On Monday, the FCC's net neutrality rules officially went into the Federal Register, which was also known as the starters' gun for rushing to the courthouse to sue the FCC over those rules. Trade group USTelecom got there first with its filing, while a bunch of other trade groups, representing big cable companies (NCTAA), small cable companies (ACA) and big wireless companies (CTIA -- ignoring the claims of its members Sprint and T-Mobile) were right behind them. Not to be left out, AT&T has also formally sued the FCC using the same basic complaint ("arbitrary and capricious, yo!")
There had been some idle speculation that the big broadband companies might sit this one out directly, and rather let their lobbying trade groups handle the fun, but AT&T apparently couldn't take the risk of letting those other groups fight this fight, just in case they chickened out. Of course, there is some irony in the fact that AT&T was apparently among those who were most pissed off at Verizon for suing over the previous rules, since that's what led to these new rules. Either way, expect the various lawsuits to get consolidated before too long. And then expect years of fighting before we get a final ruling and lots of whining and complaining in between.
And, just think, instead of spending all that money on lawyers and press releases about future plans to deliver faster broadband, AT&T could actually be investing in building a better network for its subscribers. But what fun is that? According to Wall Street's view... it's no fun at all. They'd much rather AT&T fight against rules that say they have to treat consumers right, rather than actually working hard to treat consumers right.
The DOJ and the FBI aren't seeing eye-to-eye -- and apparently haven't for years. The FBI has been stiff-arming the DOJ's Inspector General over the past several months, preventing him from doing his job of providing oversight for the DOJ's many law enforcement agencies. The FBI appears to have gone rogue.
Maybe it isn't the FBI deciding it's above accountability. Maybe it's because it doesn't view the DOJ as a useful entity... or even a trustworthy ally -- even as the FBI is technically a part of the DOJ. At its heart, the FBI is a law enforcement agency. It pursues bad guys and turns them over to be locked away. It firmly believes in the inherent "rightness" of its mission, even when its investigative activities have partially devolved into terrorism-related shots on unguarded goals.
Emails obtained by the New York Times provide some insight to the friction between the FBI and DOJ over the handling of the Blackwater case. In 2007, Blackwater -- a private company hired by the State Department to provide security in Iraq -- opened fire on civilians in Baghdad, injuring 20 and killing 17. The FBI's investigation concluded that 14 of the 17 Iraqis were killed "without cause." The FBI wanted to stack charges in order to assure the contractors felt the full consequences of their actions. The DOJ, on the other hand, wasn't so sure.
The F.B.I. had wanted to charge the American contractors with the type of manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and weapons charges that could send them to prison for the rest of their lives for the shooting, which left more than a dozen Iraqis dead and many others wounded in September 2007.
But at the last minute, the Justice Department balked. In particular, senior officials were uncomfortable with bringing two machine-gun charges, each of which carried mandatory 30-year prison sentences.
The lead agent, John Patarini, felt that dropping this mandatory chunk of prison time would allow those involved to walk away from killing 17 civilians with five-to-seven year sentences. This outcome may have been more aligned with the DOJ's sense of justice (after all, the contractors were required to carry weapons by the State Department) but it didn't mesh with the FBI's more law enforcement-oriented definition of justice. So, Patarini decided to play politics.
Mr. Patarini was incensed. “I would rather not present for a vote now and wait until the new administration takes office than to get an indictment that is an insult to the individual victims, the Iraqi people as a whole, and the American people who expect their Justice Department to act better than this,” he replied.
Playing politics only made sense. The charge itself is a political by-product -- a relic from the Drug War's decade-long obsession with crack. This charge was legislated into existence solely to stack charges against drug dealers to turn low-level possession charges into decades-long stints in federal prisons.
The DOJ's reluctance to use a law it had wielded so willingly against drug dealers and gang members in the past against federal contractors who gunned down dozens of Iraqis is troubling. The FBI's desire to see Blackwater's employees face lengthy prison sentences is also troubling, considering it's usually all too happy to do the same thing to people accused of far less heinous behavior.
