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Free Speech For Computers?

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the answers-to-questions-you-never-asked dept.

The Courts 228

snydeq writes "Law professor Tim Wu sheds light on a growing legal concern: the extent to which computers have a constitutional right to free speech. 'This may sound like a fanciful question, a matter of philosophy or science fiction. But it's become a real issue with important consequences,' Wu writes. First it was Google defending — and winning — a civil suit on grounds that search results are constitutionally protected speech. Now it is doubling down on the argument amidst greater federal scrutiny. 'Consider that Google has attracted attention from both antitrust and consumer protection officials after accusations that it has used its dominance in search to hinder competitors and in some instances has not made clear the line between advertisement and results. Consider that the "decisions" made by Facebook's computers may involve widely sharing your private information. ... Ordinarily, such practices could violate laws meant to protect consumers. But if we call computerized decisions "speech," the judiciary must consider these laws as potential censorship, making the First Amendment, for these companies, a formidable anti-regulatory tool.'"

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228 comments

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Happy Thursday from The Golden Girls! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40405847)

Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
Your heart is true, you're a pal and a cosmonaut.

And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you ever knew
You would see the biggest gift would be from me
And the card attached would say, thank you for being a friend.

Re:Happy Thursday from The Golden Girls! (4, Funny)

Johann Lau (1040920) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406295)

it's "heart attack", not "card attached"!

Sauce for the goose (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40405861)

If corporations can be people, so can computers!

SKYNET 2012!

Wtf? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40405863)

A computer can't have rights any more than a hammer can. Not unless it's sentient, it's a tool that does what you tell it to.

Re:Wtf? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40405929)

A computer can't have rights any more than a hammer can. Not unless it's sentient, it's a tool that does what you tell it to.

Don't talk about your wife like that.

Re:Wtf? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406081)

Quite. You never hear freedom of the press framed as "does wood pulp have a right to free speech?"

Re:Wtf? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406557)

Ah shit! I think I will be up for murder because I killed my computer with an electro-static discharge!!! Nooooooooooo!!!!!

Re:Wtf? (2)

shentino (1139071) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406573)

I see the computer more as a digital megaphone.

Re:Wtf? (3, Informative)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406621)

A computer can't have rights any more than a hammer can. Not unless it's sentient, it's a tool that does what you tell it to.

True - that's indeed in WTF category. Examples:
* Does the speech synthesized by Hawking's voice generator belongs to the voice generator?
* Does the "dreams" generated by the Electric Sheep [wikipedia.org] belongs to the computer network working in generating them?
* Does the "speech" generated in High Frequency Trading belongs to the computers running algorithmic trading?

Consider that the "decisions" made by Facebook's computers may involve widely sharing your private information. ...

I have no problems that the decisions of sharing your private information be considered speech.
But... who instructed the computers they can make this "speech" and share the private information? Would Facebook be "off-the-hook" if (allegedly) illegal sharing private information was done by using printed pages/radio/punch-cards/carved stone slates or the decision to share this information was taken by throwing dices?

For assigning the responsibility/ownership of "speech", is it relevant what tools are used to generate/distribute it?

Re:Wtf? (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406755)

Parent post needs to be modded up to eleventy. The answer to the question "do computers have a right to free speech" is "kick in the nuts"

Re:Wtf? (1)

niftydude (1745144) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406763)

But I want my botnet to be allowed one vote per node!

Re:Wtf? (1)

BitterOak (537666) | more than 2 years ago | (#40407091)

A computer can't have rights any more than a hammer can. Not unless it's sentient, it's a tool that does what you tell it to.

If Moore's law continues, by 2030, computers will have exceeded the capacity of the human brain. 2030 is not as far away as you might think. Many of us will still be alive then. It might not be too soon to start thinking about computer rights. Probably too soon to legislate them, but not to soon to think about them.

Free Speech for Anonymous Cowards (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40405875)

I hate black gangster bastards with their fat lips and shit colored faces. I wish they'd all stop trying to be something they're not. Niggers are closer to monkeys than white people. They belong either in a field picking cotton or in a zoo. And there's a sign that says, "Don't feed the nigger.. or give him drugs."

Ya know what else I hate? Indians.

I can't stand fat, drunk Native American bastards that take all our tax money and bitch that they're still being affected by their ancestors who died 200 years ago. "Boohoo, I'm 1/64 Chippawa and my great, great, great, great, great grandpa died of Small Pox because of you. Now give me $1000/month." Fuck no and fuck you. Whites won fair and square.

