ruane, a senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, said in a statement that Twitter’s decision to suspend Trump from social media sets a precedent for tech companies to silence voices. Censorship is running rampant right now and few seem to notice or even give a damn.

The ACLU first took issue with Trump’s usage of social media outlets to question the results of the November 3 election and his allegations of voter fraud. “We understand the desire to permanently suspend him now, but it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions – especially when political realities make those decisions easier,” the ACLU statement read.

Ruane reiterated that transparency is needed from Big Tech companies, noting that activists who don’t have alternative ways to communicate will suffer. “President Trump can turn his press team or Fox News to communicate with the public, but others … who have been censored by social media companies—will not have that luxury. It is our hope that these companies will apply their rules transparently to everyone,” according to the statement.

“Censorship is to society what cancer is to the human body,” says YouTube creator Brian of High Impact TV.

Trump has been censored almost everywhere. Twitter, which suspended Trump’s account on Friday indefinitely suspended the president’s access. Instagram, Twitch, Facebook, and others have done the same.

Big Tech has taken on the role of suppressing the free speech of people with whom they disagree.  If you honestly still believe you live in a free society, you’re living in a delusion. Other concerns have been expressed about civil liberties after Apple and Google moved to remove social media app Parler—a social media website used primarily by conservatives—from their respective app downloading stores, saying it has not implemented adequate moderation policies.

Parler’s CEO says Big Tech is trying to squash the completion along with the basic fundamental right to free speech. “There is the possibility Parler will be unavailable on the internet for up to a week as we rebuild from scratch,” he said in a post on Parler. “This was a coordinated attack by the tech giants to kill competition in the market place … You can expect the war on competition and free speech to continue, but don’t count us out.”

The post “Unchecked Power” Warning After Trump’s Permanent Suspension From Social Media first appeared on SHTF Plan – When It Hits The Fan, Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You.

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Victory! Federal Appeals Court Confirms FOIA Requests Requiring a Database Query are Allowed Under the Law

At a time when the federal government is collecting and creating massive amounts of digital data that can implicate people’s privacy and free speech rights, it is crucial that the public know what the government is doing with that information. A ruling from a federal appellate court earlier this month ensures that the Freedom of Information Act, one of the most important legal tools citizens and reporters have for furthering government transparency, allows the public to understand the government’s use of digital data.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit came in a case brought by the Center for Investigative Reporting against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) seeking aggregate data about the number of weapons used in crimes that could be traced back to being originally purchased by law enforcement. The district court below ruled that ATF did not have to produce the data because the search query of the agency’s data would have amounted to creating a new record, something that FOIA prohibits. 

The lower court’s ruling was dangerous because it had the potential to broadly restrict FOIA requesters from obtaining digital data based largely on a misunderstanding of how digital data is stored and what occurs when people query databases. EFF filed a friend-of-the-court brief to point out how the initial decision could “frustrate access to vast amounts of government digital data in which the public has a legitimate interest.” EFF’s brief argued further that the ruling was out of touch with the reality that the government is “collecting and centralizing extensive swaths of personally identifying data on members of the public, including extremely sensitive information like biometrics and expressive activity on social media.”

Another friend-of-the-court brief written by Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic on behalf of data journalists and media organizations pointedly described how database queries that produce aggregate records in no way resemble creating a new physical or digital record. Instead, because a query is simply an instruction to the database “to select a specific subset of information from a database and return it in a particular arrangement,” the result is not a new record but rather just a representation of responsive data in the underlying database.

The Ninth Circuit recognized the broader concerns at issue in this case, writing, “as CIR and amici recognize, whether a search query of an existing database entails the creation of a ‘new record’ is a question of great importance in the digital age.” 

The Ninth Circuit’s opinion quotes EFF and the Cyberlaw clinic’s briefs throughout. For example, the court quotes EFF’s argument that FOIA requests seeking access to aggregate data are essential to balance the public’s interest in understanding how the government uses biometric and other personal data it collects without disclosing the underlying data that is often private or otherwise intrusive. The court wrote:

“Moreover, as in this case, ‘[r]eleasing statistical aggregate data from government Databases’ may sometimes prove the ‘only[] way to comply with FOIA’s mandate while properly balancing the public’s and the government’s interests in safeguarding sensitive information.’”

In rejecting the district court’s interpretation of FOIA, the Ninth Circuit concluded that “if running a search across these databases necessarily amounts to the creation of a new record, much government information will become forever inaccessible under FOIA, a result plainly contrary to Congress’s purpose in enacting FOIA.”

We are grateful that the Ninth Circuit understood both the underlying technology at issue and the stakes of this case. By recognizing that FOIA allows requesters to seek aggregate data from federal agencies, the court ensured that the transparency law remains an important tool for people to learn about government use and abuse of the data it collects.

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Facebook’s Election-Week War on Accountability is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

A legacy of the 2016 U.S. election is the controversy about the role played by paid, targeted political ads, particularly ads that contain disinformation or misinformation. Political scientists and psychologists disagree about how these ads work, and what effect they have. It’s a pressing political question, especially on the eve of another U.S. presidential race, and the urgency only rises abroad, where acts of horrific genocide have been traced to targeted social media disinformation campaigns.

The same factors that make targeted political ads tempting to bad actors and dirty tricksters are behind much of the controversy. Ad-targeting, by its very nature, is opaque. The roadside billboard bearing a politician’s controversial slogan can be pointed at and debated by all. Targeted ads can show different messages to different users, making it possible for politicians to “say the quiet part out loud” without their most extreme messaging automatically coming to light. Without being able to see the ads, we can’t properly debate their effect.

Enter Ad Observatory, a project of the NYU Online Transparency Project, at the university’s engineering school. Ad Observatory recruits Facebook users to shed light on political (and other) advertising by running a browser plugin that “scrapes” (makes a copy of) the ads they see when using Facebook. These ads are collected by the university and analyzed by the project’s academic researchers; they also make these ads available for third party scrutiny. The project has been a keystone of many important studies and the work of accountability journalists.

With the election only days away, the work of the Ad Observatory is especially urgent. Facebook publishes its own “Ad Library,” but the NYU researchers explain that the company’s data set is “complicated to use, untold numbers of political ads are missing, and a significant element is lacking: how advertisers choose which specific demographics and groups of people should see their ad—and who shouldn’t. They have cataloged many instances in which Facebook had failed to live up to its promises to clearly label ads and fight disinformation.

