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Human Rights Watch

SILENCING THE NET: The Threat to Freedom of Expression On-line

Human Rights Watch
May 1996
Vol. 8, No. 2 (G)
     Governments around the world, claiming they want to protect children,
thwart terrorists and silence racists and hate mongers, are rushing to
eradicate freedom of expression on the Internet, the international "network of
networks," touted as the Information Superhighway. It is particularly crucial
now, in the early stages of vast technological change, that governments
reaffirm their commitment to respect the rights of citizens to communicate
freely. A G7 Ministerial Conference on the Information Society and Development
to be held in South Africa from May 13-15, 1996 should be used as a platform
to repudiate the international trend toward censorship and to express
unequivocal support for free expression guarantees on-line. 
     Restrictions on Internet access and content are increasing worldwide,
under all forms of government. Censorship legislation was recently enacted in
the United States, the birthplace of the Bill of Rights as well as of this new
communications medium and, for better or worse, a model for other nations'
Internet policies. The Clinton administration claims the law will protect
minors from "indecent" material and appears unconcerned that it will reduce
on-line expression between adults to what may be deemed suitable for a child.
Other democratic countries are following suit. The German phone company cut
off access to all the sites hosted by an American Internet service provider
(ISP) in an effort to bar Germans from gaining access to neo-Nazi propaganda
on one of the sites it hosted. The governments of France and Australia have
also indicated they may enact legislation to control Internet content.
     Authoritarian regimes are attempting to reconcile their eagerness to reap
the economic benefits of Internet access with maintaining control over the
flow of information inside their borders. Censorship efforts in the U.S. and
Germany lend support to those in China, Singapore, and Iran, where censors
target not only sexually explicit material and hate speech but also
pro-democracy discussions and human rights education.
     Proposals to censor the Internet wherever they originate violate the free
speech guarantees enshrined in democratic constitutions and international law.
In the attempt to enforce them, open societies will become increasingly
repressive and closed societies will find new opportunity to chill political
     Because the Internet knows no national boundaries, on-line censorship
laws, in addition to trampling on the free expression rights of a nation's own
citizens, threaten to chill expression globally and to impede the development
of the Global Information Infrastructure (GII) before it becomes a truly
global phenomenon. Democratic countries, including the U.S. and Germany, that
are pushing for the development of the GII will lack legitimacy in criticizing
efforts by China to eliminate information that "hinders public order" or by
Vietnam, where the "the cultural aspect" is cited as a reason to censor
connections to pro-democracy discussions abroad.1 (According to Nghiem Yuan
Tinh, deputy director of Vietnam Data Communication Company, "The Internet
must be controlled, not only for technical and security reasons but from the
cultural aspect." "Plan by Telecom Authority to Exercise Control Over Internet
Disturbs Foreign Investors and Agency," Financial Times (London), September
19, 1995.) 
     An issue closely related to censorship is that of access, which is to a
large extent determined by the existing telecommunications system. According
to a 1995 report by the Panos Institute, a London-based international
non-profit organization specializing in development issues, 
     Access requires a telephone line. Forty-nine countries have fewer
     than one telephone per 100 people, 35 of which are in Africa.
     India, for example, has 8 million telephone lines for 900 million
     people. At a global level at least 80% of the world's population
     still lacks the most basic telecommunications.2 (The Internet and
     the South: Superhighway or Dirt-Track? (London: Panos Institute,
Opportunities to promote access have never been greater, however. New
communications technologies are providing developing countries with an
unprecedented means to leapfrog antiquated communication networks.  
     Limits on access are imposed by governments for a variety of reasons,
including economic gain and political control. Some governments, including
India and Saudi Arabia, have chosen to control the liberalizing effect of the
Internet by denying access to entire segments of their populations, either
through exorbitant charges or by confining access to select populations, such
as universities. Rather than attempting to extend the Internet to a diverse
group of citizens, these governments are striving to reap the economic
benefits of Internet access without making it available to economically,
socially, and politically disadvantaged groups, for whom it has the greatest
potential for positive change. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia,
individuals who have Internet connections through foreign-owned corporations
are able to elude these restrictions.  
     Even at this relatively early stage in the Internet's development, a wide
range of restrictions on on-line communication have been put in place in at
least twenty countries, including the following: 
--   China, which requires users and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to
register with authorities;
--   Vietnam and Saudi Arabia, which permit only a single, government-
controlled gateway for Internet service;
--   United States, which has enacted new Internet-specific legislation that
imposes more restrictive regulations on electronic expression than those
currently applied to printed expression;
--   India, which charges exorbitant rates for international access     
through the state-owned phone company;
--   Germany, which has cut off access to particular host computers or     
Internet sites;
--   Singapore, which has chosen to regulate the Internet as if it were a
broadcast medium, and requires political and religious content providers to
register with the state; and
--   New Zealand, which classifies computer disks as publications and has
seized and restricted them accordingly.
     Privacy issues are closely related to the regulation of content and
access. On-line communications are particularly susceptible to unauthorized
scrutiny. Encryption technology is needed to ensure that individuals and
groups may communicate without fear of eavesdropping. Lack of information
privacy will inhibit on-line speech and unnecessarily limit the diversity of
voices on the GII.
     The Internet has the potential to be a tremendous force for development
by providing quick and inexpensive information, by encouraging discussion
rather than violence, and by empowering citizens, to cite but a few examples.
But this potential can be realized only if it becomes a truly global effort.
Policy makers must make every effort to ensure that internationally guaranteed
rights to free expression are extended to on-line communication and call for
the repeal of censorship legislation. Without such commitments, individuals
face the danger of seeing their rights eroded by the very technologies they
are embracing. 
     This report recommends principles for international and regional bodies
and nations to follow when formulating public policy and laws affecting the
Internet, sets forth the international legal principles governing on-line
expression, and, finally, examines some of the current attempts around the
globe to censor on-line communication. 
     The meeting of the G7 countries  (Britain, Canada, France, Germany,
Italy, Japan, and the United States) in South Africa in May 1996 to discuss
the development of the GII should be used as one platform to emphasize the
importance of freedom of expression.3 ( A UNESCO meeting was held in Madrid in
March 1996 to discuss copyright protection on the Internet. To our knowledge,
that conference represented the only U.N.-sponsored effort to address Internet
regulation.) Regional agreements should clearly state that freedom of
expression principles apply to electronic communication. These agreements
should clarify that the Internet differs significantly from broadcast media in
areas such as the level of choice and control afforded to the individual user.
Because of such distinctions, it is important that the Internet not be subject
to the same restrictions as are often imposed on broadcast media.
     It is important to promote the universal application of two important
free expression principles not yet codified in international law. The first of
these is an explicit prohibition against prior censorship, that is, requiring
official approval of communication before making it public. Such a practice
has been used by repressive governments against the press and could be invoked
against electronic communication. The second is an explicit prohibition
against restrictions of free expression by indirect methods, such as the abuse
of controls over equipment or broadcasting frequencies used in the
dissemination of information; or by any other means tending to impede the
communication and circulation of ideas and opinions. Controls over newsprint
have frequently been used to silence critical publications. Governments are
already modernizing their techniques to include modem lines and international
Internet connections.
     In its February 1995 letter to U.S. Vice President Al Gore on the eve of
the G7 Ministerial Conference on the Information Society, Human Rights Watch
joined with a number of other organizations in proposing the following
principles regarding content, access, and privacy.4 ( The American Library
Association, American Civil Liberties Union, Article 19, Center for Democracy
and Technology, Electronic Frontiers Foundation, Electronic Privacy
Information Center, People for the American Way, Privacy International also
signed the letter.) These principles are even more critical today, and we urge
policy makers at the G7 conference in South Africa, and the framers of GII
policy within other regional bodies and international organizations, to follow
Content Issues
     Policy makers should take the initiative to expressly enshrine freedom of
expression as a principle in the development of the GII. This should include:
--   Prohibiting prior censorship of on-line communication on the GII. 
--   Demanding that any restrictions of on-line speech content be clearly
stated in the law and limited to direct and immediate incitement of acts of
--   Requiring that laws restricting the content of on-line speech     
distinguish between the liability of content providers and the liability of
data carriers.
--   Insisting that on-line free expression not be restricted by indirect
means such as excessively restrictive governmental or private controls over
computer hardware or software, telecommunications infrastructure, or other
essential components of the GII.
--   Calling for the promotion of noncommercial public discourse on the GII.
--   Promoting the wide dissemination of diverse ideas and viewpoints  from a
wide variety of information sources on the GII. 
--   Ensuring that the GII enable individuals to organize and form on-line
associations freely and without interference. 
Access Issues
     GII policy should emphasize the importance of providing Internet access
to everyone, regardless of geographic or other factors. This should encompass:
--   Including citizens in the GII development process from countries  that
are currently unstable economically, have insufficient infrastructure, or lack
sophisticated technology.
--   Providing nondiscriminatory access to on-line technology. 
--   Guaranteeing a full range of viewpoints, by providing access to a 
diversity of information providers, including noncommercial educational,
artistic, and other public interest service providers.
--   Providing two-way communication and enabling individuals to publish their
own information and ideas.
--   Protecting diversity of access by establishing technical standards that
can be applied easily in a variety of systems. 
--   Prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, language,
religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property,
birth or other status.
Privacy Issues
     Delegates to the G7 meeting and other meetings concerning policy on the
GII should guarantee respect for the privacy of communication on the Internet
--   Ensuring that personal information generated on the GII for one  purpose
is not used for an unrelated purpose or disclosed without the person's
informed consent.
--   Enabling individuals to review personal information on the GII and to
correct inaccurate information.
--   Providing privacy measures for information regarding on-line business
transactions as well as content.
--   Allowing users of the GII to encrypt their communications and information
without restriction.
     The above recommendations are also pertinent to individual governments in
shaping their own policies with respect to on-line communication. In addition,
the following recommendations apply to domestic Internet policies:
--   To ensure that domestic Internet services are designed to ensure
universal access, governments should provide full disclosure of information
infrastructure development plans and encourage democratic participation in all
aspects of the development process. They should also advocate widespread use
of the GII and strive to provide adequate training. In addition, governments  
should urge citizens to take an active role in public affairs by providing
access to government information.
--   In order to guarantee the privacy of on-line communication, governments
should put in place enforceable legal protections against unauthorized
scrutiny and use by private or public entities of personal information on the
GII. They should also oppose controls on the export and import of
communications technologies, including encryption. In addition, governments 
should conduct investigations on the GII pursuant only to lawful authority and
subject to judicial review.
     The Internet began in the 1960s as a way of linking a U.S. Defense
Department network and other communications networks. Over time, many other
networks and users from around the world have connected themselves to the
Internet. The U.S. still dominates the Internet in terms of users and content,
but Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand are also on-line in large
numbers. Internet usage in much of Asia is increasing rapidly as well. The
number of Internet users is believed to range between twenty and thirty
million. More than 160 countries are reported to have links to the Internet,
over one hundred nations with full access and the rest through e-mail.5
(Johanna Son, "Asia-Communication: Bumps Lie Ahead in Information
Superhighway," Inter Press Service, December 14, 1995.) 
     The Internet is composed of a number of different ways of organizing,
transmitting and accessing data. Because of this multiplicity of systems, it
is unlike any other single medium. Rather, it incorporates characteristics of
several other media and communications systems, including print, broadcast,
and postal systems. Electronic mail (e-mail) allows for one-to-one or
one-to-many communication. Gopher sites provide text-only information arranged
according to menus. The World Wide Web allows for the display of many types of
information, including text, images, sound and video, as well as interactive
     A recognition by world leaders of the need to formulate policy for this
powerful new medium prompted members of the G7 to hold a "Ministerial
Conference on the Information Society" in Brussels in February 1995. At that
conference, a number of principles were agreed to, including encouraging
competition and private investment, defining an adaptable regulatory
framework, providing open access to networks, ensuring universal access, and
promoting equality of opportunity and diversity of content. Although freedom
of expression was not highlighted in specific terms, to the disappointment of
Human Rights Watch and other groups that had urged such an emphasis, it is
implied in the final goal promoting diversity of content which can be achieved
only by encouraging free expression for people all over the world.6 (Letter to
Vice President Gore from Human Rights Watch, Electronic Privacy Information
Center, ACLU, American Library Association, Article 19, Center for Democracy
and Technology, Electronic Frontiers Foundation, People for the American Way,
and Privacy International, February 16, 1995.)  In his keynote address to the
conference, Vice President Gore, an active proponent of the GII, stated,
"[Global communication] is about protecting and enlarging freedom of
expression for all our citizens and giving individual citizens the power to
create the information they need and want from the abundant flow of data they
encounter moment to moment."
     One of the main targets of the censors is Usenet, a system separate from
the Internet but accessible from it, that "pump[s] upwards of 100 million
characters a day into the system--nearly an encyclopedia's worth of writing."7
( Adam Gaffin, EFF Guide to the Internet (San Francisco: Electronic Frontiers
Foundation, Revised December 4, 1995).) Usenet comprises more than 9,000
"newsgroups"  discussions or picture databases on various topics, including
the political and the sexually explicit. The groups are arranged under
headings such as biz (business), comp (computers and related subjects),  rec
(hobbies, games and recreation), sci (science), soc ("social" groups, often
ethnically related), talk (politics and related topics), and alt (for
alternative, often controversial). Not all the newsgroups are available on all
Internet host computers. Usenet came to prominent international attention most
recently in late December 1995, when CompuServe, an on-line service of H&R;
Block, based in Columbus, Ohio, removed from all of its computers more than
200 Usenet computer discussion groups and picture databases that had provoked
criticism by a federal prosecutor in Munich.8 ( The "banned" newsgroups were
still available to CompuServe users who used the service to connect to
computers that carried the newsgroups. Information on how to do this
circulated quickly through the CompuServe system.) Three days later, the
Chinese government echoed the Germans' actions by calling for a crackdown on
the Internet to rid the country of pornography and "detrimental information."9
( "China Cracks Down on Internet," Deutche Presse Agentur, January 1, 1996.) 
     It should not be surprising that governments around the globe are anxious
to control this new medium. Every communications advance in history has been
seen by self-appointed moral guardians as something to be controlled and
regulated. By 1558, a century after the invention of the printing press, a
Papal index barred the works of more than 500 authors. In 1915, the same year
that the D. W. Griffith film "Birth of a Nation" changed the U.S. cultural
landscape, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of an Ohio
state censorship board created two years earlier, thus exempting motion
pictures from free speech protection on the grounds that their exhibition "is
a business, pure and simple, originated and conducted for profit...." The same
view was applied in the early days of radio entertainment programs were
thought to be exempt from freedom of speech guarantees.
     The Internet, as the first truly "mass" medium, is even more threatening
than these earlier media. While few individuals and groups can publish books
or newspapers, make a film, or produce a radio or television program, any
person with a personal computer and a modem can communicate with a huge
international audience. The implications of a real GII for the advancement of
human rights and democracy are vast. When traditional means of communication
broke down and the war in Sarajevo made it impossible for civilians to leave
their homes without risking their lives, many citizens used on-line technology
to communicate with family members, the international press, and humanitarian
relief agencies. Human rights groups, political organizations, and builders of
burgeoning democracies are using the Internet to communicate, educate, and
organize. During the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in
Beijing in 1995, women all over the world were able to feel a sense of
participation because of regular postings on the proceedings. It is precisely
because of the Internet's potential for increasing the political participation
of the disenfranchised that governments are seeking to control it.
     These initial achievements could easily disappear if the censors are
allowed to have their way. Governments and other institutions that support
freedom of expression must ensure that the Internet is granted the same
guarantees that are given to other forms of individual expression. 
