Internet freedom

Networks of Networks: What Defines Power Politics in the Age of Google? [VIDEO]

The Web changed Washington in one of most powerful uses of the Internet as a platform for collective action the world has ever seen. What does that mean for the future? This afternoon, a powerhouse panel of of big thinkers will talk about the implications of the networked protests that halted the progress of the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act in the U.S. Congress. Susan Crawford, Nicco Mele, Elaine Kamarck, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and the editorial director of TechPresident, Micah Sifry, will speaking at Harvard University at 4 PM ET today. The panel will be moderated by Alex Jones, director of the Harvard Shorenstein Center Director. The livestream is embedded below. If you’re interested, video of Clay Shirky’s 2011 lecture on journalism and free speech is looping on the channel.

Watch live streaming video from shorensteincenter at livestream.com

Hat tip TechPresident.

Why don’t Google and Facebook use ChillingEffects to mitigate censorship like Twitter?

At the request of the government of India, Google India and Facebook have removed content from Blogger and the world’s largest social network after a court order. As Alex Kirkpatrick reported at Mashable, “Indian prosecutors are suing a host of Internet companies on behalf of a Muslim religious leader who has accused them of hosting content that insults Islam.”

If Google and Facebook used Chilling Effects like Twitter, we’d know what content they had censored in India For context, consider Twitter’s stance on censorship and Internet freedom.

While Google’s Transparency Report for India is laudable and impressively visualized, it doesn’t show what content was removed.

As far as I know, Facebook neither posts data of content takedown requests by region nor the content itself. If you know of such data or reports, please let me know in the comments

On Twitter, censorship and Internet freedom

I’m watching a lot of reactions roll across the social Web to the news that Twitter will now be able to censor tweets, if required by law, on a country-by-country basis.

 

“In the face of a valid and applicable legal order,” Twitter spokeswoman Jodi Olson told techPresident’s Nick Judd via an email, “the choice facing services is between global removal of content with no notice to the user, or a transparent, targeted approach where the content is removed only in the country in question.” Twitter is opting for what the New York Times has dubbed a “micro-censorship policy,” where it will withhold certain content (aka, tweets) from Twitter users within a country.

Twitter’s help page on “country withheld content” offers more context and explanation for users than that its blog:

Many countries, including the United States, have laws that may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content. In our continuing effort to make our services available to users everywhere, if we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to reactively withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.

We have found that transparency is vital to freedom of expression. Upon receipt of requests to withhold content we will promptly notify affected users, unless we are legally prohibited from doing so, and clearly indicate to viewers when content has been withheld. We have also expanded our partnership with Chilling Effects to include the publication of requests to withhold content in addition to the DMCA notifications that we already transmit.

As is often the case, Danny Sullivan has produced the more comprehensive, detailed analysis of what the news shared on Twitter’s blog today means, backed up by solid reporting. He says that “there’s no need to hit the panic button.” Based upon what I’m reading, I agree, albeit with caveats that we’ll need to see how this is implemented.

“The restrictions will be based on the IP address of the user,” writes Sullivan. As this isn’t perfect, Twitter will allow people to override this, if they believe they’re being inaccurately targeted.” As Sullivan explains, Twitter has been complying with DMCA requests for some time. This move actually means we will probably learn more about what’s been happening. Here’s the meat of his post:

“What’s new is that eventually, Twitter may expand to having staff based in other countries. That makes the company more liable to legal actions in those countries, so it needs a way to comply with those legal demands. The new “Country Withheld Content” change gives it a framework to do so.

That, of course, leads to another concern. What if some country undergoing a revolution declares that tweeting about protests is illegal? Would Twitter suddenly start censoring tweets that many within those countries might depend on?

Twitter tells me that this is more a hypothetical concern than a real one that it expects to face. Typically when this happens, Twitter says, it doesn’t get demands to to block particular accounts or tweets. Instead, authorities in the affected countries either ignore Twitter (good for freedom of expression) or block it entirely (bad, but also out of Twitter’s control).”

The crux of the matter, to me, is that Twitter is a venture-backed private company with investors that want to see growth and profit. It’s not a public utility. Jack has said that he envisions every connected device being able to tweet. That’s not going to come to pass unless they expand into the world’s biggest markets, China and India. To do so, Twitter will have to make similar decisions as Google did when it entered China and censored its results. Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt decided eventually to change how it handled search, redirecting to Hong Kong. This is only a first pass at understanding what’s happened here and why, so other explanations are welcome in the comments, if grounded in fact.

As Rebecca MacKinnon, Ethan Zuckerman and others have been explaining for years, what we think of as the new public square online is complicated by the fact that these platforms for free expression are owned and operated by private companies. Rebecca has explored these issues and how we can think of them in context in her new, excellent book, “Consent of the Networked.”

“I know some people saw this and got upset about “censorship!” but looking at the details, it actually looks like Twitter is doing a smart thing here, wrote Mike Masnick, the founder of TechDirt, on Twitter deciding to censor locally than block globally:

You could argue that the proper response would be to stand up to local governments and say, “sorry, we don’t block anything” — and I’d actually have sympathy with that response. But the truth is that if a government is demanding censorship, then Twitter is likely going to have to comply or face complete blocking. The solution that it came up with is somewhat more elegant: it will just block the specific content in the specific location and (importantly) will try to let users know that the content is blocked while also sending as much info as it can to the Chilling Effects website so that people can learn about what’s being censored. This is a lot more transparent and hopefully actually shines more light on efforts to censor Twitter.

While hundreds of millions of people may hope that Twitter’s executive team, including @Jack or @DickC, Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, and YouTube‘s execs, to name key players, will act in the public interest and protect their users, they are obligated to obey the laws of the countries they operate within and their major shareholders.

As I’ve written elsewhere, my sense is that, of all of the major social media players — which in 2012 now include Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Tumblr and MySpace, amongst others — Twitter has been one of the leaders in the technology community for sticking up for its users where it can, particularly with respect to the matter of fighting to make Twitter subpoena from the U.S. Justice Department regarding user data public.

When reached for comment, Jillian York, Director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, offering the following statement:

From my view, this isn’t different from how Twitter’s already been handling court-ordered requests, except that it won’t affect users outside of a given country. Given their moves to open an office in the UK (with all of its crazy defamation laws), I can see why they’ve taken this route. It’s unfortunate that they may have to censor any content at all, but I applaud their move to be as transparent as possible about it.

Twitter’s general counsel, Alexander Macgillivray (@amac) deserves all due credit for that decision and others, along with the lucid blog post that explained how SOPA would affect ordinary, non-infringing users.

Both Colin Crowell, Twitter’s head of public policy, and MacGillivray indicated on Twitter today that if tweets are “reactively withheld” in a given country, the rest of the world will still be able to see them.

The  Chilling Effects page for Twitter  “is a first step towards that, though we hope to have fewer datapoints,” tweeted MacGillivray.

Let’s hope they uphold that commitment and share raw data about the censorship requests, as +Google itself has done, where possible.

UPDATE: Per Xeni Jardin’s post on Twitter and censorship at BoingBoing, Macgillivray told her “three quick things”:

#1: I can confirm that this has nothing to do with any investor (primary or secondary).

#2: This is not a change in philosophy. #jan25

#3: you’ll see notices about withheld content at: http://www.chillingeffects.org… so you’ll get to figure out whether we’ve “caved” or not with data. This change gives us the ability to keep content up even if we have to withhold it somewhere.

Mathew Ingram also posted a thoughtful analysis of Twitter censoring tweets at GigaOm:

The company says that it will not accede to just any request for removal, regardless of whether it comes from a government, and has made it clear that its commitment to free speech extends to dissidents using Twitter for revolutionary purposes during events such as the Arab Spring in Egypt. But as Twitter becomes more and more of a global phenomenon, those commitments could be put to the test. What happens when someone posts a tweet that makes fun of the founder of Turkey, something that is a crime under Turkish law?

More than anything else, Twitter’s announcement highlights both how integral a part of the global information ecosystem it has become, and how vulnerable that ecosystem can be when a single entity controls such a crucial portion of it. How Twitter handles that challenge will ultimately determine whether it deserves the continued trust of its users.

UPDATE: Jillian C. York wrote more about Twitter’s latest move on her blog:

Let’s be clear: This is censorship. There’s no way around that. But alas, Twitter is not above the law.  Just about every company hosting user-generated content has, at one point or another, gotten an order or government request to take down content.  Google lays out its orders in its Transparency Report.  Other companies are less forthright.  In any case, Twitter has two options in the event of a request: Fail to comply, and risk being blocked by the government in question, or comply (read: censor).  And if they have “boots on the ground”, so to speak, in the country in question?  No choice.

In the event that a company chooses to comply with government requests and censor content, there are a number of mitigating steps the company can take.  The most important, of course, is transparency, something that Twitter has promised.  Google is also transparent in its content removal (Facebook? Not so much).  Twitter’s move to geolocate their censorship is also smart, given the alternative (censoring it worldwide, that is) – particularly since it appears a user can manually change his or her location.

I understand why people are angry, but this does not, in my view, represent a sea change in Twitter’s policies. Twitter has previously taken down content–for DMCA requests, at least–and will no doubt continue to face requests in the future. I believe that the company is doing its best in a tough situation…and I’ll be the first to raise hell if they screw up.”

UPDATE: Writing at the Wall Street Journal’s “Real Time China” blog, Josh Chin looks at Chinese reactions to the news and what it would take to get Twitter unblocked in China. His reporting casts doubt on my speculation above and in a statement I gave to Al Jazeera last night.

Even if Twitter were somehow able to get in Beijing’s good graces, Mr. Bishop says, it would have almost no shot at competing with home-grown “weibo” microblogging products from Sina and Tencent that are already well-established and offer more features. “Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo are better products,” he says. “Twitter’s only competitive advantage here is freedom of speech. Once you start censoring, what do you have left to offer?”

Indeed, Mr. Dorsey himself quashed the idea of Twitter being able to break into China in an interview in Hong Kong in October in which he said his company “just can’t compete” in China “and that’s not up to us to change.”

In developing the ability to censor tweets by region, Twitter more likely has different markets in mind. The only countries mentioned by name in the blog post announcing the new policy were France and Germany, both of which, the post notes, ban pro-Nazi content. How to handle that ban is a dilemma that Yahoo, Google and Facebook have all struggled with in Germany.

UPDATE: Nick Judd published an excellent post at techPresident reporting on why some prominent journalists and free expression advocates, including Andy Carvin (see comment below) and York aren’t mad about Twitter’s censorship move:

All of this seems to indicate that Twitter chose this way to proceed in the hopes that it would serve as a compromise between the company’s desire to expand globally and its desire to remain on the same side as the folks at the EFF on issues like user privacy and user rights. This is the same company that, despite getting no money from its users, went to the legal mat for some of them to earn the right to notify them that federal investigators wanted records of their direct messages in conjunction with a Wikileaks investigation. But it’s still a company, and as such, its platform has to adhere to the rule of law in the U.S. and anywhere else it has staff, or, well … Megaupload.

Twitter’s move here is not really pre-emptive. Other Internet giants have already implemented a similar policy. Google, remember, already maps every request for content removal or government request for user data that it can.