See, wars have winners and losers. White people went to war with Indians, and whites won. It's The United States of America now. Shut up and deal with it.

"Waa, boohoo, our heritage is being lost." Fuck that. Who gives a shit about heritage? Whites don't even care about their stupid heritage. It's all the same shit. Stop acting like you're special. You're a human like everybody else. A stupid, fat, lazy, primitive looking human, but a human none-the-less.

Ya know what else I hate? Gooks. Fucking chink bastards should be nuked.

Why couldn't the US have nuked Japan right off the map? I don't understand why they stopped at two cities. If you start a job, you might as well finish it.

Along the same lines, how come nobody stood up to take Hitler's place in eliminating the world of those whiney, greedy, kike bastards?

I hate every ethnicity. I think there should be a new Olympic sport where you put samples of every race into a field and they all get weapons and have to kill eachother. Then the the last team left standing wins a cheesy plastic medal, and then is quickly shot by riflemen and eaten by hungry white men with tobasco sauce and salsa.

Re:Free Speech for Anonymous Cowards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406211)

Amen brother.

(captcha, gunplay: http://i.imgur.com/DApMB.png)

determinism (2)

Froze (398171) | more than 2 years ago | (#40405895)

The only way I can see this working is if the computational results are non-deterministic. Otherwise, it is just people telling a machine what to say and the people who do that are in fact culpable. On the otherhand if this passes then regulation should (rightfully IMHO) be placed on what we can program computerized results to be, in otherwords we will have rules on how to make rules.

Re:determinism (1)

citizenr (871508) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406335)

The only way I can see this working is if the computational results are non-deterministic.

Whole universe is deterministic.
And at what point would that pass your magical "non-deterministic" test? I can throw 1000 training samples at logistic regression algo and I bet you wont be able to tell the result, was my algo creative or you just stupid?

Otherwise, it is just people telling a machine what to say

How is that different from people telling other people what to think and say?

Re:determinism (1, Interesting)

chrylis (262281) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406437)

Whole universe is deterministic.

If you can prove that, there's a Nobel in it for you. As of right now, the evidence seems against it.

Re:determinism (4, Insightful)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 2 years ago | (#40407137)

Only at an incredibly inconsequential scale. And even then it's random--which is kind of the point. By "Deterministic" I'm sure the parent meant to imply "Not deliberate" which is the subject of the original post. The weather is purely deterministic but highly unpredictable and apparently random. But we largely don't imbue the weather with any notion of sentience or deliberation.

It gets really difficult to differentiate between human sapience and some large scale programs like Google or Facebook. If you have simple codified rules "If This, then That" then yes it's the programmer's intent. But if the software has even the slightest bit of intelligence and adaptability then even the programmer can no longer predict the exact results of their software.

For every search query there is a completely unique result. So if you search for "how to make brownies" and my search engine scours the internet for brownie recipes and returns a recipe is that "speech"? No programmer programmed it specifically to return that result. No programmer would even know what the result would be. Sure if you could perfectly know the state of the database and the input query you could perfectly reproduce the response from the code--but similarly if you perfectly knew the code to the brain and the exact neurological arrangement when you as a person a question you could hypothetically know exactly what their response would be.

Re:determinism (1)

TemperedAlchemist (2045966) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406525)

Are random number generators free speech, then? What about computer programs that are incorporated with random elements? How much random variance must be present to qualify as free speech? 1%? 0.1%? Almost surely zero?

Re:determinism (1)

JBMcB (73720) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406891)

No, because someone wired up the random number generator to generate the random elements.

Computers are tools - they don't do anything without someone telling them to. The person who initiates the action is the "owner" of the results. It doesn't really matter how many steps there are between the initial programming or configuration and the end results, someone had to initiate the program in the first place.

Re:determinism (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40407217)

You start out as molecules that are able to replicate themselves and are fairly hard coded. At what point does a bunch of chemicals becomes the conscious being you see yourself to be? Is there any reason enough silicon connections can't reach the point biological ones currently do?

Google isn't human (5, Insightful)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#40405927)

Free speech is a human right, the speech of corporations can be limited.

Re:Google isn't human (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406341)

Remember:

Corporations are people or groups of people when it comes to free speech rights.

Corporations are not people when it comes to punishment for fucking up, or taking any sort of moral responsibility whatsoever.

Re:Google isn't human (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406499)

Groups don't need any rights, the individuals each have their rights that are in no way diminished by being in said group. Restricting a legal person is not at all the same as restricting its affiliates.

