Dear Miltiadis Papaioannou,
On 02 August 2011, you gave a speech to the Institutions and Transparency Committee of the Parliament, where you rightly pointed out that violent phenomena are increasing in Greece. The appropriateness of your choice to cast the recent spate of verbal attacks and yoghurtifications against members of parliament by angry citizens as the ultimate incarnation of a tendency to deny people the right to express their opinions is however up for discussion. One may think for example that the security organs of the state assaulting thousands of peaceful protesters, and even non-protesters, in downtown Athens on 29 June would be a better example. But I’ll save that discussion for another day.
What is baffling though is that you chose to blame the violence in our country on the Internet: “We are experiencing the fact that the Internet, under the influence of a few, has become a vector to issue threats against the lives of our fellow citizens.” One first comment here: you definitely need to get out of your office from time to time and take a walk in one of the poorer neighbourhoods of Athens. The reasons violence is on the rise are obvious for everyone to see. But – which is more relevant to this letter – my dear Minister, you are not spending enough time online. If you did, you would know that most Internet traffic, in Greece and elsewhere, is about all sorts of futile things: cookery, gardening, pets, boyfriends, girlfriends, horoscopes, porn, etc. Very little indeed is about politics, and even less about calls for political violence. Check it out. You’ll be surprised.
Since you were in a poetic mood that day, you went on to say that “the Internet must stop hosting hooded thugs.” You then explained that to fight the influence of the said e-thugs, you were setting up a committee to deal with “identifying bloggers, identifying users of Internet services and expanding the list of crimes for which privacy in communications can be suspended.”
Where to start, Minister? With the fact that you, the Minister of Justice, Transparency and Human Rights, are telling us that because of the actions of a few, we the Greek Internet users should all lose our right to privacy? With the fact that the very definition of the word “blog”, is, well, undefined? With the fact that the committee responsible for drafting the bill is composed of all sorts of legal experts (most of them on the prosecution end of the law), a representative from the police, a journalist whose opinions on blogging are honourable, but who many Greek bloggers intensely despise, and no one, no one with appropriate expertise about the Internet? With the fact that the only country that ever attempted to enforce such legislation, the People’s Republic of China, is well-known for its lack of respect for citizen’s rights? Not to mention that even China gave up on enforcing unenforceable legislation. I know that we Greeks have been geniuses for millenia, but to think we will succeed where China failed may come across as a little too self-confident.
Or maybe I should list here all the dilemmas the committee is going to have to overcome and the terms it will have to define in drafting the bill. Luckily, blogger Anemos Naftiloslisted quite a few for all to read. Here are some examples:
- What is the difference between writing an e-mail and writing a blog post? You might think this one is irrelevant, Minister, since your proposed bill should cover all Internet communications. I’ll try again.
- Can’t a journalist be a blogger too? Damn, that one too is irrelevant, since in the same speech on 02 August you called for more “regulation” of the media because they are apparently partners in crime with bloggers. I’ll try again.
- Will this law criminalize gossip? That’s a good one. Do comments on attempts by our Prime Minister to fight baldness, or by his two deputies to shed some weight, automatically include us in the list of political bloggers? Please let us know.
- Will regulation of blogs also apply to Twitter, Facebook and the 7897 existing social media sites? The good thing of course, Minister, is that such a decision would end forever the problem of unemployment for computer specialists in Greece.
You need to realise, Minister, that the very idea of setting up a committee to draft such a bill is as absurd as your late predecessor’s D. Maroudas idea to down satellites which emit television signals in Greece. If any of the drafting committee members was in any way competent on matters pertaining to the identification of Internet users, they would have told you so. Since they agreed to participate in the committee on a voluntary basis, we cannot accuse you or them of misusing public funds – although the time spent by the deputy chair of the Council of State on such a useless endeavour has to count for something. What is certain is that you did not make many friends among bloggers on the day you gave that speech.
So here are a few ideas for you, Minister. Instead of wasting your time and ours on drafting another law that will not be implemented, why don’t you try to make sure that existing laws in Greece are enforced properly, without discrimination, and apply to all Greek citizens equally, including politicians such as yourself? Instead of suggesting a bill that runs against Greece’s obligations as a member of the European Union with regards to freedom of speech and protection of private information, why don’t you try to make sure that citizens have access to reliable public information on what is going on in our country and not only to the government-sponsored version of events? And given your pompous position title, why don’t you try to make sure that the economic policies of your government “keep in mind the people’s basic human rights“? Not to mention the rights of those groups who are most marginalised and vulnerable in Greece, which are virtually non-existent.
I set up this blog to write this letter to you. As you have noticed, this blog is anonymous and will remain so for the foreseeable future, even if you somehow manage to pass an undemocratic law that will result in Greece being ostracized from the community of civilised countries. No need however for the Electronic Crime Unit to waste even more public funds to obtain my full identity and contact details from my Internet Service Provider, I assure you there are easier ways. Here’s a hint: check out my Twitter profile. That’s provided you know what Twitter is, of course. If you don’t, I’m sure someone on your drafting committee has heard of it somewhere.