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Paul Merrell

What's Scarier: Terrorism, or Governments Blocking Websites in its Name? - The Intercept - 0 views

  • Forcibly taking down websites deemed to be supportive of terrorism, or criminalizing speech deemed to “advocate” terrorism, is a major trend in both Europe and the West generally. Last month in Brussels, the European Union’s counter-terrorism coordinator issued a memo proclaiming that “Europe is facing an unprecedented, diverse and serious terrorist threat,” and argued that increased state control over the Internet is crucial to combating it. The memo noted that “the EU and its Member States have developed several initiatives related to countering radicalisation and terrorism on the Internet,” yet argued that more must be done. It argued that the focus should be on “working with the main players in the Internet industry [a]s the best way to limit the circulation of terrorist material online.” It specifically hailed the tactics of the U.K. Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU), which has succeeded in causing the removal of large amounts of material it deems “extremist”:
  • In addition to recommending the dissemination of “counter-narratives” by governments, the memo also urged EU member states to “examine the legal and technical possibilities to remove illegal content.” Exploiting terrorism fears to control speech has been a common practice in the West since 9/11, but it is becoming increasingly popular even in countries that have experienced exceedingly few attacks. A new extremist bill advocated by the right-wing Harper government in Canada (also supported by Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau even as he recognizes its dangers) would create new crimes for “advocating terrorism”; specifically: “every person who, by communicating statements, knowingly advocates or promotes the commission of terrorism offences in general” would be a guilty and can be sent to prison for five years for each offense. In justifying the new proposal, the Canadian government admits that “under the current criminal law, it is [already] a crime to counsel or actively encourage others to commit a specific terrorism offence.” This new proposal is about criminalizing ideas and opinions. In the government’s words, it “prohibits the intentional advocacy or promotion of terrorism, knowing or reckless as to whether it would result in terrorism.”
  • If someone argues that continuous Western violence and interference in the Muslim world for decades justifies violence being returned to the West, or even advocates that governments arm various insurgents considered by some to be “terrorists,” such speech could easily be viewed as constituting a crime. To calm concerns, Canadian authorities point out that “the proposed new offence is similar to one recently enacted by Australia, that prohibits advocating a terrorist act or the commission of a terrorism offence-all while being reckless as to whether another person will engage in this kind of activity.” Indeed, Australia enacted a new law late last year that indisputably targets political speech and ideas, as well as criminalizing journalism considered threatening by the government. Punishing people for their speech deemed extremist or dangerous has been a vibrant practice in both the U.K. and U.S. for some time now, as I detailed (coincidentally) just a couple days before free speech marches broke out in the West after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Those criminalization-of-speech attacks overwhelmingly target Muslims, and have resulted in the punishment of such classic free speech activities as posting anti-war commentary on Facebook, tweeting links to “extremist” videos, translating and posting “radicalizing” videos to the Internet, writing scholarly articles in defense of Palestinian groups and expressing harsh criticism of Israel, and even including a Hezbollah channel in a cable package.
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  • Beyond the technical issues, trying to legislate ideas out of existence is a fool’s game: those sufficiently determined will always find ways to make themselves heard. Indeed, as U.S. pop star Barbra Streisand famously learned, attempts to suppress ideas usually result in the greatest publicity possible for their advocates and/or elevate them by turning fringe ideas into martyrs for free speech (I have zero doubt that all five of the targeted sites enjoyed among their highest traffic dates ever today as a result of the French targeting). But the comical futility of these efforts is exceeded by their profound dangers. Who wants governments to be able to unilaterally block websites? Isn’t the exercise of this website-blocking power what has long been cited as reasons we should regard the Bad Countries — such as China and Iran — as tyrannies (which also usually cite “counterterrorism” to justify their censorship efforts)?
  • s those and countless other examples prove, the concepts of “extremism” and “radicalizing” (like “terrorism” itself) are incredibly vague and elastic, and in the hands of those who wield power, almost always expand far beyond what you think it should mean (plotting to blow up innocent people) to mean: anyone who disseminates ideas that are threatening to the exercise of our power. That’s why powers justified in the name of combating “radicalism” or “extremism” are invariably — not often or usually, but invariably — applied to activists, dissidents, protesters and those who challenge prevailing orthodoxies and power centers. My arguments for distrusting governments to exercise powers of censorship are set forth here (in the context of a prior attempt by a different French minister to control the content of Twitter). In sum, far more damage has been inflicted historically by efforts to censor and criminalize political ideas than by the kind of “terrorism” these governments are invoking to justify these censorship powers. And whatever else may be true, few things are more inimical to, or threatening of, Internet freedom than allowing functionaries inside governments to unilaterally block websites from functioning on the ground that the ideas those sites advocate are objectionable or “dangerous.” That’s every bit as true when the censors are in Paris, London, and Ottawa, and Washington as when they are in Tehran, Moscow or Beijing.
Paul Merrell

