On July 30th the G7 group of nations met in Paris to discuss terrorism. Among other responses the G7 have endorsed a number of restrictions and controls on the Internet. These include the prohibition or censorship of sources that may contain "dangerous" information, restrictions on the electronic speech of unpopular political organisations, and the imposition of "key escrow" or other means of allowing governments to violate privately encrypted correspondence.
This particularly serious threat, which originates from recent events such as a bombing at the Atlanta Olympics and the crash of TWA Flight 800, is another case in a long list of attempts to restrict freedom of speech in electronic networks, of which there are alarming examples in many countries including Australia, Belgium, China, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the USA and Vietnam, under a variety of pretexts ranging from "pornography" to "terrorism" and incorrect political opinion.
This alert is being issued by a coalition of online civil liberties organisations that support online privacy, freedom of speech and human rights. The organisations are listed at the end of this alert along with contact details.
Since its inception the Internet has more than doubled in size every year. If this growth continues, more than one billion people will be using the Internet by the turn of the century. Each of these users can as easily publish material as they can read it. The Internet has the potential vastly to improve the workings of democratic government and to spread liberty across the globe.
In light of recent bombings in the US and elsewhere, there are again calls to ban from the Internet information on explosives, as well as any other issues that can be related to "terrorism". Anti-terrorist hysteria has become the excuse for governmental attempts to circumvent online freedom of expression, guaranteed by constitutions, laws, and the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Information on how to make bombs, as well as other things that would be "banned", is widely available, often from the very governments pushing for censorship. Banning such publications from the Internet won't make it any less widely available. However it could become the tool for the censorship of any debate or opinion which happens to displease the authorities, or "pressure groups" that do not share those opinions. This is a pure and simple violation of free speech, no matter how it is disguised.
Currently, communicating via the Internet is like sending messages on postcards. Anyone between the sender and receiver can read the message. Encryption (data scrambling) technology can be used to ensure the privacy of communications. It's like placing messages in envelopes. Although widely available the technology has not yet become a part of the Internet because of pressures from the "intelligence" and law enforcement agencies.
Some countries, such as the United States, treat cryptography as if were a weapon, like missile or a machine gun, and ban its export. Other countries, such as France, have an outright ban on cryptography. Such policies threaten to undermine information infrastructure not only locally, but globally, leaving computer networks open to industrial espionage, and as we are seeing in recent news of electronic spying on the European Parliament, even governmental espionage, as well as criminal exploitation.
What the G7 have called for is a way to read all messages sent by terrorists. The only way they can achieve this is to have some way of reading messages sent by anyone. What the G7 are demanding is that the privacy of all communications be compromised in the name of protection from terrorism. However, no real terrorist is going to use such a compromised system when uncrackable alternatives already exist and are freely available. Effectively G7 are demanding that we all compromise the privacy of our communications - for NO benefit.
Further details on the G7 meeting and its effect on the Net can be
found in a press release from the Global Internet Liberty Coalition.
For a summary of efforts around the world to censor the Internet see
the "10 May 96 Silencing the Net" report on the Human Rights Watch
For background on global efforts to muzzle the Net see these web sites:
For information on global and international online freedom issues see the Electronic Frontier Foundation web site.
Translations of this alert will be available as follows:
The following organisations have issued this alert:
Please choose an organisation above and visit their web site for contact information.