Twitterbirds

It's been a bad month for those against international Internet censorship

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It’s been a bad month for fans of an uncensored Internet. Last year Twitter became famous for the role it played in the Arab Spring, after Middle Easterners protesting their repressive governments used Twitter as an invaluable communications platform. Last week, Twitter made headlines for a less noble reason: agreeing to the censorship demands from various governments eager to avoid freedom springs in their own countries.

On Monday, Facebook, Google and 19 other Internet companies started removing from Indian websites any content that offends any one’s religious sensibilities, after an Indian court threatened to crack down on the Internet “like China” does.  (Of course, China makes no pretense of being anything other than a totalitarian dictatorship, whereas India claims to be a free and democratic society.)

Also on Monday, Twitter generated a fresh set of censorship headlines after the Brazilian government filed a lawsuit demanding the suspension of all Twitter profiles dedicated to warning drivers about the location of police radar and temporary checkpoints (known as “blitzes”).

The Brazilian government says the blitzes are necessary to catch drunk drivers and reduce drunk-driving fatalities—and also have proven useful in catching other criminals, including smugglers and car thieves. The government has not suggested there is any legitimate reason an innocent person might wish to avoid a blitz, and thus far no Brazilian civil liberties organizations have commented on the lawsuit.

But in the United States, when police cite similar public-safety arguments to justify their checkpoints on public roads, the ACLU responds that “emphasis patrols”—police officers who go out specifically to look for drunk drivers—are more effective than mass checkpoints.

For example, in 2008, when discussing a proposed checkpoint in Washington State, ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said checkpoints require “searching somebody without any reason to suspect that they’ve done anything wrong. And there are [non-checkpoint] ways to address the very serious concerns about drunk driving, and those are emphasis patrols.”

Photo by Rosaura Ochoa