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Google Shared IP for "Crime" of Free Speech  (View post)

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

Friday, November 9, 2007
12 years ago11,412 views

Are you suggesting that Google should instead break the law of the countries it operates in if it disagrees with them? Where do you draw the line? If Google feels free to ignore local laws like this, what would stop them from ignoring the data privacy laws in other countries? Or hosting and distributing MP3 files and TV shows because someone thinks copyright is outdated and immoral?

If Google disagrees with the laws in a given country it is free to stop offering their services there. The alternative to following local law would mean Google would be putting its own employees at risk of jail terms.

Just because we disagree with the particular laws doesn't give a corporation like Google the right to ignore them. That India's free speech laws would allow something like this to happen is disgraceful – but it's not Google's fault.

Anonymous [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

Google has its hands tied on this one, it can't be a law unto itself, it has to operate within the context of the laws around it. I think you need to get real on this. What Google can do, and I think what it is doing, is working from within this constraints to effect change, so it can empower people, bring information and move towards a more open, transparent and tolerant society.

Gareski Vladimir [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

I second the above comment. Google cannot work above the laws of the countries it operates in. (Period)

p.s. excellent blog most of the time.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> Are you suggesting that Google should instead break
> the law of the countries it operates in if it disagrees
> with them? Where do you draw the line?

As I said: only "when it comes to crucial, core issues."
So if putting someone into jail because they ridiculed a historical person goes against your crucial moral laws, your core moral guidelines, then you cannot help to do it (morally).

If you believe someone should be allowed to host copyrighted MP3 files, to take up on your example, then yes, that too would require civil disobedience, but I would think that is not one of the core moral values of Google... so it doesn't apply.

Where to draw the line when it comes to civil disobedience, or a company not following laws, is often no strict hard rule, but a case-by-case decision. It is definitely not a dilemma you can escape by saying you "just follow orders," as history has shown in many instances. A morally acting entity CANNOT just follow orders – they must always reflect orders.

But as you suggest, Google has the alternative choice to not following a law – or dragging out compliance with the process of handing out the information, or making it public to escalate the situation, or rejecting it (remember, they did this before when it came to a US subpoeana!) – which is to stop offering a service in the country. But there are many shades of gray in-between what you can do before it comes to that. Certainly more than "we just follow orders."

> Google cannot work above the laws of the
> countries it operates in. (Period)

I disagree; any person or company MUST always follow their core, crucial moral values first, even – yes – when that means ignoring a law. If you disagree with that, tell me, would you say it's OK for a company to build a torture camp in a country where the law permits certain ethnics or religions to be tortured, just because they are of that ethnic/ religion? This is NOT an analogy to the current case because it's a very different gradient, I am just trying to open a discussion to analyze whether there's merit in saying a company must always follow local law.

Jan [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

2 Reto Meier: please don't forget that there is a difference between democratic country and country oppressing basic freedoms like freedom of speech. I think we are not talking about "breaking the law"... but lets not forget that the fact that something is legal does not mean it is moral – that's why I think that what google does is nothing else than total alibism – basically it's the same 'alibi' like when after WW2 SS-men 'defended' themselves "we didn't do anything illegal" – and they were right, killing Jews were legal at the time – but it does not mean it was not evil!

I grew up in totalitarian country – it felt like a prison. And 'prisoners' were not the only ones to blame; they wouldn't be able to destroy innocent people's lives without those who helped them and didn't care if it was moral as far as it was legal.

"don't be evil" – If this is supposed to be something else than just nice empty phrase you have to define what 'evil' means and avoid doing it. If helping to oppress freedom of speech is not evil than I don't know what is.

In my opinion – if Google cannot avoid breaking local law by doing moral things... well than they should not be in this country at all. IMO helping to get someone to prison because of what he said IS evil... and the fact that by local law it's also legal is only excuse.

Tadeusz Szewczyk [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

A law is always subject to different interpretations. A huge company like Google can afford to go to court to fight interpretations that lack any common sense or do not respect basic human rights.

I ask the commenters above: Do you propose that transnational corporations just disregard international law, basic human rights and assist undemocratic governments in jailing dissidents or even completely innocent people?

Have you gone mad? Sorry. What kind of rubbish is this? I am apalled by this complete disregard for democracy and human rights. Aparently people who never lived in a dictatorship do not value democracy. Where do you live I ask you? Human rights like free speech stand above all other laws, especially ridiculous ones like offending dead "historical figures".

Stop that crap talk and go yourself to an Indian jail for 3 weeks just to get a feel for such law abiding corporations.

I fled a country which jailed dissidents when I was a kid. So don't teach me about law abiding corporations which can't do anything about it.

Roger Browne [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Every country has SOME laws that I consider to be immoral. So I have two choices: either I can comply with the laws while attempting to change them from within the system, or I can break the laws and probably end up imprisoned.

I choose the first path, but I have great admiration for those who choose the second. Both of those are honorable courses of action, in my opinion.

What is NOT honorable is to comply with immoral laws without trying to change them, or to exploit immoral laws for one's own benefit. Yet most people do one of these two things, often because they haven't even thought about the underlying principles.

tegla [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

Does this mean that a Dutch company operating in the US should not give out data to law enforcement, even if they have a valid search warrant, when they try to identify a cannabis-dealer?

You are actually _want_ international companies to be above the law?

Remember, it will be local employees of the company, who will end up in jail.

