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All articles with the "Censorship" tag.

Published: Sat, 16 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Sat, 16 Dec 2017 07:35:55 -0500


Government Is the Cause of—Not the Solution to—Online Censorship

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:15:00 -0500

While Americans are screaming at the Federal Communications Commission about their fears of private censorship if "net neutrality" goes away, the reality is that governments, in the United States and overseas, are consistently the driving force behind attempts to control what people are allowed to see and read online. Some supporters of net neutrality have gotten it into their heads that an absence of government-enforced net neutrality will lead private internet providers to institute cost-based access gatekeeping that will serve as a form of censorship. This belief is misguided (as Andrea O'Sullivan has explained very thoroughly), and yet the amount of public pushback FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is getting over the vote to overturn the "Open Internet Order" is much more furious than the response to lawmakers and politicians who openly demand authority to censor what is and is not permitted to be on the internet. At the same time Pai and the FCC are making their decision, the Committee on Standards in Public Life in the United Kingdom is encouraging Prime Minister Theresa May to change the law so that it can hold social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google legally liable for content the country deems to be illegal. Its latest report says: We understand that they do not consider themselves as publishers, responsible for reviewing and editing everything that others post on their sites. But with developments in this technology, the time has come for the companies to take more responsibility for illegal material that appears on their platforms. The report notes that the European Union's online commerce regulations treat these tech companies as "hosts," not publishers. The report also notes that Brexit is a thing, so after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, they're recommending British laws be changed to treat these tech companies more like media outlets. "What could go wrong?" is baked right into this report, focused as it is on trying to control abusive and harassing speech directed at public officials, particularly members of Parliament. Some of this communication includes threats of violence. The United Kingdom, however, does not have as broad a view of free speech as the United States and outlaws "hate speech," as well as speech that harasses or causes "distress" to individuals. Even with the European Union's regulations, other countries aren't much better. Facebook has agreed to hire hundreds more people to respond to demands by the German government to censor and remove content they have declared illegal. Otherwise they could face huge fines. Demands by governments to censor will expand if they're not stopped. Westerners tend to associate internet censorship with oppressive countries like China, forcing Apple to remove apps from its store. But focusing on the extreme ignores censorship threats on our own doorstep. Danielle Keats Citron, in a policy analysis paper hosted by the Cato Institute, warns of the potential long-term consequences of allowing these European countries to set the terms for free speech across the globe: Definitional ambiguity is part of the problem. "Hateful conduct" and "violent extremist material" are vague terms that can be stretched to include political dissent and cultural commentary. They could be extended to a government official's tweets, posts critiquing a politician, or a civil rights activist's profile. Violent extremist material could be interpreted to cover violent content of all kinds, including news reports, and not just gruesome beheading videos. Censorship creep isn't merely a theoretical possibility—it is already happening. European regulators' calls to remove "illegal hate speech" have quickly ballooned to cover expression that does not violate existing EU law, including bogus news stories. Commenting on the hate-speech agreement, European Justice Commissioner Věra Jurová criticized the Companies for failing to remove "online radicalization, terrorist propaganda, and fake news." Legitimate debate could easily fall within Jurová's characterization of ha[...]

