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Public Prosecutor of Rome unilaterally orders ISPs to censor 46 sites


The Public Prosecutor of Rome has unilaterally ordered Italy's ISPs to censor 46 sites, and it appears the ISPs are complying, even though no complaint had been lodged against the sites, nor had any judge issued any order related to them. This doesn't bode well for the governance style of the new Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, a young politician who is trying to set himself apart from the autocratic Berlusconi regime, which used tight media control as part of its corrupt governance strategy.

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Vine bans sexual content

Twitter's 6-second video-sharing platform, Vine, has banned sexual content. Depictions of "provocative" nudity, sex acts, clothed but "aroused" genitals, and "sexually graphic" artwork or animation is "not a good fit for our community," the company writes. [The Verge] Rob 20

US Embassy and Godaddy conspire to censor dissenting Mexican political site


Godaddy has censored a prominent Mexican political site that was critical of the government and a proposed law to suppress public protests. Godaddy says that it suspended 1dmx.org after a request from a "Special Agent Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Embassy, Mexico City." A lawyer for the site believes that the someone in the Mexican government asked the US embassy to arrange for the censorship, and is suing the Mexican government to discover the identity of the official who made the request.

Leaving aside the Mexican government corruption implied by this action, Americans should be outraged about the participation of the US Embassy in the suppression of political dissent. And, as always, Godaddy customers should be on notice that Godaddy is pretty much the worst domain registrar/hosting company in the world, with a long history of meekly knuckling under to absurd, legally dubious censorship claims from random law-enforcement and government agencies, and never, ever going to bat for its customers (I prefer Hover, one of Godaddy's major competitors).

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David Cameron's porn-filter advisor arrested for possession of images of sexual abuse of children


Patrick Rock, a Thatcherite who served as special advisor to UK Prime Minister David Cameron and played an influential role in the Prime Minister's national Internet censorship plan, has been arrested for possession of images depicting the sexual abuse of children. The National Crime Agency is conducting forensic analysis of the computer networks at the Prime Minister's office/residence, Number 10 Downing Street.

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South Carolina legislature confiscates budget of college for assigning Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" as a reading

The South Carolina House of Representatives has withdrawn $52,000 from the College of Charleston for including Alison Bechdel's brilliant, celebrated memoir Fun Home in its summer reading program. Bechdel, creator of the Dykes to Watch Out For strip, published the memoir in 2006. In graphic novel form, it tells Bechdel's story of growing up closeted in a family riven by a father who can't admit that he is gay and an embittered mother who doesn't allow herself to notice her husband's affairs.

Representative Garry Smith said that the book "didn't merit scholarly consideration" because it "graphically shows lesbian acts." He led the campaign to withdraw the funds. $52,000 is the cost of the entire summer reading program.

Bechdel expressed gratitude to the college for assigning her book, and added, "It's sad and absurd that the College of Charleston is facing a funding cut for teaching my book – a book which is after all about the toll that this sort of small-mindedness takes on people's lives."

To its credit, the college is refusing to allow its reading choices to be affected. College president P. George Benson said, "Any legislative attempt to tie institutional funding to what books are taught, or who teaches them, threatens the credibility and reputation of all South Carolina public universities."

The College of Charleston isn't the only institution whose funding has been cut for assigning readings that don't meet with Rep Smith's approval; another $18,000 was confiscated from the University of South Carolina Upstate's budget for including a book with LGBT themes in its curriculum.

I would certainly contribute to a fundraiser to make up the colleges' shortfall, especially if they'd guarantee that the funds would go to a program whose readings consisted entirely of things that Representative Gary Price didn't like.


Update: In the comments, Tim​stellmach writes, "Money has been put where my mouth is. For reference, the name of the program in question is "The College Reads!", and the college's donation page is at https://giving.cofc.edu/donate.

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Whatsapp abused the DMCA to censor related projects from Github

Prior to Whatsapp's $19B acquisition by Facebook, the company sent a large number of spurious takedowns against projects on Github. In a DMCA notice served by Whatsapp's General Counsel to Github, a number of projects are targeted for removal on the basis that they are "content that infringes on WhatsApp Inc.'s copyrights and trademarks."

This is grossly improper. DMCA takedown notices never apply to alleged trademark violations (it's called the "Digital Millennium Copyright Act" and not the "Digital Millennium Trademark Act"). Using DMCA notices to pursue trademark infringements isn't protecting your interests -- it's using barratry-like tactics to scare and bully third parties into participating in illegitimate censorship.

The letter goes on to demand takedown of these Github projects on the basis that they constitute "unauthorized use of WhatsApp APIs, software, and/or services" -- again, this is not a copyright issue, and it is improper to ask Github to police the code its hosts on this basis. It is certainly not the sort of activity that the DMCA's takedown procedure exists to police.

