Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Israeli Court Limits Blogs Freedom of Speech

Orthomom Redux? While Freedom of Speech is protected by the US Constitution, it's a whole different ballgame in Israel. Disagree with your local municipal council? One blogger did...and found his blogger anonymity disappearing under court order to Google. (Till a few minutes ago, the blog could be found at the address: http://shaarei-tikva.blogspot.com/ and was entitled "What's going on in Shaarei Tikva")

From Globes today:

In an unprecedented move, Google Inc. (Nasdaq:GOOG) has agreed to supply the IP address of an Israeli blogger who used "Google Blogger" for a blog in which he slandered Shaarei Tikva council members running for reelection. The election is being held today. So far as is known, this is the first time that Google forewent legal action in such a case.

The slandered Shaarei Tikva council members asked Google for the blogger's name. They reached a settlement with the company on the basis of an Israeli ruling on the subject. The settlement stipulates that 72 hours before a hearing on the case at the Rishon LeZion Magistrates Court, the council members would leave the blogger a message on his blog summoning him to the hearing, or else his IP address would be handed over. The notice would invite the blogger to disclose his identity, participate in the hearing, or oppose the disclosure of his identity by filing a motion as "anonymous".

For more than a year, the anonymous blogger slandered three Shaarei Tikva councilmen: local council chairman Gideon Idan, Shaarei Tikva director general Haim Blumenfeld and council member Avi Yokobovich. The blogger accused the men of criminal acts, such as pretending to be handicapped in order to receive discounts on local property taxes, receiving bribes from a contractor, and having ties to criminal gangs.

The three councilmen filed a NIS 300,000 lawsuit against the blogger, who was named "anonymous" in the statement of claim. They also asked for a court order ordering Google to disclose the blogger's IP address, which would enable the court to contact the blogger's Internet services provider and order it to disclose the blogger's identity.

Google initially said that disclosing the blogger's identity violated rulings on the balance between freedom of expression and a person's right to his reputation.
However, in a pre-ruling, Judge Oren Schwartz said that the blog's content raised suspicions of criminal conduct, and Google took the hint. Judge Schwartz applied the strict position of Tel Aviv District Court Judge Michal Agmon that the details of a surfer may be disclosed only if the slander was tantamount to criminal defamation.

Following Judge Schwartz's ruling, Google and the councilmen reached a settlement in their dispute. Google was represented by Adv. Keren Beer and Adv. Hagit Blaiberg of Goldfarb, Levy, Eran, Meiri & Co. /a> and the councilmen were represented by Adv. Ben Zion Adoram and Tomer Altus of Adoram & Co.

The court's decision (in Hebrew) is here. Sources in Hebrew here, here, and here.

A sad day for Israel's bloggers indeed.


Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael

25 comments:

JoeSettler said...

Scary.

Just log me off now!

Anonymous said...

Stalin would be proud of his yorshim
sad
-AMSHINOVER

Oleh Yahshan said...

nice, well I guess it's time to move to another place.. (online I mean)... It could make a nice protest to move a bunch of blogs off of Blogger and onto a place that will protect our privacy.

Another option is to start using all sorts of methods available to block our IP address...

Anyways - if any one is planning a protest against this please let me know I will be glad to join!

Oh BTW - the blog is shut down at the moment!! I guess Free speech is no longer free!!

JoeSettler said...

Now, having given my knee-jerk reaction, let me give a more intelligent one.

If you read the entire article in Globes, the courts requested, and Google acquiesced for one reason. The court implied criminal intent on the part of the blogger.

This doesn’t appear to be an issue of freedom of expression, but one of criminal activity.

However, what it does do is open the door to what criteria Google will hold to when protecting your identity.

Will it give over IP addressed to the Chinese government when they claim a blogger has broken their laws?

Or to the Israeli government when they want to know the identity of a politically-minded blogger named Jameel (actually the Israeli government/police can get all that now directly from Bezeq and the ISPs, without even the need for a court order – how’s that for scary).

