Can the days of drug-war style censorship enforcement be far off? Perhaps not. There is an ongoing, globally coordinated effort to enforce oppressive new forms of censorship against books, magazines and the Internet. To everyone who speaks out on issues of pot, sex and politics, world governments are saying it loud and clear: SHUT UP!
The printed word has long been targeted, but now that the Internet is flooding the world’s collective consciousness, information is not so easy to dam. The US military originally designed the Internet to automatically route around any attempt to block the passage of information through its billions of interconnected wires, satellite links, and microwave transmissions. Now the power of this network terrifies those who created it.
The Devil made me do it!
Freedom of speech has an evil twin obsessed with plots to kill its sibling… the evil twin is the law against “incitement.” Incitement means that you can go to jail for telling someone else how to break the law.
The boundaries between incitement and free speech are not exactly clear. Alan Young, a prominent Canadian constitutional lawyer and law professor at York University, explains:
“It is one thing to criminalize the counselling of how to commit an offence, and another to criminalize the expression of free thought,” says Young. “The former will always be a crime, and the latter will always be constitutionally protected.”
So what if someone’s free thought includes details about how to grow a roomful of primo bud, and they express that thought to friends who then get busted for doing the green deed? Or what if someone describes how to commit a murder in a book, and then someone who bought that book commits a murder?
In 1996, the family of a woman and child killed by an assassin who had ordered Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors, sued Paladin Press for publishing it. A US court ruled that there would be a trial, despite constitutional protections for freedom of speech enshrined in the American First Amendment. Rather than fight the case and risk possible bankruptcy, Paladin settled out of court and pulled the book from their list of titles. Although the constitutional question was never answered, it was a case of de facto censorship. It also set a precedent for any future such case, that it will be considered by the courts, rather than immediately turned away as unconstitutional.
Although fear of bankruptcy forced Paladin out of court, contradictions and problems abound in the Hit Man case. If teaching how to kill is illegal, then not only military manuals, but the entire military establishment of every country is breaking the incitement law routinely, every day. Murder mysteries are also circumspect, detailing devious and inventive ways to commit the act of assassination.
Scourge of incitement
The constitutionality of a law means nothing to enforcement officials, bent on burning cannabis literature from the mind of the nation.
In Canada, for example, Section 462.2 of the criminal code makes it illegal to sell literature that even “glorifies” drug use. According to lawyer Alan Young, who in 1994 successfully challenged 462.2 in the Ontario Supreme Court, the law was unconstitutional partly because there were already incitement laws in Canada. 462.2 criminalized activity other than incitement, and that violated freedom of speech. Regardless, since 1998 in Ontario alone, Cannabis Culture magazine has been seized in at least four separate raids on shops selling pro-pot literature, by police citing 462.2 in their search warrants.
“In at least two cases in hemp store raids across Canada, police charged owners with 462.2. I sent them copies of the decision and they pulled the charges,” counsels Young. “In my opinion the law is defunct, but technically it can be resurrected anywhere outside of Ontario.”
What about the Internet? “462.2 applies as I have described whether it be on the Internet or in a magazine,” explains Young. “Even if the drug literature prohibition is of no force or effect, people are still in legal jeopardy if they post material that details how to grow cannabis. The police can still charge these people with counseling to commit criminal offences, which is a constitutionally valid section that has been applied in the past to grow books.”
Marijuana grow manuals are not the only thing heaped upon the fires of prohibition. Around the world, incitement laws are the scourge of those who would dare speak the truth about cannabis’ healing powers, its relative harmlessness, or its cultural identity.
? England, 1995. Mick Marlow is arrested for writing and publishing Tricameral Sinsemilla, a marijuana grow guide. Marlow had refused to include the required disclaimer against actually using the techniques described in his manual. Although the media bristles with indignation, Marlow is charged with incitement and thrown in jail for 12 months. His book is collected from the shelves and burned.
? France, 1995. JP Galland is given a 6 month suspended sentence and fined $5000 for “positive presentation of cannabis” on the Internet. He is also fined six times for promoting a yearly cannabis awareness event ? under L 630, a law which provides for one to five years in jail and/or a fine of up to $100,000 US. The constitutional basis for L630 is incitement.
Meanwhile, two french marijuana magazines that violate state censorship laws, L’elephant Rose and Fais N’etour, are both run out of business by the government.
Thought-cops Down Under
In countries that have weak freedom of speech guarantees, government censors seem to have limitless powers to shut-up anyone they want… shut their mouths, and then shut them up in prison. Although many think of Australia as a civilized, tolerant democracy, it is on the leading edge of western governments’ big shut-up campaign.
“We do have some constitutional protection of political speech,” Australian media-law academic David Lindsay told Cannabis Culture, “it has been derived by implication from the Australian constitution. But we have nothing like the Canadian Charter, or the US First Amendment.”
On the morning of December 22, 1999, eight men in dark suits arrived at PolyEster Books in Melbourne. They were from the police, customs, and Australia’s notorious Office of Film Literature and Classification. They served the store’s owner, Paul Elliot, with a search warrant, and then began loading over $3,000 worth of Elliot’s merchandise into the back of a van. In addition to Cannabis Culture Magazine, the officials also took The Marijuana Grower’s Guide, The How-To Crime Book, The Cunt Coloring Book, The Anarchist Cookbook, Death Scenes, Practical LSD Manufacture and various videos including A Clockwork Orange.
“I explained that I ran my shop on the basis of common sense, in that most people would realize what kind of material we sold,” complained Elliot. “Especially with ‘Totally Weird Shit’ painted on the outside of the shop. Adults are being treated like children.”
Charges have yet to be laid against Elliot, but he foresees a lengthy and costly court battle. The search warrant for his shop referred to the Publication, Films and Computer Games Enforcement Act of 1995, which provides for a maximum of ten years in jail or a fine of up to $120,000.
PolyEster Books believes that the raid on their store was meant to send a message about the government’s tough new approach to censorship. The message worked: Border’s Books in Melbourne took High Times off their shelves shortly after the PolyEster raid. Pro-pot magazines and books are almost completely unavailable in Australia.
The Australian government recently drafted laws censoring Internet sites that they deem illegal, or even just “offensive.” The resulting Online Services Amendment Act (OSA) came into force on January 1 of this year. Many websites have already moved their servers from Australia to other nations, to avoid potential prosecution.
Censorship of the future
If Australia is the future of censorship in the west, then freedom of speech is in serious trouble. Australia’s censorship is much like Singapore’s, a country notoriously oppressive of free speech. Australia has the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA). Singapore has the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA). Like Singapore, Australia reserves the right to block all overseas servers with its new Internet laws.
Should Australia continue down the Singaporean path to sew up the mouths of its citizens, the Australian Internet could be purged of pot, sex and politics.
In Singapore, political criticism of the state’s rulers, various religious writings, racial histories, cannabis literature, and sex information are all banned. It is illegal to broadcast “…information or events in such a way that alarms or misleads all or any of the public,” or which might possibly “excite disaffection against the government.” All Internet users are required to connect through the same proxy server, which acts like a central electronic clearing-house for information. The proxy server filters all onshore sites and blocks all offshore ones.
In China, anyone broadcasting illegal information, on the Internet or elsewhere, is gambling with the highest of stakes. Anyone who releases information that has not passed through the official media, or which was not commissioned by the government itself, can be charged with releasing a “state secret” and sentenced to death. State secrets include what women and men look like naked, stories on government corruption, and how to make a decent water bong.
A foot in the door
Like a persistent door-to-door salesman selling a product no one wants, the US government is banging on the doors of the courts with a suitcase full of censorship bills. Liza Kessler, staff counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, believes that pro-censorship politicians will keep banging away until they get a sale.
“It is interesting that Congress has moved from trying to make really broad, sweeping restrictions on the Internet like the CDA, to making slightly narrower but still very broad restrictions like COPA,” observes Kessler. “Congress keeps losing on sweeping things, so they are trying to find little things they can restrict. Now we are seeing restrictions on drugs, like the Meth Act. I think they say, ‘let’s see if we can stop them from selling drugs on the Internet, and then ban them from something else afterward.'”
The Meth Act, or the 1999 Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act (S.486), is the US government’s latest push to censor cannabis and other euphoric substances from the Internet. The Meth Act also covers books, magazines and any other form of communication. Legislators have aimed the Meth Act partly at seed-selling websites like Marc Emery’s (www.emeryseeds.com). Websites which discuss amphetamine chemistry are also forbidden, as is advertising or linking to paraphernalia and bong merchants. Pro-pot magazines and books are also targeted, including drug recipe books like Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture.
“Yes, the meth bill is aimed at me,” Secrets author Uncle Fester told Cannabis Culture. “I’m not backing down from those book burning Nazis, either.”
“I am not too worried about this stupid bill,” says webmaster Strike, who describes his site (hive.lycaeum.org) as a forum for “people who have a common interest in the pursuit of amphetamine chemical knowledge. In my case the amphetamine is ecstasy.”
Strike told us that if the bill passes “my site and my books will still be available the next day. And if they want to come and arrest me that’s fine with me too. I will be more than happy to be a test case and blow this thing right back into their faces in an open, public forum.”
Enslave the Children
In the US Congress, the First Amendment ? guaranteeing freedom of speech ? is considered an exasperating hitch that blocks politicians from passing laws to control the minds of the nation through censorship. Since no one would normally want to give up their constitutional freedoms, American politicians fool the public with teary-eyed pleas to “save the children.”
Ed Yohnka, Director of Communications for the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) describes the government’s “save the children” campaigns as camouflaged attempts at social control.
“It’s an empty argument that all of this is about saving and protecting children,” Yohnka told Cannabis Culture. “I don’t know if the end-goal is always censorship so much trying to control any new media or any new forum, because they fear it. I think you could put a number of different topics into the same philosophic construct, whether it be information about marijuana or pornography or just anything outside of the mainstream. Then the government can create legislation to ?save children’ from whatever that may be. Any number of things could be loaded into that same category.”
Countless US state and federal bills have shaken loose a landslide of cries to “save children” and bury the First Amendment.
The Communications Decency Act (CDA) was the first federal save-the-children bill aimed at a broad range of censorship that included the Internet, and was signed into law by President Clinton in February of 1995. The act banned anything “indecent” or “harmful for minors,” a broad and largely undefined category. It might have included everything from how to use a condom to those pieces of Lego that are small enough for kids to choke on. The ACLU challenged the law, and in June of 1997 the US Supreme Court ruled that the CDA was an “unacceptably heavy burden on protected speech [with the potential]to torch a large segment of the Internet community.”
Afterward, ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser commented that, “Everyone knew the CDA was unconstitutional, but Congress passed the law and the President signed it.”
US judges are blasting politicians for attempting to slip through unconstitutional censorship laws. In June of 1997, New York Judge Loretta Preska stuck down a law similar to the CDA, aimed at saving children from online free speech (ALA vs Pataki). Preska called for the Internet to be declared a “national preserve” to avoid laws that would “paralyze development of the Internet altogether.”
In Georgia that same month, Judge Marvin Shoob ruled against a law criminalizing anonymous postings on the Internet (ACLU vs Miller). In February of 1998, Virginia Judge Leonie Brinkema quashed a law that would bar state employees from looking at “sexually explicit” information on the Internet. “Most troubling of all,” Brinkema sermonized, “is that the law seems intended to discourage discourse on sexual topics simply because the state objects to such speech.”
Censorship advocates seemed defeated. They should have been squirming in the sun like vampires caught at dawn, draining the blood out of the constitution. Instead, they resurrected the dead CDA as a new bill, only one year after its defeat, and called it the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). Once again, anything on the Internet deemed “harmful to minors” was at risk, including info about your friend and mine, the happy herb.
As of this writing, a third circuit court is deciding COPA’s constitutionality, and the government seems set to appeal rulings against COPA all the way to the US Supreme Court.
World-wide publishers, authors, Internet activists, and book-burners are watching to see what will happen. It will undoubtedly impact the rest of the world. Will America, with its famous constitution and reputation for liberal courts, make sweeping censorship laws the world standard?
Originally intended to censor information about both the use and manufacture of illegal substances, the Meth Act was narrowed to address only manufacture, to help slip it by the courts.
Perhaps pro-Meth Act politicians were paying attention to what happened in Illinois, where a similar bill stalled in the state senate in April of ’99. The bill targeted “information about cannabis on the Internet.” Even anti-drug groups balked when they learned that their websites, containing descriptions for rat-out-your-neighbour types about what cannabis use looks like, would have been technically illegal under the new bill.
Michael Hoy is the proprietor of Loompanics, a publishing company with titles like What To Do When the FBI Comes, Pirate Broadcasting, and Cold Fusion, Government and Freedom. He also sells Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture.
“This bill [the Meth Act]is an attempt to make people just plain afraid to speak out,” Hoy told Cannabis Culture. “As I read the wording of the bill it would include publishers, writers, newsstands and even personal conversation.”
Hoy sees the Meth Act as a threat to more than just freedom of speech.
“They can just say that you intended whatever you are publishing to be used to commit a federal crime, and then you would have to hire a lawyer and spend several hundred thousand trying to prove it wasn’t your intent. It is the most un-American thing I have ever seen. It is terrible that we could live in a country where you could go to prison for telling the truth. I couldn’t think of anything worse.
“If they can do it with drug books they can do it with ID books, they can do it with tax books. They’ll just march right across the entire subject matter in my catalog… they will be able to pass laws against talking about anything.”
If laws like the Meth Act make it through the courts, could the US, or any other country for that matter, censor the world’s most untamable information frontier, the Internet?
John Pike, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a scientist who oversees cyberstrategy for the Federation of American Scientists, says “not impossible!”
“It is an apt metaphor that information wants to be free,” Pike told Cannabis Culture. “Nothing is ever 100 percent effective. The fundamental problem that you face in any of this is that the Internet is globally acceptable from local servers and it would be extraordinarily difficult for any government to control the content on a server outside of its jurisdiction. Not impossible, but difficult.”
The problem with the Internet, for censors, is that it can be everywhere. So if a server has a webpage which is illegal in the United States, then it can simply be moved to another country, like Canada, where it is still available to US Internet users.
Could a large country use technology to censor sites within its borders, while blocking foreign sites, like the city-state of Singapore does?
“I don’t see that there would be any way of implementing that,” said Pike. “It is much easier for a medium-sized city than a large country to do. Such a thing has not even been suggested in the US. Given the pervasive and decentralized implementation of the Internet in the US, the possibility of using technical means to control the content of the Internet would simply not arise. That would be so fundamentally contrary to the first amendment legal regime of the US, no one would even think of such a thing.”
According to Pike, the Internet will be regulated “the old fashioned way, with plain, vanilla lawyers.” Pike admits, however, that the old fashioned way has global implications. If ? for whatever reason ? offshore sites can’t be screened using technology, international regulations might be developed to deal with unwanted information.
“It was recently the case that a website was set up in Ireland that looked like it was a server run by UNITA, the rebel organization in Angola… and there is a total embargo on UNITA,” explained Pike, referring to recent United Nations sanctions brought against UNITA (The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) in October of 1997. “Basically all governments, in principle, have a legal obligation to preclude this organization from doing business in their country. When UNITA was detected, I gather that steps were taken to shut it down.”
In a world moving toward global trade harmonization, it should come as no surprise that the Internet, the world’s largest forum for trade in information, should also be subject to global standards. Currently, these global standards allow the UN to apply “trade sanctions” against organizations like UNITA (www.kwacha.com), which include attempted worldwide censorship of their websites.
The idea for the US’ Meth Act originally came from the United Nations. In 1998, the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) conducted a special anti-drug meeting attended by the entire UN, politicians, bureaucrats and officials from federal and international law-enforcement agencies all over the world.
After the UN meeting, the INCB prepared a paper summarizing the droolings and rantings of the world’s most nefarious fun-haters. In the section titled, “Providing Accurate information on Amphetamine-Type Stimulants,” the paper paradoxically complained that accurate information about illegal substances should be removed from the Internet and replaced with government propaganda. Not long afterward, the Meth Act was drafted by US politicians.
Don Barnard of UK Cannabis Internet Activists (UKCIA) sees the Meth Act as an international threat to free speech.
“Everything that happens in America, our government seems to love it,” observed Barnard. “My fear is that it will become worldwide, because it is an anti-drug issue.”
At the same time that the INCB was holding its special UN anti-drug meeting, the INCB also released its 1998 annual report, which quoted the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. According to the INCB report, the UN Convention means that every nation in the world must enact laws against inciting citizens “by any means” to “use narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances illicitly,” including anyone that “shows illicit use in a favourable light,” or speaks out for “a change in the drug laws.”
Enforcing the laws
So who will be held responsible for the med-pot patient’s visit to the Cannabis Culture website to find marijuana seeds? Government censors are planning to go after Internet Service Providers (ISP’s)… the guys that provide Internet connections for regular people who want to get online.
ISP’s are natural targets for three reasons. They always have offices in the countries in which they operate, all information accessed on the Internet must pass through one of them, and they are generally not intimate with the government. By keeping an arms-length distance from the dirty work of blocking webpages, governments might avoid accusations of Orwellian censorship.
In every nation in the world, ISP’s are already the targets of their governments’ blind games to pin the tail of responsibility on the censorship donkey. In 1996, both China and Singapore announced that they would be holding ISP’s responsible for blocking a wide range of topics. Australia followed China and Singapore’s lead with the 1999 Online Services Amendment Act, which provides massive fines for ISP’s providing illegal information.
Even countries with strong constitutional protections are moving toward holding ISP providers responsible for Internet content. The US’ 1995 Communications Decency Act included provisions to hold ISP’s responsible for info passing through their servers, although the act was eventually ruled unconstitutional. In 1996, in Germany, ISP’s caved to government demands to censor a Dutch website containing controversial homepages (www.xs4all.nl). German ISP’s can also be charged for providing access to illegal forms of pornography.
In 1996, in England, the Internet Watch Foundation was created, and has since been lobbying for ISP’s to be held responsible for censoring the web.
Censor-happy organizations have already developed a global system for ISP’s to filter webpages… a system that could block access to such things as your country’s constitution, The Bible, and various other sacred and important documents.
The system is called PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection). PICS was developed as a supposedly voluntary system, but already the UK’s Internet Watch Foundation and the Australian Broadcasting Authority have plans to make PICS mandatory in their countries. By itself, PICS is just a filtering platform, which means that it requires someone else to actually rate the sites. PICS’ developers suggest that it could make reference to a list of undesirable webpages provided by an existing Internet filtering company like Smartfilter, Netnanny, Cyberpatrol, X-Stop or Surfwatch, to name but a few.
Part of the problem with web filtering is that machines make most of the decisions as to what websites will be blocked and what won’t. If a website has the word “vagina” in it, then it might be blocked… even if it is a website about how to detect pregnancy.
The censorship critics at Censorware have found that Smartfilter, for example, screens out the American Declaration of Independence, The Communist Manifesto, The Bible and The Koran. It also blocked the works of authors like Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain. Meanwhile, certain pornographic sites slip by Smartfilter’s dopey electronic eye. According to Censorware’s well-documented reports, Cyberpatrol, Netnanny, X-Stop and Websense all have similar problems.
On February 17 of this year, Censorware founder Jamie McCarthy spoke against the American Family Association’s (AFA) attempt to pressure the Holland, Michigan library into using SurfWatch, another Internet filtering software.
“The SurfWatch product, which the AFA is pushing the Holland library to adopt, simultaneously goes too far and not far enough, like all other censorware,” said McCarthy. “It currently blocks a World Wildlife Federation page on the blue-footed booby, a bookstore, articles from the New York Times and the Holland Sentinel, many Christian-oriented webpages, and, ironically, part of the AFA site… to pick just a tiny fraction of the inappropriately blocked sites. At the same time… the software fails to block numerous hard-core pornography sites.”
Censorware’s testimony has been instrumental in recent successful ACLU challenges to US censorship laws.
Fight for freedom
So what can you do to keep information free? Aside from educating yourself, make the effort to teach others why censorship diminishes our society and does nothing to “protect children.”
Drop by your local library and ask if they carry Cannabis Culture. If they don’t have it, then find out if they would carry it if we sent them a free subscription. We will donate a free subscription to any library that a reader confirms will actually display our magazine. Just send us the library’s address and we’ll send them a subscription. (We’re already in many Canadian libraries, but this offer applies anywhere in the world.)
While you’re at the library, try to find our site on their Internet terminals. If it’s blocked, ask them why, and urge them to remove their filtering software.
Write letters to your local and national media, alerting them to the dangers of censorship and encouraging them to adopt a pro-free-speech stance.
Most importantly of all, support groups and individuals who are struggling against the forces of censorship. PolyEster Books, Loompanics, Index on Censorship, the ACLU and others who actively defend freedom of speech need all the help they can get. Find their address below and send them a cheque for $10 or $20, or an email of support and a link from your home page.
Censorship sucks! Let’s end the war on words.
? Alan Young: tel (416) 736-5595; email [email protected]
? Paladin Press: tel (303) 443-7250; email [email protected]; web www.paladin-press.com
? JP Galland: email [email protected]; web www.proselyt.com/galland
? PolyEster Books: 330 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, VIC, Australia, 3065; tel (61) 3 941-952-23; email [email protected]; web www.polyester.com.au
? ACLU: tel (202) 544-1681; email [email protected]; web www.aclu.org
? Illinois ACLU (Ed Yohnka): tel (312) 201-9740
? Centre for Democracy and Technology: tel (202) 637-9800 x7; email [email protected]; web www.cdt.org
? Index on Censorship: tel (44) 171 278 2313; email [email protected]; web www.indexoncensorship.org
? Loompanics (Michael Hoy): 1-800-380-2230; email [email protected]; web www.loompanics.com
? UKCIA: email [email protected]; web www.ukcia.org
? Censorware: email [email protected]; web www.censorware.org