Ottawa "human rights lawyer" wants Canada's Internet to be more like China.

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.



Thursday evening:

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.

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Ottawa "human rights lawyer" wants Canada's Internet to be more

Oh please,look I happen to be a member of the CCLU and loath any restriction on speech. But this goes beyond the issue of speech. This neo-Nazi is counselling murder!! He even gave Mr. Warman's home address. This is a criminal act and if the American police are slow to act certainly my expectation is that our authorities do all in their power to help. Blocking this whaco's site so the murder warrant cannot be seen is one step I endorse and all decent people should.

You clearly have some personal issue with Mr Warman that
should not enter into protecting his LIFE. Let me ask this, if it were you that this Nazi listed, name address and phone number and urged anyone out there to kill you, would you be so admant?

Clarifications..

I have added clarifications to the posting, seemingly at the same time as you were adding this comment.

If someone was threatening my life I would be taking all legal means at my disposal to deal with the problem, but I would not be advocating "technical measures" be applied against an entire country. The slippery slope is not one that I'm willing to entertain, and will have unintended consequences that have nothing to do with the threat against me.

These proposed technical measures will do nothing to protect his life, and are a distraction against finding solutions to actually help Mr. Warman. Any technical measure will be able to be trivially routed around by those who wish to access the information, and even if that were not possible the vast majority of those who might be a threat live outside of Canada.

I also am not willing to take the latest public commentary, lawful or not, in isolation. Richard Warman took on a life path that should not surprise anyone would escalate the way it did. I am not being blindly adamant, but have a belief that people who decide to fight wars should not be surprised when their targets fight back with escalating force.

I'm not excusing the criminal behaviour of those who have threatened Mr. Warman's life, and think that these individuals should be dealt with to the full extent of the law.

You are correct that I historically had a personal connection with Richard Warman. At one point I believe we considered each other friends, but on his crusade (at that time against David Icke) we could not agree. I haven't kept in touch over the years, and if it were not for the suggestion that a "technical measure" be imposed to solve an unrelated legal problem then I would not be commenting at all. I may not like what Mr. Warman has decided is his life, but it is only because he is now moving into areas of technology policy that I feel forced to comment.


Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

What a mess.

In my mind, this idea is simple: technological solutions won't work to solve social/legal problems. In fact, they will backfire and cause more people to see the material and there will be considerable unintended consequences that will harm persons unrelated to the specific case.

Whatever I have to say about laws against various types of speech, packet filtering on the Internet will not work. Unless the source material is removed, all archives are removed, and there isn't a lot of publicity that would encourage more people to seek the material out, it will always be fairly easy for a determined person to route around any filtering.

Asking information to be filtered will only draw attention to the material and encourage more people to view the material. Richard Warman is very familiar with this problem, given this is what happened with the David Icke issue he was involved in years ago: it was his campaign to stop this person from speaking that caused more people to be interested, more people to read Icke's books, and so-on.

My introduction to this problem was back with the publication ban of the Karla Homolka trial. I would never have known about the material if it were not for the fact that there was a publication ban in Canada, but not elsewhere in the world. Jurisdictional issues are a big problem with the law these days as information doesn't respect geographical boundaries. The publication ban caused more people, myself included, to read information that was not intended to read by Canadians .

I've had some corrections to my article sent to me in Email. One was about the suggestion that CRTC is being asked to mandate that the sites be filtered. What is being asked is more indirect than that: there is a part of the Telecommunications Act that forbids the ISPs from this type of filtering, and Warman is asking the CRTC to waive this to "allow" the ISPs to filter.

This was hinted at in a CBC article:

The CRTC can order internet service providers to temporarily block access of Canadian internet users to specific websites, but must first ask them to do so voluntarily.

The ISPs themselves are not allowed to block access to any site — even ones that promote hatred — without the CRTC's permission.

The economic and public relations incentive for the ISPs will be to filter as soon as they are allowed to do so. We have a discussion where anyone who opposes the filters will either self-censor or risk being publicly attacked. Yes, it is just speech, but as this whole ugly debate brings forward, if audiences believe what they read and there is nobody to counter the bad speech with good speech, it can harm the intended target. I'm taking a large risk by publishing my views on this issue at all.

