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Spain: Political censorship

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First they came for the …

The slippery slope of censorship, surveillance and oppression expressed through variations of Martin Niemöller’s speech have become cliché by now. Over the last 16 years, authoritarian regimes have chipped away at basic freedoms, piece by piece and law by law. Still, many believed that the countries of the Western world, or at least western Europe, or at least the country where “I” live, would remain free, democratic and with legitimate governments. At the very least, the authorities would not bother me if “I had nothing to hide”, or did nothing wrong.

That fantasy bubble has now popped, as the true faces of our rulers reveal themselves more and more. In the case of Spain, perhaps it should come as little surprise, where Francisco Franco ruled as a dictator up until 1975. Ironically, making jokes about that dark past is considered “glorifying terrorism”, as one Spanish woman learnt her lesson this year, and got a one-year jail sentence for a Twitter message. In Amnesty International’s report from the beginning of this year, they urge Spain and other European countries to respect Human Rights, specifically freedom of speech and right to political expression. In February 2016, Spanish children’s puppeteers were arrested for including an ETA banner in their show. (See page 41 of the report).

Yet, even all of these events have been considered anecdotes, and the warnings have been heard as fringe voices from the sideline. In Spain, that is now changing. In the dispute between Catalonian separatists and the central government, the silk gloves are off, with thousands of police deployed. The prime minister Mariano Rajoy commands people to “stop the disobedience”.

In an unprecedented move for a European country in the last decades, the offices of the central Internet name registrar for the Catalonian .cat top level domain were raided. It is shocking, because it is such a blatant attempt at control and censorship of political speech. However, it is also concerning because it strikes at the center of the Internet infrastructure, and risks indiscriminately affecting all websites with .cat domains. Catalan leaders compare the move to Turkey, China and North Korea. In a follow up, Google was instructed by the High Court to remove an app related to the 1 October vote.

Regardless of which side of that particular conflict one stands, there is no denying that the blocking, suppression and censorship Spain’s regime is now carrying out is of political nature. It is trying to win the political argument through censorship and authoritarian control of information and communication tools normal citizens rely on. Spain’s government is using the court and police to force its political agenda, when the opposition is talking about a democratic vote.

The government which was voted in to uphold and protect a free democratic state has now failed at that task. As such, it can no longer be considered a legitimate government. If Spaniards know what’s good for them and their country, the will vote Mariano Rajoy and the Partido Popular out of office, while they still have the chance to do so.

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Hollywood Studios Censor Pirate Bay Documentary

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TorrentFreak is reporting that the Creative Commons licensed documentary about The Pirate Bay, “TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard”, is being “censored” by several Hollywood studios through DMCA takedown notices to Google and others. The irony of the debacle is of course not lost on anybody, however, as Ernesto at TorrentFreak also comments, the “more likely explanation is that [it is] collateral damage. Most DMCA takedown processes are fully automated and somehow the TPB-AFK links were (mistakenly) associated with infringing titles”.

However, he continues: “The whole episode shows once again that something is seriously wrong with the current implementation of the DMCA takedown system. At the moment rightsholders get to take down whatever they want, with almost no oversight and no incentive to improve the accuracy of their systems”.

On the positive side, the free documentary is getting some extra publicity. It can be downloaded from The Pirate Bay, completely legal, if you live in a country which still allows you access to that site, that is. However, you can also get it and contribute on its official web site, watch on YouTube, or read up on it on IMDB or Wikipedia.

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Internet Censorship and Fragmentation

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Two Google brass, Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Director of Google Ideas Jared Cohen, have co-written an interesting piece on Internet censorship in today’s Guardian. They warn that the Internet might be moving to a fragmented network, filtered and censored by regional political, cultural and religious interests. They even speculate that some states might try to build their own national intranet, completely disconnected from the global Internet. A list of examples are mentioned, including the existing elephant in the room, which is China; but also hypothetical scenarios, where former Soviet states seek to prevent Russian influence; and Arab or Sunni nations that might create a network according to their religious and cultural interests.

However, for all the imagined scenarios, they fail to mention the second elephant: the US, and its heavy handed way of forcing other nations to filter and police their net-citizen, in the interest of US content “owners”. Through international trade agreements (e.g. ACTA); covert diplomacy (e.g. Russian AllOfMp3, and Swedish Pirate Bay raid and court case, and blocking in many countries); and boots on the ground in the MegaUpload raid, to give a few examples, the US is shaping the Internet and international law in their economic interests.

Schmidt and Cohen also speculate that in the future, Internet access will require some form of “passport”, and visiting other “regions” would require an “Internet visa”. Users would be forced to register before they’d gain access, they imagine. Well, Mr. Schmidt, that is happening right now. In Germany, hotel owners have been pressured into registering, with signature, every device they let on their network, so that they are not finned for “illegal” activity of their guests. Again, it is US business interests who have forced through this kind of filtering and surveillance.

Indeed, there are many unfortunate scenarios which might remove the value of the Internet for some users. However, we don’t have to come up with hypothetical scenarios, and point fingers at “other nations”. Instead, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

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