Multinational corporate censors

Here is an interesting point of view about censorship. Published on .net issue 158, January 2007:

Web rights group divides the world into good and bad, but it fails to look at rights abuses in our own backyard.

Bush’s “axis of evil” has a web equivalent: a list called ‘Enemies of the internet’ issued by human rights group, Reporters Without Borders. To go with it, they’ve published a map showing the 13 worst nations for internet freedom.

The map (at http://www.rsf.org/24h/map.php) is given the name The Internet Black Holes and, as well as showing the 13 worst offenders for internet rights, it invites users to vote for their worst offender. So, what about the UK?

While it’s important that we understand which governments are engaging in internet censorship, I think the RSF map is misleading,” says Suw Charman, executive director of the open Rights Group (www.openrihtsgroup.org). “It implies that censorship is only happening in a small number of countries, many of which we are already aware do not have a good record on freedom of speech.” Charman adds that because the map focuses only on government censorship, no western countries are listed. “Yet the censorship that occurs in the US and Europe is often corporate – businesses forcing individuals to remove sites or blog posts they don’t like.

In 2003, a study from Privacy International found that censorship of the web is “commonplace in most regions of the world”, and one of the biggest trends in recent years is the growth of multinational corporate censors whose agendas are very different from governments. “If we focus solely on the activities of governments, we risk overlooking censorship that’s going on in our own backyard,” concludes Charman.

Web censorship has also been analysed in a report from the OpenNetinitiative, which explains much of the censorship nightmares experienced by the countries featured in the map. The ONI research backs up why Reporters Without Borders chose to put those 13 countries on a map, but the campaign fails to get to the heart of the internet censorship problems faced by these countries, or the corporate censorship issues faced by western nations. CH

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