International law is clear on what electronic rights of expression must
entail. Although international law does not address such communication
specifically, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights enshrine rights to freedom of
expression, access, and privacy, which are relevant to the new medium. Article
19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims:
     Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this
     right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and
     to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any
     media and regardless of frontiers.10 (Other relevant articles from
     the Universal Declaration of Human Rights include the following:
     "Article 7: All are equal before the law and are entitled without
     any discrimination to equal protection of the law;  Article 12: No
     one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his     
     privacy, family, home or correspondence; Article 27: Everyone has
     the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the
     community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific
     advancement and its benefits.)
     Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
(ICCPR) guarantees this right as well, and notes that restrictions on this
right "shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
     "(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; 
     "(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre
public), or of public health or morals."11(Other relevant articles from the
ICCPR include the following: Article 25 guarantees the right "to take part in 
the conduct of public affairs;" Article 26 states: "All persons are equal
before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection
of the law....[T]he law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all 
persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground
such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion,
national or social origin, property, birth or other status.")
      The recently adopted Johannesburg Principles on National Security,
Freedom of Expression and Access to Information12 (These Principles were
adopted on October 1, 1995 by a group of experts in international law,
national security, and human rights.) state that restrictions on freedom of
expression are permitted only when "the government can demonstrate that the
restriction is prescribed by law and is necessary in a democratic society to
protect a legitimate national security interest."13 (For the purposes of the
Principles, "a democratic society is one which has a government that is
genuinely accountable to an entity or organ distinct from itself; there must
be genuine, periodic elections by universal and equal suffrage held by secret
ballot that guarantee the free expression of the will of the electors;
political groups must be free to organize in opposition to the government in
office; and there must be effective legal guarantees of fundamental rights
enforced by an independent judiciary.") According to the Principles, the
burden of demonstrating the validity of the restriction rests with the
government.14 ( Principle 1(c).) Criticism of the government or its leaders is
protected.15 ( Principle 7.) In addition, a government must demonstrate that
"the restriction imposed is the least restrictive means possible for
protecting that interest."16 (Principle 1.3(b).)
                          NORTH AMERICA
United States
     Hysteria about "cyberporn" was ignited in the U.S. after Time magazine
published a cover story, complete with lurid photographs, asserting the wide
availability of sexually explicit material on the Internet.17 (Philip
Elmer-Dewitt, "On a Screen Near You: It's Popular, Pervasive and Surprisingly
Perverse, According to the First Survey of On-line Erotica. And There's No
Easy Way To Stamp It Out," Time, July 3, 1995.) The article was based on the
research findings (later acknowledged by Time to have been seriously flawed)
of a student at Carnegie Mellon University. Nevertheless, this concern
recently culminated in the enactment of the Communications Decency Act (CDA),
an amendment to a sweeping telecommunications reform bill signed in February
     The CDA criminalizes on-line communication  that is "obscene, lewd,
lascivious, filthy, or indecent, with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or
harass an other person" or "obscene or indecent" if the recipient of the
communication is under eighteen years of age "regardless of whether the maker
of such communication placed the call or initiated the communication." Also
prohibited is on-line communication to minors that "depicts or describes, in
terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards,
sexual or excretory activities or organs, regardless of whether the user of
such service placed the call or initiated the communication."18 (U.S. Code,
Title V, Subsection A, Section 502 "Obscene or Harassing Use of
Telecommunications Facilities Under the Communications Act of 1934." ) The CDA
would permit the U.S., for example, to seek the arrest of a European content
provider whose sexually explicit material was seen as "indecent" or "patently
     In letters to members of Congress and President Clinton, Human Rights
Watch opposed the CDA, taking the position that "indecent" speech is protected
by both the U.S. Constitution and international law. Human Rights Watch is
also concerned that the effort to censor "indecent" communication could impede
the work of our own and similar organizations which transmit graphic accounts
of human rights abuses. Because of these concerns, in February, Human Rights
Watch became a plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties
Union challenging the CDA on constitutional grounds. The suit is currently
before a panel of judges. According to our affidavit, 
          Some of the accounts [of abuses in Human Rights Watch
     reports] are necessarily graphic and explicit: torture, rape,
     mutilation, execution, mass murder are brutalities that must be
     discussed in detail if people are to understand the widespread
     human rights abuses occurring worldwide. Likewise, to address
     human rights abuses without discussing the violence of acts such
     as rape, torture, and bodily mutilation would be impossible. Human
     Rights Watch exposes the abuse in order to educate the public
     about the scope of current abuse and to prevent future atrocities. 
          [T]he graphic nature of some of the eyewitness accounts,
     especially those dealing with sexual assault, may be considered
     "indecent" or "patently offensive" under this statute.  For
     example, our July 1995 press release on slavery in Pakistan,
     posted at our gopher site [on the Internet],  provides graphic and
     factual details on the ways in which bonded laborers have been
     tortured.  The text relates that they have been "beaten with
     sticks, stripped naked, hung upside down, burned with cigarettes,
     beaten on the genitals and have had their legs pulled apart. Women 
     prisoners are often held in custody indefinitely and suffer a
     consistent pattern of sexual assault, including rape."  A March
     1995 press release on abuses by Nigerian security forces in
     Ogoniland, posted at our gopher site, quotes the testimony of one
     woman, as follows: "K, a woman in her late thirties from the
     village of Bera, told Human Rights Watch that she had been raped
     by five soldiers in rapid succession on the morning of May 28,
     1994.  After locking K's 10-year-old son in a room, K recalled, 
          the soldiers beat me with the butts of their guns,
          pushed me onto the ground, and kicked me. They tore
          off my wrapper, then my underwear.  Two of them raped
          me through my anus, three the usual way.  While one
          soldier raped me, another would beat me.  I tried to
          scream, but they held my mouth.  They said if I made
          too much noise they would kill me.  
           Our October 1993 report on the abuse of Burmese refugees
     from Arakan, posted on the newsgroup reg.seasia, relates abuses
     against women in language such as, "then the official grabbed her
     breast" (p. 12);  "the CIC and the other official put their hands
     inside S.K.'s clothing and touched her all over her body,
     including her vagina" (p. 13); "...one policeman fondled S.K.'s
     breasts and struck S.K. on  the back of then neck with a stick"
     (p. 13).  
     Clearly, obstacles to Human Rights Watch in reporting these atrocities in
the United States are likely to be magnified for groups operating in more
repressive states and attempting to post similar findings on the Internet.
     In response to the debate about cyberspace, the Canadian government
formed the Information Highway Advisory Council (IHAC) in 1994 to study and
prepare an official statement on what directions the Internet should take in
Canada. In September 1995, the council released its first report, which
contained only vague recommendations. On the issue of content, it concluded
that there should be controls on two primary targets: obscenity and
racist/hate material.19 (Alana Kainz, "Information Highway: Advisory report
leaves uncharted roads," Ottawa Citizen, September 28, 1995.) It is illegal to
spread "hate propaganda" and "obscenity" in Canada.  Sexually explicit
material is legal as long as it is not deemed obscene, that is, characterized
by "undue exploitation of sex," meaning sex plus violence or degrading sex.
Under a new law on child pornography that has not been tested by the Supreme
Court, mere possession is illegal. According to David Jones, president of
Electronic Frontiers Canada, "There  are no new laws being proposed that apply
specifically to the Internet."20 ( E-mail correspondence from Dr. David Jones
to Human Rights Watch, February 15, 1996.) That could change, however. On
April 2, 1996, Justice Minister Allan Rock released a discussion paper
inviting Canadians to present their views on regulating excessive violence in
the media, including the Internet.21 (David Vienneau, "Rock seeks views on
violence," Toronto Star, April 3, 1996.)
     Asia now has over 1.5 million users, two-thirds of them in Japan.22 (
Johanna Son, "Asia-Communication: Bumps Lie Ahead in Information
Superhighway," Inter Press Service, December 14, 1995.) Among the region's
authoritarian nations, only North Korea and Myanmar are without any Internet
connection.23 (Philip Shenon, "Why Nations Fear the Net," New York Times, June
11, 1995.) Currently, most countries in Asia are connected directly to the
U.S., rather than to each other, but new initiatives have proposed
establishing an intra-Asia connection.
     Some Asian governments, including Pakistan, are choosing to control the
Internet's effects mainly by limiting its availability. A senior scientist at
Pakistan's state-owned National Institute of Electronics has noted that
Internet access would be limited by the small number of nodes and hosts
available to users and by the intervention of service providers who could stop
undesirable discussion groups and electronic messages.24 (Ajoy Sen, "Some
Asian Nations Give Internet Mixed Reception," Reuters, June 13, 1995.) In
India, where commercial Internet access was launched in mid-1995, only the
state-owned phone company, VSNL, has been allowed to provide international
Internet services, in order to maintain the government's monopoly on
long-distance phone services.25 (Spaeth, Anthony, " National Security,' the
Vietnamese Government Wants to Control Internet Access," Time, October 16,
1995.) According to guidelines issued by the Department of Telecommunications
(DoT) based on the antiquated Indian Telegraph Act of 1885, an ISP must ensure
that nothing objectionable or obscene is carried on the network, but it is not
clear that these have been enforced. In late January 1996, the DoT decided to
allow commercial access, but all companies will have to route their services
through VSNL.26 (C. T. Mahabharat, "VSNL Monopoly on Internet Access to End,"
Newsbytes News Network (Stillwater, Minnesota), March 1, 1996.)
     Thailand's National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (Nectec),
an official agency responsible for information technology policy, recently
called upon local ISPs to police their own sites for sexually explicit
material. It also said that subscribers and operators are required to agree
not to show anything considered indecent or they will face criminal
prosecution.27 ( Nigel Armstrong and I.T. Daily, "Thai Group on Porn Trail,"
Newsbytes News Network, February 26, 1996.) In the Philippines, Internet
censorship measures have been introduced in the legislature.28 ( Ninez
Cacho-Olivares, "My Cup of Tea Pornography on the Net," Business World
(Manilla), March 18, 1996.)
     In early March 1996, member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) said they planned to set up a regulatory body to deal with the
flood of information technology; they also voiced concern about pornography
and disinformation.29 (Ramthan Hussein, "Singapore Deputy Premier Defends
Curbs on Internet," Reuters, March 9, 1996.)
     Commercial Internet accounts became available in China in mid-1995, but
at prices far beyond the means of all but the wealthiest. In June 1995,
China's telecommunications minister stated that "as a sovereign state, China
will exercise control on the information" entering China from the Internet.
"By linking with the Internet, we do not mean the absolute freedom of
information."30 (Teresa Poole, "China seeks to make the Internet toe party
line," The Independent (London), January 5, 1996.) Many Usenet newsgroups,
including those classified as alt, rec and soc, were reportedly not allowed on
Chinese Internet host computers, but the comp and sci hierarchies were
apparently provided.31 (E-mail from Peng Hwa Ang, Singapore, to Human Rights
Watch, November 1995.)
     The Hong Kong-based China Internet Corporation (CIC), principally owned
by China's state-run Xinhua News Agency, offers Chinese business subscribers
only limited access to business-related information. Users have access to
information generated outside China, but only after it has been screened in
Hong Kong. According to James Chu, CEO of CIC, customers can be assured their
e-mail will not be screened or bugged by mainland "unless you have broken the
law."32 (Rhonda Lam Wan, "Xinhua Affiliate to Offer E-mail," South China
Morning Post (Hong Kong), October 6, 1995.)
     ChinaNet, based in Beijing and Shanghai, which became available in May
1995, provided commercial Internet access. Control of Internet access accounts
was extremely tight, and people wishing to open them were required to register
at the Postal Ministry. Fairly quickly, black market permits became
available.33 ("Net Spreads a Web of Uncertainty," South China Morning Post,
December 14, 1995.) 
     On January 1, 1996, several days after CompuServe cut off access to 200
Usenet newsgroups, Xinhua News Agency, China's official medium, reported that
the government had called for a crackdown on the Internet to rid the country
of unwanted pornography and "detrimental information."34 ("China cracks down
on Internet" Deutsche Presse-Agentur, January 1, 1996.) A joint statement
issued by the State Council and the Communist Party Central Committee said
effective measures had to be adopted to solve the problem of uncontrolled
information. The leadership also reportedly summoned the Chinese suppliers of
Internet connections, and on January 15, the biggest supplier announced a
"moratorium" on new subscribers.35 ("Economic News A Blackout," The Economist
(London), January 20, 1996.) According to press reports, officials said that
as many as 70,000 people were using the Internet through 7,000 accounts, and
that the high volume was more than the current system could handle.36 ("Jammed
Capacity Halts Sale of Internet Accounts," Economist Intelligence Unit
(London), February 8, 1996.)
     On January 23, a cabinet session chaired by Premier Li Peng adopted draft
rules governing links to the Internet. The cabinet reiterated its provisional
approval for global computer links but declared it "imperative" to formulate
rules to govern China's use of the new technology.37 (Paul Eckert, "Britain
Raises Concerns About China Media Measures," Reuters,  January 24, 1996.) On
February 4, Xinhua announced that the new Internet regulations required
existing computer networks to "liquidate" and "re-register," and to use only
international channels provided by the Ministry of Posts and
Telecommunications, the Ministry of Electronics Industry, the State Education
Commission and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.38 (Martyn Williams, "China
Issues Regulations to Control Internet, Newsbytes News Network, February 6,
     As the New York Times reported:
     Neither organizations nor individuals are allowed to engage in
     activities at the expense of state security and secrets," 
     [Xinhua] said. "They are also forbidden to produce, retrieve,
     duplicate or spread information that may hinder public order. The
     transmission of pornographic or obscene material was also
     expressly banned.39 (Seth Faison, "Chinese Tiptoe into Internet,
     Wary of Watchdogs," New York Times, February 5, 1996.)
     In mid-February, the Ministry of Public Security ordered all those who
use the Internet and other international computer networks to register with
the police within thirty days.
Hong Kong
     Hong Kong has not drafted any policy or released any official statements
regarding Internet censorship. The 1987 Obscene and Indecent Articles
Ordinance does not specifically discuss on-line communication, but the
ordinance reportedly applies to communication on the Internet.40 (Nigel
Armstrong and IT Daily, "First Hong Kong Porn Charge Could Take "Weeks,"
Newsbytes News Network, August 3, 1995.) The Hong Kong government's Recreation
and Culture Branch, which oversees on-line media, recently commissioned a
study of on-line communication. Its secretary said that developments in other
countries, including the United States, would be taken into account.41 (Eric
Lai, "Cyberporn a threat to freedom of expression," South China Morning Post,
January 23, 1996.)
     There are currently more than fifty Hong Kong ISPs, and some censor
content, including Hong Kong SuperNet, one of the largest Hong Kong ISPs,
which voluntarily ended access to sexually explicit material on Usenet in
March 1995.42 (Maggie Farley, "Hong Kong's Remedy for Subversive Use of
Cyberspace Pull the Plug," Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1995.) Star Internet
followed suit in November, by blocking about twenty newsgroups with erotic
text and pictures.43 (Lai See, "No Cyber-Sex Please, as Squeaky-Clean Star
Internet Takes Axe to Animal Acts," South China Morning Post, November 24,
     In March 1996, Commissioner of the Television and Entertainment Licensing
Authority Peter Cheung Po-tak said that controls on the Internet should ensure
a "minimum degree of decency" to protect children and said the best solution
would be for ISPs to regulate themselves.44 (Glenn Schloss, "Hint on Internet
Porn Laws," South China Morning Post, March 29, 1996.)