The regime shift the FBI felt would keep the weapons charges alive also changed the DOJ's stance. Nothing in the obtained emails states explicitly why the DOJ reconsidered its position, but its recent statements on the Blackwater case are closely aligned with Special Agent Patarini's 2008 desire to see the contractors sentenced to decades in prison.
Echoing the emails from nearly seven years ago, the Justice Department said the sentences would “hold the defendants accountable for their callous, wanton and deadly conduct, and deter others wielding the awesome power over life or death from perpetrating similar atrocities in the future.
The only winners here are those who know how to game the political system. The FBI knew it needed a friendlier DOJ, which required a friendlier White House. But the FBI doesn't play politics to the extent the DOJ does. No matter how inflamed its sense of injustice, there was little chance the DOJ would fight the previous administration to pursue gun charges against the employees of a major political donor. Seven years later, the DOJ finally feels comfortable using a bad law to put four killers in jail for an extra-long time. There's no "right" here. There's only the sickening interplay of political expedience.
The FBI fought the DOJ -- not for the greater good -- but for much smaller, much more temporary ends. The FBI wants to put bad guys away. The DOJ's position isn't as clear-cut. It's quick to throw the book at certain defendants, but it's just as likely to investigate allegations of police misconduct and civil rights violations. Although both are ostensibly aimed at the same goal -- justice -- the DOJ is the weaker of the two, more prone to cutting the accused some slack and far more willing to criticize the FBI's colleagues and allies: the local law enforcement agencies it often partners with. Because of this, the FBI views the DOJ as unworthy of its respect -- just as likely to sell it out as back it up. The DOJ may be the FBI's parent agency, but it's clear the FBI views it as ineffective and impotent.
For a few years now, folks like Michael Weinberg have been pretty vocal about warning the world not to screw up 3D printing by falling for the same copyright/patenting mistakes that are now holding back other creative industries. Trying to lock up good ideas is not a good idea. Just recently we noted how 3D printing was challenging some long held beliefs about copyright, and we shouldn't simply fall into the old ways of doing things. At our inaugural Copia Institute summit, we had a really fascinating discussion about not letting intellectual property freakouts destroy the potential of 3D printing.
This bill would require every public library that provides public access to a 3D printer, as defined, to post a notice on or near the 3D printer that would alert users of the 3D printer of the potential liability of the user for misuse of the 3D printer, as specified. This bill would require the Department of Justice to draft and distribute this notice, as specified, and annually review and revise the notice for accuracy. By imposing additional duties upon local officials, this bill would create a state-mandated local program.
In the actual text of the law, they're explicit about how it's about not infringing intellectual property:
The Department of Justice shall prepare and distribute to a public library that provides public access to a 3D printer a notice that would alert users of the 3D printer of the potential liability of the user for misuse of the 3D printer. The notice shall do all of the following:
(A) Provide citations to the applicable state and federal laws that may impose civil liability or criminal penalties for misuse of a 3D printer, including laws regarding copyright infringement and trademark and patent protection.
Katy Perry's left shark is weeping at the ridiculousness of it all.
First of all, this shows the ridiculous ownership mentality of some, who automatically assume that creating something new must be infringing on someone's rights somewhere. Second, the idea that government mandated signs are somehow going to alleviate such uses is ridiculous. Beyond the fact that government "warnings" about infringement are routinely mocked (or just widely ignored), this has all the markings of the old red flag laws, in which the government mandated that there needed to be someone waving a red flag walking in front of every automobile. Trying to place restrictions on new technology based on some fantasy possible problems is no way to create a more innovative society and economy. It's only a way to hinder it.
What's really unfortunate, is it appears this bill was proposed by Assemblymember Nora Campos -- who represents San Jose. In other words, our Copia Inaugural Summit, in which we discussed these exact issues and why people shouldn't overreact was held in her district. And while Campos was invited to the event, and a number of her colleagues in the California Assembly attended, she did not. Perhaps it would have been helpful to have her come and learn about the actual issues related to intellectual property and 3D printing, rather than pushing out a ridiculous bill like this.
* For unclear reasons, the bill was originally about drones, and was then amended to remove everything drone related and add all the 3D printing stuff. It is unclear why.
