Revelations the past few days that the Internal Revenue Service has been giving special attention to conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status have converged with the news that the Justice Department has been seizing phone records of The Associated Press. Reaction from both camps has been outrage seasoned with constitutional fervor.
Not to overstate, but nothing less than free speech is at stake, about which no one should be confused.
Briefly, the IRS singled out specific groups with words such as “tea party,” “patriot” or “9/12” in their names for special scrutiny, including asking for donor lists. Needless to say, this would have a chilling effect on donors who prefer anonymity, but it also smacks of intimidation. The implication: Criticize the government and you will pay. Literally. The targeting, moreover, was not a rogue operation by some random field agents in Cincinnati, as originally claimed, but, according to The Washington Post, involved IRS officials in Washington.
“Outrageous” was the term President Obama used Monday during a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Obama promised to get to the bottom of it even though, as president, he can’t directly contact the IRS about a tax matter. This is owing to the legacy of Watergate, when then-President Richard Nixon used the IRS to intimidate his perceived enemies. The unavoidable comparison is, well, unavoidable.
Obama can rattle some cages, though, given his administration’s almost daily scandal production, he’s going to be a busy zookeeper for the foreseeable future. No sooner had the Benghazi hearing concluded than the IRS story broke, followed by reports of the Justice Department probe. The latter’s investigation pertained to reporters’ phone records over a two-month period affecting four bureaus, including the AP’s congressional office, and more than 20 lines potentially used by hundreds of reporters and, significantly, their sources.
Google has filed a rare petition to challenge an ultra-secret national security letter issued by the government to obtain private data about one or more of its users.
The extraordinary petition, which was filed under seal in the U.S. District Court of Northern California on March 29, comes just days after a U.S. District Judge in California ruled in a case brought by an unnamed company and the Electronic Frontier Foundation that so-called NSLs that come with a gag order on the recipient are an unconstitutional impingement on free speech.
On March 14, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ordered the government to stop issuing NSLs and to cease enforcing the gag provision in cases where they have already been issued. Illston, however, stayed her order for 90 days to give the government a chance to appeal her ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The recent Google challenge has also been assigned to Judge Illston.
(CNN) — Saudi Arabia may block access to popular Internet messaging applications like Skype, Viber and WhatsApp if telecommunication providers there don’t comply with rules and regulatory conditions, according to the country’s official news agency, SPA.
A statement from Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission released via SPA read, “The Commission emphasizes that it will take appropriate action regarding these applications and services in the event of failure to meet those conditions.”
The statement did not address how the applications in question — which allow Internet users to communicate with each other via text messages and voice calls — were violating any rules, but it did highlight the need for service providers in the country to quickly “work with the developers of these applications to meet regulatory requirements.” […]
“The sense that I get is weariness,” said Eman Al-Nafjan, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent bloggers, while describing the online reaction she’s encountered so far. “A shrugging shoulders — as if it’s typical.” […]
“I believe a big part of the reason why this is happening … is because lots of demonstrations that were organized in Saudi Arabia were done through the use of WhatsApp,” explained Al-Nafjan, citing recent small-scale demonstrations calling for the release of political prisoners.
In Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, protests are prohibited. Sixty percent of the country’s population is under the age of 30 and Internet usage there is soaring. […]
Saudi Arabia may try to end anonymity for Twitter users - paper Reuters
H/T Eman Al Nafjan @Saudiwoman. A few of her other recent tweets on (lack of) free speech the Middle East:
Imagine you lived in a country where Jon Stewart wld be under trial for being himself; that’s what Egypt has come to. huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/2013…
— Eman Al Nafjan(@Saudiwoman) March 30, 2013
For what it’s worth, The New York Times says the satirist, Bassem Youssef, was released on bail Sunday after several hours of questioning. Meanwhile, in Kuwait:
Kuwait activist jailed in widening crackdown on Twitter posts that allegedly insulted prince washingtonpost.com/world/middle_e…
— Eman Al Nafjan(@Saudiwoman) March 31, 2013
literal translation of offense Kuwaiti tweep is spending 2 years in prison for: “faulting the princely presence” ????? ?????? ???????? #PT
— Eman Al Nafjan(@Saudiwoman) March 31, 2013
It really does feel like year 1434 in the Middle East. #PT
— Eman Al Nafjan(@Saudiwoman) March 31, 2013
Heh, I believe that last one was a pun—the current year according to the Islamic calendar is 1434 AH, but she’s saying it feels like 1434 AD.