Jan [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

to tegla: USA and Netherlands are both democratic countries. IMO in democratic countries citizens have some tools to influence their country's law – therefore it's OUR law, which gives us moral obligation to obey the law and if we don't like it – we have to try to change it from inside.

But you have to have certain conditions met – freedom of speech being one of them. You cannot change the law when you cannot even talk about it without restraint. US. or Dutch governments have moral right to force the law – because citizens gave it this right, it was their democratic choice. This does not apply to totalitarian countries – their citizens do not have tools to change the law (they don't even have basic human rights). That's why I think those countries governments do not have moral right to force their law – and that's where moral should be above the law when deciding about company's strategy (again – it does not necessarily mean breaking the law; nobody forces multi-national companies to be in those countries – it's their choice and if they do bad things over there it's because of their greed for money and not because they would have to).

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

A company isn't a person (even though legally they often have the same rights). Google fought the US subpoena because the believed it to be 'over broad' in other words they were asked to provide more information than they believed they were legally required to.

"when it comes to crucial, core issues."

Who defines what these are? Is there a Google list of 'core values'? You may think it's obvious – hell, I think it's obvious, but I'd rather not have companies deciding what is and isn't a core value. As I said, what if Google decided 'privacy' wasn't a core value and published all your private data?

Corporations can only be controlled by their stock holders and the laws that rule the countries they operate in. The problem isn't Google – the problem is the laws they are being forced to follow in countries like China and India. I *strongly* agree that we should be publishing these stories and bringing it to global attention, but the blame lies squarely with the governments in question, not the companies following the laws.

As I said before. If they believe the laws to be immoral they can stop operating in countries with those laws.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> "when it comes to crucial, core issues."
>
> Who defines what these are? Is there a Google
> list of 'core values'?

Yes. One of them was "don't be evil" (see point 6):


blogoscoped.com/files/hamburg/ ...



> You may think it's obvious

Far from it – but I think just HAVING a discussion on what is moral and what isn't is the more moral thing to do (when it comes to core issues you believe in) than the argument of "just following local orders". A company, in the end, is made up of individuals, and they all carry personal responsibility.

> You are actually _want_ international companies
> to be above the law?

You mean universal laws like basic human rights? No, I don't want any company (or country) to be above those. That they're not 100% clearly-defined, agreeeable by all countries is another issue – I assume that Google HAS some common core beliefs, so they should apply those no matter which country they're in. Any other approach is immoral.

> Every country has SOME laws that I consider to
> be immoral. So I have two choices: either I can
> comply with the laws while attempting to change them
> from within the system, or I can break the laws
> and probably end up imprisoned.

I don't think Google ever stated they aim to change the freedom of speech laws in India. In fact, they sometimes make themselves a government tool to OPPOSE those citizen rights (I am talking about moral rights, not legal rights).

But again, this is not an issue of black and white, either/ or. It's a question of defending your core beliefs in terms of civil disobedience, case by case. If you say it's a general decision, not a case by case decision, and you say you'd always comply while changing the system from within, would you shoot someone due to their ethnicity or religion if you got the order from an authority in a brutal regime – an order which, by that regime's laws, is fully legal? (Again, not an example in comparison to the current case.)

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> Have you gone mad?
> ...
> Stop that crap talk

Tadeusz, this should stay a civil discussion. Please do not attack personally, as it doesn't help the discussion we're having which should allow any side to state their thoughts. Reto Meier and everyone else who commented above you did not go "mad," they just happen to disagree with your point of view, and this disagreement is very much appreciated in this discussion as it helps us analyze the situation better.

Tony Ruscoe [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

What would the Indian authorities have said if Google claimed not to have that data? If they were to anonymise all their logs, this would certainly be the case. Are they under any legal obligation to store this data in the first place?

Tadeusz Szewczyk [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Sorry Philipp. I get really angry when I get the impression that ignorant people voice anti-democratic. Everybody who witnessed tanks on city streets as a kid probably would.

People think this is just a discussion like any other but this is about ruined lives of people, thousands of people. So do not try be smart but attempt to train your compassion muscles.

Tony: In Germany as in the rest of the EU the so called "data retention" was made a law today. So the Police can get you even six month later for viewing the wrong website or calling the wrong person.

Tadeusz Szewczyk [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Reto: Some "core values" for beginners:
unhchr.ch/udhr/lang/eng.htm

Tony Ruscoe [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

<< Tony: In Germany as in the rest of the EU the so called "data retention" was made a law today. So the Police can get you even six month later for viewing the wrong website or calling the wrong person. >>

But who says exactly what data should be retained? Does Philipp need to legally store IP addresses of everyone who posts on his forum so that he could provide that information on demand if the authorities asked for it? I doubt it. Does Google need to store that data? Perhaps they'd be better off if they didn't...

Anonymous [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

The so called universal declaration of rights is just that, a declaration – it's something to work towards, not something that is legally binding. Last I checked, Google was a company that answered to its shareholders in the business of providing universal access to information, it wasn't a company with a remit to uphold human rights around the world – we have other organisations in society to do that (amnesty international). It seems to me that Google is doing a pretty good job of trying to uphold all of its core values WITHIN the constraints around it. I don't think Google is in the business of civil disobedience. Some countries do have immoral or restrictive laws, so what do you do in this case? Do you stay out of the country and let it collapse within itself, or do you go in there with some compromises, but work towards removing those compromises and to helping, within the law, openness and transparency.

