Censorship in the Digital Age – by “Ted P”

A. An Introduction

OK. Time to open Pandora’s box. Today’s topic? CENSORSHIP.

The idea of censorship is inextricably linked to the concept of information dissemination through the media, be it through more traditional means such as newspapers and television, or, more recently, new technologies such as the Internet. In any case, the act of censorship is also, by definition, associated with some entity that does the censoring.

The first example of a censoring entity that comes to mind (for me at least) is Joseph Goebbels’s Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in Nazi Germany, before and during the Second World War. This particular governmental entity (an entity with actual, legal executive power over a large population) is often cited as the ultimate example of a disseminator of propaganda and censorship.  Where did this power come from?

Ever since the advent of the first electronic media formats, namely film and radio, it has been relatively easy for governments to control the dissemination of information (barring a legal framework to prohibit such behavior, but we will discuss this later). In other words, virtually unquestionable executive authority and capability to fund high-cost, effective propaganda has often allowed governments to be the censoring entity, as in the case of Goebbels’s Ministry. In the past, the same did not hold true of non-governmental entities. Often lacking in funding or power to affect the masses, businesses, organizations etc. were rarely seen controlling information flow.

Today, more than six decades after Goebbels, things have changed. In this digital age, censorship has taken on new dimensions and applications. With the advent of the Internet, government control over the “masses” has lessened, while big corporations, especially in the technology sector (can anyone guess who I have in mind?) can take part in censoring, or prohibiting censoring for that matter.

But before we move on to specific examples of censorship and its implications today, let’s take a look at the legal ideas and framework behind it.

B. Legal Framework

1) Unconstitutionality

OK. So let’s start with some connotations; Censorship. Media. Information Dissemination. Information suppression. Propaganda. Government conspiracy. Dictatorship. Totalitarianism. I don’t know about you, but none of the above sound really positive to me.

Well, even if you don’t agree, it seems that enough people do since popular opinion holds that censorship is usually bad, excluding certain exceptions. (The links chosen are just indicative; there are many more interesting discussions if one just googles “censorship is bad”). Indeed, most democratic countries have a legal framework (be it in the form of statutes or precedent court cases) that addresses the issue of censorship. In my analysis, I will use only U.S. law, citing specific examples, but the underlying moral and legal principles are more or less the same for all countries.

In the United States, censorship is considered unconstitutional under the 1st Amendment. The First Amendment states that:

“Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press […].”

Thus, any attempt by any entity to censor information in the media can be found to infringe on the First Amendment rights of the publisher, as “freedom of press” is compromised.

The unconstitutionality of censorship was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark decision in 1971, when it ruled in the favor of the plaintiff of a case that would be come to be know as the “Pentagon Papers” case.

2) New York Time Co. v. United States

In the Pentagon Papers case. the executive branch (surprise-surprise) of the US had sought an injunction against the New York Times, to prevent it from publishing a report on the Vietnam War. The report, entitled “United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense”, had been leaked by Pentagon analyst Daniel Ellsberg and would humiliate the Johnson administration and the government as a whole if it were published. The Times defended the publication under the First Amendment, leading to a trial that was eventually appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Legally, the Times were in the right; the editors had obtained the material legally, and its publication was supposed to be protected under the First Amendment (freedom of press). Furthermore, the publication of the report would not affect the government’s ability to protect its citizens in any way, so there was no serious argument against publication pertaining to national security.

In a decision which would determine the future of censorship legislation, the Supreme Court ruled that the government had no right to place restraints on the publication of content it sought to suppress, citing Near v. Minnesota: “the chief purpose of [the First Amendment’s] guaranty [is] to prevent previous restraints upon publication.”

3) Exceptions to the Rule

What is a rule without exceptions?

J. Brennan, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court at the time, brings up some very interesting points in his concurrence, concerning specific exceptions where censorship can be tolerated or considered legal.

i) The first and most important exception, Brennan posits, can be inferred by certain past Supreme Court cases, and concerns “a very narrow class of cases”; those affecting national security. Specifically, Brennan mentions that in the instance that “the Nation is at War” or some equivalent situation, “the First Amendment’s ban on prior judicial restraint may be overridden”. But, before it can be overridden, there must be significant “governmental allegation and proof that publication must inevitably, directly, and immediately cause the occurrence of an event kindred to imperiling the safety of a transport already at sea”. In other words, the government must prove an immediate, direct and highly consequential effect on national security. Needless to say, this burden of proof is quite large and not easily met.

ii) The second possible exception (if it can be called that) is the case of obscene material. Once again, this exception arises from another Supreme Court case: New York v. Ferber. The background of the case is not pertinent to our discussion, but the finding is; the Supreme Court held that any material deemed obscene (legally measured by an obscenity standard developed in Miller v. California) can not be protected under the First Amendment. Therefore, any action taken by an entity to censor obscene material is absolutely legal. The reason I mention this rare, peripheral exception now, is that I would like to discuss a modern-day scenario where it applies a bit further down

C. Censorship in the Internet Age

With this legal framework in mind, I would like to discuss four scenarios that have unfolded in the recent past, each of which can help us define the changes in the dynamics of censorship today.

1) Wikileaks: The Richard Stallman of Free Media.

(Please excuse the analogy, but when I thought about the parallels, I couldn’t help but include it).

I start with Wikileaks because it is one of the more clear-cut, legally speaking, situations. In terms of background, the situation differs only slightly from the “Pentagon Papers” case. Indeed, in the “about” page of their website, the editors of Wikileaks directly quote Justice Black’s (also an Associate Justice for the Supreme Court at the time) concurrence: “’only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.’ We agree.”

So what are the parallels with the Pentagon Papers? Well, just like the New York Times, Wikileaks receives its original material legally, by trading for it with secret sources (the methods by which the sources themselves gather the material is legally-speaking completely irrelevant). Furthermore, under the US Constitution, the publication of the material is legally protected by the Freedom of Press clause of the First Amendment.

This being said, there are the aforementioned exceptions to think about. Little if any of Wikileaks’ material can be categorized as legally obscene, so the 2nd exception is out of play. But some of the material released on the site could conceivably have an impact on National security. Indeed, this is the opinion held by many members of the government. But, as Justice Brennan stated in his concurrence, the burden of proof for such a claim would be immense. It would be extremely difficult to prove a direct effect on national security. In the words Robert Gates, former CIA chief: “Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.”

