Freedom Of Speech In Cyberspace

I have chosen to write about this news story in 2013, “Car Key Immobiliser Hack Revelations Blocked By UK Court”.
The synopsis of the article is that a group of academics have received a legal injunction to stop them publishing information about luxury car ignition key algorithms.
This story is about Prior Restraint. “Prior Restraint prevents censored material from being heard or distributed at all” (Wikipedia, 2014)

The plaintiffs, Volkswagen and Thales argued that “the information could be used by criminals” (BBC, 2013) and the court agreed with this. Also, the plaintiffs argued, that the “the academics has not obtained the software [that was reverse engineered to expose the hack] from a legitimate source” (BBC, 2013) and “this persuaded the court that the underlying algorithm was confidential in nature” (BBC, 2013). The defendants argued that the software “has been on the internet since 2009” (O’Carroll, 2013) so whoever uploaded the data was committing a crime and not them. The academics argued that the information should be published as it would act as a catalyst to “ensure the problem was addressed”. The academics did also “notify the chipmaker 9 months before the intended publication … so that measures could be taken” (BBC, 2013) and I think this shows a level of personal responsibility shown by the academics.

In my opinion, the plaintiff’s motivation for the injunction was economic and not about protecting their customer’s cars. If the academics had been allowed to publish, the costs of fixing the security flaw for Volkswagen and Thales would have been astronomical given that “the technology is used by several car manufacturers” (BBC, 2013).

In terms of freedom of speech, the prior restraint imposed on the academics is nothing new. In research for this assignment I discovered that as far back as the 1600’s that “one simply could not publish without the prior approval of the state or church” (Blanchard, 2013), so I have to ask, has anything really changed in the last 400 years? It appears not, the state still has the power of veto over what the public can and cannot know.

I think that this example is mix of censorship by the state and censorship by private actors, with the private actor seeking to influence the state to enforce censorship. But I can’t disagree with the plaintiffs, if I was in the same situation and I had a good argument I would attempt to stop publication. I think this is example that has a negative effect on freedom of speech as “the publication in no way describes how to easily steal a car, as additional and different information is needed for this to be possible” (BBC, 2013) so the academics work would not provide all the information required to commit a crime and even if it did, it would not provide the motivation for me to commit a crime. Just because the information is published, there are still 100 other ways to steal a car if you are motivated to do it.


BBC, 2013. ‘Car key immobiliser hack revelations blocked by UK court’. ‘BBC’. Available online at accessed 08/3/2014

O’Carroll, L. 2013 ‘Scientist banned from revealing codes used to start luxury cars’. ‘The Guardian’. Available online at accessed 8/3/2014

Wikipedia, 2014. ‘Prior restraint’. ‘Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopaedia’. Available at accessed 8/3/2014

Blanchard, AE 2013, ‘A FALSE CHOICE: PRIOR RESTRAINT AND SUBSEQUENT PUNISHMENT IN A WIKILEAKS WORLD’, University Of Florida Journal Of Law & Public Policy, 24, 1, pp. 5-46, Index to Legal Periodicals & Books Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost, viewed 8 March 2014.

Written by Mark

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