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EFF Sues to Invalidate the US internet censorship law FOSTA...

By demonstrating that legitimate businesses are being unconstitutionally censored


Link Here 11th July 2018
Full story: FOSTA US Internet Censorship Law...Wide ranging internet cesnorship law targetting sex workers
The EFF writes:

We are asking a court to declare the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 ("FOSTA") unconstitutional and prevent it from being enforced. The law was written so poorly that it actually criminalizes a substantial amount of protected speech and, according to experts, actually hinders efforts to prosecute sex traffickers and aid victims.

In our lawsuit, two human rights organizations, an individual advocate for sex workers, a certified non-sexual massage therapist, and the Internet Archive, are challenging the law as an unconstitutional violation of the First and Fifth Amendments. Although the law was passed by Congress for the worthy purpose of fighting sex trafficking, its broad language makes criminals of those who advocate for and provide resources to adult, consensual sex workers and actually hinders efforts to prosecute sex traffickers and aid victims.

EFF strongly opposed FOSTA throughout the legislative process . During the months-long Congressional debate on the law we expressed our concern that the law violated free speech rights and would do heavy damage to online freedoms. The law that was ultimately passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump was actually the most egregiously bad of those Congress had been considering.

What FOSTA Changed

FOSTA made three major changes to existing law. The first two involved changes to federal criminal law:

  • First, it created an entirely new federal crime by adding a new section to the Mann Act. The new law makes it a crime to "own, manage or operate" an online service with the intent to "promote or facilitate" "the prostitution of another person." That crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The law further makes it an "aggravated offense," punishable by up to 25 years in prison and also subject to civil lawsuits if "facilitation" was of the prostitution of 5 or more persons, or if it was done with "reckless disregard" that it "contributed to sex trafficking." An aggravated violation may also be the basis for an individual's civil lawsuit. The prior version of the Mann Act only made it illegal to physically transport a person across state lines for the purposes of prostitution.

  • Second, FOSTA expanded existing federal criminal sex trafficking law. Before SESTA, the law made it a crime to knowingly advertise sexual services of a minor or any person doing so only under force, fraud, or coercion, and also criminalized several other modes of conduct. The specific knowledge requirement for advertising (that one must know he advertisement was for sex trafficking) was an acknowledgement that advertising was entitled to some First Amendment protection. The prior law additionally made it a crime to financially benefit from "participation in a venture" of sex trafficking. FOSTA made seemingly a small change to the law: it defined "participation in a venture" extremely broadly to include "assisting, supporting, or facilitating." But this new very broad language has created great uncertainty about liability for speech other than advertising that someone might interpret as "assisting" or "supporting" sex trafficking, and what level of awareness of sex trafficking the participant must have.

As is obvious, these expansions of the law are fraught with vague and ambiguous terms that have created great uncertainty about what kind of online speech is now illegal. FOSTA does not define "facilitate", "promote", "contribute to sex trafficking," "assisting," or supporting" -- but the inclusion of all of these terms shows that Congress intended the law to apply expansively. Plaintiffs thus reasonably fear it will be applied to them. Plaintiffs Woodhull Freedom Foundation and Human Rights Watch advocate for the decriminalization of sex work, both domestically and internationally. It is unclear whether that advocacy is considered "facilitating" prostitution under FOSTA. Plaintiffs Woodhull and Alex Andrews offer substantial resources online to sex workers, including important health and safety information. This protected speech, and other harm reduction efforts, can also be seen as "facilitating" prostitution. And although each of the plaintiffs vehemently opposes sex trafficking, Congress's expressed sense in passing the law was that sex trafficking and sex work were "inextricably linked." Thus, plaintiffs are legitimately concerned that their advocacy on behalf of sex workers will be seen as being done in reckless disregard of some "contribution to sex trafficking," even though all plaintiffs vehemently oppose sex trafficking.

