Published: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 22:09:18 -0400
Tue, 27 Sep 2016 15:15:00 -0400California Gov. Jerry Brown has only a couple of days left to decide whether he's going to sign or veto an important reform bill that would seriously reduce the ability of local law enforcement agencies to abuse the asset forfeiture process to seize and keep millions of dollars from citizens without having to prove they've committed a crime. But in the meantime, we've got this: Brown has signed into law a bill that censors the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) in what appears to be a fairly straightforward violation of the company's First Amendment rights. The IMDB is a familiar site for anybody looking to track down work by people in the film, television, and video games industry. It publishes the backgrounds of actors, their work histories, their biographies, and their birthdates. That last part—birthdates (meaning ages)—is what several actors have a problem with. One sued unsuccessfully to try to force the IMDB to prevent the site from publishing her actual date of birth. The argument was that age discrimination in Hollywood and the acting industry is a serious, chronic issue, and publishing actors' ages could harm their chances at finding work. After that attempt failed, the Screen Actors Guild then pushed lawmakers in Sacramento to fix the problem for them. They responded by passing AB-1687, which forbids IMDB (or similar sites) from publishing or sharing birthdates or ages from paying subscribers (industry folks who use the site for employment services). Gov. Brown signed the bill into law on Sunday. So, is this unconstitutional censorship? Yes it most certainly is, says nearly every lawyer The Hollywood Reporter consulted. In fact, the only attorney who was absolutely certain the law would survive a constitutional challenge and gave it a full-throated defense was the general counsel for the very union who pushed it through the legislature. Some of the opponents: "Creating liability for the truthful reporting of lawfully obtained information is deeply problematic under the First Amendment," said UC Irvine dean and Constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky. "It is different to say 'men only' or 'women only' or 'whites only' in an ad. That is discrimination that is impermissible. A birthday or an age is a fact, and I don't think there can be liability under the First Amendment for publishing true facts." Said Bruce Johnson, of Seattle's Davis Wright Tremaine, "Obviously, to the extent that it requires the removal of truthful information from websites reporting on matters of public interest, the statute would appear to be an unconstitutional abridgement of First Amendment rights." The bill's sponsor, Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon, defended the law as a legitimate business regulation: "Requiring websites to remove all age information from profiles would seem to run afoul of the First Amendment restrictions on the regulation of commercial speech," Calderon had said in a statement to THR. "Limiting the bill to only subscribers makes it clear that the bill advances an important government interest — that of reducing age discrimination in a manner that is substantially related to that interest and no more extensive than necessary to achieve that interest." Yes, but it's attempting to achieve the interest in reducing age discrimination by censoring a third-party site that is not responsible at all for the age discrimination these actors are claiming. This is the sort of mentality that has led to the European Union's terrible "right to be forgotten" policies, which permit people to demand that search sites censor links to information about them that may be completely factually correct but that they nevertheless don't want people to see. That's a good reason why the rest of us should care. It may not directly affect us whether actors' ages are allowed to be censored, but the justification for this government intervention can be directed elsewhere. In addition, one lawyer noted, limiting the censorship to paying subscribers has the absurd side effect of requiring actors to "bribe" the IMDB for their si[...]
