In a report released late Sunday, Google tells us Canada has joined the ranks of countries aggressively stepping up efforts to censor online political dissent through “censorship requests” to the giant search engine. Passport Canada authorities asked Google to block public access to “a YouTube video of a Canadian citizen urinating on his passport and flushing it down the toilet”. The case is one of the highlights in Google’s semi-annual Transparency Report for the period July – December, 2011.
Now the question is: would you have wanted to watch the video and understand the protester’s motivations? I would have. When a Canadian or American or Russian urinates on a government-issued national identity document as precious as a passport, they’ve got something real big to say. And when they flush the document down the toilet, there is a serious political protest thing going on.
The Canadian citizen’s creative stunt was a legitimate form of protest. Under Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, protected free speech. Google agreed. It turned the down the request. Kudos.
At a time our political engagements are increasingly migrating to the Twitter and other cyber universes, the report highlights an upsurge in requests by governments to remove Internet content for political reasons. The governments of India, the world’ largest democracy, and the U.S., top the list of culprits.
While Canada has fewer reports by comparison, the great white north joins the club of established suppressors of free speech on the Internet, which includes China, the U.S. and, possibly, all dictatorial regimes. Indian bans offensive political and religious content. In Thailand a lese majeste law prohibits criticism of the Thai monarchy. Turkey has a law against insulting the Ataturk.
Harper’s Canada joins this infamous club at a time governments are aggressively increasing their attacks on the Internet. An “alarming trend”, according to senior Google policy analyst, Dorothy Chou. In a posting on the official Google blog, she said: “It’s alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect – Western democracies not typically associated with censorship.”
The point is: Canada ain’t what it used to be. The Harper government’s appetite for information regarding our Internet lives may just be as robust as China’s appetite for our dirty oil. For example, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has hinted at reviving Bill C-30, the government’s widely-condemned proposed Internet surveillance legislation soundly rejected by Canadians recently.
The backward-looking and anti-democratic legislation, also curiously named “Protecting Children From Internet Predators Act“, seeks to force you and I to leave the door wide open while online. It would grant the police unprecedented powers to acquire the whole nine yards of an Internet user’s online identity – including name, address, email address and telephone number. It would require Internet service providers (ISPs) to install surveillance equipment on their networks, keep records of their customers’ activities and, when required, surrender the info to the authorities.
Of course, the police would be allowed to obtain this information without a search warrant.
The irony, though: the Harper government claims to champion free speech. Last week, the House of Commons passed Conservative backbencher Brian Storseth’s private members’ Bill C-304, which repeals Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The legislation bans so called “hate speech” transmitted over the Internet or by telephone.
A victory for freedom of speech, according to Canadian conservatives. And white supremacists.
Photo credits: New Media Rockstars