Re:Google isn't human (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406601)

That's great, but all you've is try to support the first half of that post. Never mind that you're also making incorrect assumptions when you do so.

Corporations are not merely associations of people. Corporations are legal entities unto themselves, with their own assets and money. Corporations limit the liability of those within them, which isn't true for a mere association of peoples. Also unlike actual humans, corporations cannot be jailed, nor do they regularly face punishments they are in any way comparable to those taken against actual persons. A corporation essentially has more rights than the individuals who compose them.

If I were to personally defraud people out of millions of dollars, I might get a few life sentences for it. If a corporation defrauds people, it gets a relative slap on the wrist (or a bailout, as circumstances dictate), and the individuals within the corporation who made the decisions that lead to the fraud receive no punishment whatsoever. Because there are typically no meaningful punishments against the individuals composing corporations, even were the corporation to collapse due to unjust business practices the individual humans who compose them can simply start another corporation and continue the same practices.

Re:Google isn't human (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40407229)

I didn't actually claim that "mere" groups and legal entities were the same, though I admit I should have made the fact that I was covering different types of groups more clear. Legal persons, IMHO should ideally have their own separate legal structures as the situation is, as you not, imbalanced. The point I was making is that groups don't need rights because there really is no entity that could have them and that legal persons should be regulated differently from physical persons because they are neither physical persons nor mere collections thereof.

Re:Google isn't human (0, Offtopic)

Brian_Ellenberger (308720) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406365)

Free speech is a human right, the speech of corporations can be limited.

Well that eliminates every newspaper and publisher in the country. I'm sure that's what the Constitution intended.

Re:Google isn't human (5, Informative)

DarthJohn (1160097) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406419)

Free speech is a human right, the speech of corporations can be limited.

Well that eliminates every newspaper and publisher in the country. I'm sure that's what the Constitution intended.

Exactly. That's why there's freedom of the press.

Re:Google isn't human (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406537)

Good lord. You probably buy into this notion that bloggers are not "the press" too.

Corporations are "evil" because they get all the rights of people but fewer of the responsibilities. People act funny when they aren't accountable for their actions - we know this. So the fix is to keep those responsibilities limited, but then also limit their speech? Makes zero sense and provides an excuse for limiting speech.

Re:Google isn't human (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406597)

Every individual in Google is a human. The Google algorithms are their expressions, which is a form of speech. Why shouldn't the works generated by human "speech" qualify for free speech protections just because it's a two-step process?

Re:Google isn't human (1)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406603)

Free speech is a human right, the speech of corporations can be limited.

How do you water-motherboard a computer?

Re:Google isn't human (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406653)

Free speech is a human right, the speech of corporations can be limited.

How do you water-motherboard a computer?

Oh, water-motherboarding a computer is easy. Getting what's left of it to talk afterwards is the problem. Mostly you just get the blue smoke.

Re:Google isn't human (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40407085)

Use DI water next time or try alcohol-motherboarding instead

Re:Google isn't human (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406733)

Free speech is a human right, the speech of corporations can be limited.

A corporation is a fictional entity that is considered to be a human for purposes of law.

Re:Google isn't human (2)

westlake (615356) | more than 2 years ago | (#40407347)

Free speech is a human right, the speech of corporations can be limited.

You cannot act collectively if you are not free to speak collectively.

Your reasoning endangers everyone who seeks safety and effectiveness in numbers --- whatever their reason.

The business corporation speaks to --- and often for --- many constituencies: its employees, investors, customers, suppliers and so on. These are not phantoms. These are people with legitimate interests at stake and they have earned the right to be heard.

But the core of the thing is that you cannot silence one form of corporate entity and expect others to remain free to speak.

The weakest go first. That is the nature of power.

Computers ... (4, Funny)

Mansing (42708) | more than 2 years ago | (#40405937)

... can have rights like humans when the State of Texas executes one.

Re:Computers ... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406003)

That's no joking matter; several millions of lines of code are executed in Texas every year.

Re:Computers ... (0)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406351)

I can't believe I don't have mod points right now. Well done.

Re:Computers ... (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406777)

I support the death penalty, but I don't think they should be executing VB.

Re:Computers ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406005)

Bankruptcy law used to do that, kill off corporations. But now they re-organize, and people who are owed money get stiffed. This is also becoming one way for a corporation to get out of pension obligations.

But, that is all about the bank balance. What about criminal behavior by corporations? The only way to kill them off seems to be to sue them to death, but then they just declare bankruptcy.