Prashanth [PersonRank 2]

12 years ago #

Let me start by stating that I feel pity for the wrong guy.

Free speech is important but many countries are not ready for that. For this very reason there will be some checks in place to prevent unrest.

I am sure Germany and some EU countries jails anyone who deny holocaust. And there are many cases where even western countries tries to check some forms of free speech.

I know its evident that if govt can censor one thing they can censor many things right? Well I am happy that Indian govt did not abused it (as of now).

Coming to google, it being a MNC, it should respect the local laws. If the local laws are too repressive, it should stay out of that country or risk forcing to give data.

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Tadeusz: You seem to be under the impression that I'm not disgusted by what has happened here. Censorship and freedom of speech is a particular passion of mine. The thing is, it's the *Indian government* that's at fault here. If Google refused to hand over the data one (or more) of their Indian employees would be in jail instead – is that better? I've said it before but it bears repeating – Google's choice here is not do / don't obey local laws, it's do / don't operate in a country that has these laws.

Tony: The EU parliament says exactly what data should be retained. I've not read the details but it seems to cover 'communications providers'. Seems to be targeted at ISPs in particular, but seems to also cover most web services companies (Google included). If Philip hosts this forum on a local server chances are that yes, he would be obligated to retain and produce the IPs if required by law.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> we have other organisations in society
> to do that (amnesty international)

Actually a lo of what organizations like Amnesty International do is to appeal to companies. So they're not a separate entity who has the sole burden of moral responsibility, but they're actually trying to communicate with companies to remind them of the shared responsibility. Take this letter as an example:
web.amnesty.org/library/index/ ...

It would be horrible to think it's morally right that companies were exempt from morals. Of course, that's often the reality (think IBM helping Nazi Germany deport Jewish people with machines specifically tailored to this inhuman cause), but I think it's horrible to accept that as a given and stop trying. Again, Amnesty International does not SPARE us to push companies (and governments of course – this blog has the Google focus), they REMIND us to do so.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> I am sure Germany and some EU countries
> jails anyone who deny holocaust. And there
> are many cases where even western countries
> tries to check some forms of free speech.

Absolutely. And that's why these cases are not only bad in itself, but also bad as they serve as precedents which people later reference (as Eric Schmidt references German censorship when he defended Google's China self-censorship).

> If Google refused to hand over the data one (or more)
> of their Indian employees would be in jail instead –
> is that better?

My understanding is that if the company Google refuses to hand out the data, it will go to become a court case, which will result in a long delay of any issue at hand resulting in [if Google loses the case, which they may not] potential fees or similar for the company, or them being (worst case in terms of Google expansion) being forced to shut down their services in the country. I cannot imagine a single employee going to jail for this – any lawyer in the house? (Also for the question whether or not Google is even required to log IPs in India.)

Tony Ruscoe [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

<< Tony: The EU parliament says exactly what data should be retained. I've not read the details but it seems to cover 'communications providers'. Seems to be targeted at ISPs in particular, but seems to also cover most web services companies (Google included). If Philip hosts this forum on a local server chances are that yes, he would be obligated to retain and produce the IPs if required by law. >>

So – to put this simply – if Philipp's forum gets used by someone who's breaking a local law and Philipp doesn't have the necessary logs which the local authorities ask for, Philipp could end up in jail?

If that's true, that's completely ludicrous!

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> If Philip hosts this forum on a local
> server chances are that yes, he would
> be obligated to retain and produce the
> IPs if required by law.

But I wouldn't hand out those IPs, if it goes against a core belief (e.g. someone who did nothing more than ridicule a historic figure here in the forum) and the person behind the IP might go to jail. Seriously, what's the point of running a website if you'd do stuff like that? You might as well delete all you got, shut down the servers, and try finding another country that allows you to blog normally. (And if there's any laws coming up that would put me into jail rightaway without allowing me to switch countries, I'd leave the country *before* such a court order arrives... but to my knowledge no such thing is the case in Germany.)

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Philipp: Why can't you imagine it? If the court rules that the subpoena is valid then not complying with it would be contempt of court. It's a criminal matter, not a civil one. Come to that, it could be considered 'aiding and abetting'. I'm no lawyer, let alone an Indian lawyer, and I'm not saying jail would definitely happen, but it's just as likely than a fine.

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Philipp: So if someone here made a post that denied the holocaust and you then got a subpoena demanding their IP you'd refuse to provide it?

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Tony: IANAL – but I agree, if that's the case it's absolutely ridiculous. I dare say it's more about controlling the larger companies that are more likely to provide them with useful data – search engines and ISPs. Not that that makes it any better.

While everyone's worried about Facebook and Google reading our emails to show us advertising they *should* be worried about our governments quietly removing our rights to privacy in the name of fighting 'terror'.

Tony Ruscoe [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

What if that scenario happened and Philipp didn't store the IP though? It would be impossible for him to comply. Would that be a crime?

Which brings me back to my original point: perhaps not storing IP addresses (or storing them only temporarily) would be best for everyone.

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Hmm, probably he'd get in trouble for not storing it in the first-place.

You're original point is a good one, though I doubt it's an option for the bigger players. Philipp can claim he never realised he had to (and keep in mind it may not apply to things like this forum, it may just be a specific group like ISPs and search engines). Google can't make the same claim, so the likely fine would be hefty (though to stay consistent I should say that they *should* retain them if required to do so).

Again though, I'm outraged that they *are* required to retain this information. It's telling that we see more articles / outrage against companies obeying unjust laws than we do about the unjust laws themselves...