Fri, 23 Sep 2016 12:35:00 -0400Defense Distributed's blueprints for 3d-printed guns will remain offline and censored for now. Well, actually, they're probably not offline and you can find them if you know where to look. But a federal appeals court panel has rejected an attempt by the company to stop the State Department's order censoring the company itself from hosting its blueprints online. Reason's Brian Doherty has been extensively covering Cody Wilson and Defense Distributed's fight against the State Department's unusual tactics in enforcing weapon export laws. Technically the company isn't exporting any weapons. It is providing information that allows people anywhere in the world to use 3d-printers to create the pieces that make a gun. The State Department's demand that Defense Distributed not host the files then is clearly censorship. But is such censorship legal? Several members of Congress had submitted an amicus brief saying that the State Department had drastically overstepped its bounds by interpreting federal law as allowing them to censor online information. But for now, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals declined a request for an injunction to stop the State Department's censorship demands. It has ruled that the alleged harms the State Department claims will occur if the information is made available outweighs the temporary harms faced by Defense Distributed for being censored: The fact that national security might be permanently harmed while Plaintiffs-Appellants' constitutional rights might be temporarily harmed strongly supports our conclusion that the district court did not abuse its discretion in weighing the balance in favor of national defense and national security. That is an awful lot of heavy lifting that "might" is doing, and an awful lot of judicial deference. There is a footnote explaining further that the potential for harm to national security involves not just the existing files but potentially future files that provide for even more weapon production outside the control of the federal government. Note that this ruling does not address whether it believes Defense Distributed arguments are legitimate. This is not a ruling about the underlying case. The panel is just going to defer to the Department of State for now while the underlying arguments are fought over. Not all three judges agreed. Judge Edith Jones dissented, saying the panel had failed to take the issues of prior restraint and censorship seriously, pointing out that the State Department had never previously sought to block information presented on the Internet. She also argues that the court had failed to analyze the case with the right level of judicial scrutiny. She warns: Undoubtedly, the denial of a temporary injunction in this case will encourage the State Department to threaten and harass publishers of similar non-classified information. There is also little certainty that the government will confine its censorship to Internet publication. Yet my colleagues in the majority seem deaf to this imminent threat to protected speech. More precisely, they are willing to overlook it with a rote incantation of national security, an incantation belied by the facts here and nearly forty years of contrary Executive Branch pronouncements. Jones' dissent is actually much longer than the majority ruling and delves heavily into regulations and precedents. She concludes: By refusing to address the plaintiffs' likelihood of success on the merits and relying solely on the Government's vague invocation of national security interests, the majority leave in place a preliminary injunction that degrades First Amendment protections and implicitly sanctions the State Department's tenuous and aggressive invasion of citizens' rights. The majority's nondecision here encourages case-by-case adjudication of prepublication review "requests" by the State Department that will chill the free exchange of ideas about whatever USML-related technical data the government chooses to call "novel," "functional," or "not within the public domain." It will foster further[...]
Tue, 20 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) In Michigan, the OK Conference, a high school athletics conference, has sent a letter to school administrators saying that fans at games can chant "U-S-A" only before or after the National Anthem. Conference officials say they believe that using the chant at other times may be a way of taunting opposing players or fans by implying "U suck ---."
Fri, 09 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) Artist Timothy J. Desmond has sued California officials after they barred him from displaying at the Fresno Fair a painting of a Civil War battle. In the painting, one soldier was depicted carrying a Confederate battle flag. State officials and the fair director pointed to a California law banning images of the flag from being displayed or sold on state property unless it appears in a book or digital medium or is part of a historical or artistic display at a museum.
Wed, 24 Aug 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) Jordanian Prime Minister Hani Mulki has ordered an investigation of writer Nahed Hattar for violating a law against contempt of religion. Hattar shared on Facebook a cartoon depicting a bearded man in Heaven ordering God around. Hatter said it satirized the view Islamic terrorists have of Heaven and God and was not meant to mock God.
Tue, 23 Aug 2016 11:45:00 -0400The good folks over at Heterodox Academy are launching an initiative today that aims to help students who want see greater viewpoint diversity on their college campuses. As my Reason colleagues have repeatedly reported, free speech and non-P.C. views are endangered on college campuses around the country. The Heterodox Academy was established by a group of scholars who are concerned about the problem of the loss or lack of viewpoint diversity at universities and colleges. They observe, "When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged. To reverse this process, we have come together to advocate for a more intellectually diverse and heterodox academy." The new initiative centers around three proposed resolutions affirming viewpoint diversity that are designed to be introduced by students and adopted by student governments that declare their schools to be a "Heterodox University." The preamble of the proposed resolutions declares ... ... we know that exposure to diversity broadens our minds and prepares us for citizenship in a diverse democratic society. Research shows that the kind of diversity that most improves the quality and creativity of thinking is viewpoint diversity. When everyone thinks alike, there is a danger of groupthink, prejudice, dogmatism, and orthodoxy. People in the majority benefit from interacting with individuals who see things differently. At a time when American democracy is polarizing into antagonistic camps and informational bubbles, many colleges and universities are becoming more intellectually and politically homogeneous. Orthodoxies arise, dissent is punished, and quality declines. We do not want that to happen in our community. We therefore welcome heterodoxy, meaning that we want to support those within our community who hold dissenting or minority viewpoints; we want them to express themselves freely and without fear. We value viewpoint diversity not merely out of compassion for those in the minority but also because such diversity helps us all to develop skills essential for life after graduation, including the ability to judge the quality of ideas for ourselves, the ability to formulate arguments against ideas we reject, and the ability to live and work amicably alongside those whose ideas and values we do not share. The resolutions urge (1) the Faculty Senate at schools to adopt the University of Chicago's Principles on Freedom of Expression, or (2) implement a non-obstruction policy against shouting down controversial speakers, or (3) asks the university to explcitly include viewpoint diversity in its faculty hiring and curriculum policies. Last year, the University of Chicago issued a report on freedom of expression on its campus which stated: Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. Except insofar as limitations on that freedom are necessary to the functioning of the University, the University of Chicago fully respects and supports the freedom of all members of the University community "to discuss any problem that presents itself." Of course, the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community. .[...]
