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Fwd: FC: Washington Post editorial on global Net-censorship (10/21/96)
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- Date: Tue, 22 Oct 96 00:25:49 +0200
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>Date: Mon, 21 Oct 1996 07:36:09 -0700 (PDT)
>From: Declan McCullagh <email@example.com>
>Subject: FC: Washington Post editorial on global Net-censorship (10/21/96)
While the Washington Post may be in thrall to the national security
establishment on encryption policy, it has done more to highlight the
dangers of Net-censorship than any other newspaper. Check out today's
editorial, attached below.
Also, the In the Loop column in today's Post reports that the poorly-named
"Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom" is hosting a $10,000-a-table banquet
called the "1996 Architect of the New Century Award Gala" on November 11.
This year's architect? "None other than that champion of democracy and
human rights the inimitable Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of
Singapore." The same fellow I wrote about in a HotWired column recently:
The unknown user, who has the email address firstname.lastname@example.org,
posted hundreds of messages to the soc.culture.singapore newsgroup
under the name of "Lee Kwan Yew," the retired prime minister of
Singapore. The messages are short and unimaginative, yet apparently
are just enough to piss off the thin-skinned Singaporean officials.
One post reads: "We are small and vulnerable. Without regulations, we
will be like Hong Kong, oops, fuck, bad example, they are actually
doing quite all right. - SM Lee Kwan Yew, Republic of Singapore."
I just called the Nixon Center and spoke to Tricia Williams, the assistant
to the president. She told me: "You would need to speak to Mr. Sines, the
president. I'm not involved in planning that." More later, if he returns
my phone call.
CENSORSHIP IN CYBERSPACE
Monday, October 21 1996; Page A18
The Washington Post
WHEN IT COMES to communication and censorship, the issues don't change
much from one medium to the next. The latest reminder comes with a
mini-gust of consternation that hit the World Wide Web a few days ago
when, after prolonged outcry, the proprietor of a Sweden-based web
site called the Gallery Grotesque closed it down. The site had been
displaying gruesome images for two years and had attracted alarm most
recently by posting several grisly photographs of a murder scene.
Those who attempted to visit the web site after it was closed were
greeted with a message from the owner that included all the classic
reasons for allowing speech even when it's violent or disturbing. The
"gallery," the message explained, had been designed to display true
images of "a debauched, self-indulgent society"; it had gotten several
million "hits," or visitors, over its life; "myriad external
pressures" had been brought to bear, and it was now closing "at a time
of my own choosing" because "the concept has been fully explored."
Finally, to those "repulsed or angered" by the images, it added,
"Consider this: The insanity still continues; only the messenger has
Whatever you make of the issues of judgment or perhaps
self-dramatization involved here, the arguments closely resemble the
familiar ones about information and its responsible use that have been
going on for centuries. Meanwhile, the Internet experiences of such
countries as China and Singapore offer a more sobering demonstration
that the new technology may not change the landscape of freedom of
speech vs. censorship as much as many had hoped. When the Internet
with its global reach first became accessible in countries with
otherwise tight information control, human rights and pro-democracy
activists foresaw a virtual end to isolation for their colleagues in
closed societies, just as fax machines had buoyed Chinese student
protesters a decade ago. Some talked of a global "archive of banned
books" that could be accessed from any point in the world, thus
rendering book-banning by individual nations pointless.
Unfortunately, governments interested in maintaining censorship
quickly have found ways to use the technology to their benefit. Though
decentralized and ungovernable, the Internet is also highly
transparent: No one can be sure who is watching, and most messages
leave tracks. The governments of China, Burma and Singapore have been
cited as making use of this characteristic of the medium, announcing
heavy penalties on those who access unauthorized sites, and, in Iran
particularly, constructing elaborate technological fire walls to allow
their citizens to tap some but not all of the Web's information.
The fire walls may prove rickety, and, even with the restrictions,
activists may discover over time that access to e-mail and the Web
brings more advantage than danger. Even so, the lesson remains:
Technology may alter the dimensions of the problem of censorship, but
it doesn't take the problems away.
fight-censorship is at http://www.eff.org/~declan/fight-censorship/
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