In conclusion, barring extreme cases, all Wikileaks material is legally protected under the First Amendment and censoring it is unconstitutional. This is why most, if not all, attempts to persecute the organizations legally have failed (as the editors blatantly boast on their site). In the absence of a plausible case against Wikileaks, prosecutors have alternatively pursued actual leakers (e.g. Bradley Manning), whose acquisition of the material is arguably illegal.

Now for the fun part: the Richard Stallman parallels. While skimming the “about” section of the Wikileaks site, I detected an underlying tone of “rebellion”, for lack of a better description. There was a certain, vague smugness in it, which, to me, suggested a “stick it to the man” mentality. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t for a moment doubt their belief in absolute freedom of press. But at least part of their mission seemed to be fueled by hatred (justified or otherwise) for demonized governments and multinational corporations. Similarly, Stallman has openly rebelled against the big tech-software companies (e.g. Microsoft) by developing the DNU General Public License. And most people would agree that Stallman is at least partly driven by scorn for the big tech companies who “force people to pay for software.

Let’s take it to another level: Stallman’s purpose in creating the GPL was to help software programmers work together and build on each others’ work (promoting the common goal of improving software), without worrying about copyright infringement. Drawing the parallel, Wikileaks editors advocate the cooperation of all media outlets “to bring stories to a broad international readership” (promoting the common goal of complete freedom of press).

These are the most obvious similarities I can think of currently. But I won’t stop here: following is a funny strip from the infamous xkcd webcomic, an obvious exaggeration of Stallman’s ideology: (I cropped part of the comic, as it is irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make; click on the picture to see the original).

Stallman is attacked in his sleep. All copyrights owned by Randall Munroe and xkcd.com

And now my own iteration of the picture, rethought for Wikileaks.

My version of the Stallman comic. "Wikileaks Attacked".
For concerned third parties, my alteration of the comic is protected under fair use, since (i) it is for educational purposes, (ii) has some transformative value, and (iii) I have no financial motive.

2) Baidu-Google in China

One of the most discussed issues in the history of Internet censorship has been the Chinese government’s Internet search engine policy. Baidu, the largest online search engine in China, allegedly censors a huge list of “undesirable” sites and searches at the behest of the socialist government (rationalized as “according to the policies and regulations of China”). This censorship includes any content that criticizes the ruling Communist Party, which has led to a global outcry from democracy advocates worldwide. In this case, the entity attempting censorship is once again the government. However, unlike in the past, the government has no direct control over the information dissemination. It must instead rely solely on its executive power, which should influence the true information disseminators (Baidu) to do its bidding. As a side note, a lawsuit was recently brought against Baidu in the US for unconstitutional conduct in “blocking prodemocracy speech from search results”. This lawsuit piqued my interest because it opens up all manners of questions about the extent to which a Chinese organization can be held accountable in the US. But that is a discussion for another day.

The case was very similar with Google, at least until last year. The search engine giant had also been the subject to Chinese regulation, which meant that it was obligated to filter results and censor certain topics (same as those censored by Baidu). In much the same way as with Baidu, the socialist government relied on its executive power to influence Google’s policy. But Google is different than Baidu in one key respect: it is not based in China. Thus, when it decided to move out of the country and into Hong Kong last year (a move that Baidu would be unable and perhaps unwilling to perform, considering its base of operations is in China), it was no longer obligated to censor search results, since the Communist Party’s executive and judicial reach did not extend over China’s borders. Thus the entity that has the power to disseminate and censor information in this case, chose to ignore the latter power.

3) The Arab Spring

The beginning of 2011 saw many rebellions start and take hold in various Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Libya, Tunisia etc. These are the first rebellions to take place in the era of the Internet, and indeed the World Wide Web seems to have played a significant role in the uprisings. During the rebellion against Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, one activist in Cairo tweeted that “We use Facebook to schedule protests, Twitter to coordinate, and Youtube to tell the world.” Another, humorously tweeted:

A tweet from an "activist" in Cairo.

As is the case with all rebellions, the local governments wanted to quash the uprisings. Recognizing the significance of the Internet, as well as their own inability to effectively monitor and censor it, some states tried different methods of controlling it. In Egypt and Libya, the government  went as far as completely denying access to the Internet as a whole, while in Syria, a government-backed organization severely hacked and defaced several social media sites the rebels were using. These are all, of course, acts of censorship and suppression of the citizens’ freedom of speech, as well as publishers’ freedom of press. Which I guess partly justifies the rebellions in the first place.

4) Google and Child Pornography

I will end on a more optimistic note, with another instance of positive change in the dynamic of censorship (it also relates to the obscenity exception I promised to talk about). In a wholly agreeable step, Google has recently attempted to tackle the problem of child pornography on the Net. It has reconfigured one of its filtering algorithms to recognize and filter certain patterns that are indicative of pedophilic of other such obscene conduct. By practically any and all social norms, child pornography passes any obscenity test, which means that, under the New York v. Ferber precedent, it is not protected under the First Amendment. So, in a sense, filtering such results is not censorship per se, since it doesn’t violate any constitutional rights. Therefore Google can legally exclude all such results from its searches without being sued for suppression of the freedom of press. Once again the entity that has the power to disseminate and censor information has chosen to ignore the latter option. However, this time it is not influenced by another entity (e.g. a government), as it was in the Baidu case, but rather by the social norms (or standard) of the community which would condemn it if it didn’t act so.

D. Conclusion

The advent of the Internet has radically changed the nature and synamic of censorship in the media. While in the past the censoring entity was usually a government, resulting in propaganda, the Net has ushered in a new era. A government’s ability to censor has been radically decreased, now that it cannot directly control the information flow to its citizens (even if it did control the Internet, which it doesn’t, the sheer volume of information on the Web should make monitoring and control it extremely hard).

So who is the new censoring entity? You got it. Big technological corporations that can control information flow over the Internet: Google, Facebook, Baidu.  It is easy to demonize these entities, just as it was easy to demonize the propaganda and censorship conducted by governments in the past. Indeed, who’s to say that there aren’t incentives for these entities to censor (e.g. profit), just as there was for governments (e.g. public opinion). We saw that Baidu is basically a marionette for the Chinese government when it comes to Internet censorship. But this is not always the case; we also saw that Google has both declined to censor material the Chinese government asks it to and tackled the problem of child pornography. Definitely better than if the Communist Party was in charge… Don’t you agree?

