by Julio Godoy
(IPS) PARIS --
countries have used perceived terrorist threats after the Sept. 11 attacks to step up censorship on the Internet, a leading journalists group says.
A report published in Paris Sept. 5 by Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) says governments are tightening control on communication over the worldwide web. This is among the "collateral damages" of the so-called war against terrorism, the RSF report says.
The report lists China, North Korea, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, and Western democracies such as the U.S., Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Denmark, and Canada among countries introducing censorship on the net.
The RSF is particularly critical of measures adopted in some Arab and Asian countries. "North Korea settled the question long ago," RSF secretary-general Robert Menard said at the release of the report. "This is the only country where Internet does not exist. But this fact does not hinder the state authorities from maintaining several propaganda electronic sites managed from Japan."
The report says that "Saudi Arabia has built a giant filter system in Jeddah, blocking access to electronic addresses." In China which has about 20 million Internet users, the government has created "anti-web police brigades to wage war on anti-government and anti-communist articles published on the Internet."
The Chinese government has also cracked down on cyber cafes, the RSF points out. What is called cyber criminality in China can carry the death sentence, the report says.
The report lists several decisions taken by governments and international organizations to restrict flow of information. Among these it points to "Resolution 1373 adopted by the UN Security Council on September 28, 2001, the U.S. Patriotic Act of October 24, 2001, the recommendations presented by the Group of Eight and by Europol, and in France the adoption of the Law on Daily Security." These are only "some examples of the measures against freedom adopted all over the world," the report says.
In the U.S. where spread of information through the Internet is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution, right-wing groups have for long raised "the phantom of pornography" to restrict this freedom, the RSF report says. The attacks of September 11 permitted the "triumph of a radical security policy" and led to a tightening of controls on the Internet, the RSF says. The U.S. government is now "playing the world policeman on Internet too."
In Germany the argument of a "terrorist threat" has been used by the government of Gerhard Schroeder to pass "security laws" that go beyond the country's needs and restrict the freedom of electronic exchange of information, the report says.
Other European countries such as Spain, Denmark, France and Italy have also adopted exaggerated security measures that restrict freedom of communication and information through the Internet, the report says.
Earlier in June the RSF had urged Internet service providers and telecommunications operators in Europe "not to submit to new legislation and directives on data controls." Menard said then that "police, internal security agencies and other state agencies should have access to private electronic information data such as faxes, e-mails and Internet connections only if this access is officially requested by a tribunal."
The RSF made that demand after the European Parliament amended a 1997 directive on data protection to provide for interception of telephone calls, faxes, e-mails and other Internet communications "for a limited period." The length of the period was not specified and was left to each member state of the European Union.
Menard said at the launch of the new report that "this new legislation is a challenge to the principle of a journalist's right not to reveal sources," and to the confidentiality of Europeans' professional and personal communications.
"These are grave circumstances which call for vigilance," Menard said. "The climate of heightened consciousness about security since the attacks of September 11 is poised to legitimize a setback in freedom of expression of Europeans."
In France the Commission Nationale Informatique et Libertes (CNIL), an independent agency reporting on freedom of information in the electronic media claimed in July that communication was not being censored. Menard wrote back to the CNIL: "If we are to believe your report, there was no September 11 effect upon French Internet communications. This position of yours is surprising to say the least. The contrary is true."
The RSF is encouraging Internet users to encrypt their e-mails to avoid censorship. It suggests use of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) software, a free program that allows exchange of encoded e-mails. Internet experts say PGP is difficult to break even with advanced decoding software.
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