The third change significantly undercut the protections of one of the Internet's most important laws, 47 U.S.C. 230, originally a provision of the Communications Decency Act, commonly known simply as Section 230 or CDA 230:

  • FOSTA significantly undermined the legal protections intermediaries had under 42 U.S.C. 230, commonly known simply as Section 230. Section 230 generally immunized intermediaries form liability arising from content created by others--it was thus the chief protection that allowed Internet platforms for user-generated content to exist without having to review every piece of content appearing posted to them for potential legal liability. FOSTA undercut this immunity in three significant ways. First, Section 230 already had an exception for violations of federal criminal law, so the expansion of criminal law described above also automatically expanded the Section 230 exception. Second, FOSTA nullified the immunity also for state criminal lawsuits for violations of state laws that mirror the violations of federal law. And third, FOSTA allows for lawsuits by individual civil litigants.

The possibility of these state criminal and private civil lawsuit is very troublesome. FOSTA vastly magnifies the risk an Internet host bears of being sued. Whereas federal prosecutors typically carefully pick and choose which violations of law they pursue, the far more numerous state prosecutors may be more prone to less selective prosecutions. And civil litigants often do not carefully consider the legal merits of an action before pursing it in court. Past experience teaches us that they might file lawsuits merely to intimidate a speaker into silence -- the cost of defending even a meritless lawsuit being quite high. Lastly, whereas with federal criminal prosecutions, the US Department of Justice may offer clarifying interpretations of a federal criminal law that addresses concerns with a law's ambiguity, those interpretations are not binding on state prosecutors and the millions of potential private litigants.

FOSTA Has Already Censored The Internet

As a result of these hugely increased risks of liability, many platforms for online speech have shuttered or restructured. The following as just two examples:

  • Two days after the Senate passed FOSTA, Craigslist eliminated its Personals section, including non-sexual subcategories such as "Missed Connections" and "Strictly Platonic." Craigslist attributed this change to FOSTA, explaining "Any tool or service can be misused. We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day." Craigslist also shut down its Therapeutic Services section and will not permit ads that were previously listed in Therapeutic Services to be re-listed in other sections, such as Skilled Trade Services or Beauty Services.

  • VerifyHim formerly maintained various online tools that helped sex workers avoid abusive clients. It described itself as "the biggest dating blacklist database on earth." One such resource was JUST FOR SAFETY, which had screening tools designed to help sex workers check to see if they might be meeting someone dangerous, create communities of common interest, and talk directly to each other about safety. Following passage of FOSTA, VerifyHim took down many of these tools, including JUST FOR SAFETY, and explained that it is "working to change the direction of the site."

Plaintiff Eric Koszyk is a certified massage therapist running his own non-sexual massage business as his primary source of income. Prior to FOSTA he advertised his services exclusively in Craigslist's Therapeutic Services section. That forum is no longer available and he is unable to run his ad anywhere else on the site, thus seriously harming his business. Plaintiff the Internet Archive fears that it can no longer rely on Section 230 to bar liability for content created by third parties and hosted by the Archive, which comprises the vast majority of material in the Archive's collection, on account of FOSTA's changes to Section 230. The Archive is concerned that some third-party content hosted by the Archive, such as archives of particular websites, information about books, and the books themselves, could be construed as promoting or facilitating prostitution, or assisting, supporting, or facilitating sex trafficking under FOSTA's expansive terms. Plaintiff Alex Andrews maintains the website RateThatRescue.org, a sex worker-led, public, free, community effort to share information about both the organizations and services on which sex workers can rely, and those they should avoid. Because the site is largely user-generated content, Andrews relies on Section 230's protections. She is now concerned that FOSTA now exposes her to potentially ruinous civil and criminal liability. She has also suspended moving forward with an app that would offer harm reduction materials to sex workers. Human Rights Watch relies heavily on individuals spreading its reporting and advocacy through social media. It is concerned that social media platforms and websites that host, disseminate, or allow users to spread their reports and advocacy materials may be inhibited from doing so because of FOSTA.

And many many others are experiencing the same uncertainty and fears of prosecution that are plaguing other advocates, service providers, platforms, and platform users since FOSTA became law.

