Freedom of Speech, Hate and the Internet. Just What is Legal in the U.S.?

Freedom of Speech in America

Freedom of Speech in America

Freedom of Speech in America

Freedom of Speech in America – Just what is legal?

Much has been written and discussed recently about freedom of speech in the United States. For those who missed a few days in the fifth grade and for others who may be distracted by misinformation on social media, here is a primer on freedom of speech, how it relates to “hate speech”, the internet, and what is and isn’t criminally punishable in the United States.

The Constitution and The Bill of Rights

The original U.S. Constitution was written to outline the powers of the United States government following the revolutionary war. Keep in mind, this document was written in a time when a young United States was emerging from a war against the tyranny from a foreign government. There were those that had concerns that while the Constitution provided an outline for the government, it had no protections for the rights of its citizens. Before the Constitution was ratified, therefore, there were twelve amendments to the Constitution proposed to go along with it. Ten of those twelve received the necessary three-quarters approval of Congress and were passed as the “Bill of Rights”.

Many people think that freedom of speech is its own amendment. In reality, it is part of the first amendment that also protects freedom of religion, the right of assembly, freedom of the press, and the right to petition the government during a grievance. Freedom of speech is, of course, a key point in protecting these other freedoms.

The first amendment specifically states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Bill of Rights only defines one crime, the crime of treason in Article 3. It doesn’t define hate speech as a crime.

First Amendment Court Cases

Throughout the years, the Supreme Court has ruled on many cases involving the first amendment which has provided more insight into how the courts view its protections. It is clear there are limitations to the freedom of speech, including:

  • Obscenities
  • Libel and Slander
  • Fighting Words
  • Child Pornography
  • Perjury
  • Blackmail
  • Incitement to Create Immediate Lawless Action.
  • True Threats

The court has repeatedly ruled that speech that makes people feel uncomfortable, is offensive or that is contrary to popular opinion IS protected. In other words, with the exception of when hate speech would involve a threat or become an incitement to lawless action, it is protected under the Constitution. In Europe, many countries have what is called” group libel laws” which can protect groups of people from hateful speech.

Freedom of Speech in America

Free Speech in Europe

Many Americans have a point of view that freedom of speech in Europe is similar to that in the United States but that is not the case. Germany, for example, has multiple laws regulating freedoms, including freedom of expression, that have their roots based in the post World War II era. Hate speech in Europe is generally not viewed as a critical freedom. Hate speech is often regulated in the interest of “harmony”. As terrorism becomes more common on the continent, more policies are being enacted throughout the Europe to limit freedom of speech and expression.

Free Speech and the Internet

Many believe that free speech rights extend to the internet but that is not necessarily true. Companies like Google have their own right to set guidelines for posting content on their websites. This is interesting in that today, major websites like Google, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have more control over your speech through their policies than the U.S. Government. These large corporations generally attempt to operate under the rules and guidelines in the countries they serve but that isn’t always the case. Many have at least have some form of “hate speech” which restrict what may be posted by users. Many of these companies use more of a European model when it comes to freedom of speech, which is more restrictive than the laws we have in the United States.

The power that some tech companies wield over free speech came into focus following the violence in Charlottesville, VA in the summer of 2017. Some tech companies shut down the websites of white-supremacist groups following the incident, raising the eyebrows of freedom of speech advocates. The companies ultimately stated that these websites “violated their terms of service”, allowing them to shut down the websites.

It is interesting to note that freedom of speech is not the only right we voluntarily give up when using the websites of some major companies. Each day we give up more and more of our rights to privacy, freely providing our personal information and even allowing internet-based auto and video recording devices into our homes. While these policies are spelled out, they are often buried in page upon page in the extensive user policies of these websites and devices. The reality is that very few of us thoroughly read these terms of service.

While some groups are aggressively pursuing the protection of our rights and liberties, many of us are simply signing them away in pursuit of convenience, better communication, and the desire for advanced technology.

Whats your opinion on Freedom of Speech in America? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below and if you know someone who might be interested in this article, feel free to share it. Click here for more Articles about Freedom of Speech

The Most Internet Restrictive Countries on the Planet

Most Internet Restrictive Countries
Most Internet Restrictive Countries

Top 10 Most Internet Restrictive Countries On the Planet!

