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[FYI] (Fwd) FC: UN frets about 1st Amendment, wants to ban racist US

------- Forwarded message follows -------
Date sent:      	Fri, 17 Mar 2000 09:15:36 -0500
To:             	politech@vorlon.mit.edu
From:           	Declan McCullagh <declan@well.com>
Subject:        	FC: UN frets about 1st Amendment, wants to ban racist US sites
Send reply to:  	declan@well.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

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 
pointed out.  

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-
regulation schemes.  

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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