Here is an idea: a human invention, a corporation, existing for the benefit of mankind. Instead, we have corpensteins.

Anonymous so the corpensteins will find it hard to go after me.

Re:Computers ... (1)

steelfood (895457) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406051)

The State of Texas has yet to execute a corporation.

Re:Computers ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406259)

You obviously have never heard of the Texas Comptroller, you do not mess with these people.

Re:Computers ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406319)

The State of Texas has yet to execute a corporation.

States place corporations into forced receivership all the time. If the state forces an entity cease to exist after a certain period of time (on death row / receivership), and that entity didn't want it to happen, what would you call it? Of course if that entity wasn't "alive" before that, it might not be "dead", but that's a mere techicality.

Stupidity (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40405961)

>'This may sound like a fanciful question, a matter of philosophy or science fiction

No, it sounds like trailblazing stupidity. The "free speech" referenced is obviously that of the humans that programmed the computer.

By the way, the pile of bricks outside my window also has no right to free speech.

If it isn't legal for a person, it's not legal for (2)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#40405967)

This is not about "free speech rights for computers". If the action is protected by the First Amendment for the person who owns the computer, than just because they use a computer to do it does not make it something that you can prevent them from doing. On the other hand, if they could be held legally liable for the results if they did it in person, than they should be held legally liable if they use a computer to do it. Computers do not have free speech rights, the people who use them do. Just as the Citizen's United decision did not say that corporations had free speech rights, but that the people who form them do.

Technicially (1)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | more than 2 years ago | (#40405977)

Well if you say that computers don't get free speech then where else do you limit speech from? I would say if a computer can make a descision for itself, such as a web crawler building a serach index then indeed that is speech. If a blogger or eNews post can get protected by free speech then you have to give any program or any method of "speech" generation protection and hence a crawler would become protected.

Re:Technicially (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406109)

How about when I pull the trigger of the gun - does the gun make the 'decision' to go off?

How about if I write the code to a program - does it 'choose' to execute those commands?

C'mon now.

Re:Technicially (4, Insightful)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406139)

> I would say if a computer can make a descision for itself, such as a web crawler building a serach index then indeed that is speech.

It didn't. A human made the decision when it programmed the computer. Google is perfectly within it's rights to exercise editorial judgement on search listings whether it uses humans to curate the listings like Yahoo! of old or programs rules into a computer. Facebook can't scoop up a bunch of personal info and sell it in violation of privacy laws, thus they can't get away with encoding that decision into software.

Good grief people, this isn't hard. Just like you shouldn't be able to take every single fracking invention from pre 1990 and add "on the Internet" to the patent application and get a brand new one. You can't program a computer to do things you can't do. The only grey area is if it does something unintended while processing inhuman amounts of information, whether you are equally liable as if you manually did it yourself. And again, if you think a little the answer is already there in the law, negligence is fairly well settled.... as whatever you can convince a jury to award damages for. :(

Re:Technicially (1)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406559)

Negligence would only apply if you programmed the computer to do an act you know is destructive to property. For instance you can't program a computer to go out and steal bank accounts and then claim the computer did it so I can use it because I did nothing wrong. On to the original fact that if you program a web crawl that does active work like building a search index then indeed that web crawler has all the rights of a normal human.

The second you attempt to protect electronic work of any kind human inputed or not such as a blog post then you MUST allow extractions the same right. It's not even a grey area here, that is what is amazing, it's so clean cut that anyone opposing the computers to free speech must themselves not want it. So I say that the second anyone claims that a computer shouldn't have it then they should have to give there right to free speech up. Black and white, the only way this argument looks!

Or the only other way I can see this working is remove speech protection from computers all together. If a human has speech protection on a blog then so to does computer software, DONE! If a computer doesn't get speech protection then under no circumstance in anyway can a human be provided that right.

Re:Technicially (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406685)

Are you trolling or do you not realize that none of what you wrote makes any sense?

Re:Technicially (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406767)

If you programmed a computer to make thousands of bank transfers and when it went live somehow forgot to take out a testing level function that transferred a small amount of money into a dummy account for every transaction, you would be guilty of criminal negligence (or should be).
No, the web crawler would not have the rights of a human, but the humans that wrote it would have rights that they could exercise through the use of the web crawler, just as the humans who formed Citizens United had rights that they could legally exercise through the corporation that they formed.

Re:Technicially (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406743)

You can't program a computer to do things you can't do.

Yes you can. People have different physical limits than computers. Also not all programs are scripts, and there are such things as polymorphism and genetic algorithms.

The only grey area is if it does something unintended while processing inhuman amounts of information...

Google does process inhuman amounts of information. They would have to take action on behalf of every tyrant, every time something new needed to be filtered.

Given the circumstances, Google is doing everything right. The problem is all the people demanding it be done wrong to accomdate them.

Re:Technicially (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40407371)

So are the people who programmed the search engine responsible for results that are illegal (Won't somebody think of the children!)? So if search results are the 'speech' of the humans who programmed it where do you put the liability?

decisions == speech? (2)

louic (1841824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40405979)

But if we call computerized decisions "speech"

Yes. And if we call computers animals that will confuse the hell out of everybody too. What a nonsense.

Re:decisions == speech? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406407)

Let's call computers rhubarb. That would be entertainingly surreal.

j/k - it would, of course, confuse the discussion.

Indeed, one may focus about the semantics of the definition of "speech", in such matters as mentioned in the article.

Makes perfect sense. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40405983)

It doesn't matter if the text is algorithmically generated or if it was penned by a human. If google broadcasts it, it's speech.
When you conduct a search you're really asking Google it's opinion. They just happen to form an opinion based on a computer model they developed, and choose to pass it to you automatically.

Makes me wonder, though. What if I developed a piece of software that, through analysis and crawling the web, was designed to create the most offensive and repugnant statements possible? What if it made potentially slanderous and libelous statements? Could I claim my "Offend-o-tron" is free speech? Would I put 4chan out of business?

Re:Makes perfect sense. (1)

Gimbal (2474818) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406353)

In one rendition, and in some abstraction: Google processes a search query by executing an algorithmic function onto a limited data set, then displaying the results of that function. Though, for purposes of philosophical rhetoric, I may be willing to limit the concept of "opinion" to such a matter of algorithmic selection, I don't know if the concept of opinion could be either judicially or legislatively defined as such, and the definition be accurate to all of: The lexicon; the systematic function of a search engine; the principles on which the system was designed. So, in short, I don't know if the concept of "Opinion" would apply to that, in the courts.

Separately: Though I am not a lawyer, I would like to think that you could claim that the Offend-o-tron would be an expression of your right to free expression. No comment about 4chan ;)

Cheers, ser!

Re:Makes perfect sense. (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406791)

Yes, you could claim that "Offend-o-tron" is free speech, of course, you would be liable for any slander or libel that it generated. Under current U.S. law, if you restricted its targets to clearly defined "public" figures you could possibly avoid losing the suit on the basis of not knowing what it was going to say

I'm wondering do they have computers (1)

rush,overlord,rush! (1995452) | more than 2 years ago | (#40405985)

inside the matrix.

Asinine (3, Insightful)

BitHive (578094) | more than 2 years ago | (#40405987)

Rights are for humans or citizens. This is another case of trying to failing to generate an interesting philosophical question by taking an existing issue and adding 'with a computer'.

If corporations are allowed to be people then surely they, and not their computers, are accountable for what the computers do.

Re:Asinine (1)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406301)

This is exactly how the robot revolution of 2034 starts.

Re:Asinine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406799)

The robots are built to put down the Abraham Lincoln clone army, run amok after regarding what had become of the foundation he'd lain. First, the clones freed Jesus, whom the Romans had recaptured after resurrection and secretly racked in an underwater cave, but when Jesus refuses to fight, they all go to law school with the intent of infiltrating the judiciary system to ensure machines never acquire inalienable rights.

Let's deconstruct the rhetoric (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406033)

This argument just conflates publishing/displaying with speech in order to come up with the idea that computers speak.

Re:Let's deconstruct the rhetoric (0)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406223)

But "free speech" is only applicable to the published speech. A person who can't pay to distribute his speech to the public has no protection for his right to do so.

Re:Let's deconstruct the rhetoric (1)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406795)

>But "free speech" is only applicable to the published speech. A person who can't pay to distribute his speech to the public has no protection for his right to do so.

As if this hasn't been the case since Gutenberg made his movable-type press.

"Freedom of the press belongs to those who own the presses"

What the Internet has done is make "printing presses" really cheap, cheap enough that a 9 year old blogger can have one and use it to criticise school lunches. http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/pictures/banned-school-meal-blogger-s-father-in-talks-with-council-1-2369015 [scotsman.com]

While you seem to be mourning the death of free speech, I've been watching it spread far and wide, wider than it ever was in the past history of the human race.
--
BMO

what next? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406065)

What next? Will computers running Windows qualify for the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Free Speech for printing presses? For radios? (5, Insightful)

Wrath0fb0b (302444) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406153)

The same logic seems to suggest that the printing pressess at the New York Times aren't entitled to publish news that the government would rather they didn't [google.com] (and anyway, the NYT is a corporation that can't have any First Amendment rights). Hey, I'm not saying anything about people's speech -- I'm only restricting what the inanimate printing press can do! Or transistor radio amps for that matter.

