Mumbai Cyber Police Shut Down Gay Modi Photoshop

— BuzzFeed deletes homoerotic photoshop of Indian prime minister following legal threats from Mumbai police, highlighting gay rights issues, censorship in India

The doctored image, which depicts Indian PM Narendra Modi embracing his right-hand man Rajnath Singh on an idyllic beach, is one of 18 related images included in a January 4, 2016 BuzzFeed listicle by Imaan Sheikh, “18 Modi Photoshops That Should’ve Never Fucking Happened.”

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On Wednesday, that number mysteriously dropped to 17.

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In a comment, a spokesperson for BuzzFeed said:

BuzzFeed India removed the image in question after receiving a notice from the Mumbai Police alleging defamation.

It’s not the first time police in Mumbai have tried to censor the homoerotic photoshop.

In November, Mumbai’s cyber crime department ordered Google to block the allegedly “defamatory morphed/vulgar photos” as published on BuzzFeed, Facebook, Twitter, and others, on the basis that the offending images were intended to “create UNREST, BREACH of PEACE which might result in LAW & ORDER problems in Maharashtra, India.”

The department also demanded that Google hand over personal information about the creator of the photos, including mobile phone numbers, e-mail and IP addresses. 

Via the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests:

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As of publication, all but two of the flagged Facebook links are still searchable using Google.

There’s no evidence Google possesses or handed over any of the requested personal information.

Homosexuality is a taboo subject in India. A colonial-era law still in force today, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, forbids “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”—that includes gay sex—with offenders facing fines and up to 10 years in jail.

India’s home minister, who is depicted as Modi’s beau in the gay beach photoshop, previously said he supported Section 377 because “we [referring to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is chaired by Modi] believe that homosexuality is an unnatural act that cannot be supported.”

Recently, publishers have joined gay Indians in the legal cross hairs.

As reported by The Washington Post earlier this week, it’s becoming “increasingly difficult” for journalists and editors in India to do their jobs due to frivolous legal threats by Modi loyalists.

Loyalists to the country’s powerful Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, have bullied editors into taking down critical stories, hushed government bureaucrats and shifted from the common practice of filing defamation cases to lodging more serious criminal complaints, which can mean jail time and take years in India’s overburdened court system.

Modi, popular but thin-skinned, has effectively cut off the mainstream media, forgoing news conferences to communicate directly with his vast electorate through Twitter, where he has 40 million followers. India fell three spots on the World Press Freedom Index to 136 in 2017, according to the watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, below Afghanistan and Burma, because of growing self-censorship and the activity of Hindu nationalists trying to purge “anti-nationalist” thought, the group said.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s minister for electronics and information technology, denies that his government has attempted to impede press freedom.

Via the WashPost:

[Prasad] said any suggestion that the government was hampering press freedom was “completely wrong.”

“Obviously you can see how many newspapers and channels are critical of us, blasting my government,” he said.

The Takedown Conspiracy (Redux)

— TechDirt, Volokh Conspiracy hoist mystery defamer claimer

Earlier this week, I blogged about an anonymous defamation takedown request of articles by The Washington Post and Techdirt re: forged court orders intended to force Google to deindex links.

Yesterday, Techdirt and The Volokh Conspiracy hoisted the mystery complainant.

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Via “Techdirt, Volokh Conspiracy Targeted With Bogus Defamation Claim For Publishing A Bunch Of Facts” by Tim Cushing, Techdirt, February 9, 2018:

Last spring, Mike Masnick covered a completely fake court order that was served to Google to make some unflattering information disappear. The court order targeted some posts by a critic of a local politician.

Ken Haas, a member of the New Britain (CT) city commission got into an online argument with a few people. When things didn’t go his way, Haas played a dubious trump card:

Several months ago, he got into a public controversy with local activist Robert Berriault — allegedly, when someone got in a Facebook political spat with Haas, he responded by writing, “You do know I have access to ALL city records, including criminal and civil, right???” Berriault took that to be a threat that Haas would misuse that access for political purposes and wrote about this on the New Britain Independent site, as well as in a not-much-noticed change.org petition calling for Haas’s removal.

Following this, a delisting request was sent to Google with a supposed Connecticut federal court order attached. But the judge who signed it (John W. Darrah) didn’t exist, the word “state” was misspelled (as “Sate”), and the docket number had already been used for another, existing civil case…

Invaluable scourer of the Lumen database, Dean Jones, points out another bogus attempt to delist online content has been made — targeting posts at both Techdirt and the Volokh Conspiracy.

