Content Restrictions and their Chilling Effects

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neighborhoods with prohibited symbolJackson Heights, New York, February 7, 2016 – The draft Licensing Agreement for the city’s neighborhood domain names has several significant limitations. In a previous post we wrote about a “Without Cause” clause that allows the city to withdraw the right to use a neighborhood domain name at its whim – without explanation and without cause. We opined about this limiting the ability of a developer to garner the resources necessary to create an effective dotNeighborhood.

Today we’re focusing on more substantive problems, content limitations presented in the draft Licensing Agreement. There, in Exhibit B, the Acceptable Use Policy, one finds “Prohibited Content,” which details a dozen restrictions on categories of information that can be presented. We have serious problems with five of them.

Prohibited Content #1: “campaign-related materials or partisan political materials;”

We’ve always imagined the dotNeighborhoods as significant new venues for presenting and considering the qualification of candidates for elective office. Who better knows the needs of the neighborhood and the qualification of candidates than the neighbors~voters?

The first problem with the campaign prohibitions is the lack of definitions. What is “campaign- related” and “partisan?” Is there an impartial watchdog to enforce it? Who appoints its members? How are violations enforced?

But perhaps we should take a different approach. If we’re trying to create a better democracy, keeping money from polluting the candidate selection process, which we do very well here in New York City, perhaps the Licensing Agreement should require that dotNeighborhoods maintain a “campaign zone” where election materials can be posted free, or for a nominal fee. The license might also require that when elections approach these zones provide a prominent space on the dotNeighborhood’s home page announcing “It’s Election Time” and provide links to candidate promotional materials. There might be some restriction on the nature of the materials – for example, length limitations on video materials – intended to level the playing field by reducing the necessity for significant investment.

Prohibited Content #2: “offensive sexual  material, as described in New York Penal Law § 245.11, as it may be amended from time to time and/or material that contains image(s) of a person, who appears to be a minor, in a sexually suggestive dress, pose, or context;”

We have no problem with following the prescriptions of the state penal law, but when the prohibition gets into the “and/or materials” that extend its reach, we get concerned. We wonder who is going to determine the type of dress, pose, or content that is suggestive. Who is it that selects these censors? What are their qualifications? What penalties may they impose? And who sets the rules they are to follow?

Prohibited Content #3: “words that match, contain recognizable misspellings of or are otherwise recognizable variations of any of the seven words identified in Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978);”

Here the city imagines that the 7 filthy words and their variations are going to be hidden from the tender eyes and ears of youth. Here again definitions are a problem – “recognizable variations?” And what’s the remedy and who enforces it? Must the operators of the dotNeighborhood keep a vigilant eye on every comment posted?

And beyond the spirit offered here, isn’t it a bit silly for New York City to proscribe the words its residents use? The “Filthy Words” pertain to a national broadcast TV standard, not what New Yorkers say on their neighborhood websites. Let the First Amendment rule here.

Prohibited Content #4: “promotes unlawful or illegal goods, services or activities;”

Obviously we don’t want the dotNeighborhoods promoting illegal activities. But does livestreaming a non-permited rally constitute promoting an unlawful activity? Must the operator of a dotNeighborhood keep watch over all posted content, checking for parade permits before allowing a link? Again, a problem with definitions and regulatory enforcement.

Prohibited Content #5: “image(s) or information that demean an individual or group of individuals, on account of actual or perceived race, creed, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, whether children are, may or would be residing with such victim, marital status, partnership status, disability, or alienage or citizenship status as such categories are defined in § 8-102 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York (as it may be amended from time to time) or, for those categories not there defined, as they are commonly understood;”

Again, this is well intended, but adding the concluding phrase “as they are commonly understood” leaves too much room for abuse by the regulatory apparatus.

Chilling Effect

If you add all these ambiguities of definition together with the city’s recourse to the “Without Cause” clause, you end up with a chilling effect that will crush speech, innovation, and experimentation in the neighborhoods. A big brother will be over the shoulder of the operating entities, capable of jerking the basic platform away without cause.

Next

Our next post on the draft Licensing Agreement will focus on operational aspects, for example, the requirement that dotNeighborhood operators receive the city’s approval before adding third level domain names.

