4 August 2013

Bulgaria’s ambassadors receive ban to use Facebook


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Image: Borys Tarasuk and Kristian Vigenin together with Gerben-Jan Gerbandy
by European Parliament on Flickr

Borys Tarasuk and Kristian Vigenin together with Gerben-Jan Gerbandy

The smiling gentleman to the right is Kristian Vigenin – Bulgaria’s current minister of foreign affairs.

Recent media reports say he has directed all ambassadors of the small eastern European republic to refrain from using the most popular social network.

“Why is that?” one might ask and the answer is quite simple – for the last 50 days Bulgaria has been facing the largest anti-government protest since January 1997 and statements posted on Facebook show that some of the ambassadors side rather with the #ДАНСwithme participants than with their employer.

In other words, Vigenin’s instruction is nothing but a gag order on Bulgaria’s diplomats abroad and speaks volumes about this government’s preference to deal with plurailty of opinion and public criticism.

25 August 2011

Why Banning Rioters From Facebook Is Wrong


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Image: Courtesy to GossipHat

I believe you did already hear or read about David Cameron’s chimeric ideas to ban the access of the UK nationals with antisocial behaviour, also known as rioters, to Facebook.

Why chimeric?

Well, first of all, such a ban would constitute a serious and disproportionate interference with subjects’ right to privacy and free expression  and, second, the ban would prompt them to seek alternatives to the most popular social network.

In fact, Prime Minister’s proposal did not surprise me in terms of the potential human rights violations.

Such violations can be countered quite successfully and it is very, very likely that the British government

would end up in a fiasco

should it opt for the ban.

I rather wonder why the government of the appealing David Cameron would voluntarily give up its convenient

opportunity to monitor

those against whom it claims to be fighting?

It is common knowledge that Facebook cooperates with the law enforcement authorities, and the same is valid also with respect to Google and – presumably – to its newly launched social network Google + in particular.

But what would happen if the rioters focused on alternatives which are more difficult to monitor and hence less convenient to control?

Could that be the plan of the young conservative politician?

Well, that sounds like a

real conspiracy

and I can hardly imagine it.

It is rather a political shot in the dark, the implementation of which is likely to intensify the problem instead of solving it.

Your thoughts?

30 July 2011

Will Turkey Beat China In Internet Censorship?


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Image: YouTube in Turkey by Mohamed Nanabhay on Flickr
3102234526_ce13fd0b24_o

I must say that during the last year – year and a half I have come across numerous mentions about the Internet censorship faced by users in Turkey, but they somehow failed to attract my attention.

Opening Google Reader this morning, however, brought my sight to an analysis of the Turkish lawyer Omer Bayraktar, in which he outlined the expected

Comprehensive Filtering

of the Internet in Turkey.

Bayraktar’s  material bears the headline Turkey: Pandora’s Box will be opened shortly… and provides its readers with some intriguing information. Bulgarian readers might be interested to read the blog post I composed in my other blog.

For instance, the Turkish Communications Regulatory Authority (Bilgi Teknolojileri ve Iletisim Kurumu, BTK), has mandated that as of the 22 August 2011 Turkish users must not surf on the Internet, unless they install at least one of four specifically developed filtering technologies.

Any non-compliance with this legislative measure or circumvention of the filters will expose their actors to criminal liability and charges.

One needs not be a zealot in defending

Human Rights

to realise that the measure so introduced will directly and disproportionately limit the freedom of expression, information and privacy of the Turkish users on the Internet.

Still, Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe and as such is subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

The partial Internet censorship which Turkey had maintained until now did not remain unnoticed and resulted in that the Turkish nationals Ahmet Yildirim and Yaman Akdeniz brought actions before the Court in Strasbourg.
The outcome expected in the rulings becomes increasingly relevant in light of the upcoming total control.

But the ECtHR does not represent the only venue where Turkey should fear that its image might be tarnished: the filtering legislation will very likely have repercussions also upon Turkey’s attempts to accede to the European Union.

I guess, Merkel and Sarkozy will hardly fail to take the chance to declare the incompatibility of this legislative step with common European values

Conclusion

If Turkey sustains its planned filtering measure, it will join the circle of authoritarian states and probably surpass China’s Golden Shield Project in terms of Internet censorship.

By the way, what would be your reaction if your government introduced such censorship in your country?

24 May 2011

Of Superinjunctions, Free Speech And Privacy Protection


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Image by Sara Simmons on Flickr
5746811723_c6ee3aa242_oYou will most probably recognise his face if you are a football fan.
This guy must have had a harsh time during the last couple of weeks.
Actually, he must have gone through hell.
What he has reportedly done may be controversial and stay at odds with morality, but this is not the subject of the article you are reading.
It is about his right to private life.

My point is that since the man on the image has not committed any wrong, no public interest should qualify to deprive him of a right provided for by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The forgoing is not to be understood as the advocacy towards a single individual. It is the advocacy towards the right of private life par excellence.

Want to read more? Good,

Let’s Kick It!

Allegedly, the man on the image has had an affair with a model and ex BigBrother contestant. However, after the model had contemplated to disclose their relationship, he managed to obtain a

Superinjunction

(aka gagging order) to prevent potentially embarrassing details about his private life being published.
What you have to know about superinjunctions is that they prevent anyone from publishing information which is said to be confidential or private about the applicant. That not enough, superinjunctions prevent anyone from reporting that they even exist.

The English High Court granted the order.

Nevertheless, the Scottish Sunday Herald

Dared To Publish

footballer’s image claiming that it has no obligations under an English injunction and if anyone wants to prevent the whole of the British media from reporting on a story, then they will need to get separate injunctions in all jurisdictions.

The interesting thing preceding the publication in Scotland is that, as soon as Twitter users had started to tattle about the alleged affair of the footballer, he managed to obtain a gagging order also against Twitter.
Despite any deliberations as to whether Twitter is subject to the jurisdiction of English courts, the superinjunction flopped in meeting its purpose. It not only failed in preventing the spread of information on the microblogging platform, it bestowed Twitter an unprecedented increase in traffic instead. Every user interested in the matter was tweeting said footballer’s name.

5719332110_b51182ab3a_z

Undoubtedly, this teaches us that

Superinjunctions Have Only Limited Effect

when it comes to Web 2.0 and social media.

The reactions could not come quickly enough.
Lord Chief Justice Judge lamented that “modern technology is totally out of control”. David Cameron added “It’s not fair on the newspapers if all the social media can report this and the newspapers can’t” and announced that “the government considers to legislate on privacy issues in order to catch up with the advent of social media”.

Would you support such legislation efforts?
I would.
I could accept minor limitations and would easily survive the lack of knowledge about whom a celebrity allegedly slept with. Because I know that such a minor concession of the society as a whole, would end up saving said celebrity’s private life.

Filtering Twitter?

I spent a couple of hours on Twitter this Sunday and read as many messages marked with a #Superinjunction hashtag as possible.
My impression was not that the users celebrated the victory of free speechover gagging and censorship. No, their overall message to the footballer sort of read “You think you can hide behind a superinjunction? You cannot, it simply does not work on Twitter”. They seemed happy to have tracked him down. That had nothing to do with free speech, that was hate speech.

Besides, it was in a clear breach with the superinjunction, of which everybody on Twitter already knew.

I delayed the publication of this article, because today I had a little chat with Jane Lambert on Twitter. There she expressed her concern as to whether a foreign social network should be allowed to operate in the jurisdiction of England and Wales if it is in breach of a fundamental right granted by the European Convention On Human Rights and cannot prevent flouting of an English court order.

She opined that networks should develop filtering technologies, but should deploy them only sparingly in democratic societies.

What do you think?

9 May 2011

Long Arm Jurisdiction: Long Enough To Cross The Atlantic?


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Image by Jim Linood on Flickr

2749268746_f4fbbf15f4_z

Imagine you live in the United States and write a blog, compose articles for Wikipedia and contribute for the forum of an online newspaper. You are a really engaged author, but some of your materials happen to defame an individual who lives in the United Kingdom. He is upset and threatens you with a lawsuit, unless you cease writing about him.

Will you comply or will you feel safe being fenced by approximately 9 000 kilometers and at least one different jurisdiction?

Well, if you say that you will rather feel safe, then you should definitely

Read This Post To The End

Why? Because the English High Court held that Mr Louis Bacon was entitled to serve Automatic (the company that runs WordPress), the Wikimedia Foundation (needless to introduce them) and a newspaper based in Denver with so-called Norwich Pharmacal orders (NPO).

The online platforms made available by above entities had been used by the defendants in suit who had published statements, which in the judgment of Mr Justice Tugendhat “passed the threshold of being a good arguable case in defamation”.
The identity of the defendants could yet not be determined.
Now Automatic, the Wikimedia Foundation and the Denver Post will be served with NPO and will have to disclose log details and IP address information and thus support claimant to identify the defendants.

Do you still feel safe?

In fact, Mr Justice Tugendhat has acknowledged the difficulty of the question that had been referred to him.
Nevertheless, he has made great efforts to cite all the authority that supports his holding.

Hence, what is the message to writers of publicly accessible statements that are likely to be considered defamatory?

First, make your research. No matter how harmful your writings are, you cannot be pursued for defamation once you can prove that your contentions are true.
Second, learn about defamation or ask for professional advice in order to determine the border line between being critical or defamatory, and
Third, be careful in choosing the subject of your criticism, because it turns out that English (or other countries’) courts may rely upon a

Long Arm Jurisdiction

reaching across the Atlantic or maybe even farther.

How do you feel about your safety now?

21 April 2011

Information v Defamation: ECtHR Rules Against Bulgaria


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Europe zone, Strasbourgphoto © 2008 Stephen Colebourne | more info (via: Wylio)

As early as 1992 Bulgaria acceded to the Council of Europe.  The accession meant not only the acceptance of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), but also Bulgaria’s submission to the jurisdiction of the European Court on Human Rights (ECtHR), the authority serving as the last resort against violations of the rights protected by the ECHR.
Since its accession, Bulgaria has been found liable for violating human rights in a large number of cases. As of yesterday the number of cases rose by two more (courtesy to Dr Lehofer for sharing this information).

In its very recent judgments in Kasabova v Bulgaria (application no. 22385/03) and Bozhkov v Bulgaria (application no. 3316/04) the ECtHR found that Bulgaria had violated Article 10 (freedom of expression and information) of the ECHR.

The Facts

The cases concerned the complaints of two journalists. They had reported on alleged bribes in the admission procedure to specialised secondary schools in the city of Burgas. As a consequence, the journalists were found liable for defamation and were made to pay huge sums in compensation for their statements made in articles published in the Bulgarian press and directed against four administrative experts involved in said admissions.

As you can see, the cases are driven by the conflict between two fundamental human rights: the  right to freedom of expression (and to inform the public) of the journalists literally clashes with the  right to privacy and reputation of the four  experts.
In its

Judgments

the ECtHR had to strike a (fair) balance between these fundamental human rights.

While the ECtHR acknowledged that the allegations made by Kasabova and Bozhkov had been difficult, if not impossible to prove and that, their journalistic research had shown some flaws, it nevertheless held that the sanctions imposed on the journalists had been excessive, disproportionate when compared to the damaged reputation of the four experts and had thus had huge potential chilling effect. Consequently, there has been a violation of Article 10 ECHR.

In the outcome, the Court found that

Freedom Of Expression Outweighed Privacy

A shock to the system for the Bulgarian media sector. Why?

Well, the majority of the Bulgarian media is considered largely tabloidized and owned by anonymous proprietors. This often results in publications that are clearly false and even defamatory.

Even though the Criminal Code penalizes defamation, so far only very few authors of defamatory materials or owners of publicizing media have been successfully charged, convicted and sentenced.
Kasabova and Bozhkov seem to be among those few.
Should this ruling of the ECtHR be interpreted as a carte blanche to journalists writing defamatory materials? I hope not!

On the other hand, it is an open secret that many Bulgarian journalists work under threat or undue influence. For instance, Freedom House designates Bulgaria as merely partly free in terms of press and media in their 2010 report (select country).

No doubt, threatened journalists would clearly benefit from above judgments.

All in all I would agree with the ECtHR since it does not say that journalists should not be punished, if they write defamatory materials. It says that the punishment should not be excessive and disproportionate to the damage the defamation has caused.

What do you think?

12 April 2011

Bulgaria: Freedom Of Information Or Purposive Opaqueness?


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This is a screenshot of Bulgaria’s commercial register’s website.
The interesting thing about it is that anyone (to the extent he or she can navigate in Bulgarian) may access it and search for company related information.
No other restrictions.
Well, not exactly as soon there will be some.
Owing to a current legislative initiative the register is very likely to compete with below info column in terms of free and transparent information access.

Freedom of Information?photo © 2006 Ian Parkes | more info (via: Wylio)

Believe it or not, but this initiative is driven by a political party holding the name

Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (link)

Whether in an attempt to create an association with their party’s name or not, but said party’s representatives reason and defend the planned restrictions with “well-proven and tested European practices”. As one may expect, they still owe a detailed explanation as to what practices they have meant.

Mrs Iskra Fidosova (MP), chair of the justice committee and advocate of the restricted access.

It’s the data protection, stupid

This move would halt the more and more frequent cases of abuse of personal data, explained the guy below.

Mr Emil Radev (MP), proposer of the initiative.

However, according to the Access to Information Programme (AIP), an NGO, there is no actual proof that such abuses have increased after the introduction of the register in early 2008.
Not only this, but AIP stresses on the importance of the register for the purposes of journalistic investigations. The latter is of a particular relevance since the vast capital invested in Bulgaria during the last decade is considered of unclear provenance.

Whose data privacy

do the Bulgarian politicians care for?

Maybe for that of the mysterious 26-year-old entrepreneur whose one-month-old company allegedly enabled him to spend some 162 Million Euro on the bankrupt steel plant Kremikovtzi?

 

Did you find this article informative or helpful? If yes, do not forget to share it by pressing one of below buttons or to otherwise tell your friends about it!

19 March 2011

Are Bloggers Immune Against Damages If They Say The Truth?


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bloggers for free speachphoto © 2006 Hanan Cohen | more info (via: Wylio)

It all started this Tuesday while I was reading my daily Slashdot newsletter. I was about to close the tab displaying the headlines, when a single textline caught my attention.
It read : Blogger Fined $60K For Telling the Truth .
What I initially thought was an absurd story turned out to be a verdict delivered by a jury at the Hennepin County District Court!
But let me first present you with

The Facts

John Hoff, a blogger who maintains The Adventures of Johnny Northside, came across a mortgage fraud in which the former community council director Jerry Moore was involved.
Hoff wrote on his weblog that he had  discovered that, Moore whose malpractice had already cost him his job at the community council, had once again been fired by his then current employer. As a consequence, Moore sued Hoff  claiming damages for lost wages and emotional distress. Albeit that the jury found that Hoff’s blog post was true, it held  that Hoff intentionally interfered with Moore’ employment contract thereby causing Moore emotional distress and was thus making him liable to pay 60.000 USD (see Sheila Regan’s court notes and the Hennepin County District Court Jury Verdict that John Hoff emailed me upon my request).

Why the jury erred

No doubt, this jury verdict is just outrageous.

I guess that Moore chose to pursue the course of interference with an employment contract and emotional distress, because he would have failed to produce evidence of Hoff’s actual malice had he opted to sue for libel.

But even if Hoff was trying to get Moore fired, people are constitutionally entitled to speak the truth about others, even with such an objective (The Volokh Conspiracy delivers a profound explanation why). Provided that the jury was instructed of this, its judgment is simply wrong.

As regards emotional distress, the US Supreme Court held in Hustler v. Falwell that the elements usually required to demonstrate that tort has occurred, are not sufficient in cases involving public figures.
In Snyder v. Phelps the Supreme Court went even further, holding that the obvious and hatred-motivated disturbance of a military funeral did not qualify to inflict emotional distress among the mourners, since it dealt with issues of public concern and was hence protected by the First Amendment.

In light of the quoted decisions, the judgment of the Hennepin’s jury is not only wrong; it is pathetic.
From what I read, John Hoff is going to appeal the decision against him and I believe he has a fair chance of getting it overturned.

Why I blog on this

I blog on this simply because the freedom of expression and the freedom to access information represent our fundamental rights and we must protect them by all means.
What would be the alternative? Any wrongdoer discovered by bloggers or journalists would then be able to muzzle and gag them by suing them for, say, emotional distress? Perish the thought!

Therefore, I expect the higher judicial instances in the US to provide for bloggers’ immunity against damages, provided, of course, they tell the truth.

 

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16 January 2011

Happy birthday, Wikipedia!


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hands wikipedia aussiegallphoto © 2009 Johann Dréo | more info (via: Wylio)

Wikipedia turned 10 these days. Officially, 15 January 2001 is considered the Wikipedia Day, though Wikipedia’s predecessor Nupedia went online as early as on 9 March 2000.

I decided to throw my 2 cents on Wiki since I regard it one of humanity’s most important achievements in terms of free access to information and spread of knowledge. It has also been a main drive behind the free culture movement and has heavily influenced the whole Web 2.0 thing. During the last decade Wiki has proven the so called wisdom of crowds theory correct and demonstrated people’s ability to contribute to the enhancement of knowledge. No wonder, Wiki is nowadays one of the major sources of information. Moreover, Wiki has become an identifier, a trade mark. Think of how many other sites use the predicate “wiki” to promote their content.

However, it is not all sunshine and roses. Anyone’s ability to edit or contribute has been used to question Wikipedia’s reliability as a source of information. Some corporations and individuals managed to create entries to present them or their businesses in a specific light. Others did not only attempt to influence public opinion, but to tarnish the image of (potential) adversaries. The Wikipedia wars were born.

Nevertheless, in the outcome Wikipedia is and remains an achievement. An achievement whose sustainability we all have to foster, maintain and protect.

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