Web censorship in Finland

Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 4:28 | Posted in censorship, Finland, Freedom of speech, information, internet, transparency | 4 Comments
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When you talk about governments censoring the Internet, you would be most likely to think of countries like China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Cuba etc. As I wrote in my previous post, an attempt to block a whistle blower site was recently made by the US judicial branch. As it turns out, Finland has also joined the notorious countries where government agencies under the noble pretext of fighting child pornography are actually blocking a large number of sites that have nothing to do with child pornography.

Some of the censored sites just incidentally happen to be critical about the censorship itself, including this one operated by Matti Nikki. Matti explains exhaustively in English about the background of his site and the censorship issue. Additional information in English and related links can be found in this article by Electronic Frontier Finland.

The Finnish Parliament last year past a legislation in 2006 allowing the National Bureau of Investigation to comply a list of foreign based web sites allegedly including child pornography. The list was supposed to be sent to Internet service providers together with a request to block access to the listed sites. The black list was supposed to be strictly targeted.

Anybody trying to access the listed URL’s in Finland was supposed to be directed to a NBI page informing about the denied access (here displayed by Matti Nikki). Since my ISP has not (yet?) implied the filter, I am currently able to access both Matti’s site and every other black listed site. I am among other things able to establish that blocking all of the Japanese web portal www.iij4u.or.jp can hardly be described as “strictly targeted filtering”. Among other censored sites I fail to understand what this Japanese music store may have to do with child pornography.

The NBI refuse to comment their black list in public. They also refuse to answer the obvious question why they have not made the courtesy of e-mailing their colleagues in the FBI and European law enforcing agencies about sites actually containing child pornography. One must assume they have not informed their colleagues as the sites are still visible. That also raises the obvious question whether their intention was not to block legitimate critical web contents rather than child pornography.

Electronic Frontiers Finland has filed a complaint to the Chancellor of Justice about the legality of the NBI filter list. The complete complaint (in Finnish) can be accessed here. Among their many questions to the Chancellor is how come Matti Nikki’s site landed on the list although it is completely based in Finland and the law allows only foreign based sites to be filtered.

Culture of transparency

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 at 0:43 | Posted in Germany, great britain, internet, transparency, video, youtube | 5 Comments
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A month ago I uploaded to YouTube a funny video featuring German soldiers in Uzbekistan having some off duty fun. I wanted to contribute to the popular footage being accessible in the Internet after receiving information that the German Bundeswehr were anxious to get it down from the web and had apparently succeeded in persuading everybody who had uploaded it before me to take it down.

Shortly after uploading the video I received some anonymous correspondence. The first letter had a somewhat harsh tone. I was outright threatened with legal action with implications to criminal charges.

As soon as the language of those messages was changed from German to English, the tone also shifted to more appealing and conciliatory. The person writing to me implyed to be one of the persons appearing on the video and said it would be “helpful” to get it down. When I promised anonymity in exchange of information on the Bundeswehr activity in the matter I was promptly told that the army had not approached them to get it down.

Had I been convinced that there were real soldiers out there getting in trouble because of the video, I would have been likely to take it down. Since I had information from several sources that the Bundeswehr were indeed making an effort to get the footage out of the web and only one anonymous source saying the opposite I felt I needed some sort of confirmation to do anything. I pointed out that any information passed to me would be priviliged under confidentiality of sources of a journalist.

The correspondence promptly stopped as soon as I wrote back a message saying this. For all I know the person writing to me may have been somebody from the Bundeswehr staff trying to fool me into complying so I decided to leave things as they are. I have not heard anything about it in more that three weeks other than occasional comments added in YouTube, all of which are positive.

In contrast to the German military officials, the British Army seems to be very supportive of their service men’s off duty activities of this sort. This home coming video posted by British soldiers in Iraq is a proof of it: the end titles even appreciate that the local commander was encouraging the project.

I do not know if there is a difference between the British and German senses of humor or in the culture of transparency. Maybe the German forces just feel embarrassed to recognize that soldiers have an off duty life. What I do know, however, is that there is no way to actually pull back something which has been spread allover the Internet.

