Tag Archives: google

Censorship, limited liability etc

The censorship-as-trade-barrier argument is a consequentialist one, a very slippery slope, and an insult to the idea of freedom. Unfortunately, Google plans to paint China into a corner by joining hands with people who have no great respect for freedom—the governments of the USA and those of many European countries—and who think this is a brilliant defense of freedom-

Robert Boorstin, Google’s director of corporate and policy communications, said the company is working with the Office of the US Trade Representative, the State Department, Commerce Department and European officials to build a case to take to the World Trade Organization.

Such a case could help US tech companies seeking greater access to Chinese consumers while furthering the US government’s human rights agenda.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her technology advisers have promoted Internet freedom as a basic human right.

“Google believes very strongly, as do other companies, that censorship is a trade barrier,” Boorstin said…

Clinton can tell those dying on the streets of Tehran that freedom is all about a trade dispute-

The leaders of the so-called Green Movement — the former presidential candidates Mir Hussein Moussavi, a former prime minister, and Mehdi Karroubi, a former speaker of Parliament — have not dropped their demands for more political freedom. But they have dropped their policy of direct confrontation with the government, saying it is not worth the price in blood and heavy prison terms, and canceled demonstrations planned for Saturday after failing to receive a permit.

The security services made clear in the days leading to the anniversary that anyone taking to the streets would be dealt with harshly. On Friday, people in Tehran reported receiving a threatening text message on their cellphones.

“Dear citizen, you have been tricked by the foreign media and you are working on their behalf,” the message read. “If you do this again, you will be dealt with according to Islamic law.”

Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah must be rotfl-ing.

The oil spill is evoking comparisons to the Bhopal gas leak, as it should. There is a lot in common.

The NYT is debating the US government’s plan to force BP to skip its dividend payout. There are a couple of libertarians in the debate who are against such an action. I don’t support their view. I don’t support the planned action either.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the concept of a limited liability company and the protection such an entity receives under the law. Of course such an entity could tie its clients, suppliers etc down into contracts with a limited liability clause. But it cannot limit its liability to third parties this way. And neither should governments do so. That’s why the cap that the US government has in place for various disasters such as nuclear meltdown, or an oil spill, and the one that the Indian government is considering, is bad law.

In an ideal situation, BP would be allowed to pay out the dividend as and when it wanted. But its shareholders would be responsible for every last penny that the company is unable to shell out when the time comes to pay the compensation. Bankruptcy will not be an option.

And this is why the Indian government’s action in the Bhopal case is unforgivable. Instead of investigating the incident and fixing responsibilities, it became a party to the dispute by taking over the power to settle on behalf of the dead and injured. After making a bad settlement and screwing up on the distribution front, and failing miserably on the investigation front, its hunting for a unicorn. As if hanging Anderson will make its sins go away. Bharat Desai describes an interesting sequence on his TOI blog-

Being in such august company, it was easy for me to know what had happened. Chief minister Arjun Singh had apparently not consulted the caretaker Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi before ordering the arrest of Anderson on December 7. After the arrest, Rajiv Gandhi’s powerful aide and cousin, Arun Nehru, telephoned Arjun Singh and told him that US President Ronald Regan had called up the Indian PM and ‘requested’ him to release Anderson immediately. Now, Rajiv Gandhi was an Indian Airlines pilot, accustomed to taking only orders from air traffic control. The job of prime minister was thrust upon him because of his mother’s assassination just one month before the gas disaster. He couldn’t have resisted the top man in the White House.

Having spent many years in Congress politics trying to cultivate a relationship with Indira Gandhi, Singh gave ground easily because the orders were obviously coming from a new leadership. A wily politician, often called Chanakya in Madhya Pradesh, he was quick to understand that his survival in the uncertain world of politics depended on his serving his new political masters, rather than upholding Indian law in a city strewn with thousands of human corpses. Instead of cross-checking with Rajiv Gandhi on such an important issue, lest he upsets Arun Nehru in the process, he passed on the order to the then chief secretary Brahm Swaroop. The bureaucracy’s head told the Bhopal district magistrate Moti Singh to release Anderson and even escort him to a waiting state government aircraft which flew him to New Delhi. Superintendent of police Swaraj Puri obediently helped Moti Singh carry out the orders. Arjun Singh had failed the Indian Civil Services examination before turning a politician but he knew how to have a firm grip over the bureaucracy.

There are times when I envision “Congress ka haath” as a hand with its middle finger pointed towards the citizenry.

[Sauvik has written quite a few posts on why torts and not criminal cases are the way to go in such cases. Read them.]