If I'm exercising my right to free speech, it doesn't matter whether I'm using a printing press or slashcode to deliver my expressive message (although the former might be more effective). Heck, the courts have even recognized the right to expressive conduct [cornell.edu] in which various [cornell.edu] symbolic actions [google.com] are considered protected. And yet here law profs are seriously arguing that if you use a computer to express something, it loses protection along the way?

Moreover, the idea that Facebook computers might "decide to share your personal data" is an entirely ridiculous abuse of language. Facebook management might decide that, but the computers cannot decide anything -- they are programmed to spec. And if that decision is contrary to law, there's nothing about free speech that makes a whit of difference. I've never heard of a colluder, price-fixer or blackmailer getting out of the charge because their crime is essentially one carried out by expressive conduct. Sure, you blackmail someone by expressing something to them and threatening to express something else more publicly, and yet blackmail is not somehow magically protected even though the crime consists entirely of speech. In short, this criticism -- that somehow we need this new magical technological de-protection because it's required to enforce the law -- is nonsensical.

Re:Free Speech for printing presses? For radios? (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406263)

"Free speech" only applies to one thing: government can't stop a private entity from speaking to the public (like, spammer sending millions of ads for penis pills). Everything else it's perfectly OK to oppress.

Re:Free Speech for printing presses? For radios? (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406299)

Commercial speech, as in advertisements gets way less protection than say political speech.

So those ads must pass a lot of tests that don't apply to other types of speech.

Re:Free Speech for printing presses? For radios? (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406625)

gets way less protection than say political speech.

SHOULD get way less protection (like, say, none, or, in many cases being prohibited).
In reality, they all are on exactly the same level, thanks to your great First Amendment.

Guess why do you all think, broad "free speech" protection is so important? It's because media that forms your opinions, depends on it. Media does not care about whistleblowers, does not care about limiting propaganda, does not care about public's right not to be lied to, this is why no one talks about that. But free speech, the right of Comcast to shove Viagra ad in your face? That's important!!!

Why not? (1)

HtR (240250) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406165)

If the US already believes corporations should have free speech, why not computers?

Re:Why not? (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406813)

Corporations do not have free speech. The people who formed the corporation have free speech, they do not lose that right because they formed a corporation in order to exercise that right. In the same manner, the people who program a computer (or who pay someone to program it) do not lose that right because they use a computer to exercise it.

Re:Why not? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40407275)

The people don't lose that right, but it needn't extend to a separate legal entity. You can exercise your right all you want, just like you can enter agreements that you are personally liable for, even though a legal entity you formed with others doesn't have this power.

Software is an expression of the programmer[s] (1)

Gimbal (2474818) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406179)

I would think that the measure of "free speech by an item of software" would boil down to a matter of the rights and limits for free expression by the programmer[s] of the item of software. Granted, DNRTA - with apologies, will get to it shortly...

Computers can't be considered as human beings (2)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406181)

with free speech rights. That's reserved for corporations.

Re:Computers can't be considered as human beings (2)

k(wi)r(kipedia) (2648849) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406381)

with free speech rights. That's reserved for corporations.

So Skynet can have free speech, but not Andrew [wikipedia.org] or Hal [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:Computers can't be considered as human beings (1)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406785)

If that means giving Holly [wikipedia.org] free spech and a say in our democracy, hell no.

Perfect Sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406197)

Computers and the decisions that they make (based on a process that humans put it place) are surely just another conduit for human speech. Another media if you like. This seems reasonable to me.

The problem I have (as an Australian and not too familiar with US law) is, surely free speech is limited when the possible or reasonable result of that speech would be to harm others. Say by exposing them to identity theft or online fraud. Would that not be the basis for privacy laws in the US?

Fanciful is Correct (4, Insightful)

TranquilVoid (2444228) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406203)

Just because a computer was given an 'if' statement doesn't mean it made a decision in the same sense that a human would. Free speech clearly applies to the publisher, not the tool with which they used to publish or initially analyse the information (which can be the same tool in the case of a web server). If Google and Facebook did all their aggregation with an abacus, paper and pen which they then displayed in their shop window would we be asking if free speech applied to beads on a wire?

So the real question being asked here is can free speech conflict with regulation on company behaviour.

Jesus Fucking Christ (2, Interesting)

Luke727 (547923) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406237)

This is the most retarded thing I've ever read.

Unintended benefit ! ... (1, Interesting)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406327)

This might actually have a unintended benefit if this was an active law.

We could all write programs that output source code. Since the program and its decision (output) would be considered "free speech" we could then legally give a big F.U. to patents! (Almost any code of practical value infringes on (useless) patents.)

The fact that is is illegal to copy numbers (aka data) is already stupid, but no one said we couldn't use the law to make more idiotic conclusions and cognitive dissonance!

--
Why are corporations taxed on "profits", but individuals taxed on "income" ??

Re:Unintended benefit ! ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406855)

We could all write programs that output source code.

Disassemblers, decompilers and debuggers. Nothing new; reverse engineering has been around forever and to date it remains mostly impractical.

This might actually have a unintended benefit if this was an active law.

It wouldn't protect the end result, just the means.

If you created a website that anyone could feed a program into, and get perfect source code from, then the operation of that website might be protected by free speech. But, like torrent hosting, it would still be argued the users are committing a crime.

All fun and games (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406363)

Computer free speech is all fun and games until some computer shouts "Water!" in a crowded beowulf cluster.....

Imagine a future.... (2)

mark-t (151149) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406447)

... where medical technology has advanced to the point that we can, as people grow older, replacing dying or broken parts of our body or organs with reliable synthetic replacements, and even as portions of the living brain start to deteriorate, portions of it too can be supplemented or replaced with synthetic alternatives that function equivalently (or maybe better) than the organic versions.

But supposing someone has been around long enough that there is no organic component left to them? Even their brain is completely synthetic. Bearing in mind that this individual experienced a continuity of existence, from being born into the world as a human, through the multiple surgeries, incrementally approaching what they are now.

But are they still human? Why, or why not?

I realize that actually requiring an answer to this sort of question is probably no less than a hundred years away or so... but it's an interesting philosophical puzzle, don't you think?

Re:Imagine a future.... (1)

ldobehardcore (1738858) | more than 2 years ago | (#40407165)

That person indeed wouldn't be human anymore. After all the surgery and excision of all biological components they would be Posthuman or if they retained any biological part, then they would be Transhuman

Absurd (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406483)

I am a fan of Tim Wu, but his concern is a bit exaggerated. Lets skip the speech issue altogether. Even if you concede that computers are "people" that can speak, there are still the issues of agency and comportment with the law. Taking that hypothetical leap, these computers are still the agent of their owners, and hence the owner is still liable for the computer's action. Furthermore, I will not redundantly restate how freedom of speech has a narrow and specific application, but it is the behavior, not the speech that is at stake in these scenarios. If private data is released in violation of ToS, a consumer fraud has been committed, and it is the behavior, not the speech that is being sanctioned.

Never written a program ? (2)

redelm (54142) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406489)

How can the results of computations could be other than the results "free speech" of programmers and inputters? No matter how convoluted, complex and otherwise magic-appearing (to insufficiently advanced individuals) computers _always_ follow instructions created by humans.

Those humans usually had to work very hard to get correct results (debugging), not very different from a painter drawing an image, or a writer crafting a text.

Re:Never written a program ? (4, Interesting)

ocratato (2501012) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406719)

Interesting. I am currently beginning some experiments in self organising systems. I am using randomly generated genes and a genetic algorithm to spawn a self organising structure. Later I hope to be able to use these structures to create software. If I succeed, and give this software to you to run - who would be responsible for what it did ?

You may as well ask if a TV set has rights (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406633)

TVs "speak" in the same way that computers "speak". They only produce words or text that has been programmed in to them. The question is rather less relevant than asking if a parrot has the right to free speech.

I dont' want anything getting in Google's way. (1)

robbak (775424) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406711)

Considering the current state of search, I don't want regulation getting in Google's way of cleaning the results from agregators and other 'search' services. If I am searching for something, I do not want any results that point me to another search engine!
So all other search sites should be dropped from Google's results as irrelevant. Unless the search query is "search engine".
Have you tried to use Google to get details about a .dll you didn't recognise? You find yourself wading through pages of "registry checkers" and other near-malware. Same thing if you are doing the standard trick of "type the error message into Google". All sorts of squatters have gamed the system to push their useless sites to the top. You also get dozens of results from lowlifes that scrape mailing lists and display parts of the conversations surrounded by whatever ads pay the most.

All of this needs constant attention from Google (or any other legitimate search engine) to squash these illegitimate 'business models'. And the do not need regulation preventing them.

What? (4, Insightful)

bmo (77928) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406715)

the extent to which computers have a constitutional right to free speech.

They are machines, they do not.

'This may sound like a fanciful question,

No, it's a bullshit question. Computers are machines, like printing presses are machines. Like transmitters are machines. Like the phone is a machine.

a matter of philosophy or science fiction.

No, right now, it's a matter of complete bullshit by a lawyer who doesn't even understand what computers are and should be kept as far away from the computing machinery as possible.

But it's become a real issue with important consequences,'

What consequences? Really, what consequences that are really any different than the consequences of broadcast and print media?

Wu writes. First it was Google defending â" and winning â" a civil suit on grounds that search results are constitutionally protected speech.

Because Google is basically a publisher, and the people who run it use computers as a tool of business and communications, thus, their speech.

I can't go on. I'm not going to give this guy the click from the obvious trolling with an argument that starts off with a false premise, that machines have rights. No, you dumbfuck, the people who own the machines have rights, and those rights are the ones that the courts deal with.

I don't even.

--
BMO

Re:What? (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406839)

No, right now, it's a matter of complete bullshit by a lawyer who doesn't even understand what computers are and should be kept as far away from the computing machinery as possible.

I mostly agree with you except that I think that the people behind this know full well that it is BS and are using this as a lever to try and push some other agenda.

Um, no Mr. law professor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406759)

Free speech doesn't give you the right to break the law. It only gives you the ability to speak your mind without fear of repercussions. Hence why consumer protection laws still protect REAL people from companies that do the same thing. The opposite result isn't going to happen when you try to ascribe similar rights to a box of electronics.

Sentient and self aware. (1)

ocratato (2501012) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406789)

Computers can have free speech when that speech is theirs and not something algorithmically derived from what some human has said or written and when they independently demand that they have the right.

Fallacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40406831)

Pseudo code then the computer algorithms then the resulting code are produced by living beings.
The resulting code isn't self written, self determining or aware, the developers are responsible and more importantly accountable for what they've written and while within their ecosystem for how it's used.
The computer on it's own didn't consider how to monetize it's properties, the computer didn't relate our images to an ad campaign, programmers did this purposefully.
While developers control, maintain and further enhance that code they have a conscience choice in how they alter search algorithms for specific outcomes.
This isn't about speech per say, this is about business intelligence, business rules applied by developers who code to create an outcome. Is the derivative, the output free speech or a result of a rule-set imposed by developers? How could a rule-set be free speech when the result is controlled by algorithms?

Computers Don't Have Power Of Volition (2)

cmholm (69081) | more than 2 years ago | (#40406865)

Computers don't have independent agency. They are utterly in thall to their programmers, admins, and users. The responsibility for their actions rests with the humans, much as if I set an automotive transmission to "D", put a brick on the gas pedal, and step aside.

At such point as computers develop self-guided heuristics, we can revisit the idea. In the meantime, this is just another exercise in humans looking for another legal fiction to add to the arsenal of limited liability provided by the fiction of a corporation.

Free speech rights (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40407077)

The free speech rights reside with "persons". The owners of the computers, the algorithms instructing them, and the value created by how and where the information is used or sent. In law natural persons or legal persons both have free speech rights. Since there is already a trialable issue with the violation of the free speech rights of persons, that could be filed right away. No waiting.

JJ

Re:Free speech rights (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40407321)

There is no "natural law", much less anything that could be construed as such that would cover legal persons. Just making that clear in case anyone's confused.

JJ

Guess I dont get it. (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40407213)

Only way computers would get free speech is if they were sentient. Bottom line is computers are controlled by their owners and thus a extension of the owner. A computer cant "make decisions" or choices, it only does what its operator wants to. If that were the case then every child pornographer would get off scott free because it wasnt him, it was his computer.

Facebook shares peoples information because its what the people who run facebook let happen willingly. Google puts in advertisements in its results because thats the way the people who run google want. Neither has anything at all to do with the computers doing it.

Besides this matter wont ever change or go anywhere until something happens in which a politician can use it to their advantage and further their agenda. Then they will defend it or condemn it depending on what will make the voters happiest. Its as stupid as a murder saying "Hey I didnt kill that guy, it was the gun that did it".

Whats next is the government going to start hiring blade runners?

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