Tag: Censorship

Big Brother In the UK

This is probably our future too:

On Tuesday, the UK is due to pass its controversial new surveillance law, the Investigatory Powers Act, according to the Home Office.

The Act, which has received overwhelming support in both the House of Commons and Lords, formally legalizes a number of mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013. It also introduces a new power which will force internet service providers to store browsing data on all customers for 12 months.

Civil liberties campaigners have described the Act as one of the most extreme surveillance laws in any democracy, while law enforcement agencies believe that the collection of browsing data is vital in an age of ubiquitous internet communications.

The UK is also introducing a new mass surveillance power, with the creation of so-called internet connection records (ICRs): records of the internet service a specific device has connected to, which will be created and stored by internet service providers. These records will include visited websites, messaging platforms like WhatsApp, or potentially even the connection your computer makes to a remote server when updating its software.

Many law enforcement agencies will be able to access this data, but so will lots of other, less obvious public bodies, including the Food Standards Agency, and some National Health Service Trusts.

The UK also, a couple of years ago, banned porn depicting anything the pearl-clutching nannies running their country regard as “deviant”. I’m sure more censorship is coming.

Don’t think this can’t happen here. Trump is putting in place people who support mass surveillance and oppose privacy protections. Congress has shown repeatedly that will instantly cave unless we the people rise up in protest. If we don’t want to follow the example of the UK, we have to object now, no matter who is in power.

On Hate Speech

Ann Althouse riffs off of Kathy Griffin’s tweet on the Robertson issue with some thoughts about hate speech. I’ll pull a long quote here:

Hate speech similarly affects the minds of the members of the group against whom hate has been expressed, and it can produce the same kind of fear of violence that is caused by a report of a hate crime. Now, there is hate speech and there is hate speech. Think of the most virulent hate speech, and you should see how powerful it is, how justified and painful the fear is. In extreme cases, members of the targeted group should take alarm and even flee in terror. A purveyor of hate speech need not commit an act of violence to create a fear of violence. He might inspire others to commit those acts of violence, and even if he doesn’t, the threat of violence alone has an effect. False reports of hate speech work the same harm.

In the set of statements that could be characterized as hate speech, what Phil Robertson said was not that bad. Many would argue for a narrow definition of hate speech such that what Phil Robertson said would not be in the set at all. Defining the category very broadly is a political and rhetorical move, and it isn’t always effective. At some point — and perhaps with Robertson, we’ve hit that point — you’re being too repressive about what can be said on issues about which decent people are still debating, and it would be better to hear each other out and remain on speaking terms.

There is more good to be achieved by talking to each other and not shunning than by treating another human being as toxic. In fact, to treat another person as toxic is to become hateful yourself. It’s better to let the conversation flow, and if you really think your ideas are good, why switch to other tactics? What’s the emergency? Especially when your cause — like gay rights — is for greater human freedom, you ought to resist becoming a force of repression.

Since making his controversial remark, Phil Robertson has put out the message that as a Christian he loves everyone. Love speech is the opposite of hate speech, and it has so much more to do with Christianity than the reviling of sin in the earlier remark. He wants to speak against sin, but it’s a problem when you aim a remark at a kind of person who has, over the years — over the millennia — felt a threat of violence and the burden of ostracism. I think Robertson knows that.

Hate speech is an actual thing. I don’t think anyone would doubt that a KKK rally is meant to threaten, intimidate and frighten others. But I think, in the discussion of what does and does not constitute hate speech, a respect for open dialogue, mutual understanding and a robust debate requires us to draw the line as narrowly as possible.

If Robertson had said he thought gays should get the Matthew Shepherd treatment that would be hate speech (putting aside that the Shepherd killing may have had more to do with drugs than gayness). But he didn’t. He expressed a moral view that homosexuality is wrong (a view about half of Americans hold) and that he wishes that gays, like all sinners, would turn away from their sin. It’s simply not comparable to what, to pick an example almost at random, Alec Baldwin said about Henry Hyde. Or the insults he hurled at a gay man. In both cases, Baldwin was shouting violent threats at someone he didn’t like. That’s not even in the same ballpark.

Unfortunately, there is an effort in this country, especially from the Left, to define the bounds of “hate speech” as broadly as possible. I have even heard radio talk show hosts accused of hate speech because they have the temerity to vigorously criticize Democrats. Of course, the Left are never guilty of hate speech. No, sir. When they call Phil Robertson a bigot and a homophobe, that’s not hate. When they insult his looks, his family, his faith and his show, that’s not hate. When they compared Bush to Hitler, that wasn’t hate. When they mocked Romney for his temple garments, that wasn’t hate.

Needless to say, I oppose all attempts to outlaw hate speech. And I think speech codes on campuses and elsewhere are shameful. Your right to free speech does not mean your employer can’t fire you for saying something that embarrasses them. Or that you can’t be prosecuted if you provoke other people to violence. But I find the idea of any kind or prior restraint repulsive, especially when we’re talking about a moral debate we’re still having. That’s not “creating respect” or “stopping hate”. That’s trying to make the other side shut up.

There are tens of millions of people in this country who have changed their opinions about gays and gay rights. They didn’t change their minds because they were told to shut up. They did it because people debated them, talked to them, persuaded them. They did it because they got to know gay people as friends, family members and co-workers. They did it because, at bottom, they were decent reasonable human beings. They opposed gay rights not because of “hate” but because of their love of our traditional culture and values. When they are convinced that something is not a threat to that, they tend to come around. I know this because it’s a journey I myself went on 20 years ago when I was in college. That didn’t happen because of speech codes.

Take Your Rights Somewhere Else

Oh, lovely academia and its commitment to free expression:

In a stunning illustration of the attitude taken towards free speech by too many colleges across the United States, Modesto Junior College in California told a student that he could not pass out copies of the United States Constitution outside the student center on September 17, 2013—Constitution Day. Captured on video, college police and administrators demanded that Robert Van Tuinen stop passing out Constitution pamphlets and told him that he would only be allowed to pass them out in the college’s tiny free speech zone, and only after scheduling it several days or weeks ahead of time. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has written to Modesto, demanding that the college rescind this policy immediately.

The FIRE, in case you don’t know, are a completely awesome organization devoted to fighting for academic and personal freedom for everyone. Every year, some idiot liberal expresses shock when FIRE fights for the rights of a liberal organization. I am not shocked: this is what FIRE does. They don’t care what your political views are; they care about freedom.

The free speech zones that decorate about 15% of our college campuses are a disgrace. Colleges should be giving their students more freedom of expression than the government minimum, not less. And it should apply to everyone: from Occupy Idiots to Tea Partiers (yes, there are some on campuses) to gay rights activists to abortion activists. Colleges and universities like to claim that they aren’t exercising prior restraint; they’re acting like an employer who won’t let you engage in political activity at work. But most of them are, in fact, state institutions and almost all of them get massive portions of their budgets from state and federal agencies. When they are completely privately funded, then they can act like private agencies.

I’ve talked about all this before but I had to post this because … this really takes the cake. Telling a kid handing out Constitution pamphlets to get lost on Constitution Day? Holy crap, that’s bad.

Cameron’s Firewall

British Prime Minister David Cameron is proposing a new firewall on British ISP’s. In addition to blocking material like violent pornography, it will included an “opt in” option for any pornography. If you’re wondering how long it will be before the list of people who “opt in” to porn gets leaked to embarrass them, it will probably be measurable in femtoseconds.

Even on its own terms, Cameron’s Great Firewall is objectionable. As EFF points out, there is little reason to believe it will stop people looking for illegal content who are web savvy. It is likely that a host of website and search terms will get “accidentally” swept up in the net. And it puts the tools in place for much more abusive censorship (put a pin in that for a moment).

Moreover, there is almost no evidence that internet pornography is “corroding childhood” or provoking violence. There is no evidence that even violent porn does this. In fact, as pornography has exploded over the last twenty years, every social trend has been positive. Rape and sexual assault are way down; divorce is down, domestic violence is down, abortion is down, even teen pregnancy is way way down. It has fallen faster in states with more web access. Even the most extreme porn shows no connection to any real world harm.

(I’ve previously blogged, in the context of movie violence, about why I think violent entertainment can reduce real-world violence.)

So why is Cameron pushing for something that will put women and children in greater danger in the UK? Why is he suddenly …


The British prime minister’s internet filters will be about more than just hardcore pornography, according to information obtained by the Open Rights Group.

The organisation, which campaigns for digital freedoms, has spoken to some of the Internet Service Providers that will be constructing Cameron’s content filters. They discovered that a host of other categories of supposedly-objectionable material may be on the block-list.

As well as pornography, users may automatically be opted in to blocks on “violent material”, “extremist related content”, “anorexia and eating disorder websites” and “suicide related websites”, “alcohol” and “smoking”. But the list doesn’t stop there. It even extends to blocking “web forums” and “esoteric material”, whatever that is. “Web blocking circumvention tools” is also included, of course.

Needless to say, there is little justification for any of this. People don’t commit suicide because they read about it on a website. People don’t develop eating disorders because they read about it. People smoked and drank alcohol and beat the snot out of each other long before Algore was even born, least of all before he invented the internet. Blocking all this stuff and effectively imposing an ASBO on the entire nation is not going to make Britain any safer. It’s just going to put the British government’s claws into the information superhighway so that they can control content and, with it, people.

I have no problem with internet filters being available to people who want them. I’m a dad and there’s content I don’t Sal 11000 Beta to see, at least until she’s figured out my router password. But an automatic opt-in dictated by government is simply unacceptable. And don’t think for a moment that our own SOPA-supporting, CDA-befuddled politicians aren’t casting an eye across the pond to see how much freedom Cameron’s firewall can take away.

(H/T: Dr. Brooke Magnanti.)