India continues to flirt with web censorship

 Examples, Intermediary liability, Regulating speech  Comments Off on India continues to flirt with web censorship
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 »

This week in Internet filtering, home and away

 Examples, Regulating speech  Comments Off on This week in Internet filtering, home and away
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.

Belgian ISP censorship

 Criminal IP Enforcement, Examples, Intermediary liability  Comments Off on Belgian ISP censorship
Dec 112011

The EFF has a report of a case involving Belgium ISPs.

Last September, in a case initiated by the Belgian Anti-Piracy Federation (BAF), an Antwerp Court of Appeals ordered two major fixed broadband providers (Telenet and Belgacom) to block access to the Pirate Bay at the DNS level. In November, the BAF sent a letter to other Belgian ISPs, threatening legal action unless they also blocked access to the Pirate Bay.

Earlier this week, a Belgian Internet watchdog group (NURPA) reported that one of the three major mobile Internet providers in Belgium, Base, complied with the letter and voluntarily started blocking access to the Pirate Bay.1 Base denies these reports, but users who try to access the Pirate Bay are served a “stop page” with the following text, in Dutch, French, German, and English: “You have been redirected to this stop page because the website you are trying to visit offers content that is considered illegal according to Belgian legislation.” The only way offered for the owner or administrator of the website to object is via fax.

The EFF points out that the ruling in this Belgium case would appear to conflict with the European Court of Justice ruling in Scarlet v. Sabam, a case that also originated in Belgium.  In that case the ECJ ruled that “requiring ISPs to filter traffic over their network violates users’ privacy and their freedom to receive and impart information.”   Although the final judgment in this case came after the Belgian ruling, there had already been an opinion by the Advocate General reflecting it.

The Belgian judge, though, deemed the case before the ECJ irrelevant, making a distinction between filtering and blocking. These two types of censorship often appear identical to the end user, but the court argued that they are different technically and legally. Filtering implies the monitoring of traffic in order to remove specific content. Blocking, on the other hand, would only require indiscriminately restricting access to a given domain. The Belgian (Pirate Bay) case concerned (DNS) blocking, whereas the European case concerned filtering. According to the Belgian judge, DNS blocking would not constrain fundamental liberties. But while blocking does not raise as many privacy concerns as filtering does, all other concerns remain very relevant. Without even going in to the dangers of interfering in such an essential component of the Internet, (DNS) blocking access to a website as a whole violates individual freedom to impart and receive information. It also ignores the fact that copyright is not an absolute right and is subject to important exceptions.

In other words, it appears the Belgium court only considered filtering and blocking as potential violations to fundamental freedoms vis a vis the potential privacy problems involved with monitoring traffic for the purposes of censoring, and not with the censorship itself.

(The EFF article also notes that Dutch parent company, KPN, has already admitted that it monitored its customer’s traffic through deep packet inspection (DPI).)