Tuna Chatterjee's blog

Court Lifts Gag Order On MIT Students

EFF reports that U.S. District Court Judge George O'Toole has lifted the temporary restraining order that the court had issued against the three MIT students who had planned to present their research on the security vulnerabilities in the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's (MBTA) transit fare payment system at DEFCON, a highly-regarded conference for hackers. The students' research grew out of a project that they had worked on for a network security class at MIT, and they had offered to share their results with the MBTA before presenting their findings at DEFCON. You can read more about the background of the case here.   read more »

Third Circuit Grants Public Access To Prospective Juror Information

On August 1, 2008, the Third Circuit Court of the Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Wecht. The opinion is great news for citizen media creators, because the court ruled that the First Amendment confers a presumptive right of access to obtain the names of trial and prospective jurors in a criminal case prior to empanelment. U.S. v. Wecht, --- F.3d ---, 2008 WL 2940375 at *9 (3rd Cir. Aug. 1, 2008).   read more »

Memphis Police Sue Critics at MPD Enforcer 2.0 Blog

CommercialAppeal.com reports today that the City of Memphis and the Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin have filed a John Doe lawsuit against a number of unknown defendants, including the pseudonymous blog operators of MPD Enforcer 2.0, who go by the collective moniker "Dirk Diggler."   read more »

Global Voices Summit 2008

Last week, Global Voices held a summit in Budapest, Hungary for its members and the wider community of bloggers, activists, technologists, journalists and others from around the world. Called the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2008, the two day event focused on the topic of "Citizen Media & Citizenhood."

As David Sasaki notes, the summit was held to address questions such as:   read more »

Sandra Day O'Connor's Foray into Online Gaming

Last Wednesday, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor gave the keynote speech at the annual Games for Change convention at the Parsons The New School For Design in New York City. In her speech, O'Connor announced her project Our Courts, which she is developing with Arizona State University (ASU) and Georgetown University Law Center. For the project, O'Connor is collaborating with James Gee, a professor at ASU, to design an online game that teaches students civic lessons about the American judiciary.

Justice O'Connor got involved in part because of the potential she sees for online tools to promote youth participation in political life. According to Wired:   read more »

A&P v. D'Avella Update: "Produce Paradise" Lawsuit Settles

David's post yesterday got us thinking about one of our favorite cases, A&P v. D'Avella. As some of you will recall, the case involved two brothers who worked at an A&P supermarket in New Jersey and created parodic rap songs with supermarket themes under the name "Fresh Beets." Their crowning achievement, of course, was a video called "Produce Paradise," which they made in the A&P store (after hours) and posted to YouTube and their website fakelaugh.com. A&P was not amused and sued the brothers for trademark infringement and dilution, defamation, and trade libel. To put it mildly, the supermarket's legal claims were questionable (see Sam's August 30th post on the case for details). Through a little digging, I've learned that the parties have settled the case, bringing to a close one of the more humorous episodes chronicled in our legal threats database.   read more »

Maine Enacts State Shield Law

Last Friday, Maine enacted a state shield law to protect journalists from disclosing the identity of a confidential source or source material that the journalist obtained or received during the newsgathering process. See 16 Me. Rev. Stat. §61 (click on the "webpage" link under the "Final Disposition" section). However, the law does not give journalists an absolute privilege against disclosing this type of information. A court may order disclosure of covered information if a party seeking disclosure as part of a civil or criminal case can show the following things:

  • the information is "material and relevant" to the case;
  • the information is "critical or necessary" to the party's claim or defense;
  • the information cannot be obtained from "any alternative source or cannot be obtained by alternative means or remedies less destructive of First Amendment rights"; and
  • disclosure satisfies an "overriding public interest.

Unfortunately the law left out language that appeared in an earlier version of the bill (click on the "Bill Text" link), which defined the term "journalist" to include non-traditional journalists and (potentially) other online publishers. The newly enacted law leaves out this definition "to allow the court to determine on a case-by-case basis whether a person claiming the protection from compelled disclosure is eligible for such protection." We'll have to wait for the courts to determine who is entitled to the shield law's protections.

