US: India, Stop Censoring Websites! India: Wikileaks, Hello? US: That's Different!

from the hypocrisy dept

We’ve argued for a while that the US’s effort to censor websites at home while talking about internet freedom is hypocritical and takes away any moral high ground the US might have had with other countries concerning their efforts to censor the internet. What’s stunning, unfortunately, is how rarely US officials seem to recognize this problem. When confronted on it — they always revert to a “but that’s different!” claim, missing that this is exactly the excuse that other countries use to justify their own censorship efforts.

Case in point: there’s been significant concern in India, as the government has been censoring Twitter accounts of certain journalists and political groups, as well as blocking certain websites (sometimes just blog posts, other times, full websites). As that last link explains, the content targeted for censorship tends to have to do with content around “communal issues and rioting,” and thus there’s an argument to be made that the censorship is for the benefit of the public, to prevent riots. Even so, of course, one can question whether or not such censorship is even effective, let alone the rather obvious temptation for those in power to overblock for their own benefit. Indeed, that last link explains that there have been “egregious mistakes” in how the blocks have been carried out.

And what about the US? With plenty of attention being paid to the debate over this Indian censorship, the US State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, was asked her thoughts about what was happening, and trotted out the standard line about internet freedom:

“On the larger question of Internet freedom, you know where we are on that issue, and we are always on the side of full freedom of the Internet,” she said.

Which sounds great, of course, but if Nuland thought that such a blanket statement would let her off, she was mistaken. Reporters immediately hit back, pointing to examples of the US fighting against internet freedom in its own back yard. And Nuland apparently wasn’t happy, and pulled out the “but that’s different!” excuse:

But when she was probed on the issue of WikiLeaks, Nuland snapped: “WikiLeaks didn’t have to do with freedom of the Internet. It had to do with the compromise of US government classified information.”

To be fair the US government has not “blocked” Wikileaks. It has blocked it on certain government computers and has used public pressure to have its hosting and payment processors cut it off. Whether or not that’s to the same level as to what’s happening in other countries may be debatable, but it certainly opens up the US to criticism on that point. And that’s the real issue here. Even if you argue “but that’s different,” just the fact that the US has opened itself up to such an easy retort any time it argues for internet freedom in countries that espouse censorship, it makes it that much harder for the US to seriously push an internet freedom agenda abroad.

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Comments on “US: India, Stop Censoring Websites! India: Wikileaks, Hello? US: That's Different!”

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55 Comments
silverscarcat says:

“But when she was probed on the issue of WikiLeaks, Nuland snapped: “WikiLeaks didn’t have to do with freedom of the Internet”

Yeah, sure it has NOTHING to do with the freedom of the internet…

Other than pointing out the corruption of government and corporations and allowing the public to know what’s going on.

Surely that wouldn’t have negative effects on the internet…

Oh, wait, it does.

Anonymous Coward says:

as much as i agree that the ‘Wikileaks’ example was a reasonable one to employ, the other sites that have been blocked by ICE, under instructions from the US entertainment industries are just as good examples, if not better. considering the lack of evidence that was forthcoming to start the blocks, let alone keep them, other than to please certain high paid execs that have high level government officials as personal friends, what other excuse is there? it’s a typical US government opinion of ‘if it’s us that want to have blocked or to block sites, it’s fine. if it’s any other country doing it, internet freedom is being destroyed. and why no mention of the other countries that the US have forced to censor websites on it’s behalf? Sweden and the UK being prime examples!

Wander (profile) says:

US: India, Stop Censoring Websites!...

Does this writer know the difference between censorship and espionage? Does he understand that states keep secrets and have the right to do so? There are plenty of legitimate ways to register social protest today, Wikileaks ignored these and chose to operate in a cowboy fashion. When Mr. Wikileaks is chased out of hiding in the UK, he will likely be a guest in the US for a very long time. If you can’t pay the piper, don’t play the tune!

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re:

The unauthorized disclosure of duly classified information is a different matter altogether, and to try and lump it into a generic category is misfortunate and naive.

Ummm. It was an unauthorized disclosure of duly classified information by Bradley Manning perhaps (although I feel he should be shielded by whistle-blower laws).

Wikileaks merely published the info. No different than the New York Times publishing the Pentagon Papers.

If so-called “moral high ground” is diminished, then so be it.

Some of the “moral high ground” is also the fundamentals of our Constitution. Personally, it means more to me than something that is simply brushed aside with a wave of your hand.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

US: India, Stop Censoring Websites!...

Does he understand that states keep secrets and have the right to do so?

The right to do so? No, the US does not. We give it the privilege of doing so, and when — as the WL releases have shown — that privilege is abused to hide wrongdoing, that privilege can and should be taken away until people get their shit together.

Anonymous Coward says:

US: India, Stop Censoring Websites!...

Do you know the difference between censorship and espionage? Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient as determined by a government. Espionage is the disclosure of information of a sensitive nature as determined by a government. Prosecuting someone for espionage is, by definition, censorship.

Lord Binky says:

We have wikileaks that the US has tried to attack in many ways, but there are still other cases such as shutting down websites/blogs for linking to copyrighted content. Either way, the US government finds it illegal in some way so it’s ok to take it down, but if India’s government finds it illegal and blocks it, well, that’s different. Except for the essential part where they are not different at all. It is simply this: is the content illegal/disliked in one place and not the other? Solutions are block it,remove it, or just leave it the hell alone.

Either the internet is going to be an open playground where you punish the people doing wrong, or it is going to be excessively restricted trying to cater to every group that wants to play the parent role.

Lord Binky says:

Re:

Harm is once again subjective.

Obama administration “leaks” without any witch hunting that they were involved with stuxnet (Very unusual based on the actions taken on any leaks before). Some diplomatic cables get leaked and the government won’t even bother to pretend it is treating the person humanely.

The result of admitting stuxnet, putting every citizen and the US at risk for openly admitting cyber warfare is completely acceptable. The result of the cables, lots of embarassed politicians and shitloads of paperwork and brown nosing.

The more potentially harmful leak, was performed by the government with obvious intentions of manipulating elections, while the leak was performed by a person trying to show as much as they can what the government was doing wrong.

I’d say making your country a larger target to it’s very vulnerable systems, on purpose, is more harmful than showing the “secret” messages among politicians. But then again, I’m not the asshat making decisions to look good instead of being good.

Lord Binky says:

Re:

Wait, what?! What is the point of being the Censor if you don’t get to look at everything?

Which is kind of funny in a sad way, since many things are censored with the idea that being exposed it will cause a person to become corrupted in some way, like talking bad about a government. So by definition the Censor themself should be the worst deginerate possible, and at that point you couldn’t trust their opinion, so….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

If a citizen was to release classified information they had legally obtained THAT IS NOT A CRIME. By the letter of the law this person has done NOTHING WRONG.

Morally wrong? Irrelevant when you are talking about the government is attacking someone with no legal leg to stand on. If they want to make publishing information the government deems classified and a risk to national security they should outlaw it.

The person who had access to the information and gave it to someone else is very much on the wrong side of the law.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Kudos to the reporters

I gotta say, had I been in that audience, as soon as she reached the “On the larger question of Internet freedom, you know where we are on that issue, and we are always on the side of full freedom of the Internet,” bit there is no way I would have been able to keep from bursting out laughing, given that she was obviously trying to lighten the mood with a joke.

Truly, to be able to stay straight-faced and laughter free in the presence of such hilarious levels of hypocrisy is an amazing skill indeed.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: US: India, Stop Censoring Websites!...

Wikileaks new it was classified information so they are just as culpable.

Culpable for what? Exercising Freedom of the Press?

Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.
?Justice Black in NEW YORK TIMES CO. v. UNITED STATES, 403 U.S. 713 (1971)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

The question of classification of information. What boxes can you use and what can’t you?

– Classified information from government?
– Classified information from private companies?
– Copyright protection for works from private companies?
– Unlicensed use of patented products for private companies?

If you are saying yes to all those limitations, the question is: How far can you use these marks to censor?

– If an employee from the government leaks a document with no official classification yet?
– Lowly classified information with no general restriction of who gets to see them?
– Having the government pay for protecting a trade-secret for a private american company?
– Making the government pay for prosecution of people for illegal copying?
– Having the government investigate and break private companies confidentiality to produce evidence of them illegally using a patent held by another company?

Those are just a few of the ethical questions you have to answer because of “that is different” and if the answer is “it depends” you have to further specify where the line for censorship has to be drawn.

Any kind of deletion of information qualifies as censorship and trying to give the impression that the arbitrary lines drawn by USA or EU are more legitimate than those drawn by India and China is not a question of “internet freedom”. It is a question of poorly thought through legislation and overreaching enforcement making something that should be simple very complicated and “that is different” is exactly the same as saying “it is complicated” in this context.

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