Category Archives: Freedom of speech

The 2013 Protests in Brazil

[Cross-posted to the Civic Media Project]

In October 30th, 2007 Brazil received one of the most anticipated news in years, the land of soccer was selected to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The announcement was celebrated by the Brazilians as if the country had won its 6th title; people were wearing the traditional green and yellow and had their hopes increased that the government would finally solve the country’s fundamental problems with education, health care, infrastructure and crime. Six years later, as Brazil was getting ready to host FIFA Confederations Cup, an official test event for the World Cup, the excitement that enthralled the Brazilian people turned into deep frustration.

In June of 2013, an avalanche of protests led more than one million people to the streets in over a hundred cities in Brazil. The wave of protests began in early June in the city of São Paulo and spread throughout the country motivated by the increase of R$ 0.20 in the public transportation fare. The protests grew to include a much larger set of issues faced by the Brazilian society. The protesters were dissatisfied with the government due to the increase of corruption and impunity. They were also frustrated since the government was spending billions dollars on stadiums for the World Cup, and the people were not seeing the same, or even a close investment, geared towards solving the nation’s problems.

In Vitória, where I was conducting his 6 month ethnographic research in the marginalized areas of Gurigica, Itararé and São Benedito, the first protest took place in June 17th, 2013. It was organized by university students, who belonged to the Brazilian middle class, on Facebook in two popular groups: “Utilidade Publica – ES” (Public Utility – ES) and “Não é por 20 centavos” (It’s not just 20 cents). The protest gathered 20.000 people, started from the Federal University of Espírito Santo (UFES) and toured eleven kilometers, passing through the most important avenues in the city until reaching the official residence of the Espírito Santo’s governor, Renato Casagrande. Interestingly, the protesters had hashtags written on their cardboard signs as a way to link their demands to what they were discussing on Facebook.

Sign with the message: “#SayNo to PEC37 (in reference to the bill 37 that was about to be voted in the congress).”

Sign with the message: “#SayNo to PEC37 (in reference to the bill 37 that was about to be voted in the congress).”

While making observations during the protest, I wasn’t able to identify anyone from such marginalized areas. The protesters were mostly white and had manners and garments typical of upper class citizens. The following day, going back to the favelas and questioning my informants about the protests, 26 out 30 did not know anything about it. As mentioned by Thais, 17 years old:

“I heard about the protests in Rio and São Paulo on TV, but heard nothing about the one that happened here… Even if I had, why would I go there? To get beat up by the cops? We already get enough of that here in the community.”

I analyzed the list of members in the Facebook’s groups responsible for organizing the protests, yet could not recognize anyone from Gurigica, São Benedito or Itararé. Even, after posting a message on the groups asking if anyone was from those communities, there was not a single positive answer. Since the group members were mostly students and belonged to the upper classes, the information about the protests never reached Facebook users from marginalized classes. The social divide that took place in Vitória, defined by geographical places and income, was also mapped online as the rich and poor social networks did not overlap.

Due to the success of the protest of June 17th, the protest organizers gained the interest and attention from the mainstream media, such as local TV channels and newspapers, and announced a new protest for June 20th, 2013. Since the information about the new protest was available through less exclusive channels, the favela dwellers became interested in the protests and organized their own group on Facebook to come up with a list of demands. To encourage people to join the protesters Rony, 23 years old, was using the hashtag “#VemPraRua” (in English, come out to the streets):

“We can’t be afraid of getting beat up… That’s already happening. If we don’t do anything then things won’t change and my people from the favela will still have no access to education and health care… I don’t want this life… We already have 107 people in the Facebook group and they all said they are going to the next protest.”

Sign with the message: “In June 20th #ComeOutToTheStreets , wake up Brazil ; no violence.”

Sign with the message: “In June 20th #ComeOutToTheStreets , wake up Brazil ; no violence.”

The protests of June 20th made history by gathering more than 100.000 protesters in the streets of Vitória and forming the largest public demonstration ever registered in the state of Espírito Santo. 19 out 30 of my informants and favela dwellers were present in the protest. They were demanding better living conditions in the favelas, more respect as citizens, and the end of the drug war. Rony considered the participation an important beginning for the dwellers:

“It is just the start… we still have a lot to fight for. I wonder if our voices will ever be heard by the politicians… Facebook turned out to be a good way to reach out for people spread all over the communities… The group gave the privacy we needed to discuss sensitive and critical issues, such as the drug cartel activities, without getting people in trouble.”

Sign with the message “We got out of Facebook” (in reference that protesters were serious about their plans made online).

Sign with the message “We got out of Facebook” (in reference that protesters were serious about their plans made online).

Even though the people facing digital inequalities in the marginalized areas came late to the protest, Facebook still provided a platform so the residents of Gurigica, São Benedito and Itararé could organize and manifest their demands in the street protest. But the social divide that takes place in Vitória affected the way information flowed, impacting the civic engagement of the poor. The organizers of the first protests belonged to an upper class that did not overlap with lower classes, online and offline, the marginalized came in late to the streets and their voices and requests were not privileged as the ones shouted by the rich.

The Internet and Censorship of Sobriety Checkpoint Locations

In 2010, drunk driving accounted for nearly a third of all traffic related deaths.[1] In an effort to deter drunk driving, police departments around the country started implementing sobriety checkpoints. In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled that these checkpoints were constitutional, contrary to arguments that they violated the Fourth Amendment, which bans unreasonable search and seizure.[2] Recently, people have been posting the location of these sobriety checkpoints with increasing frequency.[3] While this poses a clear threat to public safety, it also forces lawmakers to address the issue of crime-facilitating speech.

