More on Damian Green and the bent ex-copper

Giolla Decair makes a good point regarding the porn supposedly found on Damian Green’s laptop:

As they were thumbnails that’s almost certainly in the browser cache ( who the hell deliberately saves thumbnails). So based on thumbnails no evidence that any porn was actually watched just that some porn sites were browsed and the thumbnails cached, given modern browsers sometimes pre-fetch pages it might not even have been that many pages/sites browsed. Again given it’s thumbnails a typical page could easily have 100 thumbnail images so if there’s pre-fetching going on you could be talking about having browsed just a handful of pages without having fetched a single thing.

This is worth keeping in mind when listening to the arguments from some people that surfing porn while at work is a sackable offence and because this guy is an MP and works for us, it’s in the public interest and he should be fired. Leaving aside the fact that it is not the job of ex-policemen to act as any employer’s HR department particularly ten years after the event and having retired, it’s not clear-cut this will be a sackable offence.

Firstly, having evidence of visiting porn sites on your company laptop does not mean you were surfing porn at work. I suspect most people in this situation were away on business without a personal laptop and used their work machine to visit dodgy sites back at the hotel at night. Unless the timestamp on the files can be matched to Green’s working hours, the offence is more one of using a company laptop for visiting prohibited websites. This already puts us in a grey area insofar as HR is concerned.

What websites are prohibited? Anything not work related? Okay, so how many people have been fired for visiting Amazon on a work laptop? Visiting anything deemed to be pornographic or with “adult content”? How is that defined, exactly? I suspect these matters are decided on a case-by-case basis and if HR get wind of anything untoward they haul the employee in and ask them for an explanation before telling them to pack it in. If they’re going to be fired, the number of sites visited, the visit duration, the regularity of the visits, and the content of the pictures will all form part of HR’s decision over what action to take. If there are a dozen thumbnails that the browser cache stored when the user inadvertently opened a site he probably shouldn’t have, he’s probably going to be sent on an IT awareness course rather than being fired. Even if he’s looked at porn, they’ll have to show it happened during work hours if they want to fire him for anything other than a breach of the IT protocols.

The fact is we know nothing about the files Damian Green allegedly had on his laptop, and it is simply untrue to say that any such pictures would immediately result in dismissal from a regular job. This is a hatchet-job, and Theresa May needs to make it her personal mission to destroy the life of this ex-copper who is attempting to bring down senior members of her government. If she doesn’t, this sort of thing is going to become the norm; I’d rather see a bent ex-policeman doing a fifteen year stretch than have the entire political system further undermined. However they go about it, they need to make an example of him.

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Germany’s Suppression of Free Speech Online

I don’t know how accurate this article on Angela Merkel’s clamping down on digital free speech is – perhaps Bloke in Germany could comment? – but it’s an interesting follow-up to my earlier post:

Absent of an easy route to get at the netizens themselves, what the government really needed was a quick way to force social media firms to make their platforms inhospitable environments for critical, dissident expression; But taking action against social media networks did not turn out to be all that easy.

But coercively targetting social media companies remained an attractive option for the German government. Outsourcing censorship to privately-owned social media firms presents a neat way to circumvene the high bar of constitutional scrutiny that would apply to the state if it tried to enact such censorship directly.

As Germany has economically boomed under Merkel‘s leadership, social compassion and honesty in the public sphere has reached a record low. Corrupt property developers, ruthless drug dealers, and organised crime are being allowed to take over economically deprived parts of Berlin, Frankfurt, Bremen and Colonoge with impunity, while police simply watch. As Berlin‘s political-corporate elite shops in an ever-growing number of luxury all-organic supermarkets, they cheer on the financial rape of Greece and other Southern European countries by the German-led EU‘s austerity programs; Brutal regimes of cuts and privatisations have left some ordinary, hard-working people in those countries unable to afford even basic essentials such as food and medical care. The supposedly anti-racist, pro-equality mainstream media in Germany outdoes itself day-on-day in finding new, politically-useful ways to implicitly suggest to their readers that ‘lazy‘, ‘heat-dazed‘ Greeks deserve all the degrading austerity they get.

