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[liberationtech] Twitter May Censor Tweets in Individual Countries

Jacob Appelbaum jacob at
Fri Jan 27 20:59:51 PST 2012

On 01/28/2012 08:51 AM, Jillian C. York wrote:
> With all due respect, Kate, it's not that simple.
> First off, the UDHR does not stand alone. The International Covenant on
> Civil and Political Rights provides that:
> "The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article
> carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be
> subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are
> provided by law and are necessary:
>    - for respect of the rights or reputations of others;
>    - for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre
>    public), or of public health or morals."
> As laid out last year by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
> Frank LaRue, any limitation to free expression must pass the following
> tests:
> (a)    It must be provided by law, which is clear and accessible to
> everyone (principles of predictability and transparency); and
> (b)    It must pursue one of the purposes set out in article 19, paragraph
> 3, of the Covenant, namely (i) to protect the rights or reputations of
> others, or (ii) to protect national security or of public order, or of
> public health or morals (principle of legitimacy); and
> (c)    It must be proven as necessary and the least restrictive means
> required to achieve the purported aim (principles of necessity and
> proportionality).

The (ii) clause is pretty sad. I'm sure that Assad's Syria could make
some serious arguments under that clause, as could Saudi, as could well,
the Amish in Pennsylvania; so really, we're talking about a really low
bar here as (c) seems impossibly vague.

> Assuming Twitter is to respond only to legitimate requests as laid out
> above, they are not--as you claim--violating human rights.
> I wish protections on free expression were stronger, but the sensationalism
> I see emanating from this list--as well as the media--is just not helpful.

Transparency and accountability is important. It's not the whole picture
but it certainly allows people to direct their rage in the direction of
the source.

I think this action by Twitter and this discussion is an interesting but
perhaps totally predictable result of market centric capitalism. Twitter
wants to expand to cover the entire planet, anything less would be a
kind of market stagnation. No one in the valley or San Francisco, let
alone the world, wants to say "we're good, we've had enough growth" to
their investors or their users. Ok, some say it but it's exceedingly rare.

Twitter as a company, like any company, has to address the lowest common
denominator of law in the areas where they expand. If it's true that
they want to expand to the UK, I think we'll see further restrictions.
It's the libel tourism capital of the planet.

It seems extremely likely that Twitter will not expand into markets such
as Iran but rather, if Iranians use Twitter, they'll welcome it without
having to really deal with impacts from Iranian law. The result is that
censorship of the service will be a common problem. Dedicated users will
still get through but the censorship serves as a different kind of
market force. We'll also probably see very targeted attacks against
specific people as seemed to be the motivation with the attacks on
DigiNotar and Comodo.

I think censored Twitter users will have a very low bar for
circumvention because at the core - the Twitter database is supposedly
not redacted. I think that some of the DMCA requests did result in
removed content but I don't actually know for sure - perhaps their
general council will comment on that? That surely is a good thing but
it's far from the best thing in my view. However, it seems to
acknowledge that there is an objective truth of what existed at one
point. Some companies have decided that it is better to tell people they
can't show you the data than to simply erase it. That certainly is an
improvement. Still, it's a sad state of affairs for a lot of the
planet's population.

I wonder if Twitter will also have a global censorship and/or a so
called "lawful interception" map similar to the Google transparency[0]
report? I hope so and actually, given Twitter's record, I'd bet on it.
The work with Chilling Effects is a good start; perhaps they can
contribute to Wendy's project by creating a meta-transparency report...

All the best,


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