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January 15 2014

Civil Society Calls on the ECHR's Grand Chamber to Overturn Delfi v. Estonia Ruling

Paris, 15 January 2014 — Last October, the European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling against an Estonian news portal (“Delfi”), making the platform liable for defamatory comments posted by third users. This ruling threatens to encourage privatised censorship and to severely undermine public debate online. From a legal perspective, as NGO Article 19 wrote at the time, “this judgment displays a profound failure to understand the EU legal framework regulating intermediary liability. In addition, it conveniently ignores relevant international standards in the area of freedom of expression on the Internet”. Many organizations and companies all across Europe have sent the following letter to the ECHR's president to support Delfi's appeal to the Court's “Grand Chamber”, which still has the power to overturn this dangerous ruling.

Dean Spielmann
President ofEuropean Court of Human Rights
Council of Europe
F-67075 Strasbourg cedex

13 January 2014

Re: Grand Chamber referral in Delfi v. Estonia (Application no. 64569/09)

Dear President Spielmann and members of the panel:

We, the undersigned 69 media organisations, internet companies, human rights groups and academic institutions write to support the referral request that we understand has been submitted in the case of Delfi v. Estonia (Application No. 64569/09). Signatories to this letter include some of the largest global news organisations and internet companies including Google, Forbes, News Corp, Thomson Reuters, the New York Times, Bloomberg News, Guardian News and Media, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers and Conde Nast; prominent European media companies and associations including the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association, Sanoma Media Netherlands B.V. and the European Publishers Council; national media outlets and journalists associations from across the continent; and advocacy groups including Index on Censorship, Greenpeace, the Center for Democracy and Technology and ARTICLE 19.

We understand that the applicant in the above-referenced case has requested that the chamber judgment of 10 October 2013 be referred to the Grand Chamber of the Court for reconsideration. We are writing to endorse Delfi’s request for a referral due to our shared concern that the chamber judgment, if it stands, would have serious adverse repercussions for freedom of expression and democratic openness in the digital era. In terms of Article 43 (2) of the Convention, we believe that liability for user-generated content on the Internet constitutes both a serious question affecting the interpretation or application of Article 10 of the Convention in the online environment and a serious issue of general importance.

The case involves the liability of an online news portal for third-party defamatory comments posted by readers on the portal’s website, below a news item. A unanimous chamber of the First Section found no violation of Article 10, even though the news piece itself was found to be balanced and contained no offensive language. The portal acted quickly to remove the defamatory comments as soon as it received a complaint from the affected person, the manager of a large private company.

We find the chamber’s arguments and conclusions deeply problematic for the following reasons.

First, the chamber judgment failed to clarify and address the nature of the duty imposed on websites carrying user-generated content: what are they to do to avoid civil and potentially criminal liability in such cases? The inevitable implication of the chamber ruling is that it is consistent with Article 10 to impose some form of strict liability on online publications for all third-party content they may carry. This would translate, in effect, into a duty to prevent the posting, for any period of time, of any user-generated content that may be defamatory.

Such a duty would place a very significant burden on most online news and comment operations – from major commercial outlets to small local newspapers, NGO websites and individual bloggers – and would be bound to produce significant censoring, or even complete elimination, of user comments to steer clear of legal trouble. The Delfi chamber appears not to have properly considered the implications for user comments, which on balance tend to enrich and democratize online debates, as part of the ‘public sphere’.

Such an approach is at odds with this Court’s recent jurisprudence, which has recognized that “[i]n light of its accessibility and its capacity to store and communicate vast amounts of information, the Internet plays an important role in enhancing the public’s access to news and facilitating the dissemination of information generally.”1 Likewise, in Ahmet Yildirim v. Turkey, the Second Section of the Court emphasised that “the Internet has now become one of the principal means of exercising the right to freedom of expression and information, providing as it does essential tools for participation in activities and discussions concerning political issues and issues of general interest”2.

Secondly, the chamber ruling is inconsistent with Council of Europe standards as well as the letter and spirit of European Union law. In a widely cited 2003 Declaration, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe urged member states to adopt the following policy:

“In cases where … service providers … store content emanating from other parties, member states may hold them co-responsible if they do not act expeditiously to remove or disable access to information or services as soon as they become aware … of their illegal nature.

When defining under national law the obligations of service providers as set out in the previous paragraph, due care must be taken to respect the freedom of expression of those who made the information available in the first place, as well as the corresponding right of users to the information.”3

The same position was essentially adopted by the European Union through the Electronic Commerce Directive of 2000. Under the Directive, member states cannot impose on intermediaries a general duty to monitor the legality of third-party communications; they can only be held liable if they fail to act “expeditiously” upon obtaining “actual knowledge” of any illegality. This approach is considered a crucial guarantee for freedom of expression since it tends to promote self-regulation, minimizes the need for private censorship, and prevents overbroad monitoring and filtering of user content that tends to have a chilling effect on online public debate.

