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(Fwd) NYTimes article mentions GILC and others
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- Date: Fri, 18 Dec 1998 17:10:06 +0100
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Date: Fri, 18 Dec 1998 11:00:24 GMT0BST
From: "Yaman Akdeniz" <email@example.com>
Subject: NYTimes article mentions GILC and others
December 18, 1998
By PAMELA MENDELS
World Governments Expand Restrictions on Internet, Report
ifty years after the United Nations General Assembly
adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with
its guarantee of free expression for all, the world's
newest form of mass communication is under attack
around the globe from laws, policies and police
actions seeking to restrict content.
That's the bad news in a new report called Freedom of
Expression on the Internet, released earlier this month by
Human Rights Watch as part of the organization's annual
chronicle of rights abuses around the world.
But the report's author and other free speech advocates say
there is some good news as well: The Internet is, so far,
"Nineteen ninety-eight can be
characterized as (a time of)
increasing censorship regulation
-- and going beyond regulation to
prosecution," said Jagdish J.
Parikh, online research associate
for Human Rights Watch and author
of the Internet section of the
On the other side of the balance
sheet, he said in a telephone
interview, is that "the medium
itself has resilient powers."
Parikh said that countries with a
history of limiting free
expression, such as China and
seeking to extend their controls to cyberspace. Meanwhile,
countries with more democratic traditions, such as the
United States and members of the European Union, are
considering policies that, in an effort to control problems
like racism and pornography, could end up restricting
legitimate speech on the global network.
One recent and widely publicized Internet censorship case
involved the arrest and trial in China of a software company
owner, Lin Hai, on charges of subversion after he gave a
list of e-mail addresses to an online democracy magazine.
But the report says that China is not the only country where
people have faced police or court action because of their
Six months ago in Turkey, for example, a teenager received a
suspended jail sentence for making comments critical of
police in an online forum, according to the report. And in
Malaysia in August, three people were arrested on charges
that they spread false rumors in an Internet newsgroup.
A spokesman for the Turkish embassy in Washington said he
was unaware of the case there and could not, therefore,
comment on it. A source at the Malaysian embassy confirmed
the arrests, and said they were justified because the rumors
regarded the possibility of rioting by illegal immigrants
and could have heightened racial tensions in the multiracial
Advocates of free expression on the Internet say they are
concerned about developments in Western countries, too.
In Canada, according to Richard S. Rosenberg, vice president
of the Electronic Frontier Canada, the government is
considering extending national restrictions on hate speech
to the Internet. And the European Union is examining
proposals that would require Internet service providers to
block "harmful speech," like sites promoting racism, or hold
them accountable by law when they make such information
available, said Barry S. Steinhardt, one of the founders of
the Global Internet Liberty Campaign, an international
organization pressing for free speech rights in cyberspace.
Free speech advocates oppose such proposals. For one thing,
they believe objectionable ideas are best stymied by an
intelligent response, not repression. "The way you deal with
speech like this is to answer it," said Rosenberg, a
professor of computer science at the University of British
Columbia, referring to sites that question the existence of
the Holocaust. Such sites are one of the chief targets of
would-be Internet content regulators. "You force the people
who hold these views to defend them," he said.
Advocates of free expression worldwide also worry about how
well software filters, the main method used to block access
to objectionable content, are able to distinguish between
unacceptable and legitimate material.
Yaman Akdeniz, director of the British group Cyber-Rights &
Cyber-Liberties, said he is aware of at least one filtering
system that blocks access to his group's own Web site,
apparently because the words "pornography" and "child
pornography" are often used in discussions of online policy
issues. "Whether this is done deliberately or not, I see
this as censorship of political speech," he said in an
If laws force Internet service providers to begin deciding
what is legal content and what is illegal, the result will
be a deep freeze on free speech in Europe, some online
activists there say. The service provider "risks search and
seizure of his machines," said Rigo Wenning, a founder of
the German Internet free speech group FITUG.
"That would deliver him directly to bankruptcy. So what he
does is, he removes all content that has the slightest doubt
of being legal. Any critique, thus, would be suppressed
automatically," Wenning said via e-mail.
In a related issue, Internet free speech advocates say they
are also alarmed at the spread of software filters in public
settings, such as schools and libraries, in the birthplace
of both the First Amendment and the Internet: the United
States. Parikh fears that this gives countries with less
democratic traditions a handy justification for state
Internet censorship. "If you can use filters at libraries,
why not at the national level?" he asks.
At the same time, Parikh says he is hopeful that attempts to
reign in online speech worldwide will fail, because savvy
users can find technological detours around filters, and the
sheer volume of information on the network could ultimately
inundate the most diligent corps of censors.
In addition, many people are now awakening to the important
information available to them on the Web and will somehow
seek it out, he said. As evidence, Parikh pointed to the
recent huge surge in visitors to the Human Rights Watch Web
site from Malaysians apparently seeking an alternative
source of information about the authoritarian leadership in
"People realize this is a tool not just for techno-geeks
anymore," Parikh said.
Yaman Akdeniz <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) at: http://www.cyber-rights.org
Read the new CR&CL (UK) Report, Who Watches the Watchmen, Part:II
Accountability & Effective Self-Regulation in the Information Age,
August 1998 at http://www.cyber-rights.org/watchmen-ii.htm