Focusing public attention on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues

Previous Top News 2001

  • World Sousveillance/Subjectrights Day. Take surveillance into your own hands. Photograph a camera watching you. Join artists, scientists, engineers, scholars and others. More information. (Dec. 24)
  • Safire Warning on National ID - The "Discredit Card." NY Times columnist William Safire: "the fear of terror attack is being exploited by law enforcement sweeping for suspects as well as by commercial marketers seeking prospects. It has emboldened the zealots of intrusion to press for the holy grail of snoopery -- a mandatory national ID. . . The universal use and likely abuse of the national ID -- a discredit card -- will trigger questions like: When did you begin subscribing to these publications and why were you visiting that spicy or seditious Web site? Why are you afraid to show us your papers on demand? Why are you paying cash? What do you have to hide?" EPIC National ID Card Resources. (Dec. 24)
  • EPIC Urges Congress to Question Microsoft Settlement Panel on Passport. EPIC has sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging members to question witnesses at a hearing on the Microsoft antitrust settlement about the role that the settlement can play in addressing the security and privacy risks of Passport. Microsoft has positioned itself to make Passport the tollbooth to the Internet, but the antitrust settlement does not address how the company may use Passport to control access to content and e-commerce. (Dec. 11)
  • FOIA Suit Challenges Secrecy of Post-9/11 Detentions. A coalition of civil liberties and human rights organizations has filed a federal lawsuit (PDF) challenging the government's refusal to disclose details of more than 1000 detentions and arrests that have been made in the post-September 11 investigation. EPIC is participating as co-plaintiff and co-counsel. (Dec. 5)
  • Litigation Continues in FBI "Key Logger" Case. In a new brief (PDF) filed with a federal court in New Jersey, the FBI defends the legality of a controversial "key logger system" used to obtain the encryption password of a criminal suspect. The government has successfully argued that the full details of the system are classified and cannot be disclosed to the defense. In a related development, the FBI has reportedly developed a similar capability -- named "Magic Lantern" -- that can be installed remotely on target computers. Background information and a complete set of court filings in U.S. v. Scarfo (the "key logger" case) is available. (Dec. 5)
  • Policy Briefing at the National Press Club, Washington DC. On November 30, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) hosted the second in its series of "Security or Surveillance?" policy briefings at the National Press Club. Issues discussed include the technical reliability and privacy implications of new security systems and legal measures being considered both domestically and internationally since September 11. Update: an audiocast of this event is now available (in RealAudio format). (Nov. 30)
  • Supreme Court Brief Filed in Defense of Anonymity. EPIC, the ACLU, and 14 legal scholars filed an amicus curiae brief (PDF) with the Supreme Court in Watchtower Bible v. Stratton, Ohio. The case concerns an ordinance requiring that door-to-door petitioners obtain a permit and identify themselves upon demand. EPIC argues that the ordinance implicates privacy, as well as the First Amendment rights of anonymity, expression, and freedom of association. The Court will hear arguments in 2002. (Nov. 29)
  • Supreme Court Considers Internet Censorship Law. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on November 28 in Ashcroft v. ACLU, a constitutional challenge to the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). EPIC joined with the ACLU and other plaintiffs in a lawsuit to strike down the law, which prohibits online display of material that is "harmful to minors" to any person who is under 17 years of age. Two lower federal courts have agreed that the law violates the First Amendment. The parties' Supreme Court briefs and background information are available at EPIC's COPA Litigation Page. (Nov. 28)
  • Groups Urge FCC to Protect Phone Privacy. EPIC and other consumer groups have filed reply comments with the Federal Communications Commission with detailed arguments in support of an opt-in standard for customer calling data. Telecommunications companies wish to sell customer calling data, known as Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI), for marketing and profiling purposes. This information includes subscribersí names, addresses, calling records, and service options. (Nov. 16)
  • National ID Card Shred-In on Capitol Hill. In conjunction with the House hearing on the National ID card proposal, EPIC held a "Shred-In" National ID Card protest (view photo gallery and flyer in PDF) at the "East Front House Grass Area" near the intersection of Independence and First Streets SE in Washington, DC. Shredders were provided to all, and protesters joined together in shredding National ID Cards bearing Larry Ellison's picture. (Nov. 16)
  • ABC World News to Explore National ID Cards. ABC World News with Peter Jennings is expected to explore proposals for systems of National identification in an upcoming program. You can express your views on the proposal at the ABC News website. (Nov. 12)
  • Federal Government to Monitor Attorney-Client Contacts. In a controversial action, Attorney General Ashcroft has approved an emergency rule that will permit federal prison authorities to monitor communications between lawyers and their clients in federal custody, including those who have been detained but not charged with any crime, whenever surveillance is deemed necessary to prevent violence or terrorism. The power will extend to both mail and telephone communications. (Nov. 9)
