YouTube / Viacom lawsuit poses a threat to more than just civil liberties

YouTubeIn 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 Google’s argument that the order will violate user privacy, saying such privacy concerns are merely “speculative.””

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.

12 replies »

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  2. Getting any useful data out of the millions of users is another question. Datamining google’s raw data from Utube isn’t gonna be easy. But I have some other concerns that I am going to air here. Specifically about the Continent of Africa.

    Ok, I’m going to ask some inconvenient questions. Who really gives a rats ass about the people living in Africa? We have some shining examples of the most hideous crimes being perpetrated there. Robert Mugabe is just the latest in a string of tribal strongmen who have completely failed the countries that they purport to love. Taking a world class food exporting nation, and driving it into complete economic disaster is a noble feat. Thabo Mbeki of South Africa is another in a string of leaders who seem bent on breaking their country. Patronage of the worst sort, by tribe is infesting the civil service in South Africa less than a decade after the White run economy was passed into the hands of the native Zulu and Bantu tribesmen. They did do a good thing in not simply slaughtering all whites that didn’t leave upon the act of political transference, and the Commission for Reconciliation is a single light shining from the Cape.
    But what about the average person living in any of the country’s nations? Where is the rule of law? Where is there any chance to better him or her self by working hard, getting a better education, and striving?
    Nowhere. The rule of law has been supplanted by the corruption of greed and tribalism run amok.
    In the North, the Arab nations, fueled by vast oil revenues maintain idiotic conditions for their people, refusing to allow even the taint of Western music into daily lives. In the equatorial regions, the struggle for life against the diseases of tropical conditions is made even harder due to the politics of diamonds and the funding of any number of so called revolutionary movements that draft children as young as eight years to butcher their fellows.
    In the East, Islamic rulers butcher all those who are not followers of the Prophet, peace be upon him. We have all seen the sanctity of life in the Sudan and in Mogadishu, where gunmen use pregnant women as both cover and concealment while they shoot at whichever peace-keeping force has been selected to try to maintain any kind of peace at all.
    So, who really cares about Africa? The answer my friend is blowing in the wind. Go listen. Tell me if you get anyone to answer you. Anyone at all. Please.

  3. Vlad – Are you asking whether we should, or whether recent history suggests that anyone actually does? Because the answers I could give you (never mind what Gavin could say) would be very different for the two different questions.

  4. Anybody who hasn’t needs to read Naomi Klein’s recent blockbuster article on this subject for Rolling Stone: “China’s All-Seeing Eye.”

    Subtitle: With the help of U.S. defense contractors, China is building the prototype for a high-tech police state. It is ready for export.

  5. Vladimir, I’m not disagreeing with you. Don’t give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut if you don’t want to.

    And maybe Africa isn’t to your taste. But how about dissidents in Russia, or Pakistan, or Russia … hmm, Mr Lenin?

    Or better yet, how about corporate or political whistle-blowers in the US?

    It may surprise you that the Internet has greater uses beyond the distribution of pirated videos and free porn. Many people – albeit a small minority – use it to disseminate views that can get them into a lot of trouble.

    I don’t give a shit about what happens in Russia, for instance, but I don’t believe that US lawmakers have a right to decide to shop dissidents to their governments. In the US, or anywhere else in the world.

    That way lies an end to any free speech at all.

  6. Whythawk – one of the scariest things is that, as you mentioned about Yahoo! in your lede, corporations can give away this stuff willy-nilly if they want to. The U.S. Constitution restricts government activities only, but some corporations are bigger than most nations, and adjusting the Constitution (or federal laws) to limit their activities and influence seems entirely reasonable.

    Alas, I don’t see how to do that without someone like Wal-Mart or ExxonMobil first asserting that they are extraterritorial entities in the U.S. with their own laws, as per much cyberpunk literature.

  7. whythawk, I’m not making any assertions other than the obvious one that if the continent is to join any kind of international society it will have to begin to police itself. Not with the assistance of every other tom dick and harry state that wants to rip off the people and the resources it has to offer. I don’t downplay or demean other places that have particular problems now or in the past, but Africa has the potential, as a continent to be among the top of the first world countries, and it seems to me that without such self-policing and a commitment to decent economic and political behavior it will never realize that potential.

    As for your point about US lawmakers shopping dissidents to other governments I completely agree, and hope this idiot judge will be overturned before he gets people tortured, raped, or killed.

  8. Brian: I don’t think we have to go to the extreme of considering companies to be extraterritorial entities just yet. Viacom and aothers looking for this type of power aren’t considering all the implications (any more than Google or the judicial system are); everyoe is considering it a straight fight over copyright.

    I would suggest simply – very publically – asking the CEO of major corporations if this is what they want on their conscience; that through their actions pro-democracy activists in emerging countries were tortured and executed as a consequence of a copyright dispute. Whatever activists may think about corporations, they’re still staffed by real people who don’t want to be thought of as evil….

    Vladimir: As someone who has spent 15 years involved in development work in Africa, I agree wholeheartedly with you. But Africa’s internal problems are an entirely different debate from this court case. If Africans are to create an environment for themselves that allows for development it will not be helped if we create the means by which authoritarian regimes can find and “disappear” the only source of viable opposition to their rule.

    This ruling isn’t only about Africa. Zimbabwe is a great example because China has bankrolled Comrade Bob and provided him with Internet snooping software to hunt down opposition. The point is, globalisation isn’t only about the trade in goods and services. It is also about the way tyrants trade in ideas and systems.

    Last thing we need is to give them more tools to work their evil.

  9. This is a complete invasion of privacy on the part of Viacom and our user information doesn’t have any relevance to their billion dollar lawsuit against Google. Google should be able to anatomize the user information before handing over 12 terabytes of personal information so my privacy and the privacy of millions like me are protected. I have a campaign that will force Viacom to allow Google/YouTube to protect us or 100,000 will boycott Viacom and all its subsidiaries:…ou-tube- privacy