Mon, 22 Aug 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) A British court has sentenced Stephen Bennett to 12 months probation and 180 hours of community service for posting "grossly offensive" comments on a police website. Local media did not report what those comments were but said one was offensive to Asian women and one was offensive to Muslims.
Thu, 04 Aug 2016 16:35:00 -0400We are all well aware (or should be well aware) that we don't actually have "free speech" at our private workplaces. Employers can monitor employee communications and—for the sake of workplace harmony or customer relations—declare topics off subject or require employees to not curse up a storm or scream at people, et cetera, et cetera. Inappropriate workplace speech can also constitute harassment and discrimination under federal law. Racist and sexist behavior in the workplace is forbidden and can get the employer into legal and financial hot water. So, what happens when people decide certain symbols and political positions are themselves inherently racist and create a hostile work environment? Here's what the culture of offense has led us to. As Eugene Volokh explains over at his blog hosted by The Washington Post, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is handling a complaint by a worker at a private employer who believes the Gadsden flag with the "Don't Tread on Me" text is racist. Therefore the employee has determined that an employee wearing a hat with the Gadsden flag insignia is racial harassment. Volokh notes that the EEOC has already ruled that wearing the Confederate flag in the workplace could potentially constitute harassment and could be punishable under federal law. The EEOC's determination is disconcerting because it acknowledges that no, the Gadsden flag is not inherently racist, and then tosses in a very significant "but still": Complainant maintains that the Gadsden Flag is a "historical indicator of white resentment against blacks stemming largely from the Tea Party." He notes that the Vice President of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters cited the Gadsden Flag as the equivalent of the Confederate Battle Flag when he successfully had it removed from a New Haven, Connecticut fire department flagpole. After a thorough review of the record, it is clear that the Gadsden Flag originated in the Revolutionary War in a non-racial context. Moreover, it is clear that the flag and its slogan have been used to express various non-racial sentiments, such as when it is used in the modern Tea Party political movement, guns rights activism, patriotic displays, and by the military. However, whatever the historic origins and meaning of the symbol, it also has since been sometimes interpreted to convey racially-tinged messages in some contexts. For example, in June 2014, assailants with connections to white supremacist groups draped the bodies of two murdered police officers with the Gadsden flag during their Las Vegas, Nevada shooting spree. … In light of the ambiguity in the current meaning of this symbol, we find that Complainant's claim must be investigated to determine the specific context in which C1 displayed the symbol in the workplace. So this puts the EEOC in the position where it's claiming the authority to police what sort of political symbols are permitted in the workplace depending on how much racists might have corrupted them. This puts workplaces in the position of having to try to figure out whether its employees will interpret political speech as racist or sexist harassment. As such, the matter becomes much less about employers setting rules for appropriate workplace speech and instead being pressured to censor it in order to avoid federal intervention. Volokh notes: Let's think about how this plays out in the workplace. Imagine that you are a reasonable employer. You don't want to restrict employee speech any more than is necessary, but you also don't want to face the risk of legal liability for allowing speech that the government might label "harassing." An employee comes to you, complaining that a coworker's wearing a "Don't Tread on Me" cap — or having an "All Lives Matter" bumper sticker on a car parked in the employee lot, or "Stop Illegal Immigration" sign [...]
