Posts tagged ‘censorship’
Some of you may remember the other version of my blog Woolly Days on Google’s Blogspot. I founded it in 2005 and since then I have posted 1548 entries with well over a million words. In 2009 I duplicated the content here on WordPress. But all my writings between 2005 and early 2009 are only on Blogspot. Whether those words are worth saving is anyone’s guess but at moment Google does want anyone else to see them. And you cannot visit the site anymore because Google has locked it and made visible to me only as the author.
I’ve always found it difficult to dislike Google. Though they are one of the world’s largest information technology companies driven by profit imperative they continue to have good karma. Evangelists like Jeff Jarvis see them as the gamechanger benchmark constantly asking us in any situation what would Google do? What their search engine did do was revolutionise our relationship to information. Over 10 years they ensured an enormous store of knowledge was no further away than our fingertips.
I still use their search and I also love their maps, even their blogs (I update my second site Irish I’s irregularly where I post anything I see that amuses me.) But my experiences with them are increasingly dominated by their thuggish practices.
On January 20, 2013 I got a terse email from an address called “Google Blogger Support”. However the email’s contents weren’t very supportive. Signed off by the “Google Team”, the email told me Google had received a Terms of Service complaint regarding malicious code on my blog. “After conducting our review, and in accordance with Google’s Terms of Service, we have removed the content at issue,” the “Google Team” said.
They provided links to the Terms of Service and their Content Policy but there was no explanation which element I was in breach of or what code was malicious. Was it some content that offended someone? Who knows and there were plenty of words bound to offend someone. Google wouldn’t say who made the complaint or how I could respond to the charge.
I responded immediately to the address “Blogger Support” that sent me the email. I replied this was absolutely outrageous, “Woolly Days is a respected blog of 7 years standing,” I said. “It covers serious issues of politics and media with over a million words. Why on earth has it been deleted without Snyder eexplanation (sic,)? Please undo this disgraceful unwarranted action. Even a quick look would assure anyone of its merits.”
I was angry when I wrote it and in my hurry it had a very curious mistake.My “Snyder eexplanation” is a combination of a typo and ‘damn you autocorrect’ moment – it meant to read ‘any explanation’. Why my Google powered Android phone changed “any” to “Snyder” is anyone’s guess. But I need not have been embarrassed by that or worried that Google would pay any attention to my screed.
I got the standard auto reply “Unfortunately, we are unable to answer email that is sent directly to this email address.” They gave me places to go if I wanted help with a technical issue, answers from the help forum, wanted to learn about features or even if I wanted to report a violation of Blogger’s Terms of Service. But there was no place to go if you were a victim of such a report.
The blog remains visible to me, but no one else can see it. On my blogger dashboard, I found it was listed as a locked blog but I could request an unlock review. I did so but received no reply. When I next logged onto the dashboard I saw another cryptic message that the blog was “in violation of Blogger’s Terms Of Service”. They advised me to “fix the problem” before Google would re-review.
But what was the problem? The Google terms of service are 1691 words long and I have no idea whether I am violating all of it or some sentence of it. Frustrated, I got rid of a few things they mentioned might be issues that I thought were harmless. So I removed the html code for my stat counters and a few modest ads. But that didn’t help. I put in a second unlock review after I removed the possibly offending content. Google responded with silence. I remain in a Kafkaesque world guilty of some unknown offence with no way of redressing the problem.
I don’t know what the ‘malicious code’ (and doubt I have the html skills to be really malicious) nor do I how what the TOS violation is, but I suspect it is a very minor infraction of inconsistently-applied rules. I still want Google to unlock my blog though I will never update it again. Blogspot is their platform but Woolly Days is a part of the public record and Google have no right to interfere with it. It is the behaviour of thugs and censors.