I won't pretend to know every in and out of the Dead or Alive series. That's partially because I gave up fighting games once I hit junior high, and partially because my gaming habits tend to cleave to particular franchises generally and DoA wasn't amongst those I patronized. But I gather the series has been mostly about offering up characters, and setting them to beat the hell out of one another for fun and amusement. I can see where there might be fun in that.
"We have to deal with mod issues from an IP holder perspective," Koei Tecmo producer Yosuke Hayashi said in an interview with trade publication MCV. "We would like to ask PC users to play our game in good moral and manner. Otherwise, we won’t be able to release a title for PC again."
Now, is the dedication some modders show to making sure that female characters are disrobed a level 20 on the creepy scale? Sure, I think that's fair. But, from a business perspective, why is Tecmo interested in going the DMCA route on the modding community? Whatever you think of the mods themselves, it's difficult to mount a logical argument for going to war with the modding community, which is typically made up of either a game's fan-base or talented modders serving some portion of the fan-base. Either way, mods are strictly for the interested, meaning they can only make a product more desirable, not less. What good comes from the company trying to hide these mods using intellectual property law?
As for the moral argument, please let me just type "haha" here and imagine I kept repeating those two letters infinitely, because, seriously, c'mon. The DoA series only strayed form its chief thematic vehicle of human beings beating the ever-loving shit out of one another in order to tantalize dumb teenage boys by creating spinoff series in which the female DoAcharacters play volleyball in laughably small bikinis, spinoffs in which the female characters are photographed in laughably small bikinis, and spinoffs in which the female characters can play almost-strip-poker with the player. Let me see if I can draw you a picture of morality using DoA imagery.
The gravity-defying boob physics represent the necessity of a firm moral stance...or something...
The point is that there seems to be little sense in any of this from Tecmo's perspective. Moral arguments are for those with moral authority, and good gaming business is to let modders have-at-it, as it were.
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As was widely expected yesterday, the EU has officially come out with its "Statement of Objections" to Google practices that are at the heart of its antitrust complaint. They are almost entirely focused on the fact that Google promotes its own shopping search product at the expense of competitors. From the announcement:
Google systematically positions and prominently displays its comparison shopping service in its general search results pages, irrespective of its merits. This conduct started in 2008.
Google does not apply to its own comparison shopping service the system of penalties, which it applies to other comparison shopping services on the basis of defined parameters, and which can lead to the lowering of the rank in which they appear in Google's general search results pages.
Froogle, Google's first comparison shopping service, did not benefit from any favourable treatment, and performed poorly.
As a result of Google's systematic favouring of its subsequent comparison shopping services "Google Product Search" and "Google Shopping", both experienced higher rates of growth, to the detriment of rival comparison shopping services.
Google's conduct has a negative impact on consumers and innovation. It means that users do not necessarily see the most relevant comparison shopping results in response to their queries, and that incentives to innovate from rivals are lowered as they know that however good their product, they will not benefit from the same prominence as Google's product.
This somewhat echoes the FTC's analysis of Google's playing with shopping search -- but the FTC also noted that the end results actually seemed to be good for consumers (something the EU appears to be less concerned with). Here was the FTC's conclusion on the same issue:
Indeed, the evidence
paints a complex portrait of a company working toward an overall goal of maintaining its
market share by providing the best user experience, while simultaneously engaging in tactics
that resulted in harm to many vertical competitors, and likely helped to entrench Google's
monopoly power over search and search advertising. The determination that Google's
conduct is anticompetitive, and deserving of condemnation, would require an extensive
balancing of these factors, a task that courts have been unwilling- in similar circumstances -
to perform under Section 2. Thus, although it is a close question, Staff does not recommend
that the Commission move forward on this cause of action.
In short, it is clear that Google experimented with ways to improve its own shopping search performance, but it's hard to see how some of the EU's complaints make that much sense. What business is required to promote it competitors?
