Focusing public attention on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues

Previous Top News 1998

  • EPIC Urges FCC to Protect User Privacy. EPIC, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has filed formal comments with the Federal Communications Commission urging it to reject FBI-proposed technical requirements that would -- among other things -- enable law enforcement to determine the location of individuals using cellular telephones. Also at issue is surveillance of Internet communications. The comments on implementation of the controversial Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) were filed on December 14. For more information, check the EPIC Wiretap Page.
  • Library Commission Urged to Reject Filters. Members of the Internet Free Expression Alliance submitted a joint statement to the National Commission on Library and Information Science on December 14, urging it to oppose the use of filtering software in public libraries. The Commission is preparing a report on "Kids and the Internet."
  • 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. December 10 marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Global Internet Liberty Campaign issued a statement on the Declaration and its application to cyberspace (version fran├žaise). In the spirit of the Declaration, join the online campaign to free jailed Chinese scientists.
  • Y2K Ready? We recommend the excellent Citizen's Action Guide from the UTNE Reader. Complete guide (429k PDF).
  • New Report on Crypto Policy. In the same week that U.S. negotiators pushed for international restrictions on strong cryptography under the Wassenaar Arrangement, a new report from the CATO Institute warns that such controls are "untenable." The report -- "Encryption Policy for the 21st Century: A Future Without Government-Prescribed Key Recovery" -- concludes that "the cost of the regulatory regime is tremendous, the benefits speculative at best."
  • Library Internet Filtering Declared Unconstitutional. In the second recent victory for online free speech advocates, a federal judge in Virginia ruled on November 23 that the use of Internet filtering software on public library computers violates the First Amendment. Judge Leonie Brinkema found in Mainstream Loudoun v. Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Library that a government body "cannot avoid its constitutional obligation by contracting out its decisionmaking to a private entity." The text of the decision is available online. Additional information on filtering can be found at the Internet Free Expression Alliance website.
  • Court Blocks Internet Censorship Law. On November 19, a federal court in Philadelphia issued a temporary restraining order enjoining enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). The court order applies to all Web sites. EPIC joined the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in filing the legal challenge to the new censorship law on October 22. Complete details and links to relevant documents are available at the COPA Litigation Page.
  • Safe Harbor or Data Haven? The Department of Commerce has floated a "Safe Harbor" proposal that would allow firms to self-certify privacy practices. The proposal is intended to address European concerns that privacy protection in the United States is not "adequate." But the plan falls short of standard fair information practices and leaves open the question of when actual privacy safeguards will be adopted in the United States.
  • Europeans Move Forward on Privacy Protection. The European Union Data Directive went into force October 25. It provides basic privacy rights for consumers and should encourage the development of privacy enhancing technologies. For EPIC's view on the EU Directive, see our testimony before the House Committee on International Relations. For more information about privacy around the world, visit Privacy International. For recent news items on the EU Directive, visit The Privacy Page.
  • EPIC Releases New Report on Civil Liberties and Critical Infrastructure Protection. On October 26, EPIC released a new report -- "Critical Infrastructure Protection and the Endangerment of Civil Liberties" (PDF - 440k) -- that warns that proposals to protect the nation's infrastructure could result in an expansion of government authority and new limits on personal privacy. EPIC maintains a comprehensive listing of critical infrastruction protection resources.
  • Suit Filed to Challenge Internet Censorship Law. EPIC has joined with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a legal challenge to the "Child Online Protection Act." The lawsuit was filed on October 22 in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia. The formal Complaint is available online. EPIC, ACLU and EFF successfully litigated the constitutional challenge to the CDA that resulted in a landmark Supreme Court decision last year. Send a free fax to the Attorney General urging her not to enforce the new censorship law.
  • Become a Statistic. Once Again. The Graphics, Visualization & Usability Center wants your opinions for the Tenth WWW User Survey.
  • Reports Look At NSA Surveillance. The Free Congress Foundation has produced a new report -- Echelon: America's Spy in the Sky -- on monitoring by the National Security Agency. The study follows an earlier report on Echelon for the European Parliament.
  • FCC Okays FBI Cell Phone "Location Tracking" Request. In a statement released on October 22, the Federal Communications Commission expressed its initial approval of FBI-proposed technical requirements that would enable law enforcement to determine the location of individuals using cellular telephones. A formal Notice was released on November 5. The Commission rejected other capabilities requested by the Bureau and deferred decisions on other issues, including surveillance of Internet communications. The initial decision came in a proceeding under the controversial Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). EPIC previously filed formal comments with the FCC urging the protection of communications privacy.
  • Internet Policy Conference Held in Ottawa. Public interest advocates from around the world met in Ottawa, Canada on October 7 at the "Public Voice in the Development of Internet Policy" conference to promote free speech, privacy and open access to the Internet.