Julian Assange: Champion of Freedom of Expression or Criminal? – by “Nick M”

Censorship vs. Freedom of Expression

In the United States, freedom of speech is the very first protected right listed in the Bill of Rights. As the First Amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The Supreme Court has had many interpretations of this amendment over what “freedom of speech” in the First Amendment actually implies. Although one might think of freedom of speech as closely associated with our identity and heritage as Americans and thus a ubiquitously accepted right, there have been several controversial rulings on this issue, especially in cases where one individuals’ freedom of speech might be perceived to infringe on others’ preserved rights (ie: if my freedom of speech to shout fire in a movie theater infringes on your freedom to not be trampled).

Indeed, practically speaking, it is apparent that simply not all types of speech can be tolerated for a society to function. Some forms of speech are accordingly plainly and thoroughly outlawed by US law, such as fraudulent advertising, child pornography, fighting words, words used in a criminal transaction, unlicensed broadcasts, copyright infringement (hello DMCA), libel, slander, and threats, among others. Most of these forms of speech are restricted because they have a compelling government interest: the US government may regulate, or censor speech if it has a compelling interest, is a public concern, or threatens national safety.

 

All the cool kids are doing it

For example, it is even considered legal to express certain forms of hate speech as long as one does not actually do the activities or encourage others to do them. However, once these groups overstep their boundaries and their actions can be interpreted as violating a compelling government interest, they can (and have) been regulated. For example, the Ku Klux Klan has been denied certain marching permits (a real tragedy) and the Westboro Baptist Church (which became famous recently for protesting military funerals) was sued for its activities (however the ruling was later controversially overturned on appeal in the US Supreme Court). These examples illustrate that while legal history has defined certain finite limitations on the freedom of speech, courts have ultimately historically held that in order for freedom of speech to exist, it must necessarily be protected to allow the unpopular, offensive, and distasteful.

Background on Wikileaks

The “Wikileaks controversy” is a great example of the tension between this freedom of expression and censorship. Wikileaks (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH WIKIPEDIA) is the name of an international non-profit organization run by founder, editor-in-chief, and director Julian Assange, that publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers. Since it went online, the site has published an extensive catalogue of secret material, ranging from materials on procedures at Guantánamo Bay, to the contents of Sarah Palin’s private email account. Look at Trigg!!!!

What Assange and his Wikileaks team are doing is technically not illegal under international law nor under various countries’ laws (more to come on this later); nonetheless, several nations (notably Assange’s home country of Australia, China, Germany, Iceland, Thailand, and the United States) have limited access, or in some cases blacklisted and completely blocked all traffic to the site. The United States has blocked access to the site in various government agencies in addition to issuing several other 1984-reminiscient demands. I’m insulted they didn’t threaten Yale. (Although this claim was later refuted by government officials…).

Larry Flynt Reincarnate- Another Champion for Freedom of Expression?

Julian Assange

 

 

 

 

 

... and Larry Flynt, separated at birth?

 

 

Assange himself believes that Wikileak’s role (and his on Earth apparently) is to expose injustice, not to provide an even-handed record of events. In an invitation to potential collaborators in 2006, he wrote, “Our primary targets are those highly oppressive regimes in China, Russia and Central Eurasia, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the West who wish to reveal illegal or immoral behavior in their own governments and corporations.” He has argued that a “social movement” to expose secrets could “bring down many administrations that rely on concealing reality—including the US administration.”

Many agree that Assange’s work is beneficial and even noble, believing that by increasing transparency of government operations, Assange will ultimately force governments to act in more accountable manners. Calling Assange a “champion of freedom of speech,” proponents of his work believe that Assange provides information that the public has a right to know, and that both international and US efforts to suppress his efforts constitute a significant threat to freedom of expression world-wide. Proponents of his cause believe that the right to freedom of information outweighs the potentially dangerous effects of revealing US military strategy, pointing to the fact that none of the published cables were kept at the highest levels of secrecy, inferring from this that nothing truly sensitive has been revealed. Organizations such as Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the “blocking, cyber-attacks and political pressure” directed at the cables’ website from all over the world, and expressed concern at comments made by American authorities “concerning Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange.” “This is the first time we have seen an attempt at the international community level to censor a website dedicated to the principle of transparency,” RSF said.

Indeed, Assange’s work has been received to some international acclaim, as the Wikileaks foundeer has received a number of awards and nominations, including the 2009 Amnesty International Media Award for publishing material about extrajudicial killings in Kenya and Readers’ Choice for TIME magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year.

Or a Criminal?

However, despite the seemingly good intentions of Assange’s work, his work has had serious repercussions. Some of the information that his organization has published includes confidential military documents that reveal great deals of US strategy and policy. As Wikileaks makes this information publically-accessible, Assange’s work has potentially compromised US national security, essentially placing in danger not only the lives of soldiers who rely on the secrecy of these documents, but also the lives of citizens at home who are now more vulnerable to attack.

Claiming that his information compromises national security, the US Justice Department has attempted to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act, which makes it broadly illegal to compromise national security by interfering with the US military. In 2011, an unknown person in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had received a subpoena regarding the Espionage Act’s “conspiracy” clause 18 U.S.C. § 793(g), as well as the federal embezzlement law 18 U.S.C. § 641, a statute used in some other Espionage Act-related cases. A grand jury has begun meeting in Alexandria, Virginia, to hear evidence and decide whether an indictment should be brought.

However, critics of the legal approach of charging Assange under the Espionage Act argue that the broad language of the Act could make news organizations and anyone who reported, printed, or disseminated information from Wikileaks subject to prosecution as well. This slippery-slope argument might ultimately undermine this attempt to prosecute Assange, as further spinoffs from this type of reasoning might be interpreted as uancceptably limiting freedom of expression (if a magazine publishes an article from a magazine that publishes an article from a magazine that publishes an article from Wikileaks – WHERE DOES IT END!!?!?!).

Despite his steel-clad safe haven behind these concerns, Assange has faced a growing number of other problems, including rape charges in Sweden (Update: Good news for Assange! The rape charges have been dropped….but replaced with….?) and having his assets frozen by a number of banks. He does not operate out of an office, but rather remains on the move for extended periods of time in order to avoid extradition to countries that would be eager to repay him for his “noble work.”

