Where Are The European Regulators In Charge Of Protecting Freedom Of Expression?

from the good-question dept

Michael Scott points us to a blog post by Peter Fleischer, the Global Privacy Counsel for Google -- perhaps better known as one of the three Google execs to be convicted on criminal charges due to a video some kids uploaded to Google Video, which the Italian courts believe Google did not take down fast enough. In the blog post, Fleischer discusses the balance between the right to privacy and the right to free expression, noting that posting a photo online is part of free expression, but if that photo shows anyone else, European privacy laws suggest you may be guilty of violating someone's privacy (which is what Fleischer and the Google executives were convicted of doing). In discussing this balance, Fleischer notes that while there are plenty of regulators in charge of protecting privacy in Europe, there don't seem to be the equivalent regulators in charge of protecting freedom of expression:
Both freedom of expression and privacy are fundamental human rights. But those rights are not both equally enforced, protected or policed. There are literally thousands of data protection bureaucrats in Europe whose job is to enforce European data protection regulations. As far as I can tell, there is not a single government official in all of Europe whose sole job is to do the same for freedom of expression. Curious, no?

As I go to privacy-centric conferences where people invariably talk about the problems and risks of social networking sites, I'm often the odd guy out who seems to think that they're also precious platforms for freedom of expression. Lots of guys in power lecture about how lives or careers or futures are jeopardized by a single embarrassing photo posted to a platform....

A privacy regulator in Europe told me the other day that he thought it was a data protection violation for anyone to post a photo online if it captured someone's face or property without their consent. I asked him whether he thought this restricted the right to freedom of expression. He didn't seem to understand the question.
The right to privacy and the right to free expression are both important rights -- and they're certainly ones that can, conceivably, conflict. This is one case where figuring out where the line is drawn is important, and the lack of anyone fighting for freedom of expression in Europe suggests that only one side of the debate is being heard there.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Carl, Mar 9th, 2010 @ 3:28pm

    A freedom regulator... interesting concept.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2010 @ 3:29pm

    Right, what right?

    This whole 'right to free speech' or 'right to freedom of expression' is not regarded in Europe as a 'fundamental human right'. We just don't get as wound up about things like that....

    My personal thought is that we've succesfully ground down our belief in things like democracy, the rights of the individual etc. over the course of our history....whereas you Americans are still trying your history on for size. It's all squeky clean still and full of fresh idealism. Give it a few more hundred years and you'll be as ground down as your European brothers.

    ^_^

     

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  3.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Mar 9th, 2010 @ 3:39pm

    Re: Right, what right?

    I can see how, on the surface, Americans and Europeans might appear to have different degrees of commitment to free speech as a right... but honestly I imagine a hell of a lot of Europeans would object to the idea that they don't value free speech, or that defending it is "idealistic". Hopefully some will chime in and prove me right.

    Freedom of expression is pretty damn important. It would be idealistic to say "it's a right, and that's that" and pretend there aren't going to be countless grey areas and points for debate in clarifying that concept - but it would be downright stupid to leave the right of free speech out of policy considerations.

    If you disagree, I suggest you visit Iran and start engaging in political debate, reading alternative ideas and posting critical comments.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2010 @ 3:40pm

    Give it a few more hundred years and you'll be as ground down as your European brothers.

    What we may lack in progress, we're certainly making up with speed. A few hundred more years? - we'll get there before the end of Obama's term at the rate we're going.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2010 @ 3:59pm

    freedom - having no controls
    regulator - controlling

     

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  6.  
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    ChadBroChill (profile), Mar 9th, 2010 @ 4:09pm

    Re:

    +1

    We are consuming ourselves to death. As long as the gas flows and Toys'r'Us is open, most people can't be bothered to complain or question. It's just not worth it to the average Joe. With this mentality, they will wake up one day and say "What do you mean I can't lend this Blu-Ray to my neighbor? It's mine I can do what I want with it!" and not know how the **AA Police have the authority to arrest them.

     

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  7.  
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    vivaelamor (profile), Mar 9th, 2010 @ 4:17pm

    Re: Re: Right, what right?

    'I imagine a hell of a lot of Europeans would object to the idea that they don't value free speech, or that defending it is "idealistic".'

    While Britain might not have the best reputation right now for its lawmakers, examples such as Private Eye serve to show that freedom of expression is alive and well with those who aren't control freaks.