We have asked the court to preliminarily enjoin enforcement of the law so that the plaintiffs and others can exercise their First Amendment rights until the court can issue a final ruling. But there is another urgent reason to halt enforcement of the law. Plaintiff Woodhull Freedom Foundation is holding its annual Sexual Freedom Summit August 2-, 2018. Like past years, the Summit features a track on sex work, this year titled "Sex as Work," that seeks to advance and promote the careers, safety, and dignity of individuals engaged in professional sex work. In presenting and promoting the Sexual Freedom Summit, and the Sex Work Track in particular, Woodhull operates and uses interactive computer services in numerous ways: Woodhull uses online databases and cloud storage services to organize, schedule and plan the Summit; Woodhull exchanges emails with organizers, volunteers, website developers, promoters and presenters during all phases of the Summit; Woodhull has promoted the titles of all workshops on its Summit website ; Woodhull also publishes the biographies and contact information for workshop presenters on its website, including those for the sex workers participating in the Sex Work Track and other tracks. Is publishing the name and contact information for a sex worker "facilitating the prostitution of another person"? If it is, FOSTA makes it a crime.

Moreover, most, if not all, of the workshops are also promoted by Woodhull on social media such as Facebook and Twitter; and Woodhull wishes to stream the Sex Work Track on Facebook, as it does other tracks, so that those who cannot attend can benefit from the information and commentary.

Without an injunction, the legality under FOSTA of all of these practices is uncertain. The preliminary injunction is necessary so that Woodhull can conduct the Sex as Work track without fear of prosecution.

It is worth emphasizing that Congress was repeatedly warned that it was passing a law that would censor far more speech than was necessary to address the problem of sex trafficking, and that the law would indeed hinder law enforcement efforts and pose great dangers to sex workers. During the Congressional debate on FOSTA and SESTA, anti-trafficking groups such as Freedom Network and the International Women's Health Coalition issued statements warning that the laws would hurt efforts to aid trafficking victims, not help them.

Even Senator Richard Blumenthal, an original cosponsor of the SESTA (the Senate bill) criticized the new Mann Act provision when it was proposed in the House bill, telling Wired "there is no good reason to proceed with a proposal that is opposed by the very survivors it claims to support." Nevertheless, Senator Blumenthal ultimately voted to pass FOSTA.

In support of the preliminary injunction , we have submitted the declarations of several experts who confirm the harmful effects FOSTA is having on sex workers, who are being driven back to far more dangerous street-based work as online classified sites disappear, to the loss of online "bad date lists" that informed sex workers of risks associated with certain clients, to making sex less visible to law enforcement, which can no longer scour and analyze formerly public websites where sex trafficking had been advertised. For more information see the Declarations of Dr. Alexandra Lutnick , Prof. Alexandra Frell Levy , and Dr. Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco .

 

 

Unbelievable censorship...

Censorship prevails in a Pennsylvania court supporting a transport company who claim that just the mention of the word 'atheists' is somehow controversial


Link Here 11th July 2018
Full story: Atheist Buses...Atheists fund adverts about enjoying life
A Pennsylvania judge has ruled that a transport authority had every right to reject an atheist advertisement, the latest chapter in a  saga that's dragged on for more than six years.

In 2012, atheist Justin Vacula and the Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society attempted to place the following ad on buses in the County of Lackawanna Transit System (COLTS).

Although there should be nothing controversial about the word 'atheists' and two text links to atheist societies, during this period, atheist and religious groups around the world were producing adverts rather more obviously knocking the other side. And perhaps it was what these other groups were doing that led COLTS refusing the advert claiming it be 'controversial' and so could be rejected.

Justin Vacula appealed the decision with the help of American Atheists, but the COLTS administrators stood by their claims.

This kicked off legal actions that have culminated in the court's affirmation that COLTS' censorship is legal.

 

 

Vague language and multiple layers of ambiguity...

Human rights organisations petition the courts to block the US internet censorship law named FOSTA


Link Here 29th June 2018
Full story: FOSTA US Internet Censorship Law...Wide ranging internet cesnorship law targetting sex workers

Two human rights organizations, a digital library, an activist for sex workers, and a certified massage therapist have filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to block enforcement of FOSTA, the new federal law that silences online speech by forcing speakers to self-censor and requiring platforms to censor their users. The plaintiffs are represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Davis, Wright Tremaine LLP, Walters Law Group, and Daphne Keller.

