June 6, 2006

Fighting internet censorship

As I’ve written previously, fighting web and other internet censorship is getting urgent. Amnesty International* has started a project at irrepressible.info, to take censored web content and spread it around as many different web sites as possible. In principle, this is a great idea, and I’m participating, which is why you will shortly be able to see ugly yellow/green boxes with random article snippets on most of my blog pages.

Edit: When I redesigned my blogs, I gave up on irrepressible.info. I plan to explain why in another post.

What does worry me is the technology. Simply put, it would be very easy for the Chinese to filter out any web pages with that content, both the “framing content” (e.g., the Amnesty International and irrepressible.info links) and the news content itself. Thus, I see the program in its current form as just a transition measure, to buy time until a more sophisticated approach is devloped.

Ultimately, this becomes a battle of spammers vs. spamfighters, only in this case the spammers are the good guys and many of the recipients want to be spammed. That should put the odds on the side of getting information through the Great Firewall of China (and similar abominations in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, etc.). I’ve previously outlined some of the technical issues that need to be addressed, and I’d be very interested in your thoughts on these.

*By the way, Amnesty International’s involvement shouldn’t scare anybody. True, when you look at their whole range of activities, it includes a lot of questionable anti-Americanism. (Guantanamo Bay is bad, but how can it be compared to the Soviet Gulag, where many Soviets and foreigners met their deaths?) But in the specific areas of press freedom, freedom of speech, censorship, etc., it’s very hard to make a similar criticism.


5 Responses to “Fighting internet censorship”

  1. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » http://irrepressible.info in practice on June 10th, 2006 6:16 am

    […] Four days ago, I posted advocating putting code from irrepressible.info onto your site. The goal is to fight censorship by spreading censored text across as many web pages as follows. And as you can see from the green/yellow box in the upper left of this page, I followed my own advice. […]

  2. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » How to protect our freedoms, strengthen developing economies, and make money on June 13th, 2006 6:18 pm

    […] 2. I proposed two modes of hands-on involvement in fighting authoritarian-government censorship and repression. One is to immediately adopt the quick-and-dirty tactics of http://www.irrepressible.info, by adding a little code to your websites. (I’ve done that already on four sites.) The other is to help me theorize about a badly needed next-generation improvement on those. […]

  3. Michael Roberts of Mile2 on August 9th, 2008 11:26 am

    Michael Roberts of Mile2 Discusses Freedom of Speech & Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act.

    The low tech attack that destroys business, career & family.

    What is this “low-tech” threat that goes largely unnoticed by the community, ignored by criminal prosecutors and yet the cause of billions of dollars in irreparable damage to business goodwill, personal reputation, and very significantly to the emotional well being of the human victims? The threat is called “LIBEL”; a written form of the ancient legal theory of “SLANDER” with origins in Roman jurisprudence

    I fully embrace and encourage the global application of freedom of speech while protecting and restoring the innocent victims of the abuse thereof, specifically those who have been injured through deceptive, false and defamatory assertions in the form of slander and libel; which are generally not protected forms of free speech.

    Define:Freedom of Speech

    Freedom of speech is being able to speak freely without censorship. The right to freedom of speech is guaranteed under international law through numerous human-rights instruments, notably under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, although implementation remains lacking in many countries. The synonymous term freedom of expression is sometimes preferred, since the right is not confined to verbal speech but is understood to protect any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.

    Freedom of Speech in Practice

    In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country, although the degree of freedom varies greatly. Industrialized countries also have varying approaches to balance freedom with order. For instance, the United States First Amendment theoretically grants absolute freedom, placing the burden upon the state to demonstrate when (if) a limitation of this freedom is necessary. In almost all liberal democracies, it is generally recognized that restrictions should be the exception and free expression the rule; nevertheless, compliance with this principle is often lacking.

    However: United States federal law opens the door to abuse of Free Speech abuse and perpetuation thereof.

    Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act is probably the single greatest step backwards for the original intent of the first amendment as it relates to free speech. The act is controversial because several courts have interpreted it as providing complete immunity for internet service and content providers with regard to the torts committed by their users over their systems. Section 230 “creates a federal immunity to any cause of action that would make service providers liable for information originating with a third-party user of the service.” [Reference]

    Many criticize Section 230 for leaving victims with no hope of relief where the true libelers cannot be identified or are judgment proof. Giants such as Google can as a result allow a person or business to be ruined at every level by ignoring the plight of innocent victims targeted by libelers.

