Official UK government attempt at censorship

Free speech is a funny thing. A lot of people are for it, as long as it’s for them. An awful lot of people lose interest in principles when someone says something they don’t like. And lots of people who say stuff use NearlyFreeSpeech.NET to do it. So it’s not in any way unusual for us to get complaints, or random demands to remove a web site. Some small fraction escalates to a sternly-worded letter from a lawyer containing such toothy admonitions as, “If you do not immediately comply and confirm to me that you have done so, I will be forced to advise my client to instruct me write to you again.” It rarely goes beyond that, because at the same time they’re writing to us, the good lawyers are explaining to their client that web hosts have federal immunity against that type of lawsuit. Some few do go ahead and threaten to sue us, either because they don’t know better or they figure maybe we don’t.

Some time ago, we received a couple of emails from a private solicitor in the UK. UK lawyers are always more fun because the laws are so different there. (See also “libel tourism.”) They don’t threaten to write another letter. They threaten to sue you for eleventy billion dollars and the kitchen sink if you don’t remove whatever-it-is and take out a full page ad apologizing in the London Times in the next twenty minutes.

But sadly these emails weren’t one of those. They included a copy of a UK injunction mandating the removal of information from a web site that was not hosted with us. The solicitor claimed that a copy of the site had been set up on our service, and insisted that the injunction applied to it as well.

The site in question is about a controversial UK government program, and allegedly — I haven’t seen it — contains contact information for government officials overseeing the program along with the exhortation to contact them to express opposition to the program.

The injunction, in turn, is truly breathtaking in scope. It bars “unknown persons” (i.e. everyone) from publishing the names and official work contact information for those officials. It bans posting instructions on how to find that information. It bans doing these things “anywhere in the world.” It warns that anyone (anywhere in the world) who does this or helps in any fashion will face fines and prison. And, perhaps the most disturbing part, it was issued after hearing only the government’s side. Nobody was present to represent the rest of the world (sounds like a great reason to name “unknown persons” as a defendant to me).

The scope and ex parte nature of the order really concerned us. Fortunately, the usual course of action is for the person who wants a foreign court order enforced in the US to bring it to the relevant US court and go through a process called domestication. That process allows a US court to review the order in the context of US law and, importantly, allows us to weigh in on whether an order ought to be enforceable on us. That hadn’t been done. So we let the solicitor know clearly and politely that domesticating the order in a court with jurisdiction over us would be the appropriate next step. The solicitor nonetheless persisted until we let him know that we did not have the resources to engage in ongoing debate about a matter which, in the absence of domestication, was purely academic. End of story? Not quite.

Today, we received a first for us, a letter from the actual UK Treasury Solicitor’s office, the branch of the UK government charged with suing people on behalf of the rest of the UK government. It largely mirrors the private solicitor’s letter, and was much like most other complaints we receive. Much like most other complaints, they demand that we remove the content they don’t like. Much like most other complaints, they offer a bunch of (generally poor) reasons why we should/must do what they want. Like the first solicitor’s letter, they included a copy of the injunction. Like the first solicitor, they have not made any effort that we are aware of to domesticate it with a court that has jurisdiction over us. What’s different about it is this paragraph, toward the end:

“However, should you choose not to assist us in this matter, we reserve the right to seek an enforcement order. This may result in significant costs, which Defra would seek to recover from you. We note from other correspondence which we have seen that you have ‘limited resources’ and we do not favour this action, given that it may put the very future of your organisation at risk.”

The official lawyers for the UK government are basically saying on official letterhead (even their own filename contains “Letterhead”), “Hey, we heard you’re small. Well, we’re the world’s 6th largest economy, so we can put you out of business with legal bills if you don’t play ball.” Now, it’s not super-unusual to see a lawyer say something menacing about how if they win, you’ll have to pay their legal fees — even though that’s often not true in the US. What’s different here is that they dropped “if we win” and added “we will ruin you.” Stating that if someone doesn’t cooperate, your strategy will be to run up enough legal bills to put them out of business whether you win or not is a little different. It’s the sort of thing you expect to hear from the smarmy thug lawyer for the big bad corporation in a formulaic TV legal drama. We don’t generally see it in the real world from the legal representatives of a developed country.

Fortunately, they heard wrong. Our excellent legal team is ready, willing, and able to vigorously defend us should the need arise.