Those who live in the United States enjoy exceptional freedom on the internet. Aside from the occasional 404 error, we are pretty much free to surf wherever we want. That’s not to say we should but we certainly have the opportunity. That’s not the case across the globe.

Freedom House is a non-profit organization that has been promoting freedom and democracy planet-wide since 1941. In an annual report on Freedom on the Internet, they found some interesting and somewhat eye-opening facts.

  • Over two-thirds of internet users live in nations where criticism of the government or ruling party is censored and/or punishable.
  • Arrests were made in 38 countries over social media posts in the past year.
  • In 2016, internet freedoms decreased globally for the sixth consecutive year.

In fact, when the Freedom House assessed the internet as a whole, they found only 24% of users had access that they considered a “free” internet.

How do countries restrict freedoms on the internet? They can use technology, blocking what the government believes are divisive or morally corrupt websites. They can essentially create their own national intranet, restricting access to global websites all together. They can also use legislation to restrict what is legal to post and follow up with fines or even prison time. Many monitor and track usage from those on the internet.

There is good news in that 14 countries involved in the survey actually improved internet freedoms, even if it was slight. The United States was among those 14. In fact, the U.S. scored 4th globally when it comes to freedom on the net. Here are the ten top-scoring countries.

  1. Estonia
  2. Iceland
  3. Canada
  4. United States
  5. Germany
  6. Australia
  7. Japan
  8. United Kingdom
  9. France
  10. Georgia

What countries are the most restrictive when it comes to Freedom on the internet? Let’s take a somewhat subjective look.

Most Internet Restrictive Countries

The Ten Worst Rated Offenders For Freedom on the Internet

The specific countries on the list may not be as much of a surprise as the extent they go to in implementing their restrictions.

  1. China – China aggressively monitors internet usage, filtering and redirecting searches, blocking websites and even “erasing” undesirable content. In 2015, the Chinese Wikipedia was blocked to citizens and more than 60 regulations currently restrict the internet. Users are often self-policed as the country creates an atmosphere that individuals are “being watched” when using the internet.
  2. Cuba – Cuba’s government controls the country’s internet access points and a special permit is required for use. The government-sponsored “internet” is highly restricted, employing IP tracking, keyword search term filtering, search history tracking, and emails are closely monitored. Only those friendly to the government have the ability to upload information. International visitors can access the world-wide internet but allowing locals access is illegal.
  3. Ethiopia – The Ethio Telecom and Ethiopian Telecommunication Agency control all access in this African nation, including licensing internet cafes. Internet cafes must have all screens visible to the operator of the cafe so content can be better monitored. It is illegal to circumvent their national licensing program. Political dissent is virtually invisible online. Even VoIP services like Skype are restricted. Government surveillance is common and expected.
  4. Iran – Iran has an extensive amount of internet users, with recent estimates reaching approximately 50 million. These users, however, don’t have access to some of the world’s most popular websites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Bloggers are required to register and using an email service outside of the government-sponsored one is not allowed. ISPs face heavy fines if they do not follow the government’s restricted list of blocked websites that includes over 15,000 sites that have been blacklisted.
  5. North Korea – While internet access is available in North Korea, only government officials and foreign visitors have access. The North Korean “intranet”, known as Kwangmyong, is available for the general population. North Korean access to the internet has become increasingly restrictive in recent years. The country itself offers very few websites with only about 30 such North Korean websites in existence.
  6. Pakistan – Following a contest on Facebook promoting the submission of drawings of the Prophet Mohammad, Pakistan put in place increasingly restrictive internet regulations and access, including blocking the popular social media website. The country uses Netsweeper type technology to filter both political and social content.
  7. Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia blocks hundreds of thousands of websites for what they claim are mainly cultural and religious reasons. Many suspect, however, that many sites are being restricted to re-direct users to government-backed websites to limit commerce outside of the country. Gambling and pornography sites are strictly banned and citizens are encouraged to report other “objectionable” websites. Apparently, much of the population doesn’t mind the censorship as it is estimated 1,200 websites are reported every day to the government.
  8. Syria – Syria controls internet access not only through blocking and filtering but by aggressively punishing violators with arrest. Bloggers who express anti-government sentiments may be arrested for putting national security in jeopardy. Users at internet cafes must show ID and have their usage monitored and reported. For over ten years, Syria has been noted as one of the planet’s worst offenders when it comes to internet freedoms.
  9. Tunisia – All of Tunisia’s internet traffic flows through a central data facility where uploaded material, emails, and personal data is monitored. While still restrictive, access has eased greatly since the Tunisian Revolution.
  10. Vietnam – The government of Vietnam requires large companies like Google and Yahoo to turn over information on bloggers to continue to be available in the country. The government also strictly controls information that may be considered anti-government or pro-democracy.

The next time you encounter a 404 error or a website you are trying to pull up takes just a few extra seconds to load, remember, it could be worse. While our internet freedoms could be better, they could be far worse. In some countries, they are.

Freedom of Speech Amendment

Freedom of Speech Amendment
Freedom of Speech Amendment

Freedom of Speech Amendment

How Orange Website Policies Promote Your Right to Publish Anything.

You may not be located in the U.S., but you know that nation has a freedom of speech amendment that protects individuals from being able to talk or publish on any topic — even controversial religious, political or sexual subjects. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution sets an ideal for the world in protecting your right to say what you think.

At the same time, under certain circumstances, even courts in the U.S. can require internet service providers or web hosting service providers to release data about their customers. One example is in cases where copyright may have been violated. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), companies who claim copyright violations can ask an internet service provider to remove websites that may contain copyrighted materials and can sue for information on the person who posted it. The problem with a DMCA Takedown request is that the requesting party may not even need to prove the copyright violation and it can be used to silence or remove controversial material. In some cases, the material in question was covered under fair use guidelines or was not even owned by the requester.

Outside the U.S., other nations may place tight restrictions on what you can say, even online. In March, an city civil court in India ruled that a news website had to remove two articles that criticized a local politician. Last year, news websites in Ecuador were told by the government to remove stories and images, and some sites suffered suspicious Denial-of-Service attacks that shut down their sites after publishing stories about potential corruption.

No matter where you’re located in the world, you want a truly free web hosting company that will completely protect your right to publish without harassment, censorship or legal threats. That’s where OrangeWebsite hosting comes in. We’re based in Iceland, where freedom of expression is protected by the constitution. In the global community, Iceland’s legislature is known for strongly advocating freedom of speech and a free press. Bloggers and journalists have the freedom to publish virtually anything without fear of being uncovered or legally prosecuted.

Freedom of Speech Amendment
Freedom of Speech Amendment - DMCA Take Down Notice

Freedom of Speech Amendment

OrangeWebsite can’t protect you from legal prosecution in your country, but we can ensure that your website that reports on the government won’t be taken down on the whim of an angry politician. We also do not respond to DMCA Takedown requests; any legal action to censor your website must be filed in Icelandic court and approved by an Icelandic judge. Because of our very lenient laws, this is rare.

Security and privacy matters. We don’t release your information to others and we don’t allow you to be censored, even if your published material is controversial. We do require that you follow our terms of service and the very liberal Icelandic laws to be our customer, but we think you’ll find there’s no better home for your site, no matter what you’re saying.

Want to know more about why we’re the best fit for you? Here’s a quick rundown:

  • We’re located in a convenient geographical location. Because we’re halfway between North America and the European continent, we can offer blazing fast connection speeds to customers in either location. (At last measure, you could connect from Europe in 29 ms and the U.S. in 39 ms — pretty speedy.) That means your site will load quickly and perform well for visitors from either location, and for that matter, around the world.
  • You don’t have to provide personal data. Well, we do need an email address so we can contact you, but we don’t ask for any other details. We’ve found we can provide excellent service to our customers without needing to know names, addresses or other contact information. While we take every possible step to protect our servers, we also know you’ll be happy that hackers can’t ever access your personal data — because it’s not there to take.
  • We don’t reveal any of your information. We don’t have to legally make any customer details available to the Icelandic government — or any other government or organization in the world. Even though we don’t store your details, we don’t have to give up even the little we do have to anyone who asks. Your identity is protected with us.
  • We accept BitCoin. BitCoin is the world’s most popular cryptocurrency. You can use BitCoin to pay your invoices without sharing any personal details. Plus, there are no transaction fees for using BitCoin. We use the current exchange rate between euros and BitCoin.
  • We’ll keep your website safe from attack. Attackers have increased as their methods have become more sophisticated and widely shared. If you’re running a controversial website, it may be more likely to be targeted by folks who don’t like you or consider themselves your competition. We’re one of the few companies in the world to offer high-end DDoS protection methods, including against Layer 7 (application layer) attacks. You pay for the level of protection you need.
  • We require two-factor authentication. Another way to protect against your information being stolen or used, or your website being taken down, is to require two-factor authentication. Each time you log in, your phone gets an automatic text message with a code that you use for access. Use any number capable of receiving SMS data — it doesn’t have to be connected to your name in any way. Two-factor authentication virtually guarantees that even if your password gets cracked, an intruder can’t get into your website files.
  • We’re proactive against all types of security threats. Our team includes server security specialists and “ethical hackers” who are constantly checking our systems for issues. We also keep our software updated with the latest security patches and perform regular audits to ensure there are no easy ways to access our servers. Every connection to our servers goes through a 256-bit SSL layer just to make absolutely certain your information isn’t getting viewed or captured by an outside source.
Freedom of Speech Amendment

Freedom of Speech Amendment:

Picture of the Bill of Rights First Amendment.

What’s more, we are there for you, no matter where you’re located. Our 24-hour response team is available to help if you run across any issues with your service, and an authorized staff member is always keeping an eye on our security. Our professional support staff can customize solutions for you if you need specialized assistance.

You may also be pleased to know that we do all this with a focus on sustainability. While it doesn’t impact your ability to remain private, you should know our servers run on 100 percent green energy. Iceland is home to many options for renewable resources and we take full advantage of these to power our servers and reduce pollution from traditional energy sources.

Do you have more questions about Freedom of Speech Amendment and how we can maintain your privacy and security as a publisher, blogger or journalist, no matter where in the world you’re physically located? We’d be happy to talk to you and set up a custom plan that meets your needs. Contact us for information about our security or our server plans.

The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative: A Good Crisis and Evolved Democracy

Iceland Modern Media Crysis
Iceland Modern Media Crysis

Democracy is evolving, and Iceland is leading the change. As vigorous proponents of radical transparency, freedom of expression and speech, publishing process protections, and rights to privacy, Iceland is developing the first political consensus that comes from the collective intelligence of the people. Through the foundations provided by the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, the country is developing into a safe haven for those working toward international freedom of information. The people of Iceland are developing a culture of collaboration and consensus decision making, and enjoying the benefits of an evolved democracy: transparency and a free press, whistleblower protections, and freedom of speech, expression, privacy, and information. 

When economic and social crises threaten the stability of a free society, several options are available to the people. For some, the easy way out of the crisis is to let the government handle the problem. And the easiest way for governments to manage problems is to exert more control. When control is seen as a paternalistic type of affection and concern, a tightening fist can be rationalized or ignored by a population that has abdicated the responsibilities and the work of democracy. When government control is couched in terms of threats to the national security, either from political, military, or financial crises, civil rights, especially rights to a free press and freedom of speech and privacy, are often the first to go.

Iceland didn’t take the easy way out of the 2008 financial crisis. Instead, they empowered the collective voice, experience, and intelligence of the people to lay a new path forward. By crowdsourcing their ideas and legislation, their vision of the future represents the beliefs and values of the nation.

Several important aspects of the legislation and the continuing work of advocating for it are critically important. Unequal access to justice means that for many citizens of a democracy, they cannot access the resources needed to defend themselves. In this climate of inequity, the judicial systems becomes one with the power to punish, a big stick to silence those outside the majority. The threat of action against those without resources can be significant enough to silence free speech.

Source protection and limiting prior restraint are also powerful judicial and legislative protections that are critical to a free press. Coercion by anyone with power and something to hide–a government agency, a financial organization, a publisher or newspaper, a telecommunications agency– means that threats of various kinds can be applied to disrupt the process of a free press. Protecting journalists, bloggers, and media such as newspaper publishers from the threat of these types of action means Iceland has a media that is as close as humans can come to the radical transparency and free press the collective citizenship desires. OrangeWebsite provides several business structures that allow journalists and bloggers this free press protection, including anonymous accounts and a range of payment options, including bitcoin and World Coin.

Iceland Modern Media Crysis

Whistleblower protections are also a critical part of the Modern Media Initiative. In an evolved democracy, aggressive nationalism and militarism are never used to justify silencing the population. Threats to the nation and national security concerns are not blunt weapons to shut down the press or free speech. And those who bring abuses of power into the open are not tried and jailed for espionage.

Enlightened democracies are seen as places of light and opportunity, freedom, and hope to the people of the world who live under the threat of oppression. That light, and the hope that comes from knowing there are better places in the world, places where people are treated with respect and dignity, where they have the right to voice an opinion, give those who are living in darkness and oppression something to hope for, a place to dream about. For people working in those countries trying to bring about change, the work of enlightened democracies–the legislative and judicial framework–provides a blueprint for changing their own political systems.

When those democracies that have always held the light of hope for the world descend into chaos, and the threat of fascism rises again, with censorship and racism, aggressive militarism and nationalistic rhetoric overtaking the collective voice of a people, those who believe in the basic tenets of democracy are silenced. First the whistleblowers are silenced as threats to national security. Then the press is censored to protect the population. As government control over the national narrative and the human voice of the people tightens like a fist around the throat, freedom of speech and the freedom to dissent is cut off. And the light of hope for the world is extinguished. Enlightened democracies have the power to give that light and hope to the world. They do not exist in isolation, solely for the benefit of their own people. Iceland is working on the evolution of their enlightened democracy, when much of the rest of the world is seeking to consolidate power and control the voice of their people.

The International Modern Media Institute is an advocacy group who are attempting to protect and expand the protections and the radical transparency called for in the original initiative. Closely tied to a political party, the group nevertheless functions as an international watchdog for issues related to freedom of expression, privacy, and a free press. They are advocating an agenda where Iceland serves as a safe haven with the legal and judicial framework to protect freedom of expression to the greatest extent it exists anywhere in the world. OrangeWebsite provides a number of services that directly embody the privacy and freedom in the new legislation, such as access to virtual private and dedicated servers in a country protected by these laws. Services such as these, with Icelandic state protections, are unique in the world. Using the collective power and will of a people to bring about state-sponsored human rights protections is a revolutionary idea–and it is a revolution that is changing the world. 

For more information on the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, please contact us.

UK’s Internet Troll Policy: A threat to Freedom of Speech or a Better Protection for Individuals?

An image of a man's mouth sealed with 'freedom' note

Freedom of Speech is a serious matter. United Kingdom however are trying to, via new online laws, protect individuals who has felt threatened through social media. Will it violate Freedom of Speech?

The United Kingdom recently introduced new sentencing measures for Internet trolls found guilty of sending threatening or abusive messages online. However, many worry the new legislation may infringe on the civil liberties and freedom of speech of those simply expressing their opinions in an emphatic manner. The new legislation will allow serious offenses to be decided by the Crown Courts with a maximum sentence of 24 months, four times the previous standard sentence. Currently, these offenses are handled by local magistrates.

Why the Harsher Sentences?

The increase in penalties for internet trolls is directed at those who threaten to rape or kill through online communication. The threatening of celebrities and other high-profile figures has brought the issue to the forefront. For example, Chloe Madeley, the daughter of UK talk show host Judy Finnegan, recently received threatening tweets after she defended her mother’s comments about a rape case involving a footballer. Lawmakers feel the stiffer sentencing is warranted because “we would not permit such venom in person,” stated Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.

Concerns over Freedom of Speech

Although no one is defending online rape and death threats, experts warn that the new law could punish those that are simply expressing criticism. The legislation lacks balance in differentiating between abusers and those expressing their opinion. These concerns are not far-fetched. Even without the new maximum sentences, there have been cases where authorities have prosecuted people under the Public Order Act for questionable reasons.

For example, the 2012 case of Paul Chambers hinged on what he thought was a joke. After realizing the Robin Hood Airport was closed due to weather, he tweeted, “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your [expletive] together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!” He was convicted by a district judge and two judges upheld the conviction on appeal. A high court ultimately reversed his conviction, but not before he lost two jobs and spent the better part of two years engaged in his legal battle.

Many civil-liberties experts assert that true threats to an individual’s safety should be pursued through harassment laws, not communication legislation that can potentially infringe on the rights of those vehemently expressing their opinion or making what they think is a joke. Advocates for freedom of speech are concerned about comments from legislators like former Conservative MP Edwina Currie who stated that “people should learn to show restraint when making online comments.” While “showing restraint” may be an admirable goal, and direct threats should be taken seriously, who knows how slippery this slope is?

OrangeWebsite’s professionals closely monitor freedom of speech laws and cases around the world. We’ll closely watch the results of this legislation as it makes its way through Parliament. Contact us to learn more about our services.