ENDitorial: Paris attack: Imagine if political leaders were leaders

By EDRi · January 14, 2015

Imagine if our political leaders were leaders.

Imagine if our “leaders” defended our freedoms by defending our freedoms.

Imagine if, instead of dragging another set of restrictive measures from the shelf where they sat waiting to exploit the next atrocity, Europe’s leaders decided that the principles that Charlie Hebdo defends are actually worth defending.

Imagine, if their reaction was to identify laws in all of the countries of Europe that can be and are being used to silence free speech and to demand their removal. Imagine if, for example, last week’s atrocities were responded to with a demand that European democracies finally bring an end to their blasphemy and criminal libel laws.

Leaders who wanted more than hollow words on freedom would look in horror at American’ PEN’s study on the rampant, global chilling effect on free speech generated by unjustifiable mass surveillance and say “enough”. Instead, populists chasing headlines scream “more”.

If our leaders were leaders, they would be urging internet companies to do everything in their power to facilitate free speech. They would not be seeking, as demanded in a joint statement of the EU’s interior ministers, to enter into ad hoc relationships with internet companies like Facebook to implement restrictive measures.

Imagine if our political leaders brought forward laws that would prevent internet companies from (ab)using their terms of service to silence the kinds of free speech that our society relies upon. In relation to a previous Facebook threat to censor Charlie Hebdo’s page, Reporters without Borders said “it is extremely worrying to notice that the social network seems to fall on the side of censorship and restricting the freedom to inform.” In recent weeks, Facebook censored the page of a critic of the Russian government and was reportedly praised for blocking a dissident’s account by the Chinese regime. In less tragic circumstances it would be funny that such companies are being asked by “leaders” to lead the response to an attack on free speech.

If our leaders were leaders, they would not be doing this in the full knowledge that there is no evidence that the internet had any significant role in the last week’s attacks, in the full knowledge that internet companies can only censor, block or spy in response to this demand for voluntary law enforcement.

They would not be doing this in the full knowledge that respected research, like that of the Quillam Foundation shows that “governments are increasingly relying on censorship and filtering methods to counter online extremism, this report found that negative measures, or censorship in general, were not only ineffective and costly but potentially counter‐productive.”

A leader knows that you don’t protect freedom by undermining it. A populist doesn’t care.
A leader knows that you build policy on evidence and effectiveness. A populist builds policy on headlines.
A leader has a values.

Facebook slammed over account censorship of “Prophet Mohammed magazine” (04.11.2011)

China lauds Facebook’s blocking of dissident’s account (08.01.2015)

Facebook caves to Russian censorship, blocks page supporting Putin critic (22.12.2014)

Quiallam Foundation report: Jihad trending: A comprehensive analysis of online extremism and how to counter it

Report on the transposition of EU counter-terrorism measures

Ministers of the Interior statement (11.01.2015)

Our leaders

(Contribution by Joe McNamee, EDRi)