  • EPIC Testifies at House Hearing on Identity Theft. EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg testified at a joint hearing of the Subcommittee on Social Security and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on identity theft, particularly post-September 11. EPIC's testimony focused on the urgent need to limit the collection and use of Social Security numbers and to establish regulatory and oversight mechanisms to protect consumer's sensitive private information. (Nov. 8)
  • Civil Society meeting at ICANN. On November 13, the Internet Democracy Project hosted a special Civil Society meeting in Los Angeles, CA. This coincided with the weeklong Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) meetings. Topics discussed included the future of .org, recent events concerning civil liberties in cyberspace (with a special focus on privacy issues), a dialog with ICANN At-Large Directors, network privatization, and a roundtable on ICANN At-Large membership. (Nov. 7)
  • Consumer Groups Urge FCC to Protect Phone Privacy. On November 1, EPIC and seventeen civil liberties and consumer groups filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission urging the FCC to adopt opt-in for customer calling data. The FCC's request for comments followed a federal court decision that the FCC's original opt-in proposal violated the First Amendment because there was not adequate evidence that opt-in would protect customer privacy interests. The new comments note that 86% of consumers favor opt-in for communications services. (Nov. 6)
  • Groups Urge Congress to Question Muris on Passport. EPIC and Junkbusters have sent a letter to members of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection urging them to question FTC Chairman Timothy Muris on the agency's efforts to protect consumers from Microsoft Passport. The FTC has not taken public action to protect consumers from Microsoft Passport despite receiving three filings from a coalition of fifteen consumer groups detailing the privacy implications of the system. Muris is scheduled to appear before the Committee on Wednesday to address issues challenging the FTC. (Nov. 5)
  • DOJ Issues Guidance on New Surveillance Powers. Within hours of the USA PATRIOT Act being signed into law, the Justice Department issued a field guidance memorandum (PDF) on the new anti-terrorism authorities approved by Congress. The memorandum does not address expanded powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; guidance in that area appears to be classified. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that he has directed FBI and U.S. Attorney's offices "to begin immediately implementing this sweeping legislation." (Oct. 29)
  • Anti-Terrorism Bill Signed Into Law. On October 26, the President signed the USA-PATRIOT Act of 2001 into law. The Senate voted 98-1 to pass the Act, a "compromise" version of the various anti-terrorism bills, on October 25. This final congressional action followed 24 hours after the House voted 357-66 to approve the same version of the bill, based on H.R. 3108 and S. 1510. The final legislation includes a few changes: most notably, a sunset on the electronic surveillance provisions, and an amendment providing judicial oversight of law enforcement's use of the FBI's Carnivore system. However, it retains provisions vastly expanding government investigative authority, especially with respect to the Internet. (Oct. 26)
  • Groups Renew Call for FTC Action on Microsoft XP. EPIC and a coalition of consumer and privacy groups have renewed their calls for FTC action to protect consumers from the privacy risks associated with Windows XP and Passport. In a letter sent to the FTC, the groups criticized the FTC for not upholding its statutory duty to protect consumers in light of planned release of Windows XP. More information on the groups' previous FTC complaints is stored on the EPIC Microsoft Passport Page. (Oct. 23)
  • Three Online Firms to Use Controversial Rating System. Three of the largest online companies -- America Online, Microsoft's MSN and Yahoo -- announced on October 23 that they will use a controversial rating system to label content on their websites. The system, developed by the Internet Content Rating Association, encourages content providers to rate their online material using a set of uniform labels "to allow or disallow access to websites based on the information declared in the label." In a related development, a new report by the National Coalition Against Censorship details the free speech implications of Internet content filters. (Oct. 23)
  • Policy Briefing on Security at the National Press Club. On Monday October 22, EPIC and the Privacy Foundation sponsored a policy briefing at the National Press Club to examine issues of security and surveillance in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. (Oct. 19)
  • Documents Reveal Efforts to Restrict Cyber Security Info. Documents (PDF 600k) recently obtained by EPIC reveal that the Chair and Vice Chair of the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC) have lobbied in support of a "cyber security" exemption to open government laws. The Associated Press reports that President Bush, in response to the NSTAC lobbying, now supports the exemption as well. Last year, EPIC presented Congressional testimony opposing such an exemption. (Oct. 19)
  • Administration Issues Cyber Security Executive Order. The White House has released the long anticipated executive order on Critical Infrastructure Protection in the Information Age. This order creates the "President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board" to coordinate federal efforts and programs to protect information systems. More information at the EPIC Critical Infrastructure Protection page. (Oct. 17)
