Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Internet user liability for Wikileaks publication is at issue again; Mozilla offers new "do not track" in Firefox Beta 4

Today, two different issues that could affect bloggers caught my eye quickly.

The first issue has to do with "blogger journalistic immunity", or how much legal liability bloggers might have for publishing or knowingly linking to materials leaking classified national security secrets. 

A federal court in Alexandria VA will hear a case around Feb. 15, 2011, to determine whether the Justice Department can gain identifying information about Twitter users who have posted Wikileaks contents.

The legal procedures at issue are complicated.  Judge Theresa Buchanan’s Dec. 14 order was a “2703(d)” order which gives law enforcement access to ISP or service provider “relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation”.  The CNET story by Declan McCallagh (featured in the Jan. 25 panel reported here Feb. 6) is (website url) here.

The legal stakes are important because they could be construed as meaning that someone who publishes leaked information (a newspaper) is liable along with the cause of the leak, and idea supposedly put away by the Pentagon Papers case.  Because of the asymmetry involved, it seems as if the government wants bloggers and social media users treated differently from the journalistic establishment.

The second issue involves the momentum of browser vendors to give uses a "do not track" option, not entirely welcome by the Internet publishing industry (and "amateur service provide platforms") as a whole. 

 Mozilla, in Firefox  4 Beta, is releasing “do not track” capabilities to users, who may not want to receive ads according to behavioral profiling.  The press release is here.

Sid Stamm has an important blog post on “Extreme Geekboy” here.  The discussion is complex, and it appears that it will take a while for it to affect home users’ experience and some cooperation from advertising. It’s important that the “free entry” Internet model is based on the profitability of aggressive advertising, as we’ve noted before. 

Update: Feb. 16

The Washington Post has a story  by Dana Hedgpeth today, "Wikileaks, free speech and Twitter come together in Va. court case, here.  Judge Buchanan agreed to rethink the case. Attorneys for defendants agree that if the government can covertly seek identities of posters, all free speech on the Internet is compromised, and that the United States would be guilty of the same sorts of repression as those practiced in Egypt. 

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