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[FYI] (Fwd) FC: UN frets about 1st Amendment, wants to ban racist US
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- Subject: [FYI] (Fwd) FC: UN frets about 1st Amendment, wants to ban racist US
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- Date: Fri, 17 Mar 2000 19:24:45 +0100
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Date sent: Fri, 17 Mar 2000 09:15:36 -0500
From: Declan McCullagh <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: FC: UN frets about 1st Amendment, wants to ban racist US sites
Send reply to: email@example.com
> "It today is technologically possible to block access to certain
> websites by
>international users. Vendors of encryption technology on the Internet
>have effectively practiced this: Only people in the U.S. or using
>U.S. Internet access infrastructure were able to download software
>with strong encryption, while others were directed to software with
>weak encryption," he said.
Of course, that requires the cooperation of the U.S. web sites...
Inter Press Service
February 18, 2000, Friday
HEADLINE: HUMAN RIGHTS: RACIST SPEECH FINDS COURSE CLEAR ON INTERNET
BYLINE: By Gustavo Capdevila
The international community is preparing for the first world
conference against racism, but without a clear plan on how to counter
hate messages on the Internet without compromising freedom of speech.
That dilemma has been debated for the past several years by United
Nations agencies and civil society forums, such as a seminar that
ended today in Geneva, preparatory to next year's U.N. World
Conference Against Racism and Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and
Related Intolerance, to be organized in South Africa.
So far, the discussion has been largely limited to industrialized
countries, where the overwhelming majority of Internet users are
Swiss expert David Rosenthal said there were an estimated 201 million
people on-line in September 1999: 112.4 million in Canada and the
United States, 47.15 million in Europe, 33.61 million in the Asia-
Pacific region, 5.29 million in Latin America, 1.72 million in
Africa, and 880,000 in the Middle East.
The biggest discrepancies have been North-South in nature, or have
arisen between the United States and countries seeking to clamp down
on expressions of racism and hate speech.
The disagreements emerge from differing national conceptions on the
absolute or relative nature of freedom of expression, said Swiss
official Joel Sambuc.
The discrepancies have stood in the way of an agreement on even
minimal controls over Internet content and international procedures
to put them into practice, said Sambuc, the vice president of the
Swiss Federal Commission Against Racism.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson called on the
"Expert Seminar on Remedies Available to the Victims of Acts of
Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance and
on Good National Practices in this Field," which opened on Feb. 16,
to come up with a clear diagnosis of the newly emerging forms of
racism, with a view to next year's conference in South Africa.
"In this regard, we must note that new forms of communications
technology such as Internet are being used to support the
dissemination of racial hatred," said the U.N. official. "Another
phenomenon which must receive adequate attention is the situation of
migrants whose numbers are increasing all the time. The phenomenon of
large-scale migration has often been accompanied" by expressions of
racism and xenophobia, Robinson added.
The main document presented by the secretariat of the seminar stated
that the use of technical media like the Internet should be a
priority in international aid.
Cooperation between police forces and legal systems is needed to
effectively combat racism beyond national frontiers, the document
But Sambuc pointed out that attempts to clamp down on racism and hate
speech on the Internet ran up against major hurdles, due to technical
aspects and the differing legislation and policies of each country.
As long as websites exalting hatred and racial supremacy are allowed
to exist in the United States, due to the conception of freedom of
speech based on the first amendment of the U.S. constitution,
punitive action by other nations is effectively blocked.
"As a consequence, the U.S. has developed into a 'safe haven' for
racists spreading their word worldwide by using the Internet. Not
only people living in the U.S. are taking advantage of this
situation, but also many Internet users from other countries," he
Rosenthal cited a U.S. report published in March 1999 which listed
1,426 known Internet sites promoting "racism, anti-Semitism, hate
music, neo-Nazis and bomb-making. As of July 15, 1999 this number has
skyrocketed to over 2,100 sites."
Given such challenges presented by the Internet, Rosenthal said he
was in favor of "a new reading" of international conventions on the
promotion and defence of human rights.
But most non-governmental organizations are opposed to any
interference with the Internet, for fear of censorship by anti-
democratic regimes and the possibility of finding themselves deprived
of a valuable tool for spreading the word on human rights.
One alternative brought up this week, which has also been debated by
other forums on Internet content, proposes censoring or self-
But Rosenthal agreed that any filtering scheme or limitation of
freedom of speech "inherently carries the risk of being used in an
unconstitutional way or even abused by anti-democratic regimes around
the world for their own purposes. Under the cloak of combatting
racist speech, such regimes may try to ban other content they find
Nor is self-regulation, touted by neo-liberal ideologues, a solution,
because all it does is transfer the burden of making controversial
decisions to industry, he added.
Self-regulation plans, whether of the public or private sectors, fail
to provide safeguards against the abuse of power, the Swiss expert
One proposal Rosenthal presented at the seminar referred to limiting
access to racist messages by users located outside the United States
through the use of encryption systems.
In some European states, on-line lotteries use such systems to keep
users from other nations from participating in violation of laws in
their own countries.
The "compromise solution" suggested by Rosenthal would "limit racist
speech geographically" by reducing the spread of racist propaganda to
U.S. nationals with free access to websites.
"It today is technologically possible to block access to certain
websites by international users. Vendors of encryption technology on
the Internet have effectively practiced this: Only people in the U.S.
or using U.S. Internet access infrastructure were able to download
software with strong encryption, while others were directed to
software with weak encryption," he said.
Rosenthal also proposed "effective content identification, another
compromise strategy (which) could be to persuade the U.S. government
to regulate racist speech in a way to ease its detection and
filtering wherever required. Although the U.S. government may not
outright ban racist speech, it may impose reasonable restrictions."
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