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Speaker: Censorship is not the only enemy of free speech

19 Responses

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    The Tribunal would only deal with cases where it determined there had been a breach of the law.

    I'm sure it's explained fully elsewhere, but if it has to determine whether there had been a breach of the law, then it sounds like it's dealing with everything.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3009 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    We've seen intimidation and Internet censorship at work in Iran, to the point where democratic forces have boycotted and even bigger dicks than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are threatening to gain control. How did Ahmadinejad et al manage to succeed where Mubarak and Gaddafi failed?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4352 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Do you support the idea of an alternative tribunal able to provide speedy and efficient remedies for those who have been harmed by an offence on line?

    With reservations, yes. As a lower-level alternative to defamation action, which is expensive for both parties, the idea of a tribunal clearly has some merit.

    But we do need to bear in mind that tribunal systems can take on a life of their own. Broadcasters now have permanent resources devoted to complaints via the Broadcasting Standards Authority, which was supposed make life easier.

    The question of remedies needs to be considered very carefully. In most cases, the "putting right" should be sufficient, especially if the publisher subject to the complaint is co-operative.

    Even if that's not the case, official publication on a site with a higher Google ranking than the offending publication will see the finding ranked higher in results than the original -- especially if the tribunal takes advice on search engine optimisation.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18963 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Firstly, I'd suggest better education on internet use: that the best approach to annoyance/harassment is to simply killfile the offender and move on; that if you find a site obnoxious, you should simply not go there; that information on the internet can be posted by anybody and should be treated as nonsense until proven otherwise (akin to graffiti or pub chatter).

    I'd suggest that any dispute tribunal runs the risk of both being ineffective and being a channel of abuse. Most of the remedies above require that the offender be positively identified (and within the jurisdiction) which is an expensive and intrusive process, as well as easily circumvented, A tribunal may well wind up as a popular venue for NZ's many litigation addicts (both as plaintiff and defendant). Not to mention the wide scope for deliberate intimidation, such as is documented here: http://torrentfreak.com/dmca-horrors-of-a-broad-and-automated-censorship-tool-120304/

    The scope and utility of takedown orders would in any case be limited: many sites already have an effective complaints process, while others would refuse such orders from a foreign jurisdiction.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4463 posts Report Reply

  • Greg Dawson,

    Question - would this include ways to control the use of language that is threatening to individuals?

    I ask because there are certain places where the net allows the equivalent of a man standing on the corner of main street yelling how he's going to kill X politician (gruesomely).

    While it's vile and I don't want to encourage it in any way, it also seems like trying to control it would take place on a very slippery slope.

    I'm interested in what the proposed constraints would be, and how we'd avoid the pitfalls of say, english libel laws.
    ETA: Rich's example of DMCA takedown notices is a much better one.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 277 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Firstly, I’d suggest better education on internet use: that the best approach to annoyance/harassment is to simply killfile the offender and move on; that if you find a site obnoxious, you should simply not go there; that information on the internet can be posted by anybody and should be treated as nonsense until proven otherwise (akin to graffiti or pub chatter).

    I don't think you can assume that simply ignoring harassment will make it go away -- whether it's a matter of threatening behavior or simply harmful statements. And if false and damaging information about you is on the first couple of pages of Google results for your name, ignoring it won't change that.

    That said, you raise valid concerns.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18963 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    there are certain places where the net allows the equivalent of a man standing on the corner of main street yelling how he's going to kill X politician (gruesomely).

    Such people should probably be advised of the following...

    [Crimes Act]

    306 Threatening to kill or do grievous bodily harm

    (1) Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years who—

    (a) threatens to kill or do grievous bodily harm to any person; or

    (b) sends or causes to be received, knowing the contents thereof, any letter or writing containing any threat to kill or do grievous bodily harm to any person.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Alan Wilkinson,

    Our courts are simply a meat mincer for the ordinary citizen who cannot survive the onslaught of cost, delay, inaccessibility, hostile formality, bizarre precedent and complexity/rigidity of rules. They serve only the bureaucracies, the very wealthy and the large corporates.

    However my concern is that any attempt to redress the power imbalance should not further increase the ability of bureaucracies and large corporations to suppress and oppress the individual.

    Generally, the proper antidote for incorrect information is more information. This is particularly true for the internet where it is often impossible to stop misinformation spreading to other jurisdictions and media. Just as the traditional MSM has long been subject to requirements to publish retractions or responses so should modern media publishers. The exception to this of course is invasion of privacy, particularly via visual media. Again, once the offence is committed, it is likely to be near impossible to remove the offending material completely. In these cases only criminal sanctions on the perpetrator can be imposed effectively.

    Existing criminal sanctions are likely quite adequate. What should be considered is improving young people's ability to initiate appropriate criminal complaints and prosecutions. Regarding other misinformation the ability to require the publishers to issue retractions, refutations and corrections should be considered.

    Since Mar 2012 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to 3410,

    The closest NZ has come to online death threats was probably the CYFS Watch comments about Sue Bradford during the Section 59 controversy. Mind you, the maintainer likely had mental stability issues.