But rather than embrace the Ad Observatory as a partner that rectifies the limitations of its own systems, Facebook has sent a legal threat to the university, demanding that the project shut down and delete the data it has already collected. Facebook’s position is that collecting data using “automated means” (including scraping) is a violation of its Terms of Service, even when the NYU Ad Observatory is acting on behalf of Facebook’s own users, and even in furtherance of the urgent mission of fighting political disinformation during an election that U.S. politicians call the most consequential and contested in living memory.

Facebook’s threats are especially chilling because of its history of enforcing its terms of service using the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The CFAA makes it a federal crime to access a computer connected to the Internet “without authorization,” but it fails to define these terms. It was passed with the aim of outlawing computer break-ins, but some jurisdictions have converted it into a tool to enforce private companies’ computer use policies, like terms of service, which are typically wordy, one-sided contracts that virtually no one reads.

In fact, Facebook is largely responsible for creating terrible legal precedent on scraping and the CFAA in a 2016 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision called Facebook v. Power Ventures. The case involved a dispute between Facebook and a social media aggregator, which Facebook users had voluntarily signed up for. Facebook did not want its users engaging with this service, so it sent Power Ventures a cease and desist letter alleging a violation of its terms of service and tried to block Power Ventures’ IP address. Even though the Ninth Circuit had previously decided that a violation of terms of service alone was not a CFAA violation, the court found that Power Ventures did violate the CFAA when it continued to provide its services after receiving the cease and desist letter. So the Power Ventures decision allows platforms to not only police their platforms against any terms of service violations they deem objectionable, but to turn even minor transgressions against a one-sided contract of adhesion into a violation of federal law that carries potentially serious civil and criminal liability.

More recently, the Ninth Circuit limited the scope of Power Ventures somewhat in HiQ v. LinkedIn. The court clarified that scraping public websites cannot be a CFAA violation regardless of personalized cease and desist letters sent to scrapers. However, that still leaves any material you have to log in to see—like most posts on Facebook—off limits to scraping if the platform decides it doesn’t like the scraper.

Decisions like Power Ventures potentially give Facebook a veto over a wide swath of beneficial outside research. That’s such a problem that some lawyers have argued interpreting the CFAA to criminalize terms of service violations would actually be unconstitutional. And at least one court has taken those concerns to heart, ruling in Sandvig v. Barr that the CFAA did not bar researchers who wanted to create multiple Facebook “tester” accounts to research how algorithms unlawfully discriminate based on characteristics like race or gender. The Sandvig decision should be a warning to Facebook that shutting down important civic research like the Ad Observatory is a serious misuse of the CFAA, which might even violate the First Amendment.

Over the weekend, Facebook executive Rob Leathern posted the official rationale for the multinational company’s attack on a public university’s researchers: he claimed that “Collecting personal data via scraping tools is an industry-wide problem that’s bad for people’s privacy & unsafe regardless of who is doing it. We protect people’s privacy by not only prohibiting unauthorized scraping in our terms, we have teams dedicated to finding and preventing it. And under our agreement with the FTC, we report violations like these as privacy incidents…[W]e want to make sure that providing more transparency doesn’t come at the cost of privacy.”

Leathern is making a critical mistake here: he is conflating secrecy with privacy. Secrecy is when you (and possibly a few others) know something that everyone else does not get to know. Privacy is when you get to decide who knows what about you. As Facebook’s excellent white paper on the subject explains: “What you share and who you share it with should be your decision.”

Leathern’s blanket condemnation of scraping is just as disturbing as his misunderstanding of privacy. Scraping is a critical piece of competitive compatibility, the process whereby new products and services are designed to work with existing ones without cooperation from the companies that made those services. Scraping is a powerful pro-competitive move that allows users and the companies that serve them to overturn the dominance of monopolists (that’s why it was key to forcing U.S. banks to adopt standards that let their customers manage their accounts in their own way). In the end, scraping is just an automated way of copying and pasting: the information that is extracted by the Ad Observer plugins is the same data that Mr Leathern’s users could manually copy and paste into the Ad Observatory databases.

As with so many technological questions, the ethics of scraping depend on much more than what the drafter of any terms of service thinks is in its own best interest.

Facebook is very wrong here.

First, they are wrong on the law. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act should not not be on their side. Violating the company’s terms of service to perform a constitutionally protected watchdog role is lawful.

Second, they are wrong on the ethics. There is no privacy benefit to users in prohibiting them from choosing to share the political ads they are served with researchers and journalists.

Finally, the are wrong on the facts. Mr. Leathern’s follow-up tweets claim that the Ad Observatory’s plugins collect “data about friends or others who view the ads.” That is a statement with no apparent factual basis, as is made abundantly clear from the project’s FAQ and privacy policy.

That’s a lot of wrong. And worse, it’s a lot of wrong on the eve of an historic election, a wrongness that will chill other projects contemplating their own accountability investigations into dominant tech platforms.

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Big tech Intelwars International Surveillance and Human Rights transparency

EFF to Supreme Court: American Companies Complicit in Human Rights Abuses Abroad Should Be Held Accountable

For years EFF has been calling for U.S. companies that act as “repression’s little helpers” to be held accountable, and now we’re telling the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite all the ways that technology has been used as a force for good—connecting people around the world, giving voice to the less powerful, and facilitating knowledge sharing—technology has also been used as a force multiplier for repression and human rights violations, a dark side that cannot be denied.

Today EFF filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to preserve one of the few tools of legal accountability that exist for companies that intentionally aid and abet foreign repression, the Alien Tort Statute (ATS). We told the court about what we and others have been seeing over the past decade or so: surveillance, communications, and database systems, just to name a few, have been used by foreign governments—with the full knowledge of and assistance by the U.S. companies selling those technologies—to spy on and track down activists, journalists, and religious minorities who have been imprisoned, tortured, and even killed.

Specifically, we asked the Supreme Court today to rule that U.S. corporations can be sued by foreigners under the ATS and taken to court for aiding and abetting gross human rights abuses. The court is reviewing an ATS lawsuit brought by former child slaves from Côte d’Ivoire who claim two American companies, Nestlé USA and Cargill, aided in abuse they suffered by providing financial support to cocoa farms they were forced to work at. The ATS allows noncitizens to bring a civil claim in U.S. federal court against a defendant that violated human rights laws. The companies are asking the court to rule that companies cannot be held accountable under the law, and that only individuals can.