This story is about five days old, but I haven’t seen it posted here or heard anyone mention it, so I thought I’d post it since it’s a bit of good news (to me anyway).
Oddly enough, I found the link at Geller’s site after following one of the LGF front page stories over there and then poking around for a couple of minutes. Naturally, she was foaming at the mouth about it because it was… well, I don’t remember exactly, but Muslims always equal evil in her book, so it was put in a negative light.
The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on. Progress!
COPENHAGEN — When a would-be assassin disguised as a postman shot at — and just missed — the head of Lars Hedegaard, an anti-Islam polemicist and former newspaper editor, this month, a cloud of suspicion immediately fell on Denmark’s Muslim minority.
Politicians and pundits united in condemning what they saw as an attempt to stifle free speech in a country that, in 2006, faced violent rage across the Muslim world over a newspaper’s cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Since then, the newspaper that first printed the images, Jyllands-Posten, has been the target of several terrorist plots.
However, as Mr. Hedegaard’s own opinions, a stew of anti-Muslim bile and conspiracy-laden forecasts of a coming civil war, came into focus, Denmark’s unity in the face of violence began to dissolve into familiar squabbles over immigration, hate speech and the causes of extremism.
But then something unusual happened. Muslim groups in the country, which were often criticized during the cartoon furor for not speaking out against violence and even deliberately fanning the flames, raised their voices to condemn the attack on Mr. Hedegaard and support his right to express his views, no matter how odious. […]
I was very happy with Secretary of State John Kerry today as he talked of U.S. freedoms, but of course some will take umbrage simply because he’s John Kerry.
Yori Yanover files his story under “Anti Semitism” and then pretends that Kerry said things he did not. Yanover goes full Godwin right out of the gate:
Forgetting, perhaps, that he was in Berlin, former home to the most terrifying regime under Heaven,
Then he leaps right to this:
Then Kerry really turned it on, telling his audience how in the land of the free neo Nazis are permitted to strut in their jackboots and swastika wherever they feel like, even in the Jewish suburbs of Chicago.
Yes, this is true - we do let Neo Nazi’s demonstrate all they like, because we like to know who they are.
However Kerry’s analogy was not that specific - he never said “Skokie” - indeed the most recent Supreme Court rulings on Free Speech and hated demonstrators have involved the Phelps Clan. The German Youths that Kerry addressed are probably far more familiar with the “God Hates Fags” hate church than they are with the 36 year old attempted Neo Nazi March in Skokie that got moved back to Chicago in the end.
What Kerry really Said:
“People have sometimes wondered about why our Supreme Court allows one group or another to march in a parade even though it’s the most provocative thing in the world and they carry signs that are an insult to one group or another.”
So Yori, it’s just tough if you don’t like US freedoms, we like to know who the evil ones are which is exactly why we don’t ban their speech, demonstrations, or gatherings. It’s sad that you think we should say one thing at home and another abroad, and it’s sad that you need to drag the holocaust to a speech where it wasn’t referenced.
Sanal Edamaruku is a world-renowned author and rationalist currently facing a maximum sentence of three years in prison plus fines for criticizing the Catholic Church. As president of the Indian Rationalist Association, he is a fixture on Indian television where he provides a skeptical view about alleged miracles and paranormal claims. In 2012 Edamaruku investigated what was being called a miracle: a crucifix dripping water at Our Lady of Velankanni Church in Mumbai. He quickly discovered the dripping was actually caused by water seeping through the wall onto the crucifix. Edamaruku reported his results on TV-9 and criticized the Catholic Church for “creating” the so-called miracle and being “anti-science.” In response, the church demanded an apology and its supporters filed official complaints against Edamaruku. He was charged with violating 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code, also known as the “blasphemy law,” which prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” His lawyers are arguing that the law infringes on free speech and are requesting the courts declare the law unconstitutional. Meanwhile, he was refused bail and fled to Europe. In this interview he speaks about his work, his family, the criminal charges, and the dangers of the “blasphemy law.”
In November, police in Mumbai arrested a 21-year-old woman for complaining on Facebook about the shutdown of the city after the death of the nativist politician Bal K. Thackeray; another Facebook user was arrested for “liking” the first woman’s comment. The grounds for the arrests? “Hurting religious sentiments.”