And Twitter actually is under pressure from foreign governments — just not the ones you’d expect.

As we say here on the interwebs, read the whole thing.

UPDATE: “Twitter’s policy is actually a model of how this should work,” says “technosociologist” Zeynep Tufecki, who writes that Twitter’s new policy is helpful to free-speech advocates:

In my opinion, with this policy, Twitter is fighting to protect free speech on Twitter as best it possibly can. It also fits with its business model so I am not going to argue they are uniquely angelic, but Twitter does have a good track record. Twitter was the only company which first fought the US government to protect user information in the Wikileaks cas,e and then informed the users when it lost the fight. In fact, Twitter’s transparency is the only reason we even know of this; other companies, it appears, silently caved and complied.

Twitter’s latest policy is purposefully designed to allow Twitter to exist as a platform as broadly as possible while making it as hard as possible for governments to censor content, either tweet by tweet or more, all the while giving free-speech advocates a lot of tools to fight censorship.

“Decentralization is often great but in Internet is not free of questions of jurisdiction and law. As such, this is a good policy,” she tweeted. “It reflects recognition that Net isn’t “virtual”; it’s not a law & govt free zone; Q is how to protect freedoms given reality.”

UPDATE: “The reality, of course, is that these are businesses with corporate interests, not triumphant defenders of free speech — and they each provide the bulk of their services for free, and make money by selling their users’ attention to advertisers,” writes Mathew Ingram on his an excellent post curating of links and analysis regarding this move over at GigaOm considering how much should we trust our information overlords. (And yes, linking to his linking is feeling a bit meta today.)

The standard response when someone criticizes Google’s privacy policy or Twitter’s new tactics or Facebook’s changes is “Don’t use them.” But what is the alternative? Google isn’t just a search engine but a giant email provider and has a host of other services people need to do their jobs. Facebook and Twitter are tools that hundreds of millions of people use daily to connect and share with their friends and family — which is why “open source” alternatives such as Diaspora and Identi.ca have failed to gain much traction.

Dave Winer and other open-network advocates have repeatedly made the point that relying on a single corporation, or even several of them, for access to such important tools of communication is a huge risk. But what choice do we have? We either have to try harder to find more open alternatives, or we have to trust that Google and Twitter and Facebook are looking out for our best interests — and when they don’t, we have to make it clear that they are failing, and hold them to account.

UPDATE: I talked with Al Jazeera English about making sense of Twitter and censorship. Cynthia Wong, Director of the Global Internet Freedom Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, was also quoted in the story.

[Wong] says the question Twitter must ask itself is, is it better to remain available in a country, even if some content is blocked?

Wong says Twitter is in fact being thoughtful in its answer to that question. “They are limiting the impact of the block to only the local jurisdiction, trying to be transparent about which tweets are withheld, and at what government’s request,” Wong said.

Whether Twitter is trying to be thoughtful or not, opposition to the decision around the world was swift and negative, with many Twitter users protesting the decision. Journalists and human rights advocates, understandably, have raised serious concerns about Twitter’s decision. Reporters Without Borders has sent a letter to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey asking him not to co-operate with censors.

We urge you to reverse this decision, which restricts freedom of expression and runs counter to the movements opposed to censorship that have been linked to the Arab Spring, in which Twitter served as a sounding board. By finally choosing to align itself with the censors, Twitter is depriving cyberdissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization.

We are very disturbed by this decision, which is nothing other than local level censorship carried out in cooperation with local authorities and in accordance with local legislation, which often violates international free speech standards. Twitter’s position that freedom of expression is interpreted differently from country to country is inacceptable. This fundamental principle is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Twitter has published an update to its post on the decision:

…we believe the new, more granular approach to withheld content is a good thing for freedom of expression, transparency, accountability— and for our users. Besides allowing us to keep Tweets available in more places, it also allows users to see whether we are living up to our freedom of expression ideal.

Q: Do you filter out certain Tweets before they appear on Twitter?
A: No. Our users now send a billion Tweets every four days—filtering is neither desirable nor realistic. With this new feature, we are going to be reactive only: that is, we will withhold specific content only when required to do so in response to what we believe to be a valid and applicable legal request.

As we do today, we will evaluate each request before taking any action. Any content we do withhold in response to such a request is clearly identified to users in that country as being withheld. And we are now able to make that content available to users in the rest of the world.

The reaction from dissidents around the world has been particularly striking, given the potential impact of this decision upon their ability to speak out. As RSF noted, freedom of speech is part of the universal declaration of human rights. For many users or potential users, Twitter’s decision means that, while their speech will be preserved for the rest of the world to see, their fellow citizens may not. While this approach may be nuanced, the company can be fairly criticized for ever deciding to censor tweets at all. In the initial blog post on this decision, Twitter stated that the standards for free expression some countries “differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there.”

Individuals and organizations within the broad coalition opposing SOPA due to concerns about freedom of expression online should find common cause with those who now would question Twitter’s decision to “exist” at all in countries whose governments do not respect the universal human rights of their citizens, as opposed to providing them with the means to share “what’s happening” with the rest of humanity.

The “Internet freedom” policies advanced by the U.S. Department of State under the Obama administration would, in theory, support that position as well. This is precisely the “dictator’s dilemma” that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described. There should be a line where preserving principle is more important than opening new markets.