We were joined in the brief by the leading organizations tracking the sale of surveillance technology: Access Now, Article 19, Privacy International, Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity, and Ronald Deibert, director of Citizen Lab at University of Toronto. We told the court that the Nestlé case does not just concern chocolate and children. The outcome will have profound implications for millions of Internet users and other citizens of countries around the world. Why? Because providing sophisticated surveillance and censorship products and services to foreign governments is big business for some American tech companies. The fact that their products are clearly being used for tools of oppression seems not to matter. Here are a few examples we cite in our brief:

Cisco custom-built the so-called “Great Firewall” in China, also known as the “Golden Shield,” which enables the government to conduct Internet surveillance and censorship against its citizens. Company documents have revealed that, as part of its marketing pitch to China, Cisco built a specific “Falun Gong module” into the Golden Shield that helped Chinese authorities efficiently identify and locate members of the Falun Gong religious minority, who were then apprehended and subjected to torture, forced conversion, and other human rights abuses. Falun Gong practitioners sued Cisco under the ATS in a case currently pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. EFF has filed briefs siding with the plaintiffs throughout the case.

Ning Xinhua, a pro-democracy activist from China, just last month sued the successor companies, founder, and former CEO of Yahoo! under the ATS for sharing his private emails with the Chinese government, which led to his arrest, imprisonment, and torture.

Recently, the government of Belarus used technology from Sandvine, a U.S. network equipment company, to block much of the Internet during the disputed presidential election in August (the company canceled its contract with Belarus because of the censorship). The company’s technology is also used by Turkey, Syria, and Egypt against Internet users to redirect them to websites that contain spyware or block their access to political, human rights, and news content.

We also cited a case against IBM where we filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs, victims of apartheid, who sued under the ATS on claims that the tech giant aided and abetted the human rights abuses they suffered at the hands of the South African government. IBM created a customized computer-based national identification system that facilitated the “denationalization” of country’s Black population. Its customized technology enabled efficient identification, racial categorization, and forced segregation, furthering the systemic oppression of South Africa’s native population. Unfortunately the case was dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. 

The Supreme Court has severely limited the scope of the ATS in several rulings over the years. The court is now being asked to essentially grant immunity from the ATS to U.S. corporations. That would be a huge mistake. Companies that provide products and services to customers that clearly intend to, and do, use them to commit gross human rights abuses must be held accountable for their actions. We don’t think companies should be held liable just because their technologies ended up in the hands of governments that use them to hurt people. But when technology corporations custom-make products for governments that are plainly using them to commit human rights abuses, they cross a moral, ethical, and legal line.

We urge the Supreme Court to hold that U.S. courts are open when a U.S. tech company decides to put profits over basic human rights, and people in foreign countries are seriously harmed or killed by those choices.

 

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free speech Intelwars national security letters transparency

EFF and ACLU Ask Ninth Circuit to Overturn Government’s Censorship of Twitter’s Transparency Report

Citing national security concerns, the government is attempting to infringe on Twitter’s First Amendment right to inform the public about secret government surveillance orders. For more than six years, Twitter has been fighting in court to share information about law enforcement orders it received in 2014. Now, Twitter has brought that fight to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. EFF, along with the ACLU, filed an amicus brief last week to underscore the First Amendment rights at stake.

In 2014, Twitter submitted a draft transparency report to the FBI to review. The FBI censored the report, banning Twitter from sharing the total number of foreign intelligence surveillance orders the government had served within a six-month period. In response, Twitter filed suit in order to assert its First Amendment right to share that information.

Over half a decade of litigation later, the trial court judge resolved the case in April by dismissing Twitter’s First Amendment claim. Among the several concerning aspects of the opinion, the judge spent devoted only a single paragraph to analyzing Twitter’s First Amendment right to inform the public about law enforcement orders for its users’ information.

That single paragraph was not only perfunctory, but incorrect. The lower court failed to recognize one of the most basic rules underpinning the right to free speech in this country: the government must meet an extraordinarily exacting burden in order to censor speech before that speech occurs, which the Supreme Court has called “the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.”

As we explained in our amicus brief, to pass constitutional scrutiny, the government must prove that silencing speech before it occurs is necessary to avoid harm that is not only extremely serious but is also imminent and irreparable. But the lower court judge concluded that censoring Twitter’s speech was acceptable without finding that any resulting harm to national security would be either imminent or irreparable. Nor did the judge address whether the censorship was actually necessary, and whether less-restrictive alternatives could mitigate the potential for harm.

This cursory analysis was a far cry from the extraordinarily exacting scrutiny that the First Amendment requires. We hope that the hope that the Ninth Circuit will say the same.

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Campaign 2020 Coronavirus covid Intelwars Joe Biden transparency

Joe Biden declines to promise transparency with health details: ‘Every detail would not be made available’

Democratic nominee Joe Biden admitted Monday that he would not be transparent with Americans about his health should he win election on Nov. 3.

Biden’s comments came after Democrats and the media heavily criticized President Donald Trump and his team of doctors over the weekend for seemingly dodging transparency about the president’s health during his stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

What did Biden say?

During an NBC News town hall, Biden explained that, if he were president, circumstances may arise where details of his health would not be publicly disclosed.

“I can understand there could be certain circumstances relating to national security, where every detail would not be made available in the middle of a particular crisis,” Biden said, the Washington Examiner reported.

In fact, Biden said that presidents are due special circumstances, explaining “sometimes for a president, that would come after the fact,” referring to the disclosure of personal health details.

As the Examiner noted, Biden has mostly steered clear of attacking Trump over what the president’s critics claimed have been
issues of transparency surrounding his health.

Perhaps that is because Biden and his campaign have been hit with similar accusations.

What is Biden’s record of transparency?

From the New York Times:

[B]eyond the public examples of safety precautions, Mr. Biden’s health protocols have remained largely under wraps, with his campaign saying
little about what steps it is taking to protect the 77-year-old Democratic nominee.

His aides will not answer questions about whether Mr. Biden is tested daily; they say simply that he is tested “regularly.” Until this weekend, they
had promised to inform the public only if he had a confirmed positive case. Then, on Saturday night, after two days of refusing to provide details
about Mr. Biden’s testing procedures, the campaign committed to releasing the results of all of his tests.