Edit: There is more to the topic in RA-Blog and StoiBär Blog.

What’s the point?

Monday, May 28, 2007 at 22:51 | Posted in censorship, great britain, transparency | Leave a comment
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Prime ministerial swearing seems to be a sensitive topic in Britain, according to the Observer:

Alastair Campbell has toned down his diaries about life in Number 10 after being asked by friends of the Prime Minister not to reveal that Tony Blair swears like the proverbial trooper.

 Now that everybody knows, what’s the fucking point in censoring those bloody diaries?

Kafkaesque court practise in Germany

Saturday, December 9, 2006 at 22:43 | Posted in absurd, censorship, Freedom of speech, Germany, Legal, Press freedom, transparency | 3 Comments
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This post is about surreal matters which is why I think it would be proper to begin it with a quote of a surreal masterpiece of writing. The text is from The Trial by Franz Kafka, translation Copyright (C) 2003 by David Wyllie:

But K. should not forget that the trial would not be public, if the court deems it necessary it can be made public but there is no law that says it has to be. As a result, the accused and his defence don’t have access even to the court records, and especially not to the indictment, and that means we generally don’t know – or at least not precisely – what the first documents need to be about, which means that if they do contain anything of relevance to the case it’s only by a lucky coincidence. If anything about the individual charges and the reasons for them comes out clearly or can be guessed at while the accused is being questioned, then it’s possible to work out and submit documents that really direct the issue and present proof, but not before.

Conditions like this, of course, place the defence in a very unfavourable and difficult position. But that is what they intend. In fact, defence is not really allowed under the law, it’s only tolerated, and there is even some dispute about whether the relevant parts of the law imply even that. So strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a counsel acknowledged by the court, and anyone who comes before this court as counsel is basically no more than a barrack room lawyer.

On Sunday (3rd December 2006) I wrote about transparency of legal proceedings in light of a mouth gag court order placed by Landgericht Berlin upon Rolf Schälike. The court forbids Mr. Schälike to comment in his web site a civil dispute between himself and lawyer Helmuth Jipp or allow commenting it. A similar mouth gag was placed on Thursday in Berlin on the newspaper Junge Welt.

The paper was sued by the prominent criminal investigator Gerhard Lehmann who is known as the number one terrorist hunter in Germany. His activities have attracted wide attention both within Germany and abroad. He has appeared in the Lebanese Television and he has been interviewed by comissions undertaking parliamentary investigations in the German Bundestag and the European Parliament.

On 23rd February 2006, Junge Welt pointed out Gerhard Lehmann as the mysterious intelligence officer “Sam” who had interviewed the German citizen Khaled Al-Masri when he was held detained in Afghanistan within the notorious secret CIA prison programme. Al-Masri said that he is 90 % certain that Lehmann is indeed the same person as “Sam”. Lehmann obtained a court order in June banning the paper from publishing suggestions with that content.

After a critical article in Junge Welt against the court itself, another court order was issued mouth gagging the paper altogether from publishing anything related to the case. According to the court, there was no public interest in reporting a civil process started by the intelligence officer who has already been a subject of wide international publicity. On Thursday, the court overruled the first order, allowing Junge Welt to identify Mr. Lehmann as “Sam” but upheld the gag on the trial.

Mr. Lehmann’s lawyers are reported to have taken legal actions against other publications that have pointed out him as “Sam”. Meanwhile, the publishers of Junge Welt, Verlag 8. Mai, have authorised their lawyer Johannes Eisenberg to “take further legal steps” which I could imagine to be an appeal or a countersuit, possibly both. The CEO of Verlag 8. Mai is being threatened with a fine of up to 250.000 € or detention up to six months in case the paper should fail to comply with the court order.

I started this post with a quote of Franz Kafka. I think it is appropriate to quote two sentences from Rolf Schälike here:

Die Demokratie und der Rechtstaat muss immer wieder verteidigt werden. Versuchen, mit rechtsstaatliche Mitteln, den Rechtsstaat zu Grunde zu richten, muss entschieden entgegen getreten werden.