Prostitution Ad Ban Creeps Forward, Threatening Social Media and Sex Workers

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 14:40:00 -0500

A measure making prostitution advertising a federal crime passed the House Judiciary Committee this morning. "This legislation is about more than just," said bill sponsor Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri), promising that the changes would "wreak havoc" on "hundreds of websites." House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) crowed that the bill "empowers prosecutors with new tools" to hold human traffickers accountable. But Goodlatte is lying—nothing in the bill addresses penalties for actual human traffickers. Instead, it would allow the government to treat websites and social apps as if they are human traffickers if bad actors should communicate through their digital platforms and tools. (For more about how this would work, see my post from yesterday.) The bill would also make posting or hosting prostitution ads a federal crime. If H.R. 1865 becomes law, the FBI would be able to prosecute Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Craigslist, and myriad other sites where sex workers advertise and/or communicate with clients—even if the sexual exchange is only alluded to and never completed.* Goodlatte said that in crafting the legislation, he "consulted with local prosecutors, and also with the Department of Justice." Notably, he does not mention consulting with any sex workers, tech companies, sex-trafficking victims, or any groups that work directly with sex-trafficking victims. If he did, he might learn that digital advertising has revolutionized the sex trade, making it much more possible for women to work without the aid of abusive or controlling pimps; to screen clients before seeing them; and to generally take more control over their bodies, businesses, and personal safety. Meanwhile, it's also been hugely useful to law enforcement and families for finding victims of exploitation (something that would be all but impossible if street-based sex work were the only option or if traffickers start turning to the dark web.) But in the delusional minds of folks like Goodlatte and Wagner, everyone engaged in sex work will simply stop if there are no web-ad platforms and all the sex traffickers will simply let their victims go. (Drugs went away when we made those illegal, too, right?) So their goal is to eradicate any web platforms where sex buyers might communicate with sex sellers. After all, catching actual evildoers is too hard. "Advertisements rarely, if ever, will say the person advertised is a 'victim of sex trafficking,'" Goodlatte lamented. Easier for authorities to stop distinguishing between forced or underage prostitution and sex that free adults consent to have. More profitable, too. Wringing assets from petty pimps hasn't proven too valuable for the feds so far, but sites like Backpage and Facebook are much bigger fish. And Congress is always ready to approve a bigger net. During Tuesday's meeting, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-New York) was the only committee member who expressed reservations about the bill, saying he was concerned that it had not been fully vetted, did not have support from surivors of sex trafficking or other relevant stakeholders, did not provide "appropriate protection for civil liberties," and could be redundant in light of a similar bill. Nadler asked that the committee refrain from voting the bill forward until more work could be done, but his colleagues did not agree. * This post previously stated that intent was not required for prosecution, which is incorrect. The original version of this bill, authored by Wagner, stated that nothing in the measure should "be construed to require the Federal Government in a prosecution, or a plaintiff in a civil action, to prove any intent on the part of the information content provider." But the version agreed to yesterday, authored by Goodlatte, says people or entities are only guilty if they use or operate a digital platform "with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution" (emphasis mine). The new language is certainly an improvement, but not necessarily that reassuring. Prosecutors and pol[...]

Posting or Hosting Sex Ads Could Mean 25 Years in Federal Prison Under New Republican Proposal

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:55:00 -0500

Looking forward to a future when federal agents monitor Tinder? We won't be far off if some folks in Congress get their way. Under a proposal from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R–Va.), anyone posting or hosting digital content that leads to an act of prostitution could face serious federal prison time as well as civil penalties. This is obviously bad news for sex workers, but it would also leave digital platforms—including dating apps, social media, and classifieds sites such as Craigslist—open to serious legal liability for the things users post. In effect, it would give government agents more incentive and authority to monitor sex-related apps, ads, forums, and sites of all sorts. And it would give digital platforms a huge incentive to track and regulate user speech more closely. Goodlatte's measure was offered as an amendment to another House bill, this one from the Missouri Republican Ann Wagner. The House Judiciary Committee will consider both bills on Tuesday. Wagner's legislation (H.R. 1865) would open digital platforms to criminal and civil liability not just for future sex crimes that result from user posts or interactions but also for past harms brokered by the platforms in some way. So platforms that followed previous federal rules (which encouraged less content moderation in order to avoid liability) would now be especially vulnerable to charges and lawsuits. The bill currently has 171 co-sponsors, including ample numbers of both Republicans and Democrats. Specifically, Wagner's bill would amend Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, which says that websites and other online platforms should not be treated as the creators of user-posted content. What this means in effect is that these third-party platforms can't be sued or prosecuted for users' and commenters' illegal speech (or illegal actions resulting from speech)—with some major exceptions. Digital platforms do not get a pass for content they actually create "in whole or part," for instance. As it stands, states cannot generally prosecute web services and citizens cannot sue them when user-generated content conflicts with state criminal law. Rep. Wagner's bill—like the similar and more-hyped "Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act" (SESTA) in the Senate—would end this state and civil immunity for digital platforms in cases of "sex trafficking" or "sexual exploitation of children." But while that may sound like a small concession, it actually opens up a huge range of activity for liability. At the federal level, the above offenses encompass everything from the truly horrific and unconscionable (like sex trafficking by force) to things like sexting between teenagers. And at the state level, definitions can be even more varied and blurry. Wagner's bill doesn't just stop at carving out a new Section 230 exception. It also creates a new crime, "benefitting from participation in a venture engaged in sex trafficking," and makes it easy to hold all sorts of web platforms and publishers in violation. Any "provider of an interactive computer service" who hosts user-posted information "with reckless disregard that the information in furtherance of [sex trafficking] or an attempt to commit such an offense" could face a fine and up to 20 years in prison, the bill states. And nothing "shall be construed to require the Federal Government in a prosecution, or a plaintiff in a civil action, to prove any intent on the part of the information content provider." So in cases like, say, Hope Zeferjohn, the teen girl convicted of sex trafficking for talking to a younger teen on Facebook about prostitution, Facebook could be facing a federal charge for participating in a sex trafficking venture. Goodlatte's proposal, meanwhile, would work by amending the Mann Act, a century-old prohibition on transporting someone across state lines for prostitution. The new section would declare that "whoever uses or operates a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce or attempts to do so with the intent[...]