More of my thoughts re: privacy:
blog.radioactiveyak.com/2007/0 ...

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> Philipp: So if someone here made a post
> that denied the holocaust and you then
> got a subpoena demanding their IP you'd
> refuse to provide it?

This forum is about Google, so denying holocaust seems like it would be completely off-topic, which means the comment will be deleted (and there would be no case for the "authorities"). Come to think of, that should be in the forum rules.
Now if it's against Orkut's rules to ridicule historic figures, then it would also be a different case here in regards to the news story – 'cause then Google would simply suck for having that rule, but I think they could then delete all that stuff morally, and I'd urge people to stop using Orkut (maybe Orkut would be a "no fun allowed" kind of social network – just like some club might require a tie, perhaps, which probably sucks but it's their property, their club). But the question is not so much if Google's actions go against my or your own core beliefs, but if they go against *Google's* core beliefs; we should start measuring them by their own proclaimed standards (like the one in the core values plate above). "Following orders" on the other hand is not a belief, it's ignoring your own beliefs, and that IMO is not acceptable morally.... again, if it goes against your core issues.

[As an example for something not touching core believes: if (a completely hypothetical example) Germany would require me to shut down my server every Monday at 11pm for 15 minutes, I would protest, hate it, try to change it, possibly move, but in the meantime, I'd just do it. Because no soul is going to be hurt if I do – I can accept it is bad but it's not immoral to shut down this server. No innocent person is going to jail for that action.]

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> While everyone's worried about Facebook
> and Google reading our emails to show
> us advertising they *should* be worried about
> our governments quietly removing our rights
> to privacy in the name of fighting 'terror'.

You should actually be worried about both: the dumb but immoral people (think your typical net-clueless politician trying to restrict freedom of speech), as well as the smart but amoral people (think many engineers throughout history). The former will always require the help of the latter to get their stuff done effectively.

Remember, this stuff isn't new, it happened many times before in history to often disastrous effect.

> It's telling that we see more articles
> / outrage against companies obeying
> unjust laws than we do about the
> unjust laws themselves...

I don't think that's true. E.g. in Germany there's a big focus & campaign against some of the local laws the minister of interior tries to establish. (It just so happens that this site is about Google first and foremost of course.)

To slightly change the topic from what Google *does* do to what they *fail* to do: why aren't some of the smartest people in the world (which I think many Google employees are) working on censorship circumvention tools? Isn't that completely in tune with Google's mission to make information accessible?

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

"This forum is about Google, so denying holocaust seems like it would be completely off-topic"

Not if someone joined this conversation and gave that as an example of their own beliefs that had been censored. Would you comply with a subpoena then?

To be honest I'm pretty sure I don't want a company (any company) deciding on which laws they think they should or shouldn't be following. Let's remember, Google didn't censor him and didn't report him. They complied with a subpoena (essentially a search warrant) from the local judiciary.

"why aren't some of the smartest people in the world (which I think many Google employees are) working on censorship circumvention tools?"

Seriously? Because if they announced they were starting a project based on circumventing laws around the world that would be the end of Google. Does copyright count as censorship? What about patent laws? Should we leave it to Google to decide?

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> Let's remember, Google didn't censor him and
> didn't report him. They complied with a
> subpoena (essentially a search warrant) from the local
> judiciary.

Yep, just following orders. Unfortunately. Yes, I do wish for a company to do more than that (like holding crucial core beliefs and international human rights above certain local laws). Google *does* more than that at this time too in other places, luckily, e.g. they don't open Gmail in China on Chinese servers, which might require them to hand out information on dissidents as Yahoo did.

Luiz [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

Hey I really don't understand why Google is the subject here. They followed a court order. They are supposed to do it and I hope they keep doing it where ever they are present.
Now if you really want to point who is wrong here, point the countries that enforce laws that are not compliant with the american way of life.
If you take a second look at you text, you will notice that it is totally based on the point of view you have as an USA citizen, and most likely, a very conservative one. Saying that the same principles and laws that are right for you, are right for everybody else, you are ignoring the fact that people have the right to have different cultures, laws and opinions, yet I'm not saying that the "UNIVERSAL" word in the human rights shouldn't be there, but it doesn't mean it should be used without local context. If you were a musician, a writer, you know, an artist of some sort, you would probably understand the value of diversity... hold on... you are all these, so you do understand it, than if you do, seriously, put your self as an outsider, not an American, or an Indian, just someone who is observing the facts, and I assure you, the one to blame here will be someone else.

Thanks!

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

"...they don't open Gmail in China on Chinese servers..."

Exactly. This is where their choice lies – either obey local laws or don't have a presence in that country.

One question: I happen to agree that freedom of expression is one of the most important rights we can have. I believe few (if any) laws should be in place to hinder that right. That said. What if the majority of Indian people happen to agree with the law that we're debating here? Should Google's morality override the wishes and beliefs of the people in the country in question? Does Google have a right (let alone obligation) to push its morality on other countries?

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> If you take a second look at you text, you will notice
> that it is totally based on the point of view you have
> as an USA citizen

Except I'm not. I'm German.

> the one to blame here will be someone else.

The beauty of long responsibility chains.

Reto:
> Does Google have a right (let alone obligation)
> to push its morality on other countries?