The Italian Parliament is currently debating DDL intercettazioni which requires all websites to publish a correction of any content that the applicant deems detrimental to his/her image within 48 hours of the request and without any comment. Wikipedia said the law does not require a third party evaluation of the claim and anyone offended by online content has the right for a correction to be shown, unaltered, on the page, regardless of the truth of the initial allegation. Wikipedia said this law would distort its principles and would bring to a paralysis of the “horizontal” method of access and editing, putting “an end to its existence as we have known until today”.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi introduced the draft bill in 2010 saying it was needed to protect the rights of private citizens. The bill restricts the right of police and prosecutors to plant bugs and record telephone conversations and also proposes fines for journalists publishing transcripts of recordings. Journalists across Italy went on strike in July 2010 in protest at the laws. Head of the Italian journalists union, Roberto Natale said the real objective was to prevent reporting of judicial cases with high political impact, “the ones that can generate, and have generated, embarrassment.”
Reporters Without Borders strongly condemned the law at the time. They said the laws went beyond just the national domain. “It would send a disastrous signal to other countries and would encourage dictatorships to use it as a model for restricting the investigative capacity of their local press with even more dramatic consequences,” RSB said. They said telephone taps were often the main evidence in support of stories about corruption and organised crime. “The sole practical aim of this bill is to prevent any investigative reporting.”
Berlusconi has been the victim of several wiretaps. Most recently judges released wiretaps at the conclusion of an investigation into Gianpaolo Tarantini, who paid women to sleep with the prime minister at his home. The wiretaps revealed a man with a large sexual appetite but whether this is something for the public domain is debatable. Berlusconi didn’t think so. “My private life is not a crime, my lifestyle may or may not please, it is personal, reserved and irreproachable,” he said.
His law is not totally without justification. Italy is the champion of the western world for wiretaps. In 2005 Italian mobile operator TIM issued a fax to all Italian public prosecutors they have already over-stretched their capacity from 5000 to 7000 simultaneously intercepted mobile phones and had now reached their limit. In 2004, Italy orders 172 judicial intercepts per 100,000 inhabitants.
After being bogged down for a year, debate on the bill resumed on Wednesday. Centre-right politician Giulia Bongiorno was responsible for carrying the law though parliament disowned it after Berlusconi’s PDL party succeeded in adding an amendment that would see journalists jailed for between six months and three years if they published “irrelevant” wiretaps. Bongiorno said she no longer recognised anything in the text of the bill and blamed the changes on Berlusconi’s direct intervention. The UK Independent now says the parties have reached compromise to see the law applied only to registered online news services and not to amateur blogs. That compromise was not good enough for Wikipedia.
The announcement comes just days after the Fijian dictator, who has ruled since 2006, claimed the country would probably not be “ready” for elections in 2014. It also comes less than a month after strict new laws further inhibited Fiji’s media from honestly reporting on what is happening there. On 29 June the military backed regime introduced its new “Media Industry Development Decree 2010” which brought in a new set of strict rules governing Fiji’s media. The laws strengthen already tough laws governing the media, military intimidation of reporters, censors in newsrooms and the deportation of foreign-born newspaper executives.
One of those executives was Russell Hunter who was the former managing-director of the Fiji Sun before he was deported in 2007. Hunter called the laws draconian and an erosion of freedom and basic human rights. The laws give the media authority the right to demand the name of confidential sources if the story relates to government corruption. Journalists could be fined $50,000 and jailed for two years for work deemed against the “public interest or order”. The most well-known provision is the 10 percent limit on foreign ownership as it directly affects the News Ltd owned Fiji Times, which is the country’s oldest and largest newspaper.
The Fijian Government has now given News Ltd three months to sell the paper or be forcibly shut down. It also casts huge doubts over the viability of foreign investment in the country at the very time it is most needed. News Limited boss John Hartigan said the laws eroded the “basic tenets of democracy” in Fiji. “This illegal government has retrospectively withdrawn permission for foreign media investment in Fiji, which is not only grossly unfair but will inevitably be enormously damaging to Fiji’s reputation as an attractive investment opportunity,” he said.
