GILC Alert
Volume 1, Issue 3 November 24, 1997

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.

  [A] FOREMOST NEWS [A1] GILC Goes to Geneva [B] ROUNDUP OF GLOBAL INTERNET ISSUES [B1] Asia/Oceania [B1.1] Malaysia: Web Watcher [B1.2] Internet Censorship Protest [B1.3] Burma and Human Rights [B2] Europe [B2.1] XS4ALL Asks for Legal Analysis [B3.2]Dutch Ask for Clearer French Crypto Concessions [B3] North America [B3.1] US Federal Court Holds Service Provider Non-Liable [B3.2] U.S. Congress Moves to Protect ISPs and Intellectual Property [B3.3] CDA's Younger Big Brother  
[A] FOREMOST NEWS [A1] GILC Goes to Geneva  

On November 14th, the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights completed a five-day seminar on "The Role of the Internet With Regard to the Provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICEAFRD)." It sought to bring together experts on the subject matter, governmental representatives, Internet Service Providers, and representatives from non-governmental organizations and find ways to ensure "responsible use of the Internet." The seminar was the second on the Internet and the ICEAFRD.

Working under the ICEAFRD's Article IV, which seeks to limit racist speech and disband organizations, which "promote and incite racial discrimination," the seminar rarely came to a consenus on any conclusions or recommendations. No consensus was reached with regards to the proposal establishing an intergovernmental working group. No consenus was reached about formulating a "code of conduct for Internet users and service providers." No consensus was reached about mandating "all Internet communications indicate their source so that users could not anonymously distribute racist propaganda." No consensus was reached on the role of existing national criminal laws against hate speech. The seminar, however, unequivocally agreed that: "ways of increasing access to the Internet for under-resourced areas should be promoted"; the internet should be used to educate against "racist propaganda, prevent racist doctrines and practices and to promote mutual understanding"; and UN Web sites should be strengthened.

Members of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign attended the seminar. According to Margarita Lacabe, of Derechos Human Rights, a GILC member, "Most came to the conclusion that Internet regulation would not work." There, GILC issued this statement:


(1) GILC members deplore racist and hateful speech; but when encountering racist or hateful speech, the best remedy to be applied is generally more speech, not enforced silence.

(2) Liberty's fundamental principle is that governments should be prohibited from prohibiting the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.

(3) While the application of existing law to the Internet is still in its infancy, the well-established free speech principles should apply with even greater force to networked speech. The Internet gives it users easy access to public discourse. It affords human rights activists and other opponents of racism with an inexpensive and effective method for responding to racist speech.


UN documents about this seminar: To read the seminar's conclusions:

  [B1] Asia/Oceania
     [B1.1] Malaysia: Web Watcher

"There was information on the Internet which claimed I fainted and that I was unable to chair the Wednesday cabinet meeting," complained Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to the Agence France Presse. He further believes that such information is aimed at "destroying Malaysia," which recently saw its stock markets crash. To aid Malaysia's critical economic health, the government will now punish all "rumor-mongers" under laws against "economic sabotage."

The Star Newspaper quoted deputy Home Minister, Ong Ka Ting, promising to "investigate whether the person [starting the rumor] is a foreigner or local who is used by certain parties to spread rumors to erode the people's confidence."

Moreover, the Malaysian government has established a committee to screen all foreign reports about the country on the Internet. Hello, Malaysia, GILC sends you its best. This committee, after reading all articles on the country, would make weekly reports to the prime minister. The Star quoted Culture, Arts and Tourism Ministry deputy secretary-general Tenku Alaudin Tengku Abdul Majid as saying they would then "decide on the appropriate action to correct any wrong perceptions in the reports."

The government, however, wants to make clear they are not in the censorship business. In June, Malaysia's top telecommunications official addressed a conference in Kuala Lumpur to repeat his government's commitment to keeping Malaysia free from content regulations. "There is no way that we can block the content that goes through the Internet," said Datuk Leo Moggie, the head of the Ministry of Energy, Telecommunications and Posts. "Instead of blocking [the Internet], we have to adjust how to react to it over time."

