Why doing dumb laws is a bad idea

The late debate around the Finnish Copyright law has resulted in a dysfunctional law. Which is sort of fine, as long as nobody takes undue advantage of it.

Unfortunately, most laws will be taken advantage of. Here are a couple of chilling examples:

Terrorism Laws Used to Stifle Political Speech

Walter Wolfgang, an 82-year-old political veteran, was forcefully removed from the UK Labour party conference for calling a speaker, Jack Straw, a liar. (Opinions on whether Jack Straw is or is not a liar are irrelevant here.) He was later denied access to the conference on basis of anti-terror laws. Keep in mind that as recently as the 1980s, Labour Party conferences were heated affairs compared with today's media shows.

So, speaking against the government is terrorism? The letter of the law certainly allows this - but I doubt it's in the spirit of the law.

Read more from Bruce Schneier.

Also, the new US legislation that allows FBI to attack "obscene" websites, seems to be working "well". Many a porn site dealing with more niche issues has been shut down - and the government gets to decide what exactly is offending and what is not. Considering that certain politicians (who were mostly also behind the new Copywrong Law) are also driving similar legislation to Finland, we can expect similar "community values" to be controlling the Internet and free speech over here in the future, too.

Don't get me wrong: I am sure that this site was pretty awful. It might even have been illegal (breaking privacy legislation, etc). It may have been the right decision to shut it down. But what I don't like is some sheriff saying that the "content shocks the community" - whatever that is, and the fact that people are likely take this at a face value. I mean - if the police says it is awful, then it must've been awful, yes? (Hint: the right answer is not "yes".)

You can follow this to the logical conclusion on your own. There is certainly enough historical precedence...

The owner of "war porn" site ~NowThatsFuckedUp.com (not worksafe) has been charged with 300 misdemeanors and one felony. He's in jail on more than $150K bail.

He made an offer on the Web site that if they posted pictures proving they were military serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, he would give them free access to the paid sections of the Web site.

For about six or seven months, people claiming to be members of the military have been sending in pictures of life overseas, ranging from picturesque scenery to hideous pictures of people burned black and unrecognizable, or with body parts mangled or blown apart.

According to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, the area that includes pornographic pictures was equally distasteful. "Normal people don't have the ability to imagine how perverse and horrific these images were," he said. "It certainly is content that shocks the community."

(Via Boing Boing.)




Comments

American law system is an exercise in stupidity. Please let's not discuss it or other lax case law systems along with stronger european regulative systems.

An interesting, while not ground-breaking or particularly deep book about is "Death of Common Sense" (Philip K. Howard).

The title pretty much sums it up.

I do agree that drawing up laws that give the powers that be more power to excercise their power without any outside control, is a very bad idea and against the idea of representational democracy. Unless you happen to be in power and prefer to stay there for a long time :)

This issue is an old and common one, dating back at least to the Roman empire:

"Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" -Juvenal (Who guards these guardsmen?)

The problem is becoming ever so acute, as the free press is not fulfilling their position as the guardsmen of the powerful. They are only interested in protecting the IP rights of the corporation they belong to and making as much profit as possible (without angering those in power, which is esp. true for the USA - if you study the Fox network situation).

Who will then watch those with power?

Blog writers?

Single dissidents?

I think the only good thing about this is that stupid laws end up being ignored by 90% of the people, in which case they become pretty worthless anyway.

Unfortunately they can still be used against unfavorable persons when they are in the way of those with power.

But there are examples of civil courage, where stupid laws have been rendered utterly untenable by common people:

If a person is convicted of a silly offence (like copying an original cd he/she owns), only 10 000 others need to step up and "confess" the same crime.

After this, police will be up in their ears with work and the whole system suffocates.

-> things will be fixed.

But it takes interest in common affairs for this to happen.

I'm afraid people will only care, if they themselves end up being prosecuted or asked for compensation of imaginary damages.

--vasra, 12-Oct-2005


I guess the US law would work just fine, if there weren't opportunists that were ready to take advantage of it. Or people who think they know better than anyone else how things should be: what is proper, what is not. The law is stupid in many countries - but it is really just letters on a paper. It ceases to be stupid and becomes a danger when people try to exploit it - either for their own personal gain or for some higher ideal they believe should be imposed on everyone.

Someone mentioned that the biggest difference between China and USA is not communism or capitalism, but that China is run by engineers and USA by lawyers. Could be true.

--JanneJalkanen, 12-Oct-2005


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