Protect us

Decent bloggers are finding it increasingly difficult to do their job, namely challenge the powerful in society:

When a billionaire born in Uzbekistan and an outspoken former British ambassador clashed over a scorching blog, the first outcome was the Internet equivalent of a smackdown.

The daily Web log, or blog, of the former U.K. ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, vanished after Murray’s British Internet provider received a flurry of ominous legal letters demanding the removal of “potentially defamatory” information about Alisher Usmanov, a mining mogul with a rising stake in the English soccer club Arsenal.

Two weeks later, Murray is not blogging, but his blistering opinions are about to surface again through a Dutch Internet provider that offers refuge to controversial bloggers in the United States and in England, where libel laws are more lax. And with that journey, Murray has stirred support and a common outrage among bloggers and Internet service providers who complain that chilling demands from companies are becoming more frequent in a number of countries.

“I’m personally predicting that the next growth area is not censorship of bomb-making Web sites,” said Richard Clayton, a computer security researcher at Cambridge University and part of the OpenNet Initiative that tracks Internet filtering around the world, “but complaints about defamation and civil suits.”

Murray’s odyssey began in early September when he posted a pejorative description of Usmanov on his blog.

Schillings, a London law firm specializing in media entertainment, then fired back for Usmanov with legal warnings to Fasthosts, the blog’s Internet service provider, demanding elimination of the posting within 24 hours.

More letters followed and by the fourth complaint, Fasthosts simply deactivated the Web site – along with two other servers, shutting down more than a dozen other sites, including that of a British member of Parliament.

Craig Murray is now back online – and here he’s responded to some of the so-called charges against him – but such figures should be protected from overzealous prosecutors. Simply put, bloggers shouldn’t be beyond the law, but they should have similar protection to other journalists.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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