In loco parentis locus

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Feb 092012

When I was in first grade I got beaten up on the way home from school. It wasn’t too horrible as these things go: a kid came up from behind, grabbed the hood of my jacket, and swung me to the ground. He was in second grade and, as I look back on it, apparently having some issues with impulse control. But it was clearly unacceptable and I found it fairly traumatic (it was an absurdly safe neighborhood, so it wasn’t as if I was expecting trouble). So the school helped me identify the kid responsible and then addressed his behavior with him. At the time, and perhaps even in retrospect, all that seemed an appropriate role for the school to have played.

However, technically I wasn’t on school grounds anymore, and it didn’t take place while school was in session. The only connection to the school was that we had all just left it to walk home, and the kid was a fellow student there. And we were all so young, still learning how to get along with people as much as we were learning reading and math. These were life skills the school was trying to teach us too, and here was a very tangible teaching moment for the school to weigh in on.

But I do not find this logic compelling when it comes to the overreaching some schools have been making with regards to student speech, including off-campus, online speech. Schools have been justifying their punishment of this speech with similar rationales that my elementary school had for punishing my attacker: it’s disruptive to the school community, and people who attack others need to learn not to.

Yet the situations aren’t the same. In my story, the attacker and victim were little kids in primary school, whereas in most of these instances the kids in question are adolescents on the cusp of legal and physical adulthood. (In some instances they are already fully into legal and physical adulthood.) And in my story there was no speech angle. The school sought to punish a violent action, not the expression of an idea. Continue reading »

Twitter Joke Trial at High Court

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Feb 082012

Two years ago Paul Chambers, a Twitter user in England, tweeted his frustrations about the closure of the airport in Nortern Ireland was scheduled to fly into:

“Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

As this article in the Guardian summarizes,

A week later he was arrested by five police officers, questioned for eight hours, had his computers and phones seized and was subsequently charged and convicted of causing a menace under the Communications Act 2003.

That conviction was first upheld by the Crown Court, and a subsequent appeal has just been heard by the High Court.

Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 provides that “[a] person is guilty of an offence if he sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.”  This case appears to boil down to whether or not the tweet was truly menacing, and by whom, and under what standard, its menacing character should be judged.

Chambers insists he meant it as a joke.  There is also no evidence that anyone actually took the tweet to be a credible threat.  In fact there is evidence that the authorities themselves did not take it to be a credible threat.  However because there was the possibility that it could have been taken as a threat, thus far the conviction has held.

South Korean indicted for retweeting North Korean tweets

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Feb 052012

The New York Times has a report about a South Korean man who has been indicted for having retweeted tweets from the North Korean government. The charge accuses Park Jung-geun of violating the “National Security Law,” which bans “acts that benefit the enemy,” although without defining what those acts might be.

Detectives raided Mr. Park’s photo studio in eastern Seoul in the fall. They later interrogated him several times for resending such North Korean propaganda postings as “Long Live Kim Jong-il!”

In an interview in December, Mr. Park said his Twitter posts were meant to lampoon the North Korean regime. Mr. Park, a member of the Korean Socialist Party, said he supported its platform, which criticized the Pyongyang government’s human rights policy and its hereditary transfer of power.

“It was humiliating and ludicrous to have to wear a straight face and explain all my jokes to the detectives,” said Mr. Park, who faces up to seven years in jail if convicted.

Prosecutors charged that joke or no joke, Mr. Park’s Twitter account served as a tool to spread North Korean propaganda.

The article notes that prosecutions under this law have increased since the current administration took power.

In 2010, 151 people were interrogated on suspicion of violating the law, up from 39 in 2007. The number of people prosecuted on charges of pro-North Korean online activities increased to 82 in 2010 from five in 2008, according to government data submitted to lawmakers. During the first 10 months of 2011, the police deleted 67,300 Web posts they believed threatened national security by “praising North Korea and denouncing the U.S. and the government,” a sharp rise from 14,430 posts in 2009.

South Korea still blocks its citizens’ access to North Korean Web sites, though North Korea has recently gone around the firewalls by using Twitter accounts. The South’s policy has left the delivery and interpretation of North Korean announcements in the hands of a relatively small group of officials and journalists with special access to North Korean media.

Feb 022012

I’ve written before about Netflix petitioning Congress to modify the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) to allow for users to easily share what they are watching to social networks. Right now users can easily share what books they are reading and what music they are listening to, but because the videos they stream may be covered by this videotape-era law, Netflix is concerned it could run afoul of it if it allowed for similarly easy sharing.

But as Susan Crawford notes in this article, Netflix’s attempt to harmonize privacy law vis a vis the sharing of what people are streaming with what they are reading or listening to may be backfiring: harmonization may well occur, not by making it easier to share video but rather by making it harder to share those other media too. Continue reading »

Bangladeshi faces sedition charge over Facebook post

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Jan 232012

Agence-France Press is reporting that a Bangladeshi high court has ordered police to prosecute Jahangirnagar University teacher Ruhul Khandakar for sedition as a result of a comment made on Facebook. The comment, since deleted, was “[Famous Bangladeshi filmmaker] Tareq Masud died as a result of government giving licence to unqualified drivers. Many die, why does not [Prime Minister] Sheikh Hasina die?”

He was also sentenced to six months in jail for contempt of court after he failed to respond to repeated summonses to explain a Facebook posting. The article reports Khandakar has been studying in Australia and these proceedings happened without him.

It also cites a local lawyer saying that this is the first time a Bangladeshi has been ordered to be jailed and tried for sedition over comments made on a social networking site.

India continues to flirt with web censorship

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Jan 132012

Last month Kapil Sibal, acting telecommunications minister for India, floated the proposition that social networks actively filter all content appearing on their systems.  Now comes news that a judge in New Delhi also thinks web censorship appropriate.  From the New York Times:

The comments of the judge, Suresh Kait, came in response to a lawsuit, filed by a private citizen in the capital, New Delhi. The suit demands that Internet companies screen content before it is posted on sites like Facebook, Google or Yahoo, that might offend the religious sentiments of Indians. A related criminal case accuses the companies — 21 in all — of violating an Indian law that applies to books, pamphlets and other material that is deemed to “deprave or corrupt.”

A trial court in New Delhi on Friday ordered that summons be served in the criminal case to officials at all 21 companies at their foreign headquarters’ addresses.

Google and Facebook refused to comment on the case, except to say they had filed a motion in the New Delhi High Court to dismiss the criminal case.

Their motion will be considered on Monday. Continue reading »

Watching the watchers

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Jan 062012

Public photography is an issue that frequently appears on this site because it’s a real example of technology-enabled speech that all too often authorities try to prevent.  These attempts are often egregious and never balanced out by whatever policy reasons are ostensibly behind them.  But they are particularly odorous when these prohibitions are enforced on people using photography to record the power of the police.

What’s especially insidious is the logic so often used for it, that recording people acting in public — or, more specifically, agents of the state acting in public under the color of the authority granted by the state — might somehow violate a privacy interest. Continue reading »

This week in Internet filtering, home and away

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Jan 062012

The EFF has a round-up of censorship examples from around the world. Although there’s some fuzziness over the details, Belarus seems to have a law making the browsing of certain foreign websites a misdemeanor. Turkey, meanwhile, has been exploring its own filtering requirements. While arguably they are voluntary, it’s not clear exactly how voluntary they are. Furthermore, it gives the authorities creating the filtering blacklists a great deal of censorial control over information consumption in the country.

Iran, in addition to mandating user registration and video surveillance at Internet cafes, is busy trying to build a “halal intranet,” populated only with sites the government will allow citizens to see. (Compare this with “China’s Parallel Online Universe” referenced earlier.) The linked articles cite a government fear of being infected with another Stuxnet-type worm in justifying cutting citizens off from the wider Internet world, but clearly, the other measures such as monitoring Internet cafe usage is designed to quell dissent.

These aren’t the only places in the world, however, where such filtering exists. The ACLU has just sued a library in Missouri for its filtering of content the librarian deemed inappropriate. In this case the blocked content in question pertained to minority religions. But even if this particular blocking seems egregious, it’s actually fairly ordinary. In fact, under CIPA it’s mandatory. It’s worth comparing exactly how different this rule is from the Turkish filtering scheme, which ostensibly is “for the children” as well.

Iran blocks Britain

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Dec 292011

This site was designed to track when state actors interfere with private actors’ technology use. But what happens when state actors affect other state actors? From Reuters, news that Iran has blocked Britain’s website.

Britain’s Foreign Office said Iranian authorities had barred access to a Foreign Office website, “UK in Iran”, that carries information on British government policies and statements, including criticism of Iran’s human rights record.

It said the website had been added to thousands of other Internet sites censored by Iranian authorities.

No comment was immediately available from Iran.

“This action is counter-productive and ill-judged. It will confirm to the Iranian people that their government is determined to block their access to information, and to conceal from them the international community’s legitimate concerns about Iran’s policies and behavior,” Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.

“It will also make it harder for Iranian nationals to access information about visiting the UK. And it is further proof to the rest of the world (of) the Iranian government’s dire record on freedom of speech and human rights in general,” he said.

“This action will not deter Britain from continuing to engage with the Iranian people, including through the Internet.”

The website blocking comes as escalation of tensions between the two countries, which has included the closing of embassies and expulsion of diplomats.

Tweeting DUI checkpoints

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Dec 252011

Bruce Carton at Legal Blog Watch notes a difference of opinion from police in Canada regarding the propriety of tweeting the location of DUI checkpoints.

The Edmonton police believe it abets drunk driving and thus shouldn’t be done. Citing a CBC article on the subject:

“Putting lives in danger based on the fact that you want to have more followers on your Twitter account is pretty disappointing,” said checkstop co-ordinator Const. Ian Brooks.

Brooks is asking people to consider how they would feel if a drunk driver who avoided a checkstop ended up causing a collision that hurt someone.

“Maybe that one time that we would have actually picked them up and prevented something in the future, maybe that’s enabling them to commit further offences and to put everyone in jeopardy,” Brooks said.

According to the CBC, Calgary police also disfavor the practice.

“We don’t see any value in warning people in advance of how to avoid that detection,” he said. “We want them caught and we want them off the streets.”

The police in Regina share the same view. On the other hand, the police in Saskatoon have no problem with it.

Alyson Edwards, a spokeswoman for the Saskatoon police, said it will be OK if people who see a check-point share that information on Twitter.

“As a service, there is no point in ignoring the fact that people are going to spread the word amongst their friends,” Edwards told CBC News Wednesday.’

She said one goal of their check-point program is get get people to think about the consequences of drinking and driving, before they head out.

She said people who are drinking may think twice about driving, if they know officers are out.

The article about the Edmonton police quotes Doug King, an associate professor of justice studies at Calgary’s Mount Royal University as saying there was no law against such tweets.

“God forbid, you tweeted me and I got out on the road and killed someone and I was impaired, there would be no way that you could be held responsible for my actions.”