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geert lovink on Fri, 26 Sep 2003 02:15:26 +0200 (CEST)

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(usual outcome but shoking anyway. did anyone in geneva go to that
presentation of this report? geert)



Corporations are now vying with governments to gag free speech and impede
Internet access

19th September 2003

For immediate release

A new global study of Internet censorship in over fifty countries and
regions has found that Internet restrictions, government secrecy and
communications surveillance have reached an unprecedented level across the
world. The twelve-month study has found that a sharp escalation in control
of the Internet since September 2001 may have outstripped the traditional
ability of the medium to repel attempts at restriction.

The report fires a broadside at the United States and the United Kingdom
for creating initiatives hostile to Internet freedom. Those countries have
led a global attack on free speech on the Internet. They have set a
technological and regulatory standard for mass surveillance and control of
the Internet.

The report, Silenced, will be launched today (Friday) at the preparatory
meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva. The
70,000 word report - the largest and most comprehensive of its kind ever
produced - was compiled and edited by the London-based Privacy
International and the GreenNet Educational Trust.

This study has found that censorship of the Internet is commonplace in most
regions of the world.  The report warns: "It is clear that in most
countries over the past two years there has been an acceleration of efforts
to either close down or inhibit the Internet. In some countries, for
example in China and Burma, the level of control is such that the Internet
has relatively little value as a medium for organised free speech, and its
used could well create additional dangers at a personal level for

"The September 11, 2001 attacks have given numerous governments the
opportunity to promulgate restrictive policies that their citizens had
previously opposed. There has been an acceleration of legal authority for
additional snooping, from increased email monitoring to the retention of
Web logs and communications data. Simultaneously, governments have become
more secretive about their own activities, reducing information that was
previously available and refusing to adhere to policies on freedom of

In finding a substantial level of censorship in many countries, the report
condemns the complicity of Western nations. "Governments of developing
nations rely on Western countries to supply them with the necessary
technologies of surveillance and control, such as digital wiretapping
equipment, deciphering equipment, scanners, bugs, tracking equipment and
computer intercept systems. The transfer of surveillance technology from
first to third world is now a lucrative sideline for the arms industry.
Without the aid of this technology transfer, it is unlikely that
non-democratic regimes could impose the current levels of control over
Internet activity."

One of the most important trends in recent years is the growth of
multinational corporate censors.  The report says: "It is arguable that in
the first decade of the 21st century, corporations will rival governments
in threatening Internet freedoms. Aggressive protection of corporate
intellectual property has resulted in substantial legal action against
users, and a corresponding deterioration in trust across the Internet".

The report notes numerous instances where Internet users have been jailed
by authorities for posting or hosting political material. Such countries
include Egypt, China and a number of Middle Eastern countries. The Internet
is tightly controlled and heavily monitored in regions such as these.

The Internet is a fragile and easily controlled medium. In Africa,
governments in such countries as Kenya and Zimbabwe have at times literally
shut it down. The Saudi government over a period of just three months
blocked access to more than 400,000 websites that were regarded as immoral.
A wide variety of methods are used to restrict and/or regulate Internet
access. These include: applying draconian laws and licenses, content
filtering, tapping and surveillance, pricing and taxation policies,
telecommunication markets manipulation, hardware and software manipulation
and self censorship

The study does however report that there are some positive developments.  "Countries have established protections, companies have fought for the rights of privacy of individuals, technologies have sustained the ability of dissident groups to speak freely and access content privately. Differences in national laws have sheltered the speech of the oppressed. Technological developments are being implemented to protect a free Internet, but the knowledge gap between radical innovators and restrictive institutions appears to be closing".

One of the report's editors, Simon Davies, Director of Privacy
International, said: "It is clear that democratic nations such as the US
and the UK have failed to set an acceptable benchmark for free speech.
Non-democratic regimes look to the West for technologies and techniques of

"The report sounds a warning that we must move quickly to preserve the
remaining freedoms on the Internet before they are systematically

- The report is available online on the Privacy International website at

- Silenced is an independent research initiative managed jointly by Privacy
International and the GreenNet Educational Trust. The twelve-month project
was undertaken through a collaboration of more than fifty experts and
advocates throughout the world. The work was made possible by a grant from
the Open Society Institute.

- Privacy International (PI) www.privacyinternational.org is a human rights
group formed in 1990 as a watchdog on surveillance by governments and
corporations. PI is based in London, and has an office in Washington, D.C.
Together with members in 40 countries, PI has conducted campaigns
throughout the world on issues ranging from wiretapping and national
security activities, to ID cards, video surveillance, data matching, police
information systems, and medical privacy, and works with a wide range of
parliamentary and inter-governmental organisations such as the European
Parliament, the House of Lords and UNESCO.

- GreenNet Educational Trust (GET) was established to promote the
advancement of education to support, encourage and promote research into
the use of computers, electronic communications and information technology
by the general public. It is the parent company of GreenNet Limited, a not
for profit Internet Service Provider dedicated to supporting and promoting
groups and individuals working for peace, human rights and the environment
through the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). More
information about our work can be found at:

- Simon Davies can be reached at simon {AT} privacy.org and within the UK on
07958 466 552 or (+44) 7958 466 552 from outside the UK.

David Banisar (Banisar/at/privacy.org)
Director , FOI Project
Privacy International
London, UK

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