Either way, Google is now in the somewhat awkward position of pointing out that its own vertical search products both are good enough to deserve the treatment Google gave them, yet bad enough that no one actually uses them. Thus it has put out a somewhat hilarious blog post that talks about how little people actually use Google's vertical search products while also highlighting how many competitors there are. Here, for example, is the chart it shows for shopping sites in Germany:
It's pretty clear what point Google is trying to make there, though it seems likely that the EU Commission will quickly argue that this chart is actually unrelated to the point that it is making -- that Google may be somehow "unfairly" leveraging its dominant position in general search, to push its vertical shopping search on users. The real question, is whether or not that's harming end users in any way. That's the part that seems tough to support. There do appear to be many other options for searching. And, personally, as someone who regularly uses Google (and other search engines) for a variety of searching needs, I can say that I never use it for product/shopping search, whether or not it promotes it in its search results, because I automatically default to other specialized sites for those kinds of searches. I'm at a loss as to how Google promoting its own shopping search does any harm to me in those situations. It's just another competitor (and to me, not a very good one).
As we noted a few months ago, based on a tool that Yelp and TripAdvisor put together, there are arguments to be made that Google could do a better job with how it handles vertical search results, using its search algorithm to pull in results from others -- but it's difficult to see why anyone should want government bureaucrats determining how to build search engine results.
The government will no longer refuse to confirm or deny that persons who are prevented from boarding commercial aircraft have been placed on the “No Fly List,” and such persons will have new opportunities to challenge the denial of boarding, the Department of Justice announced yesterday in a court filing.
Thanks to several lawsuits, the DHS is no longer able to Glomar its way out of responding to travelers who suspect they've been blacklisted from flying. This filing addresses Mohamed v. Holder, but builds on revised redress procedures promised in the wake previous lawsuits.
Under the previous redress procedures, individuals who had submitted inquiries to DHS TRIP generally received a letter responding to their inquiry that neither confirmed nor denied their No Fly status. Under the newly revised procedures, a U.S. person who purchases a ticket, is denied boarding at the airport, subsequently applies for redress through DHS TRIP about the denial of boarding, and is on the No Fly List after a redress review, will now receive a letter providing his or her status on the No Fly List and the option to receive and/or submit additional information.
It's a huge step forward from just being told less-than-nothing by the agency's misnamed "Traveler Redress Inquiry Program." The first step has the DHS performing its own "redress review" -- something that appears to have no time limit for responses. And that's the beginning of the process. Members of the public will finally receive better and more detailed responses, but they will asked to perform several rounds of hoop-jumping, with the first couple of steps seemingly redundant.
If such an individual opts to receive and/or submit further information after receiving this initial response, DHS TRIP will provide a second, more detailed response. This second letter will identify the specific criterion under which the individual has been placed on the No Fly List and will include an unclassified summary of information supporting the individual’s No Fly List status, to the extent feasible, consistent with the national security and law enforcement interests at stake.
Other than "because we're a bureaucracy," there doesn't seem to be any reason full details could not be provided in a single letter. But that's the government for you: if it's not killing trees and utilizing its underused postal service, it's not being productive. Why do in one step what can be done in several (also: in triplicate, if possible), etc.
Even with these redress improvements, some travelers will still receive answers containing little to no information or guidance.
The amount and type of information provided will vary on a case-by-case basis, depending on the facts and circumstances. In some circumstances, an unclassified summary may not be able to be provided when the national security and law enforcement interests at stake are taken into account.
On the upside, the DHS will actually allow this to be a bit more adversarial. Travelers will be able to submit responses to the DHS's initial No Fly List determination and submit information that might prompt a reconsideration of their inclusion on this list. The final decision is still the government's but at least it's open to basing its decision on more than its own security-first worldview and limited, supposedly inculpatory data.
from the the-skies-won't-be-safe-until-every-checked-bag-has-been-destroyed dept
Prior to the 9//11 attacks, you only had to worry about airport baggage handlers beating the hell out of your luggage or stealing your valuables. Thanks to the post-attack panic, there's a new layer of ineptitude and deceit your luggage is subjected to on its way to its destination (which may not be your destination).