Thirdly, it follows from the above that the Delfi chamber did not thoroughly assess whether the decisions of the Estonian authorities were “prescribed by law” within the meaning of Article 10 § 2. Under the E-Commerce Directive and relevant judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), it was not unreasonable for Delfi to believe that it would be protected by the “safe harbour” provisions of EU law in circumstances such as those of the current case4. The chamber ruling sets the Court on a potential course of collision with the case law of the CJEU and may also give rise to a conflict under Article 53 of the Convention.

Finally, the chamber ruling is also at odds with emerging practice in the member states, which are seeking innovative solutions to the unique complexities of the Internet. In the UK, for example, the new defamation reforms for England and Wales contain a number of regulations applicable specifically to defamation through the Internet, including with respect to anonymous third-party comments. Simply applying traditional rules of editorial responsibility is not the answer to the new challenges of the digital era. For similar reasons, related among others to the application of binding EU law, a recent Northern Ireland High Court judgment expressly chose not to follow the Delfi chamber ruling5.

For all these reasons, we strongly urge the Court to accept the applicant’s request for a referral that would allow the Grand Chamber to reconsider these issues, taking into account the points raised by the signatories in this letter. There is no question in our minds that the current case raises “a serious question affecting the interpretation” of Article 10 of the Convention as well as “a serious issue of general importance” (Art. 43).


  • Algemene Vereniging van Beroepsjournalisten in België
  • American Society of News Editors
  • ARTICLE 19
  • Association of American Publishers, Inc
  • Association of European Journalists
  • Bloomberg
  • bvba Les Journaux Francophones Belges
  • Center for Democracy and Technology
  • Conde Nast International Ltd.
  • Daily Beast Company, LLC
  • Digital First Media, LLC
  • Digital Media Law Project, Berkman Center for Internet & Society – Harvard University
  • Digital Rights Ireland
  • Dow Jones
  • Electronic Frontier Finland
  • Estonian Newspapers Assocation (Eesti Ajalehtede Liit)
  • EURALO (ICANN’s European At-Large Organization)
  • European Digital Rights (EDRi)
  • European Information Society Institute (EISi)
  • European Magazine Media Association
  • European Media Platform
  • European Newspaper Publishers’ Association (ENPA)
  • European Publishers Council
  • Federatie van periodieke pers, the Ppress
  • Forbes
  • Global Voices Advocacy
  • Google, Inc.
  • Greenpeace
  • Guardian News & Media Limited
  • Human Rights Center, Ghent University
  • Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
  • iMinds-KU Leuven, Interdisciplinary Centre for Law and ICT
  • Index on Censorship
  • International Press Institute
  • Internet Democracy Project
  • La Quadrature du Net
  • Lithuanian Online Media Association
  • Mass Media Defence Center
  • Media Foundation Leipzig
  • Media Law Resource Center
  • Media Legal Defence Initiative
  • National Press Photographers Association
  • National Public Radio
  • Nederlands Genootschap van Hoofdredacteuren
  • Nederlands Uitgeversverbond (NUV)
  • Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten
  • Net Users’ Rights Protection Association
  • News Corp.
  • Newspaper Association of America
  • North Jersey Media Group, Inc
  • NRC Handelsblad
  • Online News Association
  • Open Media Coalition – Italy
  • Open Rights Group
  • Panoptykon
  • PEN International
  • PEN-Vlaanderen
  • Persvrijheidsfonds
  • Raad voor de Journalistiek
  • Radio Television Digital News Association
  • Raycom Media, Inc.
  • Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
  • Sanoma Media Netherlands B.V.
  • Telegraaf Media Groep NV
  • The New York Times Company
  • Thomson Reuters
  • Vlaamse Nieuwsmedia
  • Vlaamse Vereniging van Journalisten
  • Vrijschrift
  • World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
  • 1. Times Newspapers Ltd v. the United Kingdom (Nos. 1 and 2), Judgment of 10 March 2009, para. 27. See also Editorial Board of Pravoye Delo and Shtekel v. Ukraine, Judgment of 5 May 2011.
  • 2. Judgment of 18 December 2012, para. 54.
  • 3. Declaration on freedom of communication on the Internet, 28 May 2003, adopted at the 840th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies.
  • 4. The CJEU has ruled, with reference inter alia to Article 10 ECHR, that an Internet service provider cannot be required to install a system filtering (scanning) all electronic communication passing through its services as this would amount to a preventive measure and a disproportionate interference with its users’ freedom of expression and information. See Scarlet v. Sabam, Case C-70/10, Judgment of 24 November 2011; and Netlog v. Sabam, Case C-360/10, Judgment of 16 February 2012.
  • 5. J19 & Anor v Facebook Ireland [2013] NIQB 113 (15 November 2013), at

October 09 2013

Snowden Should Get the Sakharov Prize

Open letter by 23 European organisations in support of Snowden's nomination for the Sakharov prize

Today, 23 European non-governmental organisations released an open letter to the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament in support of Edward Snowden's nomination for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2013:

Dear Presidents,

We write to you on behalf of 23 European non-governmental organisations protecting fundamental rights, including the freedom of expression and information, to lend our support to the selection of Edward Snowden for the Sakharov Prize.

Edward Snowden’s recent disclosures have triggered a necessary and long-overdue public debate in the United States and beyond about the acceptable boundaries of surveillance in a democratic state and about the legitimacy and proportionality of counter-terrorism intelligence activities. The revelations also have prompted debates in the European Union.

The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought was established to recognise individuals actively working to defend human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular the right to freedom of expression. We believe that by his personal example, Snowden meets these criteria. His nomination to the Prize is in itself a contribution to the development of democracy and the rule of law in the European Union, in particular with regards to the protection of whistleblowers. It also sends a message of respect for international law. Awarding the Prize to Snowden would give a clear signal to the world that the EU values and protects those who are attacked for speaking out on violations of human rights. Daniel Ellsberg and earlier NSA whistleblowers have praised Snowden's actions. We are convinced that Andrei Sakharov would have done the same.

Sakharov – a nuclear physicist turned opponent of a repressive state – used his position in national security and defence to raise concerns about the preservation of human rights. Similarly, Snowden used his professional knowledge to draw attention to abuses of the fundamental rights of individuals and their effect on entire societies. In their transition from state servants to citizens' rights advocates, both men became dissidents, in the full knowledge of the likely cost of this action to them. It is the moral duty of the European Union to acknowledge a man who bravely stood up for our basic human rights, anticipating the cost that his action would have for his personal liberty. We are fully aware that all shortlisted candidates fully deserve their nomination and we understand that the choice is difficult. However, not all candidates are in the same position. Other nominees have already been provided with many other awards and are less controversial, as their activism is directed against totalitarian regimes.

When deciding the winner of the Sakharov Prize, please remember that Snowden has shown to the world that blanket and unaccountable surveillance is not limited to dictatorships, but that democracies can also undermine citizens' fundamental freedoms. Please also keep in mind that one of the few things the European Union can do right now is to support Edward Snowden.

Snowden’s actions represent a challenge to unfettered state power at the global level, and without regard to conventional and simple nationalist dynamics. An award would point the way towards safeguarding activism without borders in a networked world. So far Edward Snowden has received neither recognition for his courageous deeds nor support from the European Union collectively, from any individual Member State or from any single European institution.

As European citizens we believe that the Sakharov Prize would be the best way to change this undesirable state of affairs. Therefore we strongly encourage you to award the Sakharov Prize to Edward Snowden in honour of his courage and commitment to values that the Prize represents.

Sincerely yours

  • Alternative Informatics Association (Turkey)
  • ApTI (Romania)
  • Arbeitskreis Vorratsdatenspeicherung (Germany)
  • ARTICLE 19 (International)
  • Bits of Freedom (The Netherlands)
  • Chaos Computer Club e.V. (Germany)
  • DFRI (Sweden)
  • Digitalcourage (Germany)
  • Digitale Gesellschaft (Germany)
  • Electronic Frontier Finland
  • European Digital Rights (EDRi) (Europe)
  • Foundation for Information Policy Research (UK)
  • Initiative für Netzfreiheit (Austria)
  • Internet Society (Poland Chapter)
  • IT-Political Association of Denmark
  • Iuridicum Remedium (Czech Republic)
  • La Quadrature du Net (France)
  • Modern Poland Foundation (Poland)
  • Net Users' Rights Protection Association (NURPA) (Belgium)
  • Open Rights Group (UK)
  • Panoptykon Foundation (Poland)
  • Transnational Institute (The Netherlands)
  • Vrijschrift (The Netherlands)
Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

September 09 2013

European Parliament Must Vote (Again) Against Censorship

Paris, 9 September 2013 – During a plenary vote scheduled for 10 September 2013, the European Parliament will vote on a report of Ashley Fox (ECR - UK) on “Online gambling in the internal market”. On behalf of such laudable goals as child protection, fight against money laundering and addiction to gambling, the report calls for the setting up of dangerous online censorship. Thus, La Quadrature du Net warns the Members of the European Parliament and urges citizens to contact their representatives to ask them to remain opposed to these anti-democratic measures during the vote of tomorrow (by supporting the split vote on §19 - 1st part).

Adopted at the end of May 2013 in “Consumer protection” committee with 32 votes in favor and 3 against, the report of Ashley Fox (ECR - UK) on “Online gambling in the internal market” “recommends the exchange of best practices between Member States on enforcement measures – such as on establishing white and black lists of, and preventing access to, illegal gambling websites”1. The ineffectiveness and dangers of such measures have been well proven: many studies have highlighted the risk of content censorship, the high cost, and the ease to circumvent it for individuals benefiting from these illegal activities.

La Quadrature du Net reminds that the only effective way against these illegal activities is the removal of content directly at the source, on the servers, and taking to court the individuals who publish it. In the best case, the implementation of the censorship measures proposed in this report would be expensive and inefficient, and in the worst case, they would have a serious impact on the freedom of communication of citizens.

Nevertheless, the measures proposed by Ashley Fox seem to find support among some EPP and S&D MEPs. Both of these political groups appear unable to define a coherent position on this issue, thus, the outcome of the vote is difficult to predict, and a modest number of voices could change it. MEPs must reject this attempt to impose censorship online.

“As often with online content, some of our representatives think they can solve problems by hidding it and by imposing censorship. Unfortunately, this solution is pure display as it doesn't solve anything but is most likely to affect the freedom of communication for all citizens. Because it can only undermine the fundamental values of our democracy, censorship cannot solve any problem, legitimate or not, and should be banned and repealed where it already exists.” declared Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder and spokesperson of the citizen organisation La Quadrature du Net.

  • 1. Item 19 of the report:
    ”19. Recommends the introduction of uniform, pan-European common security standards for electronic identification and cross border e-verification services; welcomes the Commission’s proposal for a directive on e-identification and authentication, which will allow for interoperability of national e-identification schemes where these exist; calls, therefore, for registration and identification procedures to be streamlined and made more efficient, notably in order to ensure efficient identification mechanisms and to prevent multiple accounts per player and access by minors to online gambling websites; recommends the exchange of best practices between Member States on enforcement measures – such as on establishing white and black lists of, and preventing access to, illegal gambling websites, jointly defining secure and traceable payment solutions, and considering the feasibility of blocking financial transactions – in order to protect consumers against illegal operators;”

March 12 2013

Net Neutrality Neutralised in France?

Paris, 12 March 2013 — Questioned by the French government on the need to legislate on the protection of freedoms on the Internet, the National Digital Council (Conseil national du numérique or CNNum) published today an opinion on Net neutrality1 [fr]. It recommends that the French government makes this principle of non-discrimination into law, broadening its scope to include search engines and other online services. But by overbroadening the neutrality principle, the CCNum's recommendations could result in a meaningless law.

The CNNum's opinion2, if it suggests advances for the protection of citizens by calling on the French government to enshrine the principle of Net neutrality into law, blurs this concept by trying to also include search engines and “social networks”3.

But in extending the principle of Net neutrality to all kinds of Internet actors, the National Digital Council overlooks the main issue at stake: establishing specific measures concerning telecom operators' obligations. No actual sanctions are proposed to implement the Net neutrality principle in the face of restrictions imposed by operators.

This dilution of the concept of Net neutrality combined with the absence of binding measures unfortunately raises fears that the National Digital Council's report will not lead to any efficient or even applicable measure.

“The National Digital Council has failed to propose a strong and effective protection of Net neutrality. In trying to solve different problems with one magic bullet, this opinion could result in a neutralised neutrality that won't solve anything. As have already done the Netherlands, Slovenia, Chile and Peru, France must legislate to protect Net neutrality and include sanctions against operators that illegitimately restrict access to online communications. If the future law promised by the government were to follow the National Digital Council's recommendations and only protect a vaguely defined neutrality, the Parliament would then have to amend the text for it to have any legs.” concluded Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson for citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net.

To get more information and discuss this, you can visit our forum.

  • 1. Net neutrality, or network neutrality, is a founding principle of the Internet which guarantees that telecoms operators do not discriminate online content, services or applications, be it according to the source, the recipient, or the nature of the information being transmitted. This principle ensures that all users, whatever their resources, access the same and whole network, and makes freedom of communication and innovation possible.
  • 2. See also its report: [fr]
  • 3. These online services are defined as “access and communication services open to the public” (our translation)
Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

March 01 2013

Freedoms Online in France: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

Paris, 28 February 2013 — Following an intergovernmental seminar on digital policy [fr], French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced a law “on the protection of digital rights and freedoms” for early 2014. While this announcement offers hope for the defense of freedoms online, recent statements made by members of the French government suggest it is not yet ready to break away from the repressive trend initiated by its predecessors.

The law announced by Jean-Marc Ayrault at the end of the intergovernmental seminar on digital policy alludes to a number of improvements regarding the protection of freedoms online, among which the possible legal protection of Net neutrality which is once again delayed (our translation):

If, once the National Digital Council (Conseil national du numérique) has expressed its opinion on Net neutrality, there appears to be a legal loophole in the protection of freedom of expression and communication on the Internet [then] the government will offer legislative dispositions.1

Unfortunately, the government seems to be reducing the stakes of freedom of expression online to that of Net neutrality protection. Yet, though the latter is of course crucial to preserve the universal architecture of the Internet, it is not enough in and of itself.

In the meantime, other announcements and statements by the government – such as the return of administrative filtering of websites, which was thought to be dead and buried2, the announced reform of the French 1881 law on freedom of the press to take into account the Internet's strike force [fr], and the calling into question of web hosting services' liability by members of the majority [fr] and the Pierre Lescure working group3 [fr] – show that the current French government is not ready to break away from the repressive policies of Nicolas Sarkozy's ministers.

“The government does as if Net neutrality was the sole issue at stake in the protection of freedom of expression online. In the meantime, we see a resurgence of the sarkozyst rhetoric of considering Internet a dangerous lawless zone4, which in turn justifies private polices or the return of administrative censorship. Under the guise of a law on freedoms online, which could bring real improvements, the French government is postponing a possible legislation on Net neutrality and bringing the issue of repressive measures back on the agenda.” declared Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson for citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net.

To get more information and discuss this, you can visit our forum.

  • 1. After the roundtable organized in January in response to customer access restrictions by Free (French ISP), Fleur Pellerin, the French Minister for the Digital Economy, had committed to announcing at the end of February [fr] the government's intention to legislate or not on Net neutrality, based on the National Digital Council's opinion.
  • 2. The French government's commitment that an “independent control will be created for the measures of administrative filtering or blocking” (our translation) alludes to a return of LOPPSI, the French law of orientation and programmation for internal security performance allowing administrative blocking in the name of tackling child abuse content online
    Source: [fr]
  • 3. Pierre Lescure (former CEO of Canal +, a major TV station owned by Universal) is currently leading a working group advising the French government on the future of Hadopi, the French "three strikes" agency
  • 4. A “zone de non-droit”. In 2011, after a political scandal was revealed on the Internet and by WikiLeaks' revelations, President Nicolas Sarkozy and his government described the Internet as a lawless zone to regulate, in order to justify repressive measures. On 7 February 2013, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, French Minister of Women's Rights and spokesperson for the Ayrault government, used the same words during a debate in the upper house of the French Parliament.
    Source: [fr]

July 25 2012

Mr. Issa logs on from Washington

To update an old proverb for the Information Age, digital politics makes strange bedfellows. In the current polarized atmosphere of Washington, certain issues create more interesting combinations than others.

In that context, it would be an understatement to say that’s been interesting to watch how Representative Darrell Issa (CA-R) has added his voice to the open government and Internet policy community over the last several years.

Rep. Issa was a key member of the coalition of open government advocates, digital rights advocates, electronic privacy wonks, Internet entrepreneurs, nonprofits, media organizations and congressmen that formed a coalition to oppose the passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) this winter. Rep. Issa strongly opposed SOPA after its introduction last fall and, working with key allies on the U.S. House Judicial Committee, effectively filibustered its advance by introducing dozens of amendments during the bill’s markup.

The delay created time over Congress’ holiday recess for opposition to SOPA and its companion bill in the Senate (The PROTECT IP Act) to build, culminating in a historic “black out day” on January 18, 2012. Both bills were halted.

While he worked across the aisle on SOPA and PIPA, Rep. Issa has been fiercely partisan in other respects, using his powerful position as the chairman of the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate various policy choices and actions of the Obama administration and federal agencies. During the same time period, he’s also become one of the most vocal proponents of open government data and Internet freedom in Congress, from drafting legislation to standardize federal finance data to opposing bills that stood to create uncertainty in the domain name system. He also sponsored the ill-conceived Research Works Act, which expired after received fierce criticism from open access advocates.

In recent years, Rep. Issa and his office have used the Web and social media to advance his legislative agenda, demonstrating in the process a willingness to directly engage with citizens and public officials alike on Twitter as @DarrellIssa, even to the extent of going onto Reddit to personally do an “Ask Me Anything.” Regardless of where one stands on his politics, the extent to which he and staff have embraced using the Web to experiment with more participatory democracy have set an example that perhaps no other member of Congress has matched.

In June 2012, I interviewed Rep. Issa over the phone, covering a broader range of his legislative and oversight work, including the purpose of this foundation and his views on regulation, open data, and technology policy in general. More context on other political issue, his personal life, business background and political career can be found at his Wikipedia entry and in Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker feature.

Our interview, lightly edited for content and clarity, is broken out into a series of posts that each explore different aspects of the conversation. Below, we talk about open government data and his new “Open Gov Foundation.”

What is the Open Gov Foundation?

In June, Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) launched an “Open Gov Foundation” at the 2012 Personal Democracy Forum. Rep. Issa said then the foundation would institutionalize the work he’s done while in office, in particular “Project MADISON,” the online legislative markup software that his technology staff and contractors developed and launched after the first Congressional hackathon last December. If you visit the Open Gov Foundation website, you’ll read language about creating “platforms” for government data, from regulatory data to legislative data.

Congressman Issa’s office stated that this Open Gov Foundation will be registered as a non-partisan 501c3 by mid-fall 2012. A year from now, he would like to have made “major headway” on the MADISON project working in a number of different places, not just federal House but elsewhere.

For that to happen, MADISON code will almost certainly need to be open sourced, a prospect that the Congressman indicated is highly likely to in our interview, and integrated into other open government projects. On that count, Congressman Issa listed a series of organizations that he admired in the context of open government work, including the Sunlight Foundation, Govtrack,, the New York State Senate, OpenCongress and the Open Knowledge Foundation

Th general thrust of his admiration, said the Congressman, comes from that fact that these people are not just working hard to get government data out there, to deliver raw data, but to build things that are useful and that use that government data, helping to build tools that help bridge the gap for citizens.

What do you hope to achieve with the Open Government Foundation?

Rep. Issa: I’ve observed over 12 years that this expression that people use in Congress is actually a truism. And the expression they use is you’re entitled to your opinion but not your facts.

Well, the problem in government is that, in fact, facts seem to be very fungible. People will have their research, somebody will have theirs. Their ability to get raw data in a format where everybody can see it and then reach, if you will, opinions as to what it means, tends to be limited.

The whole goal that I’d like to have, whether it’s routing out waste and fraud — or honestly knowing what somebody’s proposal is, let’s just say SOPA and PIPA — is [to] get transparency in real-time. Get it directly to any and all consumers, knowing that in some cases, it can be as simple as a Google search by the public. In other cases, there would need to be digesting and analysis, but at least the raw data would be equally available to everyone.

What that does is it eliminates one of the steps that people like Ron Wyden and myself find ourselves in. Ron and I probably reach different conclusions if we’re given the same facts. He will see the part of the cup that is empty and needs government to fill it. And I will see the part that exists only because government isn’t providing all of the answers. But first, we have to have the same set of facts. That’s one of the reasons that a lot of our initiatives absolutely are equally desired by the left and the right, even though once we have the facts, we may reach different conclusions on policy.

Does you that mean more bulk data from Congress, which you supported with an amendment to a recent appropriations bill?

Rep. Issa: Let’s say it’s not about the quantity of data; it’s about whether or not there’s meaningful metadata attached to it. If you want to find every penny being spent on breast cancer research, there’s no way to compare different programs, different dollars in different agencies today. And yet, you may want to find that.

What we learned with the control board — or the oversight board that went with the stimulus — was that you’ve got to bring together all of the data if you’re going to find, if you will, people who are doing the same things in different parts of government and not have to find out only forensically after you’ve had rip-off artists rip-off the government.

The other example is on the granting of grants and other programs. That’s what we’re really going for in the DATA Act: to get that level of information that can, in fact, be used across platforms to find like data that becomes meaningful information.

Do you think more open government data remove some of the asynchronies of information around D.C.?

Issa:A lot of people have monetized the compiling of data in addition to monetizing the consulting as to what its meaning is. What we would like to do is take the monetization of data and take it down to a number that is effectively zero. Analysis by people who really have value-added will always be part of the equation.

Do you envision putting the MADISON Code onto GitHub, for open source developers in this country and around the world to use and deploy in their own legislatures if they wish?

Rep. Issa: Actually, the reason that we’ve formed a public nonprofit is for just that reason. I don’t want to own it or control it or to produce it for any one purpose, but rather, a purpose of open government. So if it spawns hundreds of other not-for-profits, that’s great. If people are able to monetize some of the value provided by that service, then I can also live with that.

I think once you create government information and, for that matter, appropriate private sector information, in easier and easier to use formats, people will monetize it. Oddly enough, they’ll monetize it for a fairly low price, because that which is easy, but you have to create value at a low cost. That which is hard, you can charge a fortune to provide that information to those who need it.

Will you be posting the budget of the Open Gov Foundation in an open format so people know where the funding is coming from and what it’s being spent on?

Rep. Issa: Absolutely. Although, at this point, we’re not inviting any other contributions of cash, we will take in-kind contributions. But at least for the short run, I’ll fund it out of my own private foundation. Once we have a board established and a set of policies to determine the relationships that would occur in the way of people who might contribute, then we’ll open it up. And at that point, the posting would become complex. Right now, it’s fairly easy: whatever money it needs, the Issa Family Foundation will provide to get this thing up and going.

July 03 2012

May 20 2010

Cuba: Quashing Opposition Voices

By Susannah Vila

“Prepare yourself, ” wrote the New York based Cuba blog El Yuma in April, for a “sustained campaign of defamation against Yoani Sanchez and other independent Cuban bloggers.”  Unfortunately, it appears that this warning was apt.

Ever since the death of Orlando Zapato Tamayo, the first hunger striker to perish in 40 years, the Castro regime has ratcheted up its campaign to quash the opposition. Roughly 30 activists were arrested around the time of Tamayo's funeral, including Sanchez and independent journalists Ramon Velazquez Toranzo, Calixto Ramon Martinez Arias and Yosvani Anzardo Hernandez.  And activists continue to be detained.

Sanchez blogged about her most recent encounter with the police after waiting 60 days for an official response from the Cuban government on the incident.

Hace más de 60 días envié a varias instituciones cubanas una denuncia por detención ilegal, violencia policial y encarcelación arbitraria. A partir de la muerte de Orlando Zapata Tamayo sucesivos arrestos ilegales impidieron a más de un centenar de personas participar en las actividades relacionadas con su funeral. Estuve entre los muchos que terminaron en un calabozo el 24 de febrero cuando nos dirigíamos a firmar el libro de condolencias abierto en su nombre. El grado de violencia empleado contra mí y la contravención de los procedimientos para recluir a un individuo en una Estación de Policía, me hicieron interponer una demanda con pocas esperanzas de que fuera ventilada en un tribunal. Durante todo este tiempo he esperado la respuesta tanto de la Fiscalía Militar como de la Fiscalía General, haciendo un esfuerzo por no sacar a la luz este testimonio revelador, evidencia dolorosa de cuán vulnerados son nuestros derechos.

More than 60 days ago I sent several Cuban institutions a complaint for illegal detention, police violence and arbitrary imprisonment. After the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, successive illegal arrests prevented more than one hundred people from participating in the activities surrounding his funeral. I was among the many who ended up in a jail cell on February 24, when we went to sign the condolence book opened in his name. The level of violence used against me, and the violation of the procedures for detaining an individual at a Police Station, led me to file a claim with little hope that it would be heard in court. I have waited all this time for the response of both the Military Prosecutor and the Attorney General, holding back this revealing testimony, painful evidence of how our rights are violated.

She documented the arrest on her cellphone and released the audio along with this blog post. Download the transcript here [PDF]. You can hear the entire ordeal, from the moment when police approach Sanchez and her sister on the street and force them into a paddy wagon, to the huddle between prison guards deciding what to do about the activists held below them in cells. That guards talk amongst each other about the Tamayo “operation,” although they only refer to the funeral as “you know what”). Below is an excerpt.

YS: Esto es un delito (This is a crime.)

[Los  golpes arreciaban] (The beating increases)

POLICE: Sí,  sí,  sí  [dijo uno con ironía] (Yes, yes yes [says one sarcastically])

YS: ¡Qué cobardes son ustedes! (What cowards you are!)

YS: ¿Este es el único método? (Is this the only method?)

YS: ¡Suéltame! (Let go of me!)

YS: Están incurriendo en un delito de secuestro, coacción y violencia. No tienen ningún derecho. (You are committing the crime of kidnapping, coercion and violence. You have no right.)

POLICE: ¡Pum,  pum!  ¡Cállate  la  boca,  mi´ja! (Shut  your  mouth,  honey!)

YS: ”Pobrecitos. Ellos no saben que la palabra les esta taldrando el piso donde estan parados.  Ellos no saben que van a tener que rendir cuentas enel futuro por todo esto”

(”Poor things. They don't know the word, they are cutting the floor out from under themselves, the floor where they are standing. They don't know that they are going to be called to account for all of this in the future.)

The guard becomes irritated, yelling “get me out of here.”

A couple of weeks later, another blogger, Dania Virgen Garcia, was arrested and sent to a women's prison called Manto Negro, or Black Veil. She was released after 15 days, and blogged about it:

Llegué a Manto Negro, una prisión de mujeres de mayor rigor, a las 6 y 30 de la tarde del viernes 23 de abril. Mi primera semana en la cárcel fue muy tensa…Muchas están a la espera de juicio o de que baje la petición fiscal. La espera puede demorar de siete meses a un año y más…

Había casos absurdos e injustos. Una joven que se resistió al acoso sexual de un Jefe de Sector de la Policía. Una cubana-americana acusada de contrabando de oro por viajar a Cuba con sus joyas. Una mujer, acusada de asesinato, que intentó defenderse de unos ladrones que penetraron en su casa y mataron al jardinero. Por algo las presas bromean que la Prisión de Mujeres de Occidente debía llamarse Prisión de Mujeres Inocentes….La tarde que llegué a la prisión, una presa se cortó las venas en la celda. Estaba sentenciada a 10 meses por vender jabitas de nylon. Hacía dos meses que estaba en la cárcel y tenía problemas mentales. Al lunes siguiente se suicidó…Desde que llegué a la prisión, fui tratada como si fuera una espía del gobierno norteamericano. Las guardias me hostigaban y me miraban con odio. Según decían, los yanquis me habían enviado para que averiguara y sacara a la luz todo lo que ocurría en la prisión…Las guardias le decían a las presas que yo era una disidente y periodista independiente, una peligrosa mercenaria, para intentar virarlas en contra mía…

I arrived at Manto Negro (Black Veil), a high security prison for women, at 6:30 in the afternoon on the 23rd of April. My first week in the prison was very tense. Many are awaiting trial or sentence reductions. The wait can take from seven months to one year or more.

There were absurd and unfair cases.  A young woman who resisted the sexual harassment of a Chief of Sector in the police.  A Cuban American accused of smuggling gold to travel to Cuba with her jewels.  A woman, charged with murder, who tried to defend herself from thieves that broke into her house and killed her gardener.  Some of the prisoners joked that the Western Women's Prison should be called the Innocent Womens' Prison…the afternoon that I arrived, one prisoner had cut her veins in her cell.  She was sentenced to ten months for selling nylon shopping bags. She'd been in the prison for two months and had mental problems.    The next Monday she killed herself…Since I had arrived at the prison I was treated like a spy for the U.S. government. The guards harassed me and looked at me with hate. According to them, the Yankees had sent me to bring to light everything that happened in the prison.  The guards told the other prisoners that I was a dissident and an independent journalist, a dangerous mercenary, in order to try and and pit them against me.

Yoani Sanchez interviewed Garcia and posted the video on YouTube; it's garnered a little over 10,000 views.

The diaspora blog Uncommon Sense writes:

Every day, Cuban secret police somewhere on the island knock on a door and take one of the Castro dictatorship's opponents to jail. Many times, they are released after a few hours, but many times, they are not.

Indeed, people are arrested so frequently that it is difficult to keep up. Among the recently imprisoned activists are “Calixto Ramon Martinez Arias, an independent journalist for Hablemos Press, who was arrested on April 23rd by security officials who broke into the house where he was covering a memorial service for Tamayo. Arias has since been released. “Yosvani Anzardo Hernandez, the former director of a defunct online independent newspaper, was detained on April 24th and questioned for over six hours over anti-government graffiti. Carlos Serpa Maceira was harrased when he tried to cover the weekly march by the activist group Damas de Blanco — meanwhile, the Damas themselves are not protected from violent harassment.

As Laritza Diversent, a Havana based lawyer and independent blogger, writes:

In Cuba, there are several forms of expression. The most peculiar one is when you want to criticize the political system. There are several steps you need to follow. First, you need to look around the place where you are. Second, with whom are you trying to have a dialogue. And third, you need to converse quietly, using signs and code words…The current criminal statues protect State’s leaders, officials and institutions against negative expressions and opinion from the citizenry. In other words, in Cuba, criticism may be a crime.

Someone whose behaviors and words are fully coded, though, remains vulnerable to arrest—in Cuba, after all, “dangerousness” is a crime, meaning that authorities can essentially arrest you for your thoughts. It is hard to say whether the recent clampdown is routine procedure or is exacerbated by the international attention that the hunger striker's death trained on the island and the regime. What seems clear, though, is that if you are in the opposition in Cuba, perhaps the only thing you can rely on is that you may get a little prison time.

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