TPC 46: Fighting Hate Speech vs. Fighting Free Speech

Police raids across Europe to fight hate speech sound like a good idea. But what does “hate speech” actually mean? And does fighting it actually help? Or will it endanger your freedom of speech and maybe even your privacy?

Welcome to another episode of The Private Citizen, live from lockdown in the beautiful, but rather draconian city of Düsseldorf on the Rhine. In this episode, I explore the intersection of hate speech and free speech. And how it might impact the lives, and privacy, of everyday people.

The Situation Room

Let’s talk on IRC: If you want to give feedback in realtime or just chang out and chat, you can meet me, your host, and other listeners in #fabindustries on Freenode.

The US Presidential Election: As I record this, The Associated Press has not called the race yet. Biden is currently leading and if the projections are true, he will win. It’s extremely close, though.

Second lockdown in Germany: A local lockdown report from your man in Düsseldorf. Masks must now be worn everywhere at all times , even while you’re running or doing other sports. Otherwise you risk huge fines. And the German Social Democrats (SPD) are of the opinion, that people who aren’t ruined by the pandemic must pay more taxes to pay for the debts the state incurred from the lockdowns .

European Police Raids to Fight Hate Speech

This week, there were several raids in Germany (and other European countries), where police entered the homes of suspects and seized their computers and phones.

European police launched coordinated raids in seven countries on Tuesday as part of a clampdown on online hatred and incitement to violence, the European Union law enforcement agency Europol and German prosecutors said.

In Germany, police searched 83 apartments and other buildings to seize evidence like smart phones and laptops. Prosecutors said 96 suspects are being questioned about hateful posts they made online. One of the suspects is accused of making anti-Semitic comments while another insulted a female politician online, prosecutors in the German region of Rheinland Palatinate said in a statement.

The raids are part of an annual drive initiated by German prosecutors, joined this year for the first time by Italy, France, Greece, Norway, Britain and the Czech Republic under the coordination of Europol. Tuesday’s raids are focused on online posts that promote racism and xenophobia, a Europol spokesman said.

Germany has some of the world’s toughest laws on defamation, incitement to commit crimes and threats of violence, with prison sentences for Holocaust denial or inciting hatred against minorities. A German law in force since 2018 demands that social networks delete or block obviously criminal content within 24 hours of receiving a complaint or face a hefty fine. The legislation has been closely watched as concerns mount globally about hateful posts, but it has had a limited impact and has not stopped online hate speech in Germany, blamed for helping to fuel a wave of racist attacks in the last year.

c.f.: German report in Der Spiegel , BKA press release

The German government is also trying to pass a new law against “hate speech”, which has come under fire because it was sloppily drafted and is probably unconstitutional.

Producer Feedback

We have a lot of feedback to get through today, so buckle up, everyone.

Evgeny Kuznetsov chimes in on face masks.

While I do totally agree with you about the lack of the due process and the general stupidity of mandating masks outdoors, I – as a privacy-loving citizen – have a confession to make: I’m glad COVID-19 brought these mask-wearing rules, and I think it will be one of the things I’ll remember 2020 fondly for.

There’s a Federal Law in Russia (and a Federal Law is, like, a big deal) “About gatherings, meetings, demonstrations, processions, and picketings”, and in that Federal Law, there’s a clause that says a participant of a public event is not allowed to cover or hide his/her face. And the Administrative Offences Code of Russia (not the Criminal Code, but bad, too) says violating the legal rules of participating in a public event is grounds to a fine or up to 40 hours of public works. So you basically don’t want to cover your face in a public event, really. A lot of countries have similar regulations, but…

But I live in Moscow, and Moscow is quite unlike the rest of Russia in many ways (I used to live in St.-Petersburg for 6 years, and I’m originally from Kaliningrad aka Königsberg in Pr. where a big part of my family still lives, so I have grounds to compare). While it’s true Moscow has much more money, power, and opportunities than the rest of Russia combined, living in Moscow also has its drawbacks. And besides traffic and bad air, Moscow also houses the Federal Government, the Parliament (both Houses), and the President of Russia, and these people seem to really hate the idea of public unrest. It’s hard to blame them, history seems to attest that public unrest in Russia tends to be bloody and unfortunate for those in power. Anyway, the people currently in power seem to be very scared of what might happen, so Moscow police tend to be very repressive and harsh, and Moscow courts of law have even fewer rulings in favour of the defendant that the Russian average (which is, I believe, less than 1% anyway).