[T]he TSA still routinely and unaccountably destroys luggage equipped with "TSA-safe" locks, just because they can. Last week, TSA inspectors at Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport pried the locks off of my unlocked, "TSA-safe" suitcase before taping it shut again and loading it onto my London-bound flight.
Here's what Doctorow's luggage looked like after the "TSA-safe" locking mechanism outmaneuvered the TSA agent in charge of crowbar-wielding and packaging tape application.
The TSA should have had no trouble unlocking the suitcase (using keys, rather than physically attacking it). Rimowa's site states that its luggage features "TSA combination locks."
Bypassing it with a master key was the option the TSA was supposed to use. Instead, it just forced it open, taped it back together and handed it back to Doctorow without even a shrug of bureaucratic regret.
Thank you for contacting the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Contact Center regarding damaged or missing checked baggage locks.
TSA is required by law to screen all property that goes onboard commercial passenger airlines, including checked baggage. To ensure the security of the traveling public, it is sometimes necessary for Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) to inspect checked baggage by hand. Locked checked baggage [[MY BAG WAS UNLOCKED]] may cause delays due to the need for TSOs to open locked baggage by using alternative measures, including force. Please be advised that TSA is not liable for any damage to locks or bags that are required to be opened by force for security purposes. [[HOW CONVENIENT – WHY NOT?]]
Yes. The agency takes no responsibility for breaking something that was a.) unlocked and b.) even if it wasn't, had passkeys it could have used. It inexplicably mentions this unused option while explaining why it manhandled Doctorow's luggage like the world's most inept burglar.
In cooperation with private industry, TSA implemented a system under which TSOs are able to identify, unlock, and then relock certain locks using passkey sets available to TSA screeners [[AND ANYONE WITH HALF A BRAIN AND A BIT OF GUMPTION]]. TSA-recognized locks can be opened and relocked by TSOs without force and with little delay. TSA cannot, [[WHY THIS COMMA?]] guarantee that such locks will never be damaged or lost while TSOs and airline employees handle checked baggage [[HOW CONVENIENT]].
On top of being unable to perform its job without destroying luggage, the TSA is apparently unaware that URLs can be copied and pasted, rather than carelessly typed into a response email for maximum ineffectiveness.
To learn more about damaged locks, please visit www.tsa.gov\node\1428.
Just try to do what the TSA didn't and paste that not-a-URL-at-all into an omnibox. (Well, it will be automatically converted into a real URL, but that's only because web browsers are smarter than TSA Customer Service agents.) Doctorow says this indicates some sort of DOS mindset, which is its only level of scary.
So, to recap: the TSA can break your stuff, despite having the tools to do otherwise and despite having a number of luggage manufacturers specifically making passkey-compliant suitcases to prevent this sort of thing from happening and despite the suitcase being UNLOCKED THE WHOLE TIME. And the traveler's path of recourse is a mistyped URL surrounded by "not our fault" boilerplate.
The TSA will never have to pay for broken luggage. Because terrorism.
I miss the good old days when this sort of behavior was only displayed by baggage handlers searching for valuables/setting distance records in amateur luggage-tossing competitions. At least then you could find someone to hold accountable for the damage sustained.
The TSA, however, is above even the most minimal level of accountability. If its employees are outsmarted by a "TSA-safe" lock, it's your fault for not ensuring your checked luggage was already open and dumping its contents all over the conveyor belts by the time it reached the TSA's elite group of suitcase-battering counterterrorists. This entire situation (especially the TSA's "response") cleary shows that Doctorow is the guilty party here. If he truly loved America, he'd have prepared for this eventuality… or at least just taken back the taped-together remains of his $1000 suitcase and shed a tear of gratitude for all the hard work the TSA did to ensure his flight didn't get blown up/hijacked.
from the these-are-not-the-droids-you're-looking-for dept
As we've made repeatedly clear, consumers really like the ease and simplicity of unlimited data plans. Whether that's on fixed-line or wireless networks, users don't really like having to guess if they'll make it in under the wire this month, and don't particularly enjoy being socked with $15 per gigabyte overages should they stream a few extra songs or watch a YouTube clip. However, when you enjoy the kind of regulatory and market power AT&T and Verizon do, you don't have to give a flying cellular damn what your consumers actually want.
