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Free speech is only as strong as the weakest link
November 27, 2011 12:44 AM   Subscribe

"Speech on the Internet requires a series of intermediaries to reach its audience. Each intermediary is vulnerable to some degree to pressure from those who want to silence the speaker. Even though the Internet is decentralized and distributed, "weak links" in this chain can operate as choke points to accomplish widespread censorship." Free speech is only as strong as the weakest link
posted by rjs (24 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, that's a good representation of exactly how fragile this whole thing we call "the internet" actually is, and why net neutrality is something which needs to be fought for tooth and nail.

All the great speeches about bypassing the printing press and democratization of information and such... none of that matters if the links in these chains are broken. Once there's no free movement of electrons between you and whatever source you seek, that source might as well not exist.

We live at the fulcrum of an interesting time -- one where there has never been greater potential for real democracy and information flow, and one where it can be thwarted by boardroom decisions made by faceless grey suits.

This is a great post. Thanks.
posted by hippybear at 1:02 AM on November 27, 2011 [31 favorites]


What hippybear said

*adds favourite*
posted by infini at 1:11 AM on November 27, 2011


Yeah, that's a good representation of exactly how fragile this whole thing we call "the internet" actually is, and why net neutrality is something which needs to be fought for tooth and nail.
Fox news has people so brainwashed on this thing that "Net Neutrality" actually means internet censorship, they think it means the application of the "Fairness Doctrine" to the internet, or something like that.
posted by delmoi at 2:21 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


This whole "series of intermediaries" meme makes more sense to me than the "series of tubes" meme. Will Forward this.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:07 AM on November 27, 2011


This is good.
posted by cashman at 3:36 AM on November 27, 2011


Constitutional rights to freedom of speech have to mean more than restrictions on government interference. If we are not actually able to speak freely then our right to do so is only a theory.

This is a case where constitutional rights have to be interpreted as binding on private actors as well as public, and therefore as requiring specific laws and regulations on private companies to support the ability of ordinary people to express ourselves in the 'public space' of the www.
posted by Philosopher's Beard at 3:58 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


This whole "series of intermediaries" meme makes more sense to me than the "series of tubes" meme.

That's because the "series of tubes" analogy was made by someone who didn't know what the hell he was talking about.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:55 AM on November 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


To what extent have permits to have public roads torn open, and to other such disruptive operations, been given to telcos under 'public good' arguments based on existing common carrier policy?

Because 'rah rah we built the infrastructure so of course we should do what we like' would sound quite buffoonish in that context.
posted by Anything at 6:33 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't believe the financial payments page doesn't mention Insex.

Instead of mounting an obscenity prosecution, the government used the PATRIOT act as an excuse to order credit card providers not to handle their transactions. Because, even though Insex's revenue stream was mostly funding Brent Scott's bondage toy collection that was somehow "funding terrorism." Insex folded rather than fight it, which was probably the sensible response on a personal level, but it established the precedent that made it possible for the private banks themselves to move against Wikileaks.
posted by localroger at 6:55 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


localroger: "I can't believe the financial payments page doesn't mention Insex.
"


What a horrific and shameful story. I never heard about this. I read this but not more info is given regarding the government's attack on the website. I would love to know how they made the connection between a bondage website and sponsoring terrorism. I can't see myself giving in as Brent Scott did. With $2 million coming in ever month just from subscriptions every month it would be worth hiring some very capable lawyers. It could be that he already made so many millions that it wasn't worth fighting. It could be that he already saw the decline in the online porn business thanks to the rise of the tube sites. It could be that while he wasn't sending money to terrorists there were other illegal activities going on . The reason not to fight it is moot. The important thing is the presumably unwarranted unjustified attack and the possible precedent it could have set for similar attacks on anyone/anything.
posted by 2manyusernames at 7:46 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


2many, the documentary goes into a bit more detail; there was also a Congressional committee holding hearings on "violent porn" and it seemed likely that new censorship legislation might be in the works; by ducking out Insex took away the momentum for that.

From the documentary it is apparent that Brent Scott was just a lot more interested in making erotic pictures than, well, just about anything else. Cyd Black says on camera that when he met Scott he (Scott) was pitching a temper tantrum about the bandwidth contract and threatening to shut the site down, and goes on to say he was something of a hothead who threatened to shut the site down every couple of weeks over something or other.

It's unclear how much money Scott saved, but it's important to remember that due to the tactic the government used, as of all this legal crap coming down he didn't have $2m per month coming in any more, and it was clear he was up against very powerful entities who specifically had it out for him.