  • International Survey on Privacy Released. The Global Internet Liberty Campaign has released a new report -- "Privacy and Human Rights" -- surveying privacy law and practice in fifty countries. The report finds that there is a movement towards enactment of comprehensive privacy laws. At the same time, there continues to be widespread illegal surveillance in many countries.
  • International Groups Began Crypto Campaign. The Global Internet Liberty Campaign is coordinating a global effort to relax controls in the Wassenaar Arragement to allow for free dissemination of encryption hardware and software around the world.
  • FCC Orders Delay in Wiretap Law. The Federal Communications Commission issued an order on September 11 requiring that implementation of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) be delayed until 2000 because of controversy over the FBI's proposed surveillance standards. See the EPIC Wiretap Page for more information.
  • Phones Companies Sue FBI Over Wiretapping Law. The U.S. Telephone Association, which represents over 1,200 local phone companies (including the Baby Bells), filed suit on August 19 against the FBI and DOJ over implementation of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA).
  • FTC Settles with Website Over Internet Privacy. GeoCities and the Federal Trade Commission have settled an FTC complaint that the website deceptively collected and misused personal information about users, including children. Under the settlement, GeoCities is required to post a privacy notice and obtain parental consent before collecting information from children under the age of twelve. See the FTC press release for more details.
  • White House Announces "Electronic Bill of Rights." Vice President Al Gore announced on July 30 that the White House was introducing an "Electronic Bill of Rights." However, most of the recommendations were reaffirmations of previous White House support for medical records and children's privacy and the role of the Office of Management and Budget as a privacy oversight agency. Gore also announced that the proposed medical ID number would be put on hold until a medical privacy bill is enacted. No privacy laws related to direct marketing or the Internet were recommended.
  • New Report on Privacy and Congress. The Center for Public Integrity has released a new report -- "Nothing Sacred: The Politics of Privacy" -- that "investigates how Congress has put big-money corporate interests ahead of the basic privacy interests of the American People."
  • Senate Approves Internet Censorship Bills. The U.S. Senate has approved two net censorship bills as part of a $33 billion appropriations bill. More than a dozen free speech and civil liberties organizations sent a joint letter to the Senate urging opposition to the measures. One measure would require filtering software in schools and public libraries that receive federal Internet subsidies; the other would make it a crime to allow children to access material that is "harmful to minors." See the text of the Internet-related amendments to the appropriations bill.
  • FBI Asks Congress to Expand Wiretap Powers. FBI Director Louis Freeh approached members of the Senate Appropriations Committee in early July asking them to approve an FBI-written amendment that would short-circuit pending FCC proceedings on wiretapping requirements and allow access to cell phone location information without a warrant. Six privacy groups have written to Senate Appropriations Chair Ted Stevens (R-AK) asking him to reject the FBI initiative.
  • HHS Issues White Paper on Medical ID Number. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a white paper on July 2 on the creation of a new universal identity number for all Americans. See the New York Times article on the proposal and a Federal Computer Week editorial. Vice President Al Gore announced on July 30 that the medical ID number would be put on hold until a federal medical privacy bill was enacted.
  • House Subcommittee Approves Mandatory Filtering Bill. The House Appropriations Committee has approved an amendment to the Health and Human Services budget requiring all public libraries and public or private schools that receive federal funds "for the acquisition of any computer that is accessible to minors and that has access to the Internet" to install software that is "designed to prevent minors from obtaining access to any obscene information."
  • DOT Issues Rules to Make Drivers Licenses into National ID Card. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a proposed rule on June 16 requiring that all states issue new drivers' licenses that use the SSN, and limit government transactions to those with appoved identity cards. See the Letter from Reps. Bob Barr (R-GA) and Ron Paul (R-TX) opposing the proposal.
  • Privacy Conference in Washington. The Department of Commerce sponsored a privacy conference on June 23 and 24. The Department is soliciting comments about whether current privacy policies are effective. Also see a letter from 70 leading privacy scholars, advocates, and technical experts urging the Department of Commerce to evaluate the effectiveness of industry "self-regulation."
  • EPIC Releases New Privacy Report. EPIC has released a new report -- Surfer Beware II: Notice is Not Enough -- that finds that only a handful of new members of the Direct Marketing Association are observing the trade group's own privacy guidelines. EPIC also joined other leading privacy groups in a statement calling industry efforts at self-regulation a failure.
  • EPIC Testifies in Congress. EPIC Director Marc Rotenberg testified on June 5 before the House Commerce Committee on the WIPO Treaty implementing legislation. He warned that the effort to prosecute digital piracy could result in a loss of digital privacy.
  • FTC Releases Report to Congress on Privacy. A new report from the Federal Trade Commission finds that -- get this -- consumers have little privacy protection on the Internet. The startling discovery was documented in a new report based on a survey of 1,400 web sites. For more background, check out EPIC's groundbreaking Surfer Beware report.
  • Clinton Issues "Cyber Threat" Directive. President Clinton announced on May 22 that the U.S. will "take all necessary measures to swiftly eliminate any significant vulnerability to both physical and cyber attacks on our critical infrastructures, including especially our cyber systems." An Administration white paper describes this new initiative.
  • EPIC Urges Rejection of FBI Wiretap Initiative. In formal comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission, EPIC says the FBI's implementation of the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) -- calling for the re-design of the nation's communications network to facilitate surveillance -- threatens fundamental privacy and constitutional rights.
  • White House Announces Privacy Initiative. Vice President Gore announced support for a medical privacy bill, issuance of a Presidential Memorandum on enforcement of the Privacy Act, a new web page telling consumers how to get off marketing lists, and a privacy summit in the next month. See the Vice President's press release.
  • New Crypto Bill Introduced. Senators John Ashcroft and Patrick Leahy have introduced the E-PRIVACY Act (that stands for "Encryption Protects the Rights of Individuals from Violation and Abuse in Cyberspace"). See EPIC's preliminary analysis and the text of the bill.
  • Groups Ask FCC to Delay Wiretap Law. Industry and public interest groups filed comments on May 8 asking the Federal Communications Commission to delay the implementation of the "digital telephony" wiretap law. See the submission filed by EPIC, ACLU and EFF asking for an indefinite delay until the controversy over surveillance standards is resolved.
  • EPIC Testifies on International Privacy. EPIC Director Marc Rotenberg testified on May 7 before the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee on the European Union's Privacy Directive and the inadequacy of U.S. privacy protection.
  • Wireless Phone Companies Sue FBI for Wiretap Costs. The Cellular Telephone Industry Association and the Personal Communications Industry Association filed a lawsuit on April 27 against the DOJ and FBI. The companies say that the FBI's new regulations on CALEA unlawfully shifts the cost of paying for phone equipment upgrades for wiretapping from the FBI to the telephone companies. See the EPIC Wiretap Archive for more information on CALEA and wiretapping.
  • AOL Held Immune in Drudge Libel Case. A federal judge in Washington, DC has ruled that America Online is immune from defamation suits under a surviving provision of the Communications Decency Act. The opinion was issued on April 22 in a case filed against AOL and online columnist Matt Drudge for allegedly defaming White House official Sidney Blumenthal.
  • Commerce Secretary Admits "Failure" of Crypto Policy. In a speech delivered on April 15, Secretary of Commerce William Daley acknowledged that current U.S. encryption policy has been a failure and that "our own paralysis has made it difficult to persuade other nations to pursue policies similar to ours." In a government document obtained by EPIC, a high-ranking U.S. official acknowledges that "key-escrow" encryption is "more costly and less efficient" than non-escrowed products. See EPIC's press release for more details.
  • Court Rules on Library Net Filtering. In a decision issued on April 7, a federal judge in Virginia rejected an effort to dismiss a challenge to Internet filtering at a public library, finding that "the Library Board may not adopt and enforce content-based restrictions on access to protected Internet speech" unless it meets the highest level of constitutional scrutiny.
  • EPIC Testifies In Congress. In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on March 26, EPIC Director Marc Rotenberg said that current U.S. privacy policy is almost exactly backward -- "We impose government controls on techniques to protect privacy, where market-based solutions are preferable. And we leave privacy problems to the market, where government involvement is required."
  • Cyber-Rights Groups Welcome New Crypto Coalition. EPIC, the ACLU and EFF have issued a joint statement on encryption policy, welcoming the creation of the industry-led Americans for Computer Privacy. Meanwhile, Vice President Gore has sent a letter to Sen. Tom Daschle reiterated the Administration's commitment to preserving the ability of law enforcement to access the plaintext of communications and stored data.
  • FBI Issues Final Capacity Requirements. The Federal Bureau of Investigation sets out wiretap requirements for the nation's telephone system. Companies are expected to comply by October 1998. EPIC and other cyber-liberties groups have sent a letter to Congress and filed comments with the FCC asking for a review of the Bureau's actions. The groups say the FBI has acted in "bad faith" in seeking to implement a massive wiretapping scheme. Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) has introduced the CALEA Implementation Amendments of 1998 which would delay implimentation until 2000.
  • New Report Finds Credit Reports Highly Inaccurate. The Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) released its annual report on credit reports, Mistakes Do Happen: Credit Report Errors Mean Consumers Lose (March 1998).
  • Academics, Advocates, Experts Call for National Conference on Privacy. A group of more than 70 leading privacy scholars, advocates, and technical experts have urged the Department of Commerce to ensure that a proposed White House conference on privacy is not dominated by special interest groups. The group says that it is also time to assess the adequacy of "self-regulation" as a means to protect privacy.
  • Crypto Survey Finds Little Global Support for Restrictions. The Global Internet Liberty Campaign released the first comprehensive review of cryptography policies around the world in February 1998. "Cryptography and Liberty: An International Survey of Encryption Policy" finds that few countries restrict technologies for online privacy.