As such, both companies decided to eliminate their unlimited data plans entirely a few years ago, replacing them with shared data plans laden with caps and steep overages. And while both companies did grandfather existing unlimited users, they made life as uncomfortable as possible for those users, whether it was by secretly throttling them after a few gigabytes of usage or restricting their access to specific apps unless they "upgraded" to a shared, metered plan. Meanwhile, competitors T-Mobile and Sprint have tried to differentiate themselves by continuing to offer unlimited data options.
Continuing the proud tradition of telling users what they want instead of giving them what they want, Verizon this week offered up an amusing blog post in which an analyst paints unlimited data plans as a public menace of the highest order. To hear analyst Jack Gold tell it, we should all agree that you can't have unlimited data plans, because they'll obliterate the network and leave us all weeping over our smart devices:
"The quality of connection is important to wireless users, and when connections become slow or disconnections occur due to overcrowding, users become disappointed. Let’s face it, if everyone had unlimited data and used it fully, the performance of the networks would suffer because of bandwidth restrictions and the “shared resource” nature of wireless. The bottom line is: users agree that degrading the networks is something that they don’t want to happen."
If I only had a nickel every time the congestion bogeyman was trotted out to defend anti-competitive pricing and policies. While spectrum is certainly a finite resource, Gold intentionally ignores the fact that offering unlimited data plans doesn't mean idiotically ignoring all network management and letting your network implode. While both Sprint and T-Mobile offer unlimited data, they still implement network management and throttling practices that ensure traffic loads remain relatively balanced and the consumer experience remains consistent.
In other words, most unlimited data plans aren't really unlimited anyway, or users have to pay a steep premium for the privilege of not having to worry about data thresholds. That's because AT&T and Verizon dominate 85% of the special access and cell tower backhaul market, resulting in Sprint and T-Mobile (and most everybody else) having to pay an arm and a leg too. It's all quite by design.
Gold knows this, but it's apparently much more fun to try and argue that unlimited data plans decimate the fabric of the space-time continuum and rip the very axle of the universe from its foundation. Disagree? Verizon's analyst proceeds to imply you're simply being overly emotional:
"So, while unlimited data may sound attractive, there is no practical effect of data limits on the majority of users. Understanding this should bring rationality to a discussion that is often held on a “gut feeling” level. Keeping adequate speed and performance while allowing all users to share the limited commodity we call wireless data is the fair way to deal with wireless connectivity. And ultimately, that is what is beneficial for wireless consumers."
Just so it's clear, it's "rational" to support Verizon's vision of internet pricing, in which you pay some of the highest prices among developed nations, but it's a "gut feeling" should you start to desire a better value plan. It's never quite clear to me who these telecom blog authors actually think they're speaking to. Surely the goal is to influence an overarching policy discussion, but all they generally wind up doing is having their brand mocked mercilessly by news outlets for being painfully out of touch with what consumers actually want.
In Wired Magazine's 4th issue ever, back in 1993, it sent famed author William Gibson to Singapore, leading him to write an amazing article entitled "Disneyland with the Death Penalty," talking about the strange contradictions of the city state. It starts out with this sentence:
"It's like an entire country run by Jeffrey Katzenberg," the producer had said, "under the motto 'Be happy or I'll kill you.'"
Singapore is famous for both its clean, modern and high tech city... and the fact that it is more or less a dictatorship in which no criticism of the government is allowed. Talk to Singaporeans who have made it to the US for more than a little bit and you'll discover somewhat horrific stories about living in that country -- the kind of stuff that almost no one wants to talk about publicly. And in the last few weeks, the actions of the Singaporean government have highlighted just why so many Singaporeans are fearful of speaking out about what the place is really like.
A 16-year-old precocious YouTuber named Amos Yee was arrested last month, basically for saying mean things about Lee Kwan Yew, the country's founder and long-time Prime Minister -- though many say that he was actually the country's dictator -- who died just a few weeks ago.
Amos Yee's "controversial" video is still up as I write this. You can view it here, though I imagine someone may eventually try to take it down.
The title is "Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead!" and in it Yee unloads his feelings on LKY and his infamous tendency in going after anyone who criticizes him, including the international press. Yee more or less tells the government to try to go after him... and it did.
Watching the video, though, you see a typical teenager mouthing off to authority. That's what teenagers are supposed to be doing -- and Yee has quite a following as a precocious teenaged commenter on culture, both Singaporean and around the globe. The New Yorker has a profile of Amos, detailing some of his other videos that show him as a pretty typical teenager with opinions -- and the ability to create some fairly entertaining videos, like How to Speak Singlish (the modified English that some Singaporeans use) or his somewhat overwrought review of the movie Boyhood.
As the New Yorker's Nathan Heller writes about Yee:
Yee has all the hallmarks of a green and thriving mind; he is exactly the kind of person you would one day want reviewing your books, making your movies, maybe even running your country. Americans, who enjoy the benefits of free media, have a responsibility to take him more seriously than they take the government that has tried to quiet him for thinking freely in the public sphere. And those of us in the Fourth Estate have a duty to spread word of his ridiculous charges. If people like Amos Yee end up the custodians of our profession, the future of countries like Singapore can be brighter than their past.
And yet, he's facing the potential of three years in prison and many thousands of dollars in fines, based on "Penal Code Section 298" which forbids "the uttering of words that might hurt the religious feelings of any person," as well as a recent anti-cyberbullying law that the country passed.
We talk a lot on Techdirt about the importance of freedom of expression, and have called out other examples where people are pushing for laws against cyberbullying, with an expressed interest in stopping people from "hurting feelings" by unkind speech online. But when you have laws that make people criminals for merely expressing their opinions, you are shutting down the very way in which people learn and grow. Expressing opinions, having debates about them is a key part of growth, intelligence and innovation. Singapore wants to be seen as a modern and innovative country -- and yet at the same time it allows no dissent and no freedom of expression. It is a travesty.
Even some in Singapore have been willing to point out that this is ridiculous, and only serves to show the world that Singapore's ego is fragile that it cannot stand up to a bit of criticism:
What Amos Yee did was crude, rude and insensitive. But he is, at the end of the day, a provocative child playing at being hardcore. He’s certainly not the first – it was only the lack of access to YouTube that saved many of us from eternal embarrassment in our teenage years – and he won’t be the last by any stretch of the imagination. Is Singapore really so fragile, so easily threatened by offensive comment, that there was a need to charge a kid in court?
What Amos and the two protesters did were against the law – but it’s also high time that we think about the laws we have, and whether the trade-offs made make sense in today’s context. Is the Singaporean situation really so precarious that freedom of speech and assembly needs to be curtailed to such an extent?
Of course, given the way in which general deference to authority is demanded in Singapore, plenty of others have come out in favor of throwing Yee in jail. The New Yorker piece describes how ridiculous some of this has become:
In the days after Yee’s arrest, a slew of local celebrities, including three Singaporean starlet types, were interviewed about his videos on national TV. In sequences depressing to watch, they all sided with the state. “If you say that, ‘Oh, people can say whatever they want, all the time,’ then what about those people who are listening?” Joshua Tan, a young actor, said. Well, what about them? The suggestion that citizens should withhold political criticism for fear of offense is preposterous—far more embarrassing to Singapore than any videos by Yee could be.
We see this same attack on free speech in other places (often college campuses) today, as well as in certain areas of social media, in which people immediately leap to the idea that we need "new laws" to punish those who say things that people don't like, because "what about those people who are listening." Those people can be offended. And they can have their feelings hurt. Because that's how a free society is supposed to be -- where not everyone agrees with one another, and sometimes people say things you don't like. And that's good for the community. It's good for ideas and intelligence in that it allows for people to be challenged and to improve their arguments.
Singapore, apparently, wants to put teenagers in jail for acting like teenagers. And thus, it appears that little has changed since that William Gibson article more than two decades ago -- and that's a real shame. In the age of the internet, Singapore has continued to try to position itself as a high tech mecca. But if it can't handle free expression, it's going to find that a difficult image to maintain.