January 12, 1998
[A1.1] China's New Internet Regulations
If you're an Internet user in mainland China, Chinese officials Ė in a bid to fight against "spiritual pollution" Ė have prohibited you from doing certain things. For one, you should stop reading the GILC Alert; we're probably covered by Section Five of China's "Computer Information Network and Internet Security, Protection and Management Regulations," which states that "no unit or individual may use the Internet to . . . receive . . . information . . . inciting people to resist . . . laws." Also, according to Section Five you should not promote "feudal superstitions, or "sexually suggestive material, gambling, violence, murder," or "openly insult other people or distort the truth to slander people," or "spread rumors," or "incite hatred or discrimination among nationalities or harm the unity of the nationalities," or "defame government agencies," or "incite division of the country." The Cabinet approved the new regulations on December 11, 1997. According to Reuters, the prohibition on inciting division of the country applies to supporters of the Dalai Lama or of formal independence for Taiwan; regulations also banning statements that "defame government agencies" actually ban cries for democracy. Unspecified "criminal punishments" and fines of up to 15,000 yuan (US $2,755) await those who choose to break the regulations. Even though officials are attempting to censor certain Web sites, the government is having problems stopping E-mail. Phones can be tapped and content monitored, but there is no easy way to intercept E-mail. The New York Times reports that a "more likely alternative would be for China to establish a monitoring program used to gather evidence against addresses should the Government wish to suppress their access to information." The Times also quoted Xio Qiang, executive director of New York-based Human Rights in China, who pointed to Tunnel (an E-magazine written in China and devoted to political discussion). The contents are sent via E-mail to the United States where it is E-mailed back to China to thousands of addresses. Under the new regulations, Internet Service Providers will be subject to Public Security Officials and required to help find violators. The new regulations, however, do not affect Hong Kong, the New York Times reported, quoting Anthony Wong, director general of the territory's telecommunications department: "the Internet is covered by the 'one country, two-systems' doctrine adopted when Britain surrendered Hong Kong in July." A copy of the regulations and more information on China is available from the GILC China Speech Archive at http://www.gilc.org/speech/asia.html#China
[A1.2] Draft of Thailand Internet Law Calls for Censorship
After recent draft laws to censor the Internet were proposed to the Thailand government, the Internet Society (ISOC is a member of GILC) has issued a statement warning its members in Thailand to "stand together, to counter those, however well intended, who would take away the right to free expression on the Internet." Because of Thailand's recent economic woes, the country is reporting only half as many Internet users as previously expected. It had hoped to have about 1 million users nationwide, but must settle for only 550,000, with 450,000 using the Internet for educational purposes. The Agence France Presse reports that there are fundamental problems that have been "putting the brakes on Thailand's Internet growth." Now, some seem to be trying legislatively to halt the growth all together. According to its chairman, ISOC's Thai chapter was simply a "facilitator" in the law's first drafts. And even though there have been last minute significant revisions, the proposal, too restrictive by many accounts, seeks to block information that is, among other things: against the "peacefulness of society," "immoral," disparaging of religion, disparaging of "highly respected persons or respected places or respected things," political in nature and impacting Thailand's security, pornographic, and cruel or abusive of human rights. Though no English translation of the draft has been offered, sources reveal that it suffers from many facial flaws. The Bangkok Post reports: "No where in the proposals is there a definition of what may constitute a threat, nor what is pornographic. Such legislation and vague phrasing has historically been the preserve of dictators seeking to prevent the free exchange of ideas." Under the revised draft, if ratified, Thailand will suffer sever consequences. According to the Bangkok Post, "some [ISPs] would cease operation. All would risk persecution. Those who wished to remain would need to install such machinery for checking, verifying and censoring that the inevitable delays would choke the service: businesses relying on Internet communication would suffer; doctors trying to access databases and information overseas would have to put treatment on hold; students now beginning increasingly to use the Internet, because up-to-date texts are lacking, would not be permitted the instant downloads of new information that their studies require." After ISOC's Vice-President Vinton Cerf publicized his dissatisfaction with the Thailand Chapter, a formal letter was sent to the organization's 300 Thai members. The letter, signed by Cerf, ISOC?s President Don Heath and Executive Director Martin Burack, stated: "We see a danger that the law could lead to a government censorship committee that would attempt to exercise broad and heavy-handed control over the Internet." Heath, Cerf and Burack continued, "[t]he least amount of law affecting the Internet is the best amount." Some people have misunderstood Thai ISOC's role. "The ISOC Thai Chapter has been alleged by various people, in media statements and in e-mails to the Internet Society, to be a catalyst for the restrictive parts of the bill," Heath wrote. "It is therefore important that the Chapter, and the Chapter members individually, make it clear to one and all that the Chapter and its members fully support ISOC's Guiding Principles, and reject any part of any bill that would compromise the Internet as a neutral medium of communications. We wanted to make it clear to everyone," Heath added, "that ISOC will continue to stand up for its Guiding Principles and to base our actions upon them. They provide a consistent and strong foundation for the betterment of the Internet." Freedom of expression is a key to a democratic society," Cerf said. "It is vital that there be no abridgment of such freedom." A copy of the regulations and more information on China is available from the GILC Thailand Speech Archive at http://www.gilc.org/speech/asia.html#Thailand
