Patrice Riemens on Thu, 9 Jul 1998 18:36:25 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Washington Post editorial

[headers confiscated.-T]

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

Today's edition of the Washington Post has an unsigned editorial which
makes reference to last week's seizure by Italian authorities of
equipment run by an italian anarchist ISP "Islands in the Net".

For more info:

Caught in the Net
Sunday, July  5, 1998; Page C06 

AS MORE DEMOCRACIES become substantially wired for Internet
communication, one after another has flirted with strategies for
regulating the flow -- some to extend long-standing prohibitions on
expression into a medium that tends to undercut them; some, ironically,
to thwart the dominance of American material online. Even setting aside
authoritarian systems like Singapore or China, which could have been
expected to balk at the possibilities of cyber-communication, it's an
instructive spectacle to watch nations with ordinary freedoms but
without the American attachment to the First Amendment navigate these
challenges -- and to see what kinds of material are invariably the first
to be put at risk.

Two European democracies provide recent illustrations. In Britain,
complaints were sparked recently when the government said it would set
up a new independent but unelected panel to curb defamatory material and
copyright violation on the Net -- not by legal challenge, as is the case
now, but simply by requesting that British Internet service providers
remove specified materials from their services. While these are in fact
the two categories of material that service providers are under the most
pressure to control -- to the point of being held liable in some cases
-- they are also notoriously hard to define. British defamation laws are
tight, the boundaries of Internet copyright in particular are still
being thrashed out, and companies have been quick to press for
censorship of sites critical of their products on the grounds that their
trademarks are being violated. One Net group objected that the extension
of existing defamation laws to chat groups "will mean that exchanges on
the level of pub conversation will be censored."

In Italy, meanwhile, authorities created a parallel flap when Bologna
police seized the equipment of a nonprofit Internet provider they said
had engaged in "prolonged defamation" of a travel agency. The provider
said the reference was to a call for a boycott based on the travel
agency's ownership; supporters of Kurdish rights said the business was
owned by the family of the former Turkish prime minister, Tansu Ciller.

You could hardly think of an issue more likely to raise contention, but
this and the broader complaint are both reminders of a commonplace of
free speech jurisprudence: It is unpopular speech, especially political
speech, that most readily attracts suppression and that therefore needs
protection. Without that protection, speech with truly wide distribution
-- the Net's special gift -- can be swiftly pressured to give up the
main advantages of such democratic leveling.

Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
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