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This Week in Technology + Press Freedom: April 26, 2020

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  1. Policy

Here’s what the staff of the Technology and Press Freedom Project at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is tracking this week.

Reporters Committee seeks to intervene in European ‘right to be forgotten’ case

Last week, the Reporters Committee and 29 media organizations filed an application for leave to intervene in Biancardi v. Italy, a “right to be forgotten” case before the European Court of Human Rights.

The right to be forgotten in Europe, also known as the right to erasure, is codified in the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. It gives individuals the right to request that a person or entity in control of their personal data erase the information when, for instance, it is no longer relevant to the purposes for which it was collected.

The controversial right was at the center of a 2014 case (under an earlier data privacy regulation) before the Court of Justice of the European Union, which ruled that Google had to remove links to personal information from its search results unless public interest in that information remained. In a subsequent case in 2019, the CJEU held that the search engine’s obligation to “delist,” or take down, links under the Europe-wide right to erasure does not extend beyond Europe.

The latest case before the ECtHR goes further than just delisting. The central question is whether a news outlet itself has to delete content in response to a right-to-erasure request.

In 2008, an online news site, Primadanoi, reported on a stabbing incident between two brothers at a local restaurant. A little over two years later, one of the brothers, who is also the manager of the restaurant, requested that the article about the incident be taken down. Primadanoi initially refused to comply with the request, but agreed to do so during the initial court proceedings. Despite Primadanoi removing the article, the highest court in Italy affirmed the lower court’s order assessing €10,000 in reputational damages to the brother and the restaurant, caused by the initial refusal to delete the article.

Biancardi, the editor-in-chief of the news site, appealed the case to the ECtHR, but the large judgment and legal fees forced him to shut down Primadanoi.

In the application for leave, the Reporters Committee and co-intervenors, represented by the law firm Covington & Burling LLP, are proposing to focus their written submission on the balance between the right to privacy and the right to freedom of expression by providing an overview of how these rights have been interpreted and applied in various jurisdictions.

— Linda Moon

Quick Hits

The U.S. Supreme Court last week agreed to hear Van Buren v. U.S. and, for the first time, may review the scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the U.S. federal anti-hacking law. The challengers have argued that the broad interpretation of the law adopted by some courts improperly criminalizes conduct beyond hacking, including, for instance, the automated collection of publicly available information on the internet, something that data journalists routinely do.

The Supreme Court also recently announced that, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Court will conduct oral arguments for upcoming cases via teleconference. A live audio feed of the arguments will be made available to the public.

A federal district court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by Twitter challenging the government’s decision to classify the aggregate number of national security surveillance requests the company receives. Though the judge held that the government had demonstrated a compelling need to classify this information, she left open the question of whether Twitter could constitutionally publish the information, even if properly classified.

Officials with the New York Police Department recently confiscated a journalist’s drone, issued him a misdemeanor summons, and attempted to seize his photos and phone after he tried to document mass burials on Hart Island, a piece of land separated from New York City by Long Island Sound. The aerial photographer flew the drone from a City Island parking lot to take pictures of the island, which is used by the city to bury unclaimed and anonymous decedents. The NYPD cited a 1948 “avigation” law that prohibits aircraft from taking off or landing anywhere other than an airport.

The Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General earlier this month issued a report stating it found no undue influence or pressure by White House officials on the Department of Defense’s decision to award a cloud-computing contract to Microsoft over Amazon.

The Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, delayed consideration of the sale of the “.org” domain to a private equity group to early May. (ICANN is responsible for the internet’s domain name system.) The delay follows a letter from California’s attorney general raising concerns that the sale could cause financial issues for the domain and, in turn, disruption of the websites hosted.

🤓 Smart read 📖

The Stanford Internet Observatory has launched a service to assist journalists covering cybercrime and other information technology incidents by offering tools to better understand how to properly determine the origins of a cyberattack, including who was behind it.

Gif of the Week: The Supreme Court quick hits remind us of a 2014 push by John Oliver to combine audio of arguments with exciting footage of the justices.


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The Technology and Press Freedom Project at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press uses integrated advocacy — combining the law, policy analysis, and public education — to defend and promote press rights on issues at the intersection of technology and press freedom, such as reporter-source confidentiality protections, electronic surveillance law and policy, and content regulation online and in other media. TPFP is directed by Reporters Committee Attorney Gabe Rottman. He works with Stanton Foundation National Security/Free Press Fellow Linda Moon and Legal Fellows Jordan Murov-Goodman and Lyndsey Wajert.