Goat Yoga Gets Baaaaaa-nned

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 16:12:00 -0500

Good, old-fashioned goats and the ancient Hindu practice of yoga are two things that don't seem to go together.

(image) And yet, last year, a small farm in Corvallis, Oregon started offering classes that combined the two. Goat yoga is exactly what it sounds like: the practice of yoga in the presence of goats.

Soon these classes had a 900-person waiting list for an hour of ritual calisthenics with a bunch of horned ruminants. Within a year, the unlikely trend had spread across the nation.

"We would go through the different asanas and the different flows," explains Amanda Bowen, a goat-yoga instructor with GoatToBeZen in Maryland, "and the goats will come around and interact with people as we're doing the class."

And then the unstoppable force of goat yoga locked horns with the immovable object of the Washington, D.C. Department of Health. When Congressional Cemetery Director Paul Williams applied for a livestock permit in the District of Columbia, he was greeted by four lawyers "ready to throw every curve ball they possibly could at me to prevent goat yoga."

But goat springs eternal. Since Manchester, CT. reversed its ban late last summer, the only place in the country where risk-averse municipal bureaucracies are undermining this fitness-to-farm trend threat is the nation's capital.

Produced, shot, narrated, and edited by Todd Krainin.

J.S. Bach, BWV 536 Prelude and Fugue in A Major, performed by James Kibbie
J.S. Bach, BWV 546 Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, performed by James Kibbie
Front Porch Sitter, by Audionautix

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Brickbat: The Cost of Doing Business

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Facebook will open a second office and hire 500 more contractors to help it comply with a new German hate speech law requiring social media to remove illegal content within 24 hours. By the end of the year, Facebook will have 1,200 people in Germany reviewing the content of posts.

French President Vows Crackdown on 'Verbal Violence' Against Women

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 15:10:00 -0500

"We are not a puritan society," French President Emmanuel Macron claimed Saturday in a speech marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. He then called for the criminalization of wolf-whistling and gender-based insults, and for requiring France's TV and radio regulators to police video games and web content. That last item is aimed mostly at online pornography, which Macron sees (sans evidence) as a prominent cause of violence against girls and women. Porn is infiltrating French schools, Macron warned, and "we cannot ignore the kind that makes women an object of humiliation." If Macron gets his way, France's Superior Audiovisual Council will be tasked with monitoring online videos for "the protection of the young public," and schools will implement an awareness campaign about "stereotypes, domination, and violence" in porn. On Twitter, French porn star Manuel Ferrara pushed back against Macron's suggestion that exposure to porn is linked to a propensity to assault women. Rather than "demonize" porn, Ferrara suggested, the president should sit down with adult entertainers for a discussion. Ferrara later accused Macron of "faire un amalgame"—jumping to conclusions—about the supposed effects of online pornography. "It's the same with video games," Ferrara told France Inter. "It's like saying a teenager who plays Call of Duty is going to pick up a gun and kill everyone in his school." Macron also said Saturday that "legislative changes will be made not only to better prevent but also to prosecute those who act on the Internet to harass." And he promised penalties for IRL harassment, too, suggesting that that gender-based insults and catcalling should soon "be punishable by law" and that "offenders will face a deterrent fine." For a long time, people reacted with indifference to the "verbal violence" women frequently face on the streets, said Macron. This is unacceptable. Women must feel comfortable in public spaces. Women in the republic must not be afraid to use public spaces. This must be one of the priorities of the police. Not all of the ideas Macron touted were terrible. He also suggested a sensible system allowing sexual assault victims to file an initial complaint online or at a hospital instead of having to go in person to a police station. And he called for the country to set the age of sexual consent at 15. (France currently has no minimum age of consent.) To enact such measures, Macron promised to increase the budget dedicated to female and male equality to more than 420 million Euros next year. On Saturday, Macron tweeted that "the first pillar" in his fight for "equality between women and men" is "the fight against violence against women." However, he added, "I do not want us to fall into a society where every relationship between a man and a woman becomes a suspicion of domination."[...]