    Check out Wikipedias main photo for Parliament Square for another example of the lengths some will go to exercise their freedom of expression: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ed/Parliament_Square_5527-9.JPG

    I cannot think of anyone who would put their life on the line defending restrictions on freedom of expression in our country. But I'd not hesitate to put my name down for defending freedom of expression and I'd wager I'm not the only one. If that makes me idealistic then I'll be proud of the label.

     

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  8.  
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    Henrie Schnee, Mar 9th, 2010 @ 5:05pm

    I guess two world wars and their aftermaths have given us europeans a decent quantity of cynicism regarding those matters. Germany, for example, has the freedom of speech and the right to express oneself writen quiet prominently in the constitution, followed by a big "BUT", so it essentially reads "(1) Everybody has the right to express oneself in picture, sound and writing. There is no cencorship. (2) Of course, there is censorship."

    It's just plain kafkaesque! And the Italy-affair is just no surprise to anybody on this side of the pound, because we see the reason behind that ruling: He is, after all, the Rupert Murdoch of Italy, he's well connected to the Mafia and nobody here is stupid enough to hold any idealism about checks and balances. They never existed!

    Google stepped into Europe, terrified a lot of the old elites and must now suffer as a consequence. The very idea of making information available free and easy for anybody is downright DANGEROUS in the eyes of the few dozent guys who rule this continent.

     

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  9.  
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    abc gum, Mar 9th, 2010 @ 6:04pm

    Re:

    You may be right, because eight years under Bush 43 has seen the erosion of human rights at an unprecedented pace.

     

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  10.  
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    Henrie Schnee, Mar 9th, 2010 @ 6:06pm

    (by "he" I meant Silvio Berlusconi... sorry, it's to late to write coherent comments)

     

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    Jerry Leichter, Mar 9th, 2010 @ 7:29pm

    Beware of casting stones

    There are very significant differences in approach between the European and American systems. They have privacy watchdogs but limited free speech watchdogs; we have free speech watchdogs, but very limited privacy watchdogs. We have a very strong 4th Amendment protecting free speech, but no mention of privacy *at all* in our Constitution. Many European individual constitutions - and the EC as a whole - have privacy protections - as well as more limited free speech protections, in their constitutions. So who has "better" protections?

    Before insisting that American values are the only ones that make sense, it really helps to understand some of the alternatives. I very, very strongly recommend the following paper: The Two Western Cultures of Privacy:
    Dignity Versus Liberty, by James Q. Whitman. http://www.yalelawjournal.org/images/pdfs/246.pdf

    I'm not saying it will - or should - change your beliefs about what the best way to approach the tradeoffs are; but at least you won't find the beliefs of others quite so incomprehensible.

    -- Jerry

     

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  12.  
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    nasch (profile), Mar 9th, 2010 @ 7:56pm

    Re: Beware of casting stones

    The 1st Amendment protects freedom of speech, the 4th is for freedom from unreasonable search and seizure and other such protections. But you knew that already. :-)

     

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  13.  
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    Andris, Mar 9th, 2010 @ 10:58pm

    Re: Beware of casting stones

    Google's record in China says a lot for its commitment to freedom of expression.
    FoE is a fundamental right in Europe - see Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and check out the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the work of the various Council of Europe bodies.

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Mar 10th, 2010 @ 12:03am

    Re: Beware of casting stones

    There are very significant differences in approach between the European and American systems.

    No one said otherwise.

    Before insisting that American values are the only ones that make sense, it really helps to understand some of the alternatives.

    Quite aware of the alternatives. I'm not criticizing them from a standpoint of ignorance. I also frequently criticize the US gov't. I am a student of many different forms of government and regulations and such, and my positions are based on my knowledge of all of those things. I find it odd that if I criticize the US gov't it's fine, but if I criticize Europe, suddenly the assumption is I'm an ignorant American.

     

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    zenith (profile), Mar 10th, 2010 @ 1:55am

    I think everybody in Europe, has for generations, fought long and hard for freedoms of speech, without the presence of an "official regulator". Maybe, when that desire is ubiquitous in the psyche of a culture, it's not as necessary to have it regulated as it is for the Americans...

     

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  16.  
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    Bernard, Mar 10th, 2010 @ 6:36am

    Re: Re: Beware of casting stones

    ...the lack of anyone fighting for freedom of expression in Europe suggests that only one side of the debate is being heard there.

    Granted, you are no "ignorant American" :) ... but have you checked the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency? a branch of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security.

    You can also have a look at the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union...

    ... and last, a quick visit to the EU Court of Justice.

    And this is just at the EU bureaucrats level. Each member state has its own legal and judicial system.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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