I have no idea whether or not this speech might herald Oprah’s potential entry into politics as a candidate, or as an effort to leverage her reputation and power to equalize power imbalances in the media and entertainment space, or as part of another activity that she plans on undertaking. What I do know is that her speech is amazingly powerful and has parallels with some of the best speeches of Obama that launched him as a candidate: if this was her political ‘coming out’ speech then it’s remarkably impressive in its accessibility to the general public and depth of meaning and importance to the public writ large.
There is a photograph being shared in Facebook of a woman cowering in a corner, eyes downcast, as large man standing in the foreground swings his fist at her head. The caption reads, “Women deserve equal rights. And lefts.”
This is a particularly good, if depressing, discussion of Facebook’s treatment of violence towards women, masquerading under the guise of a Millian-attitude towards protecting speech.
Although some of the core supporters of that group are prone to violence and criminal behaviour, Catt has never been convicted of criminal conduct in connections to the demonstrations he attended. Nonetheless, Catt’s personal information was held on the National Domestic Extremism Database that is maintained by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit. The information held on him included his name, age, description of his appearance and his history of attending political demonstrations. The police had retained a photograph of Mr Catt but it had been destroyed since it was deemed to be unnecessary. The information was accessible to members of the police who engage in investigations on “Smash EDO”.
In the ruling the Court of Appeal departs from earlier judgments by mentioning that the “reasonable expectation of privacy” is not the only factor to take into account in determining whether an individual’s Article 8 (1) right has been infringed. In surveying ECtHR case law, the Court noted that it is also important to check whether personal data has been subjected to systematic processing and if it is entered in a database. The rationale to include consideration of the latter two categories is that in this way authorities can recover information by reference to a particular person. Therefore, “the processing and retention of even publicly available information may involve an interference with the subject’s article 8 rights.” Since in the case of Catt, personal data was retained and ready to be processed, the Court found a violation of Article 8 (1) that requires justification.
- Carolin Moeller, “Peaceful Protester’s personal data removed from extremism database”
The removal of Mr. Catt’s data from these databases is a significant victory for him and all those involved in fighting for citizens’ rights. However, the case acts as a clear lens through which we can see how certain facets of the state are actively involved in pseudo-criminalizing dissent: you’re welcome to say or do anything, so long as you’re prepared to be placed under perpetual state suspicion.
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.
An inspiring commencement speech from Neil Gaiman on creativity and art in the 21st century
The problem … was that the surveillance technology sold to Iran in 2008 is standard “lawful intercept” functionality required by law in Europe, so that police can track criminals. Unfortunately, with the same technology in the hands of a regime that defines “crime” broadly to include political dissent and “blasphemy,” the result is an efficient antidissident surveillance machine.
It’s time to stop debating whether the Internet is an effective tool for political expression, and to move on to the much more urgent question of how digital technology can be structured, governed, and used to maximize the good it can do in the world, and minimize the evil.