Thu, 21 Jul 2016 12:26:00 -0400
(image) The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in partnership with Washington, D.C.'s Newseum, is currently running a special exhibit timed for the 2016 presidential election called "Louder than Words: Rock, Power, and Politics," which their according to the museum's website will "explore the power of rock to change attitudes about patriotism, peace, equality and freedom."
Apparently, the fact that the exhibit is running as Cleveland hosts the Republican National Convention (RNC) is coincidental. According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's curator Karen Herman, the exhibit was commissioned before Cleveland was named the RNC's host city.
Everything from the saxophone Bill Clinton blew on Aresnio Hall's show in 1992, to a chunk of the Berlin Wall, to a box of FBI files on pop stars like John Lennon and The Monkees is represented.
Also of particular note is a wall representing "A Brief Timeline of Censorship" in music, an installation on the infamous Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) congressional hearings in 1985, as well as pieces on musical anti-war resistance to both the Vietnam and Iraq wars.
Check out a slideshow of some of the exhibits after the jump.
Mon, 27 Jun 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) The Chinese government has banned broadcast and Internet TV shows that show "the dark side of society." That includes depictions of gay characters, extramarital affairs, one night stands, smoking, drinking and reincarnation.
Mon, 20 Jun 2016 12:30:00 -0400Today the Department of Justice and FBI are releasing more information about Omar Mateen's attack on Orlando nightclub Pulse, including Mateen's 911 calls. Over the weekend Attorney General Loretta Lynch got significant public attention for making the Sunday morning television circuit and saying that the Department of Justice was going to deliberately censor out references to the Islamic State from the transcripts. Lynch told NBC "What we're not going to do is further proclaim this man's pledges of allegiance to terrorist groups and further his propaganda." When the transcripts were released this morning, the Justice Department censored out some of the words. Put on those thinking caps and see if you can figure out this puzzle: Orlando Police Dispatcher (OD) Shooter (OM) OD: Emergency 911, this is being recorded. OM: In the name of God the Merciful, the beneficial [in Arabic] OD: What? OM: Praise be to God, and prayers as well as peace be upon the prophet of God [in Arabic]. I let you know, I'm in Orlando and I did the shootings. OD: What's your name? OM: My name is I pledge of allegiance to [omitted]. OD: Ok, What's your name? OM: I pledge allegiance to [omitted] may God protect him [in Arabic], on behalf of [omitted]. OD: Alright, where are you at? OM: In Orlando. OD: Where in Orlando? [End of call.] Who could Mateen possibly be referring to? Such a mystery. Note that there is an indication that Mateen is pledging allegiance to a specific person, not just ISIS. There may be investigative reasons for some censorship here, but that, remarkably, is not the justification being presented for it. The decision has been widely derided and criticized online from folks across the political spectrum. It's blatant government censorship justified as a way to fight "propaganda." President Barack Obama's administration faces heavy criticism for the way it has approached dealing with the Islamic State. It's impossible to separate this decision to censor a transcript with the administration's now very obvious desire to downplay any possibility that the existence of ISIS presents a threat to American citizens back at home. But here's the thing: Where on earth would the administration get the idea that such a move would play well with the public? It might be because Americans have been increasingly using this exact same argument to try to convince the media to self-censor information about mass killers. Over the past few years, whenever there's been an incident of mass killings, there's been a push to stop providing information about the killer or even saying his name. The belief (which I think at the moment is unsupported by evidence) is that giving the killer publicity is exactly what he "wants," and it will encourage other psychopaths to do this same. It's an argument not tied to any particular political ideology. Conor Friedersdorf promoted the idea over at The Atlantic in 2014 following a killer's spree in Santa Barbara. Mind you, this is not a call for official government censorship. These folks are not calling for the government to order the media not to publish names and images of mass killers. Rather it's a cultural push to get media to deliberately not give the public information. It's working to some degree. On the day of the Orlando attack, CNN correspondents made a big deal about not publicizing Mateen's name and image while reporting on the aftermath. I take a dim view of this argument because it, first of all, assumes that we can or should alter our entire mass culture in such a way so as to not trigger violent behavior from a very small number of people. These people are unstable and unpredictable. It's not logical or reasonable to think that extremely violent, mentally ill individuals can be shepherded into peaceful or even rational behavior on th[...]
