Thursday, 5 May 2011

Hate sites and the law

The new Harper Government here in Canada may be about to make rather a large mistake. In their proposed new crime bill C-51 there is a clause that will effectively make it an offence for a Canadian web site owner to link to a 'hate' site, or one deemed to have 'offensive' material. From the Parliamentary publication here; Hate Propaganda (Clauses 4 and 5)
Hate propaganda offences must be committed against an “identifiable group.” Clause 4 of the bill adds “national origin” to the definition of “identifiable group.”8

Clause 5 of the bill provides that the offences of public incitement of hatred and wilful promotion of hatred may be committed by any means of communication and include making hate material available, by creating a hyperlink that directs web surfers to a website where hate material is posted, for example.

Okay. I can see a few potential issues here. As one who occasionally writes "Fuck" or in an exasperated expostulation "What the fucking hell were they thinking of?" does this make this blog a 'hate' site? A number of the web sites and blogs I link to regularly use pejorative language on various topics. They also express what some (but not all) might call 'extreme' views on various issues. Which I link to because it's interesting / howlingly ridiculous / amusingly apposite. I cannot control their content, and if that content changes without my knowledge I have no say in the matter. If I might not wholly agree with someone's point of view or the way they express it, does that mean I have to remove all reference from this or any other blog I contribute to?

Such a policy is unworkable, and here's why. Even the most vaguely web savvy person knows about the Wayback machine where everything is laid bare. So if the authorities were to send me a nasty email threatening prosecution about such an errant link or post, even if said 'hate' link or post is taken down, it's already too late. The material will still be available for as long as those cacheing servers exist. Seeing as they are based in the USA (as are the servers upon which this blog is based) and all over the world, such a threatened prosecution would be pointless. I couldn't really comply, even if I wanted to. The offending material would remain.

It's worth noting that the authorities in Canada have tried to prosecute bloggers in the past over 'hate' material, one 'hate' blogger has even done time pre trial, but I understand no prosecutions have taken the offending content down. All they've actually done is kept some lawyers in work.

The idea of trying to regulate an international medium based on a domestic standard is on a hiding to nothing. Firewalls leak (Great Firewall of China). News gets out (Like from Iran and Syria). The only way to stop people saying things you don't like is to pull the plug entirely. No Internet at all. In today's web enabled world, is that workable?

As far as offensive content goes, my own take is that everyone is entitled to say what they damn well please on their own web space. It is their god given right to make a fool of themselves in a public forum, just as it is my right to ignore, highlight or hold them up for ridicule. The web allows everyone that privilege. In that way it's very democratic. However, if this clause in crime bill C-51 stays, that right of critique goes with it, because linking to 'hate' material, whatever that might be, and for whatever reason, may invite prosecution. Likewise discussing contentious issues regarding other cultures. Debate is essential. Democracy cannot really function without it. And 'hate' is such a very subjective term.

As always, the law of unintended consequences will be found grinning and lurking in the shadows where web related matters are subject to legislation. For example, the bit about 'harassing messages' in clause 11 may end up biting a few credit control companies in the ass. This could get interesting....

Cross posted at Orphans of Liberty.

1 comment:

Angry Exile said...

Going to give Google a few problems as well. Actually might as well shut down because if anyone puts in 'boobies' hoping to find pictures of seagulls Harper's going to fine them about a year's turnover even with safe search switched on.

Can I say I hate twats like that or will he turn off the the whole interne

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