Tag: free speech

Obama's CIO shows up flaws in Bush's IT

President Obama’s CIO has been telling the world and its dog exactly what he inherited when he arrived for his first day on the job.

Brook Colangelo, who became CIO of the Executive Office of President, said he could not believe what the Bush administration was actually using. He initially thought it would be a walk in the park. He delivered the first presidential Blackberry, as well as handhelds to all the top administration officials.

Then he discovered that the email was down nearly a quarter of the time. More than 82 percent of the White House’s technology had reached end of life. There were desktops that still had floppy disk drives.

The White House had one data centre, and if that went down the whole lot crashed. He said six days after the administration was sworn in, the email servers went down for 21 hours and he was about to be shouted at by the Chief of Staff.

Colangelo said the White House technology situation called for a massive review of technology, people and processes.

Over the modernisation process, internet speeds were boosted by over 300 percent and the number of assets at the end of their life was reduced by over half, he told Computer World.

The White House needed to replace much of the technology including the email systems and storage area networks. The White House now has a data recovery data centre for unclassified systems, which includes redundant email servers. It also has its own functioning mobile network.

What might be alarming is that the network was allowed to get into such a state in the first place. Given that it is supposed to be the most secure and advanced network in the world, it seems that the Bush administration starved it of upgrade cash. A few years later it would have made it a doddle for hackers to visit and snoop around. 

Court rules that wanting to kill Obama is OK

A US appeals court has ruled that that it is perfectly legal in the US to go on a website and talk about wanting to kill the President of the Land of the Free.

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a conviction of a man who threatened to shoot President Obama, saying that his comments were fine if he did not mean to carry them out.

The court felt that prosecutors “failed to present sufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt” that the man had the intent to threaten Obama

The Judges said that if the coppers had looked at the construction of the words in his postings, it was fairly clear that they did not constitute a ‘true threat,’ and they are therefore protected speech under the First Amendment.

Walter Bagdasarian was found guilty two years ago of making threats against a presidential candidate in comments he posted on a Yahoo.com website

The Appeals panel said that Bagdasarian’s comments were “particularly repugnant” because they endorsed violence but any sane person would have twigged that he was not going to carry them out, USA Today reports.

Bagdasarian told investigators he made the mistake of posting after he had a few.

After all, who has not sunk a few lagers and claimed that a presidential candidate “will have a 50 cal in the head soon” and demand someone shot.

The panel was divided on the matter. One of the panel thought that the fear engendered by true threats limit a candidate’s freedom to participate fully in the debate leading up to the election.

If prosecutors did not take such threats seriously they could ultimately deprive the US of a potential leader. 

YouTube cartoon gets a kid suspended from school

British Columbia school administrators at Donald A. Wilson Secondary School were so miffed at a cartoon drawn by an 18 year-old posted on YouTube that they called the cops.

According to the Globe and Mailthe videos were drawn, filmed and posted in Jack Christie’s own time. One was called Jack Christie Talks to Children and it feature an animated representation of himself leading a pair of kids on adventures and explaining politics and corporate whistle-blowing.

Christie’s teachers didn’t have a problem with the content. One even allowed his voice to be used for the animation. However what miffed the School Board was when Christie uploaded the videos to YouTube.

He was swiftly given a one-day suspension and was told by the principal to take the videos down or the police would be called. He told the principal that he would stick to his principles.

His fellow students are also fuming and are campaigning to get Christie reinstated. Gavin Russell, prime minister of the student government, managed to gather lots of signatures on a petition supporting Christie before two staff members warned him that, if he continued, he could also face punishment.

Nothing like teaching kids how democracy and free speech works. Given that Christie might miss the rite of passage “the Prom” because of his stand against their stupidity, we suspect this will end up in court.

Using internet to scare juries is ok

In the Land of the Free it is ok to use the world wide wibble to scare the hell out of juries, a US Judge has decided.