  • Congress Approves Sweeping Anti-Terrorism Legislation. The Senate approved the Uniting and Strengthening America Act on October 11. The measure significantly expands government surveillance authority, reduces judicial oversight, and creates a wide range of new terrorist crimes, including computer hacking. The following day, the House voted to substitute a modified version of the Senate bill (PDF 525KB) in place of its own bipartisan measure, H.R. 2975 (PDF), that included important civil liberties protections. (Oct. 15)
  • FBI Discloses Some Details of "Key Logger System". In an affidavit filed with a federal court in New Jersey, the FBI has disclosed some of the details of a controversial "key logger system" used to obtain the encryption password of a criminal suspect. The government has successfully argued that the full details of the system are classified and cannot be disclosed to the defense. Background information and a complete set of court filings in U.S. v. Scarfo is available. (Oct. 9)
  • Senate Anti-Terrorism Bill Introduced. The Senate has reached agreement on the Uniting and Strengthening America (USA) Act (PDF), its version of the anti-terrorism legislation requested by the administration. It raises many of the privacy and civil liberties issues previously identified in the House bill and the administration's initial proposal. A Senate summary of the bill is available. (Oct. 5)
  • FTC Chairman Announces Privacy Agenda. Timothy Muris, Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), today released a new privacy agenda for the agency. The agenda calls for a 50% increase in privacy resources, improved privacy complaint handling, more protection for consumers from spam, telemarketing, pretexting and ID theft, and increased enforcement of privacy policies and existing laws such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The Chairman concluded, however, that it was "too soon" to recommend broad-based online privacy legislation. (Oct. 4)
  • House Committee Approves Revised Terrorism Legislation. The House Judiciary Committee has passed an amended version of H.R. 2975 (PDF), the PATRIOT Act. The bill is narrower than the original proposal, but civil liberties concerns remain. The bill goes next to the full House with a vote possible next week. Negotiations continue between the Senate and the Administration. (Oct. 4)
  • House Terrorism Legislation Still Flawed. The Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the House Judiciary Committee have released a draft bill in response to Attorney General Ashcroft's proposed anti-terrorism legislation (see below). The new PATRIOT Act (PDF) continues to raise many of the same privacy and civil liberties issues. An analysis of the proposal (PDF), prepared by Judiciary Committee staff, is available. EPIC has sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to protect constitutional freedoms in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. (Oct. 2)
  • EPIC Urges Support for Freedom Statement. EPIC has joined with more than 150 organizations to urge public support for the In Defense of Freedom statement as the Congress considers legislation in the wake of the September 11 tragedy. Sign-up now! (Sept. 30)
  • Congress Set to Consider Far-Reaching Legislation. Congress is expected to act this week on legislation that would substantially expand government surveillance powers, including use of the controversial Carnivore Internet monitoring system. EPIC has prepared a detailed analysis of provisions in the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 (PDF). EPIC urges Congress to carefully assess the need for new surveillance powers and to draw any possible changes narrowly to protect privacy and constitutional rights. In editorials, newspapers and magazines across the country have also endorsed that approach. (Sept. 28)
  • International Cyber-Crime Treaty Approved. The Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime has been approved and will be presented to the Council of Ministers for formal adoption in November. The Convention is the first international treaty to address crimes committed in 'Cyberspace' including breach of copyright, computer-related fraud, child pornography and hacking. Civil liberties organizations and the European Privacy Commissioners have criticized the proposal. It will be open for signature by the 43 member states of the Council of Europe and other countries, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, that contributed to the drafting process. (Sept. 24)
  • EPIC Endorses Statement In Defense of Freedom. A broad coalition of civil liberties, religious, consumer, and other advocacy groups has organized to defend American freedoms in the wake of terrorist attacks against the country. The coalition released a ten-point statement that urges legislators to consider new proposals calmly and deliberately and to protect the civil liberties that define the American way of life. The statement has been endorsed by over 150 organizations, 300 law professors, and 40 computer scientists. Members of the public are also encouraged to endorse the statement.
  • Judicial Conference Sets Policy on Monitoring, Case Files. In a press release (PDF), the Judicial Conference of the United States announced policies on employee Internet monitoring and electronic case files (ECF). The Conference withdrew a policy that eliminated all expectation of privacy for court employees. The conference also approved privacy protections for ECF that include restricting electronic access to criminal case files and redacting personal identifiers from civil case files. EPIC sent a letter to the Judicial Conference urging greater privacy protections for court employees, and filed comments on ECF in support of privacy protections earlier this year.
