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GILC Alert
Volume 3, Issue 6

September 21, 1999


Welcome to the Global Internet Liberty Campaign Newsletter


Welcome to GILC Alert, the newsletter of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign. We are an international organization of groups working for cyber-liberties, who are determined to preserve civil liberties and human rights on the Internet.

We hope you find this newsletter interesting, and we very much hope that you will avail yourselves of the action items in future issues.

If you are a part of an organization that would be interested in joining GILC, please contact us at

If you are aware of threats to cyber liberties that we may not know about, please contact the GILC members in your country, or contact GILC as a whole.

Please feel free to redistribute this newsletter to appropriate forums.

Free Expression

[1] Bertelsmann Foundation recommends Net content rating system
[2] GILC Member Statement for the Bertelsmann Internet Content Summit
[3] Bertelsmann halts online sale of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" [4] Beijing Turns the Internet On Its Enemies
[5] Twenty Enemies of the Internet
[6] Umno to probe 48 websites
[7] Sex sites win case in Britain for real-sex videos
[8] War of words over Australian Net censorship
[9] Singapore to relax Internet censorship laws

Privacy and Encryption

[10] Japanese Parliament passes Wiretapping and National ID Bills
[11] Sri Lanka row over e-mail 'espionage'
[12] New US legislation deals compatibility and open systems
[13] U.S. Government proposal: break into homes to defeat encryption
[14] Updates on GILC webpage

[1] Bertelsmann Foundation proposes Net content rating system

The Bertelsmann Foundation has made a number of controversial recommendations concerning the regulation of Internet content.

The recommendations were made at the Internet Content Summit, held in Munich, Germany on September 9-11. The summit was organized by the Bertelsmann Foundation, in cooperation with INCORE (Internet Content Rating for Europe).

The Foundation called for rating and filtering regimes, a global network of hotlines and private self-regulatory agencies to deal with potential user complaints.

Mark Wössner, Chairman of the Bertelsmann Foundation, suggested that such a system would be "in the best interest of industry, because it would reduce the likelihood of overinclusive and rather inflexible government regulation, as well as increase user confidence and secure competitiveness".

The recommendations included a call for cooperation both across borders and across professions. The Foundation's core recommendation is for a system of universal self-rating to be combined in a "layer cake" of filtration. Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a member of the Bertelsmann Foundation expert network, filed a response to the statement in which she said:

I strongly dissent from this recommendation and view it as a significant threat to the principles of free expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and analogous national guarantees, such as the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Foundation also proposed limitations on service provider liability for illegal content. In addition, the Foundation suggested that Internet service providers (ISPs) should help train law enforcement to hunt down Internet criminals.

Critics charged that such a system would amount to censorship on a global scale. Many of these critics have noted that similar schemes, while described as "self-regulation", have been converted into law and enforced by governments in several countries.

For more on GILC's response to these developments, see news item [13] below.

For official webpage of the summit, see

For more information, see Courtney Macavinta, "AOL, others plan global Net content rating system", CNET, September 2, 1999, at,4,41248,00.html

[2] GILC Member Statement for the Bertelsmann Internet Content Summit

GILC has published a member statement in response to recent attempts to create an Internet rating and filtering system. The statement was submitted to the Internet Content Summit, but was drfted prior to the release of the Bertelsmann Foundation‚s report. Here is a summary:

The creation of an international rating and filtering system for Internet content has been proposed as an alternative to national legislation regulating online speech. Contrary to their original intent, such systems may actually facilitate governmental restrictions on Internet expression. Additionally, rating and filtering schemes may prevent individuals from discussing controversial or unpopular topics, impose burdensome compliance costs on speakers, distort the fundamental cultural diversity of the Internet, enable invisible "upstream" filtering, and eventually create a homogenized Internet dominated by large commercial interests. In order to avoid the undesirable effects of legal and technical solutions that seek to block the free flow of information, alternative educational approaches should be emphasized as less restrictive means of ensuring beneficial uses of the Internet.

The full version of this statement can be found on the GILC website, at

The list of members who have signed the statement includes:

ALCEI - Associazione per la Liberta nella Comunicazione Elettronica Interattiva

American Civil Liberties Union

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)

Electronic Frontiers Australia

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Electronic Privacy Information Center

Forderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft (FITUG)

Fronteras Electronicas Espana (FrEE)

Human Rights Watch

Index on Censorship

Internet Freedom

Internet Society

Imaginons un Reseau Internet Solidaire (IRIS)

Liberty (National Council for Civil Liberties)


Privacy International



[3] Bertelsmann halts online sale of Hitler's "Mein Kampf"

German media giant Bertelsmann has halted a sale of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" in its online bookstore, company spokesman Christof Ehrhart said. The German and Dutch service of the online store never offered the book, since it is banned in those countries. The spokesman added that the French and British services did offer "Mein Kampf" for sale.

