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Free Speech For Computers? 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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Free Speech For Computers?

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  • by DarthJohn ( 1160097 ) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @09:09PM (#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:Wtf? (Score:4, Informative)

    by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @09:36PM (#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 [] 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?

  • by agotterba ( 312493 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @02:58AM (#40408557)

    Eugene Volokh, one of the authors of the Google white paper that the author discusses, has posted a response here. []

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford