Censoring the Internet

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3 Νοε 2013 (πριν από 3 χρόνια και 7 μήνες)

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Censoring the Internet


Censorship exists within every country and within every information medium
such
as newspapers, books, television, radio, and the most recent medium, the Internet.
Unlike earlier information mediums, the Internet provides individuals a means to abstract
untainted, non
-

propagandized information through a universal medium. However, in

many countries, this abundance of unfettered information is seen as a threat to the
governmental workings of these countries and/or regions. As a result, governments
within these countries impose censorship laws to regulate, and ultimately prevent its
cit
izens from obtaining information that may threaten the current workings of their
society. China, as well as several Middle Eastern and North African countries are prime
examples of governmental system that impose Internet Censorship laws in an attempt to
prevent the spread of information deemed

unsuitable

, or in a more truthful sense of the
word,

destructive


to their established society

s. In comparison, many European
countries seek not to prevent the flow of information for the protection of their
es
tablished governments, but, rather, to censor and prevent hate
-
induced web sites.
While some types of censorship are seen as more humane than others any restrictions to
the Internet serve to potentially inhibit an individual

s means for obtaining knowledg
e,
consequently, resulting in a violation of human rights. This paper examines the
aforementioned countries with regard to what current Internet censorship regulations
exist in each of the four regions, how such regulations violate human rights, and what,

if
any, actions are being taken to prevent such violation. We begin our discussion with an
examination into China

s Internet censorship regulations.



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CHINA


Since 1995, when Chinese authorities began permitting commercial
Internet accounts, at least sixt
y sets of Internet censorship regulations have been issued to
control the information available to Chinese citizens


(Human Rights News 2001).
“”
In
1994, the State Council issued the

PRC Regulations for the Safety and Protection of
Computer Information Sy
stems

, which gave the Ministy of Public Security overall
responsibility for supervision of the Internet
””

(Human Rights News 2001).
““
According to article 17 of the Regulations, Public Security is entitled to

supervise,
inspect and guide the security pr
otection work,



investigate and prosecute illegal
criminal cases


and

perform other supervising duties
””

(Human Rights News 2001).
The following February, rules on the connection between China

s domestic network and
the international Internet were iss
ued by the State Council. (Human Rights News 2001)

These regulations began to shift some of the responsibility for the control of content to
the Internet companies themselves


(Human Rights News 2001).

Article 11 of that
order reads:


Units providing in
ternational inward and upward channels and interactive and interfacing units
shall establish a network management center to strengthen the management of their own
units and their consumers according to the relevant laws and state regulation, to improve
net
work information security management, and to provide good and safe services to
consumers


(Article 11 quoted in Human Rights News 2001).


Further, article 13 reads:




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[U]nits and individuals engaging in Internet business shall strictly enforce safety
and

security control systems according to relevant state laws and administrative
regulations, and shall not make use of the Internet to conduct criminal activities
-
including
prejudicial to state security and the leakage of state secrets
-

or to produce, retri
eve,
duplicate, and disseminate information prejudicial to public order or pornographic
materials. (Article 13 quoted in Human Rights News 2001)


Yet another regulation passed affecting foreign investors, as well as Chinese
citizens

is the Telecommunications Regulations Of The People

s Of China. This
regulation outlines the material considered

subversive


by party officials and bans
citizens from using telecommunications networks to access or produce such materials.
Furthermore, th
e Measures for Managing the Internet Information Services makes the
Internet service providers responsible for the information displayed on their sites and for
providing the times in which they publish their information. In addition, Internet service
prov
iders are responsible for recording the times a user logs onto the Internet, the user

s
account number, and the Internet address or domain names, and the phone number user

s
dial in from. Such information must be stored by the Internet service providers f
or sixty
days and records must be turned over to police on demand or Internet service providers
must report the information to state authorities. (Human Rights News 2001)

Content providers must also face the State Secrets Protection and Regulation for
Comp
uter Information Systems on the Internet. This regulation subjects all web sites to
a security inspection and approval. (Human Rights News 2001)

Access to numerous web sites dealing with politics, as well as human rights have


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also been blocked by party

officials. A few examples of these blocked web sites include
The New York Times, Cable News Network, Amnesty International, Human Rights
Watch, and the Tibet Information Network. (Index)

The restrictions are made possible
because of the way in which Chin
a has constructed its Internet system with all
information passing through relatively few

choke points

. The routing computers which
transfer data across the network have been programmed to filter out information from

undesirable


web sites


(Index).



Supervised chat rooms are yet another way in which Chinese party officials have sought
to regulate citizen

s consumption and distribution of information through the Internet. In
April, 1999, a chat
-
room enabled members of the now outlawed Falun Gong move
ment
to coordinate a protest in which 10,000 members appeared at the gates of the
Zhongnanhai leaders


compound in Beijing to protest the governments actions in
harassing the movement and its leaders. As a result, party officials now require all
Internet
chat rooms be supervised by a government monitor who deletes information
deemed

subversive


or critical of the Communist Party. (Linux Journal 2000)

Finally, the forced closure of bulletin boards and Internet cafes throughout China
are another way in whic
h party officials have exerted control over the Internet. On
September 5, 2001 the Baiyun Huanghe bulletin board at Huazhong University of
Science and Technology was closed after students posted articles about the Tiananmen
Square massacre. The bulletin h
ad 30,000 registered users and monitored political
corruption, offering students a forum to freely express their views on government related
issues. (China: Internet....)

Between April and July 2001, over 2,300 cafes had been closed down. Police in


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Lia
oning province installed software on computers in Internet cafes to filter out
subversive and pornographic material. (Human Rights News 2001)

China

s censorship of the Internet violates the human rights of its citizens by
repressing their means of obtain
ing knowledge and information in an attempt to maintain
a ruling communist government. First, China

s slow growth of the Internet has allowed
the government to better manage China

s social penetration by limiting Internet access to
the population least lik
ely to challenge the status quo. For example, the typical Chinese
Internet user is

male, young, single, university educated, relatively affluent, and works
in the rapidly expanding IT sector


(Linux Journal 2000). In addition, high access fees
further li
mit Internet access to the more affluent.

For example, the recently announced
169 network offers inexpensive access (approximatley 22 U.S. cents per hour) prevents
access to external Web sites

.


(Linux Journal 2000). Furthermore, citizens are often
thr
eatened into accepting such regulations for fear of the punishment that may result from
a violation. As Bryan Pfaffenberger states in his essay,

Beijing does not hesitate to
throw people in jail


even put them to death


for violating its Draconian laws


(Linux
Journal 2000).

As a result of China

s Internet censorship regulations, those citizens who are most
likely to reap the benefits of the educational value of the Internet are assured difficult, if
not impossible, means with which to obtain such info
rmation. We now examine
Internet censorship in the Middle East.

MIDDLE EAST

In the Middle East, government
-
imposed Internet filtering violates the right to
free statement. In countries such as Bahrain, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab


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Emirates,
Internet Service Providers (ISP
’’
s)
-

either under government orders or pressure
-

all block web sites on the basis of their content. The blocking extends to cultural and/or
political content. However, not all of the blocking occurs on the same level. Bahr
ain,
Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates block web sites and monitor Internet
use on varying degrees.

In Bahrain, for example, the government wants the country to become the
telecommunications hub of the Gulf, yet it suppresses information cri
tical of the ruling Al
Khalifa family. Access to the Internet is relatively widespread. Six percent of the
population (37,500 users) is online. A public cyber
-
cafe functions. Yet surveillance is
pervasive and Web sites have been blocked. (PFS)



Furthermor
e, In Iran, the increased freedom enjoyed by print media following the
election of reformist president Mohammad Khatami in 1997 ended in 2000 with a
hardline backlash that shut down most moderate newspapers. However, in January 2001,
for the first time eve
r, a group of students set up an interactive Web site to support a
protest against the detention of political prisoners. The Amir Kabir University

s Web site
Akunews

said it will allow the wider public to demonstrate its support for the student
protest via

e
-
mail and the chat room. (PFS)


A country highly repressive with regard to statement
——
Saudi Arabia
——
nevertheless
only moderately restricts the Internet. The Saudi government recently worked to triple the
number of Internet subscribers to 300,000 (1.4 pe
rcent of the population). Access costs
have been slashed. Much of the new infrastructure accommodates a vast increase in
business and banking activity on the Web. A firewall created by the government
nevertheless can block content from any site not officia
lly approved. All ISPs in the


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kingdom are state controlled to prevent the dissemination of

inappropriate information.


(PFS)

The most wired country in the Arab world is the United Arab Emirates. Seventeen
percent of its people (400,000 users) are online (
PFS). While the UAE

s print and
broadcast media are listed as Not Free, the Internet is moderately restricted. Individual
users are not monitored as they are in some neighboring countries, though the potential
for wider censorship on the Web is present. Us
ers do not access the Internet directly, but
tap into a proxy server maintained by the state telecommunications monopoly. The proxy
can refuse access to Web sites that are banned by the government, or if the site then
monitored by the proxy reveals objecti
onable information. These moderate restrictions
allow more freedom, with clearer limitations than are permitted in the print or broadcast
media. (PFS)

In a region where torture is commonplace and free elections the exception, the
issue of Internet speech m
ay seem low on the human rights agenda. It may also appear to
be an elitist concern in countries where illiteracy is rampant and the cost of a personal
computer and, perhaps, even a telephone is beyond the reach of most households. In a
region where many
governments routinely tap the phones of dissidents, Internet users in
many countries, including Bahrain, suspect that the right to privacy of correspondence is
being violated by government surveillance of e
-
mail. One Bahraini spent more than a
year in jail

on suspicion of e
-
mailing "political" information to dissidents abroad. (HWR)

Different countries in the Middle East control and censor Internet use in a variety
of ways. However, regardless of what content is being censored and monitored, all are
conside
red violations of human rights. The censorship laws that exist among Middle


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Eastern countries violate human rights by restricting freedom of press and statement
––

a
form of oppression. Government
-
imposed filtering poses two basic threats to the right of
free statement. First, it constitutes a form of prior censorship and as such, should be
subjected to the strictest level of scrutiny. Second, in practical terms, the filtering
technologies developed so far are imprecise tools. Even when the stated motives
for
content
-
filtering have been justifiable, such as to keep pornographic materials from
minors, the means used have almost invariably impeded, whether intentionally or not, the
flow of political, cultural, medical and other types of content that are unque
stionably
legal under international standards. (HRW)

Several steps have been taken to prevent this violation of human rights. For
example,Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims:



Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion an
d statement; this right includes freedom to hold
opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas
through any media and regardless of frontiers

(HRW).


Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right
s (ICCPR)
reaffirms that everyone's right to freedom of statement "shall include the freedom to seek,
receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either
orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any
other media of his choice."
Article 19 further states that restrictions on this right

shall only be such as are provided
by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the
protection of national security or of pu
blic order (
ordre public
), or of public health or
morals

(HRW). The ICCPR has been ratified by Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel,


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Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen. It has not been
ratified by Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi
Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. (HRW)
An examination into the North Africa

s Internet censorship regulations reveal further
human rights violations.



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NORTH AFRICA
Unlike the Middle East, North Africa is one

of the most under
-
represented
areas of the world in terms of per capita Internet connectivity. Internet access is censored
heavily throughout many of the regions across North Africa, or even completely denied,
such as the case in Libya up until a couple o
f years ago, when the government finally
granted access, albeit very limited access, to the nation

s citizens. In a region where
nearly every government censors or punishes speech critical of the authorities, there is
little doubt that Internet growth has
been slowed by the fear among those in power that
democratizing Internet access will undermine state control over information. The
governments also fear that if their citizens are allowed unfettered access to the Internet,
then they will realize how much t
heir human rights are being violated and will, therefore,
revolt against the government and its policies. This fear is warranted by the many
examples of how the Internet is empowering citizens and non
-
governmental forces, and
eroding government
-
imposed co
ntrols on the flow of information. For instance, human
rights organizations in Egypt are able to disseminate information far more effectively
than ever before through e
-
mail and web sites, despite their modest resources and limited
access to the media. Als
o, Arabic, English, and French newspapers that have been
censored in Egypt and Algeria have posted their banned stories online, where local and
international readers can view them. In addition, stories that newspapers declined to
publish, due to political
pressure or other factors, have circulated widely on the Internet.
When private dailies in Algeria went on strike in October 1998 to protest pressure from
state
-
run printing presses, they published daily bulletins on the web to mobilize support
for their c
ause. Internet
-
based organizations like the Digital Freedom Network have also
been making censored materials available online (Human Rights Watch).

There are


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many factors that contribute to the amount of Internet censorship that abounds in these
countries
, not all of which are directly related to governmental policies. Some of these
other factors include the price of computer equipment and Internet and phone
connections, and the state of a country

s telecommunications infrastructure, including
such attribu
tes as the number of telephone lines per capita and the international
connections bandwidth. However, the government is responsible for much of the
blockage of Internet use, and this is carried out in a number of different ways across the
region. The local

prices of computer equipment or services deter Internet use in many
countries of the region, and these prices may reflect government attitudes toward
popularizing Internet use, insofar as the prices are set, taxed, or subsidized by the
government. Also, t
hroughout the region, Internet and telephone costs are more
expensive than they are, for example, in the United States. They are even more costly
when prevailing median income levels are taken into consideration. Another factor
inhibiting Internet growth i
n the region is the continuing dominance of English
-
language
materials, and because of this dominance, users who do not speak English, such as most
of the French
-
speaking citizens across the North African regions, remain at a
disadvantage in their ability
to access online resources. (Human Rights Watch)

However, despite all these forces, the spread of the Internet in this region has
accelerated over the last four years. Web
-
savvy individuals have found many ways to
circumvent the restrictions imposed by the

government and Internet users, with the
necessary financial means they can gain unrestricted access to the Internet by dialing
service providers outside their countries (Campagna 2000). In many countries cyber caf
é
s
have afforded the public access to the
Internet for an hourly fee. In a few countries,


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national and local governments are using the Internet to make it easier for citizens to
consult official information and communicate with authorities. Countries such as Egypt,
Morocco, and Tunisia are among t
hose that web cast state radio and/or television.
Tunisia, in particular, maintains several sites containing official information and links to
pro
-
government media. Pro
-
Internet forces within governments and in the business,
academic, and research communit
ies, wishing to keep globally competitive, have pushed
for easier access to online data and communications. Nonetheless, there are still a number
of government
-
imposed restrictions on the content, and viewing, of web sites on the
Internet. Governments that

presently allow public local access to the Internet have
adopted a range of methods to regulate that access. The Global Internet Liberty
Campaign divides these methods into four categories: Internet
-
specific laws; application
of existing laws; content
-
bas
ed license terms applied to users and service providers; and
compulsory use of filtering, rating, or content labeling tools. All of these methods can be
found in North Africa, along with extra legal measures that also diminish online
freedoms. Tunisia has
developed the regions most detailed Internet
-
specific laws, which
explicitly extends to the Internet existing press laws limiting free statement, something
that few other countries in the region have done. However, the existing press laws of
several countr
ies, in their delineation of offenses, define publishing or disseminating
information in so broad a fashion that no new laws are needed to bring Internet speech
under their purview. Tunisia also blocks web sites using a variety of technical means
available

to filter and block content (Human Rights Watch).

Unfortunately, it is not enough for a government to simply ease up on the
restrictions imposed to keep people from accessing, or viewing content on, the Internet.


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In most countries of the world that have k
nown rapid Internet growth, the public sector
has played a role by, among other things, building backbone telecommunications
networks, providing initial funding, regulation and standards, and by encouraging private
investment and computer literacy. Thus, g
overnments that favor development of the
Internet must adopt affirmative policies, and not simply refrain from censorship and
restricting access. Few governments in North Africa have embraced such an approach.
The reasons include competing demands for scar
ce state resources, fear of losing control
over information, and a desire to protect monopoly profits of state telecommunications
companies. For instance, Chakib Lahrichi, president of the independent Internet
Association in Morocco, stated that

while the

Moroccan government had no explicit
policy of censoring or restricting access to the Internet, its growth had been stunted by
unfair advantages enjoyed by the state
-
controlled telecommunications company Itissalat
al
-
Maghrib in its competition with private

service providers, along with the governments
failure to educate the public about the Internet


(Human Rights Watch).

Overall, while these nations still have a long way before they have complete and
unfettered access to the Internet, there seems to be a w
illingness by the nation

s
governments to move in the direction toward extending more freedoms to its citizens.
Finally, we examine Europe

s Internet censorship regulations in comparison to the
previously mentioned countries.

EUROPE

An examination into Eu
rope

s Internet censorship takes a different tone and angle
than did an examination into the previous countries. Evidence shows that the violation
of human rights and the repression of access to global information is much less in


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comparison to the aforeme
ntioned countries. The focal point for Europe is not whether
Internet censorship laws violate human rights, but rather, a focus on whether or not its
citizens are given a false notion of free and unfettered access to the Internet. The Internet
community

s

belief is that the best regulator

s are those who regulate the least. Europe

s
regulation of the Internet has compromised the boundless free
-
flow of information,
otherwise readily available to its citizens.

Similar to the United States, the rise of the In
ternet in the last decade has
transformed the ways in which many European

s conduct business, gather information,
and maintain their personal lives. The Internet is a great promise in this global market
place. Concurrent with the rise of the Internet, is
a rise in tasteless materials penetrating
the Internet. In the United States, the First Amendment guarantees free speech, thus
resulting in more lax censorship regulations. However, in Europe there exists more
government regulation of the Internet.

The Eu
ropean Union is free trade system of treaties made up of fifteen nations.
The EU commission is in charge of drafting laws and regulations that cross the borders of
each individual EU nation. In regard to the Internet, the EU regulates privacy matters,
cons
umer protection, copyrights, censorship, taxation and etc (Finnie 1999).

According to the European Union offensive Internet content resulting in a
criminal offense consists of propaganda from radical groups and any content that
provokes racial or ethnic h
atred. In previous decades, inciting terrorism and radical
propaganda from the left or the right was a difficult proposition. Now, with the advent of
the Internet, groups can market, advertise and recruit using the World Wide Web (Ford
1998). It has become

difficult for European governments to enforce their laws and crack


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down on these groups

due to practical problems and legal differences among countries


(Ford 1998). Policy makers in Europe have deemed it necessary to draft certain directives
to censor m
essage they reckon to be unseemly.


Germany has the largest task in policing the Internet of radical groups. As a result of a
growing Neo
-
Nazi movement, Germany has encountered vast amounts of Internet
content inciting racial hatred. In response, Germany

s government has drafted and
ratified a law,

luKDG

, that attempts to unify

all Internet
-
related matters under the
federal government

. In addition, the law extends to cyber space, existing national laws
on hate speech (Greenfield 1998). This entails ce
nsoring any web site that the
government deems unsuitable. The following are examples of sites deemed unsuitable
and consequently censored: sites outwardly endorsing Nazi philosophy or promoting
racial hatred, sites flaunting Nazi regalia and swastikas, as

well as, all sites involving
transactions of items that display Nazi regalia and swastikas (Greenfield 1998).

Germany is not the only nation in the European Union dealing with Neo
-
Nazi or
Nazi related subject on the Internet. In 2000 a court in France rul
ed that the French
subsidiary of Yahoo must block French users from accessing and purchasing Nazi
perihelia on its U.S. based auction site, thus, setting precedent for anti
-
censorship parties.
The concern raised by this case is that other nations, especial
ly non
-
democracies, will
become more heartened to impose their own laws and restrictions on

foreign web
services


(Economist 2000).

In the European Union, there is no threat of repressive government

s outwardly
relaying propagandist messages. However, re
gulating the Internet to restrict radical
voices compromises citizen

s abilities to gain unfettered, unregulated information


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through this medium. Furthermore, in Europe there exists not only the issue of regulating
the Internet for the purpose of censoring

the voices of fringe groups, but a disturbing lead
that sets precedent for authoritarian governments to follow. The argument should not be
for an Internet that is a

free fire zone


without any regulation, but should be instead, for
responsible and common

sense policy making that spans boarders and does not lead to a
further slippery slope.

Regardless of what censorship regulations exist within various countries, evidence
has clearly shown that any form of censorship seeks to inhibit an individual

s abstra
ction
of knowledge. While some inhibitions may seem less harmful to the public

s
well
-
being, such as restricting access to Neo
-
Nazi hate web sites, as is the case in
Germany and other European countries, any inhibition restricts knowledge and,
ultimately
an individual

s awareness of universal issues. While, restricting access to
hateful web sites may seem like a logical attempt to discourage and prevent hate, the
restrictions may also mask the very problem of hate, quite possibly, resulting in a
repetitio
n of hateful acts such as the holocaust. Moreover, countries that restrict their
citizen

s consumption of certain materials out of the fear of inciting revolt or disrupting
their current governmental workings directly violate the human rights. Such a viol
ation is
defined by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which grants all
individuals the right

to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any
media and regardless of frontiers


(HRW). The Internet constitutes a new form

of
information transfer more widely used and more able to disseminate information,
especially universal and non
-
propagandized viewpoints. As a result, this unprecedented
form of information transfer, the Internet, is deserving of its own set of rules and


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guidelines established to protect the free and unfettered transfer of information to all
individuals as a protection of those rights defined in the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights.