o-called “shield laws” have provided protection for at least some journalists who refuse to divulge their sources, something that history teaches us is an imperative if the public is to be exposed to wrongdoing in government and other seats of power.
In the United States, 32 states have passed such laws. The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 presented before the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Rick Boucher (R-Va.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) would extend these protections at the federal level. The bill defines journalism as “the gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.” An identical bill has been introduced in the Senate by Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).
If passed, this bill would not only provide protection for journalists at a national level, the wording makes no distinction between professional journalists and bloggers. There is precedent for extending protection to bloggers. Last year, California courts ruled that rumor sites like AppleInsider and Powerpage did not have to divulge the source of their stories about unreleased Apple products.
All shield laws exclude certain types of reporting: stories that endanger national security, expose trade secrets, disclose health information, or, murkily, those in which “nondisclosure of the information would be contrary to the public interest.” In contested cases, judges overseeing cases covered by shield law must balance these exceptions against “the public interest in compelling disclosure and the public interest in gathering news and maintaining the free flow of information.”
The bill is supported by Newspaper Association of America, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, among others.
ver on the Aviva Directory site, you’ll find a well-researched compendium, “12 Important U.S. Laws Every Blogger Needs to Know.” Beneath topics like “Whether to Disclose Paid Posts,” “The Legal Use of Images and Thumbnails,” and “Laws that Protect You from Stolen Content,” the article offers tips and pointers to deeper information. Given that ignorance of the law is not a defense, this is a good page to bookmark.
im Berners-Lee knows a thing or three about the World Wide Web. He invented it, after all. On his blog, he talks about a lot of issues. Web censorship. Microformats. Protocols. And, with increasing frequency, Net Neutrality. Yesterday’s post is titled, “Net Neutrality: This Is Serious.” In the succinct post, Berners-Lee defines Net Neutrality:
If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level.
He makes strong arguments for why we need legislation in the United States that guarantees this access and that doesn’t succomb to the short-sighted quarterly thinking being promoted by corporations and media giants.
On his own blog, Lawrence Lessig weighs in pointing out that one clue to the debate involves watching “what kind of souls are on each side of the debate.” On the one side, we have those who invented the Web along with those who’ve managed to profit from it — Berners-Lee and Microsoft. On the other, we have those who find themselves eating dust — the telcos and cable companies. The United States is in danger of hobbling itself in a global information market. May the smart guys win out.
nush Yegyazarian over at PC World magazine just published an article titled, “Your Privacy Under Siege.” If you’re looking for a well-reasoned argument for the institution of strong privacy guidelines, this is a good place to start. Yegyazarian begins by cataloging recent U.S. government actions that privacy advocates find troublesome—the NSA’s culling of data from phone companies; the Justice Department demanding search records from Google, MSN, and Yahoo; and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ plan to require Internet service companies keep user activity records. She acknowledges that these measures might occasionally result in the exposure of a terrorist or child pornographer, but raises the question: How can we devise safeguards that protect the rights and privacy of innocent citizens?
Her proposal is straightforward. Encrypt all data. Make fine print explicit. Allow opt out (except in criminal. Define government agency parameters. Monitor agencies. Impose penalties when agencies overstep.
Comments about the article on the digg.com page linking to the story probably suggest the spectrum of our response as a society. Some agree with Yegyazarian’s pragmatic approach. Some are resigned, convinced that both parties are in cahoots with the communications giants—consumer be damned. Some champion greater security measures, pointing to increasing unrest on almost every front. Some wonder at the trivial number of criminals and terrorists apprehended as a consequence of this mass collation of personal data.
The question will not be answered this round. Nor any round, really, I suppose. A popular understanding and interpretation of privacy is an ongoing process, one that mirrors the savvy and social conscience of each era. We seem a little timid these days. We watch the corporate/governmental panoptikon scanning our horizons and try to find ways to call it beneficent. But history would suggest that societies that maintain a healthy vigilance are much better able to maintain their rights, to defend them against inevitable intrusions by whatever hegemonies are in place at the time.
Clashes are occurring in surprising quarters. Two hours ago, the New York Times posted and article about Vice President Dick Cheney defending domestic eavesdropping. “These communications are not unusual — they are the government at work,” says Cheney. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Republican Arlen Specter disagrees. He wants to subpoena telephone company executives to testify in hearings to determine whether the eavesdropping is unconstitutional.
Vigilance surrounding our rights. The new patriotism?
Patents were first written into law to protect inventors. As far back as 1474, the city state of Venice decreed that individuals could register their inventions to protect against infringement. Today most governments provide some form of patent protection, but increasingly there is disgruntlement about the breadth of some of the patents being granted. Most aren’t as spurious as an actual patent for a sealed crustless sandwich, but news yesterday that Google had filed an application for “embedding advertisements in syndicated content” raised a few hackles. Dennis Kennedy over at the Corante site and Chad Dickerson at InfoWorld both note that they had written about the possibility of embedding ads in RSS feeds long before Google’s 2003 filing. This will be an interesting case to watch.