 

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CAUTION: “Without Cause” Ahead

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(Commons Photo courtesy of sporkwrapper.)Jackson Heights, New York, February 2, 2016 – The deBlasio Administration’s licensing initiative for the neighborhood domain names is currently accepting applications. So if you’re a neighborhood activist or budding media mogul, and want to activate Astoria.nyc, ConeyIsland.nyc, GreenwichVillage.nyc, Harlem.nyc or any of the 380 other reserved neighborhood domain names, submit your applications now. (Here’s the application.) Successful applicants will be notified on February 12.

While we’re extremely supportive of the initiative, there’s a clause in the draft Licensing Agreement that diminishes the likelihood of serious parties investing the necessary resources, a “without cause” clause in Section 3.b of the draft Agreement which states:

Either party may terminate this License Agreement without cause (effective immediately);

We wrote the mayor’s office about our concerns (this one and a few others that we’ll post on soon) and were told they were reviewed “with the Law Department and while we are unable to amend the terms per your request, we have certainly noted your requests.” So seemingly, while the version of the Licensing Agreement shared with us says “DRAFT—NON-FINAL & DELIBERATIVE,” so far it seems changes will come from the city sans consultation with residents.

As we stated above, we love the “dotNeighborhoods” and see them providing a fantastic opportunity to improve engagement and provide a civic toolbox that will facilitate innovation and improve the quality of life. (See our Adding Internet Mojo To Neighborhoods pages.) Indeed, we gave serious thought to applying for the JacksonHeights.nyc domain, but the “without cause” clause forced us to hold off. How could we approach investors and garner the necessary resources without the city providing a serious commitment?

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UPDATE, February 5, 2016

This past December we contacted several elected officials about the “Without Cause” clause and the hardship it would impose on an entity seeking to garner the resources to undertake the development of a dotNeighborhood in a serious manner. We heard back from one recently, who informed us that in checking with their office’s attorneys, they were told that this was a standard clause in all city contracts. We checked the city’s agreement with Neustar Inc., the holder of the contract to operate the .nyc TLD for the city, and found no such reference. (See the city’s contracts with Neustar here.) When told of our finding a representative from the same city official said their office had received complaints from others about the situation and would be looking into it.

We don’t doubt that eager city lawyers try to impose a ‘Without Cause” clause whenever they can. And perhaps they sometimes impose it. But if the administration is serious about adding the Internet’s capabilities to improving the economic and social quality of life in our city’s neighborhoods, this clause has got to be removed “Without Delay.”

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Global Internet Governance: The Road Ahead

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United Nations General Assembly 2015

United Nations, New York, December 17, 2015 – Yesterday our esteemed colleague, Parminder Jeet Singh of ICT for Change, presented a speech before the United Nations General Assembly on global Internet governance. He began by asking,

The Internet is fundamentally transforming our world. These changes will be no less far-reaching than those of the industrial revolution.

The question then is: is the world today politically more mature, than it was in that distant past, to be able to better guide this transformation towards our common goals?

He then presented a three pronged path for answering this question.

First of all, we must give up the idea of Internet exceptionalism…

Next; the fully justified fear of possible statist abuse of the Internet has to be addressed by putting robust checks and balances into its governance mechanisms…

And thirdly, Madam President, a so-called tension between multilateralism and multistakeholderism must be resolved – through the test of democracy.

See the 5 minute video at http://www.itforchange.net/UNGA_WSIS10 and the full text http://justnetcoalition.org/2015/to_UN_GA.pdf.

Our thanks and congratulations go to Mr. Singh.

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25 Things I Want For My Neighborhood.nyc

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neighborhood cartoon picturesNovember 30, 2015, Jackson Hts., NYC – My neighborhood is the place where most all my needs are me. It’s where I eat, I work, I sleep, I play – where I live. Not all the time – my work and vacations draw me away, and Manhattan’s wonders tempt me all too often – but most of the time. And as I’m getting up there in years, I’m beginning to think (hope?) that it’s the place where I’ll end my days (more on this below).

