Cyber-Freedom Under Threat



Report: Cyber-Freedom Under Threat

The freedom of individuals around the world to surf the net is under threat from the policies of democracies, as well as authoritarian regimes and dictatorships, according to a new report.

The report, by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, said there had been a raft of restrictions on Internet freedom set in place in 2004 and called for "vigilance."

In the Internet under surveillance report, the authors distinguished between dictatorships like China that "gag the Internet," and democracies, which they said threatened freedom of expression in the name of fighting pornography, racism or global terrorism.

"The report should not be seen as a kind of ranking of regimes by their repression of the Internet, but more an appeal for vigilance in countries where, as in democracies, it's still possible to expose abuses and flaws," the report said.

The authors put China top of the list of the most repressive countries for Internet users.

"With a total of 61 Internet users in detention at the start of May 2004, China is the world's biggest prison for cyber-dissidents," the report said.

"It is also the country where the technology for email interception and Internet censorship is the most developed."

Vietnam was also targeted by the report, which said seven cyber-dissidents were currently serving prison sentences there for Internet-related offenses.

The report also singled out the Maldives, where it said three cyber-dissidents had been behind bars since January 2002 for producing a newsletter about human rights.

The report described the Maldives as "an island paradise for tourists but an all-out hell for cyber-dissidents."

Another culprit, said the report, was Tunisia, which practices "a disguised but effective censorship," and where "nine young Internet users were sentenced in April 2003 to sentences of up to 26 years in prison for downloading files deemed by the authorities to be dangerous."

Western democracies are no less likely to be tempted into abuses, according to the report.

After the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, "U.S. legislation has increasingly trampled on the civil liberties of Internet users," the report said.

"And U.S. senators, while launching a program to combat Internet censorship worldwide, refuse to rein in U.S. companies that help equip dictatorships with online surveillance and filtering equipment."

A recent law passed by France to try to keep extremist material off the net also came in for criticism. The Law on the Digital Economy passed in May 2004 says Internet service providers (ISPs) can be prosecuted unless they block material known to break the law.

But critics say this simply encourages ISPs to block access to any supplier they consider might represent a risk for them.

The Council of Europe and the European Union also attracted the report's criticism. Both organizations "seem less and less concerned about ensuring individual freedom" against a backdrop of the fight against global terrorism and crime on the web.

Reporters Without Borders' secretary general Robert Menard recognized in the report, however, that it was this "fight against terrorism that governments say justifies repressive controls and laws."

He said this was understandable "as long as parliaments approve all such measures, which does not always happen, and police always act only at the request of judges, which sometimes is not done."

Source: Discovery Channel


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Oktober 2004

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