Posts tagged “Notice and Takedown”

CBC takes down Hamas, Hezbollah websites



When Jonathan Halevi found that websites affiliated with Hamas and Hezbollah were being hosted on servers owned by the Canadian company iWeb he contacted iWeb and asked for them to be taken down. He was not successful. However, when CBC translated some Arabic in the discussion forum and contacted iWeb claiming that they were hosting “a site whose content could violate Canada’s anti-terrorism act” iWeb re-evaluated and took down the sites.

It is unclear exactly which specific sites were targeted although both www.almanar.com.lb (Hezbollah affiliated) and www.aqsatv.ps (Hamas affiliated) were both previously hosted on iWeb. After the initial complaint, iWeb reviewed the English content of the web site(s) (almanar has an English section, aqsatv does not appear to have an English section it is not clear what was actually reveiwed) and determined that “the English version did not seem to have any content which could violate our policies or laws.” However, after CBC’s claim that they were in violation of Canada’s anti-terrorism act iWeb removed the site(s):

In this case, analysis of the site had been done on the English version of the site, a version that did not seem to include material or content that was illegal or in violation of our terms of service (these facts were confirmed by journalists involved in this case). We informed our customer of this complaint and of the conclusions we came to. We also informed the individual who made the complaint, who did not provide any feedback or additional information.

It actually appears that the offending content which lead to the removal of the web sites were actually COMMENTS posted beneath an article:

People’s comments under the article in question are a good example, several believe that the site had to be removed and others believe that this is freedom of expression; who is right?

In response to the original complaint iWeb suggested that that the RCMP be contacted and if the content violated the law they would act. But after CBC’s involvement they acted to remove the content without this:

For our part, we determine that the initial complaint, which did not target a specific part or section of the site was not, at first glance, substantiated and that the version and sections of the site that we analyzed were conformed with Canadian laws and our policies. That being said, we originally specified to the person who made the complaint that if they felt the issue required legal attention, that they should voice their concern to the competent authorities like the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) so that they can also analyze the content and that we will collaborate with their verdict. When the complaint reached us for a second time, the new information provided to us made us revise our position. We then agreed that it was not informative speech or opinion or freedom of expression anymore, but a threat to human beings who violates our policies for using this service and why we intervened by shutting down the sites in question.

The details are still a bit confusing:

  • What were the exact web sites in question? Are they in fact www.almanar.com.lb and www.aqsatv.ps?
  • What was the exact offending content that CBC felt was a violation of Canada’s anti terrorism act? Was it a post in a discussion forum? Was it a comment posted below an article? On which site?
  • Were these web sites removed due to content posted by USERS and not by the owners of the sites?
  • Were the owners of the web sites given the opportunity to moderate/delete the offending user comments?
  • Were the owners of the web sites given the opportunity to keep the English version, which had no offending content?

This, of course, is not the first time this has happened. I have posted about this in the past:

Content removed for allegedly supporting terrorism is one of the least documented forms of takedown… The Internet Haganah, which calls for the removal of sites which allegedly support terrorism, had counted 600 successful takedowns by 2005. These include websites, groups hosted by Yahoo! and storefronts at Cafe Press. In 2005, the Toronto-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center had several sites removed by their ISPs, one of which only contained a flag that carried the inscription, ‘There is no other God but Allah’. There was no hateful text or material advocating suicide bombing. The issue, as noted in the press release, was that the flag appeared to be the same one used by Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a group that, at the time, was not on the US State Department’s or Canada’s list of terrorist organisations.

Pending answers to the questions above, it seems that the issue here is not one of content but of association, pressure and selective enforcement.

For example, the web site of KACH www.kahanetzadak.com, which is among a handful of websites listed as terrorist entities by the U.S., is also hosted in Canada:

OrgName: In2net Network Inc.
OrgID: IN2N
Address: 3602 Gilmore Way,
Address: Suite 210
City: Burnaby
StateProv: BC
PostalCode: V5G-4W9
Country: CA

These cases raise troubling question concerning transparency and due process the lack of which leads to chilling effects on freedom of expression. While the details are still unclear, it appears that these sites were removed after CBC determined that forums posts or comment posts were in violation of Canada’s anti-terrorism act. That is, not content posted by the owner’s of web sites but by users. And it is unclear if the owner’s of the sites were given the opportunity to moderate the offending content. This has consequences that go beyond just this case. The “vigilante model” of takedown puts the power of judge, jury and executioner in the hands of hosting providers and ISPs. The entire process lacks transparency, accountability and oversight.