In response, the Fijian media regulator said the country’s media needs to be a part of the regime not an opponent. Former Canberra-based academic Satendra Nandan, chair of the Media Industry Development Authority, said action needed to be taken against newspapers such as The Fiji Times, which had acted against the Bainimarama government. Nandan told The Australian the Times’ coverage of the scrapping of the judiciary and constitution last year was “abusive and scurrilous”. “The Fiji Times took a strong stand against the current government and the abrogation of the constitution and they didn’t consider the national interest,” Nandan said.
The New Zealand Herald says the media laws are part of an ongoing removal of Fijians’ rights including quashing the constitution, removing dissent and empty promises on a new election. With 60 percent of Fiji’s tourist income coming from New Zealand and Australia, the Herald rightly suggest the time is now right to reconsider holiday plans in Fiji. “Tourists might like to say that Fijian businesses and jobs should not be penalised for the sins of the regime,” the paper said. “But they are undermining their own country’s diplomatic efforts.”
The Digital Economy Bill was one of the last acts of the current British Government which they pushed through late on Wednesday night. It may have many long-lasting and unintended consequences. The bill is an extraordinarily wide-ranging piece of legislation that affects communications regulator Ofcom, Channel Four, Commercial TV, spectrum regulation, broadband, digital radio, video games, intellectual property (not Internet Protocol!) and internet domain registrations. MPs had just a few hours to digest its lengthy contents. All of it needs scrutiny but it is its recommendation on illegal downloads that has generated the most controversy.
As Gigaom says the bill tackles copyright infringement by forcing ISPs to cut off persistent file-sharers. In their rush to pass the legislation, it is looking leaky and undercooked and is likely to have many negative implications for digital freedoms. Among the concerns are it could have the unintended consequence of forcing libraries and cafes to stop offering free Wi-Fi and worryingly it could also give the government the power to block sites like Wikileaks, on the excuse it hosts copyright-infringing material. By tackling those who download copyrighted content illegally, the bill also moves to suspend or slow down some web users’ connections.
The bill won cross-party support but one of the few active voices in parliament against it was Labour MP Tom Watson. Watson is one of the few MPs who understands what the digital economy actually means, and in his speech against it he described it as a mass (or mess) of “unintended consequences”. As Mike Butcher wrote in the Telegraph those consequences include potentially huge legal bills for Internet start-ups, and everyday parents who have little idea how their download limit is being used up by “teenage children, neighbours, or even someone parked outside their house.”
Another dissenter in parliament, Tory MP William Cash, made the point the impact and implications of the Bill’s many clauses are sophisticated and not immediately obvious, and supporting it should not be a given. “The Bill should not be rushed through,” he said. “It is not the Dangerous Dogs Bill; it is a very different type of Bill.”
But TechCrunch Europe have seen it all before. They emotively used a Churchill pre-war speech as a metaphor for what is happening now “The stations of uncensored expression are closing down,” said Churchill about Nazi dominated Europe in 1938 and TechCrunch argued these stations were shutting down again today. Just as in the proposed Australian legislation the onus will be on ISPs to police the new laws. TechCrunch says ISPs will have to send letters to their subscribers who have been linked to copyright infringements and, after these warnings, suspend their accounts. Copyright holders will be able to apply for a court order to gain access to the names and addresses of serious infringers and take legal action.
Similar to the battle here in Australia over the Government’s proposed Internet censorship plans, the British digital economy bill has lined up the tech savvy and civil libertarians on one side and mainstream politicians on the other. As in Australia, neither side has covered themselves in glory in an issue that does not fully resonate with the majority of the electorate. Politicians, with too many other issues to deal with, allow themselves to be swayed by party whips, vested interests and industry lobby groups. The tech savvy’s mobilisation of platforms such as Twitter starts by being a good focus of anger but ends up being a frustrated and vitriolic echo chamber of like-minded views. Politicians know these views fail to cut through to suburbia and the issues affecting marginal electorates. Those fighting the #nocleanfeed war in Australia should closely examine the way the Digital Economy Bill played out. An antipodean repeat is on the cards.