UPDATE: Writing for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Eva Galperin considered what Twitter’s local takedown system would mean fro freedom of expression. She wrote a thoughtful, thorough post, including a note that Twitter has already been taking down content and echoing the opinion of others that the driver for the announcement is Twitter’s expansion to new countries with laws that govern freedom of expression, like Germany, where it will be bound by them. “Twitter is trying to mitigate these problems by only taking down access to content for people coming from IP addresses the country seeking to censor that content,” writes Galperin. “That’s good. For now, the overall effect is less censorship rather than more censorship, since they used to take things down for all users. But people have voiced concerns that ‘if you build it, they will come,’–if you build a tool for state-by-state censorship, states will start to use it. We should remain vigilant against this outcome.”

Galperin also offers specific actions that Twitter users concerned about the company’s actions can take, beyond protesting the move or leaving the platform all together:

Keep Twitter honest. First, pay attention to the notices that Twitter sends and to the archive being created on Chilling Effects. If Twitter starts honoring court orders from India to take down tweets that are offensive to the Hindu gods, or tweets that criticize the king in Thailand, we want to know immediately. Furthermore, transparency projects such as Chilling Effects allow activists to track censorship all over the world, which is the first step to putting pressure on countries to stand up for freedom of expression and put a stop to government censorship.

What else? Circumvent censorship. Twitter has not yet blocked a tweet using this new system, but when it does, that tweet will not simply disappear—there will be a message informing you that content has been blocked due to your geographical location. Fortunately, your geographical location is easy to change on the Internet. You can use a proxy or a Tor exit node located in another country. Read Write Web also suggests that you can circumvent per-country censorship by simply changing the country listed in your profile.

This post has been updated as further information or posts have become available.

Benkler on SOPA, PIPA and the moral authority of a networked commons

In a guest post on TechPresident, Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler, aYochai Benkler, Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard, faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and author of The Wealth of Networks and The Penguin and the Leviathan.

Seven Lessons from SOPA/PIPA/Megauplaod and Four Proposals on Where We Go From Here” is a compelling read, exploring what we’ve learned about the power of a networked commons in the last week and making substantive suggestions about a way forward.

“We need to be thinking not about what compromises to make around SOPA/PIPA and the OPEN Act, but about what the architecture of freedom in the networked environment requires of copyright law more generally,” writes Benkler. He offers readers recommendations for a way forward for free expression and copyright in the 21st century, not simply more opposition to the proposals contained in Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), which, for the moment, remain indefinitely delayed in Washington.

I found the most powerful lesson from Benkler to be his final one, however, where he highlights the “moral authority of the networked citizenry vs. the power of money.”

“The power we saw in the hands of networked people is a fundamentally more legitimate source of power than corporate money. Democracies are by and for the people. We believe in one-person, one-vote; and while corporate organizations are enormously useful, and can make us more effective in the pursuit of our life plans and dreams, at root it is us, human beings, flesh and blood, who are the foundational constituents of a democracy. That is why Wikipedia played such a critical role: unlike all the other major sites that shut down. Wikipedia is not a company; Wikipedia, for this purpose, functioned as a mini-democracy within a democracy, where people who continuously volunteer for the public good came together to do something new for the public. *Wikipedia represents a moral force that no commercial site can ever hope to replicate.* Some sites, like Reddit, are sufficiently based on users that they can structure their future protest actions as democratic debates, letting users decide. Extending the debate and collective decision-making feature of the Wikipedia decision to other platforms should play an important role in the future, and will also help to solidify the alliance between networked citizenry and the companies that provide the infrastructure of networked discourse. If the technology industry wants to continue its battle with Hollywood as a battle among paid lobbyists, it may do so, likely at its own peril. But if the industry wants to be able to speak with the moral authority of the networked public sphere, it will have to listen to what the networked public is saying and understand the political alliance as a coalition.

“*The greatest hope from the events of the past two weeks is that we are beginning to see a re-emergence of the possibility of a truly engaged citizenry after decades of the rise of lobbying and money.* I suspect that it is too soon to go after legislative changes that target that ambitious goal directly, as Micah discussed yesterday (“After SOPA/PIPA Victory, Tech is Thinking of Tackling Political Reform.”) But if we can use the enthusiasm and focus to make significant inroads in this narrow and specifically actionable item, perhaps we will also begin to hone a more general a new model of democratic participation for a new generation. A model of citizen participation that is as far from the couch potato’s passivity as the Internet is from broadcast.”

For more on the open Internet Benkler and why this matters, watch our interview from last year’s eG8 Summit, where 20th century ideas clashed with the 21st century economy.

Benkler’s peroration eloquently captures the strong sense I felt last Friday that something had changed last week, when I wrote about the Web changing Washington. I wrote then and believe now that what we saw in the beginning of this young year will reinvigorate the notion that participating in the civic process matters.

As I said then, we’re in unexplored territory. We may have just seen the dawn of new era of networked activism and participatory democracy, borne upon the tidal wave of hundreds of millions of citizens connected by mobile technology, social media platform and open data. If so, that era will also include pervasive electronic surveillance, whether you’re online and offline, with commensurate threats to privacy, security, human rights and civil liberties, and the use of these technologies by autocratic government to suppress dissent or track down dissidents. These issues go straight to the heartwood of Rebecca Mackinnon’s compelling, important new book, “Consent of the Networked: The Global Struggle For Internet Freedom.” Finding a way for forward will not be easy but it’s clearly necessary.

In that context of those concerns it’s hard to feel aglow with optimism about what comes next. What we’ve seen so far in 2012, however, has left me feeling more optimistic about what’s happening in the intersection of citizens, open government and the Internet than I’ve had in some time. All that said, I’m heartened to read that Benkler wrote about “hope.” Traditionally, hope has been one of the most powerful forces for positive social change throughout our shared history.

