One of the things I enjoy most about academia is the emphasis on intellectual freedom even when expressing such freedom might be seen as problematic for the University’s commercial interests. Case in point: I was quoted in an article raising concerns that some universities’ contractual agreements to automatically transfer certain 5G telecommunications patents to foreign companies (based on research funded by the same companies) could be disadvantageous to domestic national security. One of the universities that is caught up in the issue is the one employing me. Despite my statements potentially being disadvantageous to my own university’s interests there are no rebukes but, instead, praise for being involved with national issues. If only all employers could be so similarly open-minded!
Basically, the Russian approach is all about instigating self-censorship. To do this, you need to draft the legislation as broad as possible, to have the restrictions constantly expanded – like the recent law which requires bloggers with more than 3.000 followers to be registered – and companies, internet service providers, NGOs and media will rush to you to be consulted and told what’s allowed. You should also show that you don’t hesitate to block entire services like YouTube – and companies will come to you suggesting technical solutions, as happened with DPI (deep packet inspection). It helps the government to shift the task of developing a technical solution to business, as well as costs.
You also need to encourage pro-government activists to attack the most vocal critics, to launch websites with list of so-called national traitors, and then to have Vladimir Putin himself to use this very term in a speech.
All that sends a very strong message. And as a result, journalists will be fired for critical reporting from Ukraine by media owners, not by the government; the largest internet companies will seek private meetings with Putin, and users of social networks will become more cautious in their comments.
In 2010 and 2011, many discounted and differentiated Julian Assange from mainstream journalists by comparing him to a spy or foreign agent, despite the fact that he was just doing what every major US journalism organization does: publishing leaked classified information in the public interest.
Well, the government alleges in Rosen’s case that he acted “much like an intelligence officer would run a clandestine intelligence source” and communicated his “clandestine communications plan.” This is reminiscent of a disturbing House Judiciary hearing last year where the committee’s lead witness compared the New York Times’ David Sanger to a spy, saying he “systematically penetrating the Obama White House as effectively as any foreign agent.”
By that language, the government is arguing journalism is now akin to spying, no matter if its WikiLeaks or the mainstream press.
Security signs that begin with ‘For your protection…’ essentially end with ‘…we will restrict freedoms & invade privacy’.
This, this is a case of Neil not thinking about the children, right? Right?
Even if Aaron’s intention was in fact to distribute the journal articles (to poor people! for zero profit!), that in no way condones his treatment.
But the terrifying fact I’m trying to highlight in this particular blog post is this: According to the DOJ’s testimony, if you express political views that the government doesn’t like, at any point in your life, that political speech act can and will be used to justify making “an example” out of you once the government thinks it can pin you with a crime.
Talk about a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
Chilling of speech is very, very real. And the things we’re learning in the aftermath of Aaron’s death only amplify concerns.
But first and foremost, Canada must get its own house in order. Thailand wasn’t the only country requesting that Google remove content; Ottawa did as well. What is most notable, and troubling, about Canada’s takedown requests is that an increasing number were not accompanied by a court order, but rather fell into Google’s category of “other” requests from the “executive, police, etc”.
This demonstrates that the government increasingly is bypassing formal and lawful processes in their attempts to get the compliance of private sector companies in their Internet censorship activities. Meanwhile, the government continues to resurrect Bill C30, despite widespread condemnation. The proposed electronic surveillance law would give the government unprecedented access to Canadians’ private online information without the requirement of a warrant.
If the Canadian government fails to respect freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and the rule of law in our own country, how can it expect other countries to do so in theirs?