You mean their old motto "don't be evil" was just meant for US soil?
Seriously, no, there are human rights above those of a single country. If you happen to think that a local law opposes those very basic human rights, then yes, you have the moral obligation to get out [and/ or do something about it] or reject the laws, but you can't comply.
And I am *not* saying that everyone agrees on what those basic human rights are – perhaps Google doesn't consider the freedom to ridicule historic figures a human right – but I'm saying you CAN'T ever apply "just following orders" in moral debates. If Google comes out and says "we do not think people should ridicule historic figures" then that is at least a *theoretically* justifiable stance (in practice, I'd think they're wrong, but still). If they come out and say "we just follow laws" then that is BS, because it would justify *anything*.

If of course you say Google doesn't need to act morally outside US soils, then that puts kind of an end to that discussion. Then anything goes. Then you cannot hold IBM's Watson responsible, for instance, for building machines for the Nazis to faster locate and deport Jewish people (I am using this example again as I don't think there's a more clear-cut case where it shows how it can be evil to ignore human rights in favor of local laws, so it can help analyze the basic question at hand). Those were the local "customs" with the Nazi regime. Who are you to push outside morals onto Nazis*?

*Again, I hope we can separate the analogies in relation to the moral basic issue at hand from the conrete situation, which is NOT related to anything of what Nazis did. I am using this example to clarify the moral arguments merit of saying "following another country's orders is per se OK", not to draw analogies to the specific situation at hand.

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

"You mean their old motto "don't be evil" was just meant for US soil?"

Nope, I mean that part of 'not being evil' is respecting the cultures, beliefs, and *laws* of other countries.

Morality can be tricky – especially when dealing with 'foreign' cultures.

The key difference between Google and IBM in your example is that IBM is using a justification that what they were doing 'wasn't illegal'. On the other hand Google is doing something they're legally required to do. Was IBM's Watson legally required by the Nazi's to build those machines?

Should they be pro-active in their morality? You suggested maybe a tool to circumvent censorship – if Google's management feel that abortion is immoral should they scan people's calendars and emails to find evidence that someone is planning to have one and display a Google map for 'prolife' groups to go and stop them? What about if they feel sex out of wedlock is immoral? Contraception? Do. Not. Want.

They gave out the information because they are required to *by law*. They aren't above the law, no matter how ridiculous the law may be.

Luiz [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

Yes...
It's true, I think you really have a point here. If companies like Google, magazines, newspapers (information hubs) were 100% intolerant to actions, no matter were, that would put these basic freedoms at stake, we would have way less problems around the world.
Now, what do you think prevents these people from doing so? Not just Google, this is not just related to them, all other businesses out there, that many times comply with regulations that hurt the very heart of the rights we have as human-beings.

And sorry... I've always thought you were from the US.

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

We are now in a situation where we want companies to protect our rights from the government rather than the other way around.

This is a Bad Thing.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> They aren't above the law, no
> matter how ridiculous the law may be.

No matter how? So if the law requires them to hand over information from accounts of Chinese journalists who, say, spoke out against the Tiananmen massacre, you suggest they should comply, landing the Chinese people in jail?

> We are now in a situation where we want
> companies to protect our rights from the
> government rather than the other way around.

It's not an either-or situation, as you can ask for moral actions on both fronts (governments AND companies). But in this concrete case, there are apparently US laws being debated that would indeed restrict the companies:

<<... a U.S. congressman has proposed legislation to make the company's actions illegal. Interestingly, the Global Online Freedom Act [ thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery ...], which was proposed by Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ) in 2006, could also cause problems for any future India-based snitching by Google, should it ever become law.

The bill, if passed into law, would prohibit any U.S. Internet company from providing any foreign official of an Internet-restricting country information that "personally identifies a particular user...except for legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes as determined by the Department of Justice." Companies that violated this prohibition could be sued in U.S. courts by those foreigners whose information they divulged. Fortunately for the Internet giants, the bill has been stuck in committee since 2006 and doesn't show any signs of life.>>
CNet, news.com/8301-10784_3-9811569- ...

immaterial [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

hehe, the mega corp's aren't quite here yet : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megacorp ...
companies have to follow the law, whatever their own values *sigh*
   – imma

Libran Lover [PersonRank 4]

12 years ago #

Philipp,

Thanks for writing about this. I read an article in the newspaper about the guy who had been wrongly put in jail for 3 weeks. Although the article mentioned the Orkut connection, I did not realize that Google had handed over the IP address.

Reading about the wrong guy's experience in jail felt horrible. The article mentioned that he was given a single bowl which had to be used for food and toilet. I am guessing that prisoners there had limited access to toilet facilities – meaning, they could not go to the toilet as and when they needed to. He mentioned how the simplest things in life – like having a private toilet, being able to bathe with clean water felt like luxuries after he came out of the jail.

When I read about people in China being punished for online activities, I could perceive it with a degree of mental distance. After all, it was a distant, non-democratic country. But when I read of this happening in India, it felt scary. It could have happened to any one of my friends or relatives in India. It could have happened to me when I was living in India.

Before I sign off, I feel the need to describe the situation in India a little bit. Indian government is definitely democratic, and there is no legal restriction on freedom of speech in India. However, Indian law does not allow speech or expressions which can be termed vulgar or provocative. India is a diverse country – including people with dozens of languages, cultures, religious beliefs, etc. As such, the wrong thing said on the wrong forum can lead to disruption of social peace, riots, destruction of property, killing, etc.

