Tuesday, January 10, 2006

FREE SPEECH: Reporters Without Borders chronicles international censorship


6 January 2006

Do Internet companies need to be regulated to ensure they respect free expression ?

Reporters Without Borders. proposals

The recent case of Microsoft closing down a journalist.s blog under
pressure from the Chinese authorities once again shows that some Internet
sector companies do not respect freedom of expression when operating in
repressive countries. Reporters Without Borders proposes six concrete ways
to make these companies behave ethically. These recommendations are
addressed to the US government and US legislators because all the
companies named in this document are based in the United States.
Nonetheless, they concern all democratic countries and have therefore been
sent to European Union officials and to the Secretary General of the OECD
as well.


Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly condemned the ethical lapses
displayed by certain Internet sector companies when operating in
repressive countries. Here are some examples that have caused us
particular concern :

Since 2002, Yahoo ! has agreed to censor the results of the Chinese
version of its search engine in accordance with a blacklist provide by the
Chinese government. Reporters Without Borders also recently proved that
Yahoo ! helped the Chinese police identify and then convict a journalist
who was criticising human rights abuses in China. The e-mail servers of
Yahoo !.s Chinese division are located inside China.

Microsoft censors the Chinese version of its MSN Spaces blog tool. You
cannot enter search strings such as .democracy. or .human rights in China.
or .capitalism. as they are automatically rejected by the system.
Microsoft also closed down a Chinese journalist.s blog following pressure
from the government in Beijing. This blog was hosted on servers located in
the United States.

All sources of news and information that are censored in China have been
withdrawn by Google from the Chinese version of its news search engine,
Google News.

Secure Computing has sold Tunisia technology that allows it to censor
independent news and information websites such as the Reporters Without
Borders one.

Fortinet has sold the same kind of software to Burma.

Cisco Systems has marketed equipment specifically designed to make it
easier for the Chinese police to carry out surveillance of electronic
communications. Cisco is also suspected of giving Chinese engineers
training in how to use its products to censor the Internet.

We believe these practices violate the right to freedom of expression as
defined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which
was proclaimed by the United Nations when it was founded and which is
supposed to apply to everyone, including business corporations.
Furthermore, such ethical failings on the part of American companies
damage the image of the Unites States abroad.

Our previous initiatives

Reporters Without Borders has written to the chief executives of several
corporations since 2002 proposing an exchange of ideas on this issue. None
of our letters have been answered. We have also tried to alert the
shareholders of these companies through investment funds. We presented a
joint statement on 7 November in New York in which 25 investment firms
managing some 21 billion dollars in assets undertook to monitor the
activities of Internet companies operating in repressive countries.

Aside from Google, all the companies we approached refused to enter into a
dialogue on this subject. We would therefore now like the American
people.s elected representatives and the Department of State to formally
take up this issue.

The initiative

Reporters Without Borders is convinced that a law regulating the
activities of Internet companies should only be drafted as a last resort,
and we therefore recommend a two-step approach. Initially, a group of
congressmen should formally ask Internet corporations to reach an
agreement among themselves on a code of conduct that includes the
recommendations we make at the end of this document. The companies would
be urged to use the help of organisations specialised in freedom of
expression in drafting the document. The request would include a deadline
for the companies to submit their draft code of conduct to the congressmen

In the event that no satisfactory code of conduct has been drawn up when
the deadline expires, or the proposed code has not been accepted by a
sufficient number of representative companies, the congressmen would set
about drafting a law that would aim to ensure that US companies respect
freedom of expression when they are operating in repressive countries and

Reporters Without Borders. proposals

We have listed our recommendations according to the type of service or
equipment marketed by Internet companies :

E-mail services :

No US company would be allowed to host e-mail servers within a repressive
country*. So, if the authorities of a repressive country want personal
information about the user of a US company.s e-mail service, they would
have to request it under a procedure supervised by US.

Search engines :

Search engines would not be allowed to incorporate automatic filters that
censor .protected. words. The list of .protected. keywords such as
.democracy. or .human rights. should be appended to the law or code of

Content hosts (websites, blogs, discussion forums etc)

US companies would not be allowed to locate their host servers within
repressive countries. If the authorities of a repressive country desire
the closure of a publication hosted by a US company, they would have to
request it under a procedure supervised by the US judicial authorities.
Like search engines, content hosts would not be allowed to incorporate
automatic filters that censor .protected. key-words.

Internet censorship technologies

Reporters Without Borders proposes two options :

Option a : US companies would no longer be permitted to sell Internet
censorship software to repressive states.

Option b : They would still be able to market this type of software but it
will have to incorporate a list of .protected. keywords that are rendered
technically impossible to censor.

Internet surveillance technology and equipment

US companies would have to obtain the express permission of the Department
of Commerce in order to sell to a repressive country any technology or
equipment which can be used to intercept electronic communications or
which is specifically designed to assist the authorities in monitoring
Internet users.


US companies would have to obtain the express permission of the Department
of Commerce before providing any programme of training in Internet
surveillance and censorship techniques in a repressive country.

* A list of countries that repress freedom of expression would be drawn up
on the basis of documents provided by the US State Department and would be
appended to the code of conduct or law that is adopted. This list would be
regularly updated.

Note : The purpose of these recommendations is to protect freedom of
expression. They in no way aim to restrict the necessary cooperation
between governments in their efforts to combat terrorism, paedophilia and


This article above is copyrighted material, the use of which may not have specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of political, economic, democracy, First Amendment, technology, journalism, community and justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' as provided by Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Chapter 1, Section 107, the material above is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this blog for purposes beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?