Pennsylvania's Upcoming Right-To-Know Law

Here at the Citizen Media Law Project we recently finished the fourth major section of our Legal Guide on Access to Government Information. As we were researching the various freedom of information laws, we came across Pennsylvania’s recently enacted Right-To-Know Law which goes into effect on January 1, 2009, and wanted to again applaud its arrival (we initially noted the Governor's signing of the law back in February).

The Better Government Association watchdog group ranks Pennsylvania’s current open records law near the bottom (48th of the 50 states) for quality of public access. The law itself dates back to 1957 and seemed fairly ensconced until a recent spate of highly publicized government scandals triggered its reassessment. The notorious attempt by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority’s to cover up the hundreds of thousands of dollars it spent on resort trips for board members and staff over a five year period, and the Democratic caucus’ infamous secret payment of legislative bonuses totaling 1.9 million dollars to staff members were among the more egregious news stories and resulted in public outcry demanding greater government transparency.   read more »

Berkman@10 Conference: The Future of the Internet

Save the date! On May 15-16, 2008, the Berkman Center will cap off its 10th anniversary celebration with a conference on “The Future of the Internet.” The Center has been in full celebratory mode for the 2007-08 academic year and has hosted many events including a distinguished speaker series and book releases by Berkman projects and people. (Save another date! This week, on April 4, Lawrence Lessig will at the Berkman Center, giving a talk on "Building the Change Congress Movement." Next up, Jonathan Zittrain's book release on April 11 and April 18.)

Dan Gillmor over at the Center for Citizen Media has blogged about the choice of keynote speaker for the conference, Joshua Micah Marshall. As Gillmor notes, not only is Marshall the founder and editor of the highly regarded Talking Points Memo, but he is also a passionate proponent of journalism “by the people, for the people.”

I, on the other hand, have accessing government information on my mind--we’re about to launch the Access section of our legal guide. To risk sounding like a broken record and blogging again about the importance of open government, I’m thrilled that the Sunlight Foundation will be co-hosting a session on Technology and Political Transparency.   read more »

A Tale of Two Prisoners

This week, a judge ruled that Allan Parmelee, an inmate at the McNeil Island Corrections Center in Washington state, can continue to request public records under the state Public Records Act. According to the Associated Press, Parmelee has requested hundreds of public records about the state troopers, prosecutors, judges, prison guards, and others who incarcerated him for firebombing two cars.

The judge’s ruling responded to prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s petition to ignore Parmelee’s pending records requests and bar him from making new ones. Satterberg noted that while he is a proponent of open government, “Parmelee has a long history of using the Public Records Act to try and intimidate and harass my deputies and other criminal justice system employees."

Others support Satterberg’s assertion that Parmalee was using the requests to intimidate people. Former assistant attorney general Brian Maxey spoke of Parmelee’s promise to visit to his house, and assistant attorney general Sara Olson received a letter from Parmelee that referenced the firebombings and accused her of acting "so unprofessionally (as) to invite some similar response." (Parmelee had previously requested records about Maxey and Olson, as well as six other current and former assistant attorneys general.)   read more »

It's Sunshine Week!

It’s March and it’s Sunshine Week. This year, from March 16 - 22, the American Society of Newspaper Editors is holding its annual national initiative to raise public consciousness on the need for open government. The name “Sunshine Week” is derived from the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’s admonition that “[s]unlight is the best disinfectant,” describing his belief that an open government is more accountable to its people and thus less easily corrupted. As I write this post, various participants in the media community are similarly calling attention to the public’s right to know what their government is doing and why in order to improve their lives and better inform their communities. (See the Student Press Law Center, the Massachusetts Newspapers Publishers Association, and the Society for Professional Journalists for examples.)

Using freedom of information laws is a simple, and potentially powerful, way of obtaining information about the activities of federal, state and many local governments. You don't need to hire a lawyer, and no complicated forms are involved—requests can be made in a simple letter. And you don't need to be a journalist to share what you find with others who are interested in these issues; with nothing more than an Internet connection, you can post the information and make it available to anyone in the world.   read more »

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