In fact, Biden’s campaign has downright refused transparency regarding COVID-19.

Over the weekend, Symone Sanders, a senior adviser to the Biden, was asked about the campaign’s contingency plans if Biden does test positive for COVID-19. She did not mince words.

“Much like I wouldn’t discuss our security plans here on national television, I’m not going to talk about our inner workings of our health plans,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Meanwhile, doctors who spoke with the New York Times reiterated that, in the age of COVID-19 and elder candidates, transparency is key.

Being dodgy with information “engenders trust in the community, it helps allay fears and concerns,” Dr. Kelly Michelson of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told the Times.

Teneille Brown, a professor of law at the University of Utah, added, “We have a real loss of trust in communication coming out of our leaders. It would do a great deal to rebuild trust for there to be absolute transparency about timing, risk, exposure.”

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Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning Intelwars Legal Analysis transparency

Victory! Court Orders CA Prisons to Release Race of Parole Candidates

In a win for transparency, a state court judge ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to disclose records regarding the race and ethnicity of parole candidates. This is also a win for innovation, because the plaintiffs will use this data to build new technology in service of criminal justice reform and racial justice.

In Voss v. CDCR, EFF represented a team of researchers (known as Project Recon) from Stanford University and University of Oregon who are attempting to study California parole suitability determinations using machine-learning models. This involves using automation to review over 50,000 parole hearing transcripts and identify various factors that influence parole determinations. Project Recon’s ultimate goal is to develop an AI tool that can identify parole denials that may have been influenced by improper factors as potential candidates for reconsideration. Project Recon’s work must account for many variables, including the race and ethnicity of individuals who appeared before the parole board.

Project Recon is a promising example of how AI might be used to identify and correct racial bias in our criminal justice system.

In September 2018, Project Recon requested from CDCR race and ethnicity information of parole candidates. CDCR denied the request, claiming that the information was not subject to the California Public Records Act (CPRA). Instead, CDCR shuttled the researchers through its discretionary research review process, where they remained in limbo for nearly a year. Ultimately, the head of the parole board declined to support the team’s request because one of its members had previously published research critical of California’s parole process.

In June 2020, EFF filed a lawsuit on behalf of Project Recon alleging that CDCR violated the CPRA and the First Amendment. Soon after, our case was consolidated with a similar case, Brodheim v. CDCR. We moved for a writ of mandate ordering CDCR to disclose the race data.

In its opposition, CDCR claimed it was protecting the privacy of incarcerated people, and that race data constituted “criminal offender record information” and was therefore exempt from disclosure. EFF pointed out that the public interest in disclosure is high—especially since racial disparities in the criminal justice system are a national topic of conversation—and thus was not outweighed by the public interest in nondisclosure. EFF also argued that race data could not constitute “criminal offender record information” since race has nothing to do with someone’s criminal record, but rather is demographic information.

The court agreed. It reasoned that the public has a strong public interest in disclosure of race and ethnicity data of parole candidates:

[T]his case unquestionably involves a weighty public interest in disclosure, i.e., to shed light on whether the parole process is infected by racial or ethnic bias. The importance of that public interest is vividly highlighted by the current national focus on the role of race in the criminal justice system and in American society generally . . . . Disclosure insures that government activity is open to the sharp eye of public scrutiny.  

Accordingly, the court ordered CDCR to produce the requested records. Last week, CDCR declined to appeal the court’s decision and produced the records.

Apart from being a win for transparency and open government, this case also is important for racial justice. As we identified in our briefing, CDCR has a history of racial bias, which the U.S. Supreme Court and California appellate courts alike have recognized. That makes it all the more important for information about potential racial disparities in parole determinations to be open for the public to analyze and debate.

Moreover, this case is a win for beneficial AI innovation. In a world where AI is often proposed for harmful and biased uses, Project Recon is an example of AI for good. Rather than substitute for human decision-making, the AI that Project Recon is attempting to build would shed a light on human decision-making by reviewing past decisions and identifying where bias may have played a role. This innovative use of technology to identify systemic biases, including racial disparities, is the type of AI use we should support and encourage.

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OTF’s Work Is Vital for a Free and Open Internet

Keeping the internet open, free, and secure requires eternal vigilance and the constant cooperation of freedom defenders all over the web and the world. Over the past eight years, the Open Technology Fund (OTF) has fostered a global community and provided support—both monetary and in-kind—to more than four hundred projects that seek to combat censorship and repressive surveillance, enabling more than two billion people in over 60 countries to more safely access the open Internet and advocate for democracy.

OTF has earned trust over the years through its open source ethos, transparency, and a commitment to independence from its funder, the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which receives its funding through Congressional appropriations.

In the past week, USAGM has removed OTF’s leadership and independent expert board, prompting a number of organizations and individuals to call into question OTF’s ability to continue its work and maintain trust among the various communities it serves. USAGM’s new leadership has been lobbied to redirect funding for OTF’s open source projects to a new set of closed-source tools, leaving many well-established tools in the lurch.

Why OTF Matters

EFF has maintained a strong relationship with OTF since its inception. Several of our staff members serve or have served on its Advisory Council, and OTF’s annual summits have provided crucial links between EFF and the international democracy tech community. OTF’s support has been vital to the development of EFF’s software projects and policy initiatives. Guidance and funding from OTF have been foundational to Certbot, helping the operators of tens of millions of websites use EFF’s tool to generate and install Let’s Encrypt certificates. The OTF-sponsored fellowship for Wafa Ben-Hassine produced impactful research and policy analysis about how Arab governments repress online speech.

OTF’s funding is focused on tools to help individuals living under repressive governments. For example, OTF-funded circumvention technologies including Lantern and Wireguard are used by tens of millions of people around the world, including millions of daily users in China. OTF also incubated and assisted in the initial development of the Signal Protocol, the encryption back-end used by both Signal and WhatsApp. By sponsoring Let’s Encrypt’s implementation of multi-perspective validation, OTF helped protect the 227 million sites using Let’s Encrypt from BGP attacks, a favorite technique of nation-states that hijack websites for censorship and propaganda purposes.

While these tools are designed for users living under repressive governments, they are used by individuals and groups all over the world, and benefit movements as diverse as Hong Kong’s Democracy movement, the movement for Black lives, and LGBTQ+ rights defenders. 

OTF requires public, verifiable security audits for all of its open-source software grantees. These audits greatly reduce risk for the vulnerable people who use OTF-funded technology. Perhaps more importantly, they are a necessary step in creating trust between US-funded software and foreign activists in repressive regimes.  Without that trust, it is difficult to ask people to risk their lives on OTF’s work.

Help Us #SaveInternetFreedom

It is not just OTF that is under threat, but the entire ecosystem of open source, secure technologies—and the global community that builds those tools. We urge you to join EFF and more than 400 other organizations in signing the open letter, which asks members of Congress to:

  • Require USAGM to honor existing FY2019 and FY2020 spending plans to support the Open Technology Fund;
  • Require all US-Government internet freedom funds to be awarded via an open, fair, competitive, and evidence-based decision process;
  • Require all internet freedom technologies supported with US-Government funds to remain fully open-source in perpetuity;
  • Require regular security audits for all internet freedom technologies supported with US-Government funds; and
  • Pass the Open Technology Fund Authorization Act.

EFF is proud to join the voices of hundreds of organizations and individuals across the globe calling on UGASM and OTF’s board to recommit to the value of open source technology, robust security audits, and support for global Internet freedom. These core values—which have been a mainstay of OTF’s philanthropy—are vital to uplifting the voices of billions of technology users facing repression all over the world.

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Electronic Frontier Alliance Intelwars Street-Level Surveillance transparency

Victory! New York’s City Council Passes the POST Act

After three years of organizing by a broad coalition of civil society organizations and community members, New York’s City Council has passed the POST Act with an overwhelming—and veto-proof—majority supporting this common-sense transparency measure. 

The POST Act’s long overdue passing came as part of a package of bills that many considered longshots before weeks of public protest calling attention to injustices in policing. However, in recent weeks many of the bills detractors, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, came to see the measure as appropriate and balanced. 

The POST Act provides a much needed first step toward transparency. Once signed into law, the act will require the NYPD to openly publish a use policy for each surveillance technology it intends to use. After this notice has been made publicly available, and members of the community have had an opportunity to voice their concerns to the department and City Council, the NYPD Commissioner will be required to provide a final version of the surveillance impact and use policy to the City Council, the mayor, and the public.

The bill lacks the community control rules included in similar Surveillance Equipment Regulation Ordinances (SEROs) like Oakland’s Surveillance and Community Safety ordinance and San Francisco’s Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance. In those communities, city agencies must get permission from their city councils before acquiring surveillance technologies. Still, the new transparency requirements of New York’s POST Act are an important step forward.

With federal agencies expanding their spying programs against immigrants and political dissidents, and concern that the federal government will commandeer the surveillance programs of state and local governments, the police surveillance transparency movement continues to gain momentum on the local and state level. 

EFF will continue to work with our Electronic Frontier Alliance allies like New York’s Surveillance Technology Oversight Project and the Bay Area’s Oakland Privacy to develop and pass comprehensive legislation ensuring civil liberties and essential privacy. To find an Electronic Frontier Alliance member organization in your community, or to learn how your group can join the Alliance, visit eff.org/fight.

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Intelwars transparency

California Cops Can No Longer Pass the Cost of Digital Redaction onto Public Records Requesters

At a dark time when the possibility of police accountability seems especially bleak, there is a new glimmer of light courtesy of the California Supreme Court. Under a new ruling, government agencies cannot pass the cost of redacting police body-camera footage and other digital public records onto the members of the public who requested them under the California Public Records Act (CPRA).

The case, National Lawyers Guild vs. Hayward was brought by civil rights groups against the City of Hayward after they filed requests for police body-camera footage related to protests on UC Berkeley’s campus following the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Hayward Police agreed to release the footage, but not before assessing nearly $3,000 for redacting the footage and editing that they claimed NLG needed to pay before they’d release the video.

The California Supreme Court sided with NLG, as well as the long list of transparency advocates and news organizations that filed briefs in the case. The court ruled that:

“Just as agencies cannot recover the costs of searching through a filing cabinet for paper records, they cannot recover comparable costs for electronic records. Nor, for similar reasons, does ‘extraction’ cover the cost of redacting exempt data from otherwise producible electronic records.”

The court further acknowledged that such charges “could well prove prohibitively expensive for some requesters, barring them from accessing records altogether.”

This is an unqualified victory for government transparency. So what does this mean in practical terms for public records requesters? As people march against police violence across the Golden State, many members of the press and non-profits will likely use the CPRA to obtain evidence of police breaking the law or otherwise violating people’s civil rights.

These videos can prove to be invaluable records of police activity and misconduct, though they can also capture individuals suffering medical emergencies, violence, and other moments of distress. The CPRA attempts to balance these and other interests by allowing public agencies to redact personally identifying details and other information while still requiring that the videos be made public.

So when making a request for body-camera footage, the first thing requesters should know is that sometimes the individuals handling public records requests are not keeping up with legal decisions, particularly one issued last week. To preempt these misinterpretations of the law, requesters could consider including a line in their letters that says something like:

“Pursuant to NLG vs. Hayward, S252445 (May 28, 2020), government agencies may not charge requesters for the cost of redacting or editing body-worn camera footage.”

More broadly, the decision’s reasoning doesn’t just apply to body-camera footage, but all digital records. This is because the court’s ruling recognizes that because the CPRA already prohibits agencies from charging requesters for redacting non-digital records, that same prohibition applies to digital records.

So, in requests for electronic information, such as emails or datasets, you could include the line:

“Pursuant to NLG vs. Hayward, S252445 (May 28, 2020), government agencies may not charge requesters for the cost of redacting digital records.”

Additionally, people filing CPRA requests for digital records should know that the law does permit agencies to charge for the costs of duplicating records, though in the case of digital records that cost should be no more than the price of media the copy is written to – in NLG’s case, it was $1 for a USB memory stick.

The CPRA also permits agencies, in certain narrow circumstances, to charge for its staff’s time spent programming or extracting data to respond to a public records request. The good news is that the California Supreme Court’s decision last week significantly narrowed the circumstances under which an agency can claim these costs and pass them along to requesters.

According to the court, data “extraction” under the CPRA “refers to a particular technical process—a process of retrieving data from government data stores—when this process is” required to produce a record that can be released. The court said the provision would permit charges when, for example, a request for demographic data of state employees requires an agency to pull that data from a larger human resources database. But “extraction” does not cover the time spent searching for responsive records, such as when an official has to search through email correspondence or a physical file cabinet.