  [B1.2] Internet Censorship Protest  

According to an "Action Alert" issued by the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Clearing House, twelve world-wide human rights organization have challenged Internet censorship in many member nations of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). In a jointly signed letter (, the human rights organizations criticized China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, Singapore, the United States, Philippines, and Thailand for attempting "to control the free flow of information and free expression on the Internet in their respective countries."

Reasoning from a "slippy-slope" framework, the organizations reminded the APEC forum "time and time again we have seen governments use the existence of one restriction to justify the addition of further restrictions. To think that any government can issue one content directive, about pornography for example, and stop there is folly." The letter further discusses the contradiction between censorship and the international human rights documents, while pointing out Internet regulation is "ultimately unworkable."

This letter, however, was part of a larger voice of dissent. The Jakarta Post reported that an international symposium of 100 journalists and academics, titled "Open Media, Open Market," argued that improved trade relations within the APEC forum would be impossible without a free media. In a statement, they called for APEC to "commission an independent study . . . on the relationship between the free flow of information and trade liberalization." Furthermore, APEC leaders should "recognize that freedom of expression and association are conditions for the expansion of trade." Moreover, 2,000 people joined to add their voices to the protest. Holding their own "People's Summit," protesters marched to denounce governmental stances on varied issues: Tibet independence, women's rights, labor rights, and aboriginal land claims. Reuters quoted John Argue, a summit coordinator, saying, "APEC does not deal with real issues. It is entirely focused on helping business to increase its own resources and trade, and not with any social concerns." The 2,000 protesters were within earshot of the 18 leaders who met to discuss various economic issues.

When money calls, however, other voices are drowned out. The Australian reported that John Howard, Australia's Prime Minister, reiterated that APEC's agenda should not be broadened to include human rights. Since its first meeting in Seattle, USA in 1992, APEC has resisted demands to discuss human rights. Following tradition and after completing two days of talks in Vancouver, Canada, APEC only called for freer trade, affirmed the region's economic foundations were strong and announced three new members would join next year.

Reuters reported that police used pepper spray and dogs to push back protesters who rushed barricades.

To read more about APEC go to their homepage at:


[B1.3] Burma and Human Rights    

Dissidents need strong encryption and anonymity is vital. At least that's the lesson gleaned from Newsday's story of repression in Burma. The newspaper recounts the tight grip the Burmese government has on the flow of information. Because, the goverment does not let reporters into the country, reporters have to enter Burma disguised as tourists. International phone calls are bugged. The simple ownership of a simple fax machine is dangerous and liable to cost the faxer a term in prison. A few years ago, one of Burma's largest pro-democracy supporters languished and later died in jail because he was faxing without a license.

Needless to say, Internet access is just as illegal and just as hazardous to one's liberty. Newsday goes on to report that diplomats and foreign embassies (with illegal Internet access) constantly have their E-mail intercepted and read by Burmese officials. Moreover, the military government has set up a system of informers that tigthen its technological grip on the masses.

In rejecting international human rights documents, Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw, has been quoted as saying: "There are no compulsions or obligation for any country to sign the U.N Convention on Human Rights. Like some other countries in Asia, we have to take into consideration our culture, ethos and the standards of development before accepting these declarations."

Visit the FreeBurma homepage: Or E-mail them:

[B2] Europe [B2.1] XS4ALL Asks for Legal Analysis  

GILC member, XS4ALL (pronounced "access for all") has defied a government order requesting that it turn over a subscriber's online activities. The Dutch Ministry of Justice not only wants the subscriber's surfing habits, but it also wants XS4ALL to tap and reveal all E-mail, newsgroup and chat room communications. In a press release, issued last week (http://www.xs4all.n1), XS4ALL has stated it will protect its users and their privacy, from this unprecedented act.