Under German and Dutch laws, books propounding Nazi philosophy are banned from public display or sale and punishable by up to five years in prison. German citizens, however, could circumvent the law by purchasing "Mein Kampf" online.

Bertelsmann also asked its U.S. online bookselling partner,, not to ship the book to customers in Germany.

Adapted from the article by Associated Press, August 21, 1999.

[4] Beijing Turns the Internet On Its Enemies

Beijing apparently has found a new way to attack its foes: through the Internet.

Followers of the Falun Gong meditation sect have accused the mainland Chinese government of launching attacks against their websites in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. According to these allegations, Chinese authorities have hacked into the websites of Falun Gong practitioners and posted anti-Falun Gong propaganda. The Chinese government also has been accused of blocking sites using filtering software, in order to prevent Chinese citizens from obtaining information about the movement. In addition, an anti-Falun Gong website has been established at the behest of mainland Chinese officials.

This comes only a few weeks after the Chinese government banned the Falun Gong and launched a campaign of repression against its believers. Experts estimate there are at least 10 million Falun Gong followers.

See Michael Laris, "Beijing Turns The Internet On Its Enemies Sect Members Abroad Claim State Harassment", Washington Post Foreign Service, August 4, 1999 at Page A01.

[5] Twenty Enemies of the Internet

In a recent press release, Reporters Sans Frontieres has listed twenty countries as "enemies of the Internet". The group cited these nations for restricting their citizens‚ access to the Internet, and for stifling free expression.

The restrictions come in a variety of forms. Some countries require Internet users to register with a government-owned Internet service provider (ISP). Other countries allow access only in certain cities, or charge prohibitively expensive usage fees. The penalties can be harsh, and often include imprisonment as well as heavy fines.

The list of countries includes Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Vietnam.

The press release "The twenty enemies of the Internet" can be found on RSF's Web site

[6] Umno to probe 48 websites

The Malaysian government has selected 48 websites that it believes are threats to national security.

An official Malaysian anti-defamation committee held that statements on the listed websites might cause individuals to rebel against the government. For this reason, Malaysian officials were attempting to silence these statements by launching massive investigations. Included in these investigations were remarks made by opposition parties that were deemed "slanderous". Already, the committee has filed several defamation suits, pursuant to the list.

The webmaster for, one of the targeted websites, fears that this action will chill free speech. What is more, the webmaster also noted that his site, along with several others, "contain political and economic commentary and analysis that our readers do not see in the government-controlled mainstream media of the country, one of the most repressed and controlled in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations."

See Emily Mathews, "Umno to probe 48 websites", The New Straits Times, August 9, 1999.

[7] Sex sites win case in Britain for real-sex videos

On August 17, the independent Video Appeals Committee lifted a ban on a sale of sexually explicit films imposed by the British Board of Film Classification.

The Committee ruled that the Board should have given R18 certificates to seven films, allowing their sale in sex shops. The seven films include such titles as "Office Tart" and "Nympho Nurse Nancy".

The appeal was initiated by Sheptonhurst, which runs about 50 licensed adult shops and by the distributor Prime Time Promotions. At the hearing last month, the Board contended that the films, if viewed by minors, had the potential to harm them. The counsel of the Board, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, QC, told the hearing: "If we took the permissive stance the porn industry wants, then many thousands of hardcore videos would go into circulation."

The Video Appeals Committee overturned the Board's ruling by four to one. The majority ruling said: "We accept the argument that we do not, in general, prevent adults having access to material just because it might be harmful to children if it fell into their hands. We might have taken a different view if there was evidence that the effects were affecting more than a small minority of children or were devastating if this did happen."

The ruling comes as America Online, Microsoft, and others are attempting to screen out such sexually explicit content by formulating an Internet ratings system.

Adapted from the article by Michael Paterson, The Times, August 17, 1999.

[8] War of words over Australian Net censorship

Controversy has erupted over the Australian government‚s efforts to restrict content on the Internet.

The controversy was fueled in part by the enactment of new Australian laws which are intended to block out "objectionable" Internet material. Afterwards, the Bertelsmann Foundation, in cooperation with the Australian Broadcasting Authority, conducted a survey in Australia, Germany and the USA. The results conclusively show the same trends in all three countries: a majority of parents felt confident about their ability to control their children's access to the Web.

"Senator Alston claims community support for his controversial law, but this survey shows that the Minister is sadly out of touch," said Electronic Frontiers Australia Executive Director Darce Cassidy.

To underscore the results of the survey, the visiting president of the American Civil Liberties Union, Nadine Strossen, sharply criticized the Australian legislation. In addition, the National Australia Bank released a report where it cited the Internet censorship legislation as a barrier to the development of information technology.

In response, the Minister's office staunchly defended its position, even going so far as to launch personal attacks against Ms. Strossen. In a harshly worded press release, the office castigated her for "peddling sensationalist rhetoric."

"The Minister's office seems to have adopted a bunker mentality on this issue," said Cassidy. "An extraordinary media release form the Minister's office last week not only attacked the ACLU viewpoint in a disgraceful manner, but also distorted the results of the ABA survey in a deceitful attempt to bolster the government's position."

"It's time to end the charade over this inept piece of legislation. The Minister knows that this law won't protect children, yet his office continues to bluster with empty political rhetoric and thin-skinned reaction to legitimate criticism," added Cassidy.

For more information, see EFA's media release,

Bertelsmann Foundation survey under the title "International Research on Attitudes to the Internet",

Senator Alston's Press Release

[9] Singapore to relax Internet censorship laws

Singapore's strict censorship laws are being gradually relaxed, as more citizens gain access to the Internet, the Wall Street Journal reports. The government still keeps out many books, movies and periodical materials by banning their distribution. Home satellite systems are still prohibited and political opposition members are forbidden from delivering outdoor speeches. But with more than 20% of Singaporeans connected to the Net, banned items are readily available on foreign servers. The government acknowledges blocking more than 100 sex sites, yet also admits that citizens can easily access hundreds of other sex sites.

Singaporeans, however, are sill uneasy about their government's policy. A government official ordered one local ISP to scan 80,000 e-mail accounts of university researchers for pornographic material and in April, Singapore's internal security agency, under pretext of a computer glitch, secretly scanned 200,000 private computers.

"Singapore Internet users are always fighting the censorship in your own mind, the perceived fear...that someone will come knocking on your door," says Harish Pillay, who is the head of Singapore's Internet Society.

The government still hasn't softened its stance toward local ISPs, who can still be held liable for the content on their servers, yet when it comes to the business community, the authorities showed some willingness to back down. Under a legislation enacted last year to help increase foreign direct investment, ISPs are no longer liable if their clients use their servers to access forbidden sites. The government is also planning to reconsider a 1997 ban on political campaigning on local Web sites.

Adapted from the article by Michelle Levander, "Singapore to relax censorship laws as it seeks to expand Internet Access", Wall Street Journal, September 1, 1999, at A18.

[10] Japanese Parliament passes wiretapping and national ID bills

On August 12, in an all-night session, the Upper House of the Japanese Diet approved two controversial bills -- one to allow wiretapping by law enforcement authorities in organized crime investigations and another to give each Japanese citizen an identification number for "administrative" purposes.

Both pieces of legislation were supported by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, its junior coalition partner the Liberal Party, and coalition aspirant the New Komeito party.

In a resolute effort to block a passage of the wiretapping bill, the Democratic party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party employed a wide array of procedural nuances to delay Upper House voting on the legislation. Among other tactics, the members of the opposition gave protracted speeches, and engaged in "ox walk", where members walk at a turtle's pace as they cast votes on each motion.

The wiretapping bill, first proposed to the Diet in March 1998, gives police the power to intercept communications via telephone, fax and the Internet during investigations of organized crime cases. The Justice Ministry plans to put the law into effect from August 1, 2000.

Under the bill's measures, the wiretapping would have to be conducted in the presence of a third party, such as representatives of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone or ISPs. The third party attending the procedure, however, will not be allowed to monitor the content of communications. The individuals targeted in the wiretapping operations would later have to be informed.

The other bill, passed along the wiretapping legislation, will allow the government to assign a ten-digit number to all Japanese citizens. The latter measure will allegedly facilitate the process of obtaining the resident registers for the citizens when they are requesting such registers in places other than the citizens‚ hometowns.

In addition, the names, dates of birth, sex and addresses of all Japanese nationals will be recorded in a database contained on a computer network of city, town and village municipalities.

Some legislators and commentators voiced concerns that police could abuse their newly given powers. Toshimaru Ogura, a professor of economics at Toyama University, said the new legislation will also undermine the international community's trust in Japan's telecommunications systems, thereby causing unfavorable effects in business and political spheres.

Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer who has been fighting the wiretapping bill since the proposition was launched in March 1998, said, "we shouldn't give up our fight, because the law can be abolished."

Adapted from the article published by Associated Press on Aug. 12, 1999.

[11] Sri Lanka row over e-mail 'espionage'

Science and Technology Minister, Batty Weerakoon, has admitted in public that he intercepted an e-mail addressed to the leader of the opposition party and passed it on to the state controlled media.

Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Randil Wickremesinghe raised the issue in the Sri Lankan parliament. He also said that he intends to lead a "nationwide campaign of agitation" against e-mail interceptions.

Mr. Wickremesinghe further added that spying on political opponents by Sri Lankan government is a "time honored tradition". However, the opposition party believed that stealing electronic correspondence of private persons and businessmen was excessive.

