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Can we censor prejudice on a free Internet?
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Can we censor prejudice on a free Internet?



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  • 1. Can we censor prejudice on a free Internet? Dr Ian Brown, University College London
  • 2. Overview
    • Online censorship in democracies and repressive states
    • The technical difficulties in censoring the Internet
  • 3. Do we see prejudice on the Internet?
    • Of course… just like every other human failing
    • Deeply unpleasant organisations such as Storm Front use the Web to publish intolerant and hateful material
    • Internet has given the 1 st Amendment global effect
  • 4. US Supreme Court firmly in favour of Internet free speech!
    • Congressional attempts during the 1990s to censor sexually explicit online material were firmly rejected by the Supreme Court
    • Sections of Communications Decency Act and other similar laws ruled unconstitutional
    • These laws themselves reflected Congressional prejudices
  • 5. US censorship efforts
    • Federal laws (CDA, COPA) repeatedly ruled unconstitutional in late 90s; particular problems with “community standards”, 1 st amendment and proportionality
    • Pennsylvania law struck down in 2004 due to lack of proportionality (400 blocked sites caused over 1 million other sites to be blocked), easy circumvention and out-of-state effect; no evidence Act “has reduced child exploitation or abuse”.
    • 2005 Utah law being challenged by coalition of businesses, ISPs and their customers on similar 1 st Amendment and Commerce clause grounds
  • 6. Countries are trying to zone the Internet
    • If countries want the economic benefits of the Internet, their only option to censor overseas sites is to filter at national borders
    • Widespread in repressive countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, Iran…
    • … but also growing in Europe (Spain, Germany, France and the UK), Australia and elsewhere
  • 7. Problems with Internet censorship
    • How do you restrict access to content hosted in other countries? Filter based on IP addresses, redirect DNS queries, use proxies with blocking lists and/or keyword filters
    • How do you decide which content should be blocked?
    • How do you block access to non-WWW content?
  • 8. Non-US democracies
    • Australia: ISPs can be ordered by govt regulator to remove adult content; classification decisions secret
    • Finland: “voluntary” system blocks access to secret list of IP addresses maintained by police
    • Council of Europe Cybercrime treaty contains “hate speech” protocol
  • 9. French court orders block on Nazi memorabilia
    • After an action brought by a group of Jewish students, a French court ordered Yahoo to block the sale of Nazi items to French users
    • Yahoo has attempted to comply, but also obtained a Californian court declaration that ruling had no effect on a US corporation
    • French court experts gave evidence that blocking would be 70-80% effective
  • 10. BT’s CleanFeed system
    • Blocks customer access to sites that have been secretly listed as containing child pornography by self-regulatory body the Internet Watch Foundation
    • UK government has threatened to legislate if other ISPs do not follow suit
    • Ministers already discussing adding violent pornography to the list
    • Cambridge researcher showed that BT system could be used to search out child pornography
  • 11. Cybercrime Treaty protocol
    • "any written material, any image or any other representation of ideas or theories, which advocates, promotes or incites hatred, discrimination or violence, against any individual or group of individuals, based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, as well as religion if used as pretext for any of these factors."
    • “ material which denies, minimises, approves of or justifies crimes of genocide or crimes against humanity “
  • 12. Saudi Arabia
    • Web access is routed via government-controlled proxies, which restrict access to specific sites
    • Citizens can request that sites are added to or removed from the block list
    Source: Ben Edelman
  • 13. The Great Firewall of China
    • Just about most restrictive on planet – uses all mechanisms previously described and more
    • Little transparency to users
    Source: Ben Edelman
  • 14. Filtering search results
    • Google has set up Chinese site which will remove contentious results (Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, Falun Gong…)
    • Google Earth lost Tibet!
    • Even in US, filters results containing sites that have been notified to Google as infringing ©
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  • 18. Blocking blogs
    • Microsoft has followed requests from Chinese government to remove blogs that contain politically controversial content
    • Indian and Iranian governments have simply blocked access to controversial blog sites (and the latter “a large number of sites with gay and lesbian content, some politically sensitive sites, women’s rights sites…”)
  • 19. Actions
    • Concentrate regulation on content hosted within jurisdiction, with judicial oversight and maximum transparency; explore self-regulation
    • Avoid sweeping new commitments such as Cybercrime Convention protocol
  • 20. Internet should not be a memory hole
    • “ The struggle against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” –M. Kundera