According to Wired, Neo-Nazi William A. White had been found guilty of jury intimidation after  he posted the name, address, picture and telephone numbers of one of the jurors who convicted white supremacist Matthew Hale.

Hale was appealing his 480-month prison term for soliciting the murder of a federal judge.

The Jury thought that the obvious implication of this act was to arrange for the Jury foreman to be beaten up, or at least be scared by people who were Hale’s supporters.

The sub-heading added: “Gay Jewish Anti-Racist Led Jury”just in case you missed the theme of White’s post.

However, White was released from custody this week after a federal judge reversed his conviction.

White was the operator of Overthrow.com, a charming website which was affiliated with the white-supremacist American National Socialist Workers Party.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman wrote that the article failed to specifically mention physical force to be used against the juror.

Writing something that is nasty and untrue was fully enshrined by the First Amendment. After all that is how Paul Revere got his start.

Adelman said that no reasonable factfinder considering the posts and the context in which they were made could conclude a call to violence.

Although we are talking about neo-nazis here who are not known for being reasonable.

The former jury foreman testified that he began receiving text messages after White posted his information. The texts, he testified, said things like “sodomize Obama, Bomb China, kill McCain, cremated Jews, all these really upsetting things.”

However he admitted that none of the texts threatened his life or said, “I’m coming to get you”, which the Judge took to mean that no “reasonable person” had seen a call to arms in White’s comments.  

In the UK he would have been banged up as threats are seen as a form of violence and intimidation, but it seems that the US still has a “names can never hurt me” approach to fear.

His case also said that if he had been arrested then the US government should bang up Sarah Palin.

Her website had a suggested hitlist of 20 politicians targeted with rifle sights dotted on a map.

One of these was Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona representative who was shot in January. The sarahpac.com site said, “Let’s take back the 20, together.” 

Amazon defends, then takes down Kindle paedophile guide

Amazon has finally pulled a paedophile guide from its Kindle catalogue after initially defending it.

The book, The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure by Phillip Greaves, was available for sale on Amazon.com for $4.79, causing bookworms to call for a boycott of the online retailer until the offending title was removed.

Amazon was having none of it. It issued a response to the calls for a ban, saying

“Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.”

This also applies to other objectionable topics like Holocaust denial, which is illegal in many countries, but is allowed on Amazon on the grounds of free speech.

The problem with the free speech argument is that it does not apply to pornography, which Amazon will ban in a second. While obviously pornography is a different kettle of fish to text books on Holocaust denial and paedophilia, it’s hard to justify a policy against censorship while certain subjects remain censored. 

Business Insider has called on Amazon to apply its non-censorship policy to pornography as well, rather than having different rules for different things, but chances are that there is a legal block in place to prevent Amazon from doing so.

The book has been removed, but it’s not clear if Amazon has changed its policy under mounting public pressure or if there’s something going on behind the scenes.

Initially it defended the book, then removed it, then put it back up again, and now it’s gone again. We wonder if an offended employee might have taken it offline, despite Amazon’s staunch defence of its policy. Potentially the book may resurface on Amazon.

Many people may believe that the book is illegal – but if it does not actually contain child pornography there is little law enforcement agencies can do – as the law is particularly grey on the dissemination of information, no matter how objectionable.

There are countless books out there from a psychological perspective on paedophilia, which are all important texts to help psychologists and victims address the problem, but a guide for pedophiles is a different matter entirely. Yet if it has literary, artistic, political or scientific value it is well within the confines of the law.

The problem with this book is that it acts as a “how to” guide for paedophiles.

Censorship, in all its forms, remains debatable. On one hand we must all protect our rights to express ourselves, even if our opinions are questionable or against societal norms, but on the other there is a fine line of responsible communication that can be crossed. 

Russia bans YouTube for housing extremism

A Russian court in the Far Eastern Federal District has ordered all local internet service providers to block access to Youtube and four other websites which it believes harbour and promote “extremist” views.

