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Politics - Anti-censorship - Not censorship


Hard cases - Speech that encourages threats to other people's liberties





Copyright theft

Not censorship

Things whose suppression is not necessarily censorship (or at least, I feel there could be some debate about it). General discussion of various hard cases, the definition of speech, the role of the law, etc.

As an adjunct to the Anti-censorship page.

Privacy (in print)

Obviously, some writing can essentially have no message, make no point, and serve no purpose other than to harrass, intimidate and upset somebody.

While I think some defence can be made for allowing hate speech in the abstract (otherwise some forms of rational discourse may become fearful and impossible), on the other hand pointless aggression against named living people is surely behaviour - along the lines of stalking or spam - rather than speech.

Provided it is pointless, of course. And here there may be differences of opinion. For instance, I think much of what the tabloids do (e.g. to the Royal family) should actually be illegal - but maybe that's just me.

And of course privacy can be invoked to essentially prevent history being written. In fact, I think it's a little sad - even for those who would come out of it badly - that we never get to see the true histories of our times. They are written long after we are dead, and then of course ironically, we, to whom they would be of the greatest interest, cannot read them. For instance, my family history is wonderfully detailed about people who are dead and forgotten long ago, but then is stripped down to no more than skeletal information about everyone alive now.

There are many reasons why people want privacy, but one of the main ones is fear of predators that will come into our lives and attack us, the more they know about us. In that sense, burglars, thieves and stalkers have a chilling effect on free speech.

Privacy in general

Some private information is controversial even if it is not being published.

Should the police, for example, be allowed hold a DNA database of every citizen? The classic civil liberties position has always opposed DNA databases, compulsory ID cards, and other information the police may collect on the citizenry as a whole. But perhaps their opposition is becoming misplaced. Perhaps the proper, the honest, solution is to campaign freely and openly for more liberal laws (such as reforming the drug laws), so that no citizen, now matter how deviant their lifestyle, has anything to fear.

Civil liberties groups evolved in a situation where the state - by criminalising and oppressing minority groups such as homosexuals, contraceptive users, drug users, atheists, blacks, aborigines, women and Catholics - was the greatest threat to civil liberty. But if all these battles are won (and I agree the drug issue remains outstanding), maybe we should look again at the privacy of modern society - which allows serial rapists, killers, attackers and burglars to operate uncaught for years. As conservatives have long pointed out, these people are a threat to civil liberty too. If there was a compulsory national DNA database, rape (and rape murder) could become virtually impossible. Even theft and burglary could be hard hit - with the citizenry using their own home DNA kits to hunt for evidence.

So how about the following:

  1. A DNA database of all citizens.
  2. Tag all violent offenders for life, so their whereabouts are always known (to a non-public computer). You can still live, and do what you like. All we ask is that we must know where you are.
  3. Or even tag the whole population, so it is known where everyone is. Make assault, rape, abduction and murder literally impossible.

Maybe civil liberties groups have it all wrong. Maybe this is the future of civil liberties - the end of crime, in a liberal, pluralist state.

In summary, if we ever do win the battle to create a proper liberal state, then maybe we will eventually come to see privacy as the greatest single threat to civil liberty. This is a long way off perhaps, but it's still something to think about.

Hard cases - Speech that encourages threats to other people's liberties

The only reason we're in favour of free speech is because we're in favour of freedom and liberty. So how about when the speaker doesn't believe in freedom and liberty for others, and threatens them? How about these hard cases:

  1. Intellectual arguments:
    1. A site that makes an intellectual case for racism / fascism or religious hatred.
    2. A site that makes an intellectual case for bestiality. Can such a case be made? I'm not sure. I can see that there is an argument that this is not necessarily the same as supporting torture of animals. After all, adult animals have sex all the time (at least with each other).
    3. Anyway, how about a site that does support torture of animals for sport or entertainment - hunting, circuses, dancing bears, and so on.
    4. A site that makes an intellectual case for pedophilia. This is not necessarily a site supporting aggressive rape. e.g. Say a site making an intellectual case against the criminalisation of early- to mid- teenage sex.
    5. Writing that does openly support aggressive pedophilia, including the rape of toddlers, such as the writings of Ayatollah Khomeini.
    6. A site supporting the aggressive rape of civilians in warfare (see also here), or a site supporting the killing of captured civilian women and children (see also here).
    7. In wartime, an intellectual argument supporting the enemy (e.g. the Iraqi resistance, or the IRA).

  2. Non-intellectual glamourisation of activities that threaten others:
    1. Almost every Hollywood action movie glamourises or condones things that would, in real life, threaten other people's liberties:
      1. Car driving - If Hollywood car chases were true-to-life, there would be dead passers-by in every film, just as real-life police and real-life joyriders do kill passers-by.
      2. Guns and fighting as a solution to all problems.
      3. Glamourisation of all forms of criminal abuse of others - bank and train robbing, assault, burglary, vandalism, arson, joyriding, art theft, kidnap, etc. - all have been glamourised, such as in the obnoxious The General. Oddly enough, say, rape or child murder is rarely glamourised.
      4. Glamourisation of police brutality, lack of due process, vigilante action, summary execution, etc.
      5. Glamourisation of the DEA.

  3. Practical advice in general, "How-to" do something:
    1. A site that gives practical advice on guns, explosives, etc.
    2. A site that gives practical advice on burglary, lock-picking, etc.
    3. A site that gives practical advice on joyriding, speeding, car races, car chases, etc.
    4. A site that gives practical advice on rape.
    5. A site that gives practical advice on torture, for foreign police forces.
    6. A site that gives practical advice to pedophiles - tells them where to meet children, etc.

  4. Real information:
    1. A site that tells motorists where speed traps are.
    2. A site that tells motorists where drink-driving checks are.
    3. A site that tells burglars what houses are empty, where old people live alone, and so on.
    4. A site that tells loyalist paramilitaries where Catholics live in each housing estate.
    5. A site that lists addresses of doctors that perform abortions.
    6. In wartime or in a time of genocide, a foreign media site linked to the enemy regime (e.g. Serb TV) and perhaps helping organise the genocide (e.g. Rwandan radio), or encouraging the enemy (e.g. Arab TV, jihadi videos on YouTube).
    7. In wartime, a home site telling the enemy where military targets and informants are (e.g. Wikileaks).

I'd like to say I have easy answers for all of these, but I don't. My instinct would be that most of 1. and 2. have to be tolerated as offensive speech, whereas most of 3. and 4. cross the border into directly threatening people. But I must say that it is hard to define the exact principles I am using.

Avoiding offensive speech

While we might allow speech like that in 1. and 2., you do of course always have the perfect right to find the speech disgusting, and you should be able to filter it successfully and completely out of your life. Indeed, this applies to any speech you don't like.

Part of the problem with offensive speech is that with many media, like TV or the cinema, we cannot run advanced personal filters - we simply have to sit there and get assaulted by what is coming next. But this is a personal technology problem, not a legal problem, and it can be solved by giving the individual more technology to put them more in control of their life.


Libel is a grey area, especially now that we all have our own printing presses. People aren't as helpless as they used to be. You can set up your own website to refute the media.

Which leads to the question of:

Linking to Libel

Crime fighting


The thing about noise is the choice of whether we have to hear the speech or not.

You have the right to say what you like. I have the right to filter your speech out of my life.


Speech is one thing, behaviour is another. I support the right of the Orange Order and Klansmen to their publications and web sites, which we can all read in a non-threatening environment.

But as to whether they should be able to rally and march down the roads of upset and intimidated residents is quite another question. Marches are behaviour, not pure speech.

Demos and marches are an odd form of speech, one that often interferes with those who do not want to hear it, in a way that, say, websites don't. It seems to me that demos and marches should be restricted to city centres, not residential areas, unless there is some good reason why they have to go to a particular place.


Spam is not a censorship issue. You can read all the ads you like at the spammer's site, if you choose to go there. Spam is the enemy of free speech, by trying to destroy discussion groups and mailing lists.

Before 1992, I sent a few unsolicited messages myself. It took some time for me (and others) to understand that this was a Bad Idea. The Internet was quieter in those days, and no one complained to me or flamed me, but I wish they had. I should have realised sooner that unsolicited messages had no future.

Now there are hundreds of millions of people online. If unsolicited direct-marketing commercial email is tolerated, eventually everyone will be receiving thousands or even tens of thousands of computer-generated email messages a day. Already over 90 percent of email is spam. Despite this, spam is still legal in the US. The only long-term solution is to make it illegal. In the meantime, it is up to the Internet to protect itself against these vandals.

Spam is the enemy of free speech

Just to be clear on that. I do support the government regulating the Internet by making direct-marketing email illegal. Spam is possibly the single greatest enemy of free speech on the Internet today:
  1. It makes people not take part in discussion groups for fear of sending their email address to spammers.
  2. It actually destroys the discussion groups by filling them with spam, so everyone leaves.
  3. It makes people not put their email address on their web pages, for fear of it being collected by spammers.
  4. It makes people run blacklists and filters on keywords for their incoming email, which may filter valid email messages as well.

I also would vote for making direct-marketing postal mail, direct-marketing telephone calls and direct-marketing faxes illegal.

By any reasonable standards of adult consent and privacy, drug dealing should be legal while direct-marketing should be illegal.

The future of spam

Spam with embedded porn images is just beginning. The future of spam is:

  1. Billions of person hours are lost every year, year after year, by workers sifting through spam.
  2. You are forced to look at porn in your office every time you read your email.
  3. Your kids are forced to look at porn every time they read their email. See good article on explicit spam by John Aravosis.

This is the future, until direct-marketing email is made illegal as it should be.

Copyright theft

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