Now it emerges that an anonymous complainant has sent Google a defamation complaint requesting the removal of the two articles from its search results, citing a 1979 Supreme Court case concerning the public disclosure of personal information.

Yes, this one is styled as a defamation takedown request, even though both articles are factual and contain receipts. The takedown notice cites a Supreme Court decision that has nothing to do with either post, despite the claims made in the notice.

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Via “Someone Trying to Vanish My Post About Someone Trying to Vanish Another Post” by Eugene Volokh, Reason, February 9, 2018:

Who submitted the forged order to Google? Commissioner Haas seems the likeliest intended beneficiary of the forgery and the takedown request, and his name (spelled as Ken Hass) was used on the takedown request. But it is of course possible that this was done by someone else, whether someone hired by Haas (with or without knowledge of what would be done) or someone else. I called Haas back in March to ask about what happened here, but he told me he had no comment.

Then I wrote about this on the blog, hosted at the time at the Washington Post; TechDirt covered it as well. The New Britain Progressive covered it as well, and then mentioned the incident again in December, as part of its “Top 10 of 2017” retrospective.

A week later, someone submitted a deindexing request to Google asking it to vanish my original Washington Post item and the TechDirt piece.

In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized an individual interest in the “practical obscurity” of certain personal information. The case was DOJ v. Reporters Committee for a Free Press. As well, this information is harmful to me as it concerns unfounded information which never resulted in prosecution. Not only has the dissemination of this information never been legitimate, but its internet referencing is clearly harmful to my reputation as my professional and personal surroundings can access it by typing my first and last names on the Internet.

(Thanks to Dean Sterling Jones (Shooting the Messenger) for spotting the request, and, as always, to the Lumen Database for its invaluable role as an archive for these submissions.)

Now the submission doesn’t explain how the “information” in my original post is “unfounded.” It’s true that it didn’t result in prosecution, but the purported order submitted to Google in March is indubitably a forgery, whether the Connecticut prosecutor’s office wants to try to act on that or not. Nor does the submission explain how “the dissemination of this information [has] never been legitimate” — I would think that writing about forgeries of court orders, especially (but not only) those that seem to benefit local officials and community activists, would be quite “legitimate.”

DOJ v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press holds that the federal government has no statutory obligation, under the Freedom of Information Act, to reveal “criminal identification records” to people who request them. But that doesn’t affect all of our First Amendment rights to discuss crimes that we ourselves know about, and note who would have benefited from those crimes. (Tim Cushing (TechDirt) has also written about this incident.)

Fortunately, Google has not deindexed TechDirt’s or my posts in response to this request, and I’m confident that it won’t. But I thought it was worth noting that there has been indeed an attempt to vanish this story.

The full articles are available to read by clicking here and here.

The Takedown Conspiracy

— Articles by WashPost, Techdirt about fake takedown requests targeted by anonymous defamation takedown request

Last year, a Washington Post investigation by First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh (of the Volokh Conspiracy, now published at Reason.com) exposed how some people were using forged court orders to force Google to delist links.

Via “Apparent forged court order for the benefit of a New Britain (Conn.) volunteer city commissioner” by Eugene Volokh, The Washington Post, March 30, 2017:

Ken Haas is a member of a New Britain (Conn.) city commission, the Commission on Conservation, appointed by Mayor Erin Stewart. Several months ago, he got into a public controversy with local activist Robert Berriault — allegedly, when someone got in a Facebook political spat with Haas, he responded by writing, “You do know I have access to ALL city records, including criminal and civil, right???” Berriault took that to be a threat that Haas would misuse that access for political purposes and wrote about this on the New Britain Independent site, as well as in a not-much-noticed change.org petition calling for Haas’s removal. (Since then, Berriault has announced his candidacy for the New Britain city council.)

And then things got really interesting: Two weeks ago, someone asked Google to deindex the New Britain Independent article and the petition, and the request was accompanied with what looked like a court order in Haas v. Berriault. The order purported to be in a libel and false light invasion of privacy lawsuit and closed with:

Plaintiff is granted damages for all counts as to Defendant Robert Berriault. Defendant must also remove and retract statements made referencing Plaintiff Haas.

The trouble is that there is no such case. There is no such court order. There is no Connecticut Superior Court Judge named John W. Darrah.

Techdirt’s Mike Masnick subsequently detailed the apparent forgery here.

Now it emerges that an anonymous complainant has sent Google a defamation complaint requesting the removal of the two articles from its search results, citing a 1979 Supreme Court case concerning the public disclosure of personal information.

