Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Internet Age Non-Censorship

As my late-summer crazy week continues, I just had to quickly take note of this story about The New York Times blocking British online readers from access to an article about the bomb plot suspects.

The New York Times said on Tuesday it had blocked British Internet readers from seeing a story detailing elements of the investigation into a suspected plot to blow up airliners between Britain and the United States.

The story was published in Monday's paper. Under British laws, courts will punish media organizations that publish material that judges feel may influence jurors and prevent suspects receiving a fair trial.

"There has not been a prosecution for contempt over anybody publishing outside this jurisdiction (Britain), but logically there is no reason why there should not be," said Caroline Kean, partner at UK media law firm Wiggin.
Obviously, most of the stories focus on the censorship aspects of the issue -- and whether the Times should have given in so quickly to avoid running afoul of a British law designed to prevent jurors from being unduly influenced. (Yes, there is also mild irony that the Times seems more inclined to follow the "wishes" of the British legal system with respect to printing terrorist-related details -- in order to allow a fair trial -- but declines to listen to the United States government when it suggests printing a story could be damaging to American national security. But that's another issue.)

What I wonder about is the technical ability for this policy to be successful.

For example, the New York Times syndicates its stories to newspapers all around the country and the world. What is to stop Britons from using Google, Yahoo or any other search engine to find another paper's Web-site that may happen to carry the story? For that matter, as this story notes, two UK papers print details on the case which they picked up from the original Times story.

Alternately, when I was in China, I was able to access many Western media sites. However, I couldn't access anything with the "blogspot" domain name -- including this blog.

Well, to be accurate, I wasn't able to access it directly through Internet Explorer on my laptop (using hotel broadband or Wi-fi). However, I was able to read it from my cellphone (which worked in China on the "China Mobile" network).

Furthermore, I later discovered that I could access the site going through the web using AOL instead of IE.

The point is that, despite what the law says, it becomes increasingly difficult to "protect" the public from the information once it is online.

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