Kettle, again

This is an addendum to my previous post on the subject, and I will simply quote from three different Ars articles from the past three months. The first is on Australia’s Great Firewall and Google’s reaction to the same-

One day after Google announced its decision to stop censoring its search results in China, the Australian government released the results of a public consultation on its own Internet censorship proposal. Predictably, Google has some objections … including its oblique comment that Australia’s mandatory filtering scheme could “confer legitimacy upon filtering by other Governments.”

“Australia is rightly regarded as a liberal democracy that balances individual liberty with social responsibility,” continues the Google filing. “The Governments of many other countries may justify, by reference to Australia, their use of filtering, their lack of disclosure about what is being filtered, and their political direction of agencies administering filtering.”

Google is unlikely to come right out and compare Australia to China, but the implication is obvious—and has been made explicit by other groups. Reporters Without Borders said recently that Australia would “be joining an Internet censors’ club that includes such countries as China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.”

The second relates to the company handing over the data to some of the countries. The article’s conclusion-

It’s likely that, once government regulators begin digging in, the most interesting thing they’ll find is just how mundane most of our lives really are. Still, the fact that it’s out there in the hands of Google—and now certain governments—is unsettling for many Internet users. We have no doubt that there will be more uproar over this issue in the months to come, especially if someone comes forward about exactly what kind of personal tidbits were found in Google’s archives.

And the most outrageous of them all is the EU’s plan to monitor and record all internet searches in order to “protect the children.”-

The European Parliament’s website urging its members to sign Declaration 29 seems well-meaning enough, with a frightened-looking child and a plea to end sexual harassment, child porn, and pedophilia. However, privacy advocates are concerned over a semi-hidden rider on the declaration that allows EU member states to retain data from search engines, essentially eliminating any privacy EU citizens previously had when surfing the Web.

[…]

[P]arliament member, Cecilia Wikström, wrote an open letter to her fellow parliament members saying that she made a mistake in signing the declaration. “The Written Declaration is supposed to be about an early-warning system for the protection of children. Long-term storage of citizens’ data has clearly nothing to do with ‘early warning’ for any purpose,” Wikström wrote. “[I]t seems very likely that MEPs signed the Written Declaration unaware of this aspect of the text, just like I did… The declaration is likely to get all the signature[s] it needs and therefore I urge those of you who may have signed it by mistake to withdraw your signature.”

Love the comments-

Child porn. The universal excuse for Big Brother fascism.

We would almost be better off to legalize the filth, than suffer the much broader reaching consequences of having its emotional impact used to undercut all sane policy.

and-

The constitution is on hold for those evil child molesters and terrorists. And if you don’t support these laws you must be one so you need to be watched. /s unfortunately there is no shortage of people that beleve freedom is dangerous and normal people should not have it.

Australia and Google == Pot and kettle

I am outraged at the fact that nation-states that regularly trample upon the privacy rights of their citizens were outraged when Google made some revelations related to “unintended” breach of privacy last month. Australia runs its own version of the Great Firewall and blocks “illegal” content, wants visitors to the country to declare their “porn collection”, finds nothing wrong with all this, but is not happy with Google snooping on unsecured wifi connections. Sadly, such governments have their own band of supporters-

It’s incredible that when a Government wants to do something genuinely designed to protect us (net-filter) the IT hacks are up in arms crying foul and don’t want to be part of a genuine debate to find a solution yet embrace the tactics of the private sector and hold them up as a model of opening up the world of communication. Well wake up sunshine, the only thing being opened is your wallet…. you just don’t know it.

With the private sector, I’ll probably lose money. With the government, I lose control over my life. Idiot.

According to the BBC, many countries including Germany are planning to take action against the company citing “criminal intent.” The funny part. Google put the data out of reach the moment it realized what had occurred. Now the Germans want access to the private data so that they can take a look at it-

The revelation that Google had collected such data led the German Information Commissioner to demand it handed over a hard-disk so it could examine exactly what it had collected.

This is insane.

Some privacy groups want the US to jump into the fray

The Electronic Privacy Information Center sent a letter last Friday to the Federal Communications Commission, asking for an investigation into Google’s for its collection of user data off its Street View application. In the letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Rotenberg said Google collected any data sent to and from a residential WiFi account, which amounted to a violation of communications laws. Specifically, he said the activity broke federal wiretap laws.

“The Wiretap Act provides for civil liability and criminal penalties against any person who ‘intentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept . . .electronic communications,” Rotenberg wrote.

He has complained that regulators and lawmakers haven’t been tough enough on Internet search engines, social networks and publishers for scarfing up user information to monetize into ads.

“It’s time for Congress to hold hearings and for the FCC and FTC to undertake enforcement actions,” Rotenberg said.

This in a country where the former president, and the current one, are in favor of the invasion of the privacy of its citizens, and that granted indemnity to telecom companies that assisted in the program.