So, for years now I’ve been advised by layers to try and avoid covering my face in public places, in malls, on the subway, etc. – you never know what they’ll call a gathering (hence a public event), and you can never prove you didn’t aim to avoid recognition, especially in a country where any evidence from a defendant that a police officer is giving a false accusation can be dismissed because “the court has no reason to doubt the words of an officer of the law” (yep, Moscow courts use that a lot).

With COVID-19 they banned public events altogether (which is very bad, of course), but I’m no longer afraid to go out with my face covered. Which is ultimately a good thing privacy-wise in my book… And thank you for the podcast – again! Please do continue!

Captain Egghead sent me some very nice OTG ideas, among other feedback:

Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m a No Agenda listener. I used to listen to occasional episodes a few years back, when I was working further from home and having to drive a couple of hours every day. In fact, I had learned about it from you: I had been a LO listener, and also followed GNR for a while, when I had the time (nowadays I have much less time for podcasts in general). Other than NA, I also want to thank you for recommending The Expanse – really one of my favorite series (waiting for season 5 on Prime Video now). I was delighted to hear about TPC, since like yourself I believe that privacy is a human right that is worth protecting, and is facing increasing threats in the last decades.

I like the idea of your “off-the-grid” tips and reviews. What I heard so far was focused around apps and setting that “normal people” can use to limit their exposure on their “normal” devices and accounts, narrowing the gap between full functionality and full privacy. However, I think it is also interesting to explore that gap from the other side. Namely, figuring out what you can or can not yet achieve with completely tracking-free devices and apps. This way we can learn what people who actually have something to hide from resourceful organizations, like whistleblowers and dissenters, must give up for their safety.

Now, I do not mean things like replacing the OS on your main phone. Instead, people who are interested enough can experiment on older phones, or try out one of the newly available privacy-focused devices, in addition to their “normal” one. For such purpose, I have pre-ordered a Librem 5 phone fron Purism, which I intend to use in addition to my normal Android device, to see what it can do and find out when and for how long I’ll be able to comfortly move about without my google-ful phone. It is possible that some of your listeners have already tried such things first hand, or are considering doing it. So reviews and news about such privacy-centered products would be interesting to me.

Similarly, I had been curious to see how much effort would it take to set up a hosted email identity which is actually anonymous (without giving up any traceable information to the mail provider). It turned out to be a non-trivial task that requires some patience. But I believe I succeeded, and the result was the account which I used for sending my first feedback to your show.

By now, that identity is not really anonymous anymore, because I wanted to contribute money to your show, and anonymous payments are another non-trivial task which I did not want to tackle right now. I estimate that you probably got my real name and private email address via the PayPal transfer. It is possible to tell PayPal to avoid sending my home address to the receiver of the payment, but the form did not say anything about names or email addresses.

So, following is a brief summary of this experiment: First of all I have used Tor for all interactions, to avoid giving up my IP address (it is possible that if I had used a VPN instead things might have been easier). It turns out that even with privacy-aware email providers you might be forced to supply a phone number. The official reason is for fighting spam-bots. The measures they take against them vary according to the provider and your access method, but when you are behind Tor, in most cases you will have to go through extra hoops in addition to the normal captches. This means either doing some payment (which I wanted to avoid because, as I said above, anonymous payments are not-trivial tasks as well), or a phone verification. Now, phones are traceable by default, but there are multiple sites you can use to recieve SMS without a phone. The problem with that is that the email providers can detect such numbers, with various degrees of success. GMail seems to be very good at that, but with the other providers that I tried, you can generally pass through after several attempts. The first account I managed to set up was on, but after opening the account (and generating a public key for signing my message), I found out that I cannot send out mail from my new account before I verify it by making a payment (returning to to my original problem). The next one was Hushmail, which did not require any more hoops.

Somewhat related to this line of thought, I have recently watched a few videos on Rob Braxman’s channel. In particular I noticed his video about the COVID-19 contact tracing apps. The main point he makes there is that it does not really matter how safe the new protocol is, because Google and Apple already have all the information required for generating these alerts. The only new thing that the apps provide to these companies is the confirmation of new positive cases, which is available to the MOH but not to Google and Apple (but the two data sources cannot be combined without raising public attention and causing bad press).

