The Third of May

Laurel holds a "Free to Blog" sign with the hashtags #WPFD and #PressFreedomUnesco‘s “World Press Freedom Day 2013” is promoting the idea that people need to be able to use social media for freedom of expression, whether it’s on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Vkontakte, Tencent, Identi.ca, or blogs.  Many people don’t know that they should be free and safe to blog, to upload pictures, to watch online video., or that the freedom to receive & impart information & ideas through any media is promised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As the western free press buckles under the control and demands of powerful special interests, the Internet has made citizen journalism possible just when we need it most. Unfortunately, sometimes people engaging in social media are targeted by repressive regimes.

In Canada, Byron Sonne’s Charter rights were violated by police, and charges were laid against him for posting photographs on Flickr and tweeting concerns about the billion dollar “security theatre” being staged in Toronto for the Toronto G20.  He was punitively denied bail for almost a year, and when finally granted bail it was under onerous conditions, so he was effectively a political prisoner for nearly two years.

In Syria, Internet activist Bassel Khartabil has been unjustly detained for over a year, without trial or any legal charges being brought against him.

Since March 15, 2012, our colleague and friend Bassel Khartabil has been in prison in Syria, held without charges and not allowed legal representation. Bassel is an open-source coder and leader of the Syrian Creative Commons program. He believes in the open Internet, and has spent the last ten years using open technologies to improve the lives of Syrians. Not only did Bassel build the CC program in his country; he worked tirelessly to build knowledge of digital literacy, educating people about online media and open-source tools.”

Catherine Casserly

Bassel needs to be #FreeToBlog again... Syrian Free Culture advocate has been held for more than a year without charges.
Syrian Free Culture advocate Bassel needs to be free to blog, not imprisoned without charges.

Around the world, we’re seeing increased restrictions on free speech as the breadth of copyright laws have been expanded to allow censorship, and we face an unending barrage of laws like SOPA and CISPA that allow government and corporate incusrions into our personal privacy, and trade agreements like ACTA and CETA.

Unesco is promoting the free exchange of ideas & knowledge that is possible with social media, and wants everyone to have a voice and be able to speak freely and in safety, no matter where they are in the world.

There is a growing awareness that ensuring freedom of expression must also necessarily extend to safety online. World Press Freedom Day 2013 focuses on the theme “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media” and puts the spotlight, in particular, on the issues of safety of journalists, combating impunity for crimes against freedom of expression, and securing a free and open Internet as the precondition for online safety.”

Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media

Which dovetails nicely with the fact today is also the International Day Against DRM.  If DRM becomes a built in part of the HTML5, any hope of a free and open Internet will be lost.

Banner that can be used on facebook

DRM restricts the public’s freedom, even beyond what overzealous copyright law requires, to the perceived benefit of this privileged, powerful few.”

Letter to the W3C

DRM is “Digital Rights Management” or “Digital Restrictions Management” ~ either way it is “Technological Protection Measures” employed in the proprietary software and hardware we purchase.  DRM controls how we can use our digital media and devices.

This year the W3C is in the process of hammering out the new standard for HTML5, the language that the Internet is written in.  Some of the biggest, most powerful Internet corporations are trying to pressure the W3C to write DRM into the specifications. Adding DRM to HTML would cause a host of problems for freedom and interoperability on the Web, and we need to build the grassroots movement against it. Nobody except these big corporations want this change to the core of the Web, but most of the Web users that it would affect don’t know about the issue yet.”

Defective By Design: We Oppose DRM

Any DVD player would be able to play any DVD in the world but for region encoding, one example of DRM.  If you move to a different region, don’t plan on bringing along your DVD collection, because it won’t play there.  DRM is often employed to “protect” digital copies that are under copyright.

Corporations like DRM because it can be used to tie us in to their proprietary products — we need to buy this type of game machine to continue to use the games we’ve already purchased — or buy ink cartridges even though the ones in the printer aren’t actually empty but because the DRM says the ink is past it’s best-before date — or purchase the same music over and over again as digital media wears out or the device is declared obsolete.

A specification designed to help companies run secret code on users’ computers to restrict what they do on the Web would severely undermine that trust. ”

Letter to the W3C

Nothing is stopping these big companies from deploying DRM on their websites now, with the exception of consumer choice.  But if DRM is written into the HTML5 Specifications, DRM will become the default, and consumers will lose the few choices we have now.  It will become harder to free our devices and ourselves from the shackles of DRM.  And I rather expect it will have the unfortunate side effect of breaking the Internet.

No DRM for the Internet

You’re welcome to use my Day Against DRM Facebook Cover, my Day Against DRM Twitter Banner or the square “Don’t DRM the Internet” avatar.


Image Credits
Bassel Khartabil by Kristina Alexanderson released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License

Map of the Internet – photo by the Opte Project released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 1.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 1.0) License

Both social media banners, Day Against DRM Facebook cover and Day Against DRM Twitter Banner incorporate the Opte Project Internet Map, tand so are released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) License

Byron Sonne: Still Not Free

I should be blogging about Bill C-11, the latest incarnation of a Canadian DMCA that our majority government will most likely pass to appease our American neighbours, in spite of near universal Canadian opposition.  But tomorrow will see the resumption of Byron Sonne‘s trial.

Entrance sign
Denial of bail resulted in Byron Sonne's incarceration, as a remand inmate at Maplehurst for nearly a year.

I am buoyed by knowing that anything I’ve done was in the cause of freedom and justice. Never did I plan or have any intent to hurt people or damage property, nor coax or counsel others to perform likewise. In a very real way I am a political prisoner, which is an amusing thought. Too many people are content to just go to work, come home and eat, watch TV and then go to sleep. Someone has to make a stand — I chose to and so I am paying the price. But I will never be made to feel guilt or regret.”

