Accept my apologies for the headline. Yes, some freedom of speech online is under attack, but in this case, Google did the right thing. Apple has done the right thing in some cases, too. Yet, many of us think that free speech is guaranteed anywhere and everywhere and at any time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Free speech has limitations and consequences.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
That seems straightforward enough. You can say what you want and the government can’t stop you. Well, it can. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater if there’s no fire. The amendment applies to the government, not to other entities that may want to shut you up.
This week Google decided to help our country’s democracy by shutting down free speech. Liam Tung:
Google has pulled domain registration support for neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer shortly after it moved from GoDaddy, which had earlier cut it off for violating its terms of service.
The companies revoked the site’s internet domain registration in the wake of violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.
I have no problem with Google’s actions because free speech carries responsibility and consequences. Abuse free speech and you could pay consequences.
A Google representative:
We are canceling Daily Stormer’s registration with Google Domains for violating our terms of service
The government probably would lose an attempt to shut down such a website, but Google, internet service providers, and others are not compelled by the First Amendment to provide such freedoms.
Apple has a history of standing up for personal privacy but not in every case. Kudos to Apple for providing devices which can be secured against government search and seizure without proper authority.
What if you went to a website which helped people organize protests against President Trump. It would seem as if the First Amendment would apply and people could peaceably assemble online, and even use online facilities ‘to petition the government for a redress of grievances‘ as the Constitution seems to allow.
Not if you’re living in the good old U.S. of A. Morgan Chalfant explains:
The Department of Justice has requested information on visitors to a website used to organize protests against President Trump
Exercise your right to assembly and you may be targeted by the Justice Department. What do the Feds want?
Roughly 1.3 million visitor IP addresses to the government, in addition to contact information, email content and photos of thousands of visitors to the website, which was involved in organizing protests against Trump on Inauguration Day
In this case the internet service provider for the website is DreamHost, and the company has not complied. Their lawyer, Chris Ghazarian:
The Search Warrant not only aims to identify the political dissidents of the current administration, but attempts to identify and understand what content each of these dissidents viewed on the website
The government’s request asks for “names, addresses, telephone numbers and other identifiers, e-mail addresses, business information, the length of service (including start date), means and source of payment for services (including any credit card or bank account number), and information about any domain name registration.”
Anybody see a problem with that? I applaud Google and Go Daddy for refusing to register domains for hate groups that incite violence but that seems like a small ripple in a very big pond. On the other hand, the government’s request for information about those who merely visit a website which does not have a history of inciting violence could end up being the first step off a long and slipper slope into more governmental abuse.
When will the government tell Google to identify (and Google knows who you are and where you live) people who search for anti-government websites or visit anti-Trump websites? While Google did the right thing in this instance, will the company stand up against other requests?
Big Brother is awake and paying attention. Are we?