Unsurpringly, Vladimir Putin‘s authoritarian United Russia party has already moved to replicate the Network Enforcement Act. In July, it presented an extremely similar draft social media bill in the Russian parliament, the Duma, that even goes as far as explicitly referring to the German law as its inspiration. Proving that imitation is the sincerest flattery, Russian legislators even copied the exact, expedited content deletion timeframe of 24 hours directly from the German government‘s law.

They’re all at it, aren’t they?

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Outsourcing Censorship

There’s been some noise on social media over the last few days about Gab, the alternative to Twitter where anything goes, having its domain name rescinded:

This letter came a few days after Gab announced it was going to sue Google for some reason, and skeptics are saying it may well all be a publicity stunt by the Gab founder, who I understand is notorious for attention-seeking.

Whatever the case may be, the letter supports something The ZMan has been banging on about for a while now. He argues that in order to get around laws guaranteeing free speech, governments have taken to leaning on social network providers – Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. – to enforce “community guidelines” which purport to outlaw hate speech to protect people, but in practice are used to silence any subscriber who is saying things they don’t like. The government can then hold their hands up in all innocence and say “nothing to do with us, these are the decisions of private companies”. On the evidence I’ve seen, I find ZMan’s argument convincing.

When Twitter started banning people for having unwelcome opinions, the founders of Gab saw a gap in the market and started their own version. Both Apple and Google have refused to approve a Gab app until they can ensure nothing which constitutes discriminatory language will be posted, which defeats the whole purpose. Now it appears someone has gone after Gab’s domain registration, probably having seen other right-wing sites get their registrations pulled in the aftermath of Charlottesville.

So far it’s an effective tactic. If the tech giants and domain registrars are the gateway to 99% of communication, denying somebody access is the equivalent of banning them from speaking. I don’t buy the argument that this is purely a private matter between companies and their customers: corporations which enjoy monopoly positions and dominant market share are forever being hauled into courts on anti-trust charges, all in the name of consumer protection (and filling the coffers of cash-strapped governments). And I’d be more convinced governments were concerned about the situation were they not rubbing their hands with glee, Theresa May being the main culprit:

Technology companies must go “further and faster” in removing extremist content, Theresa May is to tell the United Nations general assembly.

The prime minister will also host a meeting with other world leaders and Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter.

She will challenge social networks and search engines to find fixes to take down terrorist material in two hours.

This meddling, useless former head-girl never passes up an opportunity to push for restrictions to the internet or powers to snoop on people’s electronic communications. She’s obsessed with it, and the sooner she’s booted from office the better. Of course, the effect of May’s lecturing is that tech companies will double-up what they’re already doing: pulling down posts and articles willy-nilly if they contain a single word which might upset this year’s designated victim class, yet the stuff calling for shooting cops, punching Nazis, and the destruction of Israel and the west stays up. And if a load of right-wing writers, bloggers, and commentators get caught up in the sweep? Well, that’s a feature, not a bug.

My guess is people will slowly start shifting their domain registrations to countries where companies can’t be leaned on so easily, namely Russia. Not that Russia is a bastion of free speech but they have the advantage of being beyond the west’s reach and quite happy to see people bashing them from its territory. They also couldn’t care less about discrimination on the basis of race, religion, etc. I don’t know what it takes to set up a .ru domain, but I’m sure enterprising Russians will spot a gap in the market if dozens of popular sites are being thrown off the internet by their domain registrars.

If you drive people away, they’ll seek shelter wherever they can find it. They will then start defending those who provide it, and refrain from criticism. Anyone who has seen their website disappear from the internet after receiving a weaselly-worded letter like the one above and sets up in Russia isn’t going to spend much time complaining about the Russian government. I know I wouldn’t. Frankly, if I got booted off here and a Russian outfit was able to host me solely because Russia was beyond the reach of what is effectively western government censorship, I wouldn’t give two hoots who they were flogging advanced weaponry to, or whose elections they supposedly rigged. If you’re silenced in your own country, you’re not going to be too fussy who you make friends with. Freedom of expression is something people take very, very personally.

Of course, should unapproved opinions start popping up on websites hosted in countries like Russia, the next step for western governments would be to force ISPs to restrict access to them. You can imagine authoritarian harridans like May rubbing her hands with glee at the prospect of that. I expect we’d then see calls to regulate ISPs like utilities, but the way we’re going we’re more likely to see people having their gas and electricity cut off for having the wrong opinions than the government allowing them to say what they like on the internet.

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