    Mark Middleton also came close, but that was in public rather than on the Web. Another controversy was aroused when Maxim hack Stephen D. Taylor remarked in a letter to the editor that Tim Barnett should be "put down like a rabid dog".

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4352 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to Alan Wilkinson,

    Just as the traditional MSM has long been subject to requirements to publish retractions or responses so should modern media publishers.

    And what's the use of retractions and corrections, if they're just going to be buried on a miniscule p2/p3 sidebar? The Daily Mirror at least had the cojones to front up (pun intended) about the "This Time It's A British Soldier" controversy.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4352 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Alan Wilkinson,

    Existing criminal sanctions are likely quite adequate. What should be considered is improving young people’s ability to initiate appropriate criminal complaints and prosecutions.

    Something like the Disputes Tribunal? Also: in the case of defamation, there's no criminal offence.

    Regarding other misinformation the ability to require the publishers to issue retractions, refutations and corrections should be considered.

    You'd think. But it's hard to require a publisher to say what you think they should say if the publishers has not volunteered to be subject to your jurisdiction.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18963 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Ooh. And look what's in the High Court today:

    A man's fight to have a defamatory post removed from an international website has been heard in the High Court in Auckland this morning.

    The man's case is a first according to his lawyer, Matthew McClelland, who said "the liability of an Internet Service Provider (ISP) is still at large in New Zealand".

    "It's a novel question."

    He told the court the case focuses on three key questions.

    What is Google New Zealand's responsibility, is Google a publisher and does the innocent dissemination of defamatory material defence apply?

    The case hinges on a post that first appeared on an American "consumer advocacy" website called RipoffReport.com in 2008.

    It said 'A', who worked in the medical profession in New Zealand, had been caught masturbating over photographs of children.

    It included his name, address, profession and contact information.

    However, other than an alias including the word 'Kiwi', the site did not reveal anything about the person who wrote the post or how to get in contact.

    McClelland said his client denied the claims made in the post.

    When 'A's name was typed into a search engine such as Google or YahooXtra, the link and a snippet from the post appeared high up in the search results.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18963 posts Report Reply

  • Alan Wilkinson, in reply to Russell Brown,

    "Something like the Disputes Tribunal? "

    No, more like the Privacy Commissioner, Ombudsman or Serious Fraud Office. The purpose is to pursue and prosecute the case on behalf of young people through existing channels rather than create a separate judicial entity.

    "Also: in the case of defamation, there's no criminal offence."

    In the case of young people it is more likely to be harassment, offensive behaviour or incitement. Possibly even identity theft or psychological abuse. These are criminal matters causing psychological harm rather than simple defamation.

    Since Mar 2012 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Russell Brown,

    A man's fight to have a defamatory post removed from an international website

    It's a bit hard to understand the article (which seemed to be informed by a lack of understanding of both the legal issues or how the internet works).

    But my non-legal guess is that the case will fail, either immediately or on appeal.

    In the event that the plaintiff does win, we'll probably see Google (&c) trying to remove their operations from NZ, either by closing the NZ branch, or making it a legally distinct agency arrangement.

    While it's obviously bad for the guy that he's being libelled overseas, the only real way NZ could stop this is to extend the DIA website filter to block such sites. I don't think we really want to go there.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4463 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    While it’s obviously bad for the guy that he’s being libelled overseas, the only real way NZ could stop this is to extend the DIA website filter to block such sites. I don’t think we really want to go there.

    Google does do takedowns on government request, although they’re creditably grouchy about it. Takedowns from NZ government requests were in single figures for the last six-month reporting period – not enough to be categorised, but likely to be the likes of court orders.

    There’s a map.

    They also recently, with none of the fuss that Twitter attracted, launched the ability to do country-specific takedowns.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18963 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    Talking of Twitter, what's up with it now?
    won't recognise my account, wont send me password reminder, wont recognise my phone number, won;t let me read without signing in. So, 'kin' useless.

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4870 posts Report Reply

  • Greg Dawson, in reply to 3410,

    Such people should probably be advised of the following...

    [Crimes Act]

    But with zero enforcement (in particular jurisdictions), does a law mean anything (in particular jurisdictions)?

    There's also the problem of separating the people who "really actually mean it" since the common defence is "it's just free speech, harden up you wuss" in classic kiwi manner.

    Of course, the fact that that defence is used at all ignores the abusive and damaging effects of such speech and places all the value on the threat being carried out (a discussion I think we've had before, but can't remember where).

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 277 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    But with zero enforcement (in particular jurisdictions), does a law mean anything (in particular jurisdictions)?

    Greg, I don't want to leave you hanging, so just a note to say that I'm unable to answer that. :)

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • Alan Wilkinson, in reply to 3410,

    There's a real problem with wilful ignoring of the <sarc> </sarc> brackets around comments, particularly those made by airline passengers fed up with extreme security delays. Often the reaction defies all common sense and is merely the exercise of power for the sake of it.

    Since Mar 2012 • 5 posts Report Reply

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