[A1.3] Japan Urged to Disclose Net Slanders
The Japanese Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) has issued an official study calling for the government to disclose the names of those who post libelous or damaging statements to the Internet. According to the Kyodo news agency, the MPT claims that E-mail, newsgroups, chat rooms, and Web pages have all been used to invade citizens' privacy. The Daily Yomiuri revealed that the report offered a novel interpretation to the Telecommunications Business Law, which prohibits censorship of telecommunications. In an effort to counter Internet service providers who cite the Japanese Constitution when refusing to identify posters of libelous material, the report assures ISPs that they would not violate the law if they were to delete harmful messages or suspend site usage to posters. The latest report is simply an off-shot of earlier inquiries into the nature of the Internet. In December of 1996, the MPT issued "Flow of Information on the Internet." It claimed that most Internet users are "not restrained by any professional moral code. Also, because anonymous information can be easily transmitted, the circulation of malicious or defamatory material is facilitated, potentially worldwide." That report also called for the "establishment of a mechanism which can block transmission of specific content as an effective method of ensuring the receiver's freedom of choice." Finally, "Flow of Information" urged that Japan "establish, as soon as possible, a Moral Committee comprised of experts form the private sector and academia in order to study standards for a rating system of Internet content." Read Wired Article: http://www.wired.com/news/news/politics/story/9405.html MPT's 1996 report: http://www.mpt.go.jp/policyreports/english/group/Internet/outline.html
[A3.1] New Irish Porn Laws Threaten ISPs
Ireland's Minister of Justice, John O'Donoghue introduced to the Irish Dail "The Child Trafficking and Pornography Bill." The Irish Times reports that the bills is significant not only because it prohibits "the production, dissemination, handling, or possession of child pornography," but also because it is one of the first Irish Legislative attempts to regulate the Internet. For the first time, under this bill, a "child" is defined as anyone under 17 years of age. Furthermore, the bill prohibits three types of pornography: any visual depictions showing persons under 17 engaged in explicit sexual activity or sexual displaying their bodies; aural material representing a person under 17 engaged in sexual activity; and visual or aural material that advocates or counsels unlawful activity with person under 17 years of age. Moreover, "child pornography" is defined as ?a reference to a figure resembling a person that has been generated by computer graphics." O'Donoghue's bill applies to any "tape, computer disk or other thing on which the . . . representation is recorded."
[A4] North America
[A4.1] Clinton Signs Copyright Bill
In November of last year, the United States Congress (without a single hearing in the Senate and only one in the House) passed the "No Electronic Theft" Act. That Act, supported by the entertainment and software industry and opposed by the scientific and academic community, penalizes "non-profit" pirates if they -- in any way -- exchange unauthorized copies of music, software, or literature over the Internet. Parties guilty of a felony (material valued at $2,500), face five-year prison penalties and $250,000 fines if they "willfully" make or possess at least ten digital copies of a computer program, for instance. Clinton, without ceremony, quietly signed the bill days before the end of the year. Wired News calls the law "a brutal door-slam on the hands of academics and others who use the Internet as a forum for the free flow of information." Scientists and academics, mostly working in universities, fear that the new law would stifle them. Furthermore, universities, fearing the onslaught of lawsuits, would forbid their faculty members from posting papers on the Internet. It is that free flow of information and ideas that actually spurred the growth of the Internet. The Association for Computing wrote a letter to Clinton urging him to veto the bill until more substantive discussions were held this year. The CyberTimes quotes Barbara Simons, head of the Association's U.S. Public Policy Committee: "Under the No Electronic Theft Act, an author who posts their research on the Internet, and whose documents are frequently read on-line, could be subject to criminal prosecution. [S]cientists [will] have to choose between having their work peer-reviewed or making it widely available." The USAToday argues: "[The law] overlooks all the people who know they're using copyrighted material but do so without any criminal intent: the researchers, students, writers, and Web surfers who duplicate copyrighted materials as a way to communicate. . . . There are compelling reasons to revise copyright laws for our digital age. But without guaranteeing researchers the same protections on line as they have off, Congress risks limiting the Internet's legitimate uses." See the USA Today Article: http://www.usatoday.com/news/comment/nceditf.htm The Wired News Report: http://www.wired.com/news/news/politics/story/9236.html The Association for Computing's letter: http://www.acm.org/usacm/copyright/usacm-hr2265letter.html
