My latest Publishers Weekly column is "Copyrights vs. Human Rights." In honor of Human Rights Day on Dec 10, I've written a piece on publishing's shameful support of SOPA, a law that will punish the online services that are so key to coordinating and publicizing human rights struggles around the world.
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The U.N. characterizes access to the Internet as a human right, and government research in the U.K. and in the U.S. shows the enormous humanitarian benefits of network access for poor and vulnerable families: better nutrition, education, and jobs; more social mobility and opportunity; and civic and political engagement. Yet the services that provide the bulk of these benefits—search engines, Web hosts, and online service providers like Blogger, Tumblr, Twitter, Wikipedia, and YouTube—could never satisfy the requirements set out in SOPA. The only way for these platforms to satisfy SOPA would be to all but shut off the public’s ability to contribute and to throttle free expression for all but those entities that can afford to pay a lawyer to certify that their uploaded material will not attract a copyright complaint.
Another group of important entities that could never satisfy SOPA are the civic-minded hackers and security researchers scrambling to improve the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS). In 2011, the DNS was attacked several times, including a breach attributed to the Iranian secret police, which used forged certificates to allow them to impersonate governments, banks, and online e-mail providers like Gmail and Hotmail. If passed, SOPA would ban the production or dissemination of tools that could subvert its blocks, and that would include tools the world’s technologists are creating specifically to help defeat government censorship and surveillance.
The head of Canada's secret police has asked the government to fight against a proposed ban on information gleaned through torture. The chief of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says that torture is essential to Canada's security in its fight against terrorism.
In the letter, Judd urges the minister to fight an amendment to C-3 proposed by Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh that would prohibit CSIS and the courts from using any information obtained from torture or “derivative information”: information initially obtained from torture but subsequently corroborated through legal means.
“This amendment, if interpreted to mean that ‘derivative information’ is inadmissible, could render unsustainable the current security certificate proceedings,” Judd writes.
“Even if interpreted more narrowly to exclude only information obtained from sources and foreign agencies who, on the low threshold of ‘reasonable grounds’ may have obtained information by way of torture, the amendment would still significantly hinder the Service’s collection and analysis functions...”
Bahdi said the prohibition on torture was part of Canadian law long before the C-3 amendment. But CSIS needs to be made accountable, she said. “There has to be a cultural shift in CSIS so they take seriously the prohibition on torture and understand it’s not there to tie their hands behind their backs so they can’t do their work, but to ensure that their work has some integrity. … If torture produced national security, the regimes in the Middle East would be the safest places in the world.” [emphasis mine]
Tumblr has rounded up the effects of its participation in American Censorship Day, a global day of protest of the prosed Stop Online Piracy Act, the worst proposed Internet law in American legislative history. Tumblr users did themselves very proud indeed:
Yesterday we did a historic thing. We generated 87,834 phone calls to U.S. Representatives in a concerted effort to protect the Internet. Extraordinary. There’s no doubt that we’ve been heard.
As the House of Representatives opens hearings on SOPA, the worst piece of Internet legislation in American history, it has rejected all submissions and testimony from public interest groups and others who oppose the bill.
Irony Alert: The House is holding hearings on sweeping Internet censorship legislation this week -- and it's censoring the opposition! The bill is backed by Hollywood, Big Pharma, and the Chamber of Commerce, and all of them are going to get to testify at the hearing.
But the bill's opponents -- tech companies, free speech and human rights activists, and hundreds of thousands of Internet users -- won't have a voice.
Chapel Hill police sent a heavily armed swat team to evict and arrest a group of some 80 Occupy Chapel Hill protesters who'd taken over a long vacant used car dealership (they also arrested members of the press covering the action). The police claimed the force was necessary because they'd been briefed that anarchist squatters use man-traps, and they believed this would be the case because the protesters had put banners in the windows and sited "strategic lookouts" on the roof. In other news: Chapel Hill police are credulous, dangerous dolts who set out to believe boogie-man stories about "anarchists" and seized on any rubric, no matter how farcical, they could find to support this a priori belief.
The brick and cinderblock building with large windows fronting the sidewalk is owned by out-of-town businessman Joe Riddle and has stood empty for many years. One demonstrator said they were acting in the tradition of working-class squatters' movements around the world that some say inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement and its offshoots across the United States.
The group printed a flier that proposed a possible new use for the space that would include a free clinic, kitchen, child care, library and dormitories, among other uses. The flier acknowledged they were breaking the law by entering the building.
"Make no mistake: this occupation is illegal," it said, "as are most of the other occupations taking place around the U.S., as were many of the other acts of defiance that won the little freedom and equality we appreciate today."
Back in May, I linked to the perverse tale of Byron Sonne, a Toronto hacker and security researcher who was caught up in the G20 dragnet, part of the overall campaign of illegal harassment, arrest and violence against protesters in the city.
Sonne's trial is underway now, and Denise Balkissoon is covering it in depth for OpenFile.ca. Balkissoon's coverage cuts through the legal complexities and tedium and gets right to the point, and is as good as courtroom reporting gets.
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This week, the Crown conceded that Toronto Police used a ruse in order to get Byron Sonne to hand over his ID on June 15, 2010. Sonne—otherwise known as the G20 Hacker, or the Anarchist of Forest Hill—had been filming the $9.4 million security fence that went up before the international summit. A security guard called the police, and three officers stopped Sonne as he walked along Temperance St.
One asked for his identification. Sonne refused, stating that he knew it was his right not to identify himself unless he was being detained for a specific crime. So, bicycle officer Michael Wong told Sonne that he was being investigated for jaywalking under the Highway Traffic Act. “This was simply a ruse employed to obtain the Applicant’s identification,” reads the statement of fact submitted by the Crown Attorney. “It worked.”
In Sonne’s preliminary trial last winter, all three officers agreed that none of them had actually seen him cross the street illegally. On November 10, Superior Court Justice Nancy Spies decided this ruse meant Sonne was unlawfully detained, and that his rights were violated under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has more information on Blue Coat, a US company whose "deep packet inspection" products are being used by the Syrian secret police with reportedly horrific consequences for Syrians who dare to express dissent online. Blue Coat denied knowledge of the products' use in Syria, then changed their tune after incontrovertible evidence surfaced. Now they've told the WSJ that they don't want their products used in Syria because it's illegal to sell technology to Syria.
But what they haven't said is, "We don't want our products used in Syria because they're being used to figure out who to kidnap, torture, and murder."
And they haven't said, "We'll stop selling our products to countries like Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia" -- repressive states (that are legal to sell technology to) where Blue Coat's products are used in the same fashion as in Syria.
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In other words, Blue Coat is only concerned about breaking the law, not about helping in human rights violations. Depending on the program, criminal penalties for violating OFAC regulations can range from $50,000 to $10 million with imprisonment ranging from 10 to 30 years for "willful violations."
Given Blue Coat's early denials, we're skeptical that their violation wasn't willful. As Andrew McLaughlin put it in a tweet, "Shame on Blue Coat. Their denials re knowingly assisting Syria censorship don't ring true."
Blue Coat's blatant lack of concern for human rights is alarming. There are far more repressive regimes in the world than there are embargoed countries.
According to Chinese activists, the production of a Hollywood movie called "21 and Over" from Relativity Media in the Chinese city of Linyi has led to human rights abuses. Local activists accuse the government of Linyi of horrific corruption and violence, and the arrival of the production crew has been attended by gangs of unidentified thugs who stone and beat activists, diplomats and journalists who try to visit the site.
In the past several weeks, dozens of activists and Chen's supporters have risked being violently assaulted to attempt visits to his home in a bid to draw attention to his plight. The latest group was made up of 37 petitioners who traveled there by bus from Beijing on Sunday and fled after being attacked by about 50 unidentified thugs as they approached Chen's village, said one petitioner, Peng Zhonglin, from Jiangxi province. Linyi police refused to comment when reached by phone.
Human Rights Watch's senior Asia researcher, Nicholas Bequelin, said it was puzzling that Relativity appeared comfortable cozying up with the city's political leadership.
"They seem to be eager to assume this role of being a prop in Linyi's propaganda campaign to cast itself as a civilized municipality that promotes culture when the reality is that it is not only holding one of China's most prominent human rights defenders, but going to extraordinary lengths to persecute him," Bequelin said.
Next week marks the inaugural Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference (AKA Rightscon) in San Francisco. This event will explore the role that technology plays in the expansion -- or elimination -- of human rights and the ways that technologists and high-tech firms can either help or harm humanity. In an age when American companies supply "deep packet inspection" technology to the Iranian government so that Iran's secret police can figure out whom to brutally murder (to cite just one example among many), this is an important question.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is dispatching several staffers to speak at the event, and they've provided a helpful guide to the more interesting sessions to keep an eye on.
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Google, a Rightscon sponsor and participating organization, as well as a member of GNI, is just one example of a company that has done a lot of thinking on human rights: its YouTube platform has been instrumental in getting news out of Syria, thanks to a policy that allows violent content to remain available if intended for documentary or educational purposes. And just this week, Google expanded its use of encryption technology to default to SSL search on Google searches.
Twitter, whose General Counsel Alex MacGillivray will be among the keynote speakers at Rightscon, is another company that has taken human rights under consideration when designing its policies, particularly when it comes to free expression. Another rights-thinking company is Mozilla, whom the EFF has praised for its stance on privacy.
On the lists of attendees and sponsors, EFF also sees several companies about which we have grave concerns.
Update, 715pm ET: I've been following live reports on Twitter from various sources, and the situation in Times Square sounds intense. By various estimates, 15-20,000 demonstrators have occupied the Square. NYPD are out in full force, including the Counter-Terrorism unit (photo below).
At least a dozen (maybe more) officers on horseback, and buses and paddywagons ready for mass arrests. Multiple sources on the scene describe police tactics aimed at, more or less, "kettling" people into a defined zone, surrounding them with nets, officers on horseback, and police with batons.
Here's a video uploaded a while ago that shows protesters near the "Toys-R-Us" at Times Square. And here's another, that gives a sense of the crowd density a couple hours ago. And here is another, showing mounted officers entering the area filled with demonstrators.
And below, via AntDeRosa at Reuters (a good one to follow today):
Occupy Wall Street protesters shout slogans against banks and economic system while they take part in a protest at Times Square in New York October 15, 2011 REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
There are various reports floating around on Twitter now that NYPD has been "authorized to use tear gas" against protesters. Some on the scene are tweeting that NYPD is ordering crowds: "Leave now and you won't get hurt."
The situation sounds volatile, and like a very large number of people (including families with children, and disabled persons who have limited mobility) are packed into an ever-shrinking space. Read the rest
Bloomberg News has published a two-part, first-person investigative piece by Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, on the lives of Filipina sex workers in Tokyo, Japan. To study the living and working conditions of these "hostess bar" migrant laborers, Parrenas became one.
The Bloomberg pieces are excerpts from her new book “Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo,” released this week by Stanford University Press.as is the book, for providing an unusual glimpse inside a world most of us will never witness first-hand.
In Counting the Cost: corporations and human rights abuses in the Niger Delta, Platform and a coalition of NGOs accuse Shell Oil of funding vicious conflicts between rival gangs in the Niger Delta, bribing local militias to gain access to oil, and contributing to terrible human rights abuses in the region, including devastation in the town of Rumuekpe and the slaughter of 60 people there.
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The gang became locked in competition witha rival group over access to oil money, with payments to one faction provoking a violent reaction from the other. "The [rival gang] will come and fight, some will die, just to enable them to also get [a] share. So the place now becomes a contest ground for warring factions. Who takes over the community has the attention of the company."
Platform alleges that it was highly likely that Shell knew that thousands of dollars paid per month to militants in the town of Rumuekpe was used to sustain a bitter conflict. "Armed gangs waged pitched battles over access to oil money, which Shell distributed to whichever gang controlled access to its infrastructure."
Rumuekpe is "the main artery of Shell's eastern operations in Rivers state", with aroundabout 100,000 barrels of oil flowing per day, approximately10% of Shell's daily production in the country. Shell distributed "community development" funds and contracts via Friday Edu, a youth leader and Shell community liaison officer, the report said, an exclusive arrangement that magnified the risk of communal tension and conflict.