I’m delighted to have spoken to the Washington Post for an article about the Twitter abuse furore:
“The worry is that the abuse button will be abused,” said Robert Sharp, a spokesman for English PEN, a literary group that promotes freedom of expression. “It puts the power of censorship into the hands of those who would be offended, which is fine when it’s a rape threat. But the same technology will be used by Christians to censor atheists, used by atheists to censor Christians, and so on.”
Credit where its due: Tom Phillips’ article on theTwitter abuse button was fresh in my mind when I spoke to the WaPo journalist. And there’s a huge body of work out there on the issue of ‘offence’ as a trigger for censorship. My turn of phrase “those who would be offended” is not natural speech, but its the sort of thing that springs to mind when you’ve been marinated in these kinds of arguments.
I have been away this week and unable to write anything on the PRISM revelations that have dominated the news over the past few days. Here are a few notes and links in lieu of something more rounded.
At ORGcon, I did preface my remarks during the ‘free speech online in the UK’ panel to note that the right to free speech includes the right not to be surveilled. If you think your conversations are being monitored, then you are not going to speak as freely as you may wish. (I will post a longer reflection on the ORGcon discussion soon).
This week I did read an article by Daniel Solove in the Chronicle of Higher Education which summarises variations on the “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” argument for surveillance. It’s obviously extremely relevant given recent revelations surrounding the US Government’s PRISM programme.
Solove’s article is a frustrating read, because the arguments against surveillance are, like many human rights issues, bound up in ‘slippery slope’ or ‘boiling frog’ concepts that tend not to resonate with ordinary people. Public interest (and outrage) at privacy invasions only occur when rare real-life examples manifest themselves, as when the damage has already been done (the hacking of Milly Dowler’s mobile phone being the prime example). Liberally minded people who oppose surveillance and privacy intrusions on principle need more sound-bites to compete with “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear”. Solove lists a few candidates – “Why do you have curtains, then?” is probably the best retort. Continue reading “Notes on PRISM, privacy and surveillance”