In Woodhull Freedom Foundation et al. v. United States , the plaintiffs argue that FOSTA is unconstitutional, muzzling online speech that protects and advocates for sex workers and forces well-established, general interest community forums offline for fear of criminal charges and heavy civil liability for things their users might share.

FOSTA, or the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, was passed by Congress in March. But instead of focusing on the perpetrators of sex trafficking, FOSTA goes after online speakers, imposing harsh penalties for any website that might facilitate prostitution or contribute to sex trafficking. The vague language and multiple layers of ambiguity are driving constitutionally protected speech off the Internet at a rapid pace.

For example, plaintiff the Woodhull Freedom Foundation works to support the health, safety, and protection of sex workers, among other things. Woodhull wanted to publish information on its website to help sex workers understand what FOSTA meant to them. But instead, worried about liability under FOSTA, Woodhull was forced to censor its own speech and the speech of others who wanted to contribute to their blog. Woodhull is also concerned about the impact of FOSTA on its upcoming annual summit, scheduled for next month.

FOSTA chills sexual speech and harms sex workers, said Ricci Levy, executive director Woodhull Freedom Foundation. It makes it harder for people to take care of and protect themselves, and, as an organization working to protect people's fundamental human rights, Woodhull is deeply concerned about the damaging impact that this law will have on all people.

FOSTA calls into serious question the legality of online speech that advocates for the decriminalization of sex work, or provides health and safety information to sex workers. Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international organization that is also a plaintiff, advocates globally for ways to protect sex workers from violence, health risks, and other human rights abuses. The group is concerned that its efforts to expose abuses against sex workers and decriminalize voluntary sex work could be seen as facilitating prostitution, or in some way assisting sex trafficking.

HRW relies heavily on individuals spreading its reporting and advocacy through social media, said Dinah Pokempner, HRW General Counsel. We are worried that social media platforms and websites may block the sharing of this information out of concern it could be seen as demonstrating a reckless disregard of sex trafficking activities under FOSTA. This law is the wrong approach to the scourge of sex trafficking.

But FOSTA doesn't just impede the work of sex educators and activists. It also led to the shutdown of Craigslist's Therapeutic Services section, which has imperiled the business of a licensed massage therapist who is another plaintiff in this case. The Internet Archive joined this lawsuit against FOSTA because the law might hinder its work of cataloging and storing 330 billion web pages from 1996 to the present.

Because of the critical issues at stake, the lawsuit filed today asks the court to declare that FOSTA is unconstitutional, and asks that the government be permanently enjoined from enforcing the law.

FOSTA is the most comprehensive censorship of Internet speech in America in the last 20 years, said EFF Civil Liberties Director David Greene. Despite good intentions, Congress wrote an awful and harmful law, and it must be struck down.

 

 

CALifornia Internet Police against HATE (CALIPHATE)...

California considers a bill to appoint a board of internet censors targeting social media


Link Here 28th June 2018
Full story: Internet Censorship in USA...Domain name seizures and SOPA
California is considering a bill that would require the state's attorney general to create a board of internet censors that would target social media.

The group would include at least one person from the Department of Justice, representatives from social media providers, civil liberties advocates, and First Amendment scholars, according to CBS13. They would theoretically study how fake stories spread through social media and then advise platforms on how to stop them.

The nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation is already taking a stand against the measure, noting that it violates the First Amendment and make the government responsible for deciding if news is true or false.

 

 

Updated: The Agony and The Ecstasy...

Games developer Madmind cancels patch and announces instead that Agony Unrated will be released on Steam, and later that it is cancelled again


Link Here 27th June 2018
A gony is a 2018 US survival horror by Madmind Studio

Players begin their journey as a tormented soul within the depths of Hell without any memories about their past. The special ability to control people on their path, and possess minded demons, gives the player the necessary measures to survive in the extreme conditions they are in

Last month it was announced that games developer Madmind was forced to cut its Agony game to avoid an uncommercially viable AO (Adults-Only) rating from the US games censors of the ESRB. Madmind promised that the AO version would be restored via a patch.

Madmind have now cancelled the patch citing legal issues. The company have said not quite so much material has had to be cut as first thought. The company said:

The censorship now affects only several seconds from two endings (out of seven) and some scenes that may be unlocked only after the end of the game.