  • EPIC Publishes 2001 Privacy Law Sourcebook. The 2001 edition of the "Physician's Desk Reference of the privacy world" is now available from EPIC. Visit the EPIC Bookstore for details and to place an order.
  • EPIC Opposes Monitoring of Federal Judiciary. In a letter to the Judicial Conference, EPIC urged an end to the practice of monitoring the computer terminals of employees of the federal judiciary. EPIC warned that simply providing notice of the monitoring practices "does not cure the underlying Fourth Amendment problem."
  • Court Lifts Gag Order on Scarfo Attorneys. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has lifted a gag order on the attorneys in USA v. Scarfo, a case that involves law enforcement use of a keystroke monitor to capture a suspectís encryption passwords. The gag order prevented all attorneys in the case from speaking to media representatives on computer surveillance techniques implicated by the case. In the order (PDF), the Court of Appeals held that restraints on the attorneysí speech were unjustified as comments on the issues did not threaten the fairness of the trial.
  • Privacy Groups File Updated Complaint at FTC, Allege Microsoft Passport Constitutes an "Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practice." At a press conference on August 15 at the National Press Club, EPIC, Junkbusters, the Center for Media Education, and other organizations announced the filing of an updated complaint (PDF) with the Federal Trade Commission containing new allegations about Microsoft Passport, and urged the Commission to open an investigation. Last month, the organization filed the original complaint (PDF) that was acknowledged (PDF) by the FTC.
  • EPIC Challenges FBI Search for Carnivore Documents. In motion papers (PDF) filed in U.S. District Court in Washington on August 9, EPIC alleges that the FBI has failed to comply with the Freedom of Information Act by conducting an inadequate search for records concerning the controversial Carnivore surveillance system. EPIC's motion alleges that the Bureau failed to seek relevant documents from various legal and policy offices likely to possess information on Carnivore. See EPIC's Carnivore Litigation page for background on the case.
  • Tampa Narrowly Approves Spy Cameras. At the August 2 Tampa City Council meeting, Council members voted 4 to 3 against the motion to terminate the city's contract with Visionics Corporation, maker of face recognition software called "Face-It." See EPIC's page on face recognition for more information on surveillance cameras and companies that develop face recognition software.
  • Senate Committee to Consider FBI Nominee. As the Senate Judiciary Committee begins its confirmation hearing on the nomination of Robert S. Mueller to be Director of the FBI, EPIC has sent a letter to the Committee, urging it to question the nominee on his views on privacy and freedom of information issues.
  • EPIC, Privacy Groups File Complaint at the FTC Regarding Windows XP. In a formal complaint (PDF) filed with the Federal Trade Commission, privacy and consumer groups allege that Microsoft is engaging in unfair and deceptive trade practices through the information collection capabilities of its new operating system.
  • Groups Petition Agencies to Improve Financial Privacy. EPIC has joined Public Citizen and other organizations in petitioning federal agencies to improve notice and opt-out mechanisms under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA). The petition (PDF) urges the agencies to adopt requirements of clear, concise language for GLBA privacy notices and to require more effective measures to allow consumers to opt-out from financial information sharing.
  • Court Denies Gov't Motion to Dismiss Filtering Challenge. Just three days after the ACLU, EPIC and other organizations appeared before a three-judge panel in federal court in Philadelphia to oppose a government motion to dismiss the constitutional challenge to the Children's Internet Protection Act, the court has denied that motion. The law would require schools and libraries that receive e-rate funding to install content filters that block access to constitutionally protected speech. For more on the problems with censorware, read the updated EPIC report Filters and Freedom 2.0.
  • House Adopts Carnivore Reporting Requirements. Following a recommendation made by EPIC last year in Congressional testimony, the House of Representatives has established new reporting requirements for the use of the Carnivore Internet surveillance device and other similar systems by law enforcement agents.
  • Privacy Coalition Meets with FTC Chairman. On July 17, members of the Privacy Coalition, a non-partisan coalition of consumer, civil liberties, educational, library, labor, and family-based groups met with FTC Chairman Timothy Muris. The Coalition presented a letter to the Chairman with recommendations for future FTC action on privacy issues.
  • Appeals Court Upholds Anonymous Online Speech. In the first appellate decision to address the issue, a New Jersey appeals court has established stringent procedural and evidentiary standards that must be met before the identity of an anonymous online poster can be disclosed through litigation. Those protections have long been urged by EPIC and other public interest groups. The court recognized the constitutional right to communicate anonymously and refused to order the identification of a "John Doe" speaker who had posted comments on a Yahoo! message board (a PDF version of the decision is available).