Requesters should thus be prepared to push back on any agency claims that seek to assess charges for merely searching for responsive records. And requesters should also be on the lookout for exorbitant charges associated with data “extraction” even when the CPRA permits it, as such techniques in practice can amount to little more than a database query or formula.

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Intelwars transparency

Court Upholds Public Right of Access to Court Documents

A core part of EFF’s mission is transparency and access to information, because we know that in a nation bound by the rule of law, the public must have the ability to know the law and how it is being applied. That’s why the default rule is that the public must have full access to court records—even if those records contain unsavory details. Any departure from that rule must be narrow and well-justified.

But litigants and judges aren’t always rigorous in upholding that principle. For example, when Brian Fargo sued Jennifer Tejas for allegedly defamatory Instagram posts, he asked that the court seal portions of his filings that contained those posts, references to other people and private medical information. The court granted Fargo’s request, with little explanation or apparent care.

That approach set a dangerous precedent for others. The public has a right to know what courts consider defamatory. So, with help from the First Amendment Clinic at UCLA School of Law, EFF and the First Amendment Coalition moved to unseal the records containing the Instagram posts and references to other people.

The judge denied that request. Undeterred, we appealed–and won (PDF download). The appeals court chided the trial court for its failure to adequately justify its sealing order, and its equal failure to make sure the order was narrowly tailored so that as little as possible would be hidden from the public. While it did allow some information to remain sealed–information related to private medical records can be kept from the public, and pseudonyms should be used in some exhibits to protect the privacy of third parties–it ordered the rest released.

We are grateful to the First Amendment Clinic for their help in vindicating the public’s right to know. And we hope this case will serve as a reminder to judges and litigants to take that right seriously in the future.

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free speech Intelwars Legal Analysis national security letters nsl transparency

Judge Dismisses Twitter’s Lawsuit Over Its Rights to Publish Information About Government Surveillance Orders

A federal judge dismissed Twitter’s long-pending lawsuit last week over its right to share information about secret government surveillance orders for its users’ information. We hope that Twitter will continue its fight for transparency by appealing this decision.

Background: The Government’s Limits on National Security Transparency

Using surveillance authorities such as national security letters (NSLs) and FISA court orders, the government can not only demand that companies turn over information about their customers’ accounts, but can also gag the company from disclosing any information about the demand—even the fact that the company received it. Thanks to public pressure in the wake of the 2013 Snowden revelations, companies began to seek more freedom to discuss these national security orders and to publish regular transparency reports.

In January 2014, the government came to an agreement with certain companies allowing them to disclose some aggregated information about the number of secret national security demands that the companies received. But the companies could only share that information in the broadest strokes; they could not report separate numbers for demands made under separate surveillance authorities, and they could report aggregated numbers only in wide bands. And the company could only share those aggregated numbers once every six months, at minimum, with a six-month delay in reporting. Later, as part of the 2015 USA Freedom Act, Congress legislated a similar reporting scheme that permitted recipients of national security requests slightly more freedom to publish transparency reports, but codified the aggregated bands and time delays from the government’s earlier settlement.

Twitter Sues for More Transparency

In mid-2014, Twitter submitted a draft transparency report to the FBI to review pursuant to the government’s settlement with other tech companies. Though Twitter was not a party to the January 2014 agreement, the FBI nonetheless censored information in Twitter’s report that contained total numbers of secret surveillance orders Twitter had received. Twitter filed suit, asserting that it has a First Amendment right to share the total number of secret surveillance orders it received in a six-month period, and to share with its users whether it received zero of a particular kind of national security demand.

In 2015, EFF filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of an anonymous telecom and an anonymous Internet company that had both received NSLs and accompanying gag orders. Like Twitter, EFF’s anonymous clients wanted to be able to be transparent with their customers about government demands for their data.

In 2017, the judge denied the government’s motion for summary judgment in its favor. In denying the government’s motion, the judge ruled that the government’s censorship of Twitter’s transparency report was a prior restraint, the most serious type of speech restriction, and that the government had failed to present evidence showing that the report would seriously damage national security. The judge also concluded that the government failed to establish the proper procedural safeguards that the Constitution requires in order to impose a prior restraint on speech.

By denying the government’s motion, the judge cleared the path for the case to continue, allowing the parties to present further evidence. And, because the government wanted to introduce classified evidence, the judge also ordered the government to expedite national security clearances for Twitter’s lead counsel.

The government subsequently submitted several classified declarations into evidence. But it claimed that the declarations contained state secrets so sensitive that even Twitter’s clearance-holding attorneys could not see them.

The state secrets doctrine allows the government, in exceptional circumstances, to withhold evidence from an opposing party when the disclosure of that information would jeopardize national security. This doctrine offers the government a powerful tool to hide the truth, and the government has abused that power in the past to achieve its own ends in court. As a result, judges typically review government claims that evidence contains state secrets with searching scrutiny and a healthy dose of skepticism.

On Friday, however, the judge in this case ruled that it would allow the government’s state-secrets claim and would not require the government to turn over the classified declarations to Twitter’s counsel. And, based on that secret evidence that Twitter’s attorneys were never allowed to access, the judge held that the government’s purported national security concerns were sufficient to justify its censorship of Twitters draft transparency report.

Disturbingly, the judge provided next-to-no justification for either of these decisions. In a footnote, the judge held that the government’s classified evidence could remain a secret even from Twitter’s attorneys who already had security clearances. And the judge dedicated only a single paragraph to explaining why the government’s censorship of Twitter’s transparency report does not violate the First Amendment.

The brevity of the opinion is particularly extraordinary given that the parties have been litigating the case for almost six years. And it stands in sharp contrast with the same judge’s 2017 ruling, which offered a lengthy and in-depth analysis of the First Amendment issues—and came to the opposite conclusion.

We hope that Twitter will appeal this decision and that the Ninth Circuit will make clear that companies have a right to speak out about government surveillance.

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Commentary COVID-19 and Digital Rights Intelwars transparency

EFF Joins Coalition Urging Judicial Transparency During the COVID-19 Emergency

EFF and a number of other organizations that advocate for government transparency have signed onto a letter written by the First Amendment Coalition asking the California state judiciary to ensure public access to court proceedings and records.