For those who are familiar with the Canadian case launched by BMG, they will remember that the only thing that the case was asking for was the disclosure of names. If we didn't have privacy laws then Canadians would have been in the same situation as those in the USA: lawsuits would be launched against innocent people who didn't have the money to defend themselves, even though the plaintiffs had not provided adequate evidence of infringing activity. It is not Canadian copyright law that caused a different outcome in Canada than in the USA over alleged unauthorized P2P filesharing of music, but our more robust privacy laws.

There is no economic incentive for the ISPs to protect their customers, which is why we need to have laws to protect Canadians -- whether it be privacy laws or telecommunications law.

I've already started to feel the negative outcomes of weighing in on this issue. Friends who are normally supportive of my work think I should have stayed away from this case. Last night I received a phone call from a lawyer working on the defence in a hate speech case. In my mind this issue isn't about hate speech or death threats, but about appropriate responses if you wish to try to solve problems.

It is becoming clear to me that the separation I have between the "problem" and a reasonable/useful "solution" is a separation that doesn't exist in many other peoples minds. The suggestion seems to be that if I disagree with the proposed solution then it must be because I don't see the problem.

I have semi self-censored this posting. While it was on the front page when I posted it, which meant that it was on the main RSS feed and sent out to many other sites interested in Canadian technology law, I have now relegated it to only being part of my personal BLOG. I believe that these ideas need to be said, but will say them a bit more quietly than I intended to. I think this is a sad situation.

Note: There is a growing body of mainstream media and other attention to this story. The best I've read so far is Hate Site Horrendous, But Blocking Through ISPs Faulty by Mark Glaser.


Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

CRTC Denies Hate Site Request

See article by Michael Geist, who appears to be following this issue closely.

This is a temporary delay, as it relates to a procedural issue with the recognized stakeholders not being given enough time to comment. It is not a recognition by the CRTC or stakeholders that this type of filtering is a bad idea, regardless of the type of unlawful speech that is attempting to be filtered.

I have to wonder how many people will feel comfortable sticking their neck out and documenting the technical issues in this case given there is a false presumption that opposing the filtering is support for the unlawful speech.

Each time you hear the phrase "blocking URLs", please ask yourself what that means as a practical matter. Lawyers and courts very commonly ask of technology things which do not make sense to those who understand the underlying technology, leading to considerable harmful unintended consequences.

In a URL there is a domain name which is translated to an Internet address for the computer that hosts the site and additional information that identifies the specific document on the site. While your browser knows all the pieces of the URL, and the destination computer knows all the pieces, intermediaries can only realistically filter based on source and destination addresses and port for individual packets. This will mean that the filtering will be inaccurate, with a large number of false positives as it disables unrelated websites hosted on the same computer(s).

The technology required for intermediaries to do statefull inspection of packets to be able to filter based on the underlying HTTP protocol is quite expensive considering the volume of traffic. All that is required to get around these filters is to set up mirrors and/or proxies.

If the ISP tries to filter all the different names and Internet addresses that this information can be gathered on, this could slowly encompass large parts of the Internet. At what point will enough lawful information be blocked such that the public outcry to disable these filters be heard?


Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Not the only one thinking about China...

In an article titled CRTC - Hard cases make bad law..., lawyer Howard Knopf discussed this issue, referencing an article that quoted him on Jack Kapica's BLOG on The Globe and Mail.

I wrote the following as a comment on Mr. Knopf's blog:

I am glad I am not the only one who, when reading about this case, thought of China. I wrote about this issue on my own BLOG, and found it frustrating how the presumption was in various emails that I received that suggested that I supported hate speech or death threats simply because I opposed the proposed "solution".

I hope that there will be enough people able to get past the emotions brought up by these cases to ensure that rational decisions are made that won't hurt us in the long term.

Before we go down the path of breaking the end-to-end principle of the Internet by allowing there to be "smarts" on anything that is not an endpoint, we should consider the consequences. As horrible as people believe this situation is, all the innovation and social benefit we receive from the Internet is derived from that end-to-end principal.

In my specific case I also knew Richard Warman personally in the past. We were both friends in the past when we were both active in the Green Party (He ran at one point under that banner), and we both lived in the same Coop until I moved out a few years ago. Until I personally read the actual text of the alleged death threats I won't be certain that they exist, given Richard Warman has falsely claimed unlawful speech in the past.

