- Public interest group concerned with civil liberties and Internet privacy
Founded in 1994, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is a public interest research group that focuses on how issues of privacy and civil liberties relate to electronic media. It began as a joint project of the Fund for Constitutional Government (a nonprofit corporation that works to “expose and correct corruption in the federal government”) and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (an organization concerned with the impact of computer technology on society). EPIC opposes virtually all regulation of the Internet and has filed many Freedom of Information Act requests in an effort to make classified government documents available to the general public.
Alleging “FBI misconduct in intelligence investigations,” EPIC has been a harsh critic of the USA PATRIOT Act and has joined the American Civil Liberties Union in litigating two cases calling for the FBI “to publicly release or account for thousands of pages of information about the government’s use of PATRIOT Act powers.”
Other EPIC lawsuits include:
Ashcroft v. ACLU (formerly ACLU v. Reno II): Beginning in the late 1990s, EPIC, along with the ACLU and other plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit to strike down the Child Online Protection Act, which required all commercial distributors of pornographic “material harmful to minors” to restrict their sites from access by children. According to EPIC, “there is a potential for extraordinary harm and a serious chill upon protected speech if the law goes into effect.”
EPIC v. DHS: In June 2004, EPIC filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. to force the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration, and the FBI to release materials pertaining to the federal government’s collection of passenger data from major commercial airlines.
EPIC v. DOJ: In January 2006, EPIC filed a lawsuit demanding that the Department of Justice release information regarding the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance of international phone calls and e-mails that was part of an ongoing effort to identify potential terrorist plots.
(In a related initiative, in May 2006 EPIC supported a Bill of Rights Defense Committee, or BORDC, campaign urging Americans to call their congressional representatives to voice opposition to NSA surveillance operations. Other supporters of the BORDC campaign included the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Lawyers Guild, People for the American Way, and United For Peace and Justice.)
- ACLU v. DOD: In March 2006, EPIC filed an amicus brief requesting that the U.S. government release its photographs of Iraqi prisoners who were being held in the Abu Ghraib detention center. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit included the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, and Veterans for Peace.
In March 2007, EPIC, in a statement to the House Committee on the Judiciary, warned that new proof-of-citizenship requirements for federal elections could discourage legal voters from casting their ballots.
At a March 21, 2007 meeting of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee, EPIC “explained the many security, financial and privacy costs [that would be] created by the proposed [implementation of] the REAL ID Act,” which when fully operational would make it virtually impossible for illegal aliens to get driver’s licenses and photo IDs. According to EPIC, the law would create “an atmosphere where people without [federally approved] cards will be looked upon with suspicion.”
EPIC oversees the National Committee for Voting Integrity (NCVI), which in 2004 endorsed a number of voting recommendations drafted by the George Soros-funded Brennan Center for Justice. Like NCVI, EPIC opposes “the implementation of proof of citizenship and photo identification requirements for eligible electors in American elections as the means of assuring election integrity.” “Initially,” explains EPIC, “Election Day voting poll locations were a good means of authenticating voters because the people within the community are more likely to know the people who are casting ballots. Today, that is more difficult because of the mobility of the American population and the disconnected nature of neighborhoods and communities. … EPIC finds the proposal to increase the burden for voter participation in public elections to include restricted identification requirements to be objectionable, a barrier to the right to vote, and unnecessary in the encroachments on voters’ privacy rights.”
To disseminate its message on these and other matters, EPIC publishes policy reports, distributes a bi-weekly newsletter, and directs an online bookstore — all focusing on issues of civil liberties in the electronic age.
In 1996 EPIC initiated its Public Voice project, which aims to encourage public involvement in decisions concerning the future of the Internet. Public Voice works with such foreign NGOs as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to bring “civil society leaders face to face with government officials for constructive engagement about current policy issues.” The project receives funding from the Ford Foundation, and the Open Society Institute.
The Executive Director of EPIC is Marc Rotenberg, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center who formerly served as counsel to Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rotenberg currently chairs the American Bar Association’s Committee on Privacy and Information Protection. He is also the former Chair of the Public Interest Registry, which hosts the online presence of numerous nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations.
EPIC is a coalition member of In Defense of Freedom (IDF), a network of groups alleging that the U.S. government has undermined the civil liberties of Americans in the post-9/11 era. Of chief concern to the coalition was the authority given to the FBI in 2002 to search through electronic databases for evidence of terrorist plots. Other IDF members include Action LA, Alliance For Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Friends Service Committee, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Library Association, the American Muslim Alliance, the American Muslim Council, Amnesty International, the Arab American Institute, Campaign for America’s Future, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Economic and Social Rights, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Human Rights Watch, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, MoveOn, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Council of Churches, the National Council of La Raza, the National Lawyers Guild, the National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund, People for the American Way, Physicians for Human Rights, the Sentencing Project, USAction, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the World Organization Against Torture.
In October 2005, EPIC and the ACLU forged a joint campaign calling for the dismantling of a legal database constructed by the Pentagon to help military recruiters identify potential candidates from high schools and colleges across the United States.
EPIC has received funding from the Bauman Family Foundation, the C.S. Fund, the Ford Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Omidyar Network Fund, the Open Society Institute, the San Francisco Foundation, and the Scherman Foundation.