Many clerk’s offices are restricting entry and many operations of the state court system have moved online in direct response to actions taken by Gov. Gavin Newsom, including the Statewide Order of March 23, 2020, which in effect restricted physical access to and the activities of California’s courts. In the letter, addressed to Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, coalition groups urge that while extraordinary measures are needed in the time of a public health emergency:

“we need to recognize that important civil liberties and constitutional rights should not be unduly restricted. While courts are closing buildings, halting proceedings and holding some hearings telephonically, we are concerned members of the press and public will face insurmountable barriers to access judicial records and proceedings.”

 Especially in times of crisis as governments make big decisions that could impact the safety and liberty of millions, it is more important than ever that government remain transparent and accessible when it comes to decision making.  With so much to be decided, secrecy breeds distrust, panic, and conspiracy theories at a time when people need their government most.

To that end, the letter requests:

  1. Telephonic hearings must be conducted on conference lines that make allowance for free public usage and dial-in information be made public ahead of the hearing.
  2. Criminal proceedings must be conducted in a way that the public and press can still safely observe.
  3. Court records must remain publicly available, and fees for online access waived, until normal operations resume.

These requests echo those EFF has made in other venues to preserve government transparency during the COVID-19 crisis.

EFF recently signed onto a letter urging local and state governments not to give into panic and secrecy by cutting people off from their right to know what the government is doing and what decisions they are making. “At all times,” the letter said,  “but most especially during times of national crisis, trust and credibility are the government’s most precious assets. As people are asked to make increasing sacrifices in their daily lives for the greater good of public health, the legitimacy of government decision-making requires a renewed commitment to transparency.” This included a rejection of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s decision to totally suspended accepting Freedom of Information Act requests.

EFF has also pushed for digital access to the arguments and processes of the U.S. Supreme Court as a way to make sure the American people are not shut off from the nation’s highest court. Although the Court has suspended oral arguments, once it beings hearing them again, it must allow the public access by broadcasting or releasing same-day video recordings of its proceedings. The Supreme Court recognized the need for this transparency more than 40 years ago, writing that “People in an open society do not demand infallibility from their institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what they are prohibited from observing.”

Whether it concerns actions dedicated to stop the spread of COVID-19, or just the general everyday operations of government, people have the right to know what their government is up to. In the era of social-distancing, this might require getting creative, but if we’re all moving online to contend with the public health crisis, government transparency can too.

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Intelwars transparency

The California Public Records Act Is an Essential Right, Even During a State of Emergency

As Californians shelter-at-home up and down the state, the journalists and citizen watchdogs who file California Public Records Act (CPRA) requests know that trade-offs must be made. We know that local agencies may be understaffed at this time and that they may be slow to respond to our letters. They may need to restrict our ability to inspect records in person at City Hall, and public records lawsuits may stall as courts restrict hearing dates. 

But where we draw the line is when government agencies announce they will suspend the public records request process altogether, a move telegraphed by several agencies in a recent Los Angeles Times story.

The right to access information is enshrined in the California Constitution, and this right is never more important than during an international crisis. That’s why EFF has joined the First Amendment Coalition and other public records advocacy groups in signing a statement supporting government transparency, even amid the most challenging circumstances. 

“While we acknowledge the extraordinary stresses that government agencies face right now, we urge all government agencies to comply with the California Public Records Act and the California Constitution and take all reasonable measures to continue to provide information to the public and the press during these exceptionally difficult times,” the groups write. 

The letter notes that COVID-19 is hardly California’s first major crisis. The legislature has never authorized the suspension of CPRA, nor do Gov. Gavin Newsom’s emergency orders waive agencies’ responsibilities under CPRA. 

The California Supreme Court has found that “openness in government is essential to the functioning of a democracy.” While COVID-19 will certainly interrupt some of our normal expectations, it is essential that our democracy continue to function through these hard times. That means ensuring that the public can understand and hold officials accountable for the decisions they make in the halls of power while we’re all stuck at home. 

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Call to Action COVID-19 and Digital Rights Intelwars Security transparency

EFF and COVID-19: Protecting Openness, Security, and Civil Liberties

EFF and its members work to ensure that technology supports freedom, justice, and innovation for all the people of the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has made obvious how important the Internet and digital tools are to our lives and how vital it is that we maintain an open and secure approach to them. 

Online Creativity Is A Bright Spot In The Darkness

For those of us living under quarantine, shelter in place orders, or just staying home to voluntarily help protect our communities, we now rely on the Internet and digital tools more than ever to share information and advice, create art and memes, listen to our favorite musicians perform “live,” or just to feel less alone. We see how technology is helping us cope, hopefully temporarily, with the loss of in-person contact. Many others are using digital tools and services to organize mutual aid for their neighborhoods and communities in this time of crisis.

When fear threatens to undermine our rights and pervert justice, that’s where EFF—and you—come in.  

Thanks to open access science, scientific and medical teams are able to instantly share their work and build on efforts to track the virus, study its effect on people, and develop vaccines. Others are developing ways to create and repair vital medical equipment using open tools, including reportedly 3D printing. We are coming together online and offline in new and creative ways, and ensuring that security, privacy, and openness are baked into the tools and services we use will only support our efforts.

In some ways, the explosion of open creativity online to keep us connected and sane during these scary times is one of the bright spots in the darkness. But in the United States, it also shows how this crisis disproportionately impacts those of us who are marginalized in society already—the unsheltered, those who cannot afford or access reliable broadband service to continue school or work, the consultants and retail workers who have little reserves, and all of those falling through our frayed social safety net. Innovation is needed here too—like ensuring that robust broadband access works for everyone, not just the wealthy, and is not dependent on temporary largess of some giant providers.

We Must Be Extra Vigilant In Defending Our Rights In This Moment

We also know that times of great public fear come with great risk. Public fear has driven some of the worst human rights atrocities, and given opportunities for those who would seize power from us and reduce or even erase our hard-won human rights and civil liberties. Already we see  efforts to use this public health crisis as an excuse to place irrational blame on our Asian communities and direct even more pressure and discrimination against refugees and immigrants. We already see calls from companies seeking to cash in on this crisis for unchecked face surveillance, social media monitoring, and other efforts far beyond what medicine or epidemiology require.