My Take

Has the US acted correctly in its response to Assange and Wikileaks? Should our censorship laws be altered to prevent this type of unwanted freedom of expression? Does their inability to prosecute (as of yet) mean that Assange is without blame?

Yes, no, and probably not. The fact remains that our First Amendment technically protects his right to freedom of expression, and, just like protecting the right to protest military funerals, if we want to stay true to our traditions of maintaing a society of freedom of speech, Assange shoudl not be prosecuted for his Wikileaks-related work. Our censorship laws in this regard, should not be fundamentally changed in order to close a loophole that Assange is seemingly exploiting. Thus, the fact that the US (at best) is proceeding cautiously with charging Assange is the correct response if we wish to maintain true to our traditions.

This does not, however, mean that I believe Assange to be a noble champion of our First Amendment rights. I believe his actions to be wrong, plain and simple. The fact remains that in order for a government to function properly, not all information can or should be transparent. As a citizen, I willingly abdicate my right to know this information, trusting my government to make certain determinations for me. Voting with my feet, I can choose what country to live in, and what  government to trust (granted, this is not possible for everyone, but the concept is clear).  Thus, Assange’s actions don’t increase the global levels of democracy through transparency of government operations, in my opinion, but rather make the world a more dangerous place for me to live in, as a result of the increased knowledge of the US military’s vulnerabilities.

Defame Monster – by “Jake E”

Defamation

Situation: someone, anonymously, begins posting things about you on the Internet. Bad things, things that make you look like a scumbag. None of it is true, of course, but when a potential employer Googles you or grandma learns how to use Spokeo (tagline: “Not your grandma’s white pages.”) or one of the other dozens of data aggregators, you could be in very real, very big trouble, for something you didn’t do.

What can you do? Well, obviously, your first concern is getting the website to take down the material. So you should just talk to the website, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple.

It’s true that many websites have mechanisms built in for reporting defamation. YouTube allows users to “flag” things like videos containing hate speech and user harassment. Facebook has similar flagging capabilities for hate speech and bullying. But what actually happens when you use these mechanisms to report your defamation?

Before we dive into this, let’s look at the legal basis for all of this.

The Law

What is defamation? The Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 559 defines defamatory communication like so: “A communication is defamatory if it tends so to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the stimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him.” Simple enough.

But how is liability for defamation determined? § 558 of this Restatement states:

To create liability for defamation there must be:

  1. a false and defamatory statement concerning another;
  2. an unprivileged publication to a third party;
  3. fault amounting at least to negligence on the part of the publisher [with respect to the act of publication]; and
  4. either actionability of the statement irrespective of special harm or the existence of special harm caused by the publication

Okay, well that seems fair. I can haz lawsuit now?

Not so fast. The Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 adds a twist, with § 230 (c), which says: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” What does that mean?

Traditionally, publishers are held liable for content they publish—they have a responsibility to make sure nothing in it is defamatory, among other things. Distributors, on the other hand, are held to a much lesser standard of liability because they’re merely “passive conduits” as Jonathan Zittrain calls them, though some liability is still maintained. CDA § 230 (c) thereby says that no service provider (here: website) can be treated as either the publisher or original writer of content that someone else posted on that site. This is to encourage websites to screen themselves for content without suddenly jumping from weak distributor liability to strong publisher liability—thus, websites can filter their own user-submitted content without fearing if they miss something they’ll have a lawsuit on their hands. This in turn encourages free speech on the Internet, because if instead sites had to filter all potentially objectionable content, everything would be heavily censored. (The reason filtering of any sort is encouraged by Congress is the fear that a lack of filtering will lead to children stumbling upon pornography.)

So a website can’t be held to publisher liability standards for things its users post. But it still must adhere to weak distributor liability standards, right? Well, no. In Zeran v. America Online, Inc. it was found that the failure to mention distributors in § 230 (c) was a Congressional oversight and, in fact, such a website can’t be held liable even as a distributor. Something posted is entirely the poster’s fault.

So if you’ve been defamed, you can at least go after the person who’s been spreading lies about you on message boards, right? Well, maybe not. Barrett v. Rosenthal expanded on the Zeran decision, noting in addition that because the CDA makes no distinction between an “active” and a “passive” user, anyone posting anything online isn’t liable for it so long as they’re not the original poster. (The court here notes that at some point a line will have to be more clearly defined for when reposting hits the level where it constitutes its own original act of content generation, but because of the case, “we need not consider when that line is crossed.” To date, it still has not been defined.)

So the person spreading lies about you isn’t liable as long as someone else said it first, and the websites on which all of these people are posting the lies can’t be held liable either. You can only sue the original poster for defamation, and that’s that.

But surely websites are cooperative if you’ve got a real claim that someone is defaming you? Well, perhaps. Before we answer this, let’s look at the other reason a user-generated-content website would have its content filtered or removed: copyright.

The DMCA

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 paved the way for copyright holders, in particular music and movie distribution companies, to strongly protect their copyright claims, even in an age when the spreading of such files on the Internet has become commonplace. If YaleLawTech Records holds the copyright for “Don’t Mess with that CSS,” a popular song that they’ve found has been illegally used as a catchy background to a YouTube video, YLT Records simply has to send a takedown notice, specified in the DMCA, to YouTube. YouTube even has a standard webform to fill out if you don’t want to go to the effort to hire a lawyer.

When it receives such a takedown notice, it is in the best interests of YouTube (and similar sites) to simply remove the allegedly copyrighting content, without any examination into the validity of the copyright claim. By removing the video, YouTube becomes immune to all copyright infringement liability according to the DMCA, without which it would be facing thousands of copyright infringement suits. If on the other hand YouTube chooses not to remove the content immediately, even if such inaction is justified, YouTube would be inviting lawsuits and thus legal fees that it could live without.

In short, if a website receives a DMCA takedown notice, it’ll take down the questionable material immediately, no questions asked, without worrying whether or not the material was actually infringing upon a copyright and the takedown notice was actually valid.

