– C. Citizens
C. Citizens’ Actions Aim to Protect Privacy and Freedom of Expression
Individuals across the globe are engaged in online advocacy to ensure personal privacy and preserve access to information and freedom of expression. Norms vary widely in terms of expectations and knowledge.
- Protests against Google StreetView service: German citizens became concerned about their homes being charted and photographed by Google, seeing it as a breach of privacy. While German courts ruled in March 2011 that the StreetView service itself was legal, German authorities reached an agreement with Google allowing citizens to opt out of having their house pictured (photos of their houses would be blurred). Yet, only 2.89% of the almost 8.5 million households in the 20 featured cities opted out, and some that originally opposed having their property photographed now want their homes included in the service.
- Rejection of Anti-Counterfeiting and Trade Agreement in EU: Although supported by the media and entertainment industry, the Anti-Counterfeiting and Trade Agreement (ACTA) was ultimately voted down by the EU parliament in June 2012. Well-organized citizen protests focused attention on how ACTA could infringe on fundamental rights including free speech. The ACTA defeat may ultimately deprive the EU of increased trade that could have injected up to €19 billion into the EU economy, according to research conducted by Frontier Economics.
- Hacking: Blatantly illegal activities such as “hacktivist” attacks on government and corporate websites could also be considered citizen-centric actions, although they have failed to change copyright or social policies. Cases such as the hacking of Sony and the Japanese government websites by the organization “Anonymous,” for instance, did not have the intended effect – Sony continues to prohibit open-source development on Play Station 3 (PS3) devices and the Japanese government intends to implement stricter intellectual property laws in late 2012. While organized hacking will certainly continue, its impact and support is limited.
- Citizens filing cases against companies: One of the first civil proceedings against companies took place in India in December 2011. It concerned 21 Internet firms (including Google, Yahoo! and Facebook) that were accused of hosting “offensive” content.5 An individual, Mufti Aizaz Arshad Kazmi, initiated the suit on the grounds that these companies hosted content disrespectful towards religious beliefs. The Indian affiliates of Google and Facebook complied with the Indian court’s injunctions and removed the offending content from their domains. However, Google argued that controlling or filtering the massive number of documents passing through its servers would be impossible.
5 The Times of India Group; Reporters Without Borders