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FWD: Boston Globe on International Net Threats

The Boston Globe
December 28, 1998
Pg. A1
Nations strive to limit freedom of the Internet 
By David L. Marcus, Globe Staff

WASHINGTON - As promised, the Internet is turning into an unstoppable 
geyser of information, a source of data, news and opinions that flow freely 
around the world.
Except in China, which blocks access to sites about Tibet, Taiwan, 
democratic movements and dissident groups.
Except in Saudi Arabia, which censors sites critical of the royal family.
Except in Germany, where a judge sentenced a CompuServe manager to two 
years in prison for allowing access to pornography.
Except in Cuba, which has seized laptop computers from dissidents as 
"subversive instruments."
In short, despite grand promises, the Internet is not yet an 
unrestricted electronic village green for the world. The more information 
that becomes available, the more governments try to stanch the flow with 
new filtering technologies or strict limits on who can use computers. 
Democracies as well as dictatorships are cracking down on sites that are 
found to be too dangerous, too lurid, or too controversial.
"The restrictions are coming fast and furious," said Barry Steinhardt, 
chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group based in 
San Francisco, and head of the American Civil Liberties Union's task force 
on cyber-liberties. "The Internet is very frightening to many governments 
because it's an inherently democratic medium, so the first reaction is to 
reach out and control it."
At least 20 countries restrict access to Internet sites, from Bahrain, 
which bans electronic versions of Playboy magazine and home pages that the 
government says are pornographic, to Singapore, where the Ministry of 
Information and the Arts keeps out sexually explicit material and news 
critical of the government.
More than a dozen other countries are considering restrictions. The 
European Union, for example, is weighing proposals to ban child pornography 
and xenophobic materials. In Germany, freedom-of-speech advocates are 
outraged by a judge's decision in May to sentence the CompuServe official 
to jail (the judge suspended the sentence).
The United States, too, is trying to restrict the Internet. A 1996 law, 
the Communications Decency Act, criminalized on-line communcations that 
were "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy or indecent, with intent to annoy, 
abuse, threaten or harass another person." Under that definition, 
independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report to Congress on President 
Clinton probably would have been banned from the Net. The Supreme Court 
struck down the law, but another aimed at sites harmful to children is 
supposed to take effect next year.
A growing number of civil liberties groups - such as Global Internet 
Liberty Campaign, Digital Freedom Network, Internet Freedom, OpenNet, and 
Britain's Cyber-Rights and Cyber-Liberties - vehemently oppose restrictions 
on the Internet.
But many specialists argue that the issue is more complex. Shouldn't 
Germany have the right to restrict false and provocative Nazi propaganda? 
Shouldn't American states have the right to stop electronic dissemination 

of step-by-step instructions on assembling a car bomb? And why should any 
government allow child pornography to proliferate?
"In all countries, you will find people who argue that certain things 
should not be available to other people," said David Webster, chairman of 
the Transatlantic Dialogue on Broadcasting and the Information Society, a 
group that includes private industry and government. "No politician gets up 
and says: 'I think the availability of pedophilia material is concomitant 
to liberty.' He'll lose his seat."
The impulse to restrict access has been highlighted this month in 
China, where the government is holding its first trial of a 
"cyber-dissident." Lin Hai, a 30-year-old software engineer, is charged 
with inciting subversion by providing 30,000 Chinese e-mail addresses to a 
dissident group in Washington.
Lin, who says he is innocent, faces a maximum penalty of life in 
prison. Lawyers who follow China's one-sided judicial system say he is 
likely to be convicted.
In Shanghai, a physicist named Wang Youcai, who registered an 
independent political party, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. His 
crime: communicating with democracy activists inside and outside of China. 
As President Jiang Zemin cracks down on dissent, other cyber-sedition 
trials are likely in 1999.
Less dramatic but just as important, China's day-to-day censorship of 
the Internet affects scores of groups. The International Campaign for 
Tibet, for instance, often receives reports that the Chinese government has 
blocked access to its web site, said communications director Teresa 
Perrone. But she added that enterprising scholars in China often find ways 
to circumvent the censors and look at the group's information.
Several groups report that when the government blocks sites, the 
information still reaches Chinese via e-mail, bulletin boards, chat rooms, 
web sites with code words that filters cannot detect and a variety of 
creative ways.
"China may be the extreme case because they attempted to up a pretty 
impervious wall around the Internet," said Adam Clayton Powell III, vice 
president of the Freedom Forum, which advocates unrestricted media. 
"However, because China wants to be a world economic power they need 
real-time, financial information." Financial reports from services such as 
Dow Jones or Reuters often contain political news.
For every new restriction on the Net, there are new ways to get around 
it, said Vint Cerf, senior vice president for Internet architecture and 
technology at MCI-Worldcom. "It just isn't possible," to keep things away 
from Net viewers, he said.
But Jonathan Zittrain, executive director of the Berkman Center for 
Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, said improved technology will 
make it easier to keep track of who is looking at the Net and to restrict 
what is seen. "China has fairly crude tools for filtering, but my 
prediction is the Internet of 2000 is one that China will have less 
difficulty in regulating," he said.
Some countries that have sampled the Internet have found it 
distasteful. Last year, Vietnam decided to allow the public to use Internet 

services. But 10 days ago, the Communist Party decided to set up a 
committee to consider restrictions as a way of "correcting mistakes and 
bias," the Liberated Saigon newspaper reported.
"The stronger the central government, the more conservative they are in 
terms of allowing political information on the Internet," said Grey 
Burkhart, a retired communications expert from the Navy reserve who helps 
international groups get access to technology.
Burkhart has taken a special interest in developing countries, 
including Russia, Bosnia, and Syria. It isn't easy. Despite the 
government's pledges to open Syria, the country still has no Internet 
service provider. To access the Internet, computer users have to make 
long-distance calls to Lebanon and other countries. Syrians aren't allowed 
to have cellular telephones, which are considered a security risk.
This year, however, Syria allowed computer modems to be installed and 
an Internet service is promised.
The most restrictive countries, including Iraq, North Korea and Cuba, 
are those that control all forms of media, not just the Internet. In 
Havana's airport, several laptops carried in by passengers and intended for 
dissident groups have been seized in the last couple of years, said Frank 
Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba.
Police even took a $150 electronic typewriter from a dissident becaue 
it was "an instrument of high-tech subversion," Calzon said.
Surprisingly, Latin America, which has a tradition of censorship, has 
been quite open to the Internet. Pedro Armendariz, the director of 
Investigative Editors and Reporters in Mexico, a non-profit group, has 
traveled to conferences in Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru and throughout 
Mexico. Outside of Cuba, he has found no restrictions on the Net, other 
than the expense of service and unreliable telephone lines.
"I would dare to say that far from having serious restrictions in Latin 
America, we have a problem with sorting through so many things on the Net 
and discriminating about what is useful and what is garbage," Armendariz