That optimism, however, must be tempered with realism. Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies and webmaster at Washington Watch, shared two other important commentaries on the week in his post considering whether on the networked activism over SOPA and PIPA is a harbinger of things to come or an aberration:

He’s not unrestrained, but Larry Downes sees the remarkable downfall of legislation to regulate the Internet’s engineering as a harbinger of things to come. Jerry Brito, meanwhile, tells us “Why We Won’t See Many Protests like the SOPA Blackout.”

They’re both right—over different time-horizons. The information environment and economics of political organization today are still quite stacked against public participation in our unwieldy federal government. But in time this will change. Congress and Washington, D.C.’s advocacy and lobbying groups now have some idea what the future will feel like.

So far, it feels pretty darn interesting. The future, as cyberpunk noir writer William Gibson has famously said, is already here: it’s just not evenly distributed yet.

If Twitter is against SOPA and PIPA, should it ‘blackout’ like Wikipedia?

As Wikipedia prepares to go dark in protest, prospects for controversial online anti-piracy laws have dimmed in Congress. Now that Wikipedia has committed to such a bold move, will other tech, blogs or media companies follow? In some cases, the answers is clearly yes: Reddit and BoingBoing, for instance, have both said that they’ll be doing a ‘blackout.”

Online pressure to rethink anti-piracy bills that threaten the Internet industries, security and online free speech continues to build, although, as the New York Times reported, many still expect these online piracy bills invite a protracted battle. There are, as it turns out, quite a few people willing to stand up to these bills.

As I wrote in December, one of the big unanswered questions about the Stop Online Piracy Act and its companion bill in the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act, is whether Internet companies would directly engage hundreds of millions of users to advocate against the bill for them in Washington, in the way that Tumblr did last November. To date, Facebook and Google have not committed to doing so.

Today, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo indicated to me that the California-based social media company that he leads will not being ‘shutting down’ on Wednesday — but that it would also continue to be ‘very active.’ The Guardian has picked up on our exchange, publishing a story that focused upon mischaracterized Costolo’s response to a question about Twitter shutting down as him calling Wikipedia’s SOPA protest as ‘silly.’ What Costolo made clear later when Wales asked him about the story, however, is that he was referring to Twitter making such a choice, not Wikipedia.

Following is a storify of the relevant tweets, along with some context for them.

My sense is that, of all of the major social media players — which in 2012 now include Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Tumblr and MySpace, amongst others — Twitter has been one of the leaders in the technology community for sticking up for its users where it can, particularly with respect to the matter of fighting to make Twitter subpoena from the U.S. Justice Department regarding user data public.

Whether or not Twitter ultimately decides to “shut down” or “black out,” Twitter’s general counsel, Alex Macgillivray deserves all due credit for that decision and others, along with the lucid blog post that explained how SOPA would affect ordinary, non-infringing users.

For a fuller explanation of why these issues stuff matters, I highly recommend reading “Consent of the Networked,” a new must-read book on Internet freedom by former CNN journalist and co-founder of Global Voices Rebecca MacKinnon. These sorts of decisions and precedents are deeply important in the 21st century, when much of what people think of as speech in the new public square is hosted upon the servers of private services like Twitter, Facebook and Google.

This post has been updated to clarify Costolo’s position, with respect to how the Guardian framed his initial response.

Rep. Smith pulls DNS provision from SOPA, Rep Issa postpones hearing, White House responds to epetition

The Friday night news dump lives on: at 12:30 AM last night, I received an email from the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: according to the release, Rep. Lamar Smith said he will remove the domain name provision from the Stop Online Piracy Act. Rep. Darrell Issa says he’ll suspend next week’s hearing with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian & other Internet experts. As you may have heard, the United States Congress is considering anti-piracy bills that could cripple Internet industries that are engine of the dynamic economic growth all around the world: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and the PROTECT IP Act in the U.S. Senate.

Here’s the release:

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa today announced that a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, which was to examine the impact of Domain Name Service (DNS) and search engine blocking on the Internet, has been postponed following assurances that anti-piracy legislation will not move to the House floor this Congress without a consensus.

“While I remain concerned about Senate action on the Protect IP Act, I am confident that flawed legislation will not be taken up by this House. Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote,” said Chairman Issa. “The voice of the Internet community has been heard. Much more education for Members of Congress about the workings of the Internet is essential if anti-piracy legislation is to be workable and achieve broad appeal.”

“Earlier tonight, Chairman Smith announced that he will remove the DNS blocking provision from his legislation. Although SOPA, despite the removal of this provision, is still a fundamentally flawed bill, I have decided that postponing the scheduled hearing on DNS blocking with technical experts is the best course of action at this time. Right now, the focus of protecting the Internet needs to be on the Senate where Majority Leader Reid has announced his intention to try to move similar legislation in less than two weeks.”
http://www.keepthewebopen.com

This isn’t the end of the news, however: on the same night, this morning, the White House responded to the “We The People” epetition asking the President to veto the Stop Online Piracy Act & PROTECT IP Act. Cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt, US CTO Aneesh Chopra and OMB intellectual property enforcement coordinator Victoria Espinel wrote it. While they don’t address the veto requested in the epetition, the White House did come out strongly against the DNS provisions in the bills.

Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small. Across the globe, the openness of the Internet is increasingly central to innovation in business, government, and society and it must be protected. To minimize this risk, new legislation must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law, cover activity clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws, and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity. Any provision covering Internet intermediaries such as online advertising networks, payment processors, or search engines must be transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage startup businesses and innovative firms from growing.

We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet. Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security. Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online. We must avoid legislation that drives users to dangerous, unreliable DNS servers and puts next-generation security policies, such as the deployment of DNSSEC, at risk.