Mr. Weerakoon, on his part, explained the incident to the parliament by saying that a computer server made an error in routing the opposition leader's e-mail to him.

According to the BBC, the message was from the British based marketing company, Saatchi and Saatchi, and outlined a strategy of Mr. Wickremesinghe's election campaign.

The former Prime Minister said he is concerned that "traditional" spying on politicians and journalists now extends to private businessmen. "They first started to check the reports filed by foreign correspondents," he added. "Now they have expanded it to cover businessmen."

Mr. Wickremesinghe said the National Intelligence Bureau was intercepting the e-mails of top business executives and channeling the information to government officials who later used it for political or business ends.

Adapted from the article by BBC, published on August 20, 1999.

[12] New US legislation deals compatibility and open systems

In a wake of a discord between America Online and Microsoft over instant messaging, the issues of compatibility, open standards, and competition have risen to the forefront of topics being discussed in technology and cyber-law spheres. The proposed Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act, which aims at regulating the distribution of software and electronic information, is certain to dominate these discussions in the months ahead.

The seeds of the discord were planted when Microsoft started using an open AOL standard to create a messaging service that could be compatible with AOL's and would allow real-time conversations between AOL and MSN users. AOL, however, has made repeated changes in the code of its "messenger" while Microsoft, in its turn, has succeeded in restoring compatibility almost as quickly. A Microsoft spokesman explained that to achieve compatibility, "...we used standard development procedures, lots of testing, trial and error." The New York Times, however, reported on July 24 that Microsoft had used reverse engineering to achieve its goals. The practice directly conflicts with a clause contained in Microsoft own licenses: "You may not reverse engineer, decompile, or disassemble the software product..." Whether Microsoft engaged in reverse engineering or not, the incident suggests that there is a pressing need to legalize engineering practices that foster compatibility and competition.

The proposed Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act strikes at the heart of the problem. The main goal of this 356-page draft is to improve the legal environment in the area of software development. It decrees that software and information products are licensed, not sold. Furthermore, the Act claims to eliminate ambiguities in the ways courts have accepted the licenses. The Act also lays out rules in assigning responsibility for bugs or incorrect information.

Regardless of its seemingly benign intentions, the Act has drawn broad opposition, with opponents like National Consumer League, Motion Picture Association of America and Federal Trade Commission. The main criticism is that the Act suppresses reverse engineering, which consequently hinders compatibility and competition. Even in the absence of the Act, reverse engineering is not well protected by the law. The opposition contends that the practice has enough legitimate purposes to allow for stronger protection.

Adapted from the article by Andy Oram,, August 20, 1999.

Also see the full text of the draft

[13] U.S. Government proposal: break into homes to defeat encryption

Under a new proposal drafted by the Justice Department, federal agents, after obtaining a search warrant, will have a power to break into private homes and offices to obtain decryption keys or implant monitoring devices.

On August 20, The Washington Post reported that the Clinton administration had proposed a plan under which the law enforcement officials, after obtaining a search warrant from a judge, would have the authority to search for passwords on a crime suspect's computer and decrypt any data that might be coded.

The issuance of a search warrant by a judge gives the federal agents only limited authority and any further federal actions (e.g. searches, wiretaps or extraction of data from computers) would have to be authorized by court officials.

These measures would ensure that the government can read all the encrypted messages or files that are contained on or are routed to the crime suspect's computer.

The Center For Democracy and Technology, in its latest CDT Policy Post, writes that with this proposal, the Department of Justice is essentially saying: "If you don't give you key in advance to a third party, we will secretly enter your house to take it if we suspect criminal conduct."

CDT Policy Post further states that "the encryption debate, which up until now has been about privacy and security in cyberspace, is becoming a struggle over the sanctity of the home."

The full text of the Justice Department proposal is available.

Also see the CDT Policy Post

[14] Some info on the GILC webpage updates

Recently, a number of changes have been made to the GILC webpage. These changes include:

1) All of the GILC Alerts over the past year and a half have been added.
2) The "Presswire" (news section) has been re-organized. While it is impossible to add all of the newsworthy items from recent months, new items have been posted starting from the month of August.
3) The home page will also begin to include the aforementioned posted news items under "Top News". [Two new items are already posted.]

For further information, see the GILC webpage


The GILC News Alert is the newsletter of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign, an international coalition of organizations working to protect and enhance online civil liberties and human rights. Organizations are invited to join GILC by contacting us at To alert members about threats to cyber liberties, please contact members from your country or send a message to the general GILC address.

To submit information about upcoming events, new activist tools and news stories, contact: GILC Coordinator, American Civil Liberties Union 125 Broad Street 17thFloor, New York, New York 10004 USA. email:

More information about GILC members and news is available at You may re-print or redistribute the GILC NEWS ALERT freely. To subscribe to the alert, please send an mail to with the following message in the body: subscribe gilc-announce