[A4.2] United States Libraries: First-Amendment Battleground
Free public Libraries have always served the community. When people have wanted books or tapes or periodicals, the local community library was always there to supply their needs. So, it seems logical that when the 60% of U.S. households without computers need to enjoy the benefits offered by the Internet, they go to the free public library. When it comes to Internet access, however, some libraries are not so free. There's little freedom here. Some United States local communities have attempted to limit the flow of "objectionable" material into their libraries. In Loudoun County, Virginia, librarians installed a $230 program (X-Stop) that filters out entire Web sites, including, but not limited to, Internet pornography. The Mormon Church?s Web site on masturbation prevention, the Heritage Foundation and the Quaker Church were all deemed "objectionable" and censored. All, however, were later un-filtered when the absurdity of the scheme made the national papers. Back in October of 1997, the library board members voted 5-4 to install the software on nine computers in six libraries. It's the toughest policy in the nation because the restrictions apply to everyone all the time. No one is free to access E-mail; no one is free to enter chat rooms; and no one under 18 is free to surf the Internet without a permission slip from either mommy or daddy. And no library patron -- adult or child -- is free to disengage the software. "We donít say you cannot publish this stuff or access it somewhere else. But we can sure as hell keep it out of our libraries," said John Nicholas, Loudoun County Library Board Chairman as quoted in the Los Angeles Times. Mary Ellen VanNederynen, library board member, forgetting the counter-majoritarianism of the Bill of Rights and arguing that the majority made her do it, argued to The Washington Post: "we did what we could to make sure it was legal. We listened to the public, and over two-thirds of the public said, 'it's our money, it's our budget' and we gave them a what they wanted; a safe place for their kids." The Washington Times quoted Elaine Williamson of Mainstream Loudoun, a local civil liberties organization that has joined in filing a law suit against the county as saying: "This policy relegates adults to the electronic version of the children's reading room and denies them access to information available to all other D.C. area library users." The American Civil Liberties Union, (a GILC founding member) is considering an intervention in that lawsuit on behalf of online speakers who are blocked from reaching library patrons, ACLU attorney, Ann Beeson said. The ACLU is already at work in library filtering cases in California (where county-installed software blocks access to a wide range of socially valuable, constitutionally protected speech on the Internet) and New York (where a proposed Internet policy for local public libraries would permit librarians to stop patrons from accessing "offensive" and "racially or sexually inappropriate material"). Read the ACLU Press Release: http://www.aclu.org/news/n012198a.html
[A4.3] Canadians Growing to Fear Internet
Blame it on the new crop of families using the Internet or blame it on a new conservative-tide washing over Canada. Blame it on people growing weary of violence or pornography in other media. Blame it on whom or what you will; but according to Newsbytes, a new Canadian poll shows that 66% of Canadian adults favor government-enacted laws to regulate the Internet. Ask women aged 35-54 and the already high number skyrockets to 80% who favor regulation. Newsbytes quotes David Jones, president of Electronic Frontier Canada (a GILC founding member), as being disappointed by the poll's results. But Jones is optimistic as more people start using the Internet and begin to realize the wealth of information available. "The truth is that the vast majority of content is not porn, but if you want adult content, you can find it. What a person finds online really reflects more about an individual's personal interests than about the Internet." Jones, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, also believes that the new-found liberation the Internet provides will aid in turning the opinion polls around. "The more experience people have on the Net, the more they appreciate its openness," Jones said. He added: "They come to realize that they can make choices themselves and they donít need some bureaucrat to decide what they see." This view is supported by a recent, and more in-depth poll conducted by Wired magazine, which subdivided respondents according to their level of experience with new media and technologies. People who were more "connected" were found to be more tolerant, and less eager to place limits on other people's freedoms. "The Southam poll failed to make any distinction between newbies and netizens. And remember, more than 85% of Canadians are *not* online, so their opinions on Net regulation can't be based on any meaningful experience with this new medium. Most Canadians have grown up with a meddlesome and paternalistic CRTC that regulates broadcast media, so 'Why should the Net be treated any differently?', they must wonder." "The real driving force behind Internet regulations in Canada," says Jones, "may not come from citizens, but from big business. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the big telephone companies started to push for ISP registration or licensing as a way of speeding up the industry shake-out that is already under way."