Understanding Freedom of Speech in Practice

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

Freedom of speech is not to be taken for granted in the modern world.

Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental rights someone can have. That said, there’s a lot of confusion these days as to what freedom of speech does and doesn’t mean in practice. So before you decide to start shouting at someone that you have a right to your speech, it’s a good idea to make sure you know what you’re talking about.

Freedom of Speech is A Political Right

Freedom of speech means that the government will not restrict a person’s speech simply because it doesn’t want to hear what that person has to say. Most western governments cannot, for instance, imprison members of a peaceful protest simply for speaking out against government policies (or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work).

That is a very good thing, and it’s a relatively recent historical development — and if you watch the news, you know how many people in the world still can’t freely criticize their governments. However, it’s important to remember that freedom of speech doesn’t extend to all aspects of life; it doesn’t mean anyone has to listen, and it doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want.

…What Do You Mean?

Basically, freedom of speech only applies to government enforcement. That means that if someone is in a coffee shop and decides to start talking at peak volume about how the government’s new immigration policies are wrong; the management is perfectly within its rights to tell that person to get out. Other patrons can ignore the speaker, or even jeer derisively. There’s no such thing as the guarantee that anyone will care what you have to say, or freedom from being made fun of.

There are also areas of legally restricted speech. You know the old saying; you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre? While the government cannot restrict you on purely political grounds, it can restrict certain forms of speech it considers a genuine danger. For instance, “hate speech,” which might incite violence against certain groups of people. The key thing is that you can’t turn your words into weapons. Once you do that you’ve stopped expressing your right to free speech and started infringing on the rights of others.

A more controversial area of restricted speech is the act of sharing state secrets. Governments argue that doing so can have disastrous consequences — even if some would argue that the consequences of not revealing some secrets are more serious in the long term.

The Grey Area

All of this is, of course, how free speech is supposed to work in an ideal situation. Unfortunately it’s a very hairy subject that can be interpreted in many different ways depending on who’s doing the interpreting. Often, governments try to gag citizens so they don’t share information that, while damning or embarrassing for the government, is in no way something that constitutes a danger to people if revealed.

Take the revelations by Julian Assange of Wikileaks for instance. On one hand, Assange was in possession of state secrets, particularly regarding the wars in the Middle East that could have constituted a danger to troops on the ground. On the other hand, some of the information he possessed was not dangerous at all, but simply inconvenient for the United States government. Where the line should be drawn? How much of the information is truly dangerous state secrets, and how much of it is just facts that the government wants to suppress? How do they decide, and how can we tell if they decide fairly?

These kinds of situations happen all the time. At what point does a peaceful protester who is discussing the facts of a law have to stop because her tone might incite a riot? What are the limits imposed on a government when it wants to silence someone?

It’s important to remember that there are certain situations where people shouldn’t be allowed to say whatever they want (such as revealing the names of undercover officers, or talking about the new identities of those in the Witness Protection Program), but that doesn’t mean the government should be implicitly trusted to always rule on the side of citizens. It’s only through a careful examination of the law and what’s being discussed that the question of how free speech applies can really be answered.

For more information on how freedom of speech works in the internet age, contact us today!

Real-Life Examples of Why Privacy on the Internet is Essential

An image of hand writing 'online privacy' with black marker on transparent wipe board.
An image of hand writing 'online privacy' with black marker on transparent wipe board.

It is not a wrong thing to prefer to remain anonymous online.

In discussions about our digital lives, some people question the need for strict privacy around one’s internet activity. “If you’re not doing anything wrong“, they’ll say, “Why does it need to be private?”

There are plenty of responses to this question: “right” and “wrong” are not always clear-cut, they can be redefined depending on who’s looking, and even some “right” things are just plain nobody else’s business. But instead of abstract arguments, real-life situations make the point much more clearly.

Legal Differences

One example comes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, regarding the seizure of domain names by the government of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. This was part of a state initiative to fight online gambling, which is illegal in Kentucky. However, online gambling is not illegal everywhere. The defence for the domain owners made the case that these domain names are not property located in Kentucky, which means the state has no jurisdiction over them, even though gambling is illegal in that state.

This example illustrates how “right” and “wrong” can be very fuzzy in some cases. No matter what your personal opinion about gambling, it’s simply true that it is legal in some places and illegal in others. If a website offers a service which is legal in some jurisdictions, should the domain name be subject to legal action from a jurisdiction where that service is illegal?

Activists and Whistleblowers

If anyone needs the protection of anonymous communication, it’s whistleblowers and other activists. From human rights activists to corporate whistleblowers, these individuals and groups take on powerful organizations which often have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. With a fraction of the resources of those larger organizations, activists may rely on privacy and anonymity while they pursue their work, especially when gathering information. This gives a degree of power back to the activists, who can control when and where they will reveal their information publicly.

Trying to Do the Right Thing

Privacy isn’t only valuable to people taking on the big global issues, nor is the need for online privacy a new story. Both these points are demonstrated by the example, from all the way back in 2005, of a librarian who thought poetry contests should be more fair, and was ousted by his domain registrar.

Any person who takes a strong stand on something risks pushback. Even when there are no legal considerations, social pressure can be a strong deterrent against doing the right thing. True privacy can give people the ability to say what they want and minimize the risk of social as well as legal consequences.

Privacy on the internet is extremely important, and we take it extremely seriously. If you need anonymous web hosting or domain registration, please contact us.

Secure Offshore Hosting: A Whistleblower’s Best Friend

An image of a whistleblower's quote.
An image of a whistleblower's quote.

Whistleblowers are the only people who tell us about what is happening behind the closed doors.

Whether it is the pharmaceutical industry in the news for mislabelling a new drug or a fresh government scandal, it is clear that whistleblowers are sometime the only people who tell us about what is really going on behind the doors of power and money.

One example is Tyrone Hayes, a biologist who was hired by a large agribusiness to study one of its herbicides, atrazine. When Hayes’ research found that the chemical caused deformations in animals exposed to it, he was attacked by industry insiders and his work was smeared both within the scientific community and online:

According to company e-mails… its public-relations team compiled a database of more than a hundred “supportive third party stakeholders”, including twenty-five professors, who could defend atrazine or act as “spokespeople on Hayes”. The P.R. team suggested that the company “purchase ‘Tyrone Hayes’ as a search word on the internet, so that any time someone searches for Tyrone’s material, the first thing they see is our material”. – The New Yorker

What’s more, the Environmental Protection Agency based their conclusion that the chemical was safe largely on a group of studies done by the corporation that makes it.

Whistleblowers like Hayes are a fundamental litmus test of our freedom of speech. Usually, dirty corporate and government tactics remain hidden until someone on the inside breaks the silence. If the news is any indication, the protections that ought to be in place for those individuals are not entirely effective. Many people who expose government incompetence or corporate cover-ups are attacked and scrutinized, both through their connections online and in their private lives. A lot of web hosting services in the United States and parts of Europe that have attempted to set up secure spaces for these whistleblowers have had to face their own seemingly insurmountable legal troubles.

One this is certain: corporations and governments will spare no expense to ensure that once information leaks from within the halls of the organization, it is quickly and quietly suppressed.

But there’s a way to fight back!

OrangeWebsite is a whistleblower’s best friend and an offshore hosting service dedicated to the principles of free speech. With our secure servers located in Iceland, outside of the jurisdiction of both the U.S. and the E.U., we’re able to allow you a conduit to the outside world without jeopardizing your identity or disclosing your vital information. Whether it’s a place to hold documents or publish vital data, we’ll never expose you to outside risk.

We take the integrity of our customers’ information very seriously. That’s why we incorporate policies such as two-factor authentication and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) protection. Your information is not our business and we will only keep the minimum we need to administer your services, which makes us pretty unique among web hosting companies.

If you would like to hear more about ways in which an offshore server can give you the unparalleled benefits of free speech, contact us today for a consultation regarding your needs. Get some peace of mind knowing what you had published to the web will not be turned over by your hosting service at the drop of a hat.

Three Myths About Why Renewable Energy Won’t Work

An image of green city concept through a leaf

Using renewable energy is significantly helping to maintain the balance of our eco-system.

You’ve probably heard a lot of corporate droning about the drawbacks of renewable energy. Powerful oil and gas companies are understandably interested in keeping myths about renewables prominently in the public square so that people will simply accept them as common knowledge. These corporations are profiting handsomely by keeping the energy situation exactly as it is now, and want to keep renewable sources from earning the legitimacy they deserve. We thought we’d debunk a few myths about the downsides of green energy, so you can make up your own mind.

1) It’s Too Expensive

People often cite the false belief that using renewable energy is still too expensive to consider in the immediate future, and that fossil fuels remain the most economically viable energy source. In many cases, this is simply not true, according to Greenpeace:

Right now, renewable energy is actually already cheaper than coal and nuclear power at every step.

Though some fossil fuels are still cheaper than going green, renewables are catching up. And the hidden costs of continuing to depend on carbon — irreversible climate change, dirty air and water, the destruction of habitats – are not usually factored into the market price. This myth gets people to think about their pocketbooks before the future of life on this earth. We humbly suggest that one is a little more valuable than the other.

2) It Actually Hurts the Environment

Many critics of green energy suggest that these sources have some harmful effects. For instance, they often cite the fact that birds and bats are sometimes killed by wind turbines and say that we have to be respectful of all living creatures. Indeed, this is true, but it is also a scare tactic.

With proper planning before the construction of wind turbines, it becomes quite easy to eliminate the problem. It all comes down to some simple assessments of the migratory patterns of the animals to determine where to put them. Basically, these animals — and all living creatures — are in more trouble in the long term if we don’t switch to renewables.

3) It’s Not Viable on a Large Scale

Wrong again. There are plenty of countries that get large portions of their total energy from renewable sources. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, gets 31% of its power from renewables. In 2012, Norway actually generated more electricity than its total consumption from sustainable sources. And Iceland, where our servers are located, generates 100% of its energy from a mix of hydro and geothermal power, and it’s attracting plenty of new business.

The point is that no matter where you are, from the Arctic Circle to the deserts of South Africa, there is almost certainly a renewable source of energy that can be adapted to large-scale use.

What You Can Do About It

The best thing that any of us can do to combat the harmful myths circulating about renewable energy is to educate ourselves and others about the true costs of fossil fuels and the actual facts about going green. Refuting years of corporate messaging is difficult, but necessary.

Contact us to learn more about doing your own part to combat corporate energy dominance.

Freedom of Speech: What It Means In a Connected World

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

Freedom of speech is not to be taken for granted in the modern world.

Freedom of Speech should be an inalienable right, but social media makes things a little more complicated. Everyone is “free” to express themselves however they wish on their Facebook or Twitter feeds, but the line between expressing an opinion and offending someone of consequence is thin — and can have powerful implications for the person doing the offending. What does freedom of speech really mean in a world so constantly plugged in?

Professor Steven Salaita, a prominent scholar of American Indian and indigenous studies with six books and numerous articles to his credit, was offered a job at the University of Illinois. He packed up his life and his family and moved to a different state to take the job. There was a delay as he finished up some obligations at his previous school, and during that delay a newspaper printed some of his tweets regarding Israel’s attack on Gaza. These tweets were critical of Israel and they offended some people.

As more and more people (read: wealthy donors) complained to the University, the school finally made the decision not to hire Salaita. The fact that these tweets were not made during school hours or on school property was apparently immaterial. The professor had an excellent record of teaching and communicating with this students, and he was punished for speaking his mind on the internet, as most of us do so “freely.”

The fact is that freedom of speech in this world is only free up to a point. You can only speak your mind “so much” before it can get you into trouble. Now that we all jump on Facebook or Twitter to broadcast what we had for breakfast, we have to be constantly vigilant about how everything we say may offend someone and therefore jeopardize our own careers. Perhaps this is an inevitable consequence of being so connected, but is it right?

Freedom of speech is defined as “the political right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas using one’s body and property to anyone.” It’s a nice theory, but unfortunately the real story is very different. While it’s likely that people like Steven Salaita will have to keep watching what they tweet for a long time to come, it’s important that we work toward a world of freer expression. And those who offend people more powerful than rich university alumni need a safe platform to do so.

If you’re looking for a way to express yourself online without risking your livelihood, you might consider offshore web hosting in a country with the some of the world’s most progressive free speech laws. If you don’t want to identify yourself on your website, you don’t have to. All you need is an email address and an opinion.

For more information on freedom of speech please contact us.