Mr. Rushdie, who after the 1988 publication of “The Satanic Verses” became, to his chagrin, a human weather vane for the right to free speech, was to travel to Kolkata last week to attend a literary festival. At the last minute, he says, he was informed that the police in West Bengal would block his arrival. Local politicians chimed in to support the ban. “Rushdie never should have been invited,” an official in the party that rules the state told me. “Thirty percent of Bengali voters are Muslims.”
The organizers of the literary festival had held up Kolkata as the “cultural capital of India.” The notion that any cultural capital would try to silence speech — or punish artists who do speak out — is, of course, preposterous.
Not mentioned in the article but also relevant:
When water started trickling down a statue of Jesus Christ at a Catholic church in Mumbai earlier this year, locals were quick to declare a miracle. Some began collecting the holy water and the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni began to promote it as a site of pilgrimage.
So when Sanal Edamaruku arrived and established that this was not holy water so much as holey plumbing, the backlash was severe. The renowned rationalist was accused of blasphemy, charged with offences that carry a three-year prison sentence and eventually, after receiving death threats, had to seek exile in Finland.
I side with free speech even if it means protecting anonymous hate trolls in France. Hate speech laws just make the haters move underground, develop codes, and create clandestine organizations, it’s better when they can speak freely so you know who they are.
The French and German approach to this is wrong, and a violation of human rights. You have the right to hate, we have the right to know who you are except in the case where you live under oppressive speech laws. In those cases we must protect anonymity.
A French judge will decide this week if Twitter must hand over the identities of users sending anti-Semitic tweets. The case, brought against Twitter by a Jewish student organization, pits America’s free speech guarantees against Europe’s laws banning hate speech.
The controversy began in October, when the French Union of Jewish Students threatened to sue Twitter to get the names of people posting anti-Semitic tweets with the hashtag #unbonjuif, or “a good Jew.”
“If I type ‘un bon Juif’ … I can see it was full of tweets against Jews,” says Eli Petit, vice president of the Jewish student organization. “It was written, for example, ‘A good Jew is a dead Jew,’ ‘A good Jew is a burned Jew.’ “
Since then, a spate of racist and homophobic tweets — with hashtags equivalent to #ifmysonwasgay and #ifmydaughterbroughthomeablackman, in English — has followed, trending among the most popular in France.
The Jewish group’s lawsuit, demanding the identities of users who tweeted comments with anti-Semitic hashtags, is now backed by the country’s biggest anti-racism groups and the French government. Petit says they’re hopeful about the judge’s decision.
“We know that we’ll create a precedent in justice and … all these hateful speeches will be condemned, and this feeling of impunity for the people that posted these tweets will be erased,” he says.
WHEN dozens of countries refused to sign a new global treaty on internet governance in late 2012, a wide range of activists rejoiced. They saw the treaty, crafted under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as giving governments pernicious powers to meddle with and censor the internet. For months groups with names like Access Now and Fight for the Future had campaigned against the treaty. Their lobbying was sometimes hyperbolic. But it was also part of the reason the treaty was rejected by many countries, including America, and thus in effect rendered void.
The success at the ITU conference in Dubai capped a big year for online activists. In January they helped defeat Hollywood-sponsored anti-piracy legislation, best known by the acronym SOPA, in America’s Congress. A month later, in Europe, they took on ACTA, an obscure international treaty which, in seeking to enforce intellectual-property rights, paid little heed to free speech and privacy. In Brazil they got closer than many would have believed possible to securing a ground-breaking internet bill of rights, the “Marco Civil da Internet”. In Pakistan they helped to delay, perhaps permanently, plans for a national firewall, and in the Philippines they campaigned against a cybercrime law the Supreme Court later put on hold.
“It feels like when ‘Silent Spring’ was published,” says James Boyle, an intellectual-property expert at Duke University, North Carolina. The publication of Rachel Carson’s jeremiad on the effects of pesticides in 1962 is widely seen as marking the appearance of modern environmental awareness, and of the politics that goes along with it. Fifty years on, might the world really be witnessing another such moment, and the creation of another such movement—this one built around the potential for new information technology to foster free speech and innovation, and the threats that governments and companies pose to it?
Members of a national right-to-die group are challenging a Minnesota assisted-suicide law.
The group Final Exit Network and four of its members were indicted in May in the 2007 suicide of a Minnesota woman. The 17-count indictment alleges the defendants violated state law prohibiting people from assisting, advising or encouraging suicide.
Defense attorneys say the statute is unconstitutional, and criminalizes free speech. They are asking a judge to dismiss the counts related to that assisted-suicide statute.