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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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  • Google isn't human (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hentes ( 2461350 ) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @08:15PM (#40405927)

    Free speech is a human right, the speech of corporations can be limited.

  • Asinine (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BitHive ( 578094 ) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @08:22PM (#40405987) Homepage

    Rights are for humans or citizens. This is another case of trying to failing to generate an interesting philosophical question by taking an existing issue and adding 'with a computer'.

    If corporations are allowed to be people then surely they, and not their computers, are accountable for what the computers do.

  • what next? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 21, 2012 @08:30PM (#40406065)

    What next? Will computers running Windows qualify for the Americans with Disabilities Act?

  • Re:Technicially (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) * <> on Thursday June 21, 2012 @08:38PM (#40406139)

    > I would say if a computer can make a descision for itself, such as a web crawler building a serach index then indeed that is speech.

    It didn't. A human made the decision when it programmed the computer. Google is perfectly within it's rights to exercise editorial judgement on search listings whether it uses humans to curate the listings like Yahoo! of old or programs rules into a computer. Facebook can't scoop up a bunch of personal info and sell it in violation of privacy laws, thus they can't get away with encoding that decision into software.

    Good grief people, this isn't hard. Just like you shouldn't be able to take every single fracking invention from pre 1990 and add "on the Internet" to the patent application and get a brand new one. You can't program a computer to do things you can't do. The only grey area is if it does something unintended while processing inhuman amounts of information, whether you are equally liable as if you manually did it yourself. And again, if you think a little the answer is already there in the law, negligence is fairly well settled.... as whatever you can convince a jury to award damages for. :(

  • by Wrath0fb0b ( 302444 ) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @08:40PM (#40406153)

    The same logic seems to suggest that the printing pressess at the New York Times aren't entitled to publish news that the government would rather they didn't [] (and anyway, the NYT is a corporation that can't have any First Amendment rights). Hey, I'm not saying anything about people's speech -- I'm only restricting what the inanimate printing press can do! Or transistor radio amps for that matter.

    If I'm exercising my right to free speech, it doesn't matter whether I'm using a printing press or slashcode to deliver my expressive message (although the former might be more effective). Heck, the courts have even recognized the right to expressive conduct [] in which various [] symbolic actions [] are considered protected. And yet here law profs are seriously arguing that if you use a computer to express something, it loses protection along the way?

    Moreover, the idea that Facebook computers might "decide to share your personal data" is an entirely ridiculous abuse of language. Facebook management might decide that, but the computers cannot decide anything -- they are programmed to spec. And if that decision is contrary to law, there's nothing about free speech that makes a whit of difference. I've never heard of a colluder, price-fixer or blackmailer getting out of the charge because their crime is essentially one carried out by expressive conduct. Sure, you blackmail someone by expressing something to them and threatening to express something else more publicly, and yet blackmail is not somehow magically protected even though the crime consists entirely of speech. In short, this criticism -- that somehow we need this new magical technological de-protection because it's required to enforce the law -- is nonsensical.

  • by TranquilVoid ( 2444228 ) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @08:44PM (#40406203)

    Just because a computer was given an 'if' statement doesn't mean it made a decision in the same sense that a human would. Free speech clearly applies to the publisher, not the tool with which they used to publish or initially analyse the information (which can be the same tool in the case of a web server). If Google and Facebook did all their aggregation with an abacus, paper and pen which they then displayed in their shop window would we be asking if free speech applied to beads on a wire?

    So the real question being asked here is can free speech conflict with regulation on company behaviour.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 21, 2012 @09:17PM (#40406499)
    Groups don't need any rights, the individuals each have their rights that are in no way diminished by being in said group. Restricting a legal person is not at all the same as restricting its affiliates.
  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmo ( 77928 ) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @09:51PM (#40406715)

    the extent to which computers have a constitutional right to free speech.

    They are machines, they do not.

    'This may sound like a fanciful question,

    No, it's a bullshit question. Computers are machines, like printing presses are machines. Like transmitters are machines. Like the phone is a machine.

    a matter of philosophy or science fiction.

    No, right now, it's a matter of complete bullshit by a lawyer who doesn't even understand what computers are and should be kept as far away from the computing machinery as possible.

    But it's become a real issue with important consequences,'

    What consequences? Really, what consequences that are really any different than the consequences of broadcast and print media?

    Wu writes. First it was Google defending â" and winning â" a civil suit on grounds that search results are constitutionally protected speech.

    Because Google is basically a publisher, and the people who run it use computers as a tool of business and communications, thus, their speech.

    I can't go on. I'm not going to give this guy the click from the obvious trolling with an argument that starts off with a false premise, that machines have rights. No, you dumbfuck, the people who own the machines have rights, and those rights are the ones that the courts deal with.

    I don't even.


  • Re:determinism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by im_thatoneguy ( 819432 ) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @10:55PM (#40407137)

    Only at an incredibly inconsequential scale. And even then it's random--which is kind of the point. By "Deterministic" I'm sure the parent meant to imply "Not deliberate" which is the subject of the original post. The weather is purely deterministic but highly unpredictable and apparently random. But we largely don't imbue the weather with any notion of sentience or deliberation.

    It gets really difficult to differentiate between human sapience and some large scale programs like Google or Facebook. If you have simple codified rules "If This, then That" then yes it's the programmer's intent. But if the software has even the slightest bit of intelligence and adaptability then even the programmer can no longer predict the exact results of their software.

    For every search query there is a completely unique result. So if you search for "how to make brownies" and my search engine scours the internet for brownie recipes and returns a recipe is that "speech"? No programmer programmed it specifically to return that result. No programmer would even know what the result would be. Sure if you could perfectly know the state of the database and the input query you could perfectly reproduce the response from the code--but similarly if you perfectly knew the code to the brain and the exact neurological arrangement when you as a person a question you could hypothetically know exactly what their response would be.

  • Re:Wtf? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @05:31AM (#40409189) Homepage

    In this context, a computer acts as an extension to the legal entity (whether human or corporate) controlling it, and as such any rights (and responsibilities) a computer might have, belong to that legal entity.

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