The Dunblane Solution?

This post is a little off my typical beat, and I won’t attempt to link it back to search. When 9/11 hit although I lived in the US at the time I was flying to Germany, trapping me 4,000 miles from home watching on CNN and wondering why. Now in the shadow of the Newtown massacre like everyone else I’m asking how and why. I don’t have any insights, but permit me to draw a parallel from the UK. In Britain we have traditionally not been big gun owners, we have no second amendment no strong tradition of gun ownership. It used to be possible to get guns after pretty stringent checking, but until I moved to the US I (like most Brits) had never touched a gun…and didn’t really miss them.  Back in 1996 just a few months after I moved permanently to the US, a mentally ill guy who had obtained four handguns legally, walked into the Dunblane Elementary School in Scotland and murdered 16 children and one adult.

The stunned outrage then was similar to the grief, disgust and anger we have recently just experienced over the Newtown killings. What happened in the UK is what won’t happen here: A top level inquiry was held and as a result the UK passed legislation which banned the private ownership and use of Handgun. That ban is so absolute that the UK no longer has an Olympic shooting team. Bank robbers can still get hold of hand guns or sawed off shotguns, but the crazy and enraged can’t get hold of weapons to make themselves notorious with.

I’m going back to the UK after Christmas to visit family and friends. When I’m there I will (as always) be struck by how similar we are as nations. We drive the same cars, we enjoy much of the same food, music and TV, we laugh at most of the same dumb jokes and love our kids in exactly similar ways. The UK is larger than most Americans believe. The US has roughly five times the population of the UK (which is geographically about the size of Texas). Last year if the US had had the same size population as the UK it would have experienced roughly 6,000 gun fatalities from all causes. In the same year in a similar country with similar people who do similar things and love their children just as much as we in the US the total fatalities from guns in the UK was just 150. The largest subset of those 150 were suicides. The converse of that math would be that if the UK were the same size as the US there would have been 750 gun deaths not the 27,000 which happened. That is the single largest difference I can think of between our great countries….in no other ways can I come up with a difference in which either country is thirty six times larger or smaller than the other.

I realize that even given the horror of recent events there isn’t the political will in the US to do what the UK did. The second amendment and the NRA will prevent that. However, as a side thought I watched the movie Lincoln over the weekend and I had an idea. The movie brought home the death and destruction of weapons even back in the 1860’s. I wanted to suggest as a compromise that I’d actually be OK if the second amendment allowed anyone who could pass the test to own the kinds of firearms contemplated when the founders framed the Constitution. We should indeed have the right to bear black powder based front loading muskets …just a thought.

OMG….Google Looses Defamation Suit

This post is a little inside baseball but bear with me…the implications are potentially important. Google (and other search engines) have always defended themselves against accusations of defamation by claiming that they are algorithmically and innocently aggregating and passing along content which other people have come up with as search results. When I used to work for a search engine we used to maintain (as did others) that we would only respond to instructions from a court with valid jurisdiction to remove content. Simply filling a complaint would not get us to change the results as there would lie madness…with a potential for us to be deluged with complaints. In the relatively rare cases where we did receive instructions to remove specific content we were happy to comply.

So it was with some interest that I read that Google has just lost a case in Australia where they received a complaint correctly filled out about their image search which implied that someone who was not connected with the Oz underworld was in some way a gangster. The court felt that the defense that Google algorithmically generates results was reasonable until the problem was brought to their attention. What’s surprising and important is that the court felt that them receiving the complaint (as opposed to a court ruling)  and not acting on it n cases where that content is harmful or potentially defaming was in of its self harming. US law EU law is different to Australian. They won the case against the web results complaint on a technicality because the complainant wasn’t filled out correctly. Google is under attack in both jurisdictions on multiple fronts. It would only take a judge to see the logic of this case and rule in a similar way in the US or EU for all hell to break out…we will have to watch this space, this could be interesting.