So what about copyright infringement? In the related Hacker News thread, a number of the projects' authors weigh in on the censorship, making persuasive cases that they software did not infringe on any of Whatsapp's copyrights -- rather, these were tools that made use of the Whatsapp API, were proof-of-concept security tools for Whatsapp, or, in one case, merely contained the string "whatsapp" in its sourcecode.

There may well have been some legitimately infringing material on Github, but it's clear that Whatsapp's General Counsel did not actually limit her or his request to this material. Instead, the company deliberately overreached the bounds of the DMCA, with total indifference to the rights of other copyright holders -- the creators of the software they improperly had removed.

Unfortunately, there are no real penalties for this sort of abuse. Which is a shame, because Whatsapp has $19B in the bank that a smart lawyer who wanted to represent the aggrieved parties could certainly take a chunk out of.

(via Hacker News)

Detailed analysis of Syria's network censorship with logs from Blue Coat's surveillance boxes


In Censorship in the Wild: Analyzing Web Filtering in Syria [PDF], researchers from INRIA, NICTA and University College London parse through 600GB worth of leaked logfiles from seven Blue Coat SG-9000 proxies used by the Syrian government to censor and surveil its national Internet connections. They find that the Assad regime's censorship is more subtle and targeted than that of China and Iran, with heavy censorship of instant messaging, but lighter blocking of social media. They also report on Syrians' use of proxies, Tor, and Bittorrent to evade national censorship. It's the first comprehensive public look at the network censorship practiced in Syria.

Censorship in the Wild: Analyzing Web Filtering in Syria [PDF] (Thanks, Gary!)

AIDS deniers use bogus copyright claims to censor critical Youtube videos

Myles Power, a debunker who goes after junk science and conspiracy theorists, has gone after AIDS denialists and a terrible, falsehood-ridden, dangerous documentary called "House of Numbers," which holds that HIV/AIDS isn't an actual viral illness, but rather a conspiracy to sell anti-viral medication. The AIDS denial movement encourages people who are HIV-positive to go off the medication that keeps them alive.

The producers of "House of Numbers" have used a series of bogus copyright takedown notices to get Youtube to remove Powers's videos, in which he uses clips from the documentary as part of his criticism, showing how they mislead viewers and misrepresent the facts and the evidence. It's pure censorship: using the law to force the removal of your opponents' views.

Google and Youtube have some blame to shoulder here. They should not be honoring these takedown notices, as they are not valid on their face. However, the buck doesn't stop there. The DMCA's takedown procedures have no real penalty for abuse, so it is the perfect tool for would-be censors. What's more, the entertainment companies -- who are great fans of free speech when defending their right to sell products without censorship, but are quite unwilling the share the First Amendment they love so dearly with the rest of us -- are pushing to make censorship even easier, arguing that nothing should be posted on Youtube (or, presumably, any other online forum) unless it has been vetted by a copyright lawyer.

Update: Google has reinstated the video, and published this statement: "When a copyright holder notifies us of a video that infringes their copyright, we remove it promptly in accordance with the law. We reinstate content in cases where there is clear fair use and we are confident that the material is not infringing, removing any associated copyright strikes.”

However, the "accordance with the law" business isn't the whole story. The law says that if Google is sent a takedown notice and they don't remove it, they could be sued along with the person who posted it. But it's up to Google to determine whether it believes the complaint holds water, and whether to assume the risk of disregarding it. IOW: Google could have left the video up, but at some risk of being named in a nuisance suit by some genuinely evil people. It decided that this risk was more costly than the likely temporary removal of the video.

They're probably right inasmuch as they will generally be let off the hook for this. However, to the extent that we -- the people who generate Google's income -- give them a good kicking when they make decisions like this, we will raise the cost of acting on obviously spurious copyright complaints. The higher that cost rises, the less censorship we'll see on Youtube.

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Indian readers sue Penguin for copyright to book that is to be pulped due to religious fundamentalists' campaign

Robert Sharp writes, "A group of readers have launched a legal challenge to Penguin, saying: 'You're not using your copyright responsibly - please turn it over to us'! They're angry that Penguin is no longer defending a legal dispute against fundamentalists and will pulp remaining copies of the book 'The Hindus'."

The readers are represented by Lawrence Liang and the Bangalore-based Alternative Law Forum.

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EU elections: ask candidates to sign digital rights pledge

Kirsten From Edri writes, "European Digital Rights (EDRi) has launched WePromise.EU to put digital civil rights on the agenda of the European election. The platform is based on a two-sided promise: On the one hand, parliamentary candidates will be able to endorse a ten point 'Charter of Digital Rights' that supports an open digital environment. On the other, citizens across Europe can in turn sign the petition and promise to vote for candidates that have endorsed the Charter."