Cynical Politicians Turn #FakeNews Into a Rallying Cry for Censorship

Tue, 07 Nov 2017 00:01:00 -0500

Who knew the republic was so vulnerable that our elections could be monkeywrenched by Russian dirty-tricksters spending their office coffee budget on a motley collection of social media ads that would make the authors of Nigerian prince scam emails wince at their clumsiness? Or, more likely, cynical politicians are making much ado about Putin and company's low-rent effort to make themselves look relevant in order to justify government interference in political speech. Just consider Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) threat to Facebook, Google, and Twitter during Senate hearings over the clumsy Russky meddling: "You created these platforms, and now they're being misused. And you have to be the ones who do something about it—or we will." Feinstein thinks government should exercise more control over speech? Such a shocker—unless you saw her try to smother encryption in 2016, or heard her insist in 2015 that edgy material like The Anarchist Cookbook "should be removed from the internet" or her similar effort to ban bomb-making instructions in 1997. And then there was her scheme to narrowly define "journalists" to limit legal protections for people reporting news events, and her vote for the COICA bill that would seize domain names from websites accused of piracy… Feinstein is hardly alone in these efforts at muzzling unwelcome voices—18 other senators joined her on that COICA vote. Alternet's Max Blumenthal points out that "the liberal Democrats in #TechHearings are most outspoken opponents of press freedom & supporters of media censorship," but the latest stab at regulating online political ads draws support from both sides of the aisle (co-sponsor Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) rivals Feinstein in the degree to which he disdains unfettered speech). So it's business as usual for legislators who apparently see everything as justification for a mass purchase of blue pencils. That few of these censorship efforts get passed into law—and even fewer survive constitutional scrutiny—doesn't mute the message to people on the receiving end, who have been warned that Big Brother is watching. Twitter defensively says that "the number of accounts we could link to Russia and that were Tweeting election-related content was comparatively small—around one one-hundredth of a percent of total Twitter accounts at the time we studied." Nevertheless, the company has banned major Russian media operations from advertising, just in case their rare and ham-handed efforts might change a mind or two. Even before the current kerfuffle—before the election itself—Twitter "detected and hid just under half (48%) of the Tweets relating to variants of another notable hashtag, #DNCLeak, which concerned the disclosure of leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee," according to the company's Senate testimony. That should earn them a pat on the head from lawmakers, at least. Facebook has been equally busy suppressing content that might make officialdom mad. Election efforts aside, the social media company's automated tools squelched political journalist James Bovard's attempt to repost a piece about controversial former Attorney General Janet Reno. Bovard bypassed the robo-censors by changing an image and a headline that apparently raised red flags. "This was not the first time Facebook erased an iconic image that the U.S. government would be happy to see vanish," Bovard cautions. "Facebook likely deleted thousands of postings of the 1972 photo of a young Vietnamese girl running naked after a plane dropped napalm on her village." Admittedly, the company is in a bind operating around the world under a variety of legal restrictions; it advises its moderators that "we will not censor content unless a nation has demonstrated the political will to enforce its censorship laws." Members of Congress certainly seem determined to demonstrate such political will here in the U.S., even wi[...]

