Friday, November 14, 2008

Great Britain, Germany and Internet Censorship

There is a common belief that modern technology makes it harder to censor people. Unfortunately, recent events have shown otherwise. Great Britain is leading a charge that, if unchecked, will allow almost any government to censor almost anyone anywhere.

Great Britain recently extradited Gerald Toben, an Australian national, to Germany to face charges of Holocaust denial after Toben landed at Heathrow airport. Toben is no doubt an odious human being. However, laws such as Germany’s laws on H holocaust denial are infringement of free speech rights. More disturbingly, Toben did not commit his crime in Germany. However, since his blog was visible in Germany, Germany asserts that he has violated their laws. And Great Britain is going along with it.

In the past, Great Britain’s actions have been detrimental to free speech. Great Britain has been strongly criticized in the past for its libel laws under which the burden of proof to is placed automatically on the defendant. Together with a very low standard of what constitutes publication in Great Britain, Britain has become known for “libel tourism.” In one memorable case, an American author was successfully sued in Great Britain when 23 copies of her book were bought online by people in Great Britain. However, the British libel laws have at least one saving grace: they are civil penalties. The German law in question is criminal.

This is all the more disturbing because many countries are in the process of strengthening their laws restricting speech or are cracking down on offensive speech. Italy has recently attempted to prosecute an Italian comedian for insulting the Pope. The Netherlands recently decided to expand its anti-blasphemy laws to include speech offensive to any group. . If I insult the Pope and then land in Great Britain, would they send me to Italy or the Netherlands first?

Great Britain’s reaction to Toben is not productive. Great Britain should officially repudiate this stance and Germany should officially repudiate prosecution of people whose only crime is to have a website that can be accessed in Germany. These laws may be used now to imprison those whom we despise but the risk is too high.

Edit: The above contains some minor factual issues that don't detract from the central point. See the anonymous commentator's remark below for details.

Follow up edit: It looks like Toben will not be sent to Germany after all. See this article.


Anonymous said...

Has Toben been extradited? The latest news, as of 30 October, is that he was granted bail, with strict conditions, pending an appeal by the Germans for his extradition, as the warrant contained inadequate detail about the alleged offences, as it stated neither the name of the website nor where the propaganda is said to have been published from. The judge has yet to decide whether the alleged crimes were valid extradition offences. [see BBC News report]

He's already been in jail, having been arrested in 1999 on a visit to Germany, again for publishing on an Australian website so the same issues arose then.

More importantly, there's no such thing as British libel law, as I recall. There's English libel law which is notorious for favouring complainants, but the situation is rather different under Scots law.

YellowMonkey said...

Toben's son went to my high school.

He used to prattle on about the Holocaust during maths classes. :(

Metro said...

I tend to support hate speech laws, as well as the work of the Canadian Human Rights Commissions.

However, criminalizing Holocaust denial just gives the cranks who support it ammunition to claim they're persecuted by the big bad ol' conspiracy.

The HRCs keep nuisance complaints from clogging up the court system, while ensuring that genuine discrimination cases get heard and settled (usually by mutual agreement--although you'll never hear about those cases, which represent 95% of the work they do).

Joshua said...

Hate-speech laws aren't as far as I'm concerned any different than other forms of speech restrictions. A religious person should be free to say "all those atheists are idiots" and the atheist should be free to say "those religious people are brainwashed retards." Content restrictions are just bad. The CHR as a content restricting entity isn't good either. If they just needed to handle actual discrimination cases they might be ok (although then the lack of ability to appeal their decisions is still a whole other can of worms).

the real Mel "Yacoub" Gibson said...

Zelinsky: "minor factual issues that don't retract from the central point. "
I think you meant 'detract from...'

And thanks for the heads up on the idiocy of Britains libel laws. I stopped following this charade when David Irving-What-is-name lost a suit to that famous Holocaustic Deborah Lipshitsz from Holocaust= nomorefreespeech University.

And when I tried to argue that free speech is trumps repression and censorship, all of my Jew-pandering friends accused ME of being an anti-Semite. I was forced to rep[ly: no, I love my mother, AND the rest of the tribes of Shem....Palestinians, etc...
TX for the post