All this is interesting because it allows one to measure “power.” Some quotes from the wiki article on Hushmail

Hushmail states that “…That means that there is no guarantee that we will not be compelled, under a court order issued by the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Canada, to treat a user named in a court order differently, and compromise that user’s privacy.” and additionally “…If a court order has been issued by the Supreme Court of British Columbia compelling us to reveal the content of your encrypted email, the “attacker” could be Hush Communications, the actual service provider.”

[…]

The privacy policy of Hushmail has been defended by privacy advocate and PGP creator Phil Zimmermann, who sits on the advisory board of Hush Communications. Zimmermann has stated, “Their hearts are in the right place but there are certain kinds of attacks that are beyond the scope of their abilities to thwart. They are not a sovereign state.” Zimmermann suggests that “online encrypted email storage” cannot be expected to provide a defense against a legal process, because government can “compel a service provider to cooperate”.

To cut a long story short, the only reason Google finds itself at the wrong end of the stick is because it is not a “sovereign state.” If it were, it could screw with its citizens’ privacy all the time and the “privacy commissioners” would have no reason to fault its actions. Hypocrites.

“Rooted in our hearts”

Today China, tomorrow the world-

[T]he deletion of content, the closure of sites and the jailing of individuals have a chilling effect that goes far beyond those immediately affected.”Because people don’t know what they are not allowed to say, they kind of guess and take down or stop saying whatever might possibly not be permissible,” said Wen Yunchao. The system’s effectiveness can be judged not by the number of censors, the sophistication of its technology or the information suppressed – but by what it has not done and does not need to do. Li Yonggang, a professor of internet politics at Nanjing university, wrote recently: “In fact, the Great Firewall is rooted in our hearts.”

Acceptance

The BBC

Whether you regard Google’s market share as impressive or disappointing, compared to its dominance elsewhere, there is little doubt it is not a household name in China in the same way that it is abroad.

But Hu Li, a student in Beijing, told the BBC he admired what he called the company’s “heroic” decision to offer an unfiltered service, and hailed the announcement to pull out if it could not reach its objective.

Some people even laid flowers outside the company’s Beijing headquarters, in the hi-tech Haidian district, as a mark of respect.

The WSJ

For years, Western companies have accepted that business is done a certain way in China—agreeing to government interference that wouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere, from stifling free speech to setting up Communist Party cells. And over the past generation, outside political leaders have drawn a similar conclusion, choosing to play down human rights in the hopes of effecting change.

[…]

The Google syndrome caps growing complaints by foreign businesses over a deteriorating business environment. Both the European Chamber and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in China have issued reports sharply critical of China’s business environment. During the 1980s and ’90s, foreign businesses were assiduously courted by China’s leaders and responded by bringing to China technology, training and international best practices.

In recent years, however, foreign businesses have complained that the official line has shifted. Younger bureaucrats are more nationalistic and skeptical of the value of letting in foreign companies, Mr. Wuttke says. Last year, for example, foreign executives said bidding practices for wind energy were rigged to exclude foreign companies.

and-

A senior Microsoft Corp. executive said that “Google would do disservice to Chinese people” by leaving China because Google censors its Chinese search results less aggressively than Chinese local competitor Baidu and other Chinese portal companies. A pullout by Google would strip Chinese Internet users of a good alternative, the executive said.

and

“It’s a tragedy if Google pulls out of China,” said Xu Hao, a junior studying Japanese at Tongji University in Shanghai. Wu Zhiwei, a sophomore studying philosophy at Fudan University in Shanghai, said “a lot of people are very angry at government censorship,” and also said he understands that it contradicts Google’s philosophies on free-Internet use.

[…]

Internet users continued to comment on the news, however. Some worried their Google e-mail accounts would be deleted, and others expressed concern that Chinese authorities would further tighten its Internet controls. “Our postings on the Internet are deleted by [other] Web sites, or when we upload pictures showing bad things on the street, they are deleted … I don’t know what to do without Google,” Ms. Xu said.

While Google’s threat is interesting, one can’t help but think about the double standards being used to assess China-

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said Google’s allegations “raise very serious concerns and questions.” “We look to the Chinese government for an explanation,” Mrs. Clinton said on a visit to Hawaii. “The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy.”

US telecom companies and banks allow the US government to snoop over its citizens (“legal” hacking), foreign banks sold out their clients on account of “tax evasion,” and how can one forget the fit the Indian government threw over BlackBerry (and, from the past, the shenanigans of George Fernandes).

China is uncomfortable when it comes to Tibet, “human rights” and ten other subjects, and other countries have their own list. Hypocrisy.

Google’s statement.