When fear threatens to undermine our rights and pervert justice, that’s where EFF—and you—come in.  

We know that this virus requires us to take steps that would be unthinkable in normal times. Staying inside, limiting public gatherings, and cooperating with medically needed attempts to track the virus are, when approached properly, reasonable and responsible things to do. But we must be as vigilant as we are thoughtful. We must be sure that measures taken in the name of responding to COVID-19 are, in the language of international human rights law, “necessary and proportionate” to the needs of society in fighting the virus. Above all, we must make sure that these measures end and that the data collected for these purposes is not re-purposed for either governmental or commercial ends.  

We Can Take Advantage Of Technology, and Emerge Stronger

As we head further into these difficult times, EFF is standing strong to make sure that we both take advantage of how technology can help us now and, equally importantly, that we emerge from this time with our freedom and democracy as strong, if not stronger, than when we went in. Because we at EFF have a committed membership as our primary support – over half of our annual budget comes from individuals — we are able to pivot our attention to these issues even as we continue our ongoing fights. Our lawyers are scrutinizing the proposed laws and regulations and corporate privacy moves, especially the growing and concerning raft of corporate/government surveillance efforts. Our technologists are digging into the digital tools we all rely on during this crisis to make sure that your privacy is protected.  We’re pushing to lower artificial barriers to information sharing, and working to make sure that access to knowledge is one of the things we keep as we emerge from these times. And more. 

We have created an issue page dedicated to our COVID-19 focused work and will continue to highlight our efforts there, as well as publish needed practical information about how to fight COVID-19 phishing attempts and how to show your EFF support as we head into our 30th year of standing strong for your rights.

Right now, when real science is so often under attack, those of us who care about truth, health, and each other need to take seriously the things that science and medicine are telling us about how to keep this virus from spreading. And we also need to be vigilant so that we come out the other side of this crisis with a society we want to live in and hand down to our kids. We can—and must—do both.

EFF is proven, ready, and strong. With the support of our members, new and old, we’ll be there with you every step of the way.

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Commentary COVID-19 and Digital Rights Intelwars transparency

Governments Must Commit to Transparency During COVID-19 Crisis

As government officials at all levels move quickly to respond to COVID-19 and protect the public’s health, it is vital that they also safeguard the public’s ability to participate in and access information about those decisions, EFF and a coalition of more than 100 organizations wrote in a letter on Friday.

Transparency and public access during this crisis is a necessary and important way to give those affected clarity into government decision-making. It’s neither normal nor healthy for democracy to hide or classify public health-related decisions or deliberations. At a time when whistleblowers and others have contributed to the public awareness of how agencies and government actors, in the U.S. and abroad, have responded to this crisis, it’s crucial that we see exactly how decisions with potentially life-altering ramifications are made. From the letter: 

“At all times, but most especially during times of national crisis, trust and credibility are the government’s most precious assets. As people are asked to make increasing sacrifices in their daily lives for the greater good of public health, the legitimacy of government decision-making requires a renewed commitment to transparency.”

While some government functions move away from normal channels due to safety measures such as quarantines—for example, using private email accounts instead of government email accounts—every effort must be made to ensure those channels allow for messages to be publicly accessible. Agencies may struggle to respond quickly to public records requests and other requests for information at this time, which is why the default must be a commitment to transparency from the beginning, rather than obfuscation. For example, agencies should not follow the lead of the FBI, which has stopped accepting FOIA requests via email.

The letter also encourages governments to postpone important decisions that can be made after the current crisis, as officials should not exploit the inability for the public to participate in person in the short term:

“Just as citizens are being asked to defer nonessential travel and errands, so should government agencies defer noncritical policy-making decisions until full and meaningful public involvement can be guaranteed. Where postponement is not realistic, every available measure should be taken to (1) notify the public of meetings of government bodies and how to participate in those meetings remotely, (2) use widely available technologies to maximize real-time public engagement, and (3) preserve a viewable record of proceedings that is promptly made accessible online.”

Transparency is among the principles EFF has laid out for government to take into consideration and commit to during this crisis. Knowing “what the government is up to” is often the first step in ensuring that the government respects the civil liberties of its citizens, and during a crisis, this knowledge takes on extraordinary importance. Though this may take additional effort due to the severity of the pandemic, it is essential that government actions be clearly and quickly explained to the public. Moreover, transparency is particularly important so the public can scrutinize fast-moving efforts to have private companies work with the government to respond to COVID-19, such as the reported Google effort to help broaden access to screening for the virus.

EFF is a fierce defender of government transparency, which is especially important given reports of secretive talks between government agencies and corporations hoping to deploy technologies such as cell-phone location trackingadvanced video analytics, and biometric surveillance

The rallying cry of these difficult times is that we’re all in this together. We agree, and that includes keeping everyone in the loop when it comes to technology that could cause long-lasting damage to our rights after the crisis has passed.

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Intelwars patent trolls transparency

Court Orders Hearing in Uniloc’s Patent Case Against Apple to be Conducted by Phone, Citing COVID-19 Risks

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, citing public health efforts to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 transmission, ordered that an April hearing in the Uniloc v. Apple patent case be conducted by phone rather than in person and denied EFF’s request to allow the public to watch the proceeding by video.

EFF urged the court earlier this week to make public a video of the hearing, in which patent troll Uniloc will have to explain for the first time in open court why it should be allowed to seal from public view documents in the case explaining how it operates. Uniloc has sued hundreds of companies alleging patent infringement and has sought excessive, unjustified sealing of documents that keep the public, small businesses, and patent reform advocates in the dark about whether it actually owns the patents at issue.

We are gratified that the court responded quickly to our request, and respect the court’s decision to take safety precautions amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

We continue to believe that courts should honor the public’s right to access the work of the judiciary by livestreaming hearings on their websites—which many federal courts and almost all state supreme courts are already doing. Simple video technology enables courts to ensure that less-resourced individuals and businesses that face patent claims, not just highly-paid lawyers and their corporate clients, have access to facts and information revealed in court.

These events also demonstrate the public benefits that come when courts make it a part of their general practice to use video technology to make appellate arguments accessible to the public. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which provides video access by default, has given attorneys the option of participating in upcoming oral arguments via video. That means the parties will still have the chance to participate fully in the hearing and the public the chance to access it fully. We hope that other courts will see the public benefits that come from maximizing the public’s access as a matter of course.

 

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