Kafka wrote his legendary story for almost one hundred years ago. I wonder if he believed that such kafkaesque court practises would be the daily bread and butter of early 21st century. The reality is almost more surreal than Kafka could ever imagine.

No wonder that I could not resist the temptation of pulling a practical joke as I was testing the call out feature of my brand new Skype account. I left a voice mail message presenting myself as “Abmahnanwalt Scheissenstiefel” to Thomas Klotz who received a cease and desist letter for publishing and commenting short quotes of a legal document in another court case. I hope Thomas has the sense of humor I believe he has.

Sources for this article:

Marcel Bartels and Ewald T. Riethmüller (both present in chambers on Thursday) and further Junge Welt, Udo Vetter, Rolf Schälike, German American Law Journal, Telepolis and Fairpress.

Edit: New York Times published a comrehensive article about the background of Khaled Al-Masri’s detention in February. via Thomas Klotz

Out of balance

Sunday, December 3, 2006 at 22:24 | Posted in democracy, Freedom of speech, Germany, Legal, transparency | 4 Comments

Independent courts of law are an essential part of a democratic society. The judiciary branch of government is a part of the classical separation of powers. In ideal the courts of law complete and balance the influence of legislative and executive branches.

In order to fulfil its functions as a part of a democratic society, the process of law must be open and transparent. The citizens must have access to legal proceedings. Describing and commenting issues around legal proceedings falls under freedom of speech which is one of the fundamental civil liberties in a democracy.

In this context I found extremely odd that a German court (Landgericht Berlin) issued the following court order against Rolf Schälike:

Einstweilige Verfügung vom Landgericht Berlin (Az.: 27 O 1264/06).

Verboten wird:

identifizierend über privatrechtliche Auseinandersetzungen zwischen dem Antragsgegner und dem Antragsteller zu berichten und/oder berichten zu lassen, wie auf der Internetseite http://www.buskeismus.de unter der Überschtrift “Fall Helmuth Jipp” geschehen.

Antragsteller war Anwalt Helmuth Jipp, vertreten von Anwalt Dominik Höch von der Kanzlei Schertz.

The court order essentially places a mouth gag on Rolf Schälike to comment a civil dispute between him and lawyer Helmuth Jipp. From what I have learned from my sources, the original argument could be more or less described as peanuts. Mr. Jipp was apparently not happy that Mr. Schälike disclosed in the web that the lawyer has his office at his home.

So what? Publishing something like that should not constitute an infringement on privacy. On the contrary, I would find a detail like that symphatetic. Working in a home office shows an environmental concern and a capability to take advantage of modern office and communication technologies.

While the issue as such is not of a great importance, it is extraodinary that a mouth gag like that is sought and issued in a court of law. It does seriously limit both the transparency of the legal proceedings and ultimately also freedom of speech. It is a serious indication that the balance of powers is out of scale in Germany since the judiciary branch does not seem to be eager to protect freedom of speech.

Presidential health

Friday, August 4, 2006 at 21:35 | Posted in health, Media, Politics, transparency, TV, USA | 1 Comment
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According to the BBC, the Cuban state run television has dismissed the calls of George W Bush for Cubans to work for a transition towards democracy as “the epitome of delirium”. Baring in mind that this was one of the few sober statements by president Bush that I can recall for quite some time, I find it a bit odd to be refering in this context to the drinking problem he used to have years ago.

Speaking of presidential health, the Cuban TV might just as well give us an honest account on their own president’s health. How is Fidel doing? Please tell us.

And as we are speaking of presidency, how is his brother Raul doing? When will we see him appear in public? I take it that he has no health problems?

A mockery of transparency

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 17:01 | Posted in eu, transparency | Leave a comment

Nicholas Watt writes in the Guardian about the selective Internet coverage of EU’s ministerial meetings. The pilot transmission was supposed to cover the meeting of EU’s finance ministers. All the important discussions were screened off while the webcast covered mainly ministers reading their prepared statements on issues that were made public for ages ago.

This is of course a mockery of transparency. On the other hand, if the meetings were covered from beginning to end, all important discussions would propably take place in informal gatherings.

Bringing in transparency to a traditionally conspiratory organisation is like eating soup with a spoon full of holes.

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