  • Congress Holds Hearing on Whois and Privacy. On July 12, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property held a hearing on "The Whois Database: Privacy and Intellectual Property Issues." At the hearing, EPIC issued a letter to the Subcommittee outlining the free speech and anonymity arguments for supporting only voluntary submission of information to the Whois database.
  • EPIC Testifies Before U.S. Senate on Internet Privacy. EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg testified before the Senate Commerce Committee on July 11. The testimony concluded that "the time has come to make clear that the right of privacy does not end where the Internet begins." [Update: Reuters reports "Senators Promise Action to Boost Internet Privacy."]
  • Gallup Poll Finds Internet Users Support Privacy Laws. A recent poll conducted by the Gallup organization has found that 66% of Internet users believe that the government should pass laws protecting privacy. The poll also found that frequent Internet users and individuals under the age of 50 were among the strongest supporters of such laws. Visit EPIC's Privacy Survey page for other information about the public's attitudes towards privacy.
  • Report Examines Privacy and Interactive TV. The Center for Digital Democracy has released a report analyzing interactive television technologies and their impact on privacy. "TV That Watches You: The Prying Eyes of Interactive Television" (PDF) uses company documents to illustrate the plans of interactive television companies to create profiles on viewers.
  • President Bush Calls for Genetic Privacy Legislation. In his June 23 radio address, President Bush called for legislation that would prohibit employers and insurance companies from committing genetic discrimination. Citing the loose correlation between genetic make-up and actual development of disease, the President said that "[t]o deny employment or insurance to a healthy person based only on a predisposition violates our country's belief in equal treatment and individual merit."
  • EPIC Testifies before Congress. EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg testified before the House Commerce Committee on Information Privacy. The testimony urges Congress to enact strong privacy legislation and encourage the development of technological solutions. "We will need both good technology and good legislation to safeguard privacy in the years ahead," said Rotenberg. Visit EPIC's Practical Privacy Tools to learn more about technologies of privacy.
  • New Privacy Campaign Launched. Privacy Rights Now is urging consumers to take action on financial privacy. A press conference will be held at the National Press Club to announce the campaign features Ralph Nader and representatives from Consumer Federation of America, EPIC, Consumers Union, and US PIRG.
  • FBI Drops Order for Media Website Logs. The U.S. Government has dropped its order demanding that the Independent Media Center (IMC) in Seattle, Washington hand over its website logs and other records relating the organization's coverage of the anti-globalization protests at Quebec City. IMC is considering further legal action.
  • Supreme Court Releases Opinion in Thermal Imaging Case. In an unusual 5-4 split, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the use of a thermal imaging device in a law enforcement investigation constitutes a Fourth Amendment search. The majority opinion (PDF) by Justice Scalia states that "obtaining by sense-enhancing technology any information regarding the interior of the home that could not otherwise have been obtained without 'physical intrusion into a constitutionally protected area' constitutes a search."
  • ICANN Conducts Survey on Whois. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is conducting an online survey of the Internet community's views on Whois privacy issues. The Whois database allows any Internet user to find out who has registered a particular domain name and provides contact information for that person. For more background on these issues, read a letter EPIC sent to Congress on Whois issues earlier this year.
  • Experts Discuss Internet Issues at National Press Club. Leading academics, technologists, and others discussed jurisdiction and privacy issues affecting the Internet on a panel held at the National Press Club. EPIC and the Harvard Information Infrastructure Project cosponsored the event.
  • EPIC Urges New FTC Chair to Focus on Privacy. EPIC and other public interest groups have sent a letter to Timothy Muris, the new Federal Trade Commission Chairman, urging him to take affirmative steps to protect individuals' privacy.
  • EPIC Files Complaint against eTour.com. On May 25, EPIC sent a letter to both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) about the privacy violations committed by eTour, Inc. The letter alleges that eTour, Inc. violated consumer protection law by selling personal information to a third party despite clear statements that it would never do so.
  • FTC Says that Amazon's Privacy Policy Changes are not Unfair and Deceptive. In a letter sent to EPIC and Junkbusters, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stated that Amazon.com did not deceive its customers by unilaterally changing its privacy policy last September. Responding to a joint petition submitted by EPIC and Junkbusters in December, the FTC decided that Amazon did not, under its revised policy, change its practices with respect to the personal information of its customers in a way that was unfair and deceptive. Also see Amazon's letter to the FTC on the matter and the old Amazon privacy policy.
  • EPIC Testifies on SSN Privacy. On May 22, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Social Security held a hearing on "Protecting Privacy and Preventing Misuse of Social Security Numbers." EPIC's testimony before the Subcommittee argues that "legislation to limit the collection and use of the SSN is appropriate, necessary, and fully consistent with US law."