Taken in context with Senator Leahy’s statement on reconsidering DNS (albeit not removing it from the bill) and Rep. Lamar Smith saying he’ll remove a DNS provision from SOPA, one of the major concerns that the tech community appears to have been heard and validated. Read my past coverage of SOPA and PIPA at Radar for these concerns, including links to the bills and a white paper from Internet engineers.

The White House, however, did write that “existing tools are not strong enough” and that they want legislation to move forward. That could well be the OPEN Act supported by Senator Ron Wyden and Rep. Darrell Issa.

The MPAA has also weighed in on the Congressional moves. (PDF. Michael O’Leary, senior executive VP for global policy and external affairs for the MPAA:

“We fully support Chairman Smith in his efforts to protect U.S. workers, businesses and consumers
against online theft. We believe his announcement today regarding the Stop Online Piracy Act and
Senator Leahy’s earlier announcement regarding the PROTECT IP Act will help forge an even
broader consensus for legislative action, and we look forward to working with them and other
interested parties in passing strong legislation utilizing the remaining tools at our disposal to protect
American jobs and creativity. We continue to believe that DNS filtering is an important tool, already
used in numerous countries internationally to protect consumers and the intellectual property of
businesses with targeted filters for rogue sites. We are confident that any close examination of DNS
screening will demonstrate that contrary to the claims of some critics, it will not break the Internet.”

Gary Price, who forwarded the MPAA response, also notes that “on Thursday, the Library of Congress named a new Director of Communications. She starts at the end of this month. She was key in the founding of the Pro-SOPA Copyright Alliance and
also worked for the MPAA.

We’ll be seeing reactions to this all weekend. I’ll link to the best of them tomorrow from this story. For now, a couple of things seems clear:

1) The technical concerns of the Internet community appear to have been heard. It’s also likely that the federal government’s own cybersecurity experts, including Sandia Labs and Schmidt himself, influenced Congressional actions here. Senator Leahy, however, has not committed to remove DNS provisions entirely from PIPA, only to research them upon passage. That’s likely to be unsatisfactory to many concerned with the bills. “Trust us” to study it after passage is a tough sell.

2) The White House is supporting the arguments that online piracy is a a “real problem that harms the American economy, and threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers.” That statement should have been supported with more evidence from the government’s research institutions.

3) The response from the White House has to be considered an open government win, with respect to an epetition resulting in a statement from the top IT officials in the country. That said, posting it on a Friday night Saturday morning, as opposed to a response from the President during his Friday news conference, buried* diminished the impact of the news and muted its political impact.

4) Most American citizens oppose government involvement in blocking access to content online, particularly when the word “censor” is accurately applied. When asked if ISPs, social media sites and search engines should block access — as they would under SOPA — only a third of Americans agree.

The White House stated that “we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

It will be up to the American people to hold them accountable for the commitment.

Update: Here’s Erik Cain, writing at Forbes on the White House response on SOPA:

This pretty clearly pits the Obama Administration against SOPA/PIPA. It also calls for more open and honest discussion about these bills and the problems they seek to address. Since there has been almost no discussion or debate until very recently on the legislation in question, this is a very welcome development.

I admit that while I’m pretty glad to see the administration come out with this sort of in-depth statement on the matter, I have a hard time trusting the president on these issues. His veto pen notably did not come out to quash the NDAA – a bill he vowed at one point to not let past his desk.

Then again, internet regulations may have wide, bipartisan support but still nowhere near the support that a defense funding bill has. Obama may have seen a political fight he couldn’t win, read the writing on the wall, and backed off of the NDAA rather than suffer a blow right before an election. The same does not apply to SOPA/PIPA.

So an executive veto on these bills seems much more likely, though at this point – with various congressmen starting to speak out, lots of companies threatening blackouts of their websites – including Wikipedia and Reddit – we may see the momentum behind these bills grind to a halt. The White House statement on the matter will only help push the conversation in congress. That’s a good thing.

Here’s Matt Yglesias, who writes at Slate that the Obama administration came out against SOPA and PIPA:

It increasingly looks like the SOPA/Protect IP fights are turning into an example of how the political system sometimes does work correctly after all. The con forces on these bills initially looked numerically overwhelmed in congress and hugely outspent. But opponents really mobilized vocally, got people and institutions who don’t normally focus on politics to write about this, and perhaps most important of all demonstrated that more people genuinely cared about this issue than most members of congress initially realized. Now the momentum has slowed incredibly and the White House technology policy team has come out against these bills.

To look a gift horse in the mouth for a second, however, I note that the White House statement does contain a “reasonable” to-be-sure line stating that “online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, and threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers and hurts some of our nation’s most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs.”

Greg Sandoval and Declan McCullagh for CNET: DNS provision pulled from SOPA, victory for opponents:

Without the DNS provision, SOPA now looks a great deal more like the OPEN Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), which was designed to be an alternative to SOPA. A watered-down SOPA means Smith improves his chances of getting the bill through Congress but at this point, nothing is assured.

Late today came word that six Republican senators have asked Majority Leader Harry Reid to postpone a vote on Pro IP, also known as PIPA. The senators wrote: “Prior to committee action, some members expressed substantive concerns about the bill, and there was a commitment to resolve them prior to floor consideration.”

Leahy issued a statement which appears to be a reply to the request by those senators. He argued that the PIPA vote should go ahead as planned.

“Saying no to debating the [Pro IP Act] hurts the economy,” Leahy wrote. “It says no to the American workers whose livelihoods depend on intellectual property-reliant businesses. And it says yes to the criminals hiding overseas stealing American intellectual property…all Senators should agree that this is a debate we must have…and should support cloture on the motion to proceed on January 24.”