Thu, 16 Jun 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) The Canadian government has ordered Canada Post to stop delivering Your Ward News. Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote says the newspaper violates a section of the Canadian criminal code banning the willful promotion of hate. The newspaper has reportedly run articles denying the Holocaust and praising Adolf Hitler, but a Toronto police investigation of the paper found it did not violate any laws.
Tue, 14 Jun 2016 14:45:00 -0400
(image) Come July, advertisements that depict "unhealthy or unrealistic body images" will be barred from appearing on trains, buses, or other public transport in London. The city's new mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced the policy Monday, saying that any ads "likely to create body confidence issues, particularly among young people," will be prohibited in all ad spaces controlled by city transit authority Transport for London (TFL).
How exactly city officials plan to determine what's "likely to create body confidence issues" in young people is unclear, but one can bet it'll be mighty selective. After all, isn't any depiction of a conventionally attractive person likely to cause someone some insecurity? Yet London isn't moving to impose a total ban on attractive models (yet). For now, it will rely on a new advertising monitoring committee to approve or reject all ads.
While the new ban only applies to TFL-controlled spaces, these represent some 12,000 ad spots around London. According to the mayor's office, TFL ad assets are the "most valuable in the world," expected to bring in about $2.1 billion in revenue over the next eight and a half years.
Khan vowed to address body-standards in advertising after the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority received more than 300 complaints last year about a Protein World ad featuring a woman in a bikini with the caption: "Are You Beach Body Ready?"
"As the father of two teenage girls, I am extremely concerned about this kind of advertising which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies," Khan said in a statement. "Nobody should feel pressurised, while they travel on the Tube or bus, into unrealistic expectations surrounding their bodies and I want to send a clear message to the advertising industry about this."
Mon, 06 Jun 2016 11:12:00 -0400
(image) Feminist porn producer and adult performer Pandora Blake has triumphed over British video regulators who banned her spanking website last summer. Blake describes the site, Dreams of Spanking, as a space devoted to "ethically-produced BDSM pornography" that prioritizes "gender diversity" and "enthusiastic consent."
The site was taken down by the British Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD) in August 2015, pursuant to the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations (AVMS) of 2014. The new rules prohibited the depiction of certain sexual activity—included spanking, female ejaculation, and various BDSM acts—in TV and internet video-on-demand services. Blake and her friend Nimue Allen, also a fetish pornographer and performer, were active in speaking out against and raising money to fight these regulations.
"It's interesting that this site—which was doing visible and innovative work to raise the standard of ethical porn production in the UK BDSM industry—was the one ATVOD decided to make an example of," Blake wrote in a December 2014 post on her personal blog. "Is their aim to reduce harm—or to stifle free speech?"
Blake appealed to the U.K. Office of Communications (OFCOM). On Monday, the OFCOM published a ruling in her favor, holding that dreamsofspanking.com did not fall unter ATVOD's jurisdiction. "The site was not a video-on-demand service and therefore it was not subject to regulation," stated the OFCOM decision.
ATVOD "had been widely criticised for acting against sites outside its remit and... campaigners also said it disproportionately acted against websites run by women," reports The Guardian. In fact, the "quango"—British for a quasi-governmental administrative body such as ATVOD—was recently stripped of its regulatory powers.
Dreams of Spanking, which has been down since August 27, 2015, "will be reinstated very soon," Blake promised in a June 6 blog post.
"The point of Dreams of Spanking was to make ethical porn based on my own fantasies," Blake stated. "I'm not ashamed of being kinky and there's no harm in adults sharing consensual BDSM films. The AVMS regulations effectively criminalised my sexuality. I was singled out because I criticised the new laws. ATVOD tried to shut me up, but they failed."
Tue, 24 May 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) A German court has issued a temporary injunction barring re-publication of most of a satirical poem targeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan is seeking a permanent ban on the poem, and the government has launched an investigation of comedian Jan Boehmemann for reading that poem on television. Officials say he may have violated a German law banning insulting foreign heads of state.