There had already been social tension and violence because of the issue of some people humiliating the historical person named Shivaji, who is liked and honored in most of India, especially in one particular state. That is the reason why the police did not like similar humiliation on Orkut.

But, but, but... I do not like the fact that peace in India society can be so fragile, and that fragility affects the freedom of expression. I also do not like the fact that Indian law regarding vulgarity and provocation easily lends itself to subjective interpretations and inconsistent enforcements. As such, sometimes people can get away with a lot. This was just a case of posting humiliating material of a historical figure online. There have been cases in India of publicly (not online) humiliating the idols of Indian gods, throwing shoes at those idols, and people getting away with that. It is certainly not a country which can be termed black or white.

Incidentally, even the US does not allow free speech which may be termed disruptive. Anyone seen the "Don't tase me, bro!" video on Youtube? That was a case of American police not allowing someone to even ask political questions at a public forum, just because it was considered disruptive.

Unfortunately, the police, the law and the governments have a lot of flexibility in how they can interpret certain actions and enforce the law.

LL

Rohit Srivastwa [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

I seriously wanted to comment on this but my hands are tied :(

Anonymous Googler [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

Reto:
> We are now in a situation where we want companies to protect our
> rights from the government rather than the other way around.
>
> This is a Bad Thing.

I agree. Googlers, as a group, tend to be extremely libertarian, hate censorship, and are fanatic about user privacy. As a company, Google resists improper requests, even from governments, and even when this lands us in court. We also think ahead about risks; the fact that GMail and Blogger are not hosted on local servers in China is not just luck.

In the end, though, while Google is large and has many resources, we are not a government. We have no army. We cannot make laws. We can try to persuade or inform, but we cannot compel. In contrast, a government official with a court order can walk into a Google facility and shut it down on the spot. This is an essential and irreducible imbalance of power.

So hold us to the high standard we set for ourselves, but also bear in mind where the decision to violate someone's privacy ultimately comes from: their own leaders and judges. That's where change must come from. As long as people with guns and tanks are quashing freedom of expression and freedom of information, there is only so much we can do.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> So hold us to the high standard we set for
> ourselves, but also bear in mind where the
> decision to violate someone's privacy ultimately
> comes from: their own leaders and judges.

Yes, the decision to violate privacy and human rights typically comes from governments. But the tools to do so very often come from private companies with smart engineers – without which the governments would often be quite powerless. Smart people "just following orders" of dumb people continues to be a dangerous mix.

> We can try to persuade or inform, but we
> cannot compel.

Oh, how I wish Google would indeed "inform", as you mention... most of my specific questions to Google press in regards to their censorship methodologies have been ignored.

As far as persuasion goes, you will understand from the outside we can only judge what we see. We cannot hear what your censorship support person in China is telling the government persons upon their requests. We can't tell how many sites you were able to remove from the blocklist thanks to your persuasion. Outside, we don't even know if you ever even asked, or what's your criteria which sites to fight for (we also can't tell if you might have biased criteria which sites to fight for as a commercial company).

Anonymous Googler [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

Agreed, and I also wish we were more open with details. But it's not just China. The US tells us to filter pornography. Germany tells us to filter Nazi information. India and Thailand want us to filter insults against revered figures. Government-sponsored monopolies impose their own filters on what can travel over "their" wires. In every country, certain types of individual expression are illegal, *with* the support that country's population, usually on the grounds that such expression is immoral. Each of these communities has decided, through its lawmakers, to put particular types of community interest above individual rights. An American or European may decide that "don't be evil" means always putting individual rights above community standards (I myself hold that position), but as Libran noted above, this is not universally true. Google cannot (and should not) make that decision for people. On the other hand, international agreement on these issues would be a good thing, and we're putting increasing resources into that, led by Peter Fleischer.

My comment about "informing" was more general--Google's mission is to make information more accessible and useful to everyone, so that they can use it to make their own decisions and improve their own lives and communities. Personally, I like seeing debate about contentious issues. I hope more politicians start getting hard questions about whether trying to block information harms more than it helps. The more search-savvy citizens get, the more information is at their fingertips, and the more visibility they have into what their leaders are doing, the better. We can help people find that information, but what they do with it is up to them. Self determination is the right that all individuals and communities hold, above all others.

But I'm just an anonymous cog in a big machine, what do I know? :-)

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

[Disclaimer: Yes, I think governments should be held responsible. But I also think companies must be held responsible. And I think we can work on both fronts, it's not an either-or choice. In fact collectively I think we SHOULD work on all fronts.]

> In every country, certain types of individual expression
> are illegal,

True. Here is an old, likely outdated & pre-Google China list of stuff Google agreed to censor:
blogoscoped.com/archive/2005-0 ...

> *with* the support that country's
> population, usually on the grounds that such expression
> is immoral.

Certainly Germany's laws don't have my support because of this censorship, so "with the support" of "that country's population" isn't quite true. In fact, many Germans find anti-Swastika laws ridiculous (e.g. censoring a game like Castle Wolfenstein). But yes, unfortunately there are Germans who think this is cool to censor such stuff, not realizing what a bad precedent they set for other countries even *if* you'd believe censoring such things isn't bad in itself (with which I'd also disagree). Toolmakers aren't giving them a hard time either to convince them of the ridiculousness – civil disobedience is left to individuals working outside big companies, perhaps.