WiredNews reports that XS4ALL has previously submitted to police demands for information. This time, however, the organization believes the Dutch authorities have overstepped their legal bounds. While warranted wiretapping is legal in the Netherlands, Cnet reports that Maurice Wessling (of XS4ALL) argued that: "Reading E-mail or doing a complete Internet tap is not part of the law." Wessling, however believes that it is only a matter of time before it is. The organization's refusal might be a crime; but XS4ALL is hoping for a trial in the Dutch courts to determine if the country's 1993 Computer Crime Act (giving judges confiscatorial power over computer data for court cases) applies to the Internet.


[B3.2] Dutch Ask for Clearer French Crypto Concessions  

CommunicationsWeek International reports the Dutch are not satisfied with French cryptography policy and think the European Commission should not have been so quick to consider approving French Proposals, which would have liberalized France's strict laws governing encryption.

The Netherlands has taken advantage of a European Commission technical procedural rule, to hold off the French legislation. This equivalent of American filibustering, is expected to delay the decrees by at least three months. In the meanwhile, the Dutch want to push France into a further easing of their policy.

EC officials, however, believe they have already garnered significant compromises from the French. For instance, France has agreed that foreign entities may majority own trusted-third- parties. Furthermore, cryptographic products no longer have to endure a two-month waiting period for approval.

[B3] North America [B3.1] United States FederalCourt Holds Service Provider Non-Liable  

On April 25, 1995, six days after 168 people are killed in the Alfred P. Murrah federal building bombing in Oklahoma City, someone gets on America On-Line, and posts an advertisement for "Naughty Oklahoma" T-shirts and bumper stickers, and keychains. All of these items contain offensive slogans and cast aspersions on the victims and their families. The ads asked interested parties to contact "Ken" and gave Kenneth Zeran's telephone number in Seattle, Washington. Immediately, Zeran was deluged with angry calls after an Oklahoma City radio station urged listeners to call. The death threats started coming and soon the FBI and police manned his house. Zeran was receiving abusive calls every two minutes. As any good story would have it, Zeran, of course, was not the author of the ad. Later that day, AOL was informed and repeatedly removed the ad from their service. New ads, though, kept reappearing. After an Oklahoma City newspaper revealed it was a hoax and after the radio station made an apology, the calls ended. Zeran later sued AOL, arguing that the company unreasonably delayed in removing the defamatory messages and failing to screen for similar postings thereafter. A district court found that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act barred Zeran's suit.

Last week, a unanimous three-judge federal appeals court panel affirmed the lower court's ruling. The court noted that the bill's plain language "creates a federal immunity to any cause of action that would make service providers liable for information originating with a third-party user . . . . Thus, lawsuits seeking to hold a service provider liable for its exercise of a publisher's traditional editorial functions -- such as deciding whether to publish, withdraw, postpone, or alter content -- are barred." The court further stated that tort-based lawsuits would have an "obvious chilling effect."

Civil libertarians, however, offer one point of contention. While, the court explained that "it would be impossible for service providers to screen each of their millions of postings," it also claimed one of Section 230's purposes was to encourage service providers to regulate "offensive" materials. Chris Hansen, of the American Civil Liberties Union, a GILC founding member, has stated: "The decision frees service providers to engage in censorship." Hansen, contends that ISPs should be given even more immunity: "No one would suggest that a phone company be given to power to censor libelous statements someone might make to someone else over the phone. There are laws that prohibit phone companies from taking such actions."

Another free-speech advocate, Stanton McCandlish, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a GILC member, doesn't quite see it that way: "I'm skeptical of the fear that this decision will chill free speech. It won't, standing alone, make ISP's more likely to censor communications among their users. It removes a disincentive to monitor and restrict content, but provides no new incentive to actually do so."

[B3.2] U.S. Congress Moves to Protect ISPs and Intellectual Property  

Late on Monday, November 17, 1997, the United States Senate joined the House of Representatives in sending warnings to Internet pirates. Under the "No Electronic Theft (NET) Act," now sitting on President Clinton's desk awaiting his signature, "non-profit" pirates would be guilty of a federal crime, if they -- in any way -- exchange unathorized 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.

