Heavy Handed Online & Censorship Laws Have Chilling Effect On Public Knowledge & Citizen Media

A huge issue in recent weeks in the US has been the two proposed laws, SOPA and PIPA. Both are intended to drastically control the internet. There is also a similar bill called RWA. All of these proposed laws are being promoted by some very large multinational corporations involved in entertainment, media, fashion & beauty and publishing.

How do these have anything to do with the Fukushima Daiichi diaster? They have everything to do with the ability of citizen media and crowd sourced research to exist and function.

Quick view, what are these laws:

The originally proposed bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Depending on who makes the request, the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites. The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for ten such infringements within six months. The bill also gives immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites dedicated to infringement” via Wikipedia 

The stated goal of giving the US government and copyright holders additional tools to curb access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods“, especially those registered outside the U.S ”  The bill provides for “enhancing enforcement against rogue websites operated and registered overseas” and authorizes the United States Department of Justice to seek a court order in rem against websites dedicated to infringing activities, if through due diligence, an individual owner or operator cannot be located.[10] The bill requires the Attorney General to serve notice to the defendant.[11] Once the court issues an order, it could be served on financial transaction providers, Internet advertising services, Internet service providers, and information location tools to require them to stop financial transactions with the rogue site and remove links to it.[12] The term “information location tool” is borrowed from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and is understood to refer to search engines but could cover other sites that link to content.[13]

The Protect IP Act says that an “information location tool shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures, as expeditiously as possible, to remove or disable access to the Internet site associated with the domain name set forth in the order”. In addition, it must delete all hyperlinks to the offending “Internet site”.

Nonauthoritative domain name servers would be ordered to take technically feasible and reasonable steps to prevent the domain name from resolving to the IP address of a website that had been found by the court to be @dedicated to infringing activities.@[15] The website could still be reached by its IP address, but links or users that used the website’s domain name would not reach it. Search engines—such as Google—would be ordered to “(i) remove or disable access to the Internet site associated with the domain name set forth in the [court] order; or (ii) not serve a hypertext link to such Internet site.”[16]  Trademark and copyright holders who have been harmed by the activities of a website dedicated to infringing activities would be able to apply for a court injunction against the domain name to compel financial transaction providers and Internet advertising services to stop processing transactions to and placing ads on the website but would not be able to obtain the domain name remedies available to the Attorney General. via Wikipedia

No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that–
1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or
(2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.
via Pharyngula

The recent news media hacking & spying scandal in the UK uncovered the illegal and unethical lengths corporations will go to and how their efforts can be used to manipulate the sitting government.  They were used not to just get information on stories but to intimidate people with that gathered information. The UK is now considering stronger hacking/spying laws.

There is also the instance of the “Harmful Rumors” law in Japan. This vague law made it illegal to say anything that could be deemed a “harmful rumor”. The law was enacted after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster and was so vague in its description that anything the government found unpleasant or inconvenient could be interpreted as “harmful rumor”.  More details on the harmful rumor law and how it has been used against citizen media can be found here. http://shingetsublog.jugem.jp/?eid=75

Why are these laws so harmful and how do they impact people outside the home countries?

These laws (and proposed laws) are most damaging in their arbitrary nature. Many technology companies and US government organizations have come out against the two US laws saying they would negatively impact the global stability and security of the internet. These laws would allow a large corporation with deep pockets of cash to not just take down a website but prevent them from accessing financial assets, accept or process payments and would force search engines to block them. There is also no warning or due process system for the target of the action to defend themselves.

It is not clear if US based search engines like Google would be forced to block the same site on their foreign subsidiary search engines in other countries. It would be expected if a legal reason could be found this would also be pursued. These proposed laws go further and require any US internet service provider and DNS (domain name servers) server to actively block any website put on the list of “rogue sites”.  This could negatively impact domain name traffic and web traffic globally if any US infrastructure is involved in the traffic. These two proposed laws would also allow any company with a US base of operations to block any foreign website they deem inconvenient if they can concoct a copyright infringement excuse. It is quite easy to see how these proposed laws could be abused. SOPA also carries the possibility of prison sentences.

