Internet and freedom of speech

The Guardian has two articles on the topic of internet and freedom of speech.

The first article is by Paul Chambers, a British national who was arrested in January for making an off-color joke on the popular social networking website Twitter amid frustration with flight cancellations at his local airport caused by icy conditions.


(…) Call me naive or ignorant, but the heightened state of panic over terror issues was not something I considered as relating to me in any way – until I was arrested, shoved into a police car in front of colleagues, hauled off to Doncaster police station, and interviewed for the rest of the day. My iPhone, laptop and desktop hard drive were confiscated during a search of my house. It was terrifying and humiliating.

I never expected to be charged, but a month later I was: not under the offence of making a bomb threat, for which I was originally arrested, but under the communications act for the offence of sending a menacing message. This first appeared to be an absolute offence, much the same as speeding: conviction does not depend on mens rea. For a stupid mistake, I was faced with the prospect of a career-ruining criminal conviction. After fresh legal advice it turned out I could argue I had no intention and awareness to commit the crime, and I could plead not guilty. Even after all the preceding absurdity and near-breakdown-inducing stress, I was confident common sense would prevail in my day in court.

Unfortunately,yesterday I was found guilty and ordered to pay £1,000 in fines and legal costs, which I have to find along with my own legal costs of another £1,000. I am considering an appeal, though I have no means, having left my job due to the circumstances. (…)

Whatever happens now, I remain terrified. Terrified of speaking my mind, terrified that my life has potentially been ruined. Most of the authorities could see it for what it was, and yet I find myself with a conviction because the Crown Prosecution Service decided it was in the public interest to prosecute. It would appear we live in such a hyper-sensitive world that we cannot engage in hyperbole, however misguided, without having civil liberties trampled on by, at best, heavy-handed police. (…)

The second article is by Gus Hosein; he argues that between government policy and deliberate vulnerabilities in the technology, citizens of most countries can be monitored online.


(…) Through a simple subpoena or unwarranted access, vast amounts of personal information on individuals may be accessible to government authorities, much of which would have been previously inaccessible. Tactics such as these are regularly used to discover the identities of journalists’ sources by gaining access to telephone and email logs so surveillance creates a hostile environment for free speech.

Over the years, governments in the US and Europe permitted our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to design vulnerabilities into our systems. Starting with the Clinton administration and later by standards developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, we designed our communications systems to provide wide-scale surveillance capabilities to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.(…)

Policy changes have also permitted expansive surveillance. Policies devised by the UK government were pushed through the European Union to require the retention of location, call and email transactional data for up to two years, to ensure that the governments can find you and identify with whom you have been speaking. Governments across Asia and Africa are keen to follow this European model of wide-scale unwarranted surveillance.

Companies are not without fault. We have permitted companies to design products that disregard privacy, and change their policies to suit their commercial interests. Recent changes on Facebook now make your interests more public; and we hear complaints of people being embarrassed by what is now publicly available. If you are an activist who lists a political affiliation, this information has gone from being private to dangerous. (…)


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