Sen. Feinstein's Threat to 'Do Something' to Social Media Companies Is a Bigger Danger to Democracy Than Russia

Fri, 03 Nov 2017 13:25:00 -0400

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) took the opportunity this week to remind social media companies that she's as authoritarian as President Donald Trump and isn't afraid to try to push people around. Reason's Jacob Sullum and Jesse Walker have ably punctured the hysteria surrounding the Russian government's attempts to influence America's elections with really, really lame social media ads. The ads attempted to exploit our polarized electorate to Russia's advantage, and apparently some of our senators take issue with that. Perhaps they don't like the competition? Feinstein certainly knows a thing or two about taking advantage of a polarized electorate. Perhaps that explains her Mafia-don approach this week when social media companies failed to kiss her ring sufficiently at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. From The Verge: Senators raised the stakes against some of America's biggest tech companies on Wednesday, telling them they must take more comprehensive action against foreign actors misusing their platforms. "You created these platforms...and now they're being misused," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) told the top lawyers at Facebook, Google, and Twitter. "And you have to be the ones who do something about it—or we will."... "We are not going to go away, gentlemen," Feinstein continued. "And this is a very big deal. I went home last night with profound disappointment. I asked specific questions, I got vague answers. And that just won't do. You have a huge problem on your hands. And the US is going to be the first of the countries to bring it to your attention, and other countries are going to follow I'm sure. Because you bear this responsibility." Just imagine somebody saying this about the printing press. Actually, you don't have to imagine it: Powerful political figures did indeed abuse their authority (and continue to abuse their authority) to hold printing press owners responsible for how their "platforms" were "being misused." Very little coverage of this conflict between the Senate and the social media companies seems interested in pointing out that lawmakers are not neutral, disinterested parties here. Any policy Feinstein might enact here could erect barriers for people using social media tools to challenge her position and power as a senator. Feinstein, it's worth noting, is running for re-election next year and has a personal stake in any policies that control how political speech is presented online. What sort of ads are going to pop up on Facebook and Twitter next year, and what will they be saying about her? So look at those terrible Russian Facebook ads that try to exploit Americans' unhappiness about their government. And then look at Feinstein declaring that communication tools are being "misused" and must be regulated, possibly by her and other lawmakers unless the companies implement stronger censorship policies on their own. Which presents a greater threat to the proper, open functioning of American democracy? By the way: This week, as part of this investigation into Russian meddling, Feinstein sent the CEO of Twitter a letter asking that he provide him with a bunch of records, including the content of private direct messages from Julian Assange and other Twitter users. No, she doesn't have a warrant.[...]