Via the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests:

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If you can’t read that, it says:

In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized an individual interest in the “practical obscurity” of certain personal information. The case was DOJ v. Reporters Committee for a Free Press. As well, this information is harmful to me as it concerns unfounded information which never resulted in prosecution. Not only has the dissemination of this information never been legitimate, but its internet referencing is clearly harmful to my reputation as my professional and personal surroundings can access it by typing my first and last names on the Internet.

As of publication, the articles are still searchable using Google.

Oh Betsy!

— Did someone from Betsy DeVos’ investment firm try to scrub unfavourable information about members of the DeVos family from online bio?

Last month, I blogged that former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo paid an employee from his own PR firm to scrub Wikipedia of references linking him to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The story was picked up by The Daily Beast, and subsequently covered by The Washington Post.

Now I think I’ve found another one.

According to Wikipedia editing records, it appears that someone from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ private investment firm, Windquest Group, attempted to delete unfavourable information about members of the DeVos family.

Betsy DeVos (source)

DeVos was chairman of the firm at the time the edits were made in August 2015 by Wikipedia user “WindquestGroup,” who was subsequently banned indefinitely because the “account’s edits and/or username indicate that it is being used on behalf of a company, group, website or organization for purposes of promotion and/or publicity.”

The user had attempted to delete supposedly “unnecessary” facts that DeVos’ mother, Elsa Prince, once supported “an anti-gay marriage ballot proposal in California,” and that DeVos’ brother, Erik Prince, “founded Blackwater USA, a private security firm” that killed 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

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The Blackwater founder is currently facing scrutiny “over reports that he met the head of a Russian investment fund in an apparent effort to set up a back channel for Russian communication with the Trump administration, and that senior Trump officials had authorized the meeting,” according to CNN.

Caputo Gets Streisanded

— The Washington Post covers Shooting the Messenger scoop re: Efforts by ex-Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo to scrub Russia from his Wikipedia bio

On Monday, The Daily Beast reported my scoop that Caputo paid his PR firm to purge Wikipedia of evidence that he helped promote Russian President Vladimir Putin in the United States.

Yesterday, The Washington Post covered the story as part of its daily round-up. Via “The Daily 202” by James Hohmann, The Washington Post, November 8, 2017:

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— An employee of former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo was blocked from Wikipedia in August after the site’s editors said he was caught using multiple pseudonymous accounts to scrub the page of Caputo’s ties to Vladimir PutinThe Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay reports: “After the accounts were exposed as what Wikipedia calls ‘sock puppets’ — multiple accounts run by the same person as part of a coordinated editing campaign —[the employee, Sean Dwyer], admitted he had financial ties to the subjects of his edits. It’s just the latest front in Caputo’s battles to save his reputation from, what he sees as, Russian smears. He also says he has filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) over comments at a congressional hearing in March, where the California Democrat accused Caputo of having been Russian president Vladimir Putin’s ‘image consultant[.’]”

Insatiable

— Former Trump advisor Felix Sater swindled Holocaust survivors out of $7 million, then threatened to sue when they tried to get their money back

Felix Sater, a former advisor to Donald Trump, once threatened to sue the family of two now-deceased Holocaust survivors who lost $7 million in a mafia-linked racketeering scheme perpetrated by Sater in the mid-90s. That’s according to court documents filed in 2015.

Donald Trump with Felix Sater (source)

The two victims, Ernest and Judit Gottdiener, who emigrated to the U.S. after the war, died before they could reclaim their stolen millions.

In 2013, Judit’s brother, an Israeli rabbi named Ervin Tausky, filed a $100 million civil case against Sater and his co-conspirator, Salvatore Lauria, on behalf of the Gottdieners.

In retaliation, Sater sent a letter through multi-national Israeli law firm, Zell, Aron & Co., threatening to sue Tausky for 4,000,000 shekels (approximately $1 million) unless Tausky agreed to withdraw all legal action against Sater in the U.S.

The firm claimed that Tausky had damaged “the good name of Sater and his family,” and put “Sater and his family in jeopardy, and in danger of being killed.”

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The case was later dismissed because, according to U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield, “aiding and abetting securities fraud cannot serve as a RICO predicate act.”

This week, The Washington Post and The New York Times leaked a series of e-mails showing how during Trump’s 2016 election campaign, Sater tried to help the Trump Organization to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Former FBI director Robert Mueller is currently investigating Trump for evidence of possible collusion between the campaign and the Russian government.