  • Supreme Court Issues Opinion on Bartnicki v. Vopper. In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a radio host could not be punished for disclosing the contents of an illegally intercepted telephone conversation. The majority opinion (PDF) by Justice Stevens states that the case presents "a conflict between interests of the highest order -- on the one hand, the interest in the full and free dissemination of information concerning public issues, and, on the other hand, the interest in individual privacy."
  • Supreme Court to Review Internet Free Speech Case. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear (PDF) the government's appeal of a federal appeals court decision finding the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) to be unconstitutional. EPIC, along with the ACLU and the EFF, had filed a petition (PDF) opposing the review. For more background, visit the COPA Litigation Page.
  • FTC Credit Header Protections Upheld. A federal district court judge has rejected a challenge to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) protections on the sale of credit header information. In the opinion (PDF), the court upheld FTC regulations that require information brokers and credit reporting agencies to offer individuals notice and an opportunity to opt-out before selling their names, addresses, and Social Security numbers.
  • House Holds Hearing on Public Perceptions of Privacy. On May 8, the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on "Opinion Surveys: What Consumers Have To Say About Information Privacy." In his written testimony, Dr. Alan Westin, author of the landmark book "Privacy and Freedom," notes that "privacy now scores as one of the top consumer and social-policy issues in the U.S."
  • Annual Wiretap Report Finds Law Enforcement Focus on Wireless. On April 30, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts released its Wiretap Report (PDF). A new data category indicates that sixty percent of wiretaps authorized in 2000 were for wireless devices such as cellular phones and pagers. The report also indicates that twenty-two investigations encountered encrypted communications, but it did not prevent access to plaintext in any of those cases. Background, including a table of past wiretap report results, is available on the EPIC Wiretap Page.
  • Groups Write to Attorney General on Privacy Issues. EPIC joined with other national organizations spanning the political spectrum in a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft on privacy issues. In the letter, which followed a meeting with Ashcroft, the groups urged a privacy-sensitive approach to several matters: the Carnivore monitoring system, revision of federal surveillance statutes, and law enforcement access to medical records.
  • EPIC Files FOIA Requests to Evaluate President Bush's First 100 Days on Privacy. EPIC today submitted a series of Freedom of Information Act requests in an effort to determine the Bush Administration's commitment to privacy protection within its first 100 days. The requests focus on transition team memoranda and appointment scheduling calendars of senior executive officials. The requests will show how the Bush administration directed agency officials to carry out privacy policy and the frequency with which officials met with lobbyists to discuss privacy issues. See the press release for more information.
  • EPIC Delivers Privacy Books to Congress. EPIC today delivered almost 200 copies of the Privacy Law Sourcebook to members of the Congressional Internet Caucus. In a letter accompanying the books, EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg urged the Caucus to pursue a "broader debate on the protection of privacy and the rights of citizens in the online world." According to EPIC, the Internet Caucus has chosen to focus on a very narrow agenda that does not address the main Internet privacy issues, such as online profiling and surveillance of wireless communication.
  • Report Examines COPPA One Year Later. The Center for Media Education (CME) has released "Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) - The First Year" (PDF) evaluating the level of compliance with the law one year after it went into effect. The report found that COPPA has brought about significant changes in business practices but that many websites are still not in compliance. In related news, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced settlements in the first civil penalty cases brought under COPPA.
  • No Delay in Medical Privacy Rule. The Department of Health and Human Services has announced that it will go forward with the implementation of the medical privacy regulations after a brief reopening of the rule-making procedure. Members of the Privacy Coalition wrote to Secretary Thompson to urge implementation and to oppose further delay. Also read the White House press release on the announcement.
  • EPIC Responds to Armey Privacy Letter. House Majority Leader Dick Armey wrote a letter to lawmakers today urging Congress to "move slowly" on privacy legislation and to concentrate on governmental invasions of privacy before addressing the private sector. In this letter, EPIC responds to Representative Armey's concerns, and challenges him to continue a strong American tradition of protecting individuals from both governmental and private sector invasions of privacy.
  • Report: Opt-Out Notices Are Difficult to Understand. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has published a report showing that most opt-out notices required by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act are written at a second-year college level. Federal law requires that these notices must be written in "plain language." The notices explain how financial institutions collect, share, and use personal information and how individuals can opt-out from certain types of information use.
  • EPIC Urges FCC to Set Rules on Location Privacy. In formal comments (PDF) submitted to the Federal Communications Commission, EPIC supports a request from the cellular telephone industry for establishment of "technology neutral" rules to protect the privacy of users of all wireless devices. EPIC tells the FCC that location privacy is one of the most significant consumer issues and says "it is critical that consumers be able to maintain meaningful control over the collection and use of location data."