— Byron Sonne, letter (in pencil) from Maplehurst, 11-Jan-2011

Although I’ve never met Byron, I’ve corresponded with him a little and attended some of his preliminary hearing.  Although I’m only a citizen and not a lawyer, I believe Byron has been ill served by our legal system.

It isn’t overstating the situation to suggest that is unheard of for a thirty something with his own home, business and family — and no criminal record — to be held without bail for nearly a year. We all know that accused rapists and murderers are routinely freed on bail, yet this young man was not.

Even if Byron had posed an actual threat (something which I do not believe), any such threat would have been finished the moment the G20 was over. This is why I think the deprivation of Byron’s liberty was purely punitive.

Still, I don’t know all the details, as well, it is hard to know what I can and can’t say as some of Byron’s story remains under a publication ban.

Although the onerous terms of Byron’s bail prevents him from using computers in any by narrowly prescribed ways, he is not allowed to post anything online. Even so, anyone can freely visit both his Flickr page and Twitter feed, which remain frozen exactly as they were when he was arrested on June 22nd, 2010.

Byron goes back to court tomorrow. Proceedings begin Monday, March 19th in the courthouse at 361 University Avenue. I expect that @digimer‘s Twitter feed will continue to provide information on the proceedings. For more information visit the FreeByron wiki page that Byron’s friends and community have set up in support.

I’d like to see as many people as possible stay aware of what’s going on on our country and to become more active in making Canada a better, freer place. This isn’t just about my case and what’s happened to me, this is about all the crap going on out there. The internet surveillance bills the government wants to pass now and in the future …

“Near as I can tell we have only one life to live and tomorrow is too late to start doing it.”

— Byron Sonne, letter, 7 March, 2012


I think that it is past time to free Byron.

#freebyron

Silencing Online Activism: From “Officer Bubbles” to “Free Byron”

maple leaf leaning right

[This is an expanded version of the comment I posted to the CBC’s online article Toronto’s ‘Officer Bubbles’ sues YouTube. Of course, it’s subject to moderation and I have had many comments well within stated CBC guidelines declined. So I decided to post this here as it’s too important an issue to let slip through the cracks.]

The calls for an Inquiry into the G8/G20 debacle aren’t going away, they are getting louder.

What level of ridicule is reasonable?

A great many Canadian citizens (not to mention a great many international Internet users) witnessed Officer Bubbles attempting to intimidate a protester. And although the protester complied— she put down her dangerous bottle of soap bubbles— within moments she was arrested anyway.
[View this video in OGG format: http://russwurm.org/hostess/frombubblestobookings.ogv]

L - R Bubble blowing female protester stands in front of Female officer,  Male camera wielding protester stands directly in front of Officer Adam Josephs
Clearly Officer Bubbles knew he was on camera

There were cameras everywhere.

Officer Bubbles certainly knew he was being recorded when he took his stand. The protester
with a camera stood directly in front of him—
close enough to reach out and touch.

And Officer Bubbles had his 15 minutes of fame.

But now Officer Bubbles wants to protect himself from harassment?

p2pnet
reports: ‘Pay me $1.2M’ Officer Bubbles tells YouTube

A National Post article lauds this lawsuit, believing Officer Bubbles’ attempt to intimidate by lawsuits is a blow for… accountability?

Will the courts allow citizens to be stripped of the right to comment anonymously? If you make an anonymous comment expressing your disagreement with a situation like this, can you be sued? Is an opinion slander? Or since it’s published online libel?

Anonymity can be a powerful tool for good. Whistleblowers can leak information that their consciences dictate ought to be public which often serves the public good.

Must we guard our opinions, and take care not to voice them for fear of litigation?

Using lawsuits to squash the cartoons that ensued is a terrible precedent for the future of free speech and free expression in Canada.   It’s interesting to note that Officer Bubbles is not attempting to take down the video. After all, it really happened.

The fact is he spoke and acted, knowing he was being filmed.   Performing his professional duties as an officer of the law, on a public street, as a matter of public record. Officer Bubbles is a public servant interacting with a member of the public.   In this context, Officer Bubbles should be no more immune from depiction in political cartoons than the Mayor or the Prime Minister?

June 2010 poster: Toronto Resist G8/20
Many citizens protested the G8/G20

I must have dozed off at the part where they made political cartoons illegal in Canada. Is that in Bill C-32?

silencing dissent before it happens

Meanwhile, there is another protester that there is no video for.

This protester was arrested before he even had a chance to protest the G8/G20 — before it even began — apparently on the basis of Twitter remarks which led to a search warrant. The result is that Byron Sonne was arrested, and languishes in jail some four months later, denied bail by a Justice of the Peace.

Malcolm Gladwell may not believe in online activism, but Canadian police services take it seriously.

A Justice of the Peace isn’t a lawyer, or a judge.   This is a political appointment. I have to wonder if a Justice of the Peace, an appointed position not requiring formal legal education, is the right person to be making decisions about who is or is not entitled to bail?   It’s bad enough that in criminal offenses, the decision as to whether a defendant can walk free between accusation and trial may fall victim to a JP’s personal bias.
But to have political appointees ruling on the liberty of those accused of political offenses during peaceful protests is simply ludicrous.   A Justice of the Peace appointed by the government of the day can hardly be expected to be impartial, especially in cases of political dissent.

Many laws have built in latitude enabling them to cover a range of infractions. There is certainly latitude in every one of the charges brought against Byron Sonne, allowing the exercise of a great deal of discretion.
This certainly becomes an issue in a world where a soap bubble is adjudged a weapon by the forces of Canadian law enforcement.

There can be no democracy without dissent.

Peaceful protest is legal in Canada … isn’t it?
Or has dissent become a criminal offense?

Free Byron