Archive | September, 2016

Thoughtless and dangerous EU approach to free speech online

There is a lot of ambiguity when it comes to the EU cooperation with Facebook, Twitter, Youtube/Google and Microsoft to censor the Internet – the Joint Referral Platform.

On the one hand, it has been marketed as a tool to stop »radicalization« that could lead young people to religiously motivated violence, e.g. terrorism or joining the Islamic State in the Middle East.

On the other hand, in documents and speeches the EU is totally focused on this project to stem »illegal online hate speech«, e.g. when it comes to racism and Islamophobia.

On that account, what is deemed to be »illegal« adds to the confusion. Incitement to violence is clearly and reasonably within this definition. But when it comes to the broader definition of hate speech, laws vary between EU member states.

Reason Magazine writes…

Recent “hate speech” investigations in European countries have been spawned by homily remarks by a Spanish Cardinal who opposed “radical feminism,” a hyperbolic hashtag tweeted by a U.K. diversity coordinator, a chant for fewer Moroccan immigrants to enter the Netherlands, comments from a reality TV star implying Scottish people have Ebola, a man who put a sign in his home window saying “Islam out of Britian,” French activists calling for boycotts of Israeli products, an anti-Semitic tweet sent to a British politician, a Facebook post referring to refugees to Germany as “scum,” and various other sorts of so-called “verbal radicalism” on social media.

A practical dilemma is that »hate« is something very subjective. Who is to define what is legitimate criticism and what is hate?

For instance, religion often has very real implications on how people are supposed to live their lives, how society should be organised and what kind of laws we should have. Clearly, you should be allowed to debate this freely in the same way that you debate politics. Yet, the tendency is that what is allowed to be said when  it comes to religion is becoming ever more narrow compared to politics.

Then, you have the problem that some laws against hate speech awards some groups of people different sets of rights compared to others.

When something becomes illegal to say about someone, but not someone else – you are treating people in different ways. This is a huge democratic problem and not the way to do things under the rule of law. What this can lead to, we can learn from history.

Finally, there is the general problem that this is all about censorship, about limiting free speech. You either have free speech or you don’t. If you stop people from expressing their opinions, by definition you do not have free speech. It’s as simple as that.


• Euro Logic: We Must Kill Free Speech to Promote Free Speech »
• United Against Hate Speech on the Web: Where do we stand? – Speech by Commissioner Jourová at Conference with German Justice Minister Maas »
• Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Microsoft Agree to Hate-Speech Code of Conduct »
• European Commission and IT Companies announce Code of Conduct on illegal online hate speech »
• EU code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online (PDF) »


Big Brother in Switzerland

Swiss citizens have backed by a large margin a new law that will expand government surveillance powers, following a national referendum held in Switzerland on Sunday.

In total, 65.5 percent were in favour, and 34.5 percent against. Under the new law, Switzerland’s intelligence agency, the Service de renseignement de la Confédération (SRC), will be allowed to break into computers and install malware, spy on phone and Internet communications, and place microphones and video cameras in private locations.

Ars Technica: Switzerland votes for meatier surveillance law by large margin »


Pardon for Chelsea Manning!

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is not the only one who deserve a US presidential pardon.

Wikileaks source Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year prison sentence – allegedly having exposed the truth to the people.

Manning is accused of leaking the so-called Iran and Afghanistan war diaries, exposing what US military has been up to in the name of the American people, paid for with American tax dollars. This glimpse into reality is unacceptable, according to the US military and the US administration. They seem to take the position that the people cannot handle the truth.

Manning is also accused of leaking a vast number of classified US embassy cables. These have been a real embarrassment to the White House and the US State Department – as they expose how the government has been sending double messages. It has told the American people one thing – but in reality done something totally different. This is a very real democratic problem: How can the American voter make an informed decision who to vote for, if he or she is kept in the dark about what the country’s leaders are up to?

And then we have the war video Collateral Murder, exposing the awful reality of war – as a US helicopter kills a group of journalists, their translators, and guides in Iraq. This was clearly something the general public was never supposed to know about.

