The takeaway is simple: any attempt to regulate speech online — whether in service of “stopping piracy” or “defending against cyberattack” — must be ruthlessly interrogated for how it will be abused. Because it will be abused. Those with censorious impulses will push the four corners of the law as far as possible to silence speech they don’t like. It is depressingly common to see the mere threat of a lawsuit cause a withering of speech online. It’s vitally important that we recognize and call out the certainty that even well-intentioned laws that impact expression will be used as a bludgeon against the open expression of information and ideas online.
Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of access to information are vital whether you’re a credentialed journalist, a protester or a bystander with a camera. The First Amendment’s protections must extend to everyone.
Police have arrested dozens of journalists and activists simply for attempting to document political protests in public spaces. We are calling on the Justice Department to address this widespread abuse and protect everyone’s right to record.
Currently in Delhi, I spent this morning reading about the advent of printing in my little cousin’s Social Science textbook, India and the Contemporary World:
Not everyone welcomed the printed book, and those who did also had fears about it. Many were apprehensive of the effects that the easier access to the printed word and the wider circulation of books, could have on people’s minds. It was feared that if there was no control over what was printed and read then rebellious and irreligious thoughts might spread.
Strikingly similar was my afternoon reading around the web on media regulation in India. Here’s a little round-up of my readings on this week.
Censoring India’s Web
The fear of distribution, though now caused by the Internet, is still rampant. Like the SOPA, PIPA, and CISPA bills (and ensuing public outcry), India saw the 2011 IT Act and protests against it.
Just last month the Indian government asked the U.S. to ensure “India-specific objectionable content” are removed from Facebook, Google, and YouTube. The government also wants each to set up servers in India so content can be regulated locally.
Regulating Broadcasters for the sake of National Security
The afternoon I landed, this was on the news, well, floating by the bottom of the screen of a cricket match. Basically the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recommended a mandatory “carriage fee” (a fee broadcasters have to pay cable companies to carry their channel), and the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) is protesting it.
The wide belief among broadcasters is that the carriage fee charged by cable companies were virtually a tool for extortion - that unless broadcasters shelled out crores, their channel would not feature in the bouquet of channels. NBA it was “distressed” and “disappointed” that Trai’s new order has actually legalized this extortionist fee and given distributors the freedom to unilaterally set the amount of fees broadcasters must pay.
Tied to this is the issue of regulation of broadcast news in the first place. Recently, Congress MP Meenakshi Natarajan moved a privately proposed bill called “Print and Electronic Media Standards and Regulation Bill, 2012,” which would have given the government power to fine, ban, or suspend coverage of any event that “may pose a threat to national security from foreign or internal sources,” as well as suspend a media organization’s operations for up to 11 months. Or cancel its license. Harsh, right? But that is, in many ways, the rationale behind the Internet censorship act too.
Regulating Broadcasters for the sake of Journalism
And amidst all this, an editorial came out today by Press Council of India (PCI) Chairman Markandey Katju, who very strongly argues that an independent body is needed to monitor Indian media, because self-regulation bodies (like the NBA) don’t work.
Media people often talk of self-regulation. But media houses are owned by businessmen who want profit. There is nothing wrong in making profits, but this must be coupled with social responsibilities…The way much of the media has been behaving is often irresponsible, reckless and callous. Yellow journalism, cheap sensationalism, highlighting frivolous issues (like lives of film stars and cricketers) and superstitions and damaging people and reputations, while neglecting or underplaying serious socio-economic issues like massive poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, farmers’ suicides, health care, education, dowry deaths, female foeticide, etc., are hallmarks of much of the media today. Astrology, cricket (the opium of the Indian masses), babas befooling the public, etc., are a common sight on Television channels.
I am far from an authority on this (and much less a resident of India), but after a few days of flipping channels, it seems kind of true. At least the celebrity/cricket/baba stuff.
If the electronic media also comes under the Press Council (which can be renamed the Media Council), representatives of the electronic media will also be on this body, which will be totally democratic. Why then are the electronic media people so furiously and fiercely opposing my proposal?
It’s worth a read, as are the comments.
