Today's CyberTimes (NY Times)

CobraBoy (
Tue, 10 Sep 1996 09:41:05 -0700

(And sorry to Johan, I call him Julef yesterday.)

Singapore requires its few Internet service
providers to place strict controls on the
content they admit into the country. Would-be
Internet users in China must register with the
government. German prosecutors challenge sites
that carry hate speech. And in the United States,
a new law would regulate computer networks
for indecency, if it survives a Supreme Court

Around the world, governments are starting to
limit free speech on the Internet. Their reasons
vary from the desire to protect children from
sexually explicit material to the desire to shield
government from criticism.

But whatever the motivations, free speech
advocates fear that the restrictions will shackle a
communications technology that if left unfettered,
would bring unprecedented free expression to
every corner of the globe.

"The restrictions are worrisome first of all
because we, as Americans, believe very strongly
in principles of free speech," said Barry S.
Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties
Union. "We
believe that they are universal principles and that government
should not
be censoring ones freedom of speech."

Steinhardt, a founding member of the Global Internet Liberty
Campaign, a
new group that advocates for Internet freedom around the world,
a second concern about the restrictions: Because the Internet is a
worldwide system, the rules of one government restrict not just
its own
citizens but Internet users everywhere, thereby undermining the
of the entire network.

"There are no borders in cyberspace," Steinhardt said. "The
action of one
government can affect the ability of Internet users around the
world to get
access to information."

That point was driven home recently
with the closing of what was arguably
the world's most popular "anonymous
remailer," a service to conceal the
identity of people sending e-mail over
the Internet, was shuttered. The
service, Helsinki-based Penet, had
helped people who wanting to remain
anonymous while discussing topics like
suicide or controversial political

But Johan M. Helsingius, the operator of the site, decided to
close it
down in late August after what he described as a recent change in
law that could have forced him, under some circumstances, to
reveal the
names of the remailer's users. "Clearly he had many users around the
world, including many Americans," Steinhardt said. "And the
of the service diminished the ability of Americans, for example,
to speak

A report issued in May by Human Rights Watch, a New York
City-based group that monitors human rights around the world,
found that
at least 20 countries had already enacted restrictions on
Internet use.

The restrictions include laws about content, including the United
contested Communications Decency Act, which would make it a crime to
post indecent material to Internet sites that could be viewed by

They also include attempts to limit access to technology. Saudi
Arabia, for
example, confines Internet use to university, business or medical
according to the report. "In Saudi Arabia they are selecting certain
populations to hook up," said Karen M. Sorensen, online
researcher for
Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "But the idea of the
information infrastructure is that everybody -- even the most
disenfranchised member of the population -- should have access,
the Internet is such an inexpensive and fast way to communicate."

Singapore has enacted some of the tightest controls. In that
country, only
three Internet service providers are allowed to operate, and they
adhere to strict content regulations, Sorensen says. Among
sites are those that "bring the government into hatred or
contempt or
which excite disaffection against the government" or those that
public confidence in the administration of justice," Sorensen
said, quoting
the regulations.

In China, meanwhile, those wishing to
open Internet access accounts are
required to register with the
government, Steinhardt says. In
addition, The Wall Street Journal
reported this week that China has
blocked access to as many as 100
World Wide Web sites, including
some operated by American news

Such actions were perhaps to be expected in China, which has an long
history of suppressing free expression. But Internet controls are
even in countries with strong democratic traditions. In India,
for example,
the sole Internet access provider is controlled by the
government, and the
fees charged have been too expensive for many, although prices
are now
reported to be coming down, Sorensen said.

Western countries, too, are moving to restrict the Internet, often
motivated by the wish to control pornography, hate speech or

Last month, for example, officials from Scotland Yard called on
service providers in the United Kingdom to block access to a list
of 133
"hard- porn" newsgroups or risk facing prosecution. The problem,
Sorensen, is that some of the newsgroups were not pornographic.

German officials, meanwhile, have sought to bar access to sites
anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi material. And in perhaps the best-known
case of
international censorship, German prosecutors last year pressured
CompuServe Inc. to ban about 200 sex- related newsgroups. As a
CompuServe subscribers from around the world, not just Germany, were
barred from access to the sites. The ban was lifted when the company
introduced filtering software allowing viewers to block access to
objectionable sites on their own.

"The Internet is a brand new medium," Sorensen said. "It is
powerful, the first truly mass medium. I think that scares
especially very authoritarian governments, but even some governments
like our own."


** History 101** Hiroshima 45 - Chernobyl 86 - Windows 95 ============================================= "The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste, they have absolutely no taste, and what that means is, I don't mean that in a small way I mean that in a big way. I have a problem with the fact that they just make really third rate products."

Steve Jobs, Triumph of the Nerds, PBS Documentary