Sunday, August 27, 2006

Canadian Regulators Refuse to Block U.S. Hate Speech Site

From our Canadian correspondent, news that the Canadian government has refused to censor a rather nasty U.S. website.
TORONTO (CP) - Canada’s telecommunications regulator has rejected a bid by an Ottawa lawyer to block access to two U.S.-based hate websites that call for the “violent overthrow” of the Canadian government and the “extermination” of Jews in this country.

In an application filed to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Monday, Richard Warman said websites by a Nazi sympathizer contain material intended to incite violence against him that has caused him to fear for his life.

The application to the CRTC described Bill White of Roanoke, Va., as a neo-Nazi who has encouraged people to “take violent action” against Warman and even posted his home address on the sites.

Warman argued the websites communicate hate and advocate genocide, which are offences under the Criminal Code.

Although the sites are beyond the reach of Canadian law, the CRTC has the rarely used power to order Internet providers to temporarily block them from Canadian web surfers.

But the regulatory body must first issue an interim order allowing Internet carriers to do so voluntarily.

On Thursday, the CRTC said the unprecedented nature of Warman’s request raises “serious and fundamental issues.”

In a letter to the law firm representing Warman, the commission said it would be inappropriate to consider granting the interim order without first giving Internet carriers and other interested parties the opportunity to comment.

“Such a public process would allow for consideration of the broader policy and legal issues regarding the scope, and appropriate use, of the commission’s powers,” wrote secretary-general Diane Rheaume.

Bernie Farber, chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said he’s disappointed in the decision because of what he considers the “considerable danger” to Warman.

“Procedure seems to have trumped the safety of a Canadian citizen here,” Farber said.

“I think it’s very disconcerting that a Canadian citizen can become the subject of a murder warrant and there doesn’t seem to be any procedures in place by the government body that regulates the Internet to in any way intercede on his behalf.”

The congress will be looking at re-submitting its application, as well as other avenues with the CRTC, Farber said.

Warman was outside of the country and unable to comment on Friday.

One of the websites, hosted by Google’s weblog service Blogger, was taken offline Wednesday.

“We want Blogger to enable free expression, including the hosting of views and opinions that are unpopular,” Google spokesman Steve Langdon said.

“However, advocating violence against a person is not acceptable.”
Our first response is that it’s good that Canada is slow to censor a web site, even a thoroughly nasty web site. It’s a bit more complicated, however.

A web site that appears to be quite sympathetic toward White says the following:
White has encouraged people to “take violent action” against the lawyer and even posted his home address on the site. It’s believed to be the first time the CRTC has been asked to block Canadian access to a foreign website, said telecommunications industry consultant Mark Goldberg. “This is precedent-setting work,” said Goldberg, who is also a member of the Ontario executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress.
Even in the U.S., where speech has much more protection than in other democracies, incitement to a violent act is not protected under the First Amendment.

We are happy that Blogger has taken one of White’s sites offline. Google is a private business, and they can have any editorial policy they want. They have as much right to censor anti-Semitic hate speech as local radio stations have to refuse to play the Dixie Chicks, or as the New York Times has to refuse to run a political ad with which they disagree.

But no matter what theoretical notions we might have as to how some speech can legitimately be censored, as a practical matter, it’s probably futile on the Internet.

We had no difficulty, for example, getting a current version of White’s site. We don’t know whether Blogger changed their mind, or whether White, as he claimed, found a way to hack into Blogger and put the site back up.

The simple truth is that it’s hard to really block something on the Internet. As White explained to a PBS reporter:
I have servers and backups and off-shored mirrors and whatnot all over the world. The last time a lawyer seriously came after me for alleged ‘harassment,’ I had to move the site to Malaysia for a few weeks until my attorneys could put the guy down.

I have two law firms on retainer and enough money to pay for the computer equipment necessary to keep myself publishing regardless.
So what we like about the Internet when the issue is censorship in China doesn’t sound so nice when the issue is a Neo-Nazi. But it’s the same Internet.

On the whole, we think it’s good that authorities in Canada are being slow to censor the Internet. What should happen to White is that private individuals, reaching their own conclusions, should decide that he is scum.

We don’t need government to help us reach that conclusion. Indeed, we don’t want government to make any kind of victim of this fellow.

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