So, travel across the world and you still find the usual, never-ending debates on privacy vs. freedom of speech, which we’ve discussed quite often on here. If interested in following media things in India (including thoughts on the future of Indian journalism), read The Hoot. I’ll explore its archives tomorrow. —Jihii
At the end of January, the European Commission released its official data protection rules, including a new directive, “the right to be forgotten,” which adheres to European law that protects information privacy, such as France’s le droit à l’oubli, sometimes translated at the right of oblivion. This right allows criminals who have served time to object to the publication of facts of their conviction.
What exactly does this new privacy right entail in Europe in the online world? Commentary is rampant East and West of the Atlantic.
How might we be affected here in the States? At issue is privacy rights vs. free speech rights. Here’s a breakdown.
1. The Internet owns us. (via the Atlantic)
Surely all people suffer from some unknown horror embarrassing them online, from an old photo or comment, up to a Gawker post. The Internet owns us. Our social networks, our blog comments, our quotes in newspapers, our Yelp ratings, Amazon reviews, e-mails, all our personal data, from our birthday to our home state, the Internet knows. But should it always? Or do we Internet users bear an innate “a right to be forgotten” online? It’s natural for people to want to control their online reputations.
2. So if you post up an embarrassing photo, yes you can request it be taken down. (via The New Republic)
Since Facebook and other social networking sites already allow users to do this, creating a legally enforceable right here is mostly symbolic and entirely unobjectionable. It would also usefully put pressure on Facebook to abide by its own stated privacy policies, by allowing users to confirm that photos and other data have been deleted from its archives after they are removed from public display.
3. But if your friends, or a tabloid, or an unidentifiable stranger reposts the photo, can you request it to be taken down? Should that be your right?
A year ago, when the right was first proposed, the answer was maybe. It has since been clarified. Still…
Some say, the answer is now: no. (via the Atlantic)
Back then, the right would have potentially given people the ability to cull any digital reference — from the public record, journalism, or social networks — they deemed irrelevant and unflattering; today, the EU specifies that the data people have a right to remove is, according to Reding, “personal data [people] have given out themselves.” This provision is key. The overhaul insists that Internet users control the data they put online, not the references in media or anywhere else.
Others say, the answer is most certainly yes. (via The New Republic)
If contacted by someone who regrets posting an embarrassing picture, Facebook must take “all reasonable steps” on its own to identify any relevant third parties and secure the takedown of the content…Moreover, the right to be forgotten can be asserted not only against the publisher of content (such as Facebook or a newspaper) but against search engines like Google and Yahoo that link to the content.
4. Any exemptions?
Yes, for “the processing of personal data solely for journalistic purposes, or for the purposes of artistic or literary expression.” (original source)
At the very least, Facebook will have to engage in the kinds of difficult line-drawing exercises previously performed by courts. And the prospect of ruinous monetary sanctions for any data controller that does not comply—a fine up to 1,000,000 euros or up to two percent of Facebook’s annual worldwide income—might lead data controllers to opt for deletion in even ambiguous cases.
5. What about things other people post about me online?
The act treats such takedown requests for "truthful information posted by others" the same as it does photos you post yourself. Key point of controversy: As TNR’s Legal Affairs Editor explains, once you demand takedown, the social networking site or search engine has to prove that it falls within journalistic, artistic, or literary exception.
This could transform Google, Yahoo, and other hosts of third party content into censors-in-chief for the European Union, rather than neutral platforms.
7. Yikes. How about us here in the U.S.?
Currently, American companies doing business in Europe enjoy some exemptions from E.U. law, under a 1995 agreement. But should that agreement be altered, the new right to be forgotten could be imposed on U.S. companies throughout Europe.
Pending European Parliament approval, the law will go into effect in the European Union in 2014.
8. While you’re at it, might as well read a bit about what India and China are up to. (via The Economist)
Building a single European data-protection regime is hard enough. Harmonising it smoothly with America will be harder. Reaching deals with Indian bureaucrats and Chinese mandarins set to defend the interests and the data of their countries’ rapidly growing online firms may be downright impossible. Welcome to the new world of data geopolitics.