Fear among service providers has presumably subsided, since a late-minute amendment seems to have released ISPs from liability if they do not "willfuly" engage in copyright infringements. has quoted the Association of Online Professionals as saying: "The language of the final bill makes it clear that ISPs and online service providers (like AOL or Microsoft) will not be held as 'willfuly infringing' just by doing their job, which is routing data across their servers."

Late last month, a coalition of European groups voiced its concerns with the European Commission's copyright protection initiatives. TechWeb reported that the "Ad Hoc Alliance for a Digital Future," a group of leading telecommunications operators, and ISPs, issued explicit charges with Mario Monti, European Commissioner for internal markets. The Alliance is angry at what they see as attempts by the European Commission to make ISP's liable for copyright infringements by end users. TechWeb quoted Claudio Carrelli of the European Public Telecommunications Network Operators Association (ETNO): "The Post Office does not open all the letters it delivers, and we should not expect network operators and ISPs to behave differently."

The Alliance also attacked the European Commission's refusal to harmonize member states' law on "fair use" exemptions to copyright law, which lets material be used without permission for uses such as quotation and criticism.

President Clinton is expected to sign the U.S. bill before the end of the year.

[B3.3] CDA's Younger Big Brother  

Last week, in another attempt to clear the Internet of pornography, United States Senator Dan Coats (Republican from Indiana, former aid to Dan Quayle, and the originator of the failed CDA) introduced S. 1482, which seeks to prohibit commerical Internet sites from distributing material considered "harmful to minors" under 17 years old. Violators wil be imprisoned for six months with a $50,000 fine. Supporters of the bill say that it's newly focused, because it covers only material that's "harmful to minors," and not material that's "indenent." Coats's concern is over the free "teasers" (images of naked women and simulated sex acts) that most pornographic sites offer viewers.

In a press release issued last week, Coats maintained that his new legislation is constitutional and "narrowly tailored to meet the concerns of the Court." According to the statement, the legislation would simply "require the commercial distributor to remove the free images, or require a credit card or personal identification number in order to view them."

The matter is not that simple to civil libertarians, who remind Mr. Coats that he wrongly thought the original CDA constitutional. Ann Beeson, from the American Civil Liberties Union, a GILC founding member and one of the original plaintiffs in the Reno v. ACLU case, drew a parallel between Coats's suggestion and requiring people to pay a fee for browsing through a bookstore or watching a movie trailer. Furthermore, opponents argue that the bill is laced with vague terms and overbroad and underinclusive definitions: "harmful to minors" is undefined, while "commercial distributor" would include a virtual bookstore (, American Online and Microsoft but overlook sources of free pornography and ones international ones. All of these aspects -- the vagueness, overbroadness and underinclusiveness -- would render the bill unconstitutional.

Contact Senator Coats with your comments (he doesn't give out his E-mail address): United States Senator Dan Coats, 404 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (202) 224-5623

GILC can make a difference at this stage. Urge the Senate to halt consideration of the CDA II when it reconvenes in January of 1998. Contact Senator Patrick Leahy with your comments: Senator Leahy was one of 15 Senators who voted against the original CDA. He issued this statement after the Supreme Court case held parts of the CDA unconstitutional:

"The Supreme Court has made clear that we do not forfeit our First Amendment rights when we go on-line. [Its] decision is a landmark in the history of the Internet and a firm foundation for its future growth. Altering the protections of the First Amendment for on-line communications would have crippled this new mode of communication.

"The Communications Decency Act was misguided and unworkable. It reflected a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the Internet, and it would have unwisely offered the world a model of online censorship instead of a model of online freedom.

"There is no lack of criminal laws on the books to protect children on-line, including laws criminalizing the on-line distribution of child pornography and obscene materials and prohibiting the on-line harassment, luring and solicitation of children for illegal sexual activity. Protecting children, whether in cyberspace or physical space, depends on aggressively enforcing these existing laws and supervising children to ensure they do not venture where the environment is unsafe. This will do more -- and more effectively -- than passing feel-good, unconstitutional legislation. "


Raafat S. Toss GILC Organizer Developer American Civil Liberties Union 125 Broad Street New York, New York 10004

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