The Komsomolsky-on-Amur court wanted the sites banned because Hitler’s writings, such as Mein Kampf, were available to read, while others had a video uploaded entitled “Russia for Russians”, which is a slogan used by far right groups in the country.

A few other countries have banned Youtube in recent years. In 2007 Thailand banned the site after a user uploaded a short film which showed grafitti over a picture of Thailand’s king. Insulting the king is illegal there and may result in several years of imprisonment. So the country decided to ban Youtube after Google, which likes to appear vocal on issues of free speech and censorship, refused to delete the video.

A more recent incident in May of this year had Pakistan ban Youtube, along with other popular websites like Facebook, Wikipedia, and Flickr. Pakistan said that Youtube was broadcasting “sacrilegious content” and needed to be banned. It raises serious questions about the balance between free speech and respect for cultural differences, and where, if anywhere, we draw the line.

In Russia, however, the internet service providers are not on board with the Youtube ban. At least one ISP, Rosnet, has said that it is appealing the ruling.

New laws were passed in Russia in early July which are aimed at curbing extremist views and propaganda, but they have been widely criticised by human rights activists and freedom of speech groups, which believe the laws in and of themselves are extreme.

The Moscow Helsinki Group, the oldest human rights group in Russia, is staunchly against the new laws which it believes are liable to abuse. It did not agree that a five year sentence was warranted for swearing at a foreign person, for example, which the laws potentially allow.

This latest step is a further sign of how far these measures can be taken.

Last year Russia banned gambling, hunting down and closing any previously legal casinos operating within the country. In efforts to tackle problems within its society it is becoming closer to policing the activities of all its citizens, which is a worrying sign for anyone concerned with democracy and free speech. But plenty of countries in the West raise eyebrows too.

Pirate Party wins a couple of votes in UK election

The Pirate Party is relatively happy with its election results, according to a statement issued today.

The off-kilter UK party was founded 10 months ago with a rather liberal approach to copyright and patent laws, privacy laws, and freedom of speech. As the name suggests, its members planned to bring in a myriad of changes in regard to how people can use and distribute files, but the results in the election were not enough to give them any real political sway.

The Pirate Party had nine candidates running, with results ranging from 90 to 236 votes, which isn’t bad for a bunch of Long John Silvers.

Andrew Robinson of the Worcester constituency and leader of the party got 173 votes or 0.4 percent.

Finlay Archibald of Glasgow Central got 120 votes or 0.4 percent.

Tim Dobson of Manchester Gorton got 236 votes or 0.6 percent.

Shaun Dyer of Leicester West got 113 votes or 0.3 percent.

David Geraghty of Derby North got 170 votes or 0.4 percent.

Graeme Lambert of Bury North got 131 votes or 0.4 percent.

Luke Leighton of Surrey South West got 94 votes or 0.2 percent.

Jack NunnCities of Westminster and London got 90 votes or 0.2 percent.

Alexander van Terheyden of Bethnal Green and Bow got 213 votes or 0.4 percent.

That’s a party total of 1,340 votes or 0.4 percent. While such a result would not have pleased Labour or the Tories the Pirate Party says it’s happy, claiming the campaign had been “relatively successful”.

“The Pirate Party UK has established a firm foundation on which to expand. We have accomplished our main goal of increasing public awareness of the party, and have gained vital experience in running an election campaign, we can look towards the future, and establish ourselves as a party that is here to stay,” it said in the statement.

It seems unlikely that the Pirate Party will ever be in government, given the nature of its policies, but it’s an interesting thing to ponder. It proposed to give people more rights to format shift, time shift, and share files for free, while not going as far as to allow people to profit from other people’s work.

The party also proposed tighter pirvacy laws preventing third parties from monitoring communication traffic, such as calls, emails, and downloads, and hoped to bring in net neutrality laws to prevent government censorship on most issues.

While these landlubbers may sink into the background as the big parties get on with trying to form a government it appears the flagship operation has set sail with the wind in its favour.