German Government's Bullying Of FOI Group Provides A Warning Of How EU's New Upload Filters Will Be Used For Censorship

from the making-life-for-whistleblowers-even-harder dept

One of the many concerns about the upload filters of the EU’s Copyright Directive is that they could lead to censorship, even if that is not the intention. The problem is that once a filtering mechanism is in place to block unauthorized copies of materials, it is very hard to stop its scope being widened beyond copyright infringement. As it happens, the German government has just provided a good example of the kind of abuse that is likely to become a commonplace.

FragDenStaat — literally “ask the State” — is a German freedom of information (FOI) organization. It obtained and published a six-page report about the herbicide glyphosate. The document was written by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, a publicly-funded body that provides scientific advice to Germany’s federal government on issues relating to things like food, product, and chemical safety, as well as consumer health protection. Even though the report was paid for by the German public, obtained legally — and can still be requested by anyone — FragDenStaat is not allowed to distribute it. The Regional Court in Cologne has ruled that would be an infringement of the German State’s copyright, and ordered it to be taken down. FragDenStaat says it will appeal — to the Court of Justice of the European Union, if necessary — and comments:

The federal government abuses copyright law to prevent the publication of public interest documents. This is possible because German copyright law is hopelessly outdated. We believe that copyright law should ensure that tax-financed documents such as the Glyphosat report may be used freely. But in contrast, the German government wants to tighten copyright law further, which will further reduce the amount of information the public receives about important topics like this.

Leaving aside the issue that all such reports funded by the public should by freely available unless there are very good reasons to withhold them — not the case here — there is the particularly troubling aspect of this bullying of FragDenStaat by the German government. At the moment, there is little to stop copies of this document being requested, then uploaded and shared around the Internet. But once the EU Copyright Directive’s upload filters have been installed, it will be easy for the German government to require sites to block these attempts. The fact that the authorities were willing to waste money taking FragDenStaat to court over a six-page document suggests they won’t hesitate for a second to use upload filters to block sharing.

It won’t just be governments. It is inevitable that leaked documents showing evidence of wrong-doing by companies will be blocked on all the major sites once upload filters are available. No court order is required, so it will become the first thing companies trying to hide their dirty washing will do. Upload filters will not only cause legitimate material produced by Internet users to be blocked by over-cautious online platforms, it will also make life even harder for whistleblowers to expose the truth about corporate crimes and misdeeds. How convenient.

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Comments on “German Government's Bullying Of FOI Group Provides A Warning Of How EU's New Upload Filters Will Be Used For Censorship”

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Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I don’t agree.

Do you know what else came out in 1998? Windows 98, which famously got Microsoft into trouble with antitrust regulators because they included a web browser as an integrated component of the operating system. And why would they do such a thing? Because by that point the Web was already everywhere, and they wanted their ubiquitous operating system to be people’s default on-ramp onto the ubiquitous Web.

If you talk to people knowledgeable about the computer industry about why Microsoft today isn’t the world-dominating 600-pound gorilla it was in the 90s, one of the principle answers that will always come up is that they were severely late to the party with regard to the Internet. Putting IE in Windows 98 was Microsoft recognizing that the Web had already gotten ubiquitous while they weren’t paying enough attention, and they needed to play catch-up in the most aggressive way they could.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The parts written after the Web technically became a thing (but before it figuratively became a thing, as Thad pointed out) were still written by people with an outdated mindset. They believed copying in the digital realm could be controlled in the same way as copying in the physical realm can (mostly) be controlled. The Internet — and technology in general — has long since proven them wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is what a puppet government looks like

Monsanto clearly doesn’t want the German people to be able to read about the effects of their product. Bribing or threatening a few select people allowed them to erase all negative mention of this report on the site that should be providing it. It is time people woke up and realized that their government is in bed with corporations, not the people they supposedly serve.

Anonymous Coward says:

Anything and everything to stop the people learning about what those who are supposed to be looking after our interests are really doing is going to be done! This has been the whole aim, instigated and endorced by the USA govt and law enforcement in order to protect the entertainment industries and is now gonna bite ass and completely screw up the Internet. The fear of those who wanted this brought in losing their control and being found out for what they are has ruined the best thing that ever happened to the planet, all aided by greed!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Since the earth is a jungle at heart, where was it ever proven that others would have our best interests in mind to begin with?

Such a hope would rest on everyone playing fair, and playing nice. Instead, we seem to be sociopathic, and part of that is exploiting trust in others.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Instead, we seem to be sociopathic, and part of that is exploiting trust in others.

More a case of many of those who climb the greasy pole of power are sociopathic. Now if humans could stop sociopaths from acquiring power, the world would be a much better place. Less than one percent of the human race owns most of its wealth, and an ever smaller percentage wield political power, and they exercise a huge control over the rest of us because the control jobs, and law making.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Holy purely speculative FUD, Batman!"

A government agency under a Freedom Of information request, chooses to use copyright as a means to refuse to supply a civil rights watch organization with information which by all accounts should be available…

…and all you have to say is "FUD"?

Nice try, Baghdad Bob, but there’s nothing even remotely "speculative" about factual reality which is that a *government agency is abusing copyright legislation as a bona fide censorship tool. That’s basically proof that "We don’t have legitimate grounds to withhold this information so we’ll use the convenient catch-all of copyright law so we don’t have to do what the law otherwise demands us to do".

At that point whatever the requested information contains or does not contain is actually less of an issue than the means the government is using to withhold said information.

Anonymous Coward says:

"…funded by the public should by freely available unless there are very good reasons to withhold them…"

Either we paid for them and they are ours or there is no need for us to pay for them. Reasons to withhold are the same reasons for obtaining funding elsewhere. If it isn’t in the public interest, then whoever it is in the interest of can pay for it.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"…funded by the public should by freely available unless there are very good reasons to withhold them…"

If there were acceptable reasons to withhold this information then there are plenty of national security laws which could be applied.

That the government agency chooses to apply copyright law instead of any of those national security laws is basically proof that the information is being withheld without any acceptable basis.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: It's a feature, not a bug

"Copyright has been used for censorship since it began."

It’s no wonder. Copyright, in its original inception, was nothing more than the transfer of a state-sponsored censorship tool to the private sector, notably to a single large monopolistic guild of printers.

Using it for its original purpose of government-sponsored censorship doesn’t even require a refit.

Which is why Turkey and Russia are so very very keen on copyright, among other ultra-authoritarian nations we might name. It’s the perfect tool to use whenever someone from government wants to say "Let no one hear of this, ever again".

And western democracies have started using it the same way, looking at the german example.

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