Crime-facilitating speech differs from incitement in that facilitating speech assists criminals in either committing a crime or getting away with the as opposed to convincing or encouraging someone to commit a crime.[4] It is important to separate the crime-facilitating speech from crime-advocating speech (incitement) for two reasons. First, incitement has already been ruled on many times by the Supreme Court, most recently in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), whereas crime-facilitating speech has not been.[5] Second, and perhaps more importantly, is that crime-facilitating speech may pose more of a threat to public safety than incitement.[6] If a person knows how to commit a crime but does not want to, they must be persuaded to do so by crime-advocating speech and would therefore also be susceptible to counter advocacy encouraging them to not commit the crime.[7] This process can be seen in the case of drunk driving. While it can be assumed most people know how to drive drunk, counter advocacy groups have persuaded most of us that it is against out best interest to do so. However, crime-facilitating speech does the opposite. It gives people who already want to commit a crime but are either afraid of being caught or don’t know how the knowledge on how to commit the crime or avoid being caught.[8] In the case of drunk driving, this would give a person who would drive drunk if not for the risk of being caught the ability to avoid sobriety checkpoints and could convince them to drive drunk.

Crime-facilitating speech, however, is much too broad a topic to be debated in its entirety here, as it can range from posting DUI checkpoints, to writing a book about how to kill people, to publishing details of explosive compounds in a chemistry textbook.[9] Some speech facilitates crime while also being used primarily for completely legal reasons (e.g. the aforementioned chemistry book that contains information on explosive chemical reactions which could be used to build a bomb) and because of that, it would be irresponsible to simply ban all crime-facilitating speech. While in theory there may be a law that could differentiate between acceptable crime-facilitating speech and speech that is deemed too dangerous while simultaneously restricting unwanted speech legally, I will not attempt to analyze that here. Instead, I will focus on the legality of and how to craft a law that outlaws the publication of sobriety checkpoint locations.[10]

Current Censorship of Sobriety Checkpoints

There is already censorship of these sobriety checkpoints going on in the private sector.[11] Members of Congress have asked companies like Apple, Google, and Research in Motion to ban any app that lists sobriety checkpoint locations from their smartphones and tablets.[12] While Apple and Research in Motion have agreed to do so, up to this point Google has refused.[13] As of now, there is no legislation addressing the publication of sobriety checkpoints, nor has any the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of crime-facilitating speech.[14] Twitter recently announced that it would respect any nation’s wishes in regards to censorship of tweets.[15] Brazil has filed a suit against Twitter and several of its users under this new policy asking that the tweets be removed, that information about the users who tweet checkpoint locations be revealed, and that the users be subjected to fines.[16]

Should Checkpoint Publication Be Censored?

Everyone knows the U.S. has a right to free speech. What is less obvious to most is where the limit of that right falls. When it comes to the publication of sobriety checkpoints, people typically have two reactions. Either they believe it should be censored because their publication leads to more drunk drivers and therefore more alcohol related accidents and deaths, or they the value of free speech trumps the safety interest of keeping drunk drivers off the streets.

Read the rest of this entry

Tell Me Your Real Name: Korea’s Real-Name Verification Policy

In April 2011, Freedom House, international human rights NGO, published the report about freedom on internet and digital media. In the report, they describe South Korea as “partly free country”. They states that South Korea’s internet infrastructure is one of the most advanced in the world, and its democratic institutions, however Real-Name verification policy and a recent series of arrests of bloggers have presented challenges to internet freedom. UN special rapporteur, Frank La Rue, also concerns regarding Real-Name verification that “clearly qualifies as pre-censorship, restricts freedom of internet-based expression rooted in anonymity, inhibits public opinion formation, and contravenes freedom of expression.”

Real-Name verification policy refers process of website registration that asks users to verify their real-world identity before making user content on the web – especially comments and posting. Users won’t be required to use their real names as their IDs, but still they have to verify their particular online ID is mapped onto their real name and Resident Registration Number (RRN) of 13-digit number. Surely, this policy has been criticized regarding freedom of speech on the Internet and infringement of intellectual freedom.

At first, Real-Name verification policy adapted to the amendment of Public Official Election Act in 2004. The policy targeted preventing widespread cyberbullying in postings and comments of election-related online discussion forum. However, New conservative government, President Lee Myoung-bak administration suffered from candlelight protest and massive Anti-Government opinions from online. The government decided their way to extend the range of real-name registration policy to apply any website with more than 100,000 visitors per day in 2009. Hundred and fifty three of local and global operated websites were concerned including Google’s YouTube.

However, Google officially had decided to refuse it. Rachel Whetstone, vice president of Google said, “Google thinks the freedom of expression is most important value to uphold on the internet.” He continued to say “We concluded in the end that it is impossible to provide benefits to internet users while observing this country’s law because the law does not fall in line with Google’s principles.” As a matter of fact, Google had no choice but to find a way to refuse compliance with the Real-Name Verification in order to maintain their corporate universal access to information for all users, and services it provides worldwide.

Social Network also makes Real-Name Verification policy useless. Many websites started adopting social API function also called ‘Social comments’. Social comments allow leave users comments with login status of social network like Twitter or Facebook without website’s own login function. As expansion of Social Network, 45.1% of website adopted the social comment which means Social comments became a sort of bypass of Real-name verification. In Mar 2011, the government officially announced that social comments are not a subject matter of Real-Name Verification policy anymore. Finally, Korean government realized that enforcement of local act to global based company is almost impossible.

This case shows interesting dynamics and complexity between local and global internet environment setting. Korean government had been made a ceaseless effort to extend the as local policy, even though various criticisms over the policy had been raised. However Google and Social Network API, global function makes local policy powerless. In addition, it also reminds us needs of researches for how local and global setting is interwoven in internet environment.

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