Index On Censorship: Evasion Tactics



The journal Index on Censorship has published an article I wrote. In it I argue that there is a failure to recognise Internet censorship and surveillance as a growing global concern. There is a tendency instead to criticise the most infamous offenders-notably China and Iran-and to overlook repressive practices elsewhere. There is, however, a growing resistance to Internet censorship and surveillance, although it is often characterised as a struggle confined to dissidents in a few select authoritarian regimes.

Battles are being fought all over the globe, while the development and use of technologies that protect privacy and make it possible to circumvent censorship are rapidly increasing. The same tools helping dissidents to evade censorship in repressive countries are also being used by citizens in democratic countries-to protect themselves from unwarranted Internet surveillance. Focusing on the global character of both the practice of Internet censorship and surveillance, as well as the resistance to it, provides for both a better understanding of this important trend as well as for the possibility of creating global alliances to combat its spread.

The full article is available below.

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Demonoid down again



The bittorrent tracker site demonoid.com:

The CRIA threatened the company renting the servers to us, and because of this it is not possible to keep the site online. Sorry for the inconvenience and thanks for your understanding.

The Register has more.

Legal Threats and Takedowns



EFF reports that two blogs that posted information about Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov were shut down after legal threats were sent to their hosting companies.

Lawyers representing Usmanov contacted the blogs’ webhost, Fasthosts, and after threats to sue under Britain’s expansive libel laws, the blogs were removed. The sites included Tim Ireland’s popular “Bloggerheads” site, and site of Craig Murray, the ex-Ambassador for Uzbekistan. Murray’s hosting provider even intervened to take down individual entries and alter the text of Murray’s blog to avoid further legal action.

Judge orders removal of rant on YouTube



Stan Hall was angry at his lawyer and posted a rant about it on YouTube. An Ontario judge has ruled that the video must be removed:

Superior Court Justice William Jenkins reviewed the computer postings.

“I find that it includes unproven allegations that Mr. Ledroit and his law firm are incompetent and dishonest,” Jenkins said in his decision.

Jenkins ruled the postings would cause lawyer Paul Ledroit and his law firm “significant and irreparable damage” if left for public viewing.

When accessing two videos that were uploaded under the username “stanhalll” YouTube displays the message “This video has been removed by the user.” however, the text description of the messages remains:

It’s like David and Gollieth. I will not stop I will not give up as long as I am alive. I lost everyting that meant anyting to me in my life, it is gone, and Paul Ledroit was hired to help us, but all he did was help himself to a huge legal bill

Paul Ledroit is now suing me, Why because he has the man power to do it and becuase he wants to scare me, to intimadate me, He wont scare me nor will he intiminedate me. The truth shall set you free I dont’ care how much money he has freedom of speech is what I am after

Red Flags



The legal notice that resulted in the deletion of some of Hossein Derakhshan’s blog posts by his hosting company and lead to the termination of his blog’s hosting service should raise red flags within the Anti-Censorship community.

First, the notice claims that in addition to Hossein, both the domain Registrar and the web hosting company are implicated in and/or liable for activities conducted on Hossein’s blog.

In fact the notice seems to imply that each of the three named in the notice (the registrar, the hosting company and Hossein) “published” defamatory information.

Secondly, the notice asks for the IP addresses of everyone who visited the websites of Hossein.

Clarification by any lawyers out there would be appreciated, but to me the first seems to be clearly misguided. Holding a registrar responsible for the content hosted at a domain name?

On the second, I feel that this presents a grave privacy concern. Handing over the IP addresses of the visitors to Hossein’s blog? I fail to see how that is related to the alleged defamatory claims.

Chilling Effects



The use of legal threats is not unique to hoder’s case. Libel and defamation are being used to silence critics around the world. Fresh from GV Advocacy:

Monaco: webmaster accused of defaming the Head of State
… the owner of a new satirical website, featuring cartoons allegedly defaming and ridiculing the Prince…

Tunisia: online writer freed and website editor to appear in court
…the editor of the online news website Kalima (censured in Tunisia) Omar Mestiri is facing a libel suit…

Censored in Iran, Deleted in USA



The blocking of websites by national filtering systems make content unavailable to those in such countries, but the deletion of content makes it unavailable to all. The blog of my friend Hossein was recently shutdown due to legal threats, making it unavailable to all while it was previously only censored in Iran.