It sounds as if Leahy is trying to keep some of the bill’s supporters from bolting. There’s little question now that some SOPA and PIPA backers in Congress are in retreat and seeking some kind of compromise in the face of significant opposition.

Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing: Lamar Smith and Patrick Leahy blink, pull DNS-blocking out of PIPA and SOPA

After repeatedly insisting that establishing a national censoring firewall with DNS-blocking was critical to the Stop Online Piracy Act, the bill’s sponsor (and chair of the House Judicial Committee) Rep Lamar Smith has blinked. He’s agreed to cut DNS-blocking from the bill, in the face of a threat from rival Rep Darrell Issa, whose House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was preparing to hear expert testimony on the harm that this provision would do to national security and the Internet’s robustness against fraud and worse.

Even without its DNS provisions, SOPA remains terminally flawed, creating a regime that would be terminally hostile to any site that contains links and any site that allows the public to post comments on it. But attention has shifted to PIPA, the Senate version of the bill, which is nearly as bad, and which is rocketing towards an imminent vote.

Timothy Lee at ArsTechnica: Obama administration joins the ranks of SOPA skeptics:

Combine all those concerns, and the statement is a fairly sweeping condemnation of SOPA and PIPA in their current form. Espinel and her colleagues appear to have left enough wiggle room in the statement to allow the president to sign a future version of the bill that addresses some, but not all, of the critics’ concerns. But the bill’s sponsors are now going to have to work hard to satisfy critics and build a consensus in favor of passage.

Tim O’Reilly at Google+ on the White House response to the epetition on SOPA and PIPA:

I found myself profoundly disturbed by something that seems to me to go to the root of the problem in Washington: the failure to correctly diagnose the problem we are trying to solve, but instead to accept, seemingly uncritically, the claims of various interest groups. The offending paragraph is as follows:

“Let us be clear—online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, and threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers and hurts some of our nation’s most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs. It harms everyone from struggling artists to production crews, and from startup social media companies to large movie studios. While we are strongly committed to the vigorous enforcement of intellectual property rights, existing tools are not strong enough to root out the worst online pirates beyond our borders.”

In the entire discussion, I’ve seen no discussion of credible evidence of this economic harm. There’s no question in my mind that piracy exists, that people around the world are enjoying creative content without paying for it, and even that some criminals are profiting by redistributing it. But is there actual economic harm?

In my experience at O’Reilly, the losses due to piracy are far outweighed by the benefits of the free flow of information, which makes the world richer, and develops new markets for legitimate content. Most of the people who are downloading unauthorized copies of O’Reilly books would never have paid us for them anyway; meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of others are buying content from us, many of them in countries that we were never able to do business with when our products were not available in digital form.

History shows us, again and again, that frontiers are lawless places, but that as they get richer and more settled, they join in the rule of law. American publishing, now the largest publishing industry in the world, began with piracy. (I have a post coming on that subject on Monday.)

Congress (and the White House) need to spend time thinking hard about how best to grow our economy – and that means being careful not to close off the frontier, or to harm those trying to settle it, in order to protect those who want to remain safe at home. British publishers could have come to America in the 19th century; they chose not to, and as a result, we grew our own indigenous publishing industry, which relied at first, in no small part, on pirating British and European works.

If the goal is really to support jobs and the American economy, internet “protectionism” is not the way to do it.

*The White House emailed me later in the morning to point out that the epetition response was posted on Saturday morning.

#AskState: U.S. State Department to take questions from Twitter at the podium

Under Secretary McHale Participates in the State Department's First Global "Twitter Q&A"

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith Mchale, center, participates in the State Department's first global Twitter Q & A, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on June 29, 2011.

As part of what it is calling “21st Century Statecraft Month,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland will be taking questions from Twitter from up at the podium during the Daily Press Briefing each Friday afternoon during the month of January. Questions can be submitted using the #AskState hashtag.

The questions will be selected from the Department’s 10 official Twitter feeds, which now include tweets in Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Urdu:

Whether this is a public relations exercise or another step towards the next generation of digital public diplomacy will depend upon whether State is willing to directly take on its fiercest critics, a constituency that will likely be active on the #askstate hashtag.

While this is an interesting experiment, it’s important to note that the State Department will still be choosing which questions to answer. In a press briefing, Nuland can choose the questioner but not the question. If Nuland would commit to taking the 3 most retweeted questions, say, that would be one thing. Here, they can be selective. For instance, if asked about the Wikileaks saga, sales of American surveillance gear to foreign governments or past State Department involvement in South America, will they take the questions?

There’s also the quiet reality that P.J. Crowley, the former state department spokesman, was (and is) quite active on Twitter as @PJCrowley during his tenure. As far as I know, Nuland doesn’t have an account, which effectively means they’re doing less of that particular brand of 21st century digital diplomacy, not more. @JaredCohen, who has moved on to Google, is similarly no longer a voice for ‘digital diplomacy’ on Twitter, leaving the mantle of being State’s primary “face” on social media on the shoulders of @AlecJRoss, although, to be fair, dozens of other staffers, embassies and officials are on Twitter now as well, from @USMariaOtero to UN @AmbassadorRice.

I’ve posed a question about the State Department’s official stance on the Stop Online Piracy Act, since its passage would seem very likely to directly impact its Internet freedom policy and funding for circumvention technologies. If State takes the question, they’d post it on their YouTube channel.

Below, I’ve embedded a Storify that includes a sample of many other questions that have been asked to date:

As SOPA comes to a vote, O.E.C.D. calls on members to defend Internet freedom

On Wednesday, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development called on its members to defend Internet freedoms. “It’s really a milestone in terms of making a statement about openness,” said Karen Kornbluh, the U.S. ambassador to the O.E.C.D., quoted by Eric Pfanner in the New York Times. “You can’t really get the innovation you need in terms of creating jobs unless we work together to protect the openness of the Internet.”

