Andreas Broeckmann on Tue, 11 Jun 96 22:08 MDT

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nettime: Summary of Toronto Internet Freedom Network meeting

Danny Weitzner writes:

Dear Andreas,

I hope this note finds you well.  As I mentioned when we met, I've just
begun to work on a project on a global view of online censorship problems.
The remainder of this message is a short summary of the first meeting of
this project.  I'd very much like to hear your reaction to this paper, and
to know where your thoughts are on these issues. Feel free, also, to
circulate this document to anyone interested.

I look forward to hearing from you.

All the best,

Danny Weitzner


Internet Freedom Network
First Organizational Meeting
May 13, 1996  Toronto,Canada

Meeting Summary

I.      Overview

        The first organizational meeting of the Internet Freedom Network
was held in Toronto, Canada on May 13, 1996 sponsored by the Open Society
Institute and organized by the Center for Democracy and Technology.    The
meeting was held in order to:

a)      discuss online freedom of expression issues;
b)      identify work being done in this area around the world;
c)      establish a network of NGOs committed to free expression and the
        free flow of information and the Internet; and,
d)      plan means of sharing information regarding developments in online
        free expression; and,
e)      explore ways to participate in regional and international policy
        decisionmaking forums which will affect the Internet.

        Attendees included NGO representatives from Africa, Asia, Western
and Central Europe, the United States, and Canada, as well as public policy
specialists from online service and Internet software companies.  Special
thanks goes to the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
whose directors and staff provided guidance and logistical support for the

        The outcome of the meeting was a strong agreement that more
coordinated work is necessary among existing groups in order to advance and
protect free expression on the Internet.  The assembled organizations also
agreed that efforts should be made to help new advocacy organizations
develop outside the United States whose sole mission is to address Internet
free expression issues.  The remainder of the summary outlines the issues
discussed and lists action items agreed to by the participants.

II.     Public Policy Issues Identified

        Meeting participants raised a great diversity of Internet freedom
issues from every continent around the world.  Yet, in discussing Internet
free expression issues, a number of common policy issues emerged.  This is
a road map of the common policy themes that were discussed:

A.      Internet Service Provider Liability: ISP as bottleneck and
government leverage point restricting the free flow of information

        Internet Service Providers (ISPs) -- those entities which provide
users access to the Internet in each locality -- whether non-profit
organizations, government agencies, state telecom monopolies, or
competitive businesses, are the sole access point to the Internet for users
large and small.  ISPs may also maintain World Wide Web sites and Internet
news servers for their users, thereby increasing their importance in the
functioning of the Internet.  As such, ISPs have become key targets of
government censorship efforts directed at the Internet.

Example:        The government of Zambia recently banned at addition of the
Weekly Post, an opposition newspaper published in the country.  The Weekly
Post has, for some time, published its work both on paper and on their
World Wide Web Site, on a server maintained by their Internet Service
Provider.  The ban made it a crime to be in possession of the any copies of
the banned material.  The government used this as a means to force the ISP
to remove the offending material from its Web server.

Issue:          The critical place of ISPs in the Internet framework make
them particularly vulnerable to government intimidation and
legally-sanctioned censorship.  ISPs, however, are generally mere conduits
of information or hosts for web sites, simply offering the technical means
for users to receive and disseminate information.  In most cases, ISPs have
no knowledge of the content of the messages that they transmit, or even the
World Wide Web sites which they host.

ISPs are critical gateways for access to the Internet, as well as for the
flow of information from individuals in any one area to the rest of the
world.  If ISPs become fearful of government penalties arising from
information which is transmitted or hosted by the ISP, however, the ISP may
well be induced to restrict the free flow of information through its
facilities.  Though it is impossible to screen all of the numerous messages
and massive amounts of information on a typical web site, even the attempt
to do so would severely restrict the free flow of information on the

Post script:  As it happens, before the banned articles were removed from
the Zambian Web site, an Internet user in the United States downloaded the
material.  The banned articles are still available on web servers in other
African countries and the United States.

B.      Internet Service Market Structure: State-run, private monopoly, or
competitive markets

        As Internet services begin to develop around the world, a variety
of market structures are emerging.  In many cases, restrictive
telecommunications regulations, combined with the pattern that Internet
services often originate in university settings, lead to the result that
Internet access is effectively limited to certain classes of users in only
small regions of the country.

Examples:  A number of countries place strict controls on the Internet
market, limiting access to the Net in general.  Here are a few examples

*       Singapore: ISPs must be licensed as broadcasters, with numerous
        regulatory requirements.
*       Equador: The State bank has the exclusive right to provide
        Internet services in the country and the only international
        connection to the Internet.  The conditions make it difficult
        for alternative access providers to develop and provide services.
*       Botswana: ISP are banned altogether.
*       Zimbabwe:  ISPs exist but appear to be illegal under the
        national telecommunications law.

Issue:  The regulatory structure of the Internet service market has a
substantial impact on the number of users in a country who have access to
the Internet, as well as the general free flow of information in that
country.  If there is only a single ISP, or merely a small number of them,
the likelihood that such services will be intimated by governments
increases.  Moreover, if Internet service are provided by state-run or
state-controlled institutions such as universities or telecommunications
para-statals, the opportunity for government control of content is also

C.      Regulatory models for the Internet: Is it broadcasting, print, or
something new?

        As the Internet increases in popularity around the world, national
governments and regional entities such as the European Union are wrestling
with the question of how to fit the Internet into the current regulatory
structure which governs traditional communications media, or whether to
create new regulatory models.  The outcome of these decisions are critical
for the free expression rights of all users online.  Yet, most policy
makers are deciding these issues in forum without any input whatsoever from
the user community.

        Examples:  Recent developments include:

*       Singapore: The government has already decided to regulate
        Internet Service Providers as traditional broadcasting entities,
        thus imposing numerous regulatory burdens and content controls
        on ISPs.

*       United States:  With the passage of the Communications Decency Act,
        the US Congress has imposed a variety of radio and television
        broadcast indecency restrictions on Internet users, content
        providers, and service providers.

*       Australia:  The Australia Broadcasting Authority is currently
        considering what regulatory model to apply to ISPs.

*       European Union:  Actions now pending before various EU bodies
        (with a first reading already having occurred in the Parliament)
        would impose a variety of broadcast-like regulatory requirements
        on ISPs throughout Europe.

Issue:  Imposition of broadcast-like regulations on the Internet would be a
fundamental impediment to the free flow of information online.  Regulations
which may have been appropriate and easily applied in the broadcast
context, simply make no sense when applied to the Internet.  Moreover,
extension of broadcast regulations give governments a great degree of
censorship authority over Internet content.

Note:  Actions take by governments around the world will have an impact on
the free flow of information globally.  Of particular concern, however, are
actions that may be taken by the European Union over the next year.  A
number of Central European states are seeking EU membership.  So, decisions
taken by the EU regarding the Internet now will be binding on the new
members in the future.

D.      Citizen Access to Government Information

        The Internet can be a powerful enhancement of citizen's access to
government information such as the text of law, legislative proposal under
consideration, as well as judicial and regulatory decisions.  Especially in
newly emerging democracies, it is important to identify successful models
for use of the Internet to increase citizens participation in governing

E.      Communications Privacy: Electronic Surveillance Online and the
status of Internet Wiretaps in International Law

        Free expression only exists where citizens feel that the privacy of
their communications and associations are sufficiently protected from
government intrusion.  Many uncertainties exist regarding the legal
limitations on electronic surveillance on the Internet.  Meanwhile,
numerous national restrictions on the use of encryption leave the Internet
environment without basic security protections.

*       Lack of International Human Rights Standards:  At present, there is
        no international law or international human rights standards
        that clearly address the issue of electronic surveillance on
        the Internet.

*       European Union encryption policy:  The EC DG XIII is about to issue
        a policy proposal regarding the use of encryption technology for
        privacy protection and government access to electronic communications.

*       United States encryption policy:  After the highly controversial
        Clipper Chip proposal, the US is moving forward with policy
        alternatives aimed at controlling the use of cryptography in
        order to assure law enforcement access to private communications.

III.    Conclusion and Next Steps

        Following the direction of the action items listed below, CDT will
pursue with interested NGOs present at the Toronto meeting, as well as
other organizations active in the field, the means to mobilize free
expression proponents around the world in support of the free flow of
information on the Internet.

IV.     Action Items

Policy Development

*       Understand and articulate international consequences of
        national-level regulatory actions on the Internet as a whole.

*       Communicate the message that the Internet is unlike anything
        that has come before it

*       frame anti-censorship argument so that it has broad left-right

*       articulate a really convincing policy argument (must be better
        than just free expression)

                -new regulatory framework

*       explore wireless services as bypass to wireline networks
        (especially in unstable countries)

*       look at access to government information

*       develop and advocate for international human rights standards
        on electronic surveillance


*       Foster networking among NGOs concerned about online free
        expression issues

*       create a moderated discussion group on global online free
        expression issues

*       Develop European partners for existing US-based online free
        expression organizations

*       Hold a meeting in Brussels to discuss issues and expand
        face-to-face networking

*       Develop Corporate-NGO-foundation partnerships to pursue joint
        goals and support projects

*       build broad coalitions
        -user groups
        -free expression & press groups
        -activist NGOs

*       North/South participation

Information Dissemination

*       Hire staff person to collect information and facilitate
        exchange of knowledge

*       collect news re:online censorship incidents

*       develop online legal/legislative archive

*       Education/public relations with positive example and
        positive policy models

*       Distribute Human Rights Watch report

*       Link to IFEX updates


*       Be compassionate and sensitive when approaching hate speech issues,
        but don't not lenient


Daniel J. Weitzner, Deputy Director  <>
Center for Democracy and Technology
1634 Eye St.,NW  Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20006
+1 202.637.9800 (voice)
+1 202.637.0968 (fax)

V.      List of Attendees and Other Participating Organizations

[* signifies an individual or organization which has expressed strong
interest in participating in the effort but was not able to attend the

[Andreas Broeckmann writes: this list is probably available on request from
Danny, but I felt it was not appropriate to send it to a public mailing

========================NOTE NEW MAILING ADDRESS=============================
Daniel J. Weitzner, Deputy Director                       <>
Center for Democracy and Technology                       202.637.9800 (v)
1634 Eye St., NW Suite 1100                               202-637.0968 (f)
Washington, DC 20006                            

      Join the legal challenge against the Communications Decency Act!
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coming up:
DEAF96, the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival, 17 - 22 Sept 1996 <>

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