TLPC Files Amicus Brief for Disability Rights Advocates in Challenge to Federal Agency Incorporation by Reference Practices

Led by student attorneys Sebastian Blitt, Madeline Finlayson, and Sarah Misché, the TLPC filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on behalf of organizations dedicated to advancing and promoting accessibility for people with disabilities. The brief, filed on April 3rd in the case Public.Resource.Org, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission, involves a challenge to a rulemaking by the FCC, arguing that its practice of incorporation by reference failed to make the standards “reasonably available.”

Incorporation by reference is the process by which federal agencies like the FCC adopt standards developed by private organizations into law. When agencies incorporate such standards by reference, the full text of the standards is not reproduced in the Federal Register—as with the text of the proposed regulations themselves. Rather, many of the standards must be purchased from the standard setting organizations (SSOs) that have adopted them directly. Alternatively, some SSOs host “reading rooms” where the text of the standards can be viewed in read-only format. A lawsuit brought by Public.Resource.Org (PRO) challenged the legality of these practices, claiming that they fail to meet the statutory requirement under the Administrative Procedures Act that standards incorporated by reference be “reasonably available” to the public.

TLPC’s brief on behalf of the American Foundation of the Blind and Prime Access Consulting presents the additional, and in some cases insurmountable, challenges that Americans who are blind or have low vision face in accessing standards which have been incorporated by reference. A report prepared by amicus Prime Access Consulting demonstrated that the reading rooms fail many website accessibility guidelines. Specifically, the reading rooms are challenging to navigate for users relying on assistive technologies, such as screen readers. Furthermore, the standards presented in the reading rooms are provided in inaccessible formats. Such barriers prevent Americans with a range of disabilities from participating in the rulemaking process, and even from knowing what the law is.

TLPC’s amicus brief argues that agencies must follow federal disability law and provide meaningful access to the rulemaking process. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits administrative agencies from excluding Americans with disabilities from their programs or activities, which includes rulemaking. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires administrative agencies to provide individuals with disabilities access to information that is comparable to what is enjoyed by members of the public without disabilities. Both sections are violated when Americans who are blind or have low vision are presented with significant barriers from accessing standards which have been incorporated by reference.

The amicus brief is available below this post. An addendum to the brief, which contains Prime Access Consulting’s report identifying the accessibility issues with the SSO websites, can be downloaded by clicking on this link.

Student Attorneys Examine Human Rights Challenges Posed by Pakistan’s E-Safety Bill

On behalf of our client Bolo Bhi—a leading digital rights organization in Pakistan—TLPC student attorneys Rina Mehana, Sophie Pickering, and Matt Engebretsen prepared a report raising serious concerns about the impacts of proposed E-Safety Legislation in Pakistan on the human and constitutional rights of the country’s citizens.

Approved in principle by Pakistan’s federal cabinet on July 26, 2023, the E-Safety Bill aims to regulate online platforms under the guise of promoting safety. However, TLPC’s report identifies significant human rights concerns with the bill—particularly with regard to freedom of expression and access to information. Our report uncovers various flaws with the bill that could undermine digital freedoms, including ambiguous language and provisions that reach far beyond what legitimate E-Safety regulation would target.

Our report was published by Bolo Bhi on its website and is available to download by clicking on the link below.

TLPC Publishes Report Documenting the Challenges of Regulating Election Disinformation in Pakistan

Led by student attorneys Sebastian Blitt, Madeline Finlayson, and Sarah Misché, the TLPC prepared a report on behalf of Bolo Bhi, a civil society organization based in Pakistan, discussing the challenges associated with regulating election disinformation in Pakistan ahead of the elections this February. Bolo Bhi published the report on its website on February 5—three days before the country’s general elections.

Although the spread of disinformation can cause serious harm, laws that seek to regulate disinformation can be misused to suppress legitimate political dissent and criticism. TLPC’s report analyzed both enacted legislation in Pakistan, including the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Bill, and proposed legislation, such as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act Amendment. Each of these measures employs a broad and vague definition of disinformation, providing agencies of the Pakistani government a mechanism to remove unfavorable content, and to punish those who posted it. This raises special concerns regarding the rights of journalists and political dissidents engaging in political discourse leading up to the General Election on February 8.

The report finds that both the current and proposed measures fail to protect the right to free expression guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan and by international human rights law. Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan requires that restrictions on expression be reasonable, including being no more burdensome than necessary. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights only permits restrictions on freedom of expression that are clearly provided by law and necessary to achieve narrow aims. The overbroad and vague definition of disinformation used in the various pieces of legislation that TLPC analyzed fails to meet either of these standards, and therefore imposes unreasonable restrictions on freedom of expression.

TLPC Files Amicus Brief in Constitutional Challenge of Controversial Copyright Law

Led by student attorneys Alexys Aylward, Kevin Nguyen, and Manuela Ramirez Cruz, this week TLPC filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on behalf of a coalition of fair users in support of a constitutional challenge to a controversial copyright law.