  • Public Voice Releases Report on Digital Divide. The Public Voice, a project of EPIC that facilitates public participation in the development of Internet policy, has submitted a report to the Digital Opportunities Task Force - a G-8 Digital Divide initiative. "The Public Voice and the Digital Divide: A Report to the DOT Force" (PDF) assembles comments and proposals from the public and urges the G-8 to incorporate more public participation in future consultations.
  • Study Finds that Kids' Websites Violate Privacy Law. The Annenberg Public Policy Center has released a report (PDF) finding that most websites targeted at children do not comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The report found that while the majority of websites collecting personal information from minors do display a privacy policy, many privacy policies are hard to find, difficult to understand, and do not describe all the protections provided by COPPA.
  • Privacy Commissioners Criticize Cyber-Crime Treaty. The Data Protection Working Party, comprised of the Privacy Commissioners of the European Union member states, has issued a formal opinion (PDF) raising objections to the proposed Council of Europe Convention on Cyber-Crime. The opinion finds that the draft treaty does not devote enough attention "to the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms."
  • EPIC Report Assesses P3P. On March 21, Microsoft announced that the next version of Internet Explorer would include a limited implementation of the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P). In June 2000, a report compiled by EPIC and Junkbusters analyzed P3P and its potential to improve online privacy. "Pretty Poor Privacy: An Assessment of P3P and Internet Privacy" argues that P3P does not comply with Fair Information Practices and that it will not be an effective approach to protect consumer privacy.
  • Lawsuit Challenges Internet Filtering Mandate. In a complaint filed in federal court in Philadelphia on March 20, EPIC and theAmerican Civil Liberties Union are challenging the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA). The new law mandates that all public schools and libraries that receive federal E-rate funds install Internet filtering technology on their computers. In 1997, EPIC published a report showing that filtered search engines typically block 99 percent of kid-friendly material.
  • EPIC Celebrates FOIA Day - March 16, 2001. EPIC recognized the valuable public benefits brought by the Freedom of Information Act by posting a collection of documents obtained under Act. Also, the Freedom Forum held a conference for National Freedom of Information Day.
  • Profilers Reject Profiling. Junkbusters Corp. released a report today at a Federal Trade Commission workshop on consumer data. Junkbusters found that when asked, many executives of companies that profile individuals were unwilling to have their own profiles made public.
  • House Holds Hearing on International Privacy. The House Commerce Committee continued consideration of privacy issues with a hearing on "The EU Data Protection Directive: Implications for the US Privacy Debate". Professor Joel Reidenberg testified on the need for privacy legislation in the United States. The hearing was cybercast.
  • Privacy International Announces Big Brother Awards. The U.S. 2001 Big Brother Awards were announced at the conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Big Brother Awards were given in several categories: "Most Invasive Proposal" - The FBI's Carnivore privacy-eating snooper program; "Greatest Corporate Invader" - ChoicePoint for massive selling of records, accurate and inaccurate to cops, direct marketers and election officials; "Worst Public Official" - City of Tampa for spying on all of the Superbowl attendees; and "Lifetime Menace" - National Security Agency for Clipper, Echelon and 50 years of spying. Brandeis Awards were given to Evan Hendricks for 20 years of publishing the Privacy Times and Vermont Assistant Attorney General Julie Brill for efforts to protect consumer privacy.
  • House of Representatives Holds First Hearing on Privacy Issues. On March 1, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce held its first hearing on privacy in the 107th Congress. EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg's hearing testimony discussed the development of privacy law in the commercial world and the role of technology
  • Gov't Seeks High Court Review of Internet Censorship Case. The Department of Justice has filed a petition for certiorari asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a federal appeals court decision that found the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) to be unconstitutional. EPIC is a plaintiff and serves as co-counsel in the case, which is now known as Ashcroft v. ACLU. See the COPA Litigation Page for more information.
  • Electronic Commerce and the Hague Treaty. The Hague Conference on Private International Law on February 26 began a weeklong series of informal discussions on electronic commerce issues in the future Hague Treaty on Jurisdiction and Enforcment of Foreign Judgments. Read the statements of Consumers International and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre on the current draft. Also visit the Consumer Project on Technology for more background information.
  • Update: N2H2 Ends Relationship with Roper Starch. N2H2, a company that accumulates data on schoolchildren who use its Internet content filters, has ended its relationship with the Roper Starch company. Roper Starch sells information about children and their preferences to marketers. In January, EPIC filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to determine what information N2H2 was collecting from children.
  • Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Thermal Imaging Case. In Kyllo v. U.S., the Supreme Court is asked to determine whether the use of a thermal imaging device directed toward to the interior of home without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment. A federal appeals court earlier upheld the search in a 2-1 opinion.
