Tag Archives: censorship

Wikileaks, free speech and traditional media

I find it fascinating how US government has chosen to try to dismantle the support network that makes wikileaks possible – pressuring paypal, amazon and numerous others into refusing to enable wikileaks to work.

They have pressured pretty much every stakeholder with one exception. The traditional media.

Why does the US government rail against wikileaks and pressure paypal and yet is silent about the New York Times involvement? (or the Guardian’s or the other media partners involved?). The NYT had advance access to the materials, they helped publicize it and, in the case of the Guardian, have been helping users get access to the wikileak documents when wikileaks website went down.

This fact, above all else, demonstrates the weakness the government’s legal case. They aren’t going after those who have a clear mission and the (legal) capacity to protect themselves. They are trying to go after those who can be pressured. This is not a sign of confidence. This is a shakedown. More importantly, it is a sign of weakness.

The fact that organizations like Amazon and Paypal have caved so quickly should also be a red flag for anyone who care about free speech. Essentially, these companies have conceded that – regardless of whether you break the law or not – if the government tells them to not serve you so that you can operate on the net, they will kick you off their platforms. As one great tweet put it: “If Amazon is uncomfortable with free speech they should get out of the book business.”

I see three outcomes from all this.

Winner: Traditional media. They establish one area where they have a competitive advantage: the capacity to marshal legal forces to not only protect their free speech rights, but to pre-emptively prevent the government from even contemplating attacking them. That’s powerful stuff, especially in a world where governments not appear happy to not attack those they disagree with directly but simply attempt to shut down the infrastructure that enables them.

Loser: Paypal, Amazon and others who caved. Maybe the long term effect of this will be negligible but it is also possible that a number of people who are choosing their cloud computing provider right now will be looking at Google which (eventually) stood up to China and Amazon, which caved like a house of cards at the mere breadth of dissatisfaction from the US government. Do you really want a company that is that susceptible to outside pressure running a core component of your business?

Biggest Loser: The US government. The worse part of the US government’s strategy of shutting down Wikileaks is it is has made the story (and the organization) more popular and better known. But more importantly it is counterproductive. Watching the US government deal with wikileaks is like watching the record labels try to fight Napster in the 1990s. Even if you win the battle, you will lose the war. Even if wikileaks gets shut down, 10 more lookalikes will pop up in its place, some of which will be more mainstream (and so harder to discredit) and others which will be more radical (and so more damaging). So all the US government has managed to do is make itself look like China when it comes to the rule of law, the governance of the internet, and the issue of censorship. You don’t have to be a rocket scientists to see the hypocrisy of the US government encouraging Twitter to not do maintenance during the Green Revolution in Iran so that people can communicate, while busily trying to shut down Wikileaks when the internet and network communication doesn’t serve its own interests. The US has damaged its brand and credibility with little to show for gains.

In the end, the system will react (it already has) and this will prompt new infrastructure on the net that better protects freedom of speech and places the capacity to control content even further beyond the reach of governments. There are downsides to all this, including the havoc of organizations like wikileaks can wreak on businesses and governments, but from a free speech perspective, it will be a good thing.

When good companies go bad – How Nokia Siemens helped Iran monitor its citizens

Last week my friend Diederik wrote a blog titled “Twittering to End Dictatorship: Ensuring the Future of Web-based Social Movements” in which he expressed his concern that (Western) corporations might facilitate oppressive regimes in wiretapping and spying on their citizens.

Now it appears that his concerns have turned out to be true. As he points on more recently on his blog:

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that Nokia and Siemens have supplied Iran with deep-inspection technologies to develop “one of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet, allowing it to examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale”. The  Washington Post also reported this.
  • Siemens has not just sold the “Intelligence Platform” to Iran, but to a total of 60 countries. Siemens calls it “lawful interception”, but in countries with oppressive regimes everything that the government does is lawful.
  • The New York Times reports that China is requiring Internet censor software to be installed on all computers starting from July 1st.

Of course, being Nordic, the Nokia Siemens joint venture which developed and sold the monitoring centre to Iran has a strict code of ethics on their website that addresses issues of human rights, censorship and torture. In theory this should have guided their choice of selling equipment to Iran – obviously it has not.

So Diederik and his friends have started a petition to enable people voice their concern over the failure of Nokia Seimens to adhere to their own code of conduct by selling advanced technology to help the government of Iran to control its citizens. I hope it takes off…

Google on Public Policy

I should have known it existed, but floating through delicious I just uncovered that Google has a public policy blog.

Google Public Policy Blog


After a quick perusal it seems the blog is partly about the interface between technology and public policy (making me their much, much, much smaller neighbour) and partly about Google’s efforts to lobby for policies that are in its (and so far, the publics’) interests.

For example, the blog tracks Google’s efforts to fight “censorship” which it defines VERY broadly. This is of concern to Google because, as the blog’s authors point out…

“…to industries that depend upon free flows of information to deliver their services across borders, censorship is a fundamental barrier to trade. For Google, it is fair to say that censorship constitutes the single greatest trade barrier we currently face.”

Of course, under this definition, the Canadian content rules (Cancon) may constitute censorship – so Google may already have a few enemies north of the border. Of course, it hardly matters. In a world of online media, infinite websites, and delivery mechanisms like Joost, CanCon rules are probably among the regulatory walking dead. How will regulating content on television and radio matter when I’ll be getting my content via the internet?

Speaking of censoring the internet. The blog also documents Google’s participation in another important fight, the battle over net neutrality. While I already knew Google’s position on this issue, it was interesting to hear their thoughts directly. And hey, when you are taking on the entire cable and telecommunication industry, it is nice to know that at least one multi-billion dollar company is in your corner.

It’s made me wonder… will Google Canada take up arms in pursuit of net neutrality here at home? Someone has to take on Rogers and Bell as they attempt to control and shape our internet experience. Will Google Canada be as active and its parent company?