    Freedom of Speech in Other Nations

    Thankfully the section 230(c) licence given to ISPs to disseminate and perpetuate online libel does not extend beyond the USA borders. However, this doesn’t stop non-US internet users from accessing illegal libelous (and therefore unprotected speech).

    Search results: Despair Google Denies Relief to Victims of Libel

    The following is a sample response letter sent by Google to politely tell a 2008 libel victim that Google is unwilling to help in their despair. This particular victim had been denied numerous employment opportunities in his profession as a direct result of the Google search results on his name. This denial by Google was sent despite the provision of scores of pages of evidence demonstrating that the materials in question were untrue and thereby not protected by the US 1st Amendment.

    Hi ?????,

    We have received your letter dated xxxxxx, 2008. Google.com is a US site regulated by US law. Google provides access to publicly available webpages, but does not control the content of any of the billions of pages currently in the index. Given this fact, and pursuant to section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act, Google does not remove allegedly defamatory material from our search results. You will need to work directly with the webmaster of the page in question to have this information removed or changed. Once the material has been modified on the site in question, Google’s search results will automatically reflect this change after we next crawl the site.

    If you are in possession of a court order requiring the removal of the page(s) in question, please provide us with a copy of the original, court endorsed order, so that we may better evaluate your request.

    The Google Team

    My quarrel with Google in such instances is that the wording of the response could lead many ignorant readers to believe that Google would be breaking the law by removing the offending material. Whereas, the cited act namely “section 230(c)” allows Goggle to either:

    1. Remove the offensive materials from their search index without fear of liability to the author should he/she claim interference with free speech or;
    2. Leave the offensive materials publicly available (which they chose to do)

    Either way, Google would be immune; the power is solely within Google’s hands to do what is reasonably right to do. In fact the US Congress describes such a choice as that of a “Good Samaritan”. The above summary of Google’s two choices are made abundantly clear in the wording of the 230(c) law which uses remarkably simple and unambiguous language for a finding of congress:

    (c) Protection for “Good Samaritan” blocking and screening of offensive material

    (2) Civil liability
    No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of—

    (A) any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected; or

    (B) any action taken to enable or make available to information content providers or others the technical means to restrict access to material described in paragraph

    In effect, the only “Good Samaritan” aspect of section (c)(2) is part (A); at least where the victim of libel is concerned. I believe that Congress should modify the finding and redefine the use of the term “Good Samaritan” to part (A) only. When Google and other search engines or internet content providers invoke part (B) to the despair of libel victims; they are doing the exact opposite of the proverbial Good Samaritan. By making this modification to the wording, it would not in any way effect the law or reduce its power.

    Thanks Curt for this great venue.

  4. Curt Monash on August 10th, 2008 8:39 pm


    Good link. Thanks.

    I’m more concerned with fears of libel threats chilling speech than the supposed harm of libel that’s posted. That’s why this whole discussion started with my post http://www.monashreport.com/2006/04/25/online-libel-one-public-policy-problem-that-is-less-bad-than-it-appears/

    As for your issue, namely what to do if somebody posts defamatory “information” about you — my answer is that you should create a positive internet presence that speaks more strongly than the negative one your detractors are putting up.

    I wrote about that quite a bit in a series of posts across two blogs in connection with the JLove scam. http://www.networkworld.com/community/node/29625 is a good starting point.


  5. Michael Roberts of Mile2 and Rexxfield.com on August 25th, 2009 4:59 am

    Curt, you are right in that a victim of libel should establish positive and objective and relevant content that will give readers a balanced view. However, although anonymous or identified bloggers and their smear campaigns generally lack credibility, potential employers and potential business partners will still hesitate to engage or partner with the subject of the smear campaign for fear that their customers in turn may question their judgment.

    I walked this road and experienced this phenomena personally. The problem is, until judges, and the public in general have personally experienced the emotionally and vocationally debilitating effects of the relentless and malicious Internet I will campaign, they simply cannot relate to the pain and damage that causes. Until that day comes,legal and community relief for the victims will be generally speaking, difficult to obtain.

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