Freedom of Expression groups protest Internet censorship in APEC nations

Monday, November 17, 1997
A dozen freedom of expression groups joined together this week to protest the disturbing trend in Internet censorship in many member nations of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). The letter of protest will be presented to leaders of APEC nations at the APEC leaders' summit in Vancouver, Canada on 24 and 25 November 1997, and has been sent to the APEC Secretariat in Singapore. The letter, co-authoured by the Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists (CCPJ) and the Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information (ISAI) in Indonesia, states alarm over efforts by many APEC nations "to control the free flow of information and free expression on the Internet in their respective countries." The letter cites examples of efforts by APEC members to control or censor the Internet. For example, "in China, all Internet users must register with police, while all traffic on the Internet is routed through government-monitored gateways where authorities block access to a number of sites on the Internet." Indonesia announced this year that access to the Internet would be controlled, in addition to content such as "pornography [and] things that hamper or threaten national security." Likewise, in Singapore, the government instituted resolutions in 1996 to regulate the whole Internet industry as a broadcast medium, including ensuring Internet service providers (ISPs) and users abide by strict guidelines against "objectionable" content, such as pornography or "areas which may undermine public morals, political stability or religious harmony." In Malaysia, the main Internet line, Jaring, states that "members shall not use the Jaring network for any activities not allowed under any Law of Malaysia." In Japan, a non-profit organization called the Electronic Network Consortium, which includes many computer companies, recently drew up guidelines for "inappropriate" material on the Internet. In Australia, the letter states, the government is attempting to implement a code of conduct for ISPs for on-line content regulation as part of a government plan to develop a "national framework that protects Australian citizens, particularly children, from offensive or illegal material online." In the United States, according to the letter, after the courts struck down the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which would have criminalized "indecent" speech on the Internet, the government encouraged Internet users "to self-rate their speech and to urge industry leaders to develop and deploy the tools for blocking 'inappropriate' speech." In the Philippines, in 1996, the National Telecommunications Commission of the Department of Transportation and Communications solicited comments from ISPs on "barring or blocking pornographic materials on the Internet." In Thailand, the state-run National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec) in 1996 called upon local ISPs to police their own sites for pornography - those who did not comply would have their licenses revoked. The letter concludes by reminding APEC members that "the most effective means of responding to offensive content is to counter it with more content. Censoring offensive material, through the blocking of sites or other means, will not remove it from the Internet; rather, the ease of circulating information on the Internet will simply cause the material to be duplicated elsewhere on other sites." It also points out that "any attempt to regulate the Internet is ultimately unworkable." The letter was signed by: * Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists, Canada * Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information, Indonesia * Committee to Protect Journalists, United States * Freedom House, United States * Freedom of Expression Institute, South Africa * Hong Kong Journalists Association, Hong Kong * Human Rights Watch * International PEN, United Kingdom * Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression, Norway * Pacific Islands News Association, Fiji * PEN Canada, Canada * PEN American Center, United States Representatives of ISAI and the CCPJ will be attending the Open Media, Open Markets? conference, organized by the Vancouver-based International Media and Policy Alternatives Centre (IMPAC), on 19 November at the Plaza of Nations, 750 Pacific Boulevard, Vancouver. The CCPJ will also have a booth during the People's Summit from 19-21 November. For further information, contact the CCPJ.

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