Madmind have said that they will at least explain the cuts in a documentary video that will show the material that had to be cut for an M rating in the US.

The cut version has just been released worldwide and is 18 rated by PEGI for the European region.

Update: May still be the possibility of an uncut version

1st June 2018. See  article from oneangrygamer.net

Developers Madmind signed a distribution deal for the game to appear on the Xbox One , PS4 , and Steam that ended up nullifying their ability to distribute the Adults Only patch as they had originally promised. It seems that this contractual agreement included a ban on patching games appearing on these platforms. However it seems that an uncensored version could appear elsewhere as long as any patches there cannot be applied to the games appearing on Xbox/PS4/Steam.

During a lengthy Q&A session, Madmind attempted to address why the game's uncensored version wasn't made available. They were also asked if it would be possible to release the uncensored content through a GOG.com version. According to Madmind, they responded:

The contract with the publishers did not allow us to make the Adult Only version. We could not do anything about it. Violation of these laws would cause huge financial penalties, which would result in immediate closure of the company and the game would not have been issued. Without publishers -- the production process would be interrupted and the game would not appear. We are in talks with GOG. If they agree, Agony will be released on this platform in a version with all patches and without censorship, with official AO rating.

Update: Agony's censored scenes published in a video

 1st June 2018. See article from oneangrygamer.net , See video of deleted scenes from vimeo.com

Madmind Studio kept their word and released a video showcasing the original Adults Only content they had to cut in order to secure a Mature rating for the game Agony.

The NSFW video clocks in at 4:48 minutes. It features the content that Madmind had to trim in order to secure the Mature rating, this includes scenes of genital penetration, a couple of seconds of butt physics, various forms of infanticide, as well as a sequence involving demon sex and a succubus giving birth to a demon baby through a mutilated vagina.

Update: Madmind announces that Agony Unrated can now be released on Steam

8th June 2018. See article from steamcommunity.com

It is with a great pleasure that we want to inform you we have found a way to publish the unrated version of Agony! Agony Unrated will be a separate title produced and published by Madmind Studio and without the involvement of any publishers. It features additional content and changes suggested by you -- our community -- as nothing is more valuable to us than you.

We are doing our best to offer Agony Unrated to as many people as possible. Our goal is for each person that already owns Agony on Steam to be able to buy Agony Unrated with the biggest discount possible on that platform -- 99% -- or release it as a free DLC . We are currently talking with the Steam representatives to make sure it is doable. Agony Unrated will be released about three months from now and it will include all the updates from the standard version of the game. Agony Unrated also brings:
Additional sounds in the game and the cutscenes.
Additional erotic animations for characters in the backgrounds.
High resolution textures and models -- without any censorship.
All the scenes that have been removed from the standard version of Agony .
Agony Mode unlocked from the beginning.
Additional content for Agony Mode (Setting -- The Forest, Boss Fight -- Baphomet).
Succubus Mode unlocked from the beginning.
Additional animations for Succubus Mode .

The whole team is working on patches and fixes for the game and we are planning to be releasing them until the most of you (if not everyone!) in our beloved community is satisfied with our game.

Update: Unrated release is cancelled

27th June 2018. See article from steamcommunity.com

MadMind Studio has announced:

We regret to inform you that our company is currently struggling with financial problems. Due to technical and legal reasons, Madmind must cancel the development of Agony Unrated.

 

 

With all due respect...

Dozens rally against censoring of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cartoonist Rob Rogers and particularly his jokes about Trump which got him sacked


Link Here 17th June 2018
A cartoonist who lost his job at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette believes his searing portrayals of Donald Trump were the most likely cause of his firing.

Rob Rogers was terminated on Thursday by the paper for which he had worked for 25 years, after six cartoons in a row were spiked and his employer tried to change his terms of working, he said.

His last cartoon depicted a bloated man representing the USA, impaled on a steel girder with trade war written on it, waving the Stars and Stripes and saying: Take that, Canada, Mexico and Europe.

Rogers's departure prompted uproar from fans including the mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto. In a statement, he said: The move today by the leadership of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to fire Rob Rogers after he drew a series of cartoons critical of President Trump is disappointing, and sends the wrong message about press freedoms in a time when they are under siege.

 

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