The RWA law is being pushed in the US by private sector international research publication company Elsevier.  The US has a mandate that publicly funded research must have the resulting research papers made free to the public. The NIH system for journal articles is critical to worldwide information access. This too could have further reaching implications outside the US where any research entangled in the US law would be unavailable.

Elsevier has a horrible reputation in academia for incredibly high prices for access to any journal materials in their control. The company has managed to hold hostage large bodies of important research behind a pay wall with insanely high prices. Many institutions are considering dropping all Elsevier subscriptions and preventing any university research from being published within Elsevier’s controlled journals.

The RWA proposed law would not benefit the actual researchers writing the material, it would however greatly line the pockets of the publishing company. Such a law would not only prevent researchers and professionals in developing countries from accessing important research is would heavily restrict access to the body of knowledge from citizen media sources such as blogs, individual issue reporting and crowd sourced knowledge centers such as fukuleaks.org/web. Access to important research articles is already a huge problem for our group and others like us. This law would even further hinder access of scientific and medical information by the general public. Just imagine how hard sorting out the human impact of Fukushima would be without any access to the existing body of knowledge on radiation science and health!

We have already seen how these kinds of laws negatively impact blog writers, independent journalists and anyone trying to share knowledge online.

The Japanese “harmful rumors” law had a major chilling effect online. Many Japanese contributors disappeared soon after the rumors law was put in force out of fear they would be targeted. People who have continued to report on the Fukushima Disaster in a way the government found inconvenient found themselves harassed and interrogated by authorities. The author of Fukushima-Diary found himself being interrogated by officials and accused of being an “international criminal”. Read his very disturbing account here.

People writing about Fukushima outside Japan have found themselves on the receiving end of bizarre harassment and intimidation by groups originating in Japan. It is not clear if these were government sanctioned groups or if they were working on behalf of corporate interests. Citizen reporting can get very ugly and sometimes hazardous to your health if you cross the wrong people as some have found out.

Private sector online services give some insight into how these US laws might work if passed. YouTube has had a policy of “takedown” for any video contested as infringing on someone’s copyright. No proof is required that the content is copyrighted and no proof is required by the complainer to prove they are who they say they are or are the copyright owner. The arbitrary system includes an automatic algorithm that many times incorrectly flags a video as infringing that isn’t. We saw a huge problem with videos of unit 3 being taken down. It has been a problem for any videos documenting the historic events at Fukushima, they are actively pursued for removal depriving the public of this body of knowledge. It is easy to see how the US proposed laws could be wielded by a company with an army of lawyers to remove anything online they find inconvenient.

The potential for big corporations to abuse these kinds of laws is considerable. Areva is currently entangled in two spying cases. One with Greenpeace who filed criminal charges on Areva for having Swiss company Alp Services spy on the group. The other being Areva’s former CEO who has accused Areva and Alp Services of spying on her.

It is easy to see how onerous ambiguous laws intended to cater to big multi-national corporate interests could be abused for their own ambitions to shut down any individual or group investigating their unethical or illegal behavior.

Frequently a citizen journalist or watchdog group uses materials from the corporate entity to prove the case against them. Photos, videos, manuals and correspondence all frequently are the evidence used to out some of the most dangerous and immoral activities. If a site can simply be taken down for using a piece of that corporations materials under the guise of copyright, public scrutiny could be squashed.

If these three new US laws are defeated, as we hope they will, it should be noted by all where large multinational corporations minds are and what they are willing to do to keep an upper hand.
These laws were originally proposed under the guise of stopping piracy of media and designer consumer products. There are now questions about how legitimate the piracy claims truly are. Both the GAO and a number of tech entities are showing that US industry claims of piracy damage and losses are both grossly over inflated and based on non-existent data.

Greenpeace has now weighed in on the SOPA battle:
But the spectrum covered by these texts is extremely broad and can leave a company to effectively paralyze any website in the world for as little as a violation of the reproduction of its logo without permission. And the irony is that this legal mechanism can be activated by a single complaint against the company site. No trial, no request for evidence, no court hearing.Freedom of expression threatened the freedom to act and take action too!
For an organization like Greenpeace, the threat is obvious: the majority of online protest activities contravene the Act. Nestle, Volkswagen and Mattel have been able to take action against us in the last 12 months. Net and stop our campaigns.”

Greenpeace France, USA and other locations have joined the SOPA blackout protests


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