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Chinese-language Bing searches in the USA censored to match mainland Chinese results

Freeweibo, an anti-censorship organization that works on free speech issues in China, has discovered that the Chinese version of Microsoft's Bing search-engine censors its US version to match the censored results that would be shown within China. Search terms such as "Dalai Lama, June 4 incident (how the Chinese refer to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989), Falun Gong and FreeGate" return results dominated by censored Chinese news outlets like Baidu Baike and Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. The same searches run on the English version of Bing return pages from Wikipedia, BBC, the New York Times, etc.

Google's Chinese-language competitor displays much more parity between the Chinese and English editions -- the Chinese Google results for controversial subjects include Chinese articles from the BBC and Wikipedia.

Microsoft will not comment on the matter.

Update: Microsoft has commented:

"Bing does not apply China's legal requirements to searches conducted outside of China," Bing Senior Director Stefan Weitz notes in a prepared statement. "Due to an error in our system, we triggered an incorrect results-removal notification for some searches noted in the report, but the results themselves are and were unaltered outside of China.

As of 10PM Pacific on 12 Feb, many of the "controversial" search terms still generate results pages dominated by Chinese state media.

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Baybrook Remodelers' cack-handed SEO genius wants our unflattering coverage removed from the net


Remember Baybrook Remodelers, Ken Carney's Connecticut-based construction company who bully and sue disgruntled customers who leave negative reviews on Yelp and other sites? Well, now they've hired an SEO creep called Todd Ramos, who is hassling Techdirt to try and get their post about Baybrook taken down.

Ramos's campaign tactics include smearing Baybrook's victim (referring to her over and and over again as a "crazy woman"), and inventing imaginary conversations with Boing Boing in which we are said to be considering removing our own coverage. For the record, we are not. He also claims that we were hired by Baybrook's victim to post uncomplimentary things about Baybrook (we were not). And he claims to have "600 bloggers and 20000 blog as ranging in pr 4 to 7" through which he will smear Techdirt if they don't remove the post.

The most cack-handed part of this whole thing is that its founder, Mike Masnick actually coined the term "The Streisand Effect" to describe the knock-on publicity that arises from censorship attempts, because the attempt at censorship is often more newsworthy than the information that is under dispute.

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Turks bid farewell to the Internet in the face of brutal censorship/surveillance law

Turkey's brutal new Internet law grants the Turkish Telecommunications Directorate the power to arbitrarily censor Web-pages to the individual URL level, much like the Great Firewall of China -- meaning that specific articles that are critical of the state can be censored while leaving the remainder of the site intact. It criminalizes "harmful" Internet messages and hosting "harmful" content, and requires long-term data-retention by ISPs, meaning the state and police will be able to access records of your entire online activity. It will also mandate the use of deep packet inspection to detect and disrupt technologies for evading censorship and maintaining privacy.

The law was passed in a process rife with corruption, secrecy and other undemocratic irregularities. Turkey's #OccupyGezi uprising galvanized a diverse opposition that took to the streets against corruption and repression, spread using the Internet. It documented police brutality that shocked the world and uploaded the videos to Youtube. As the forces of reaction and oppression in Turkey move to consolidate their power, it's clear that this law is intended to prevent any further use of networks to organize and publicize opposition movements.

On Medium, Ahmet A. Sabancı has posted a poignant farewell to the Internet from Istanbul:

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Podcast: What does David Cameron's Great Firewall look like?

Here's a reading of a recent Guardian column, What does David Cameron's Great Firewall look like? which debunks the UK government's stupid arguments for its national anti-porn firewall:

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Writers Guild of America tells US government that copyright shouldn't trump free expression

The Writers Guild of America submitted an exemplary set of comments to the U.S. Government's Internet Policy Task Force green paper on the future of American copyright. The WGA calls for balance in copyright law, and stresses that censorship, surveillance and chilling of critical speech have no place in copyright policy. It's amazing to see artists' groups taking a stand for free expression when it comes to copyright -- far too often, arts groups are staunch free speech defenders except when it comes to unproven accusations of copyright infringement, which they hold to be sufficient grounds for arbitrary censorship.

But artists who think the issue through know that communications policies like copyright can't do their job if they compromise free expression. Artists have a wide variety of business-models and commercial opportunities, but if you're making art in a way that requires total surveillance and arbitrary censorship, you're doing art wrong.

Torrentfreak summarizes the best of the WGA submission. It's an important read: it shows that the entertainment industry's regulatory agenda doesn't serve the creators they employ (and exploit).

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