(Hossein’s update on the situation follows below.)

Threatening ISP’s with “take down” requests is one of the most undocumented methods of censoring Internet content. Some sites, such as ChillingEffects document this to some degree but most cases occur in silence. Since much of it is related to copyright violations or terrorism few are paying close attention. Libel and defamation cases are more notable especially the cases in Malaysia and Singapore.

While it is possible to detect and monitor censorship via internet filtering, as I do for the OpenNet Initiative, it is much more difficult to enumerate content that is simply removed by service providers.

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CRTC asked to block websites



[UPDATE: The CRTC has denied Warman's claim. The CRTC documents are available here. ]

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is being asked to authorize ISP’s in Canada to block web sites:

One of two U.S.-based hate websites was taken offline Wednesday as an Ottawa lawyer and a Jewish lobby group asked Canada’s telecommunications regulator to take the unprecedented step of blocking access to the sites from north of the border.

Canadian ISP, Telus, blocked access to a Union related website during a labour dispute in the past without CRTC authorization. But there have been increasing moves to push for a formalized system through which ISP can block websites. Currently the focus is on hate sites and child pornography as is usually the case when arguments are made to introduce national filtering systems.

The actual issue appears to be the posting of death threats against Richard Warman posted on neo-nazi sites (one of which was hosted on Blogspot and has been removed). Mr. Warman should pursue his legal options in this matter but this should not be used as a trojan to introduce blanket filering (which does not remove the death threats or really prevent anyone from getting access to them or facilitate the criminal prosecution of the accused). The case appears to be more about “precedence” than it is about the death threats against Warman and I’m particularly troubled by this quote from Warman:

Internet providers that don’t block the sites may make themselves legally liable if a user acts on what they read online, Warman suggested.

Making ISP’s liable for content is not the right thing to do, not for copyright or hate speech. Giving ISP’s permission to voluntarily block web sites is also dangerous. As has been shown with copyright, ISP are not equipped or qualified to make judgments on content and will always default to the lowest common denominator which has serious repercussion on freedom of speech and expression.

There’s a great discussion on this at http://www.digital-copyright.ca/.

AIPAC urges U.S. to shut Iranian site



Haaretz reports:

he American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is urging the United States government to disconnect an Iranian news site from American Internet servers, charging that the site has ties to terrorist organizations. The allegation is based on a report published by Haaretz last month.

Is terror the new porn?

Proposal to allow Canadian ISPs to remove content



A proposal floated at the Canadian Telecom Summit by the Canadian Jewish Congress would give ISPs the power to remove pornography and hate speech “at their own discretion”. Despite the fact that finding content to be illegal takes a ” lengthy court process” Bernie Farber, chief executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress, suggests that “[i]t doesn’t take a lot to discern what is pornographic and what is hate” and the ISPs “have some expertise to make those decisions”. Farber’s response to worries about consumer’s objections to having content arbitrarily removed is “let them sue you”.

There are some very serious problems with this approach. First, pornography is not illegal in this country, second ISP’s are not the best judges of legality. They have proven to be horribly inept at it, especially when it comes to takedowns for copyright violations.

Actually ISPs are already removing content at their discretion. And in contrast to the optimism expressed by some, it does not solve the problem. When sites are taken down they simply move to other providers.

This is where the slippery slope begins. The calls for “takedown” immediately move to blocking and filtering. In discussing the proposal, Det. Don McKinnon, of the hate crimes unit, supports filtering:

“The technology that is available . . . is much similar to call blocking,” said McKinnon, explaining it’s basically a website blocker.

The introduction of a system plagued with procedural and technical problems simply because the legal solution involves a “lengthy court process” ignores the issue at hand. If judicial speed is the issue fix it, don’t bypass our system of checks and balances in way that has proven to be detrimental to freedom of speech and expression. ISPs and techies should not be considered replacements for judges and lawyers. Yes, there are challenges to combating hate speech online but difficulty should not be a deterrent.

Canadian Copyright & ISP Liability



The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage re-introduced the Interim Report on Copyright Reform suggesting that reform is neccessary for Canada to comply with WIPO. digital-copyright.ca outlines the major proposed changes including the adoption of a “notice and takedown” approach to copyright violations and holding ISP’s liable (unless they act as true “intermediaries”) for copyrighted material passing through their networks.
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