So, the story so far is that we asked to have the proper legal process followed, and the UK’s lawyers threatened to destroy us. Despite this, we are refusing to censor our member’s site. We steadfastly believe we are under no legal obligation to do so, that we will prevail in any US legal action that arises from this matter, and that any attempt by the UK government to spend us into oblivion will fail. More news as it happens.

The original injunction, the Treasury Solicitor’s letter, and our response to them are linked below. The letter does identify the site and in accordance with our Privacy Policy, the member’s permission to post it was obtained. We have redacted names and email addresses from the injunction.

Injunction

UK Treasury Solicitor Letter

NearlyFreeSpeech.NET Response

40 Comments

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  1. whilst I agree with your stand and disagree with the planned badger cull on grounds of efficacy and consider the two letters you received badly written and ill founded in law I do believe that there is a misconception on your part.

    The contact details referred to are not those of government officials but those individuals mostly farmers who are licensed to take part in this cull.

    Unfortunately in the UK there is a history of violence by Animal rights activists including digging up the body of a farmers grandmother and holding it Ransom.

    So whilst I agree with your position I understand the very real fear that license holders have. I would like it if my governments functionaries could explain themselves and not make empty school yard threats.

    This is specifically about the contact details of government employees; the TSol only has standing to act for the government. The injunction, obtained by a government department, is quite clear that it refers to government officials and their contact information, including at work.

    You are correct that it also refers to other people. You are certainly right that there is room for vigorous debate about whether the web site should be posting contact details of private parties. (Just because something is legal, that doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea.) Our objection is that this is not vigorous debate, it’s a heavy-handed attempt to intimidate and threaten people who have nothing to do with the situation. -jdw

    Comment by Robert James — October 6, 2012 #

  2. There are only two words I can employ in response to this.

    The first is “you”.

    The second is “rock”.

    Seriously.

    Comment by Eric TF Bat — October 6, 2012 #

  3. Do you suppose they sent this on the Friday before Columbus Day weekend to reduce US news potential?

    Comment by Tim McCormack — October 6, 2012 #

  4. I note you don’t mention the perfectly reasonable request contained in the letters to remove the personal contact information published in the allegedly infringing site, which is (again allegedly) being used for purpose of harassment, including a death threat.

    Might be a little better to have a balanced response, rather than “Oh noes! Bug bad gubment is out to get me!”

    The blog post does not paraphrase the entirety of their letter and our response because this is NearlyFreeSpeech.NET, where our default expectation is that people are both intelligent and literate. People can read the source material for themselves and draw their own conclusions. And by doing so, I think you’ve proved we’re right. Can’t get more balanced than that.

    Instead, the blog post focuses on areas of primary concern to us, which are twofold. First, the idea that the government can prohibit the posting of information on how to contact government officials at work about controversial decisions they are making. That’s participatory democracy and it’s really important. Second, the idea that a government doesn’t need to follow the proper process, they can just threaten people to get what they want. If governments don’t follow the law, who will?

    If this were solely about private parties, and wasn’t a government threat to abuse the legal process to destroy us, it would be just another complaint, and you’re absolutely right — we probably wouldn’t be blogging about it. We’d still need the injunction domesticated though.

    You are also 100% right that it is perfectly reasonable to request the removal of information from a website. “Please remove that information,” is such a request, albeit one that should be directed to the operator of that website, not us. “Please remove that information. If you don’t, we will end you!” is something else entirely. And that’s what we posted about.

    -jdw

    Comment by Name (required) — October 6, 2012 #

  5. Thank you for this. It made my day.

    Comment by Matt — October 6, 2012 #

  6. If you need help, just ask.

    They will be destroyed, if you wish it.

    Please no destroying. We need to win this because we’re right, not because we brought an ion cannon to a knife fight. -jdw

    Comment by Anonymous — October 6, 2012 #

  7. [...] – Official UK government attempt at censorship Posted on 2012/10/06 by NotSoCrazyNews Original post on nearlyfreespeech.net →   Comments on reddit.com →   Related PostsRiot murder trial judge ordered [...]

    Pingback by NearlyFreeSpeech.NET Blog – Official UK government attempt at censorship | NotSoCrazyNews — October 6, 2012 #

  8. you need to set up a “donate” button so I can send you my money to help pay for legal fees. You should write back to them and say that if they don’t leave you alone, you are going to throw all their tea into the ocean.

    If that becomes necessary, we’ll certainly consider it. At this point, it would premature. -jdw

    Comment by Dan — October 6, 2012 #

  9. Just read the response letter, and I loved it. I normally don’t go in for the sort of smarmy, “haha I’m smarter than you and this is funny” type of letter. However, given the fact that the other party so transparently threatened to use legal action to “win” even if they, in fact, lose warrants a thorough dressing-down, which NFSNs response accomplishes with aplomb.

    9/10, would read again.

    Comment by GringoDeMaio — October 6, 2012 #

  10. tell them to go fuck themselves

    Comment by an englishman — October 6, 2012 #

  11. Dear NearlyFreeSpeech.net:

    I’m a member of the First Amendment Lawyers Association and a blogger on issues including free speech. I have had some luck giving pro bono assistance to threatened bloggers, and more luck soliciting such help from others.

    It sounds as if you are well represented, but if calling for further help from First Amendment lawyers and free speech bloggers would help, I am happy to do so.

    Meanwhile, may bloggers writing about this story host the documents above on their own site, to make it even more impractical for any government to suppress them? Naturally they would be attributed to their source, you.

    Cheers,

    Ken
    http://www.popehat.com

    My I-am-not-a-lawyer understanding is that government work product, covering both the TSol letter and the injunction, is public domain. As such, our permission to reproduce them would not be needed. With respect to our letter, it may be used and/or reproduced under a CC BY-ND 3.0 license. -jdw

    Edit: Another commenter points out that the letter and injunction would be Crown Copyright, not public domain. You’ll therefore have to look at that and make your own determination as to what that says about whether you can reproduce them. -jdw

    Comment by Ken — October 6, 2012 #

  12. I’ve been watching comments on this here and elsewhere (Twitter, Redit, our email, etc.) and I do want to clarify a few things.

    We’re not offering any opinion on whether badger culling is a good idea or not. We don’t know.

    We will offer an opinion on harassment: it’s stupid, counterproductive, and it shouldn’t be done. Anyone who does it undermines the credibility of the cause they are supposedly supporting. If it does happen, the people who do it should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    The operator of this web site (according to the UK government) doesn’t advocate harassment, however, quite the opposite. There’s no evidence that they’re engaging in harassment. And I know for sure we’re not harassing anyone or issuing death threats. So coming after a web hosting company thousands of miles away instead of pursuing people who may actually be doing stuff is not solving the problem. Neither does silencing innocent people become appropriate because other people may not be. We can group people together as “animal rights activists” but they remain individuals who are individually responsible for their actions.

    Where it comes to posting information of government officials and encouraging people to contact them to express their opinion on an issue as clearly controversial as this one, I think there can be no question that it ought to be allowed. That some people — importantly, other people — who do contact those officials might not be polite about it doesn’t change that. If it rises to the level of harassment, see above.

    In our opinion, posting information of private parties makes the site a lot less sympathetic. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it a good idea. Personally, I would prefer it if they didn’t do that. But what I would prefer doesn’t matter, and here’s why.

    We referenced the Brandenburg v. Ohio US Supreme Court case in our letter. This is a crucial case for free speech in the United States because it establishes the “imminent lawless action” test, which effectively stops our government from criminalizing dissent. But did you know that the “Brandenburg” in that case was a KKK leader being prosecuted for advocating violence against blacks and Jews, on film, while waving guns around and promising to march on Washington DC with them? That’s right, the Brandenburg at the heart of modern American free speech was (in my opinion) an ignorant, thuggish, potentially violent, racist asshole. (Sorry, really no other word fits.) For me, “I would prefer it if he didn’t do that” isn’t really adequate for what he did. In fact, I admit I would have had a really tough time standing up for his free speech rights. But someone did, and now everyone in the US is better protected from government censorship because of it.

    The takeaway lesson from that, for me anyway, is that it’s crucially important to defend someone’s right to free speech regardless of whether you agree with them, and even if you think they’re misusing it. But I definitely know and respect that not everyone feels that way.

    -jdw

    Comment by jdw — October 6, 2012 #

  13. [...] http://blog.nearlyfreespeech.net/2012/10/06/official-uk-government-attempt-at-censorship/ Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintMoreTumblrRedditDiggLinkedInStumbleUponPinterest Written by 011415142513152119 Posted in Article's Tagged with censorship, free speech, UK [...]

    Pingback by NearlyFreeSpeech.NET Blog » Official UK government attempt at censorship « 050120.1325.011919 — October 6, 2012 #

  14. As a British subject, I salute your response to the cowardly bullying of British Government lawyers. Perhaps a lawyer cull would be more appropriate?

    Comment by Colin — October 6, 2012 #

  15. UK government works are not public domain, that’s just the US. They are Crown Copyright.

    Thanks for the correction. -jdw

    Comment by SL — October 6, 2012 #

  16. Your opponent will usually slip up and tell you what hurts the most.

    Please continue to provide the contact information of the UK persons involved in this illegal tyranny. Pastebin and many other sites will post and retain this information.

    Hacking and leaking of documents is also a possibility if their demands become too strident or illegal.

    If these fascists don’t experience some push back, they will only become more emboldened in the future. The best time to push back hard is your first response.

    Good luck. Your eventual success in this matter will make things better for everyone.

    Cheers,
    TS

    Please no hacking. Free speech is like a muscle, the best way to cultivate and preserve it is to exercise it. -jdw

    Comment by Terry — October 6, 2012 #

  17. [...] government of the UK has attempted to censor Stop the Cull in several ways documented at NearlyFreeSpeech.Net's blog. First, as anyone familiar with the recent UK fetish for prior restraint of speech, the government [...]

    Pingback by United Kingdom Fecklessly Badgers American Website | Popehat — October 6, 2012 #

  18. As a Brit I thank you for standing up to the thuggish tactics of our Government, and I applaud you for publishing it.

    The government is trying to crush all dissent in the UK and it appears that they are also attempting to censor it elsewhere as well.

    Please continue to keep everybody informed on this matter and if you do ever need funds to fight the UK government over this, I and many others will gladly contribute to it.

    Comment by Loreen — October 7, 2012 #

  19. [...] http://blog.nearlyfreespeech.net/2012/10/06/official-uk-government-attempt-at-censorship/: Today, we received a first for us, a letter from the actual UK Treasury Solicitor’s office, the branch of the UK government charged with suing people on behalf of the rest of the UK government. It largely mirrors the private solicitor’s letter, and was much like most other complaints we receive. Much like most other complaints, they demand that we remove the content they don’t like. Much like most other complaints, they offer a bunch of (generally poor) reasons why we should/must do what they want. Like the first solicitor’s letter, they included a copy of the injunction. Like the first solicitor, they have not made any effort that we are aware of to domesticate it with a court that has jurisdiction over us. What’s different about it is this paragraph, toward the end: “However, should you choose not to assist us in this matter, we reserve the right to seek an enforcement order. This may result in significant costs, which Defra would seek to recover from you. We note from other correspondence which we have seen that you have ‘limited resources’ and we do not favour this action, given that it may put the very future of your organisation at risk.” [...]

    Pingback by Sunday? Bored? Here’s #Defra trying to superinjunct & threaten a US website apparently regarding #badgers #sitp – dropsafe — October 7, 2012 #

  20. Point out to them the cost of defending their actions in US court, should they proceed. They are certainly attempting to interfere with your business, and perhaps your civil rights. Perhaps you could get a preliminary injunction against their interference, pending a hearing in a US court?

    [I'm not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, this is brainstorming.]

    Comment by john doe — October 7, 2012 #

  21. Shame you didn’t mention that what was being requested by UK was morally the right thing to do. I wonder if you would have done anything if the letter wasn’t so heavy handed and stupidly formulated. Surely any website publishing people’s (and their family) details, addresses, photos, etc and suggesting that people do their best to make their life a misery is a bad idea?

    I don’t think the information presented on this page is consistent with your interpretation, but you are welcome to your opinion. -jdw

    Comment by Vic — October 7, 2012 #

  22. Official UK government attempt at censorship…

    Really makes you proud of our government, doesn’t it? Read this. … Today, we received a first for us, a letter from the actual UK Treasury Solicitor’s office, the branch of the UK government charged with suing people on behalf of the rest of the…

    Trackback by Soutersmith blog — October 7, 2012 #

  23. Excellent response to the UK government!

    As a UK citizen I am also amused, yet perturbed, by the boot being on the other foot.

    I am usually reading about how the US government is swaggering around acting as though everyone else is just a pleb (to use a term that has suddenly become popular again in the UK) to be pushed around. (See Kim Dotcom, for example.)

    At least your map correctly identifies that in general a UK citizen would know what the rest of the world looks like. From my past experience of living in the US this map generally reflects the geographical knowledge of a US citizen :-)

    Keep up the great work!

    Yours, in good humor…
    Andy

    I would be the very last person to suggest that the US government was blameless in these types of situations. In fact, I would go so far as to say I am very happy that I have and can exercise the right to express my opinion to my government officials any time they do something I disagree with. -jdw

    Comment by Andy — October 7, 2012 #

  24. Your response was bloody amazing. :D

    Give them hell.

    Comment by perlhaqr — October 7, 2012 #

  25. I had a similar encounter with parliament during the High Court stage of my case for the allowance details of our Members of Parliament (MPs). I was fighting, among other things, for the second home addresses of MPs’. Parliament put up the argument that this would be ‘dangerous’ and that these public officials would be “endangered” if the public knew knew where they lived.

    The fact was MPs had to register a home address on the electoral register anyway to prove they were local to the constituency they were representing. Additionally these addresses are available on the Land Registry database.

    Despite this, parliament had no documented evidence that this had led to harassment to threats. Not one police report.

    So my first question for HM Treasury Solicitor would be ‘show us some documented evidence of the harm you allege has happened’. If they can, then I believe there is a valid point in considering the material published. Free speech ends where it causes actual harm – the old example of ‘yelling fire in a crowded theater’.

    In the High Court decision, three of the UK’s top judges ruled that the public interest in public officials addresses being published outweighed an expectation of privacy due to the need for accountability of the housing allowance. This is summed up in this BBC article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7404031.stm

    The actual ruling is here: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2008/1084.html

    And the relevant section is 35 onwards, specifically:

    41) No one would disagree that the address of each individual’s private residence is personal data, and represents an aspect of private and family life, but a residential address is an aspect of private life which may not be very private at all. So, for example, MPs are required to disclose an address when seeking nomination for election. This address is published in the electoral process. Usually it will be the constituency address of the candidate and its publication inevitably diminishes its private nature. Other professions and occupations may require notification of and public access to a residential address. Thus, company directors are required to provide a residential address available to those who search the register of companies. Everyone eligible to vote must have his or her address recorded in the register of electors, full versions of which are available for public scrutiny in local libraries and local government offices. The reality is that an individual who is determined to discover a residential address of an adult law-abiding citizen is likely to be able to do so by one legal means or another, and where the person concerned is the holder of a public office and in the public eye, such an inquiry is likely to be easier.

    Hope this helps,
    Heather

    That is really interesting. Thanks for posting it. -jdw

    Comment by Heather Brooke — October 7, 2012 #

  26. I understand your concern at your interpretation, but the majority of the Treasury Solicitors letter details quite clearly and carefully what they are trying to achieve and why.

    Your reply and comments above state an incorrect assumption that this is to prevent lawful contact of government officials by private citizens, yet the injunction (at order 3) states clearly that it is private individuals such as landowners, farmers, and those engaged contractors that are covered also.

    The treasury letter states correctly that the site is in contravention of your own T&C, because the UK-based site owner is subject to the terms of the injunction and thus ‘does not have the legal right to distribute’*.

    Brandenburg vs Ohio doesn’t apply here as the dissent is not being objected to (and this is emphasised in the letter) just the specifically illegal published details.

    a disclaimer: I am personally opposed to the cull, but not the threats and harassment of those who are associated.

    *“You may not upload, publish, or otherwise use the Services to make available any Content
    that … you otherwise do not have the legal right to distribute.”

    Keep in mind the following:

    • Regardless of my or your or anyone else’s opinion of it, the content objected to is clearly legal. (See the blog post above, this is settled law, even in the UK.)
    • The content in question is not ours.
    • The decision about whether not this content should be posted is not ours.
    • We aren’t even in the UK.
    • Yet we’re the ones getting threatened.

    Why is that? It’s not because we have anything to do with this — we don’t — it’s because we’re easy to find, and they thought we would be susceptible to intimidation.

    Also, “private people are involved too!” is obviously something that makes a lot of people think this behavior is OK. Let’s take this to a ridiculous extreme. Suppose a government passes a law that says that children cannot kill or visit their grandparents. Killing grandparents is bad, but that doesn’t make such a law good. That’s what’s happened here, albeit in a much more ambiguous and less extreme way in both directions. But keep in mind that the people making this threat are lawyers for the government officials, not lawyers for the private parties. Confusing the issue in that way is an intentional legal tactic.

    I would encourage people to read the Popehat analysis for an independent legal opinion. It’s spot on. -jdw

    Comment by Ewan — October 8, 2012 #

  27. re: Official UK government attempt at censorship ..

    This is *not* UK government censorship, it’s about publishing peoples contact details in an attempt to intimidate them. These animal rights lunatic fringe are a waste of space …

    Just because you don’t agree with the people being censored doesn’t mean it’s not censorship. -jdw

    Comment by Doug — October 8, 2012 #

  28. They want to kill badgers? Those sick, cruel bastards.

    I believe the basic viewpoints on the subjects of badgers, badger culling, and animal rights advocates are now represented. As compelling as those issues are to many people, they are off-topic for our blog about web hosting and free speech. We will therefore not be able to approve any more comments, whether for or against, that focus on those subjects. Anyone who has an opinion on those matters is always welcome to set up a site of their own if they wish to share it. :) -jdw

    Comment by Silver Fang — October 8, 2012 #

  29. Frankly, you’re justifying the need for laws on privacy.
    In this case, there is a moral aspect of protecting the identity of individuals who may be subject to intimidation / threats based on the work they do. Whilst you may or may not agree with the actions they are doing, they are deemed lawful. Similarly, whilst you may not like the tone of the request, this is also irrelevant.

    badger-killers.com:

    Domain servers in listed order:
    ns.phx3.nearlyfreespeech.net
    ns.phx5.nearlyfreespeech.net

    Indicates you have some say in the domain resolving to an IP. Therefore you have SOME responsibility. Hiding behind loopholes in laws makes you no better than the cause you’re fighting for.

    I’m sure your stance wouldn’t be as dramatic (or blogged) if it were your details being made public, leaving you wide open to potential abuse – the lack of proper detail in your Contact area would prove me right in this.

    To fully address this comment would probably be longer than our original post. Instead, I will offer only the following points.

    First and foremost, the Constitution is not a “loophole.” Neither is the existence of established, proper channels to follow when seeking to enforce a ruling from one country in another.

    Second, stronger privacy laws for private individuals are rarely something that we would not support.

    Third, you appear to argue that some people ought to be able to do something legal that others disagree with, but that others should not. That’s… certainly arguable.

    Fourth, you make the “you run the network so it’s OK for you to decide to censor them based on your morals” case. That’s incredibly dangerous. Yes, we have morals. No, we shouldn’t force them on others simply because we can. If we did, so would Verizon, and AT&T, and Comcast, and BT, and Orange, and Virgin Media. Good luck finding information not in the corporate interest on that Internet.

    Fifth, you proposing shutting off their DNS because some of the site content is opposed by some people. “You have said some stuff that some people disagree with. So we’ll keep you from saying anything!” No. But thank you for pointing out that the options we would have to censor a customer in a situation like this tend to be grossly disproportionate and heavy on collateral damage.

    And finally, this is “dramatic” and blog-able because the UK government has legal avenues available to advance their case but has chosen to threaten us rather than use them, not because we are involved or because we “should” act, but because we could, and they mistakenly believed they could intimidate us into doing so. If you think the underlying circumstances justify that behavior, you are welcome to your opinion. We respectfully disagree. But if you think this is about anything else, I feel you have misunderstood both what we are doing and why.

    Thanks for your comment.

    -jdw

    Comment by BootOnTheOtherFoot — October 9, 2012 #

  30. You seem to make a compelling arguement for free speech but none at all for individual privacy. That site has individual contact information of several individuals who might be at great potential risk at the hand of psychotic individuals/do-gooders who have taken up animal rights as their agenda of choice. The web page in question offers a non-violent viewpoint on how to approach this issue but that doesnt mean that the information will be used in the same manner. In your free country with its First and Second amendment there are people who disagree on everything ranging from gun control to the pro choice debate, but that doesnt mean that the US government or courts will ever condone putting holders of a particular viewpoint at risk by making their private information public. You dont need a court of law to tell you what is obvious before you do it. If you do then that is the biggest arguement you can make against individual freedom and choice.

    I think you’ve mistaken our level of involvement in this. We run a web hosting company. Other people use our service, without our editorial control, to make content available. Yet other people, with whom we have no connection at all, access those web sites. We didn’t post the website at issue, nor do we endorse its content. And neither has it even been suggested that either we or the operators of the site have at any time had anything to do with anything bad that has allegedly happened or — even more tenuously — might happen. It hasn’t even been established that anything bad that was done used information obtained from the site to do it, as opposed to the public records that contain the exact same information. (Personally the idea of a frothing animal rights “psychotic” moved to action to the point of being willing to harass someone who is nonetheless too lazy to spend two minutes navigating a UK government records website to look up their address strains credulity, but I suppose anything’s possible.)

    One other thing that I think is often not well understood is that we are not the editors or publishers of websites hosted on our service, a distinction that is firmly enshrined in Federal law. We do not go in and selectively modify sites hosted on our service. Even if that were our role, these days you would usually need a site operator’s database or CMS password to do it — something we don’t have. So to us, a site is either off or on; we would have to disable it completely. So if you are arguing that we should disable anything on a site, you are de facto arguing that we should disable everything on a site.

    That’s a problem for three reasons. First, even the UK TSol admits a lot of the site content is in no way objectionable. Second, whatever else they may be doing, the purpose of the UK TSol in writing this letter is to attempt to enforce a unilateral and worldwide ban on encouraging British subjects to contact their government officials at work on subjects of controversy. Third, the balance of the information is already public record.

    So you are saying we should remove an entire site, one that includes not only much content that is not objectionable, but also content of democratic importance, because the presence of some of information — information which someone else pointed out is freely available direct from the government in the UK — is objectionable to some people.

    That’s not what we do here.

    Or maybe you want to say that we should merely use the threat of removing the entire site to force them to change it. So, if some animal rights advocate threatens somebody who is doing something perfectly legal just because they don’t like it, that’s bad. But if we do it, it’s good? Answer: no, it’s still bad. “It’s OK for me but not them because I am right and they are wrong” can be used to justify an awful lot of bad stuff.

    Therefore while you can (as others before you, including myself, have) express your objection to certain parts of the site, your objections are meaningless unless you express them to the operator of that site. We are not going to act on them.

    So if you think that website ought to do something different, tell them. Maybe tell them you feel the tactics they use greatly undermine the credibility of their position, and that there are better ways to express their viewpoints that will be more successful in garnering the type of public support that is typically necessary to change government policy at the grass roots level. Encourage others to do the same.

    Likewise, if you think the government ought to change the laws as they pertain to privacy, tell them. Maybe tell them land deeds and property taxes and voter registrations shouldn’t be public records or made available for free online to anyone who wants them. Encourage others to do the same. And then, if you are in the UK, hope they don’t take out a worldwide injunction to silence you that cites this case as precedent.

    -jdw

    Comment by Mukunda — October 9, 2012 #

  31. I appreciate your position here. You or your company is not responsible for the website or its comments.
    Yes the “psychotic” could refer the government records website and access the address of an individual. He however cannot identify the individual as being involved in an activity objectionable to him or her, such as a badger cull. So there is a big difference here which you seem to have overlooked.

    We surmise that the list of participants is very likely to be a matter of public record as well. -jdw

    Comment by Mukunda — October 9, 2012 #

  32. Thanks to all for constructive and lively comments.

    Please note that further comments on the subject of what content does or doesn’t belong on someone else’s website are very unlikely to be approved.

    As that subject is peripheral to the issue at hand, which is the behavior of the UK government in this matter, we feel it has been very adequately covered, and that a broad spectrum of viewpoints have been aired.

    Therefore, please feel free to direct any further comments on that subject to the site operator, who is the only party in a position to address them.

    -jdw

    Comment by jdw — October 9, 2012 #

  33. a) I am not a lawyer
    b) I am not a US citizen
    c) I am not a UK citizen
    d) I do not know about the site in question other than what I have read on this page, including the comments.
    e) I have no position on the culling of badgers or any other animal

    It seems to me that you misread or misunderstood the letter from TSol. They did not threaten to ruin you, they specifically stated that their desire was the opposite of that. They claim more than once that they support free speech and they support your work in doing that. They simple stated that they undesrstood (righly or wrongly) that you had limited resources and that as a result they would NOT want to see you out of business as a result of this issue or their actions to you in pursuit of this issue.

    Yes, I considred that these are lawyers and that this could in fact be a well veiled threat to “ruin” you, but I really don’t see it like that after reading their letter.

    I also think they are correct that your client is in breach of your own TOS as they have a legal decision against them for publishing the information that is published on your service. For that alone you should provide your client notice that you have been contacted about a breach of your TOS and they have X time to resolve that. You don’t have to take the site down, you don’t have to edit the content (even if you could).

    Regardless, I think you misunderstood their request and you would be required by US law to take “some action” if/when the UK government decides to go that route. i.e. domesticate the decision.

    Regards,

    –Loti

    Both our legal team and independent lawyers have reviewed the situation. We stand by our interpretation. And being who we are, we have accumulated a huge corpus to compare this letter to in determining that it is unusual in the ways we outlined in the original blog post.

    You are right that it’s well-veiled, and with good reason. The legal term for nakedly threatening to harm someone if they don’t do what you want is “extortion” and the professional term for lawyers who can be shown to have engaged in it is “ex-lawyers.” So they never do that. Instead, lawyers can be masters of subtlety when it comes to finding ways to threaten without threatening. Doing so also helps them, because it affords them an out; they can (and probably will) say exactly what you said, followed by, “We absolutely did not mean it as a threat and we are so sorry you took it that way!” And if they’re really, really good, they’ll be able to say it with a straight face. But with that said, this letter is actually less subtle than what we usually see.

    So, if you’re a Minecraft fan, you might interpret it like, “Ssssay, that’s a nice webhost you’ve got there. It would be a ssssshame if anything happened to it!”

    Our privacy policy prohibits us from discussing whether or why a given site does or does not violate our Terms & Conditions of Service. It would certainly be more convenient for us if that were not the case, but the purpose of our privacy policy is not to protect our convenience.

    We strictly follow US law. If the UK government brings this to the US, and if the appropriate US legal system finds that we are required to take some action, then naturally we would take it. But the law is on our side and the facts are on our side, so that’s not what we regard as a likely outcome.

    -jdw

    Comment by Loti — October 9, 2012 #

  34. NFS.N – Responding to take down threats like a boss since 2002 :)

    Comment by Aaron Mason — October 10, 2012 #

  35. it looks like the list of farmers on the site has been taken down.

    although the map of the cull zone is still up on the site and some people may have an understanding of how online telephone directories work.

    no one has been stopped from listing anyone’s name, it is the contact details that are not allowed to be listed. so perhaps the uk government should be attacking telephone directories

    Comment by ms.brock — October 10, 2012 #

  36. <3 your response.

    Comment by arT2 — October 10, 2012 #

  37. And this is exactly why I stick with NFSN.

    I saw that someone mentioned a legal fund. If that does become necessary (which I doubt it will), would you be posting another blog entry so that those of us who wish to donate to it can be aware of its existence?

    Yes. -jdw

    Comment by pfan89 — October 11, 2012 #

  38. Good for you folks. Tell thoe pasty bastards to BUGGER OFF!

    Comment by FreedomRider — October 11, 2012 #

  39. You want to be able to publish the names of government officials, but you redact any names in the injunction to hide your identity.

    Just about says it all, doesn’t it.

    Actually we redacted the names of the people in the injunction — government officials and others — because none of the names have anything to do with us and aren’t necessary to make our point; we actually feel very strongly about making choices that protect other people’s privacy even when we don’t have to. Two people’s identities were disclosed in the documents we made available: the judge’s at the top of the injunction, and mine at the bottom of our letter to the UK TSol.

    So, both your interpretation and your conclusions are completely wrong. And you appear to have conflated us (a US web hosting company who has nothing to do with this) with the operator of a web site we happen to host. Maybe you should see if TSol is hiring. :-) -jdw

    Comment by Adrian — October 12, 2012 #

  40. [...] hosting firm Nearly Free Speech (NFS) has vowed to continue to let its unnamed customer publish the information even though it was recently served [...]

    Pingback by ‘UK.gov tries to close site giving home addresses of badger cull figures’ « world news for life — October 12, 2012 #

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