Chelsea Manning has contributed to transparency and democracy. She has made the American people aware of what is really going on in its name. She has exposed lies, disloyalty, falseness, and two-facedness. She ought to be given a medal, not a prison sentence.

Manning has already spent many years in imprisonment. It is time for president Obama to pardon her.

Youtube »

Also read: Experts decry solitary confinement for Chelsea Manning after suicide attempt »


The latest on TTIP and CETA

At a key meeting in Bratislava last Friday, EU ministers effectively put the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations on hold, perhaps forever. Even the perennially upbeat EU commissioner responsible for trade, Cecilia Malmström, admitted: “All ministers expressed their doubts about being able to conclude this before the end of the Obama presidency, and indeed, it looks increasingly unlikely.” Since both candidates for the US presidency have said they are dissatisfied with current trade negotiations, that makes TTIP’s long-term fate extremely uncertain. (…)

The failure to be anywhere near completion of TTIP after three and a half years of negotiations has added to the political pressure on EU ministers to pass the smaller trade deal with Canada, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Despite worries expressed by a number of member states, it looks increasingly likely that EU nations will formally sign CETA on October 18.

Glyn Moody in Ars Technica: TTIP on its deathbed, but CETA moves forward despite growing concerns »


Don’t stay silent when the EU take our civil rights away

The EU has formed an alliance with Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Microsoft to block Internet content that aims to radicalize people – and hate speech. It is called the Joint Referral Platform.

This is, per definition, about limiting free speech. As such, this taps into democratic core issues.

The plan is to have the social networks and platforms to carry out this censorship, referring to their user terms and conditions – that more or less allows them to censor or ban anyone. They don’t have to explain their actions. There is no possibility to appeal or redress.

Naturally, this is something that civil rights organisations and Internet activists must look into, analyse and keep a close eye on. Here is an apparent possibility for the political system to restrict free speech without getting its own hands dirty, without having to deal with legislation or the judicial system.

But when European Digital Rights, EDRi, asked for information – the European Commission first stalled their request and then refused to share information.

The reason presented by the Commission is notable. It is said that openness could undermine a highly sensitive on-going process. No shit, Sherlock.

The entire point is that this is highly sensitive. It’s about a public-private partnership to limit free speech. That is why transparency is of immense importance.

To make things even worse, the Commission seems to be unwilling to provide information about the legal basis for the Joint Referral Platform.

This is not how to conduct things in a democratic society.

Sadly, this is typical for how the EU apparatus works. Democratic principles and core values are brushed aside. Rule of law is disregarded. Human and civil rights are ignored.

And they usually get away with it.

This time, it’s about free speech online. Regardless of what people think of limiting what can be said on the Internet – everyone ought to agree that limitations of fundamental rights must be handled with extreme care and in an open, democratic process.

We must try to get the European Parliament to look into this. The MEP:s are democratically elected – and are, as such, at least somewhat uncomfortable with ignoring strong and loud public opinion.

This might also be a case for the European Court of Justice as well as the European Court of Human Rights.

You simply cannot stay silent when they take our civil rights away.


EDRi: Joint Referral Platform: no proof of diligent approach to terrorism »


EDRi vs. the EU on internet censorship

First, since the Joint Referral Platform has not been “launched”, the Commission argued it did not possess some of the information we asked for. It recognised, however, that it holds relevant documents. Yet, the Commission did not publish any documents because this can undermine public security, commercial interests of the internet industry involved, “jeopardise the protection of integrity of their managers” and undermine a “highly sensitive on-going process”. We would tend to agree that privatising criminal enforcement and putting it in the hands of – generally foreign – internet companies would undermine public security, although this may not be what the Commission meant.

Second, when we asked the Commission about the goals and (legal) principles under which this Joint Referral Platform will be launched, the Commission omitted any information about the legal basis for this. It solely restated the wording of the the Communication of 20 April 2016.

EDRi: Joint Referral Platform: no proof of diligent approach to terrorism »