Comparing Copyright to Defamation

So a website will take down allegedly copyrighted materials immediately because of the safe harbor the DMCA grants it for doing so. Shouldn’t it do the same for defamation? Unfortunately, because of the clear protections of the CDA, most websites have very little incentive to do so. If an item defames you, the website hosting it is immune from all defamation liability and as long as it’s not actually harming business to keep the material up (like hate speech might). So what do different websites actually do?

Facebook

Copyright Infringement

On filing DMCA takedown notices, Facebook says: “We will make every effort to review your report as quickly as we can. So long as everything appears to be in order, we will promptly remove or disable access to the content. We will also notify the user and, if requested, provide your report to the user. We will terminate repeat infringers when appropriate.”

Facebook has an automated DMCA form for filing DMCA takedown notices, and additionally lists the mailing address of its DMCA Designated Agent and has other info on its copyright help page.

Defamation

Facebook’s Terms of Use state: “You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user.” How closely this ties to defamation is unclear. Further, if the person being defamed is not him/herself a Facebook user, the only part of the Terms that relates is: “You will not use Facebook to do anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory,” which is weak and indirect in this case.

To report “abuse” (violations of the Terms of Use), Facebook has a “Report _____” link below every image, message, video, event, etc. Nowhere does Facebook mention how long they will take to respond to reported content, and many times they state that “reporting … content doesn’t guarantee that they or it will be removed.”

YouTube

Copyright Infringement

YouTube is famous for its quick responses to DMCA takedown notices. It has, as mentioned above, a copyright complaint webform which can be filled out in less than a minute. For mass claims, YouTube created a Content Verification Program, whereby copyright holders (read: record labels) can submit an application verifying that they are a copyright holder (which implicitly acknowledges that the standard copyright complaint webform doesn’t really check for one’s identity) and then use YouTube’s “industry-leading Content Identification and Verification Tools.” These tools essentially let copyright holders have YouTube automatically scan videos for copyrighted content and then automatically either implements predetermined actions to monetize, record tracking data on, or block those videos infringing your copyrights. With this, copyright holders no longer even need to find or alert YouTube to copyrighted content, they can simply sit back and have search spiders make them money.

Defamation

YouTube’s Community Guidelines (themselves a section of the Terms of Service) says: “Things like … harassment … are taken very seriously. Anyone caught doing these things may be permanently banned from YouTube.” No timeframe, no standards, nothing.

YouTube, like Facebook, has a system of having users “flag” content as “inappropriate” and says only that its staff reviews flagged videos (no mention of comments, etc.) “24 hours a day, seven days a week.” Great.

MySpace

Copyright Infringement

MySpace seems to be behind the times in not having any automated webform for submitting DMCA takedown notices (their fastest method is by writing your own notice and emailing it to them). For further evidence that MySpace is behind the times, note that its second method of communication is “facsimile.” MySpace does not include a timeframe for how quickly they will respond to such notices.

Defamation

Harassment and cyberbullying are against MySpace’s Terms of Use, and such activities can be reported by using MySpace’s built-in all-purpose “Contact MySpace” form and including the offending user’s “friend ID” and a screenshot of the offending behavior. Just today, MySpace uploaded a new document in its help center on harassment, directing users to either block the harassing user or, if in danger, to call 911—no longer mentioning reporting this behavior to MySpace. MySpace says, “We promise to check it out and do our best to get back to you within 48 hours,” which is the closest thing to a timeframe any of these sites have stated.

Twitter

Copyright Infringement

Twitter also has an automated DMCA takedown notice webform. It also lists an email address that can be used for such complaints in the event the webform does not work. They don’t mention a timeframe for responses.

Defamation

Twitter only responds to serious, violent threats and violations of personal privacy, period. Everything else, you should just block. No mention of timeframes for Twitter responses.

Flickr

Copyright Infringement

Flickr has, surprisingly, no clear DMCA takedown notice procedures. Instead, it has a link to a page on filing DMCA notices with Yahoo!, which lists an mailing address, phone number, fax number, and email address (in that order) to contact. No mention of a timeframe for a response.

Defamation

Flickr uses Yahoo!’s Terms of Service, which only says users agree not to “‘stalk’ or otherwise harass another” as the closest thing to defamation. Flickr has a “report abuse” button to use for reporting this behavior, with no clear timeframe for a response.

Google+

Copyright Infringement

Having no real procedure for this (as it’s not really an issue yet), it seems DMCA notices must be sent directly to another Google address. Copyright isn’t mentioned anywhere in its User Content and Conduct Policy. Based on anecdotal evidence Google has removed offending content in six days, after at least something of a conversation with the complainant (no auto-removal systems in place).

Defamation

Google+ has “Report Abuse” links for what its User Content and Conduct Policy calls “violent or bullying behavior.” Libel, per se, isn’t mentioned. No idea of a timeframe for responses

Summary

As shown in the disparities between services’ treatment of DMCA takedown notices and claims of libel/defamation, websites are much more interested in protecting copyright claims, especially those of big companies, than in protecting the average person from libel. But we can’t blame these websites; their actions are a direct reaction to the differences in liability granted by the DMCA and the CDA. If we want to see change, this needs to be reflected in our laws. Should websites more strictly police alleged libel, or does that run the risk of encouraging censorship of free speech? Should websites put more effort into discerning the validity of copyright infringement claims, or does that disincentivize progress? However we stand, if we don’t agree with the system now we must reevaluate our legal policies because the implementations reflect the laws, and the laws are clear: copyright is protected at all costs from infringement, but not the reputation of the individual from defamation.

Facebook Patents Big Brother – by “Charlie C”

FB Like Button

Ahhh, a symbol of progress: The Facebook Like Button. Residing on almost every legitimate page on the internet these days, it enables socially hyperactive users to let the world know that they “Like” the page they are currently visiting. The button above, for instance, could enable you to like YaleBluebook, a new course information system my suitemate and I designed for students at Yale. But that’s not all this nifty little button can do, it also let’s Facebook know that you are currently viewing a blog post on the Yale Law & Technology class blog.

On a large scale, the question we have to ask ourselves is: Do we have the right to privacy on the internet? The current cultural movement seems to answer with a resounding “yes.” All major browsers have recently implemented a private browsing mode which allows people to view sites without having any of their activity stored locally. This is the “Incognito” or private browsing window you probably use while perusing porn. However, this only protects your local computer. The servers hosting these websites still store information about your visit, with potentially personally identifiable information (IP Address). A recent movement by the Mozilla foundation has tried to standardize the use of the “Do-Not-Track” signal, which is a message that could be sent by your browser to websites, asking the websites not to record any information about your visit. However, there’s no way to enforce such an option, and no incentive for the website to do so.

The issues of privacy and anonymity seem to have become more intertwined recently. The only way of ensuring that my personal information isn’t being mis-used is to make sure that they don’t have any of personal information. Yet there are many positive reasons for websites to track IP addresses, so it seems the only logical course is to focus on privacy and when recording personal information on our net activity goes too far.

So why would Facebook care about this little blog though? Good question! Turns out behind the scenes Facebook has been working to create Google AdSense a nifty social advertising program. Unfortunately, the Pacific Ocean sized amount of data they have on you right now isn’t enough to compete with Google. So they figured, why not collect data on you about every site you visit? This recent patent is the key to unraveling Facebooks creepily invasive monetization scheme. In this post I plan to look at a few key points of the new patent.

I'll just stop paying for my Facebook subscription then...oh...wait...

 

What it Does

In case you still haven’t opened up the actual patent, here is the abstract:

In one embodiment, a method is described for tracking information about the activities of users of a social networking system while on another domain…The method additionally includes receiving one or more communications from a third-party website having a different domain than the social network system, each message communicating an action taken by a user of the social networking system on the third-party website. The method additionally includes logging the actions taken on the third-party website in the social networking system, each logged action including information about the action. The method further includes correlating the logged actions with one or more advertisements presented to the one or more users on the third-party website as well as correlating the logged actions with a user of the social networking system.

There’s three main components this patent describes, they are, in order of ascending bothersome-ness:

  1. The ability to transmit information back to Facebook from a website that is not facebook
  2. The ability to log actions you take on that non-facebook site and send those actions back to facebook
  3. The ability to use that data to display ads to you and your friends, on facebook and on third party sites.

Putting those three components together, we come up with some exciting scenarios:

Vibrator Storefront with friends who have bought this
The not so distant future...

 

Now you might think to yourself, “I’ve seen things like that already” (the friend recommendations I mean), but this ain’t your standard friend recommendation system, there are a few key passages in the patent I want to highlight.

In particular embodiments, the social network system receives messages from these third-party websites that communicate the actions taken by users while in the third-party websites.

Ever wonder why your Facebook ads always tend towards singles dating sites, ben and jerry’s, and Notebook Blu-Ray ads? (Or is that just me…?) Turns out that Facebook plans on mixing various data sources to decide which ads to show you. Right now, this is restricted to data facebook has access to such as your relationship status, favorite movies, political interests, etc. But in the near future, partner websites will be able to send data back to facebook with information about which ads were shown to you and which you clicked on, in addition they might send information about which products you bought from the partner site. This serves the two-fold purpose of telling Facebook how effective their advertising was (did you buy the yoga pants after you were shown the yoga ad yesterday?) and also telling facebook your interests (I see you could use a Yoga ball to go with those pants).

And for the majority of the patent, Facebook talks about wanting to know what ads you’ve seen, clicked on, and actually purchased the product from. However, if you wade through the million times they say “In particular embodiments”, you come across:

Another example illustrating real-world actions that may be tracked involves what program material the user is accessing on a television system. A television and/or set-top receiver may…transmit a message indicating that a user is viewing (or recording) a particular program on a particular channel at a particular time.

Wait, I’ve totally seen this somewhere before…

Big Brother is Watching
Oh, I guess that was more of content generation...

That’s right. There is apparently no limit to the amount of data facebook is willing to know about you. They want to know what events you attend, what credit card purchases you make, what stores you enter, classes you take…everything. Facebook wants to know every detail of your digital life.

So the real question is, what do they plan to do with all this data? Well currently it looks like they plan to use it to inform advertising not only on their site, but on other sites. I’ve already shown an example of how it might be used on other sites (OhMiBod). In addition, they might show more traditional Google AdSense ads (profit sharing with publishers). The secret sauce is in how the ads are selected and displayed. It seems they will use some combination of your profile, friends profiles, your browsing history and your friends browsing histories. Ads will be inherently social, letting you know that n of your friends recently purchased a product, or are attending a promoted event, or simply liked an emerging brand. The transition to this new system will actually be transparent to users:

McDonalds Social Advertising

Coincidence? I think not. For instance, Facebook can correlate the fact that you were recently on the McDonald’s homepage with the fact that 6 of your friends like McDonalds, AND the fact that Johnny Rocket likes him some BigMacs (ironic isn’t it?), throw it all into a magic algorithm and come up with the brillant idea to show you some McDonalds ads. While this might normally appear on your newsfeed, it just so happens that McDonalds has paid to have this “news article” appear more readily (the barrier number of friends before it’s shown might be lower). From the patent:

One benefit of mixing the newsfeed stories and the social ads in a single list presented to a user is that there may be little or no differentiation between advertising and general information that a user would want to know. Users visit social network systems to keep up to date on what their friends are doing, and the social ad can be as useful to the user as any other newsfeed story. Because the social ads and newsfeed stories may all be taken from the action log  it may be impossible for a user to determine whether an entry in the user’s newsfeed is a newsfeed story or a social ad. In fact, the content of a social ad could actually show up as an organic, unpaid newsfeed story in other contexts.

And therein lies the beauty of this whole thing. You’ll never even know. They will take your browsing history, your friends information, and your relationship status and a whole lot of advertisers money, but to you it’ll just look like another average news feed story.

 

 

What it doesn’t do (or rather doesn’t claim to):

There was recently an uproar that this patent would allow Facebook to track all users, not just logged in Facebook users. This came to a climax when it was discovered that the Facebook user id was being stored on users’ computers even after logout. Last week though Facebook patched this “bug” and defended its position that the patent is not designed to track logged out users.

I have two fundamental points to make on this issue.

1. As an experiment, go to this page. Did it ask you to login? Chances are that if you’re reading a blog post such as this one, you were already logged into facebook. So it doesn’t really matter that it only tracks logged in users, since who actually logs out?

Facebook Splash Page
Unless your page looks like this, they got you. Well they probably did anyways...

2. Although this patent doesn’t specifically mention tracking logged out users, it never explicitly denies that possibility. In fact, in the very paragraph Facebook refers to when defending its position, the text states:

By using this technique, the third party website and the social network system can communicate about the user without sharing any of the user’s personal information and without requiring the user to log into the social network system.

To me, this text reads quite the opposite way. It seems that although Facebook isn’t sending data about a specific user…it could still send data about the users events. From a technological standpoint, this information could be saved in a cookie on the users computer which could then be transmitted when a user logged into Facebook. Put differently, even though you’re logged out of Facebook, if they can make a reasonable inference about which Facebook user was using the computer when it was logged out, they might just queue that data and associate it with you when you log back in.

 

The Good News

I realize this post sounds somewhat alarmist, but the fact of the matter is if they patented it, they probably intend to use it. This is actually a brilliant idea which will undoubtedly immediately bring them into contention with Google AdSense. Right now, they claim to not be using this technology and they have stated that if it does become used it will of course be subject to their industry difficult opt-out program. I can’t help but wonder where it will end. Once this infrastructure is in place, it’s just a small side-step for them to track everyone.

We should be aware of our rights as internet users. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to change the internet culture to the point where Facebook doesn’t track our actions on its site, but I certainly think we should have the expectation of privacy (from Facebook and really anyone else) on third-party sites. When we view websites, that should be a privileged relationship between the viewer and the site. That site should be able to track our movements for it’s own reporting purposes, and maybe even to provide aggregated data to other parties, but it should not be able to sell tracking data alongside personal data (I.E. cannot say IP Address 123.45.67.89 visited A, B, and C). It should be made much clearer what companies are doing with the data they collect on us, and we need to ability to opt out. I don’t think the way the internet works currently supports this, but hopefully through cultural, technological, or regulatory changes we can work towards a more data-safe internet in the future.

The FCC needs to step up it’s game and require more clear communication when user data is being collected and sold to third-parties. Facebook is starting to move into shady territory. It seems that neither the person publishing the like button, nor the consumer clicking on it understand exactly what is going on behind the scenes. No more legalese, implicit privacy agreements. I want a big fat popup, with clear instructions on how to keep myself hidden.

It's more of an opt-in box when you think about it

For now, hope for the best and be aware of your facebook privacy panel. Make sure you opt out of as much as possible! And please be sure to start an uproar if this Apple patent ever becomes used. Remember, just because it’s patented doesn’t mean it’s legal.

Cyberbullies: Bullying Then and Now – by “Will P”

Kids are mean

Really?

Children are cruel creatures.  This is not new nor should we be surprised.  What’s different now is that there is a record of it.  Before what happened on the playground stayed on the playground.  But when insults can be exchanged online, there is a persistent record of the taunts.  This persistence can be more stressful for the “cyber-victim”, because unlike a simple verbal jab, it isn’t ephemeral, and presents the opportunity for many to jump on the dog pile.

The other – in my opinion, probably unfortunate – difference between “traditional” and “cyber” bullying is that now adults can read the insults against their children or students word for word.  Imagine if someone provided your parents with every insult you said as a child along with every insult you received.  Yes, there would be a clusterstorm.

Let’s stop kids from being mean

Let’s convert the Pope to Judaism too!

I’ve found the “adult” reaction to cyberbullying to be like an episode of South Park: the children are really mean to each other and the adults overreact in a comically irrational way.  This past summer, ABC Family released a film Cyberbully to inform folks about the dangers of cyberbullying (and probably also to capitalize on the brouhaha).  You can probably guess the plot, but I’ll summarize it pictorially (please pardon the misuse of memes):

Plot of Cyberbullies

I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t think cyberbullying isn’t an important issue, but I’m always cautious when someone’s reaction to a situation is to try to pass a law without examining any alternative options first.

What about the laws in those states?

Can we send the evil bully to prison?

Actually, in the Great State of Missouri, cyber-harassment is a Class D felony – punishable by up to four years imprisonment – along with a third DUI conviction and fraud.

Personally I fail to see what is reasonable about dealing with problems between children through legal means.  If the anti-cyberbullying activists claim cyberbullying is so dangerous because digital harassment is persistent, how does sending another kid to court lessen the time the original harassment is an issue?

Legal action should be a last resort (this is a normative claim!).  There are much better options for everyone’s sake available.  In ABC Family’s movie Cyberbully, the bullying stopped when the protagonist simply stood up for herself and when her mother confronted the parents of the offending children.  We don’t always need to make new laws, when a new technology emerges; we just need to figure out how to solve the same problems that we’ve dealt with for generations… but online.   In Cyberbully, despite its portrayal, the internet is not to blame for bullying, people are.

I think part of the reason for the severity of these cyberbullying statutes is that we actually dehumanize the bullies.  Just as the cyberbullies are willing to make more obscene statements because they aren’t in front of their victims in real life, we are willing to deal with these cyberbullies because our image of these cyberbullies is some internet Beelzebub rather than another child.

Law vs. Code

Could this discussion be applied to this topic?

That ABC Family movie told the story of how harassment on a site, which is a thinly-veiled stand in for Facebook, could get out of hand.  The movie emphasized that profiles could be fake, information could exist forever, and that there is no “delete button.”  The family resorts to lobbying for a law, but if we look at these particular grievances, Facebook is actually quite good about having code mechanisms for dealing with this set of issues.

  1. There actually is a delete button
  2. Facebook in my cases requires email verification to join a particular network, so the risk of someone faking a profile that would be reasonably believably is slight
  3. You can report fake profiles:

//It would have been really easy for friends, who were too afraid to say anything, to anonymously report and end the entire situation

Solving a problem

What Constitution?

I quick Google search for cyberbullying turns up www.stopcyberbullying.org the website of an organization dedicated to stopping the scourge of cyberbullying.  The site has information for children, parents, politicians, and law enforcement.  It didn’t take much browsing to come across this gem:

One of their categories of cyberbullies is the called “Revenge of Nerds.”  Its description includes this quote: “Because of this and their tech skills, they can be the most dangerous of all cyberbullies.”  Ah yes, nerds are indeed the laser-armed sharks of the internet.

This “charming” website has advice to offer schools: you too can enact “regulations” to stop cyberbullying no matter how much this would infringe on the Constitutional rights of students.  The site says:

“If schools are creative, they can sometimes avoid the claim that their actions exceeded their legal authority for off-campus cyberbullying actions. We recommend that a provision is added to the school’s acceptable use policy reserving the right to discipline the student for actions taken off-campus if they are intended to have an effect on a student or they adversely affect the safety and well-being of student while in school. This makes it a contractual, not a constitutional, issue.”

I’m always impressed by a website when they provide persons of authority ways of circumventing Constitutional protections against overzealous school administrators.

Some problems don’t have solutions

X2 = -1, yes, a solution exists but it’s imaginary

Bullying has been around since at and before the dawn of man.  Unfortunately there’s no way to end it.  It isn’t as simple as passing a law – people break laws, and they do so frequently.  When faced with the inevitability of bullying, rather than trying to eradicate it, we should focus more on teaching children (and adults) how to cope with it.  Alas, that would be too reasonable.

The Internet as a Militia – by “Joshua E”

The Bill of Rights was not a guarantee of individual liberties. Rather, before the Fourteenth Amendment came along and everything went to hell, it was better viewed as a limit on the despotic potential of a centralized government; a potential that terrified the founders of our Constitution. Thus the First Amendment was a guarantee that the national government would not suppress assembly, speech, and the political discourse necessary to oppose tyranny. Thus the Second Amendment was a guarantee that states could hold militias in order to resist with force an oppressive government. Of course I am oversimplifying a very complex and contentious debate, but allow me for a moment to make a logical fallacy. This guy agrees with my view of the Bill of Rights:

So obviously I’m right. Let’s just leave it at that. I apologize for the many Yale words in my opening paragraph.

I, like Jack Balkin, am interested in how the development of the Internet changes the role that the Constitution has in our current society. Balkin focuses on the oppression of free speech by private companies, and how unable the Courts are to provide meaningful protection in this area. He believes that fighting technological infrastructures, business models, and social practices with well-crafted laws is the way to protect our liberties. He believes that the Internet has fundamentally changed the Bill of Rights’ ability to protect us from government (it’s original purpose, as outlined above), and therefore we must look extra-judicially to protect our rights.

The pacifist in me wonders whether the Internet landscape has also fundamentally lessened the necessity for militias, and other Constitutional protections against an abusive government that attempts to limit our free speech. Due to its interconnectedness the Internet is extremely difficult to regulate (though not impossible). In the past if a government wanted to quell speech, they had pretty effective means of doing it. Books can be banned or burned. Radio communications can be jammed. Protests can be broken up. The Internet is a whole other animal. Because it is generative, it allows people to circumvent many of the ways in which a government might try and limit access to certain material (for example by the use of proxies). In this way, I believe it acts as a check on the government. When the government gets out of control, the citizenry does not need to revolt using militias, they can simply tweet about it. Despite the fact that the following governments do not share the same Constitutions as we do, nor necessarily the same values, some examples from around the world will I think be illustrative.

Russian Coup

In 1991 leaders of the Communist Party in Russia led a coup against president Gorbachev. The leaders struck while Gorbachev was on vacation, and they hoped to expand support for their cause by limiting the flow of information to the west and most importantly to their people. They censored both news and phone links to the west. Television played nothing but operas and old movies. Their strategy would have been effective, except for one main flaw: Relcom.

Relcom, an acronym for reliable communications, was a basic computer network that Russia launched in 1990. Though Relcom was a purely e-mail network at the time, it still had the power to undermine the government’s efforts to suppress the free flow of information. Those who opposed the revolution were attempting to distribute a decree by Boris Yelzin which attempted to inform the public of the coup and what was happening. Without Relcom, they would have had to scour the city for available photocopiers and distribute copies by hand. Instead supporters simply sent a copy to one of the Relcom founders who was able to copy and distribute the decree.

Furthermore, Relcom aided in the information flow from the West into Russia. One California professor would listen to the radio in America and take notes on what American newscasters were saying. Then, he would type a summary into an email and send it through Relcom to supporters in Russia who would distribute the information. A similar practice occurred between Denmark and Russia, providing the Danish perspective on what was happening as well. These reports, in addition to eyewitness testimony circulated through Relcom gave citizens on the ground a relatively accurate picture of what was going on, and allowed them to resist.

With such an omnipresence of information, the rebellion didn’t stand a chance. The Coup lasted a mere two days.

Kuwait Invasion

Also in 1991, Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait. After a decisive victory by Iraq, Saddam Hussein installed Alaa Hussein Ali as the Prime Minister of the “Provisional Government of Free Kuwait”. Kuwait was hardly free, however. Most forms of traditional media were cut off, severely limiting Kuwait’s ability to communicate with the outside world. But like in Russia, the Iraqi strategy had one main flaw: IRC.

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a way of real-time chatting through the Internet. Traffic to IRC skyrocketed during the invasion, because it allowed people who could not escape Kuwait to communicate to the outside world for a good week after traditional media was cut off. These communications in conjunction with the efforts of those that had fled Kuwait, rallied international support to condemn the actions of Iraq, eventually leading to the Gulf War.

So, yes, violence was necessary to expel Iraq from Kuwait. But what I find interesting about this situation is that it was not necessarily internal military force from Kuwait that allowed them to succeed. Rather, the Internet, and IRC, allowed the free flow of information throughout Kuwait and throughout the rest of world, allowing Kuwait to get the support that it needed.

These IRC communications are stored to this very day, and can be seen here.

To the future

The two examples given notably come from twenty years ago. Our world, our Internet, and our governments have certainly changed. Now, as alluded to earlier, oppressive governments have developed tools to prevent the free flow of information on the internet. I’m not going to pretend that I understand the technical means that a government could use to limit connection through the Internet, because being a humanities geek I don’t. But if I had to bet on who would win in a fight, government computer science experts or lulzsec hackers, I would probably choose the lulzsec hackers.

We live today in an intellectual world. This is why militias are nonexistent in America (yes, Sarah Palin and the like still carry around firearms, but in the case of actual government tyranny I question how effective ragtag gunman that can see Russia from their houses will be in fighting our national army). Our weapons against governmental oppression of free speech are not guns, but rather speech itself by means of the internet. I am a firm believer than the pen is mightier than the sword. When our government was created, the Founders allowed for militias and similar protections because a tyrannical government had the power to suppress the pen. With the advent of the internet the government no longer has that power. The Internet has become our militia in the fight against governmental despotism.