Google, the Benevolent Behemoth?

google censored

Google's new transparency report documents an alarming rise in censorship by governments, from the US to China.

If you are not familiar with Google’s transparency reporting, you should be.

By monitoring access to Google services and publishing that data in real time, Google’s transparency tool “visualizes disruption in the free flow of information, whether it’s a government blocking information or a cable being cut,” which has great potential to augment early warning efforts for mass repression.

At any time, you can see requests for url removal from search results for copyright claims, and see who those purported owners are. As we know from discussion on this blog around PIPA and SOPA, Google’s efforts to combat infringement of intellectual property rights—at least narrowly defined—are in keeping with human rights law, and important for staving off really bad policies.

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Supreme Court to Hear Amnesty FISA Challenge

us supreme courtThe United States Supreme Court decided yesterday to hear an important case related to warrantless government surveillance and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act of 2008:  Amnesty et al v. Clapper.

Amnesty, other NGOs, journalists and attorneys are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. “Clapper” refers to James R. Clapper, Jr., the Director of National Intelligence.

The issue before the Court is whether we can challenge the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act, which basically allows “dragnet” surveillance of emails and phone calls without warrant and without sufficient independent judicial oversight.

Our argument is that we have standing to challenge the law’s constitutionality because as human rights advocates, journalists and attorneys, we rely on confidentiality in our international communications with victims of human rights abuses, whistle-blowers and government officials–and our work is severely impacted by the law. 

The Obama administration claims that we don’t have standing in the case because we can’t prove that we are impacted—i.e., subject to surveillance. But how can we prove such a thing when the information about who the government monitors is secret and the process of surveillance is designed to be undetectable?

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Internet Co's: How about one day without censorship?

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) and Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) yesterday called on U.S. Internet companies Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! to give the world a day of censorship-free Internet search and blogging, in recognition of World Day Against Cyber Censorship, March 12.

In other words, we’re seeing if Internet companies are willing to give the world a free trial of freedom of expression. 

Like free trials of software downloads, the hope is that if these Internet mammoths can find it within themselves to stand up to censorship requests for just one day, they, we, the world, might like it enough to buy into the full version.

RWB and AI participated for months in an initiative, now known as the Global Network Initiative (GNI), with the companies to try to develop voluntary standards for the Internet and telecommunications industry on the rights to freedom of expression and privacy. 

Both groups, to date, have refused to endorse the GNI, pointing to loopholes that could allow for continued abuses of privacy and free expression rights, such as what occurred with Chinese journalist Shi Tao. (Yahoo! handed over account information to Chinese authorities who used it to sentence Shi to a 10 year prison term for sending an email to a U.S.-based pro-democracy website.) 

If any of the companies take up the RWB-AIUSA challenge, much could be discovered about the true nature of the online censorship beast. The power of the symbolism, let alone bringing transparency to the problem could be just enough to change the lives of millions. It would be a sad state if none of the three can find a way to respect freedom of expression for one day.