I was trying to look for a party to vote for in Germany which opposes laws like these, but unfortunately didn't find any real (semi-large party, e.g. above 1% or so) for this. Even the left-wing green party supported German search engine censorship, for instance – censorship which Google, by the way, is doing *voluntarily* (Google signed an agreement for *voluntary* self-regulation – read self-censorship – in Germany). If Google wanted to, they might escalate this case; there would be a strong defense behind such an escalation, as the German constitution says that censorship isn't allowed to be put in place. Alas, mostly all that happens is the companies acting mostly amoral in these cases, pointing up the resonsibility chain. True, others are MORE responsible than companies. "We can't change the law, we just follow orders" is not a moral defense, however – in fact it's a false blanket defense for anything (no need to cite historical cases, I'm sure we all know some).

If you think the individual compromises you are doing are worth it (e.g. someone landing in jail), just say so – but don't defend with "just following orders." Because in certain situations, you can't do that (e.g. a law urging you offer the information which would lead to the killing of a group of people for, say, posting a harmless joke on Orkut – you would NOT comply, would you?), so it must therefore be a case-by-case decision. "We feel that a single Indian person – who ridiculed a historic figure – landing in jail due to our compromise is worth it, for all Indians to have Google" (or something along the lines) IS at least the start of an argument. It won't be something I agree with – because IMO you cannot sacrifice individuals like that for a "greater good" – but at least it's the beginning of a real discussion.

Google, by the way, ignored my press enquiries in regards to German self-censorship. That, and joining a *voluntary* organization for self-censorship, is much, much less than even what they're legally *obliged* to do. (Google by the way also removes certain newsgroup messages *worldwide* even when they're just being ordered to remove things by a German court.)

If you work at Google, do you know what kind of opposition does the government representatives in China get from Google's employees responding to them? What kind of discussion are being had in terms of what is deemed OK to censor, and what may not (does Google ever reject blacklisting of certain domains – and on what basis does it decide which URL, if so)? Do you know if Google ever pondered to add a self-censorship disclosure to Google Maps, Google Books and Google News too in China (as it's missing today)? How many pages are censored overall in China?

Anonymous Googler [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

> "We can't change the law, we just follow orders" is not a
> moral defense, however – in fact it's a false blanket
> defense for anything.

Yes and no. Companies have no vote. If you look at the politics of Google's employees, you will see that we skew very, very heavily towards the libertarian end of the spectrum and away from the conservative "daddy state" politics that are so popular in the US. Data from the last election:

money.cnn.com/2005/02/14/techn ...

So as a voting block of citizens, we are indeed working to change laws we disagree with. As a company, we are lobbying multiple governments for stricter individual privacy protections and against Internet censorship. But we also believe (and this may be hubris) that providing impaired search service is better than providing none at all. Removing all service from a country because its government insists on filtering certain content hurts that government not at all, but it removes a very important resource from its citizens. Information blockades don't work any better than trade blockades for changing the minds of politicians and rulers--all they do is hurt citizens. This is a classic ethical dilemma: when principles come into conflict, which do you choose, and how do you tell if it's the right choice? In the case of China, it's unclear, though the debate does go all the way to the top:

guardian.co.uk/technology/2007 ...

If I, personally, choose not to comply with laws I disagree with, I do not cease to exist, though my life may become complicated. A corporation, however, is a construct of the law. Corporations must either act within the law as it exists or not at all. I think our track record on these issues is good, though of course we could do better. There is in fact lively and recurring debate within Google about these topics. One of the non-anonymous Googlers such as Matt or Adam can easily confirm this :-).

However, if I say much more, I risk becoming non-anonymous, so I will wait for the next interesting topic..

Tadeusz Szewczyk [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Btw.: An infamous holocaust denyer has been allowed to deny the holocaust at German Vanity Fair. They did it to sell more copies of this stupid mag. They created a scandal on purpose.

Do you know what? Nothing happened. Nobody even sued them AFAIK.

It's still different than insulting a histrorical figure who died 500 years ago.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> Corporations must either act within the
> law as it exists or not at all.

There's a variety of options for a corporation at any given point in-between the black-and-white "existing" vs "not existing" – like for instance rejecting a subpoena (which Google did in the US) or joining a voluntary self-censorship organization (which Google did in Germany) or deciding to ignore a certain country due to its policies (which Google did in China till January 2006) or deciding to hand out an IP address which lands someone (else) in jail (which Google did in India) or deciding to warn about withdrawal from a country (which Google once did in Germany, again) or deciding not to offer user data storage in a country (which Google does in China until today) or partnering with companies who do (which Google does in China).

These are all case-by-case decisions dependent upon specifics of the context at hand. The most recent "context" was an Indian person landing in jail for allegedly posting his views on a historic figure, according to CNet (even though it turned out it wasn't him, to no fault of Google, from what we know). This is not something abstract, but an individual which "was given a single bowl which had to be used for food and toilet," if we want to believe Libran Lover. I think we should discuss specifics and be very wary of "grand ideas."

Manu [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

I've been following your blog for quite sometime – needless to mentioned that I'm a big fan of it. Every post had been good. But, now for the 1st time, you've posted something which is offending (that too in the title itself).

