Friday, May 05, 2006

Reporter Without Borders Report - Internet Censorship Growing

The link above is to a nice BBC news report on the lengthy report by Reporters Without Borders (besides Doctors Without Borders, now there are Lawyers Without Borders, too!) that finds

Repressive regimes are taking full advantage of the net's ability to censor and stifle reform and debate (snip)... the world's dictators have not remained powerless in the face of the explosion of online content. By contrast, many have been "efficient and inventive" in using the net to spy on citizens and censor debate.

In many nations, the net used to be the only uncensored outlet and the place people turned to for news they would never hear about through official channels.

However, noted the report, governments have woken up to the fact that the people they regard as dissidents are active online. Many are now moving to censor blogs and the last year has seen many committed bloggers jailed for what they said in their online journal.

According to the BBC web page, China has jailed at least 62 people for posting materials to the internet. Iran, as well as Egypt, Iran, Libya, the Maldives, Syria, Tunisia and Vietnam have also jailed citizens for net use.

Many other nations, including Burma, Cuba, Iran, Libya, Nepal, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam censor the net. Often this filtering involves stopping access to some types of sites, such as those showing pornography, but it can also involve blocking sites critical of governments or religions.

Some nations, such as Turkmenistan, have banned home net connections and restrict people to using net cafes which, said the RSF, were much easier to control. Burma has banned web e-mail systems such as Hotmail and Yahoo mail and every five minutes screen grabs are taken of what people are looking at in net cafes.

But criticism of the obstacles put before open net access was not limited to nations known for their repressive policies. The European Union was criticised too for its policy of leaving the decision on which sites to censor up to net service firms. This, said the RSF, created a "private system of justice" in which technicians take the place of a judge.

The 153-page report also criticised Western firms for selling technology to repressive regimes to help them monitor what people do online.

The report was produced to mark World Press Freedom Day.

Here is a link to the full Reporters Without Borders report. Remember it is 154 pages in PDF format, so it takes a while to load if you don't have a fast connection. Happy World Press Freedom day, belated!

The report goes beyond looking at internet censorship. The organization is looking at all issues of safety and integrity for the press around the world. The report features on the cover a world map color-coded to designate the organization's estimate of the seriousness of problem with censorship in each country. I am interested to note that the United States does not get the highest rating. Are you surprised? Actually, when you go to the report on the United States, they speak about the jailing of reporter Judith Miller of the N.Y. Times for refusing the reveal her source who "outed" the CIA agent married to an American ambassador. This seems to be the only black mark on the United States record of press integrity and freedom in this report. I feel they are seriously overlooking some issues!

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