As far as I can tell, Rob seems to be familiar with the technical details he is talking about, so I suppose he might be right, at least about the data collection. I do have doubts about their willingness to share their data with each other, or about each of them having sufficient penetration rate to do the alerting on its own. Which actually might be another motive for them to cooperate on this.

I know that you have reviewed these applications for several countries in your show, but I do not recall you mentioning such theory. On the other hand, I have only listened to few episodes, so I might have missed something, and not adding anything new here. In any case I would be happy to hear what you think of that.

c.f.: Episodes of this podcast concerning contact tracing

Fadi Mansour is claiming his stamina prize. Impressive!

Thank you and Michael for the interesting discussion. And as you requested, I’m sending my thoughts.

At one point in the discussion you mentioned that you agree with Michael that all of the “political elites” (my word, you enumerated several names), are all corrupt, but nevertheless, for you Trump is a “better” option than Biden. I have a similar attitude, so let me try to clarify my thinking behind it: Of course everybody would love that politicians would work for the public good. But in reality, different people have different incentives, and the public good might not be the first item on any politician’s list. In my opinion, it would be good to be rid of this idea that politicians are angels. They are people, and they are corruptible, and it is always better to think of them as such. They should only be given enough power to be able to do their job, and not more.

For me it seems that there was some established political elite that were not very happy, when Trump won, who for me seemed to be an outsider, and they couldn’t stop trying to undermine his presidency. Although I’m not directly concerned with who would be the American president (I’m not an American), I think it would have been great if there were other and better options, but unfortunately, Trump is the incumbent, the democratic party couldn’t find a better option than Biden, and no big independent name! But voting someone who is not part of the traditional power structures seems to be the safest option.

Barry Williams wants to discuss my opinion regarding climate change.

I have been formulating a response to you about your opinion on climate change for a little while, and I thought it may add value to the show. I will say I have not done a deep dive on this (as a parent of twin toddlers sadly I do not have the time to thoroughly research everything, which could be a problem in this and other areas). Firstly you say that climate science is based on modeling but you also say this about the double helix of DNA. Scientists have done great things with this model to further our understanding of the body and medicine. There is an aphorism “All models are wrong, but some are useful” and a similar I will paraphrase science is about finding the least wrong model / explanation.

Secondly it is clear humans have added CO2 to the environment whether or not it is directly causing climate change I think it would be beneficial if humans were to do as little to the environment as possible. Obviously we have made drastic changes all over the world but if we could for instance make energy or run vehicles without adding CO2 to the environment I think we should. Yes that may mean changing the environment in building various energy generation plants which changes the environment, but I guess I am thinking that CO2 is a global change.

Finally on this point if the models are correct and we are approaching a tipping point on climate change; or at the very least the longer we leave it until we have solid scientific evidence (not a model), the more we CO2 add to the environment the harder we are making it on ourselves. I will say on the latest episode you mentioned pigeonholing, I must say when you first mentioned your opinion on climate science it did rock my thoughts about you. I have reconciled this now and your opinions are your own and undoubtedly well researched. Our opinions are similar in some areas and diverge in others and that is healthy.

Russell also sent me a massive amount of feedback and it’s really too much content on too many different topics to be repeated on the show. But I appreciate the input!

If you, too, have thoughts on the topics discussed in this or previous episodes, please feel free to contact me.

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Thanks and Credits

I like to credit everyone who’s helped with any aspect of this production and thus became a part of the show.

Aside from the people who have provided feedback and research and are credited as such above, I’m thankful to Raúl Cabezalí, who composed and recorded the show’s theme, a song called Acoustic Routes. I am also thankful to Bytemark, who are providing the hosting for this episode’s audio file.

But above all, I’d like to thank the following people, who have supported this episode through Patreon or PayPal and thus keep this show on the air: Niall Donegan, Michael Mullan-Jensen, Jonathan M. Hethey, Dave, Butterbeans, Georges Walther, Mark Holland, Steve Hoos, Shelby Cruver, Jackie Plage, 1i11g, Kai Siers, Philip Klostermann, Jaroslav Lichtblau, Fadi Mansour, ikn, Matt Jelliman, Joe Poser, Dirk Dede, David Potter, Mika, Dave Umrysh, Martin, S.J., RikyM, drivezero, Jonathan Edwards, Barry Williams, MrAmish, Vytautas Sadauskas and Captain Egghead.