Next to my health, my family and my friends, my neighborhood is probably the most important thing in my life. And I’m blessed to live in a wonderful one – Jackson Heights.

In two days (now passed) I’m heading to a meeting at Queens Borough Hall to discuss what could be an important addition to my neighborhood, JacksonHeights.nyc and the vast potential it offers. It’s something I’ve thought about for 15 yeas, and now it’s just around the corner. Here’s what “I want” to happen to my neighborhood as a consequence of the development of the neighborhood domain name.

  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to add more community to my neighborhood. (For background, a neighborhood is a geographic area and a community is connections, friendships, shared interests, and support. It can be local or global.)
  • I want “adding more community” to be a priority requirement for any entity that’s given the license to run JacksonHeights.nyc.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to help create a more collaborative and caring neighborhood – both on and offline.
  • I want it to expose and highlight needs and opportunities and facilitate collaborations. .
  • I want it to empower residents to organize and address these needs.
  • I want it to facilitate the creation of caring communities that focus on the needs of have nots.
  • I want it to offer a great decision-making tool, one that helps form a majority without crushing the minority.
  • I want a JacksonHeights.nyc that’s organized and governed as a common, with a collaborative decision making process engaging all the neighborhood’s stakeholders.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to help existing organizations (for and nonprofits) achieve their missions.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to pay its way and create a local job or two.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to be the first choice for local businesses online advertising dollars.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to be the place where residents turn for recommendations for dentists, doctors, electricians, plumbers, restaurants…
  • I want it to have a neighborhood calendar I can plan my life around, with a calendar having a check box that allows me “Invite the world” or “Just for the neighborhood.”
  • I want it to show 311 and 911 calls, showing respect for privacy of course.
  • I want it to help residents organize to resolve issues raised by these calls.
  • I want Jackson Heights.nyc to create a neighborhood where residents respond and adapt to climate change.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to be a safe place to conduct my online life. That means it must have DNSSEC and DANE (technical protocols) and be part of a citywide security and privacy effort.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to present all the information about the neighborhood that I or any visitor might want. This is information we  know collectively and should be presented by wiki-style.
  • I want the operator of JacksonHeights.nyc to serve residents via desktops, phones, tablets, etc.
  • I want all the software used on JacksonHeights.nyc to be open source.
  • I want JacksonHeights.nyc to share its riches with other city neighborhoods.
  • And I want our neighborhood’s residents and institutions to train everyone interested in effectively using JacksonHeights.nyc.

The city’s extensive and well thought out application for the neighborhood domain names leads me to think the administration shares these thoughts. But it will surely take the engagement and support of many to make them a reality. I hope many of you will be in Borough Hall, Room 200 on Wednesday morning at 9:30 (see invite post here) to add your Wants to this list.

Best,

Tom Lowenhaupt

 

For more on the city’s dotNeighborhoods, see here.

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Neighborhoods.nyc @ Queens Borough Hall

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From our friends at Coalition For Queens…


Hi all,

We wanted to extend an invitation for nonprofits and local development corporations to attend a Neighborhoods.NYC info session on Wednesday, Dec. 2 from 9:30-11AM at Queens Borough Hall, 120-55 Queens Boulevard, Kew Gardens, NY, Room 200. You can register here. The session will provide information for organizations interested in applying to license and operate a specific neighborhood domain name (e.g., KewGardens.nyc). The City of New York has reserved nearly 400 neighborhood names across the five boroughs on the .nyc top-level domain, and these neighborhood domains will be new online hubs for civic engagement, online organizing, economic development, and information-sharing. A beta site is currently live for you to explore the platform.

To be eligible for a .nyc neighborhood name, the lead organization must be:

  • registered as a not-for-profit, public benefit corporation, or local development corporation
  • located within the neighborhood for which a .nyc domain name is sought

If your organization is interested in applying, please RSVP for the info session next Wednesday Dec. 2. The RSVP deadline is Nov. 30. Download this flyer (.5MB, PDF) for more details, and you can reach out to [email protected] with any questions.>
Thanks and have a wonderful holiday!

~C4Q


For some background on neighborhoods.nyc see here.

Hope to see you there.

Editor

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