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Cosplayers Fight for Online Anonymity and Privacy During Dragon Con

Wizards, Browncoats, Sherlockians, and Other Creative Communities Join EFF in “Project Secret Identity” Photo Campaign

Atlanta - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), sci-fi blog io9, and a coalition of fan communities are launching "Project Secret Identity," a cosplay photo campaign to raise awareness of the importance of anonymity and privacy during the annual pop culture convention Dragon Con in Atlanta, Georgia, Aug. 29 - Sept. 1.

The campaign, online at ProjectSecretIdentity.org, is supported by a cross-fandom coalition of organizations, including: Southeastern Browncoats, a Firefly-inspired non-profit; the Harry Potter Alliance, an activism organization; the Baker Street Babes, a Sherlock Holmes fan group and podcast; Wattpad, a community of readers and writers; and the Organization for Transformative Works, a fan-culture advocacy organization.

"Whether it's the 'Eye of Sauron' in The Lord of the Rings or 'The Machine' in Person of Interest, genre culture has long explored and criticized mass surveillance," said EFF Investigative Researcher Dave Maass. "The last year's worth of stories about the NSA have read too much like dystopian fiction. In response, we need to focus the imaginations of fans to advocate for a future where free expression is protected through privacy and anonymity. "

During the campaign, cosplayers around the world can use ProjectSecretIdentity.org to post photos of themselves in costume bearing pro-anonymity slogans, such as "I Have the Right to a Secret Identity" and "Privacy is Not a Fantasy." Dragon Con attendees can also stop by the Project Secret Identity photo stations at EFF's table (second floor at the Hilton Atlanta) and the Southeastern Browncoats' booth (#1000 at AmericasMart).

"In J.K. Rowling's novels, Voldemort came to power not only through coercion, but by monitoring, controlling, and censoring the Wizarding World's lines of communication," Harry Potter Alliance Executive Director Paul DeGeorge said. "In the real world, there is no charm-protected room where we can meet and organize in secret. What we have is the Internet and we need to fight to keep it free and secure."

"Freedom from oppressive governments is central to the ethos of the Firefly fandom," said Serenity Richards, captain of the Southeastern Browncoats. "By standing up for anonymity today, we can prevent 'The Alliance' from becoming a reality in the future."

The activism campaign coincides with Dragon Con's Electronic Frontiers Forum, a track of panels on the intersection of technology with free speech and privacy. EFF Deputy General Counsel Kurt Opsahl will present an update to his acclaimed presentation, "Through a PRISM, Darkly: Everything we know about NSA spying," which debuted at the Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg, Germany in December 2013. Opsahl and Maass will also speak on a number of discussion panels, covering issues ranging from police searches of cell phones to the Freedom of Information Act.

EFF will also support screenings of Terms and Conditions May Apply, a 2013 documentary about Web site terms of service, and The Internet's Own Boy, Brian Knappenberger's 2014 documentary about the late Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

Founded in 1987, Dragon Con is expected to draw more than 62,000 attendees this year.

For EFF's schedule at Dragon Con:
https://www.eff.org/event/eff-goes-dragon-con

Contact:

Dave Maass
Media Relations Coordinator and Investigative Researcher
Electronic Frontier Foundation
press@eff.org

Cosplay photos:

Top: Kiba Shiruba as "Cyber" Frey from Fisheye Placebo. (High resolution)

EFF Investigative Researcher Dave Maass as Harry Tuttle from Brazil. (High resolution)

Hannah Grimm as Chell from Portal. (High resolution)

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Too Many Secrets: A Court Ruling Spells Bad News for Anonymous Speech in Brazil

Last week was a bad day for freedom of expression in Brazil. Judge Paulo César de Carvalho, in the state court of Espírito Santo, issued a preliminary injunction ordering the removal of Secret—an anonymous sharing application that lets people share messages with friends, friends of friends, or publicly—from the Apple App store and Google Play store, as well as Cryptic (Secret’s application for the Windows Phone) from Microsoft's store. The injunction also ordered the three companies to remove the applications from phones belonging to their Brazilian users.

What’s the problem? The prosecutor alleges:

“…people are falling victim to embarrassment and violations of their honor without being able to defend themselves, given the anonymity of the postings, since the application SECRET ‘allows the user to tell their own or friends' secrets to Facebook contacts anonymously through the application,’ and since its developers themselves claim that ‘it's impossible to determine who told the secret, since there's no data or photo of the user and they guarantee that ‘there's no risk of the secret leaking out on Facebook,’ since ‘the most information that's revealed is that the message was published by a friend or by the friend of a friend on the app.’”

Furthermore, the prosecutor argues that because any removal request must be sent in English to an American judge via the Brazilian foreign ministry, there is no effective way for Brazilians to defend themselves against defamation.

And why is anonymous speech a problem in Brazil? The judge cites two sections of the Brazilian Constitution:

Chapter I, article 5, section IV: The expression of thought is free, anonymity being forbidden; and

Chapter I, article 5, section X: Intimacy, private life, and the honor and image of persons are inviolable, ensuring the right to compensation for material or moral damages resulting from their violation.

The judge quoted, at length, Brazilian legal scholar Daniel Sarmento, explaining that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute and that “those who act in an abusive manner in their exercise of this right, and thereby cause damage to third parties, may be held responsible for their actions.”

Opposing counsel argued that Secret does not violate the constitution because it is technically possible for the company to trace who is posting anonymous messages through email and phone records. Representatives from Secret informed a Brazilian paper that they would comply with a valid court order to hand over user data if it received one.

Will Brazilians really be losing their Secret apps in just a few days? In some cases, yes. Apple has already complied. But Apple, Google, and Microsoft will have an opportunity to appeal.

While Brazil has led the way in government support of open source culture and explicitly condemning mass surveillance, its Constitutional ban on anonymous speech poses a tremendous danger to free expression in Brazil. Anonymity may make it more difficult to hold bullies accountable for their speech, but it also has a chilling effect on victims of all forms of violence and abuse, people with unpopular opinions, minorities, and vulnerable populations. Banning anonymous speech also chills dissent against the government. In 2011, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, Frank LaRue, called upon states to ensure that individuals have the right to express themselves anonymously online. In 2013, in a landmark report, he explicitly made the link between anonymous speech and privacy:

“The right to privacy is often understood as an essential requirement for the realization of the right to freedom of expression. Undue interference with individuals’ privacy can both directly and indirectly limit the free development and exchange of ideas. … An infringement upon one right can be both the cause and consequence of an infringement upon the other.”

EFF will be keeping a close eye on this case as it develops

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Supreme Court Tackles Online Threats

When Sarah Palin placed crosshairs over political districts her political action committee was targeting in the 2010 midterm election, there was an outcry but she wasn’t arrested. Although some claimed the imagery was violent, no one believed Palin was actually intending to shoot anyone. But when Anthony Elonis posted some ugly speech on his Facebook account, fantasizing about killing his ex-wife and law enforcement agents, he was arrested, indicted for making Internet threats and sentenced to more than three and a half years in prison. Elonis claimed he was venting and that he didn’t mean what he said. The prosecutor explained to the jury that it didn’t matter what Elonis thought, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ruling the government only had to show a reasonable person felt threatened by the posts. 

With Elonis’ case now before the Supreme Court, we’ve joined an amicus brief filed by the Student Press Law Center and the PEN American Center to explain why the unique nature of the Internet and the First Amendment require the government prove a person actually meant to make a threat before he can be prosecuted.

This is especially important for youth who communicate through social media. One of the great things about the Internet is its ability to spread speech far and wide. But that also means speech may be misunderstood when it is received by an unintended audience or without the original context in which it was published, creating the risk that fiery rhetoric is transformed into criminal liability. We've already seen how one 18 year old who posted some ugly trash talk on Facebook is now facing ten years in prison. Obviously, there is no room in our society for true threats of violence, whether spoken online or offline. So requiring a subjective intent to threaten is the best way to balance First Amendment values with public safety. Speech that appears threatening but is clearly parody or a joke is protected, while true, violent threats meant to be threatening are punished.

The rapid growth of social media has clearly benefited society, enhancing the ability to connect with other people far and wide and with those both within and outside of our communities. Hopefully, the Court will help preserve this public resource by not unnecessarily extending criminal liability in overbroad ways.

Sean D. Jordan, Kent C. Sullivan, Peter Ligh and Travis Mock of Sutherland LLP, wrote the brief for EFF, SPLC and PEN American Center.

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Registered Lobbyists Elbow Their Way Back Into TPP Committees

Hollywood and big publishers already have an alarming stranglehold over the US Trade Representative's objectives in trade agreements, leading to extreme copyright enforcement and privacy-invading policies in trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. But now, the White House is doing away with the remaining limits it has on lobbyists influencing federal policies.

Special interests won a federal court ruling earlier this year, where the judge in the case suggested that President Obama's ban on registered lobbyists serving on federal advisory committees violated those lobbyists' rights. In light of this ruling, the White House has sent a memo specifying new rules, permitting lobbyists to once again officially serve on federal agencies if they are representing a specific client (such as say, the Motion Picture Association of America).

These new relaxed rules on lobbyists mean that Hollywood will now be able to exercise their influence on US trade policy more than ever.

Since President Obama enacted the ban in 2010, only non-registered lobbyists were able to serve on these Trade Advisory Committees. These committees currently include hundreds of legal advisors for corporations, who can log in from their own computers to view and comment on the official drafts of trade agreements. Meanwhile, Congress members are only permitted to view the text in a specific room without the ability to take notes or be accompanied by legislative aides. Public representatives are afforded even less access to negotiations than corporate representatives.

It's no wonder that the TPP carries so many anti-user policies. Based upon what we've seen from the leaked Intellectual Property chapter, we know that this current arrangement already gives corporations undue influence over its terms. That's why the TPP includes provisions that criminalize the circumvention of DRM, expand the international standard of copyright terms to life of the author plus 70 years, and cement dangerous liabilities for websites and other Internet intermediaries that will force them to take down and censor users' content.

If you're a US voter, you can help us fix this broken, corporate-captured process. Senator Ron Wyden, who has been a vocal opponent to the TPP's secretive negotiations, has the unique opportunity to make things right. As Chair of the Finance Committee, he's under massive pressure from Hollywood to introduce a bill that will legitimize this whole undemocratic process.

We need your help to call on Sen. Wyden to bring Internet users' interests to the table. Let's ask him to bring real transparency and accountability to the trade negotiation process so our international laws protect, not impair, digital rights.

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