> Google Shared IP for "Crime" of Free Speech
Let me tell you: Like any other democratic country, India gives all it's citizens, freedom of speech, freedom to practice one's own religion etc.
But, somewhere for all "freedom"s you need to draw a line. By having freedom of speech, you can certainly: Express your views, criticize policies, comment on legislatures or govt officials – which all happens very well in India.
You can see newspapers and news websites in India criticising politicians for the policies they made, verbally attacking govt officials for not being upto the mark and even creating cartoon characters of ministers :-) – but none of them have been arrested/penalized.
That's the level of freedom one enjoys in India

But if someone writes bad (in this cause it was innaccurate as well) things about a historical figure in India (in a vulgar+vehement+discourteous+disrespectful manner), who played a very important role in Indian history, who fought for Indian freedom, millions of Indians are likely to be hurt+offended. And it so happened.
This is the place where Indian govt drew a line. Please do not mis-understand this with a cause where a citizen was 'penalized for expressing this views'. No! Not at all.

I'm still not able to gues what was in your mind when you wrote this.

Manu [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

[addendum]
It's reasonable of Google or any other company in that situation to help local govt to trace people who misuse their fundamental rights and oversee their duties as citizen.
Local govt laws should always be respected and adhered to, may it be India, USA, Russia or China.

Manu [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

[addendum #2]
In this particular case, probably it's Airtel(a major ISP in India) which needs to be sacked for providing wrong information to cops, if we assume Mr.Kailash is not guilty.

And by the way, the news article at news.com is a bit exaggerated, which tries to convey internet freedom is in threat in India :D :D :D
Actually, it's not so at all.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> Please do not mis-understand this with a cause
> where a citizen was 'penalized for expressing
> this views'

Yes, I ridiculing a historic person is exactly what it falls under – free speech. Some countries may have different interpretations, so the question in relation to Google (as this blog is about Google, not India) is whether or not the compromise for Google to obey the law in this case is justifiable to *themselves* and *their own* core beliefs.

> in this cause it was innaccurate as well

I go into jail for writing something false about a historic figure? Oh boy, that would be horrible if that's ever the case.

By the way, in Germany we have the exact same thing in relation to the Nazi era: you are not allowed to lie about the Holocaust. Google agreed to remove certain Usenet discussion posts in this area *worldwide* (not just in Germany). The only thing this'll do is serve as conspiracy fodder for neo-Nazi nuts – reasonable people simply would ignore such Holocaust denial in the first place – as well as serve as precedent to be cited in other freedom of speech restrictions (like, say, not being able to talk about your government in China).

Sohil [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Philipp, just like US law Indian law also prohibits expression that is considered libelous, obscene, hate speech among others. I don't know what the Sivaji group exactly claimed many groups on Orkut (as you must know) actively promote violence and hate speech. I don't see anything wrong being done here. For the crime of threatening (to attack) George W. Bush many ISPs were jailed (under the Patriot Act). This is not different from it.

Like many have said, governments have to draw the line somewhere and this is where the Indian government has chosen to do so.

It's probably better if Google cooperates with local authorities (especially in light on new scandals relating to Google Earth).

ranon [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

Sorry for joining the comments so late, but here goes.

A little historical perspective on the situation. Some time back there were derogatory postings on a historical and revered figure "Shivaji". What the postings were and what exactly was said, nobody really knows. All that is known is that the political party, the Shiv Sena (which is the main opposition party) got wind of it. There was a general strike in Mumbai called and acts of vandalism done ostensibly by the Shiv Sena. Finally the government got it's act together and made arrests. The fact that nobody bothered to check whether the fellow actually was guilty for 50 days speaks volumes about the justice system here.

But there is something more important I want to talk about. India, traditionally is an amazingly tolerant society. It is generally free and democratic. But there are shades of intolerance creeping up in my country, which I watch with alarm. It is not only a single political party or religion, but all of them. There is anger over paintings, movies, plays and anything else which shows even a slight tendency to give offence to the religious sentiments. This is supported by law and is a very dangerous trend.

Manu [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

Now this post has 8% Google :-)

newssweb [PersonRank 1]

12 years ago #

Philip,
(as this blog is about Google, not India), well this case is after all in the background of Indian culture. Soit would be better if the discussion take shape as a form of cultural politics of local and global. This might help us to understand the context. Google after all is a Glocal company. SO instead of basing ourselves only on "don't be Evil" – which is just a marketing slogan more than a moral value, we need to start considering the practice of local cultures also, so we do not fall into neither a technological determinism nor a sociological determinism.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Seth Finkelstein posted an interesting article on the general subject:

guardian.co.uk/technology/2007 ...

Rules_are_for_everyone [PersonRank 0]

12 years ago #

Well, Any company who wants to operate in a particular country must follow the laws of that nation. If the cops are asking for the IP address for legal procedures, Google must give it.

There are some links/comments mentioning about freedom and privacy of the people. the way Google is digging up documents and giving out search results is also going against the privacy of the peson.

Is google taking permission of the copyright holder of the webcontent or any document content on the web before publishing it on the search pages?
If not, that activity is also against the freedom/privacy and IPRs.

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

"Is google taking permission of the copyright holder of the webcontent or any document content on the web before publishing it on the search pages?"

Yes. 'Publishing' something online is by definition making it public. You can override that default using a robot.txt file to actively deny Google permission to look at it. Showing a text snippet of each page in the search results falls under fair use.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

> Showing a text snippet of each page in the
> search results falls under fair use.

Though Google actually shows the full page as well (their "cache" link). Of course webmasters can disable this, but that's their default behavior before you actively opt-out.

Reto Meier [PersonRank 10]

12 years ago #

Good point Philipp. I think the 'cache' is more questionable. Helpful, useful, but questionable.

This thread is locked as it's old... but you can create a new thread in the forum. 

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