I’m from the Netherlands. That may sound like a weird statement to start a column with– don’t worry, at the end of this week’s Sunday Eve Column you’ll understand why I put my nationality so bluntly up front.
You see, being Dutch implies a few things. Besides it implying you are a know-it-all, it also implies a certain pride in knowing that in your country, everybody is legally equal, whether he or she be black, white, or polka dot; whether he or she be heterosexual, homosexual, or both; whether he or she be a rich banker, a hard working carpenter, or a chronic patient of whatever disease unemployed at home. That equality stems from the first article of the Dutch Constitution [.pdf], which states:
“All who are in The Netherlands, will in equal cases be treated as equals. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, way of life, political orientation, race, sex, or any other ground, is prohibited.”
This is the very basis on which this little country is built. This 1st Article can be seen shining through Dutch society everywhere; be it same-sex marriage, euthanadicsia, or our liberal (but very successful) drug policies.
However, there’s enough to complain about too, of course. And this brings me to two Dutch people who complained a lot, in the past few years, and got murdered because of it. You have all heard about them; politician Pim Fortuyn, and film maker Theo van Gogh. Even though I highly disagreed with both of them on fundamental issues, I respected, and still respect them, for their guts, honesty, and openness. They were not afraid to say what they thought, even though they had to pay for it with their lives.
You might not realise it, but in the tech world today, there’s something going on that bears a striking resemblance to the above cases. It might not be as far-fetching on a personal level (as in, nobody is getting murdered), but if you break the three cases (the two murders in The Netherlands, and the case I’m currently talking about) down to their bare essentials, they are practically the same.
Pim Fortuyn got murdered because of what he said. Someone, and in The Netherlands we all know his name, murdered someone else because he did not agree with him. In essence, the murderer attacked the very concept of democracy. The killer got what he deserved, a life sentence, but that of course does not reverse the suffering he has caused among Fortuyn’s family, and his followers.
Theo van Gogh also got murdered because of his opinions. He made films which spouted critique, and because of that, he was murdered. His murderer also got a life sentence, but again, this does not bring Theo van Gogh back to his family and friends.
And the case in the tech world is about the same. Certain websites, certain individuals and journalists, have said certain things which a certain company didn’t like. These websites, individuals, and journalists got their hands on information which wasn’t supposed to be out yet; new products, future plans for the company, you name it. For the company in question, secrecy and mystery concerning its products is part of its marketing campaign, and as such, anything that dispels that secrecy and mystery is considered dangerous to sales and thus to shareholders.
Hence, this company is doing something which, as I said, on the personal level might not compare in any way to what the two murderers have done, but in purpose and results is the same: to silence people, to stymie the concept of free speech, not only of the said individuals, but also of any individuals who in the future might have information they want to share.
You all know, by now, who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the tech world’s teddy bear, the goody two-shoes of computing, the big innocent of .mp3 players: Apple Computer. Apple is trying to silence people, trying to work its butt around free speech, just because the company itself is failing in keeping information from leaking to the outside world.
The deal is this: Apple lets its employees sign an NDA. People break this NDA by giving information under that NDA to certain websites such as AppleInsider and ThinkSecret. Apple then wanted those websites to disclose their sources, to “tell mom”, so to speak, because websites do not deserve the same protections as the “legitimate press”. They succeeded.
But what constitutes as the “legitimate press”? A university degree? Publication method? Number of readers?
And that is where the problem lies. In the modern day world of the internet and blogging, anyone can be a journalist. Every blog, no matter how small or insignificant, is a little newspaper in its own right. Therefore, they deserve the exact same protection as the New York Times or De Volkskrant. Charles Cooper of CNET News.com put it best:
“The real subtext is this: Apple is directed by a collection of control freaks who would have found themselves quite at home in the Nixon White House. The big difference being that reporters had the constitutional freedom to report on the Nixon White House.”
Later this month, Apple will face an appeal on behalf of blogs and online journalists, who demand the same protection from subpoenas that the “legitimate press” enjoys.
As managing editor of OSNews.com, and as Dutchman who experienced first-hand what attacking the freedom of speech can lead to, I am very, very, deeply worried about the current chain of events in this case. Apple is attacking the freedom of speech as well as the freedom of press, and they must not succeed in doing so.
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