Some of what Mr. Warman is seeking to have removed from the Internet (valid if done by dealing with the person who is the source, not if done by breaking end-to-end) may in fact be unlawful speech, but that does not automatically suggest that everything he says is unlawful really is.

Is the death threat being considered real only because of the dislike of the source? Have the people who are worried for Mr. Warman's live actually read the death threat? Are they aware that death threats are unfortunately fairly common against public figured on the Internet (I read about possible death threats against FLOSS personalities all the time).

I remember a music panel at Sound Bytes/Sound Rights (Toronto, Feb 11, 2005) where a musician made a "joke" about it being too bad he wasn't a suicide bomber that could have taken out Michael Geist. While many in the audience were offended by this musician, I don't think anyone took this death threat very seriously. As much as some old-economy copyright holders may (sometimes quite strongly) dislike the balanced views on Copyright that Mr. Geist presents, I don't think any of them would actually get that extreme.


Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Not interested...

I guess I have to be more careful how I word things. The flip side is that I know I can add a comment here as it seems that even though it is not on the home-page or syndicated that people are finding this article and reading it.

I'm not actually very interested to read the blogs where it was alleged that the death threats were made to verify whether the threat was or was not made. It is true that I'm sceptical based on past interactions, but that is not a judgement on my part one way or the other. I don't want to spend a lot of time to read sites that I know I'm not going to like in order to find something that may or may not be there. Mr. Warman forced me to read a lot of junk back with the David Icke thing, and I'm not interested to do that yet again.

I'm gathering that my expectation is again true, which is that Mr. Warman is driving more people to read what Mr. Warman thinks is hateful speech than otherwise would have been aware of it. I think if I ever run for office I'll ask Mr. Warman to hate me so that I'll get the massive free publicity. If I shared Mr. Warman's goals I would be taking very different tactics to try to accomplish these goals, or at least try to be open minded enough to realize when what I'm doing is backfiring badly.

I was never the room mate of Mr. Warman, we just lived in the same housing cooperative along with many other people. There are 76 units in the building, with anywhere from single people in single bedroom units to fairly large families (3-bedrooms). I don't know if he still lives there, and I'm not going to help anyone (media, lawyers, or "otherwise") track him down. I'm only interested in the harmful technological aspects of this specific request to ISPs and the CRTC, not what seems like a large number of personal issues people may have with Mr. Warman.

I find it interesting that two of the sites that the CRTC/ISPs are being asked to block are *.blogspot.com addresses. Technical people can look at how blogger works and they will realize that Blogspot uses a common infrastructure of computers for all the blogs, so there is no unique IP address for each blog. If ISPs were to introduce packet filters to filter these sites from Canadians they would effectively have to filter all of Google's Blogspot.com machines.

Examples you can find by running 'dig'

phbo.blogspot.com. 3582 IN CNAME blogspot.l.google.com.
excesscopyright.blogspot.com. 1760 IN CNAME blogspot.l.google.com.
overthrow88.blogspot.com. 2685 IN CNAME blogspot.l.google.com.
infringement.blogspot.com. 535 IN CNAME blogspot.l.google.com.
antiwarman.blogspot.com. 3181 IN CNAME blogspot.l.google.com.
christophermoorehistory.blogspot.com. 563 IN CNAME blogspot.l.google.com.

(I read all but two of the above -- I think people will know which two. CNAME is the domain name system way of doing aliases, meaning that all these blogs are aliased to the same blogspot.l.google.com address when looking up the IP address)

I wonder if all the Canadians using blogspot.com blogs for their own sites realize how hard and expensive (IE: unlikely to be done correctly) it will be to set up technology that will accurately differentiate between their blogs and those which Mr. Warman is asking that the CRTC give permission to ISPs to filter.


Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

What did he do to deserve this?

Here is some information about Richard Warman for those who don't know the whole story. Richard Warman is involved with an urban terrorist group called the "Anti-Racist Action" who he recently sponsored to go and protest in front of another individual's house, thus the Paul Fromm reference. [ link ]

They picketted his street with masked faces and sticks and weapons. the cops acted as a barrier between them and Mr. Fromm's house. This group of individuals that Richard Warman has given speeches to and financed, were also responsible for the firebombing of another individual's house, including the posting of instructions to do it.
(link with news articles and pictures on the ARA, including the firebombing, and articles about them attacking police horses' eyes with sharp sticks during protests provided) [ link ]

And if you visit the website of ARA Toronto (link provided), the first page is a video that shows their members in another county of ganging up on an individual sleeping on a train that they suspected was racist and assaulting him while filming it. [ link ]

After the event, this group posted paul fromm's address online in a "declaration" about their "successful" mission attacking his house. [ link ]

While they were protesting however, a member of the group was holding up a sign that said, "Thank you Richard Warman for the bus rental" and another with "Die Nazi Scum" [ link ] and [ link ]

As you can see in the pictures, some of the members are masked in this protest. Good thing the cops outnumbered the protesters threefold.

Now this isn't the end. Paul Fromm is an individual that Warman is trying to sue, seemingly unsuccessfully, for calling him a censor. Also, Paul Fromm has been doing free legal defense work for individuals that Richard Warman files complaints against. A month before the attack on Paul's house, Richard Warman was unsuccessful in trying to ban Mr. Fromm from defending people for free. At the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, the complainant gets a lawyer from the Canadian Human Rights Commission to prosecute the case for him (for free), but the respondents have no right to legal representation, so they have to pay for their own lawyers. Since most people that Richard Warman targets are youth that post messages online, they can't afford that.

Richard Warman also filed a human rights complaint against someone alleging that he was making racist posts online recently. Before the case even went to court, or was even investigated by the canadian human rights commission, Warman called up the university where this guy worked and told them he was a racist and convinced them to fire him. [ link ]

Richard Warman was also videotaped counciling members of the ARA to commit assault against David Icke, a previous Green Party colleague, that was on a tour signing he latest book because he didn't agree with what he was writing. [ link ]

He has affected other peoples' lives and threatened their safety as well on many occasions. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. So ohara's comment on the matter is influenced by the fact that she has no idea about any of the background in this case.

So it's okay for RIchard Warman to do this to other individuals and then whine about it when it gets reciprocated. At least it's a good thing that the CRTC rejected the application.

And feel free to read the actual application and decision: [ link ]

Ignore what the media hides, but the application was attempting to carry out the action ex parte (with no one being allowed to oppose them). Is this the kind of action defensible? Is this a dictatorship where well-connected civilians should be able to file an-unopposed motions to change laws that affect the whole nation?

The Ruling Also states that Richard Warman is not a legal applicant because he is not from the ISP community. So all this was an utter failure.

And to make matters much worse, Bernie Farber filed an affidavit that he was a qualified expert in the hate field while leaving out that the last time he tried to testify (in 1999), he was DISQUALIFIED from testifying because he had made comments to the media that indicated that he is dangerously biased would likely say anything to get some people nailed. [ link ]

There is no information to show he has been requalified as an expert witness since then. And the fact that he decided to go in on the ex parte application shows that his heart is not in the right place.

Michael Geist's law-bytes article on this issue.

In his weekly lawbytes column (See also the Toronto Star version), he ends with something we can all agree on which is that, "While the Internet raises some difficult policy challenges, few are more difficult than the one that came before the CRTC last week".

While I normally agree with nearly everything that Mr. Geist says, with often only minor nit-picks relating to lower-level technical issues, this is an issue that has exposed some differences.

Mr. Geist and I agree that technological fixes often expose large unintended consequences. The CRTC application states that:

This letter constitutes the Commission's decision with respect to the application dated 22 August 2006 filed on behalf of Richard Warman seeking, among other things, interim Commission approval under section 36 of the Telecommunications Act (the Act) to allow Canadian carriers to block the following two websites: http://www.overthrow.com and http://dossiernoir.blogspot.com/ (the Application).

The hardware and software required for a top-level ISP to reassemble TCP/IP streams such that they can be inspected as HTTP requests, which is necessary to read the domain name separate from an IP address, would be quite expensive. This level of filtering is entirely unlikely. What is more likely is that packet filtering that only look at the source and destination IP and port addresses will be used. Every *.blogspot.com address uses the same IP address, so any Canadian ISP that bowed to public pressure and filtering that one blogspot.com sites would effectively be censoring the entire of blogspot.com from their customers (and and downstream ISPs).

On the Internet we need to ensure that it is only ever the source or destination machines which decide what content is transmitted between those points. Internet users are always free to download filtering software to their own computers so that they won't accidentally come across content they do not want to see, and sites hosting content are always free to remove content from their own servers (or respond to court orders to do so). In this case Google has disabled the "dossiernoir" site, which is the appropriate mechanism from the technical standpoint. The Overthrow site remains active.

To avoid any doubt, I am not a supporter of Nazi or other such racial supremacy groups. While separate, I am even more concerned with the thousands year old battles between various monotheists in the middle east, and the constant expansion of these battles to the rest of the world.

As a white person in a mixed marriage, and who spends more time interacting with people from cultures and races other than my own, I suspect I would be one of the "top priority" types of persons for such groups to "deal with" if they were to overthrow a government. It is because I find their speech and ideas distasteful and worrying that I don't want martyrs to be created to recruit more people to that cause. Mr. Warman and I possibly have similar "goals" (assuming he isn't calling for the "eradication" of people with different views), while we extremely disagree on tactics.

One of the areas Mr. Geist and I disagree is the level of trust that we should be granting allegations made by Richard Warman. Mr. Geist's article suggests that, "There is little doubt that the content in question is illegal and that Warman faces a serious threat".

While I believe that some of the content that the Canadian Human Rights Commission has suggests is unlawful may be unlawful under current Canadian law, I believe there is legitimacy in having doubt that all the content that Mr. Warman feels is unlawful is actually unlawful. Mr. Warman is too emotionally and otherwise absorbed in his campaign to be objective in his evaluations. Third parties without such a personal vested interest must be left to judge whether the speech is hateful, or if a credible death threat was made. Until I receive such a third party evaluation I will not be certain Mr. Warman faces any more a serious physical threat than Michael Geist did from that angry musician at the Sound Bytes/Sound Rights conference.

If there is a serious physical threat, would it be because of activities fighting proven "hate speech"? Is there any truth to the allegations that he has taken his own believes to the streets? Allegations have been made about Mr. Warman engaging in some of the same physical activities, such as exposing the home addresses of his opponents, talking to their neighbours, and other such activities that Mr. Warman would be concerned if his opponents did to him. I don't know who is involved in the "Anti-Racism Action" group, but they seem to believe that it is possible to fight "hate" with "hate".

I have personally been accused by Mr. Warman in the past of spreading unlawful speech (in my case alleged defamation) simply by republishing accusations people made of Richard Warman. I saw nothing defamatory in the original text, and felt it critical that fellow Green Party members be made aware of the activities that Mr. Warman was engaged in that was being associated with the party.

This did not stop Mr. Warman from telling me on 6 December 2001 that, "the law considers those who repeat defamatory material to be equally responsible with those who originate it", effectively threatening me with a lawsuit if I did not follow his demands and discontinue my conversations with fellow party members about his activities. Defamation is a law with considerable problems given it is backwards from most other laws in that you are "guilty until you prove yourself innocent", making it ripe for abuse. (See notes about the P2Pnet.net defamation round table).

This type of issue is extremely divisive, with there being considerable legitimate room for disagreement. This was a high-profile personal campaign or Mr. Warman's that was being inappropriately associated with a political part. While Warman felt the person he was targeting at the time, David Icke, was responsible for hate speech, I am still unaware of a court that has agreed with this evaluation. Even if it was hate speech, there is disagreement whether drawing attention to the speech by seeking to censor it will help or hinder the overall cause of reducing the harm that can be caused by hate.

Because of this personal history I remain sceptical when Mr. Warman claims that other persons are responsible for unlawful speech, whether it be defamation, hate speech or death threats.


Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Reply to letter from CRTC

I sent a letter asking how to submit a comment to this issue, and received the following reply:

------------------------

Dear Mr. McOrmond:

This is further to your web-based message regarding the CRTC's August 24th letter on the blocking of certain websites. I have attached a link to the Commission's letter, for ease of reference. As indicated in the Commission letter, the CRTC denied the applicant's request to block the sites in question.

http://www.crtc.gc.ca/PartVII/eng/2006/8646/p49_200610510.htm

Your concerns regarding this matter have been noted. At this time, however, there is no public proceeding to examine this issue. You may wish to visit our site from time to time because if/when the Commission issues a Public Notice on this matter, it will be posted on our website.

Thank you for taking the time to write to the CRTC on this matter.

Sincerely,

[name removed]
CRTC Client Services