Global campaign seeks to crush web censorship

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Global campaign seeks to crush web censorship

World Day Against Cyber Censorship.

Reporters without Borders has launched World Day Against Cyber Censorship, a global event designed to raise awareness of censorship on the internet.

The initiative names and shames the worst offending governments, bundling the UK, France and Australia alongside others like China and South Korea.

The press organisation also names Saudi Arabia, Burma, North Korea, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam, and has asked global trade bodies to intervene and encourage some of these to improve their record on censorship.

"As a barrier to trade, web censorship should be included on the agenda of the World Trade Organisation," said Reporters without Borders.

"Several of latter's members, including China and Vietnam, should be required to open their internet networks before being invited to join the global village of international commerce."

The number of countries now employing internet censorship has doubled over the past year, according to the organisation.

"In 2009, some 60 countries experienced a form of web censorship, which is twice as many as in 2008. The internet is being progressively devoured by the implementation of national intranets whose content is 'approved' by the authorities," it said.

"It does not matter to those governments if more and more internet users are going to become victims of a digital segregation. Web 2.0 is colliding with Control 2.0."

The group added that western democracies, particularly Australia, France, Italy and the UK, are slipping internet rules into place "in the name of the fight against child pornography or the theft of intellectual property".

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton used the Department of State Report 2009 to echo some of these sentiments.

"2009 was a year in which more people gained greater access than ever before to more information about human rights through the internet, cell phones and other forms of connective technologies," she said.

"Yet at the same time it was a year in which governments spent more time, money and attention finding regulatory and technical means to curtail freedom of expression on the internet and the flow of critical information, and to infringe on the personal privacy rights of those who used these rapidly evolving technologies."

Clinton added that new technologies have proved useful both to oppressors and to those who struggle to expose the "failures and the cowardice of the oppressors".

"And global challenges of our time, like food security and climate change, pandemic disease, economic crises and violent extremism, impact the enjoyment of human rights today, and shape the global political context in which we must advance human rights over the long term," she said.

China was condemned for increasing its internet censorship in 2009, particularly concerning high-profile events.

"The Chinese government limited freedom of speech and controlled the internet and internet access," said Reporters without Borders.

"Abuses peaked around high-profile events, such as the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising, the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising, and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China."

Google, meanwhile, has sponsored the Reporters without Borders Netizen Prize, and hosted its award ceremony in Paris this week. The winning site was Iranian Change for Equality, which fights for changes in laws in Tehran that discriminate against women.

"All of us have a choice," said David Drummond, a senior vice president and chief legal officer at Google, in a blog post.

"We can allow repressive policies to take flight and spread across the globe, or we can work together against such challenges and uphold the fundamental human right to free expression."

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