Culver City Adopts Chinese Model of Internet Access

TJIC has a great link to a new law blog called CopyOwner focused no free speech issues.  CopyOwner observes that Culver City, California appears to be emulating the Chinese Internet model, providing access for free, but only if you accept state censoring:

First, they offer Internet access, but you must agree to "limited"
Internet access. And they don't mean limited hours of the day, limited
locations, or a limited amount of time you can be on. No, when they say
"limited," they mean that they will censor access to parts of the
Internet. ("By using this free wireless network you are agreeing and
acknowledging you have read and accepted these terms and conditions of
use, and this wireless network provides only limited access to the
Internet.") In other words, they do not offer Internet access at all....

Second, in order to gain the right to enjoy
this free, public, non-Internet access, no matter what you read in the
Bill of Rights (and the First Amendment, in particular) you must agree
that the government may abridge your freedom of speech and you further
agree that when it does so (as it promises to do), you will not
exercise your right to sue for the violation of your First Amendment
rights!

I'm not making this up. Here's the fine print:
"Further, [by using it] you are agreeing to waive any claims,
including, but not limited to First Amendment claims, that may arise
from the City and Agency's decision to block access to "¦ matter and
websites [of its choosing] through this free wireless network "¦."

From
a legal standpoint, it is the same as if the Culver City public library
were offering you free access to newspapers, but was first clipping out
the articles it didn't like and making you agree not to sue for
censorship if you wanted to read what was left.

My thought at first was that this was a liability response, but my sense is that the courts have been pretty consistent in protecting ISPs when plaintiff lawyers try to drag them in as deep pockets into lawsuits  (e.g. trying to sue Earthlink because it was the medium for delivering a MySpace page which in turn allegedly facilitated some action someone is suing over).  I am left with the sense that this is just politicians trying to protect themselves from criticism.  I am almost tempted to see how this thing plays out - censorship really gets ugly in a democratic environment.  You end up with a million interest groups all lobbying that they know best what should be censored.  You would have people in the town office arguing for censorship of pornography, religion (both pro and con), evolution (pro and con), nazis, Israel, global warming skepticism.  Whatever.  (By the way, I have seen people arguing in some context for censoring every item in the preceding list)

  • SamO

    I'm from (and in) the UK, but I thought that you couldn't waive First Ammendment Rights? That is, even if you agree to waive them, the waiver is invalid and they still apply.

    As it is, what's proposed above is a wonderful recipe for Nanny State-ism; I'd have thought that a liability disclaimer would be more "supplied as-is and used at own risk ... takes no responsibility for use ... " and so on.

    PS. Loved the book.
    PPS. Shouldn't it say: "focused ON free speech issues"

  • mith

    Would people have the same problem with this if it were someone like Starbucks that chose to limit their free Internet access? Or Joe Random with an open wireless access point?

    I have an open wireless router that I use to share my Internet connection with my neighbors, but I use some bandwidth-limiting controls to keep freeloaders from consuming all of my bandwidth or slowing down my connection. If I catch them doing things I don't think they should be doing, I block them. It sounds like this post is implying that the people providing the bandwidth shouldn't have a say in what freeloaders do with that bandwidth, or aren't allowed to protect themselves legally from those that choose to do naughty things with that bandwidth.

  • Dan

    "Would people have the same problem with this if it were someone like Starbucks that chose to limit their free Internet access? Or Joe Random with an open wireless access point?"

    The difference is that Starbucks is a private company. If the city is going to take my money and force me to fund a service I don't think they should be in the first place, the least they could do is grant me my rights that they're supposed to protect as a government body.