     In Singapore the Internet is treated as a broadcast medium, regulated
under the Singapore Broadcasting Authority Act of 1995, which established the
Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA). Singapore allows three service
providers: Singnet, which is part of Singapore Telecom, Pacific Internet and
Cyberway. The government claims that it does not currently censor e-mail, but
in 1994 it disclosed that it had searched individual accounts to try to
identify those who had downloaded sexually explicit material. After businesses
expressed alarmed about the security of their information, authorities said
they would refrain from conducting such searches in the future. 
      The main means of censorship up to now has been to control access. In
addition, sexually explicit material and news have been censored by the
Ministry of Information and the Arts, the government body in charge of media
censorship. Fewer than half of Usenet newsgroups are available through
Singnet. Currently there are no widespread uniform guidelines or procedures
for restricting use of any Internet services, and local administrators have to
make arbitrary decision on access.
     The minister of information and the arts told Parliament that "Censorship
can no longer be 100 percent effective, but even if it is only 20 percent
effective, we should still not stop censoring....We cannot screen every bit of
information that comes down the information highway, but we can make it
illegal and costly for mass distributors of objectionable material to operate
in Singapore."45 ("Singapore defends censorship in Internet age," Reuters,
July 7, 1995.) Colonel Ho Meng Kit, the CEO of the SBA, the committee that
oversees content on the Internet, said objectionable material could be
censored through three main channels: technology, legislation, and licensing.
He stated that only ISPs would be targeted and noted, "[Censorship] may not
always be effective but it makes a statement about the nature of Singapore
society and the values it wants to uphold."46 ( Jimmy Yap, "Singapore Takes
Aim at Cybersmut," Straits Times (Singapore), July 30, 1995.)
     Although authorities initially stated that they would not heavily censor
political criticism, they have reportedly shifted from watching for
sex-related material to watching for "misinformation." Some topics recently
discussed on the newsgroup soc.culture.singapore ranging from Michael Fay's
caning to the case of a Filipino maid convicted of double murder sparked the
formation of a government administrative committee, which has started
Singapore Infomap, a Web site, to provide "correct" information and rebut
"inaccurate" information.
     In early March, the government announced more severe censorship measures,
including the licensing of all ISPs and a requirement to use filtering
software. The measures are meant to prevent Singaporeans from accessing
sexually explicit material and hate literature, and will also cover politics
and religion. The government also announced that World Wide Web content
providers would have to register with the SBA, and that three categories of
Web pages would be scrutinized:  those operated by political parties,
electronic newspapers targeting Singapore, and pages concerned with politics
or religion.47 ( "Singapore Government Clamps Down on Internet and Supports
Its Future," Telenews Asia (Rozelle, Australia), March 21, 1996.) In April,
the regulations tightened further. The SBA announced that it was setting
guidelines, to become effective in June 1996, for Internet content providers.
According to the preliminary guidelines, those with Web sites must ensure they
do not encourage abuse or distribute objectionable information, such as
sexually explicit material. Sponsors of discussion groups may have to register
with the SBA. Internet content providers and ISPs will be responsible for what
is transmitted. The rules also require Internet service providers to institute
an acceptable use policy.48 ("Singapore Sets Rules for Internet Providers, TV
Singapore," Reuters, April 14, 1996.) 
     Indonesia's first commercial provider, Indonet, began operation in late
1994. A number of others soon followed, and the country now has numerous ISPs.
The more established electronic bulletin board networks also draw extensively
from the Internet. The Internet is more free than any other mass medium in
Indonesia, and there are no laws, regulations or ministerial decrees
concerning its use. Tempo, a news weekly that was closed by the government two
years ago, recently established a site on the Web, with the blessing of the
minister of information who agreed "there are no regulations against it," but
warned that "maybe the House [of Representatives] will want to discuss
legislating the Internet."49 ( "Tempo on Internet is okay: Harmoko," Jakarta
Post, March 13, 1996, as reported on the Indonesia-L mailing list, March 13,
1996.) At this stage, however, the government has chosen to compete with
opposing views by establishing its own Web sites. 
     Armed Forces spokesman Brig.-Gen. Surwarno Adiwijoyo told Reuters news
agency that the military had suggested to the Communications Ministry the need
for some sort of "toll gate" to "black out" news that could damage culture or
affect security.50 ( Jim Della-Giacoma, "Politics, Not Sex, Indonesian
Internet Concern," Reuters, November 16, 1995) It has also suggested
registering uses and users, he said. At present, private ISPs do not carry all
Usenet groups, but this is reportedly done in the interests of conserving disk
space and because of the language barrier.51 (E-mail from John MacDougall,
April 9, 1996.)
     The Malaysian Institute of Microelectronic Systems (Mimos), the nation's
sole Internet provider, has experienced a huge demand, with an average monthly
increase of 22 percent since it began service in late 1994. As of October
1995, there were some 30,000 users. In April 1996, Mimos announced that it
would appoint eight new ISPs to help ease congestion.
     Usenet newsgroups are heavily censored. The "acceptable use" policy at
Jaring, the main Malaysian Internet line, states that "members shall not use
Jaring network for any activities not allowed under any Law of Malaysia."52
(Charles A. Gimon, "Internet Censorship Around the World," Info Nation
(Minneapolis, MN), July 1995.) The government reportedly realizes that on-line
censorship may not be effective. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir
Mohamad has warned Malaysians that "It depends on the culture. If the culture
is weak, we will be the victims. But if we use it in a way that can increase
our knowledge, we will get many benefits from the Internet."53 (Lokman Mansor,
"Dr. M, Ramos Have a Chat Via the Internet," Business Times (Kuala Lumpur),
January 18, 1996.) However, in March 1996, Information Minister Datuk Mohamed
Rahmat announced that a new regulatory body would be set up to monitor the
Internet and that those criticizing the government "will face the music."54
(Ian Stewart, "Internet Curbs in the Pipelines," South China Morning Post,
March 13, 1996. ) 
     In reaction to Malaysian students abroad criticizing Malaysia on the
Internet, the government has considered various ways to curb such dissent,
according to the information and education ministers, and the education
minister proposed cutting scholarships of offending students.
South Korea
     In South Korea, about half of all Internet users are affiliated with
universities or the government. The nationally run telephone corporation,
Korea Telecom, started service in June 1994, and there are a number of other
commercial providers.
     The government has decided to censor computer networks, according to
statements by communications officials in October 1995. The decision was
reportedly made out of growing concern regarding children's access to sexually
explicit and other undesirable material. Local computer networks will be asked
to prohibit access by local subscribers to banned sites, according to the
Information and Communications Ethics Committee of the Data and Communications
Ministry. Sexually explicit material will be banned, along with information
deemed "subversive," such as instructions on making bombs and drugs. Computer
games and other software are already censored. Details, such as punishments,
have reportedly yet to be worked out.55 ("South Korea to Censor Computer
Communications Networks," AP Worldstream, October 20, 1995.)
     The state-owned telecommunications company Vietnam Datacommunications
Company (VDC) had planned to launch Internet service earlier this year, but it
reportedly put off the opening day because officials decided to first draft
regulations on allowable Internet links and users. Internet regulations will
reportedly comply with the government's existing censorship regulations. Pham
Dao, director of VDC, said that an Internet firewall would be installed to
screen out transmissions from specified senders or news resources cutting out
much of the anti-government commentary carried by dissident groups, including
support for jailed Buddhists and dissidents.56 ("Vietnamese Net Provider to
Censor Inbound Transmissions," Telecomworldwire, January 11, 1996, and Jon
Auerbach, "Fences in cyberspace; Governments move to limit free flow of the
Internet, The Boston Globe, February 1, 1996. )It appears likely that the
Ministry of Culture and Information will monitor on-line content and that 
Interior Ministry will be in charge of monitoring Internet national security
issues.57 (Peter Mears, Radio Australia, March 24, 1996,  as reported in "Help
Sought from Singapore in Policing the Internet," BBC, March 26, 1996, and
"Government to use foreign software to police Internet users," Agence France
Presse, March 24, 1996.) Nguyen Ngoc Canh of the General Directorate of Posts
and Telecommunications, which sets communication policy, said competing
domestic services likely will be allowed as long as Vietnam Datacommunications
Company monitors a single outside link.58 (Kathy Wilhelm,"Vietnam Net or Not,"
AP, January 4, 1996.)
     Until recently, Vietnam's Internet service was made available through the
Institute of Information Technology, which exists mostly for the benefit of
academics and nongovernmental organizations.  A VDC official told the press
that the organization's effort to control the Internet "is the requirement
from our leaders, our government. The Internet must be controlled, not only
for technical and security reasons but from the cultural aspect."59 ("Vietnam:
Plan by Telecom Authority to Exercise Control Over Internet Disturbs Foreign
Investors and Agencies," Financial Times (London), September 19, 1995.) The
government is reportedly worried about sexually explicit material from foreign
countries and about "foreign organizations" transmitting information. Some
overseas Vietnamese groups have distributed anti-government tracts in Hanoi.
Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet was recently the victim of "spamming" (an e-mail
barrage) by anti-communist dissidents in the U.S.60 ( Larry Lange, Developing
Nations and the Internet, Informationweek (Manhasset, New York), October 2,
                    AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND 
     Australia has been considering regulating the Internet since 1993. In
August 1994, the Department of Communications and the Arts released a report,
"Regulation of Computer Bulletin Board Systems," which called for regulations.
A year later, the recommendations in that report were updated and released in
the "Consultation Paper on the Regulation of On-line Information Services."
One of the goals elucidated in the consultation paper was "to protect freedom
of expression, especially with regard to private communication between adults,
while at the same time limiting children's exposure to harmful or unsuitable
material." It proposed a system of self-regulation reinforced by legislative
sanctions. Objectionable material was defined in the consultation paper as
material that "depicts, expresses, or otherwise deals with matters of sex,
drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent
phenomena in such a way that it offends against the standards of morality,
decency and proprietary generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent
that the material should be refused classification." Restricted material was
defined as "material that [is] unsuitable for seeing, reading or playing by
persons under 15."61 ("Consultation Paper on the Regulation of On-line
Information Services," Australian Department of Communications and the Arts,
July 7, 1996 (URL: http://www.dca.gov.au/paper_2.html))
     In August 1995, the minister for communications and the arts directed the
Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA), an independent federal authority
responsible for the regulation of the broadcasting industry, to investigate
the content of on-line information and entertainment services and report to
him by June 30, 1996. The resulting ABA "issues paper" became available in
December 1995, with an invitation for comments to be submitted by the public
until mid-February. The paper discusses various issues involved in the
development of a code of practice, the adoption of a classification scheme,
enforcement of a code, and blocking offensive sites. 
     Electronic Frontiers Australia, a nongovernmental organization working
for rights of Internet users in Australia, submitted a response to the issues
paper, arguing a number of points, including that the Internet, because of its
interactivity, significantly differs from broadcast media. "[C]lassification
of content is unnecessary and in most instances impossible to police," it
pointed out. The EFA also urged the government to consult with the industry
and "develop a grasp of the realities of the on-line service industry."62
(Kimberly Heitman, "ABA Inquiry Submission," Electronic Frontiers Australia,
February 16, 1996.)
     Some state governments, including those of New South Wales, Queensland,
Victoria, Western Australia, Northern Territory, and Tasmania, have already
passed or are planning to introduce on-line censorship legislation.63 (Michael
Sharp, "Internet Porn Pedlars Face Jail," Sydney Morning Herald, April 3,
1996, and John Davidson, "New Moves on Internet Porn Laws," Australian
Financial Review (Sydney), April 3, 1996.) In early October 1995, eighteen
people were being questioned and fifteen computers seized across the state of
Queensland for alleged involvement with child pornography, based on the
state's Classification of Computer Games and Images Act (1995). In Victoria
state, the Classification (Publications, Films & Computer Games Enforcement)
Bill, which has passed two houses of Parliament and awaits enactment, makes it
an offense to use an on-line network to transmit "objectionable" material to
minors.64 (Mike van Niekerk, "Censor Moves to Shackle Net," The Age
(Melbourne), February 13, 1996.) Victoria's bill has passed two houses of
Parliament. A similar law in Western Australia went into effect on January 1,
1996. Both leave primary censorship in the hands of service providers, and
seek to punish senders of information deemed "objectionable" and senders of
information classified as "restricted" to minors according to broad
definitions contained in the legislation.65 ( For example, the Western
Australia bill defines "restricted material" to be that which a reasonable
adult, by reason of the nature of the article, or the nature or extent of
references in the article, to matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime,
cruelty, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena, would regard as
unsuitable for a minor to see, read or hear.") ISPs are liable only if they
knowingly permit objectionable material to be transmitted on their network. An
even more extreme bill now before the parliament in New South Wales will hold
individuals and ISPs responsible for objectionable material, which includes
not only sexually explicit information but also drug- and crime-related
material. All state laws are subject to change when new federal laws are
New Zealand
     Restrictive Internet legislation was proposed in Parliament in 1994, but,
according to Stephen Bell, an Internet activist in New Zealand, it "is widely
perceived as more or less dead" at present because of unrelated political
developments.66 (E-mail from Stephen Bell to  Human Rights Watch, February
1996.) Under the legislation, the New Zealand Technology and Crimes Reform
Bill, all users would be cut off from any site that transmitted a single piece
of objectionable material to a single user. Those found in violation of the
law could be fined thousands and lose the use of a telephone for up to five
     Under current law, computer disks are treated as "publications," and may
be censored as such under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification
Act of 1993. If authorities find one example of the more serious grade of
"objectionable" material, as defined by the Act,67 ("Objectionable" is defined
to include that which "describes, depicts, expresses, or  otherwise deals with
matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty, or violence in such a manner that
the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public
good.") they may arrest and shut down an ISP.68 (E-mail to Human Rights Watch
from Stephen Bell of New Zealand, February 7, 1996.)
     Apparently fearing possible liability, several universities and Internet
providers have been blocking access to newsgroups dealing with erotica.69 (
Internet Australasia, August 1995 (URL: http://www.interaus.net).)
                           MIDDLE EAST
     The Middle East is coming on-line in increasing numbers, but many
governments are hoping to control access to sensitive political and religious
discussion as well as sex-related material. Bahrain went on-line in December
1995 through Batelco, the government-run phone company, after installing an
expensive system to block access to certain Internet-related sites.70 (Richard
Moore, "Huge Demand for Internet Link," Egyptian Gazette (Cairo), January 11,
1996.) GlobeNet, a U.S. firm, won a contract to provide Internet service in
Jordan in 1995 and was asked by authorities to install a special screening
facility to control sexually explicit material.71 (London Observer Service,
"Many Arab nations seek Internet curbs," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January
8, 1995.) Kuwait is planning to launch a new Internet service soon, but a
Communications Ministry official told the press that the new ISP "must ensure
that no pornography or  politically subversive' commentary is available in
Kuwait." There is no new content-related legislation planned at present.72
("Kuwait to boost Internet service but plans censorship," Agence France
Presse, April 11, 1996.) In Abu Dhabi, an Internet club "ha[s] agreed to ban
sex, religion and politics on the Internet to respect the local laws."73 (
Michael Georgy, "Internet Fever Sweeps Gulf," Reuters, April 4, 1996.) Police
in the United Arab Emirates recently held a seminar on combatting political
dissent and sexually explicit material.74 ( Ibid.)
     In Morocco, the state Office National des Postes et Telecommunications
(ONPT) brought the Internet to the nation on November 16, 1995. ONPT has
secured an agreement with the commercial companies that will provide the
service. Charges will be fixed, and a convention has been signed to govern all
aspects of the Internet's operation. The service has been targeted at the
banking and insurance sectors, universities, and multinational corporations.75
(John Cooper, "The Middle East Gets Caught in the Internet," Middle East
Economic Digest (London), December 4, 1995.)
     The first Iranian Internet line was opened in 1992 by the Institute for
Studies in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics through a link to Vienna.76
(Stuart Wavell, "Closed Societies Opened by Internet Genie," Sunday Times
(London), September 3, 1995.) The government helped with funds. Internet
users, still mostly at universities, now number around 30,000.77 (Ibid.) 
     The government also sponsors a network whose chat rooms allow on-line
dialogue between only two subscribers at a time, and private ISPs also exist.
Access to the Internet is relatively unregulated, but its increasing
popularity will likely result in greater government control. One private
network had its lines cut by the Telecommunications Company (TCI) of Iran in
August 1995. TCI may have been reacting to reports that the network was being
used by young people for sex chats, or it may have been trying to reduce
competition to its own network service.78 (Cooper, "The Middle East Gets
Caught in the Internet," Middle East Economic Digest.)
Saudi Arabia
     In Saudi Arabia, Internet access has been confined to universities and
hospitals. All local accounts, which automatically note the material accessed,
are open to inspection by the Ministry of the Interior. Government officials
have justified their reluctance to permit large-scale access on the grounds
that there is a need to protect people from pornographic and other harmful
effects. Existing pornography laws apply to the Internet, but loopholes are
available: large foreign companies are increasingly offering their unmonitored
Internet access to Saudi business acquaintances, and commercial members of the
GulfNet are also free from scrutiny. 
     Internet access will reportedly be made available to businesses in 1996,
but reportedly with strict controls. Mohammed Benten, a dean at King Fahd
University for Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, told a local newspaper,
"Here in the kingdom, with our strict rules and regulations, we will see the
Internet being accessed only for constructive objectives."79 (Faiza S. Ambah,
"Dissidents Tap the  Net to Nettle Arab Sheikdom," Christian Science Monitor,
August 24, 1995.) Minister of Posts, Telephones and Telegraphs Dr. Ali
Al-Johani said in February 1996 that, although the Internet was beyond
government control, authorities were investigating how it could be
regulated.80 (Saleh Al-Dehaim, "Panel Formed to Study Telecom Privatization,"
Arab News, January 31, 1996, as reported in Moneyclips, February 21, 1996.) 
     The European Union is considering adopting some Internet-related
controls. In late January 1996, a European Union Consultative Commission on
Racism and Xenophobia said it "hope[d] the EU [would] take all needed measures
to prevent Internet from becoming a vehicle for the incitement of racist
hatred." It also called for the "creation of  protective judicial measures."81
("EU Group Calls for Curb on Racism on Internet," Reuters, January 29, 1996.)
It urged all member states to follow the example of Germany, which has been
trying to censor racist and pornographic messages. France joined the call for
regulation in early February, when the French minister for information
technology announced that France would request members of the EU to draft new
legislation to cope with legal issues posed by the Internet. It is believed
that France's reaction has to do with the recent posting on the Internet of
the banned book, Le Grand Secret, by Claude Gubler, the late President
Mitterand's physician.82 (Sylbia Dennis, "Banned Mitterand Book on the Net
Ignites French Government," Newsbytes News Network, February 5, 1996, and
"French plan to stifle Internet freedom," New Media Age, February 8, 1996.)
     EU culture and telecommunications ministers met informally in Bologna,
Italy in late April 1996, to discuss Internet regulation. At the meeting,
France proposed the drafting of a global convention on Internet regulation.
The ministers agreed to ask the European Commission, the executive body of the
EU, to draw up a report on the question. The Commission is reportedly supposed
to determine whether the EU should deal with this issue, or whether the issue
should proceed directly to international negotiations.83 ("EU/Media Commission
Studies Mechanism for Preliminary Notification of National Draft Legislation
on Internet ICRT's Position," Agence Europe (Brussels), April 26, 1996.)
     That same week in Strasbourg, Irish Minister of State for European
Affairs Gay Mitchell called on the EU to investigate controls on the
transmission of child pornography on the Internet at a joint meeting organized
by UNICEF and the Council of Europe, to discuss the commercial exploitation of
children.84 (Patrick Smyth, "Mitchell Argues for World Wide Register of
Paedophiles," Irish Times (Dublin), April 26, 1996.)
     The European Commission reportedly plans to draft a discussion paper on
interactive services, including the Internet, which may lead to a directive
that may include content regulation. The European Commission is considering a
regulation requiring EU member states to send draft national legislation
affecting the Internet to the EU in order for member states to vet the laws
before they are adopted. The European Commission is reportedly divided over
how to standardize Internet policies of its member states. The European
Parliament has introduced changes to the EU's broadcasting law to extend its
scope to the Internet, but that approach is strongly opposed by many in the
computer industry.85 (Fiona McHugh, "European Commission Makes Moves to
Co-ordinate Policing of EU Cyberspace," Media and Marketing Europe (London),
April 3, 1996.)
United Kingdom
     The UK has not yet enacted any Internet-specific censorship legislation
but has relied, instead, on existing laws banning obscenity. Gay groups,
however, reportedly feel they are being victimized. An organizer for the
London-based group, S&M; Gays, for example, told the press that "The police
seem to have great difficulty in distinguishing between gay men and
pedophiles."86 (Liberty,  "Caught in the Net," Agenda (London),  June 1995.)
The group closed down its computer bulletin board, fearing that it might
become a police target.
     In its recent proposals for media ownership, the UK government suggested
that the media industry regulator could have some influence over the content
of the Internet.  An inter-departmental group was set up in March 1995 to
examine tackling such issues as sexually explicit material on the Internet.87
(Cath Everett, "Internet Pedophile Case Exposes Gaps in the Law," Computing
(London) , January 4, 1996. A new defamation bill extending libel to computer
networks was introduced in February 1996; it provides a defense for ISPs as
long as they are do not knowingly permit a defamatory statement to be made
over their networks. On-line service providers have asked the government for
further clarification on their responsibilities under the legislation. 
     In March 1996, British Trade and Industry Minister Ian Taylor said the UK
was seeking a voluntary approach to regulation of content on the Internet. The
Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA), a voluntary grouping of service
providers to be formally launched in May 1996, is drawing up a code of
practice that will cover fair trading issues, and Taylor said that he expected
the code to cover "both illegal and undesirable material." He added, "The only
alternative to voluntary action ... is increased political pressure for
legislation in various areas. That pressure may get increasingly hard to
resist."88 ("UK Back Voluntary Web Censorship," New Media Age (London), March
28, 1996.)
     On March 15, 1996, French ISPs were subpoenaed after a French Jewish
student organization brought charges against them for alleged "complicity" in
making available propaganda that denies the Holocaust; such propaganda is
illegal in France. A decision was to be reached in April, as this report went
to press.
     Germany and CompuServe have both been criticized for their roles in the
CompuServe censorship episode. CompuServe and the German officials involved
have made conflicting statements regarding who actually made the decision to
censor Usenet newsgroups. As far as Human Rights Watch has been able to
determine, a task force was set up by the Bavarian minister of the interior at
police headquarters in Munich in 1994 to search for on-line child pornography.
The task force obtained a search warrant to investigate the Munich CompuServe
office on November 22, 1995. The search was reportedly more like a visit, in
which the authorities told the company of their concerns and CompuServe agreed
to comply. Two days later, CompuServe's German managers reportedly stated that
they would support German authorities' fight against pornography in
cyberspace. On December 8, the authorities gave them a list of more than 200
suggested newsgroups with a letter saying "...it is left to CompuServe to take
the necessary steps to avoid possible liabilities to punishment." CompuServe
then made the decision to take all the groups off its servers, apparently
without making the effort to look at them. Among the groups it "banned" were
discussion groups for homosexuals and the news service Clarinet, which was not
even on its servers.
     As with other instances of Internet censorship, the ban was an
ineffective effort to comply with the demands of an ill-informed authority.
CompuServe users still of course had access to the Internet and could
therefore connect to other host computers that carried the forbidden
newsgroups. In February, CompuServe again provided access to the 200 formerly
censored newsgroups, except for five groups. The Bavarian minister of justice
recently claimed that CompuServe's new Cyber Patrol software does not meet the
company's obligations under German law because the company has an obligation
not to supply illegal material to German citizens.
     Moving from sexually explicit material to hate speech, in January 1996,
Deutsche Telekom (DT), the national telephone company, blocked users of its
T-Online computer network from accessing Internet sites used to spread
anti-Semitic propaganda, which is a crime in Germany. Authorities also
announced that they were expanding their investigation to America Online and
Deutsche Forschungsnetz, the national scientific research network. The company
was responding to demands by Mannheim prosecutors who were investigating Ernst
Zuendel, a German-born neo-Nazi living in Toronto. DT also blocked access to a
Santa Cruz, California computer service, Web Communications, that also
provides access to Zuendel's site. Web Communications stated that although it
did not agree with Zuendel, it was not the company's policy to censor its
users. A DT spokesman said that access to certain providers was blocked while
government prosecutors investigated on-line neo-Nazi material. The lack of
organized monitoring by DT is reflected in the fact that Zuendel's Web site
was still available through CompuServe at the same time as it was "banned"
through Web Communications.89 (Reuters, January 25, 1996, and "German Service
Cuts Net Access," San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, California), January 27,
     Rita Suessmuth, president of the Bundestag, the German parliament, was
recently quoted in German newspapers as saying, "The information superhighway
must not be allowed to become a forum for those who defile children." She
added, "Freedom of expression reaches its limit when human dignity is violated
and violence is promoted."90 ( "Bundestag Seeks World Curbs on Internet Child
Porn," Media Daily (Wilton, Connecticut), February 13, 1996.) The government
reportedly disagrees with her assessment, however. Justice Minister Edzard
Schmidt-Jortzig said in late March 1996 that the government would introduce
Internet censorship legislation before the summer recess. The legislation will
seek to punish an ISP only if it knowingly permits illegal material on its
service, but will not expect ISPs to be responsible for all the content on
their servers.91 (Andrew Gray, "Germany Plans Bill to Punish Internet
Indecency," Reuters, March 29, 1996.) The legislation is expected to face
opposition from the regional states, who plan to contest the measure on
constitutional grounds and may propose a more restrictive law.92 ( Ibid.) 
                          LATIN AMERICA
     Internet censorship has not become a major issue in Latin America. Latin
America is fully connected, except for Paraguay, Haiti, Belize and Cuba. In
May 1996, Cuba, which at present has only e-mail service, will hold its first
national telecommunications and informatics conference, Ariadna  96, to
discuss the Internet. Jesus Martinez, director of the Center for Automated
Information Exchange, the server for Cuba's largest e-mail network, says that
regulations affecting electronic information connections and security are
being studied "that do not anticipate including individuals."93 (Dalia Acosta,
"Cuba Communications: Government Wary of Internet," Inter Press Service,
January 30, 1996.) He also told the press that Cuba was "studying regulations
about connections and security."94 ( "Learning to Fear the Internet," Latin
American Weekly Report (London), February 15, 1996.) Rosa Elena Simeon, the
minister of science, technology and environment, said in January that Cuba
must learn how to "use the Internet's capabilities and advantages while
reducing its risks and disadvantages as much as possible."95 (Dalia Acosta,
"Cuba Communications: Government Wary of Internet," Inter Press Service.)
Guyanese officials also reportedly announced that the government "would move
to prevent any  unauthorized installation' of Internet services and added that
they were studying ways of regulating links."96 ( "Learning to Fear the
Internet," Latin American Weekly Report.)
     [In February 1995] South Africa's Deputy President Thabo Mbeki
     pointed out to the G7 conference of wealthy countries that there
     were more telephone lines in Manhattan, New York than in the whole
     of sub-Saharan Africa." Half of humanity has never made a
     telephone call," he said.97 (Panos Institute, The Internet and the
     South: Superhighway or Dirt Track?)
     In Africa, access, technology and training are the huge hurdles to cross
before censorship will be a major issue. As of late 1995, fewer than ten
countries were directly connected to the Internet. In those countries,
however, government control and censorship have already asserted themselves.
As in Asia and the Middle East, some countries, such as Botswana, that have
Internet access do not allow private ISPs to operate. The reason is reportedly
not so much one of content control, but of money. The government is anxious
not to lose the revenue from its monopoly on telecommunications services.  
     In the southern African country of Zambia, where Internet access is
limited, the February 5 Internet edition of The Post, a daily and one of
Zambia's most important opposition voices, was banned by President Chiluba
under the State Security Act. The charges relate to a report based on leaked
documents, revealing secret government plans to hold a referendum on the
adoption of a new constitution. It remained on the Web site for two days until
the police warned the ISP, Zamnet Communications, that it would be liable.98
(David Lush, Media Institute of Southern Africa, "Action Alert Up-Date
Zambia," February 16, 1996.)
     Rather than striving to control content on the Internet, democratic
governments should be working to ensure that the GII becomes truly global, and
to motivate citizens to become more involved in decision making as they
organize, debate, and share information unrestricted by geographic distances
or national borders. It has already been shown that the GII has the potential
--   permit individuals with common interests to organize themselves in forums
to debate public policy issues;
--   provide instant access to a wide range of information; 
--   increase citizen oversight of government affairs;
--   decentralize political decision making;
--   empower users to become active producers of information rather than
passive consumers.
     As noted above, although the extraordinary potential for a GII has been
suggested by existing on-line communications networks, the present on-line
community is still quite limited. Only countries with a sophisticated
telecommunications infrastructure are able to take full advantage of on-line
technology. Even in countries with advanced telecommunications
infrastructures, only persons with access to equipment and training can take
advantage of new information resources. General illiteracy remains the primary
obstacle to computer literacy. And while the GII may foster an unprecedented
sharing of cultural traditions, current users of on-line technology are
primarily American or northern European, affluent, white, and male. 
     To maximize the GII's potential to promote democracy, it must adopt and
expand upon international standards of free expression. National and
international guarantees of free expression should be expressly extended to
the Internet.
     This report was researched and written by Karen Sorensen, on-line
research associate at Human Rights Watch. Her work was based in part on a
letter prepared by 1995 Bradford Wiley Fellow Ann Beeson, for the GII
conference in Brussels. The report was edited by Gara LaMarche, associate
director of Human Rights Watch. We wish to acknowledge the leading role played
by several nongovernmental organizations in fighting Internet censorship in
the United States including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Center for Democracy and Technology
(CDT), and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR). We
especially wish to thank Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information
Center (EPIC) for his comments on this report. Similar organizations have been
formed in other countries, including Electronic Frontiers Canada and
Electronic Frontiers Australia. Human Rights Watch hopes by issuing this
report to contribute to the effort to afford on-line communication the same
protections as other media.
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization established in 1978 to
monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights
in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and among the signatories of
the Helsinki accords.  It is supported by contributions from private
individuals and foundations  worldwide.  It accepts no government funds,
directly or indirectly.  The staff includes Kenneth Roth, executive director;
Cynthia Brown, program director; Holly J. Burkhalter, advocacy director;
Barbara Guglielmo, finance and administration director; Robert Kimzey,
publications director; Jeri Laber, special advisor; Gara LaMarche, associate
director; Lotte Leicht, Brussels office director; Juan Mendez, general
counsel; Susan Osnos, communications director; Jemera Rone, counsel; and
Joanna Weschler, United Nations representative.  Robert L. Bernstein is the
chair of the board and Adrian W. DeWind is vice chair.  
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