In 2004, Yahoo turned over user information to the Chinese government that was used to track down a dissident journalist, Shi Tao, and send him to a labour camp. It was the moment that the Internet knew sin.
Now, Judge Louis Stanton has decided to force Google/YouTube to disclose a complete set of data on all YouTube users. As TechCrunch reports: “That data includes every YouTube username, the associated IP address and the videos that user has watched on YouTube. Google will also be required to hand over copies of every video removed from Youtube for any reason (DMCA notices or user-initiated deletions). Stanton dismissed Googleâ€™s argument that the order will violate user privacy, saying such privacy concerns are merely â€œspeculative.â€”
TechCrunch goes on to express concern that this throws open the opportunity for copyright holders to sue individuals for watching their materials on YouTube. That, if you’ll pardon my language, is the fucking least of anyone’s concerns.
Over the past few years democrats and other “subversives” in places like Iran, Morocco, Egypt, Zimbabwe, China and other hell-holes of civil liberties have used their camera-phones to send broadcasts directly from the front-line of vicious conflicts.
Like this one:
The video may not appear subversive, but it clearly shows empty polling stations, empty streets and V signs all over spray-painted by protestors against Robert Mugabe’s tyranny in Zimbabwe. Mugabe was inaugurated on Sunday after claiming 85% of a massive turnout voted for him.
Now imagine that Zimbabwe’s secret police get their hands on the person who posted this video… he, or she, will get more than just a lawyer’s letter. They’ll get killed.
Internet companies are more than just custodians of US civil liberties. They are now also custodians of people’s freedom all over the world. And especially in places where it is most at risk.