Internet Freedom Expected to Further Decline in 2015 | nsnbc international - 0 views

  • According to a study from Freedom House, the decline of internet freedom kicked into high-gear in 2014 and is expected to suffer further this year because of opinions derived from 65 nations who have access to the World Wide Web. Since 2010, internet freedom has been eroded with restrictive applications enacted by governments and censoring of content, website filters and surveillance of user’s online behavior.
  • In 2015, predictions assume that the internet will be further restricted with an estimated “41 countries had either proposed or passed legislation to penalize legitimate forms of speech online.”
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

SOPA Censorship is back - 0 views

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    "SOPA censorship is back. Last year the Internet defeated SOPA, but now the U.S. government wants to bring back one of its worst parts: jail time for streaming copyrighted content. Soon, uploading a YouTube video of you singing karaoke could become a felony. Tell Obama: "No SOPA-style censor"
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    SOPA Censorship is back Last year the Internet defeated SOPA, but now the U.S. government wants to bring back one of its worst parts: jail time for streaming copyrighted content. Soon, uploading a YouTube video of you singing karaoke could become a felony.
  •  
    "SOPA censorship is back. Last year the Internet defeated SOPA, but now the U.S. government wants to bring back one of its worst parts: jail time for streaming copyrighted content. Soon, uploading a YouTube video of you singing karaoke could become a felony. Tell Obama: "No SOPA-style censor"
Paul Merrell

A Short Guide to the Internet's Biggest Enemies | Electronic Frontier Foundation - 1 views

  • Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its annual “Enemies of the Internet” index this week—a ranking first launched in 2006 intended to track countries that repress online speech, intimidate and arrest bloggers, and conduct surveillance of their citizens.  Some countries have been mainstays on the annual index, while others have been able to work their way off the list.  Two countries particularly deserving of praise in this area are Tunisia and Myanmar (Burma), both of which have stopped censoring the Internet in recent years and are headed in the right direction toward Internet freedom. In the former category are some of the world’s worst offenders: Cuba, North Korea, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Belarus, Bahrain, Turkmenistan, Syria.  Nearly every one of these countries has amped up their online repression in recent years, from implementing sophisticated surveillance (Syria) to utilizing targeted surveillance tools (Vietnam) to increasing crackdowns on online speech (Saudi Arabia).  These are countries where, despite advocacy efforts by local and international groups, no progress has been made. The newcomers  A third, perhaps even more disheartening category, is the list of countries new to this year's index.  A motley crew, these nations have all taken new, harsh approaches to restricting speech or monitoring citizens:
  • United States: This is the first time the US has made it onto RSF’s list.  While the US government doesn’t censor online content, and pours money into promoting Internet freedom worldwide, the National Security Agency’s unapologetic dragnet surveillance and the government’s treatment of whistleblowers have earned it a spot on the index. United Kingdom: The European nation has been dubbed by RSF as the “world champion of surveillance” for its recently-revealed depraved strategies for spying on individuals worldwide.  The UK also joins countries like Ethiopia and Morocco in using terrorism laws to go after journalists.  Not noted by RSF, but also important, is the fact that the UK is also cracking down on legal pornography, forcing Internet users to opt-in with their ISP if they wish to view it and creating a slippery slope toward overblocking.  This is in addition to the government’s use of an opaque, shadowy NGO to identify child sexual abuse images, sometimes resulting instead in censorship of legitimate speech.
Paul Merrell

The UN Releases Plan to Push for Worldwide Internet Censorship | Global Research - Centre for Research on Globalization - 0 views

  • The United Nations has disgraced itself immeasurably over the past month or so. In case you missed the following stories, I suggest catching up now: The UN’s “Sustainable Development Agenda” is Basically a Giant Corporatist Fraud Not a Joke – Saudi Arabia Chosen to Head UN Human Rights Panel Fresh off the scene from those two epic embarrassments, the UN now wants to tell governments of the world how to censor the internet. I wish I was kidding. From the Washington Post: On Thursday, the organization’s Broadband Commission for Digital Development released a damning “world-wide wake-up call” on what it calls “cyber VAWG,” or violence against women and girls. The report concludes that online harassment is “a problem of pandemic proportion” — which, nbd, we’ve all heard before. But the United Nations then goes on to propose radical, proactive policy changes for both governments and social networks, effectively projecting a whole new vision for how the Internet could work. Under U.S. law — the law that, not coincidentally, governs most of the world’s largest online platforms — intermediaries such as Twitter and Facebook generally can’t be held responsible for what people do on them. But the United Nations proposes both that social networks proactively police every profile and post, and that government agencies only “license” those who agree to do so.
  • People are being harassed online, and the solution is to censor everything and license speech? Remarkable. How that would actually work, we don’t know; the report is light on concrete, actionable policy. But it repeatedly suggests both that social networks need to opt-in to stronger anti-harassment regimes and that governments need to enforce them proactively. At one point toward the end of the paper, the U.N. panel concludes that“political and governmental bodies need to use their licensing prerogative” to better protect human and women’s rights, only granting licenses to “those Telecoms and search engines” that “supervise content and its dissemination.” So we’re supposed to be lectured about human rights from an organization that named Saudi Arabia head of its human rights panel? Got it. Regardless of whether you think those are worthwhile ends, the implications are huge: It’s an attempt to transform the Web from a libertarian free-for-all to some kind of enforced social commons. This U.N. report gets us no closer, alas: all but its most modest proposals are unfeasible. We can educate people about gender violence or teach “digital citizenship” in schools, but persuading social networks to police everything their users post is next to impossible. And even if it weren’t, there are serious implications for innovation and speech: According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, CDA 230 — the law that exempts online intermediaries from this kind of policing — is basically what allowed modern social networks (and blogs, and comments, and forums, etc.) to come into being. If we’re lucky, perhaps the Saudi religious police chief (yes, they have one) who went on a rampage against Twitter a couple of years ago, will be available to head up the project. What a joke.
Paul Merrell

New Leak Of Final TPP Text Confirms Attack On Freedom Of Expression, Public Health - 0 views

  • Offering a first glimpse of the secret 12-nation “trade” deal in its final form—and fodder for its growing ranks of opponents—WikiLeaks on Friday published the final negotiated text for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)’s Intellectual Property Rights chapter, confirming that the pro-corporate pact would harm freedom of expression by bolstering monopolies while and injure public health by blocking patient access to lifesaving medicines. The document is dated October 5, the same day it was announced in Atlanta, Georgia that the member states to the treaty had reached an accord after more than five years of negotiations. Aside from the WikiLeaks publication, the vast majority of the mammoth deal’s contents are still being withheld from the public—which a WikiLeaks press statement suggests is a strategic move by world leaders to forestall public criticism until after the Canadian election on October 19. Initial analyses suggest that many of the chapter’s more troubling provisions, such as broader patent and data protections that pharmaceutical companies use to delay generic competition, have stayed in place since draft versions were leaked in 2014 and 2015. Moreover, it codifies a crackdown on freedom of speech with rules allowing widespread internet censorship.
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