I have been saying ever since that it was a horrible precedent, and it's been echoed in other areas, such as DMCA takedown notices and proposed laws to deny internet or social media access to various "bad guys." There seems to be a sense that these sanctions aren't as serious as prison and can be meted out more casually, perhaps even by unaccountable private businesses and without appeal.

There is a direct line running from Insex through Wikileaks to the opening chapter of The Handmaid's Tale, where all money is electronic and the new theocratic government simply makes your money disappear if you aren't a member of their church. Margaret Atwood wrote that warning more than a decade before Insex even opened for business, but it seems we didn't learn much from Reverend Niemoller.
posted by localroger at 8:19 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Encryption is a pretty strong "link" and negates inspection by the intermediaries. Why is this not considered?
posted by pashdown at 8:40 AM on November 27, 2011


I like the EFF's Deeplinks blog too. Example :
Ten Years After the Patriot Act, a Look at Three of the Most Dangerous Provisions Affecting Ordinary Americans

I'd agree they should add more examples, localroger, but they cannot realistically discuss everything. Worse, there isn't any discussion of the financial tactics in wikipedia's section on Insex's shutdown.

There is a security section on rise up.net that attempts to break down the various applications of cryptography for newbies, pashdown. Just fyi, Tor and HTTPS Everywhere are incredibly easy to use, ditto off-the-record messaging.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:53 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I browse NoScript, and I really enjoyed the message I got on that page before enabling Javascript for eff.org:
Total respect of course, but this page requires javascript.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:55 AM on November 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


WikiLeaks wins major journalism award in Australia
posted by homunculus at 9:50 AM on November 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a case where constitutional rights have to be interpreted as binding on private actors as well as public

Only in the most limited scope possible: where private actors have a government-sanctioned monopoly. I don't see much that needs to be done beyond classifying ISPs as common carriers.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:54 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


the government used the PATRIOT act as an excuse

Has the PATRIOT Act been used for anything but excuses?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:34 AM on November 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


jeffburdges, while the focus of the documentary Graphic Sexual Horror is mostly on other things, there is a chapter that makes the financial aspect of the shutdown crystal clear. Given the EFF's mission it seems almost impossible that they are unaware of this. And the only example they have on that page is Wikileaks.

An interesting side effect of the whole thing is that right now, the limits placed on BDSM porn websites are mostly set by the few credit card companies that will still deal with them. Those limits include things like model pre- and post-scene interviews so that the backstory is clear and that it's obvious the models are OK, not being abused, and so on, something that isn't clear about Insex's output at all unless you see the documentary.

Insex is largely out of business right now because Brent didn't acknowledge any limits at all. And while it seems it might very be his right to operate like that in terms of speech, it isn't in terms of getting paid, which is a rather insidious limit on speech which could very easily be applied to a lot of entities much less shocking than Insex. Such as, for example, a site devoted to enabling whistleblowers.
posted by localroger at 12:53 PM on November 27, 2011


I never thought about it this way exactly, but it is odd how pornography and "porn-stars" are legal yet prostitutes are, most places, illegal.

The government limits how we spend our money in all sorts of way and it's (most of the time) utter bullshit.
posted by Shit Parade at 1:02 PM on November 27, 2011


There is a rumor that wikileaks will announce some new submission system on thursday 1 december, btw.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:13 PM on November 27, 2011


Shit Parade, the short answer is that porn is speech and prostitution isn't.

It seems that a lot of the chickenshittiness of law's approach to porn lately has been due to a fear that more court rulings will relax the rules for porn even further.
posted by localroger at 1:38 PM on November 27, 2011


Oh, and the currently under consideration SOPA seeks to enshrine what was done to Insex and Wikileaks under cover of law:
Accused Web sites would have only five days to assert their innocence. And the payment providers and ad networks could not be sued by sites that were wrongly cut off, so their easiest course of action might be to just comply with copyright owners’ requests. If copyright owners could starve a Web site of money simply by telling a payment processor that the site was infringing on intellectual property, the bill could stymie legitimate speech.
Via Don't think of the children, think of the ideas.
posted by localroger at 2:34 PM on November 27, 2011


Some recent articles on related subjects: Yochai Benkler: WikiLeaks and the PROTECT-IP Act - A new public-private threat to the internet commons (PDF) and Derek E. Bambauer: Orwell's armchair (SSRN). To be honest I haven't read much beyond the abstract of either article, but I think they're both relevant to the roundabout-censorship thing.
posted by rjs at 10:17 AM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


PATRIOT Act clouds picture for tech
posted by jeffburdges at 12:30 PM on December 2, 2011


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