Censorship News Issue 108
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo reached an agreement with the largest Internet Service Providers to remove all newsgroups — online discussion forums — used to traffic in child pornography. Out of the roughly 100,000 newsgroups in existence, the AG’s office identified 88 containing what it claimed was child pornography.
Cuomo used undercover investigators posing as subscribers who complained to the ISPs about the presence of child pornography. The “subscribers” cited the ISPs’ terms of service, which promise to take action against child pornography. When the ISPs failed to act, Cuomo threatened legal action alleging fraud and deceptive business practices.
In response, some ISPs removed almost all newsgroups hosted on their servers, regardless of their subject matter, cutting off subscribers’ access to tens of thousands of newsgroups devoted to subjects like politics, religion, labor unions, sports, medical support, military history, literature, music, television, science, software, foreign languages, adoption, and technology.
Newsgroups facilitate un-moderated peer-to-peer discussions and, hence, the free exchange of ideas. Some observers wonder if the companies were willing to purge their servers of newsgroups — going even further than the AG demanded — because doing so freed up a lot of expensive bandwidth.
In a 3-2 decision, the FCC has ruled that Comcast may not hinder customers’ peer-to-peer file sharing because it violates open- Internet principles. The ruling is sure to ignite more discussion of Net Neutrality (see CN #102 or ncac.org/netneutrality for more details).
The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, HR 1955, a proposed amendment to the Homeland Security Act, is Congress’s latest effort to counter domestic and international terrorism. The bill targets “violent radicalization,” defined as “the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political,
religious, or social change.’” It would establish a fact-finding commission and a university-based research center to assist security officials in preventing “violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism. ” One specific focus of study would be ‘terrorist related propaganda’ on the Internet.
HR 1955 passed in the House but remains stuck in the Senate, due to concerns from civil-liberties groups who fear that it may endup targeting religious, racial, and ethnic minorities, as well as political activists; and may lead to McCarthy-like security investigations and suppression of any speech that allegedly promotes an “extremist belief system.”
Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which plays a leading role in the legislation, also called on Google to remove YouTube “content produced by Islamist terrorist organizations” saying “the peril here is not to legitimate dissent but to our fundamental right of self-defense.”
Google at first defended YouTube’s “diverse range of views,” vowing not to “stifle debate but to allow our users to view all acceptable content and make up their own minds.” Now, however, in an apparent concession to Lieberman, it has agreed to remove videos “inciting others to violence,” in addition to videos containing hate speech and gratuitous violence. What material will be affected remains to be seen. The effect of official intimidation is already clear.
In August, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals became the sixth court to find the Child Online Protection Act unconstitutional. Congress has tried repeatedly to make it a crime to allow minors to access “harmful” material online but, as one judge noted, “Perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection.”