panix on Tue, 22 Feb 2000 01:26:44 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Global Internet Liberty Campaign

       Global Internet Liberty Campaign Member Statement
            Submitted to the Internet Content Summit
                         Munich, Germany
                      September 9-11, 1999
 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.
                 *          *          *
 A number of serious concerns have been raised since rating and
 filtering systems were first proposed as voluntary alternatives
 to government regulation of Internet content. The international
 human rights and free expression communities have taken the lead
 in fostering more deliberate consideration of so-called
 "self-regulatory" approaches to Internet content control.
 Members of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign have monitored
 the development of filtering proposals around the world and have
 previously issued two statements on the issue -- "Impact of
 Self-Regulation and Filtering on Human Rights to Freedom of
 Expression" in March 1998 and a "Submission to the World Wide
 Web Consortium on PICSRules" in December 1997.  These joint
 statements reflect the international scope of concern over the
 potential impact that "voluntary" proposals to control on-line
 content could have on the right to freedom of opinion and
 expression guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration
 of Human Rights.  The undersigned organizations now reiterate
 those concerns on the occasion of the Internet Content Summit.
 Originally promoted as technological alternatives that would
 prevent the enactment of national laws regulating Internet
 speech, filtering and rating systems have been shown to pose
 their own significant threats to free expression.  When closely
 scrutinized, these systems should be viewed more realistically
 as fundamental architectural changes that may, in fact,
 facilitate the suppression of speech far more effectively than
 national laws alone ever could.
 First, the existence of a standardized rating system for
 Internet content -- with the accompanying technical changes to
 facilitate blocking -- would allow governments to mandate the
 use of such a regime.  By requiring compliance with an existing
 ratings system, a state could avoid the burdensome task of
 creating a new content classification system while defending the
 ratings protocol as voluntarily created and approved by private
 This concern is not hypothetical. Australia has already enacted
 legislation which mandates blocking of Internet content based on
 existing national film and video classification guidelines. The
 Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Bill places
 sweeping restrictions on adults providing or gaining access to
 material deemed unsuitable for minors as determined by
 Australian film and video classification standards. The
 Australian experience shows that even developed democracies can
 engage in Internet censorship, given the necessary technical
 tools.  An international content ratings system would be such a
 tool, creating a ratings regime and blocking mechanisms which
 states could impose on their citizens.
 Australia is not alone in its support of mandatory Internet
 content ratings systems.  The United States government, in its
 unsuccessful defense of the Communications Decency Act, argued
 that the use of an Internet "tagging" scheme would serve as a
 defense to liability under the Act.  The scenario advanced by
 the U.S. government would have required online speakers to "tag"
 material as "indecent" in a manner that would facilitate
 blocking of such content.  That argument failed in the face of
 evidence that Web browsers were not yet configured to recognize
 and block material bearing such "tags."  If the sort of
 "voluntary" rating systems being advocated today had been widely
 used in 1996, the government's argument may have prevailed.
 In sum, the establishment and widespread acceptance of an
 international rating and blocking system could promote a new
 model of speech suppression, shifting the focus of governmental
 censorship initiatives from direct prohibition of speech to
 mandating the use of existing ratings and blocking technologies.
 Second, the imposition of civil or criminal penalties for
 "mis-rating" Internet content is likely to follow any widespread
 deployment of a rating and blocking regime.  A state-imposed
 penalty system that effectively deters misrepresentations would
 likely be proposed to facilitate effective "self-regulation."
 Proposed legislation creating criminal and civil liability for
 mis-rating Internet content has already been discussed in the
 United States.
 In addition to their potential to actually encourage government
 regulation, rating and filtering systems possess other
 undesirable characteristics.  Such systems are likely to:
 * prevent individuals from using the Internet to exchange
 information on topics that may be controversial or unpopular;
 * impose burdensome compliance costs on non-commercial or
 relatively small commercial speakers;
 * distort the fundamental cultural diversity of the Internet by
 forcing Internet speech to be labeled or rated according to a
 single classification system;
 * enable invisible "upstream" filtering by Internet Service
 Providers or other entities; and
 * eventually create a homogenized Internet dominated by large
 commercial speakers.
 In light of the many potential negative effects of rating and
 filtering systems, the movement toward their development and
 acceptance must be slowed. If free speech principles are to be
 preserved on the Internet, thoughtful consideration of these
 initiatives and their potential dangers is clearly warranted.
 Although generally well-intentioned, proposals for
 "self-regulation" of Internet content carry with them a
 substantial risk of damaging the online medium in unintended
 The rejection of rating and filtering systems would not leave
 the online community without alternatives to state regulation.
 In fact, alternative solutions exist that would likely be more
 effective than the legal and technical approaches that have
 created a binary view of the issue of children's access to
 Internet content.  Approaches that emphasize education and
 parental supervision should receive far more attention than they
 have to date, as they alone possess the potential to effectively
 direct young people toward beneficial and appropriate uses of
 the Internet.  Ultimately, the issue is one of values, which can
 only be addressed properly within a particular family or
 cultural environment.  Neither punitive laws nor blocking
 technologies can ensure that a child will only access online
 content deemed appropriate by that child's family or community.
 While the Internet is a global medium, questions concerning its
 appropriate use can only be addressed at the most local level.
 For these reasons, we urge a re-orientation of the ongoing
 debate over Internet content.  We submit that a false dichotomy
 has been created, one that poses state regulation or industry
 "self-regulation" as the only available options.  We urge a more
 open-minded debate that seriously explores the potential of
 educational approaches that are likely to be more effective and
 less destructive of free expression.
 This submission is made by the following organizations:
 ALCEI - Associazione per la Libertý 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
 Fˆrderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft (FITUG)
 Fronteras Electronicas Espan~a (FrEE)
 Human Rights Watch
 Index on Censorship
 Internet Freedom
 Internet Society
 Imaginons un RÈseau Internet Solidaire (IRIS)
 Liberty (National Council for Civil Liberties)
 Privacy International
 David L. Sobel, General Counsel              *   +1 202 544 9240 (tel)
 Electronic Privacy Information Center        *   +1 202 547 5482 (fax)
 666 Pennsylvania Ave., SE Suite 301          *
 Washington, DC 20003   USA                   *

Sent through Global Message Exchange -

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: