Richard Warman, an Ottawa Lawyer that bills himself as a "human rights" lawyer, is now asking the CRTC to demand that ISPs block Canadian access to specific sites. Richard Warman has been opposed to the Freedom of Speech afforded by the Internet for years, levying legal threats against independent media sites. Inevitably his crusade has lead to people offering unlawful death threats against him. He now wants the CRTC to step into his battle and block all Canadian access to these threats, skeptical that US courts would agree with him that the speech was unlawful.
The idea of having nation-wide filters which disallow all citizens from accessing controversial content that is disliked by the government or specific citizens is the very type of filtering that real human rights lawyers and activists have been fighting against in China and other parts of the world.
A Canadian Press article by Sean Patrick Sullivan includes:
The website, hosted by Google's weblog service Blogger, was one of two that human rights lawyer Richard Warman has asked the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to review.
It is important to realize that ISP's can't block specific URLs on websites, and can only throw away packets originating from or destined to specific ports on specific computers. Many websites are often hosted on the same computer, meaning that any country-wide filtering will block more than just the controversial speech.
Full Disclosure: I was still living in Coop Voisins, the same housing cooperative that Mr. Warman lived in, when he levied threats against me personally because of my support of independent media and free speech. In my case simply talking openly about his activities were enough to receive threats.
I believe I need to clarify what I am saying in this posting, as there is a lot of room for misinterpretation. I'm also treading into an area where someone who disagrees will do so extremely strongly.
I am not questioning whether death threats are legal speech in Canada, and know that they are not. I'm told that such threats are themselves criminal behaviour in Canada. There does seem to be some question whether these same threats are lawful speech in the USA, and then the question comes up whether Warman should expect the same protection from foreign countries as he would if the activities happened entirely within Canada.
I have no problem with Warman taking any legal options he has available to him, including seeking extradition of the accused persons to stand trial in Canada for activities which are criminal here.
What I have a problem with is that what Warman is proposing mandating the introduction of filtering at the ISP level to stop this information from being read in Canada. This is a technological fix to a legal problem, and is a form of the "DRM" debate all over again. A form of "technological protection" cannot be used as a substitute for a form of "legal protection". While I am a student of Lawrence Lessig's "Code is Law" concept, this cannot be used to suggest that law and software are equivalent or substitutes, but that software code regulates our lives just as legal code does. This is a proposal to require more accountability and transparency for software, not less accountability and transparency for the law.
While I agree it is very unfortunate, I am also not surprised that Warman has received death threats. While I have tried to avoid being aware of his activities as I find them frustrating, I was quite aware of them in the past. At that point he was trying to censor someone who I believe most people would consider a "kook" that was not breaking any laws, certainly not Canadian Human Rights laws. By threatening this person, and threatening anyone who tried to publicly expose Mr. Warman's activities, Mr. Warman chose a life path that was inevitably going to escalate. I don't know the details of the path between legal threats against "kooks" and an eventual threat against Warman's life, but such a path was predictable.