Enacted in 1998, Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) bars the circumvention of “technological protection measures” (TPMs) indented to protect copyrighted works from unauthorized reproduction, unless one obtains permission from the Copyright Office through a tedious rulemaking process that occurs once every three years. A lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of noted security researcher Matthew Green and several others challenges the constitutionality of Section 1201 under the First Amendment, in view of the burdens the provision imposes on the free speech rights of Americans.

The TLPC’s amicus brief on behalf of a coalition of accessibility organizations, libraries and archival organizations, and computer security researches explains how Section 1201 violates the First Amendment by preventing them from making fair uses of copyrighted materials encumbered by TPMs—unless they subject themselves to the burdensome and undignified process of obtaining an exemption from the Copyright Office. The brief argues that the burdens of participating in the exemption process, combined with the fact that the exemption process is available only once every three years, are beyond what the First Amendment can bear.

This week’s brief marks the second time the TLPC has represented a diverse coalition of fair users in this case, which was first filed in 2016. The Court is expected to decide the case in the new year.

The signatories of the brief drafted by the TLPC are:

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
The American Library Association (ALA)
Andrew W. Appel
The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL)
The Association of Transcribers and Speech-to-Text Providers (ATSP)
The Software Preservation Network
Steven M. Bellovin
Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Haring, Inc (TDI).

The brief can be downloaded by clicking here or on the image below.

TLPC Files Amicus Brief in Colorado Supreme Court Case Examining Search Warrants in a Digital Context

Led by student attorneys Sebastian Blitt, Madeline Finlayson, and Sarah Misché, the TLPC filed an amicus brief on November 6 on behalf of a group of CU Law and Engineering professors. The brief was filed in People v. Dhyne, a case pending before the Colorado Supreme Court involving the search and seizure of a computer based on the association between an internet protocol (IP) address and a physical address. 

The TPLC’s brief on behalf of Professors Blake Reid, Eric Wustrow, and Vivek Krishnamurthy, which was filed in support of neither party, urged the Court to consider the “totality of the circumstances” when examining the constitutionality of search warrants based on the association between an IP address and physical address.  

Due to technological changes in the last 20 years, the brief explained that the strong connection that once existed between an IP address and a physical address has attenuated. Given the increasingly strong privacy interests that individuals possess in electronic devices, the TLPC brief suggests that a “totality of the circumstances” approach is best suited to evaluating whether search warrants in such contexts meet the constitutional requirements of probable cause and particularity. 

The TLPC’s amicus brief in Dhyne can be downloaded by clicking on the link below.

Canvassing the Current and New Accessibility Issues Arising from 911’s Transition to NG911

(by Sanam Analouei, Colorado Law 2L)

As the United States embarks on the ambitious journey to transform its emergency service infrastructure with Next Generation 911 (NG911), I developed a white paper delving into the pressing accessibility concerns surrounding this life-saving system, especially for people who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deaf Blind (D/HH, or DB). The white paper explores the promises and pitfalls of NG911, revealing a landscape fraught with unresolved issues that could leave people in the D/HH or DB community struggling to access vital emergency services. The paper is divided into two sections: pre and on-call issues and post-call concerns.

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Dispelling the Myth that Privacy Laws Prevent Accessible Videoconferences

(by Veronica Phifer, Colorado Law 2L)

Today, TLPC student attorneys Veronica Phifer, Tanner Kohfield, and Xelef Botan posted a white paper, developed in collaboration with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), dispelling the urban legend that educational and health care institutions can avoid providing of third-party American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and captioning services during videoconferences under the guise of protecting the privacy rights of people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or DeafBlind.

First, we explained that there is no generally applicable federal privacy law that applies in these contexts. Next, we explained that sectoral privacy laws do not prohibit the use of these services, and that even if these laws impacted the provision of these services, there are effective remedies. These remedies include entities requiring interpreters or closed caption providers to protect the privacy of a student or patient via contract, or, if all else fails, obtaining consent from a patient or a student to use these services.

FCC Approves Changes to Carceral Communications

(by Jackson McNeal, Colorado Law 2L)

On September 29th, the FCC approved a Report and Order making substantive changes that improve access to relay services eligible for funding through the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) for incarcerated people with disabilities, while also seeking comment on further reforms to expand the provision of communications services for incarcerated people with disabilities.

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TLPC Files Comments and Reply Comments on Behalf of Accessibility Coalition Before FCC on Interoperable Video Conferencing Services

Today, the TLPC filed comments on behalf of its client, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI), and a coalition of more than 20 accessibility advocacy and research organizations before the Federal Commmunications Commission. The comments urge the FCC to proceed with ensuring the accessibility and usability of video conferencing services by finalizing a decade-long pending rulemaking on the scope of “interoperable video conferencing services” governed by the FCC’s rules under the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.

July 18, 2022 update: the TLPC filed reply comments on the same matter—see the bottom of the post.

TLPC Submits Comments and Reply Comments at FCC on Behalf of Accessibility Coalition

With the assistance of John Jang, Peter Troupe, and Victoria Venzor, the TLPC filed comments and reply comments on behalf of our client, Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI) and a broad coalition of accessibility advocacy and research organizations urging the FCC to require improvements to the accessibility of closed captioning display settings. The comments and reply comments can be downloaded below.

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