U.K. Anti-Terror Censorship Law Stupidly Used Against Guy Who Fights Terrorism

Tue, 31 Oct 2017 14:35:00 -0400

Prosecutors in the United Kingdom didn't think Josh Walker was an actual terrorist. But they treated him as if he were one anyway, because of a book they found in his bedroom. Fortunately, they failed. But the case, highlighted at The Intercept, details some of the terrible consequences of trying to criminalize dangerous thoughts or ideas rather than actions. Walker was prosecuted for downloading and having in his possession a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook, an infamous guide to homemade explosives (and other tools for lawbreaking) that was first published in 1971. Walker wasn't plotting a terrorist attack. He was, in fact, doing the opposite. According to The Intercept and the court case, he was using the book as a reference material for a terror crisis management simulation at a college. The United Kingdom does not have the same broad First Amendment freedom of speech protections that Americans have. The Terrorism Act of 2000 in Section 58 criminalizes the ownership of "information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism." There is a defense that a person has a "reasonable excuse" for having the material, and that's what Walker had to lean on during the trial. The whole thing seemed particularly absurd because Walker had returned to the United Kingdom from Syria, where he was helping a Kurdish militia fight the Islamic State. I wasn't kidding when I said he was the opposite of a terrorist. And prosecutors knew that. From The Intercept: As the case moved forward, the prosecution acknowledged that Walker was not suspected of plotting any kind of terrorist atrocity. The government was instead arguing that his mere possession of the book was a violation of the Terrorism Act's Section 58 because it contained information that could have been useful to a terrorist if discovered. The book is freely available to anyone on the internet, and versions of it can even be purchased on Amazon. Regardless, prosecution lawyer Robin Sellers said it was possible a "radicalized" person could find Walker's copy of the book and use it to prepare an attack. The prosecution's argument seemed bizarre and without precedent. People in the U.K. have been prosecuted before under the Terrorism Act for possessing the "Anarchist Cookbook," but usually the defendants have been involved in some other kind of nefarious activity as well. In 2010, for example, a member of a violent neo-Nazi group called the "Wolf Pack" was convicted of a terrorism offense for possessing the book. He was linked, through his father, to a plot to overthrow the government and poison people. In another case, in 2011, a man was sentenced to three years in prison for selling the "Cookbook" and Al Qaeda training manuals, pocketing $113,000 in the process. Walker's case was different: He was being prosecuted solely because he downloaded and stored a copy of the book. Fortunately for Walker, the jury also found the prosecution's argument bizarre. Last week they found him not guilty. Despite the absurdity of this prosecution, the U.K.'s home secretary (essentially the equivalent of the head of America's Department of Homeland Security) actually wants to expand this anti-terror censorship law. Section 58 doesn't currently cover viewing or reading content online. So this month Secretary Amber Rudd said she wants to expand the law's reach to cover people who view "terrorist content online, including jihadi websites, far-right propaganda and bomb-making instructions." (If you'd like to know how the U.K. government would be able to know what you've been viewing online, they've covered that with the Investigatory Powers Act that went into effect at the start of the year.) Rudd says that the "reasonable excuse" exemption will remain for people such as journalists and academics who write about ideas the government has classified [...]

Attn, London Reasonoids! Nick Gillespie Speaking at Battle of Ideas, 10/28-29

Wed, 25 Oct 2017 18:57:00 -0400

(image) I'll be appearing on three panels during the Battle of Ideas, a London event organized by the Institute of Ideas. It takes place this Saturday and Sunday, October 28 and 29. As Claire Fox, the IoI's director puts it:

The Battle of Ideas festival aims to be...a uniquely open forum, where you can meet your 'enemy', listen to opinions you have never heard before, argue back, and even occasionally change your mind. We promise no off-the-shelf answers. More modestly, we bring together a vast range of international speakers to kick-start passionate, serious-minded discussion and public conversations with free-thinking, inquisitive, opinionated attendees. Between us all, we will try and untangle everything from the bastardisation of political language to understanding what makes modern America and Brexit Britain tick beyond the headlines. Since 2005, the festival's slogan has been FREE SPEECH ALLOWED, a crucial rebuttal to today's climate of offence-taking.

(image) There are panels and debates on virtually every possible topic that's in the news. Here are the three I'm appearing on:

Saturday 28 October, 14:00 Frobisher Auditorium 1

Sunday 29 October, 14:00 Cinema 1

Sunday 29 October, 16:00 Frobisher Auditorium 2

For more details and tickets, go here.

Brickbat: To Ban a Mockingbird

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Officials in the Biloxi, Mississippi, school system stopped eighth-grade students from reading To Kill a Mockingbird after they'd already begun reading it for a literature class. Superintendent Arthur McMillan is refusing to answer questions from the media about why the book was pulled from the curriculum. School board vice president Kenny Holloway says there were complaints about the language in the book, presumably the use of the n-word.

'I Believe in the First Amendment,' Says FCC Chair, Rejecting Trump's Censorious Tweets

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 13:45:00 -0400

(image) Today FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who pre-emptively repudiated Donald Trump's suggestion that TV stations should lose their broadcast licenses if their news reports offend him, reiterated his commitment to freedom of speech and emphasized that his agency has no authority to take journalistic content into account when making such decisions. Asked directly about the president's censorious tweets during a forum on telecommunications reform at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, Pai replied:

I believe in the First Amendment. The FCC under my leadership will stand for the First Amendment, and under the law the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast.

