11:15 AM - Panel 2 - Speech Online and Access

Moderator: Barry Steinhardt, President, EFF

Yaman Akdeniz, Cyber-Rights and Cyber-Liberties UK

Pippa Lawson, Public Interest Advocacy Center

Meryem Marzouki, Imaginons un Reseau Internet Soldaire

Sid Shniad, BC Telecommunications Workers Union

Rigo Wenning, Fîrderverein Informationstechnik undGesellschaft

James Dempsey, senior staff counsel of the US -based Center for Democracy and Technology




Report by Yaman Akdeniz, lawya@leeds.ac.uk, Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)

Mr Barry Steinhardt, representing both the ACLU and EFF today, said that two important issues would be explored with this second panel. First issue involves the access issues; in many countries, there are barriers to access to infrastructure and information. How will universal access and pricing work in the electronic environment? The second issue, equally as important, involves freedom of speech on the Internet as the Internet raises free speech issues to a global level. Issues covered will include filters and rating systems, the European Union efforts on combating materials "harmful to minors" and the aftermath of the Reno v. ACLU decision.

First, Mr Shniad and Ms Lawson dealt with the access issues. Sid Shniad, is the Research Director for the Telecommunications Workers Union and he presented his paper entitled "Rheotoric Versus Reality: Deregulation and Access to Electronic Communications Services. Mr Shnaid reminded the audience that "it is sometimes forgotten that many programs and services which we take for granted developed in a non-government regulated environment."

"Today the Information Highway is being promoted as the cure for a range of social and economic ills. Access is acknowledged as the key to maximising the technology's positive social potential. But deregulation has put many subscribers to basic telecommunications services in a position where they can no longer afford basic telephone services - the essential element in subscribers' ability to access the Internet from their homes."

According to Mr Shnaid, "it is either naive or disingenuous of policy makers to express concern about issues like access and affordability while promoting the deregulation of the industry, since it is deregulation which has enabled phone companies to raise the prices they charge for basic services while cutting back on the very resources needed to provide access."

"In conclusion, the deregulated market can no more provide us with universal, affordable access to electronic communications services than it can be a source of stability in the world's financial markets. If we are serious about providing access to electronic communications on a universal, affordable basis, governments must create a regulatory framework that is equal to the task, one which obliges corporations in the telecommunications sector to meet our social and economic needs."

Mr Shniad concluded that funding for various programs to deal with the issue of access in Canada is unfortunately ad hoc in nature and is unlikely to be sustained over time.

Pippa Lawson, of the Public Interest Advocacy Center (http://www.web.net/piac/) was the second speaker on the access issue and her paper was entitled "Achieving Universal Access to the Information Highway." According to Ms Lawson's paper "universal access to the information highway is one of those things that cannnot be achieved without government intervention and market forces just can't do it." "Indeed, market forces barely exist in some of the places where access is most needed," said Ms Lawson.

The paper highlighted that there is a need for affordable services to low income Canadians. In Canada, almost everyone agrees that in the absence of direct government intervention, some kind of regulated subsidy is necessary in order to maintain universal access to basic telecommunications services. Currently, the Canadian government is working hard to spread Internet access points across the country, and to encourage Canadians of all ages and backgrounds to use the Internet for personal and business gain. Yet, only 28% of Canadians have Internet access and accounts.

Ms. Lawson stated that the effective approach is a multi-pronged one which consists of competition in which the role of the government is pivotal; the use of regulation to address systematic market inadequacies; provide direct financial and other support to establish public access points in communities, schools, and libraries, and to train citizens in Internet usage. Moreover, support for the not-for-profit community networking is needed.

"If electronic democracy is to be realized, we must protect public space on the Internet, space that is unsullied by commercial interests and that permits the free flow of individual ideas and communications," said Ms Lawson before highlighting the fact that "a truly democratic cyberspace is one to which everyone has access. The right to free speech on the Internet is one thing, but it's pretty hollow for those who lack access to the medium in which this free expression can occur."

Yaman Akdeniz, director of Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK) (http://www.cyber-rights.org) presented his paper entitled "CyberCensors: The development of Rating & Filtering Systems in Europe," (See http://www.cyber-rights.org/ottawa9 8/) which described the development of rating and filtering systems for Internet content within the United Kingdom and the European Union. The paper follows from the two recent "Who Watches the Watchmen reports" that the Leeds based organisation produced.

According to Akdeniz, "these new technologies are introduced and presented as a means to avoid heavy handed public regulation of Internet content by governments but there are many problems, however, associated with rating and filtering systems." Akdeniz stated that, "Despite the popular perception, rating and filtering systems do not really provide a "safer Internet" for concerned users and consumers." The paper explained several problems associated with this kind of technology - that the current technology is limited and censorious; that third party systems pose free speech concerns; that children are not the only Internet users; and finally these defective systems provide only a false sense of security for concerned users and parents.

"CyberCensors: The development of Rating & Filtering Systems in Europe," in its conclusion, sent a stern warning to regulators in Europe and elsewhere:

"When censorship is implemented by government threat in the background, but run by private parties, legal action is nearly impossible, accountability difficult, and the system is not open or democratic. With rating systems and the moral panic surrounding Internet content, the Internet could be transformed into a "family friendly" medium, no more adventurous than the likes of the BBC. Thus, a situation of "Disney Dilemma" will be witnessed, where only anodyne Internet content, probably generated by international media corporations, will be allowed to circulate. The chance to create a virtual market-place of ideas, including the challenging and offensive, will be lost."

The paper's message to parents was to be responsible and not censors. "Educate your children rather than placing your trust in technology or in an industry that believes it can do a better job of protecting children than parents."

See http://www.cyber-rights.org/ottawa98 / for Yaman Akdeniz's presentation.

Rigo Wenning, of Fîrderverein Informationstechnik undGesellschaft (http://www.fitug.de) highlighted the Internet related developments within Germany in his paper and these included discussion on privacy and data protection laws. Moreover, Mr Wenning explained the pressures that the ISPs face in Germany and explained the Felix Somm prosecution involving CompuServe in Germany. According to Wenning national laws might not be effective to deal with international content which is created outside the German borders. The target should remain as the authors and not the recipients according to Wenning.

Wenning who is also associated with the Institute of Computing and Law at the University of Saarland, highlighted the problems associated with filtering and rating systems and explained the audience of a German prosecutor in Flensburg decided to take action against the special prosecutor Starr in the US Senate for distribution of pornographic content over the Internet with the release of his report involving President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

See Rigo Wenning's presentation at http://www.fitug.de/bildung/rigo/.

Meryem Marzouki, board member and legal representative of France based Imaginons un Reseau Internet Soldaire (http://www.iris.sgdg.org) concentrated on her organisation's comments on the recently published French Conseil d'Etat report on Internet and digital networks. Some advances and good recommendations mainly on cryptography were made by the Conseil d'Etat. But Ms Marzouki stated that:

"the new proposals for a so called self-regulatory body by the Conseil d'Etat could only lead to privatised censorship of the Internet by industry based companies and bodies."

According to Ms Marzouki, the newly proposed self-regulatory hotline for the protection of minors and human dignity asks the content provider, or even the ISPs to remove 'objectional content' and reports to the police the actions taken. It has the power to file a case if no 'appropriate action' is taken and this would result with private policing of the Internet and also would create unnecessary pressures on both content providers and ISPs.

The last panelist of this session was James X. Dempsey, senior staff counsel of the US-based Center for Democracy and Technology, (http://www.cdt.org) a GILC member, and one of the main authors of a recentGILC report, entitled "Regardless of Frontiers: Protecting the Human Right to Freedom of Expression on the Global Internet," (http://www.gilc.org/speech/report/ )

"Regardless of Frontiers: Protecting the Human Right to Freedom of Expression on the Global Internet," was launched during another GILC conference, "Outlook for Freedom, Privacy, and Civil Society on the Internet in Central and Eastern Europe," in Budapest in September 1998 calling for strong protection of free speech on the Internet under international human rights law.

Release of the report coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaimed that everyone has the right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers" according to Dempsey of the CDT. Given the Internet's uniquely open, global, decentralized and user-controlled nature, this guarantee should be read as offering especially strong protection to freedom of expression on-line, GILC's report concluded.

James Dempsey, also stated that:

"The Internet can serve as the fulcrum for expansion of free expression principles world wide. To governments, our message is, 'Don't try to censor the Internet because your efforts will not only be futile, they may well violate international human rights law, especially given the unique nature of the Internet.' Internet activists should take advantage of the international and regional human rights documents, for they offer strong grounds for challenging Internet censorship. Both governments and supporters of free expression need to pay attention to the Internet's unique qualities, for they justify the strongest legal protection."

According to James Dempsey, the GILC report, "Regardless of Frontiers: Protecting the Human Right to Freedom of Expression on the Global Internet," notes that governments from the US to China have already begun to impose controls on the Internet, threatening the potential of this new medium. But an increasingly well-established body of international law protects the right to freedom of expression

See James Dempsey's presentation at http://www.cdt.org/international/ottaw a/

Final Remarks of the Author:

Access and free speech remain two of the far most important policy issues together with the privacy issue that will be discussed later this afternoon. These issues are as important as the development of e-commerce on the Internet and deserve more consideration by the regulators starting with the OECD Ministerial Conference in Ottawa.

"The Public Voice in the Development of Internet Policy "

October 7, 1998

Global Internet Liberty Campaign