China and Russia come under some scrutiny for recent actions regarding their citizens and the Internet. For instance, distributed denial of service attacks were recently used in Russia in attempts to squelch online speech after the elections.

The United States of America, however, also has a serious Internet freedom issue on its collective hands, as people following the progress of the ‘Stop Online Piracy Act’ (SOPA) through Congress know. If you’re unclear about the issues raised by the Stop Online Piracy Act, read my feature, “Congress considers anti-piracy bills that could cripple Internet industries,” or watch the video below, from the Cato Institute:

Cato Institute research fellow Sanchez asserts “that internet censorship won’t effectively address the problem of piracy and will threaten innovation and the liberties of Americans by engaging in unconstitutional prior restraint.” The video was produced by Caleb Brown, Austin Bragg and Julian Sanchez.

The key O.E.C.D. recommendation relevant to SOPA is the one that urges policy makers to “limit Internet intermediary liability.” If you don’t know what intermediary liability is, watch White House deputy CTO for Internet policy Danny Weitzner explain it at Radar. As Pfanner observed, President Barack Obama has yet to take a public position on SOPA or the PROTECT IP Act.

The House Judiciary Committee addressed some of the concerns raised about SOPA in the manager’s amendment of SOPA. Markup of the bill is scheduled for a hearing this Thursday morning. While some of the most controversial elements in the original bill have been edited (removal of a private right of actor, narrowed range of targets) the use of DNS and filtering as enforcement mechanisms remain. The EFF is not satisfied, stating that the manager’s amendment is “still a disaster.” <Public Knowledge and the Center for Democracy and Technology welcomes the revisions but retained serious concerns.

As Google anti-spam lead Matt Cutts recently pointed out, “some guy” also recently pointed out that SOPA is unconstitutional. The fellow in question happens to be Lawrence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, who released his opinion on SOPA online. “Under standard First Amendment scrutiny, both PROTECT IP & SOPA are clearly unconstitutional,” concurred Marvin Ammori.

What happens next is less clear. It’s unlikely that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, would have brought SOPA up for markup unless he thought he had the votes to pass it on to the full House of Representatives.

The SOPA “manager’s amendment retains the fundamental flaws of its predecessor,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. . Issa told CNET that SOPA won’t be approved unless fixed.

Former Internet entrepreneur Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) went further, telling CNET that SOPA will “destroy the Internet as we know it.” According to Polis, his staffers haven’t received a single call asking them to pass SOPA, but had “hundreds against” it.”

Many prominent members of the Internet community have come out against SOPA. Thousands of people have added their faces to IWorkForTheInternet.org this week. Notably, earlier this week, Jimmy Wales asked Wikipedia if it should “strike” over SOPA. As of Monday night, about 75% of those responding to his straw poll supported the action. Wikimedia general counsel Geoff Brigham advised the Wikipedia community that SOPA will hurt the free Web and Wikipedia. As of today, we still don’t know whether the world’s biggest encyclopedia will protest tomorrow.

Will any of it make a difference to the eventual legislation or its passage? Stay tuned.

Reps. Issa and Lofgren warn that SOPA is “a bipartisan attempt to regulate the Internet”

Last week, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Representative Zoe Lofgren sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter to the other members of the House of Representatives entitled “A bipartisan attempt to regulate the Internet?”

I’ve posted the letter below in its entirety, adding a link to the bill page for the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) (H.R. 3261) on Thomas.gov and a PopVox widget after it, and embedded my interview with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden about the PROTECT IP Act, the companion bill to SOPA in the Senate.

From: The Honorable Zoe Lofgren
Sent By: Ryan.Clough@mail.house.gov
Date: 11/8/2011

Dear Colleague:

The Judiciary Committee is close to consideration of H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act. We write to call your attention to a recent article about the bill in the Los Angeles Times, entitled, “A bipartisan attempt to regulate the Internet?” (available at http://opinion.latimes.com/opinionla/2011/10/technology-a-bipartisan-attempt-to-regulate-the-internet.html).

We agree with the goal of fighting online copyright infringement, and would support narrowly targeted legislation that does not ensnare legitimate websites. We also believe that a consensus on the issue between the content and technology industries is achievable. As the attached article makes clear, H.R. 3261 unfortunately does not follow a consensus-based approach. It would give the government sweeping new powers to order Internet Service Providers to implement various filtering technologies on their networks. It would also create new forms of private legal action against websites—cutting them off from payment and advertising providers by default, without any court review, upon a complaint from any copyright owner, even one whose work is not necessarily being infringed.

Online innovation and commerce were responsible for 15 percent of U.S. GDP growth from 2004 to 2009, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. Before we impose a sprawling new regulatory regime on the Internet, we must carefully consider the risks that it could pose for this vital engine of our economy.

Sincerely,

Zoe Lofgren
Member of Congress

Darrell Issa
Member of Congress

Al Gore, Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee on Internet freedom and democracy [VIDEO]

Last month, Cory Doctorow talked with Al Gore, Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee in Mexico City about privacy, freedom, neutrality and democracy in the context of the Internet and the Web. Shaky handheld video is embedded below — the audio is worth tuning in, however, even if the video is a bit jumpy.

Hat tip to Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing, who writes:

We had a wide-ranging discussion, but kept circling back to the threats and promises for the net — copyright wars, privacy wars, government and grassroots. It was a lot of fun, and quite an honor, and I’m happy to see they’ve got the video online.