If you read Blogger’s ToS, Google is very clear:

3. Privacy. As a condition of using the Service, you agree to the terms of the Google Privacy Policy which may be updated from time to time, as expressed in the most recent version that exists at the time of your use. You agree that Google may access or disclose your personal information, including the content of your communications, if Google is required to do so in order to comply with any valid legal process or governmental request (such as a search warrant, subpoena, statute, or court order), or as otherwise provided in these Terms of Service and the general Google Privacy Policy. Personal information collected by Google may be stored and processed in the United States or any other country in which Google Inc. or its agents maintain facilities. By using the Service, you consent to any such transfer of information outside of your country.


What is even more scary is the amount of information that Google has amassed about nearly everyone in the world from their searches and surf habits. Imagine if someone managed to subpoena that for data mining about an individual.

Krum as a bagel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Krum as a bagel said...

Echoing Joe's comment, the article describes the blogger as making statements that would appear to be clearly defamatory:

The slandered Shaarei Tikva council members asked Google for the blogger's name. They reached a settlement with the company on the basis of an Israeli ruling on the subject. The settlement stipulates that 72 hours before a hearing on the case at the Rishon LeZion Magistrates Court, the council members would leave the blogger a message on his blog summoning him to the hearing, or else his IP address would be handed over. The notice would invite the blogger to disclose his identity, participate in the hearing, or oppose the disclosure of his identity by filing a motion as "anonymous".

For more than a year, the anonymous blogger slandered three Shaarei Tikva councilmen: local council chairman Gideon Idan, Shaarei Tikva director general Haim Blumenfeld and council member Avi Yokobovich. The blogger accused the men of criminal acts, such as pretending to be handicapped in order to receive discounts on local property taxes, receiving bribes from a contractor, and having ties to criminal gangs.


This differentiates this case from the Orthomom situation, where only statements of opinion were made. Indeed, this was the basis for the judge's decision to dismiss the case. Had Orthomom made statements such as those described in the article, the result would not doubt have been different.

Rafi G said...

looks like Jameel's anonymity is going to be in trouble... might as well come out of the closet now....

and Joe - that is precisely why there have always been many peopl ewho are anti-google and refuse to use gmail and other google services(always meaning since google was created)

tafka pp said...

LOL- Nice knowing you, Joe...

Baal Mofes said...

Would it matter if the blogger wasn't from/in Israel?

Lurker said...

The Globes article is incredibly unprofessional. It sides unconditionally with the position of the plaintiffs by repeating their claim without reservation:

"...an Israeli blogger who used 'Google Blogger' for a blog in which he slandered Shaarei Tikva council members running for reelection."

"For more than a year, the anonymous blogger slandered three Shaarei Tikva councilmen: ..."

By terming the blog's contents as "slander" without qualification (e.g., "alleged slander"), Globes is effectively stating that the councilmen did not commit the crimes alleged by the blogger. Such a statement is an egregious violation of basic journalistic ethics -- all the more so when the issue is sub judice.

Btw, the blog's contents can still be viewed in Google's cache.

Akiva said...

For a long time, people have believed the internet to be an anonymous zone. Technically, it never was, and now that various 'new media' communications are starting to have serious influence, 'old line' laws are being applied.

In Israel, there are serious laws against slander and against 'insulting' a public official. Interestingly, these laws are only enforced against those who do such a thing TO government officials, never when government officials or major media organs do such a thing to others. Hmmm.

ck said...

And the lesson is? Anonymity on the Internet is hard but not impossible. Use Internet cafes for anonymous blogging or use one of the many good proxy services like proxify.com - especially if you're going to say anything that's potentially actionable. But don't do any of that stuff if you're some kind of creepy stalker. If you are then get on some good medication and get a life.

bluke said...

ck,

You are absolutely right. There are a lot of free proxy servers that can protect you.

westbankmama said...

This is why I went from Blogger to wordpress when Google took over.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

CK and Bluke: Every single anonymous proxy states that they will comply with a court order asking for a person identification.

The only proxy servers that dont say that are the hacker ones...and can be found via their ISPs, which would also listen to a court order.

Olah Chadasha said...

So, let me get this straight. Google won't provide the I.P. addresses of terrorists or terrorist supporters using their services for promoting or engaging in terrorist activity to the U.S. government, but they'll gladly give it to Israel. Nice.
-OC

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