  • NSI Sells Domain Name Registration Data. Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI) has begun aggressively marketing its database of six million domain name registrants. EPIC has sent a letter to Congress asking for further investigation of the privacy practices of NSI and other domain name registrars. Also read the newsletter distributed by the Privacy Forum that first revealed NSI's sale of registrant data.
  • New Report Finds Flaws in Internet Filters. As schools and libraries begin confronting the federally-mandated filtering requirements contained in the Children's Internet Protection Act, a new study by Consumer Reports finds that filtering products have significant flaws. The report notes that "filters block harmless sites merely because their software does not consider the context in which a word or phrase is used. Far more troubling is when a filter appears to block legitimate sites based on moral or political value judgments." EPIC's 1997 report, Faulty Filters, was one of the first to document the negative impact of content blocking systems. EPIC will join the American Civil Liberties Union in a legal challenge to the recently enacted federal filtering mandate.
  • The Privacy Coalition Launches New Initiative. The Privacy Coalition, a non-partisan coalition of consumer, civil liberties, educational, library, labor, and family-based groups, launched a new privacy initiative at a National Press Club press conference. See the press release for more information.
  • EPIC Launches Public Interest Law Program. The EPIC Internet Public Interest Opportunities Program (IPIOP) will serve law students with an interest in public interest law and the Internet. The program will work with the recently established Samuelson Clinic at Boalt Hall and other similar centers across the country. See the press release for more details.
  • FTC to Host Public Roundtable Discussion. On February 6, the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") held a roundtable discussion on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and an important future treaty on jurisdiction and enforcement of foreign judgements. This treaty, which is being negotiated by the Hague Convention on Private International Law , will potentially affect all civil and commercial cross-border lawsuits, including consumer, privacy, intellectual property and defamation disputes. The FTC roundtable included panelists from government, business groups and consumer organizations.
  • Public Voice Seeks Comments on DOT Force Effort. Submit your suggestions for how best to address the challenge of the digital divide.
  • EPIC Requests Information on Defense Department Monitoring of Internet Use by Children. EPIC has submitted a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to the Department of Defense to discover what information the agency is collecting on the Internet browsing habits of schoolchildren. Acccording to the Wall Street Journal, the Department of Defense purchased data from N2H2, a company that accumulates data on schoolchildren who use its Internet content filters.
  • EPIC Comments on Public Access to Electronic Case Files. In comments to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, EPIC supported broad public access to electronic case files tempered with certain privacy safeguards.
  • FTC Ends Investigation of DoubleClick. The Federal Trade Commission has ended its investigation into the business practices of DoubleClick, Inc., a leading provider of Internet-based advertising. In a letter to DoubleClick, the FTC concluded that the company never used personally identifying information in contravention of its privacy policy. In February 2000, EPIC filed a complaint against DoubleClick, alleging that the company engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices by revising its privacy policies to accommodate the advertiser's new data practices. The FTC did not address the EPIC allegations.
  • Federal Agencies Release Study on Financial Privacy in Bankruptcy. The Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice and the Office of Management and Budget have announced the release of a study (PDF) of the protection of personal information revealed in the course of a consumer bankruptcy proceeding. The agencies recommend greater protections for personal financial information while maintaining a balance with the need of such information for the current bankruptcy system.
  • EPIC and Privacy International Launch PRIVACY.ORG. The Electronic Privacy Information Center and Privacy International have launched privacy.org -- the site for news, information and action.
  • Public Interest Coalition Issues Letter on Future of Privacy. On January 16, seventeen public interest organizations released a letter urging the incoming Presidential administration, members of Congress, and state officials to take greater action in protecting privacy. The group letter supports the adoption of a comprehensive framework of privacy protection that will protect consumers and citizens.
  • Internet NGOs Meet in Dubai. The Public Voice in the Emerging Market Economies brought together NGOs from around the world to explore privacy protection, Internet access, and consumer protection. The Public Voice meeting was held in conjunction with the OECD Emerging Market Economy Forum.
  • Department of Justice Releases Computer Seizure Manual. The Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section of the U.S. Department of Justice has released a new manual entitled "Searching and Seizing Computers and Obtaining Electronic Evidence in Criminal Investigations." The manual sets out federal guidelines for search and seizure of electronic evidence.
  • Federal Trade Commission Seeks Comments on Fair Credit Reporting Act. The Federal Trade Commission is seeking public comment on proposed interpretations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) that would allow companies to transfer consumer information to affiliate companies without the requirements placed on consumer reporting agencies. Full notice will be published shortly in the Federal Register. The due date for comments is January 31, 2001.