Pai added that, notwithstanding Trump's argument that purveyors of "fake news" should be investigated by the government, such a role "has not been within the FCC's jurisdiction." He also criticized the so-called Fairness Doctrine, under which the FCC used to require that broadcast stations present contrasting views on controversial subjects. "It was an affront to the First Amendment to have the government micromanaging how much time a particular broadcast outlet decided to devote to a particular topic," he said.

Trump has raised the possibility of reviving the Fairness Doctrine, which the FCC abandoned in 1987. "Late Night host are dealing with the Democrats for their very 'unfunny' & repetitive material, always anti-Trump!" he tweeted on October 7. "Should we get Equal Time?" Four minutes later, he added, "More and more people are suggesting that Republicans (and me) should be given Equal Time on T.V. when you look at the one-sided coverage?" Trump used a question mark instead of a period, and he said "Equal Time" instead of "Fairness Doctrine," invoking a different rule that applies to competing candidates for public office. But you get the idea: If people on TV are saying things that make Trump look bad, the stations on which they appear should be forced to air rebuttals.

That proposal, like Trump's assertion that "licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked" in response to "partisan, distorted and fake" news coverage, is obviously anathema to the First Amendment. Pai, in his low-key, matter-of-fact manner, is commendably willing to say so, apparently as many times as it takes.

Addendum: On Sunday, another member of the FCC, Jessica Rosenworcel, beat Pai to the punch in responding to Trump's tweets about broadcast licenses. "History won't be kind to silence," the Democratic appointee said on CNN, "and I think it's important for all the commissioners to make clear that they support the First Amendment and that the agency will not revoke a broadcast license simply because the president is dissatisfied with the licensee's coverage."

Brickbat: See No Evil

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) United Kingdom Home Secretary Amber Rudd has called for a law that would criminalize reading "terrorist content" online, including "jihadi websites" and "far right propaganda." Those convicted under the law would face up to 15 years in prison.

Brickbat: Nice Social Networking Service You Have There

Tue, 10 Oct 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Congressional Black Caucus members Bonnie Watson Coleman and Emanuel Cleaver have warned Twitter officials that if the service does not do more to stop "racially divisive communications" Congress will regulate the service to address the issue.

Utah May Bring Back Porn Czar to Target 'Obscenity' Like Cosmo Magazine

Mon, 09 Oct 2017 16:15:00 -0400

For the past 14 years, Utah has made do without a "porn czar." The position—officially known as the "Obscenity and Pornography Complaints Ombudsman"—has been vacant since 2003, though it was never officially eliminated. Now state Sen. Todd Weiler (R–Woods Cross) may revive it, even as the Utah attorney general suggests legislators strike it from the books. Weiler has been on an anti-porn crusade for several years now. He's the architect of a 2016 declaration to declare porn a public health crisis (which passed the state legislature unanimously) and a proposal passed earlier this year to encourage "porn addicts" to sue porn platforms. And Weiler's definition of porn is apparently broad enough to encompass mainstream women's magazines. Weiler "says he became convinced that the obscenity and pornography complaints office may be needed because of an ad campaign attacking Cosmopolitan magazine as illegal porn," The Salt Lake Tribune reports. "I've received some complaints...that stores are selling Cosmo at eye level to a child," he told the Tribune. "There's no blinder rack on it, even though we have some blinder rack language in the state code." Weiler suggests that an obscenity ombudsman could focus on things like providing guidance to retailers. But the position also has the power to monitor and punish business owners for daring to display magazines that mention sex. Victoria Hearst, the public face of the Cosmo campaign that so inspired the Utah senator, thinks that Cosmopolitan should not only be kept out of the eyesight of children but also prohibited for anyone under age 21. Opponents of Weiler's note that for all its seeming frivolousness, Cosmopolitan can be an important source of sex-positive information for girls. "Pornography isn't an issue in Utah, but shame definitely is," wrote Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro, an advocate with sexual-violence victims group Start By Believing, in a recent op-ed. Weiler says that reviving the porn czar position isn't a priority for him, and he hesitates because of the cost of funding the office. But whether or not he brings back the position, Weiler—who also chairs the state's Senate Judiciary Committee—has pledged to keep up his anti-porn pursuits. He also continues to push insane ideas about porn's supposed harms, urging parents get "counseling or treatment or therapy for a child who has been exposed."[...]