Be Grateful for the First Amendment (and the Internet)

Guardian gagged from reporting parliament:

The Guardian has been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appear to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights.

Today's published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.

Fortunately, sanity (and the internet) prevailed. Gag on Guardian reporting MP's Trafigura question lifted,

The existence of a previously secret injunction against the media by oil traders Trafigura can now be revealed.

Within the past hour Trafigura's legal firm, Carter-Ruck, has withdrawn its opposition to the Guardian reporting proceedings in parliament that revealed its existence.

Labour MP Paul Farrelly put down a question yesterday to the justice secretary, Jack Straw. It asked about the injunction obtained by “Trafigura and Carter-Ruck solicitors on 11 September 2009 on the publication of the Minton Report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura”.

It's called the Streisand effect now,

The Streisand effect is an Internet phenomenon where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information backfires, causing the information to be publicized widely and to a greater extent than would have occurred if no censorship had been attempted.

Having one major country with the First Amendment and lots of servers means that most other countries cannot at present easily censor like they used. (See my 1997 article The Internet as a Source of Regulatory Arbitrage). But there are exceptions: countries with almost no Internet access, and countries that have managed to control both the basic routing information and limit the number of connections to the outside world. That would be China, so far.

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2 Responses to Be Grateful for the First Amendment (and the Internet)

  1. David says:

    But there are exceptions: countries with almost no Internet access, and countries that have managed to control both the basic routing information and limit the number of connections to the outside world. That would be China, so far

    And Iran. Wikipedia’s not a great source to cite, but I cannot find the article I’m thinking of at the moment; Iran’s backbone connection essentially goes out one pipe. It’s not the Great Firewall of China, but it’s not terribly far from it either. Pakistan also had a problem when their connection went down after an earthquake a few years ago — 1 pipe there too.

    And the U.S. here and here; censorship isn’t actually happening (that we know of,) but given that packets are being routed through a central point, at least localized traffic manipulation can be done (though note that this isn’t what the whistleblower says is being done, rather that the traffic is being data mined, not changed). Actual censorship in the US would be costly and difficult, but not impossible, assuming that it would be done at the IXP level (aka NAP), not the ISP level. There are roughly 30-35 IXP’s in North America; you might even be able to get away with just touching the border IXPs/NAPs, assuming that you wanted to block traffic from the world, not within the US/Canada.

  2. Rhodo Zeb says:

    And god is China proving it right now. But then Shanghai expects to take Hong Kong’s role as an Asian hub. That very much will not happen so long as the censorship is at these levels.

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