The OECD is having a two day meeting during June 28th and 29th dedicated to discuss the issues of Internet regulations and further tendencies of web development. The participants at the meeting are government ministers, industry experts and business leaders.
The main question that is to be discussed during the meeting is the implementation of Internet regulations that will facilitate the development of the web and at the same time will protect online privacy, web anonymity and intellectual property. Protecting Internet privacy and online security are of crucial importance and web censorship should not destroy them, but preserve and maintain them.
Among the other topics at the meeting are the increment of broadband access and competition, and the protection of Internet openness, especially in non-democratic countries where governments deprive users of Internet access or implement tough forms of censorship that prevent the dynamism and growth of the web.
While preparing the meeting, the OECD has released several documents, such as Communications Outlook 2011, National Broadband Plans, Next Generation Access Networks and Market Structures and Fibre Access – Network Developments in the OECD Area.
According to the OECD, “this high-level meeting builds upon the OECD Ministerial on The Future of the Internet Economy held in Seoul, Korea in June 2008. Drawing together leaders from all stakeholder communities, this new meeting aims to continue fostering the development of the Internet economy.”
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It has been reported that Obama's administration has started the creation of a duplicate Internet that would be able to help people from the countries with repressive regimes to bypass censorship. According to the New York Times, the US is going to develop a so-called "shadow" Internet and mobile phone systems in order to support web anonymity and facilitate putting an end to repressive regimes.
It is also said that the US government plans to create independent cellphone networks in non-democratic countries and launch "Internet in a suitcase" that could be available in every country and would provide Internet access globally. The US authorities are reported to have allocated $ 2 million for the development of this project.
The US is financing the launch of wireless networks in non-free countries in order to give dissidents an opportunity to communicate with each other in case the Internet is blocked. The New York Times said that the government had already spent at least $50 million developing such a network in Afghanistan.
Many people from countries as Iran, Syria, Libya, and Japan use the best VPN services to bypass limitations imposed by the authorities. It is a reliable way to stay connected and protected. But even a VPN connection is not helpful if the Internet. shuts down completely. After Hosni Mubarak turned off the Internet during the political uprisings in Egypt, it has become a common practice in countries with repressive regimes.
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The United Nations (UN) assume that Internet access is an inalienable human right and consider that to be disconnected from the web is a violation of human rights and international laws. A report of the UN Human Rights Council’s 17th session says that Internet gives people an opportunity to exploit a lot of human rights and that it favors the progress of humankind.
La Rue, a Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, claimed that “the Internet enables individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders”. That’s why he considers an Internet cutoff to be unacceptable.
Internet restrictions are necessary and justifiable in such areas as child pornography, but in many cases governments use blocking or filtering mechanisms to achieve their own hidden agenda. According to the report , it should be an independent judicial authority or body who defines the scope of Internet censorship.
La Rue is deeply concerned that Internet users have only relative web anonymity, because governments can monitor and collect private information about them. This intervention violates people’s right to online privacy and smashes Internet security.
The report also incites governments to include trainings on Internet literacy in school curricula, because it can “help individuals learn how to protect themselves against harmful content, and explain the potential consequences of revealing private information on the Internet”.
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The Iranian government is going to impose a so-called national Internet aimed to substitute the global network. This new form of censorship can lead to the detachment of the Iranian cyberspace from the worldwide one. The government of Iran claims that the new national Internet will help to preserve Islamic moral standards and to cut down the consumers’ expenditure.
At the beginning, the national network will work together with Internet and some large companies will still have access to both of them, but gradually the Internet will be displaced. Ali Aghamohammadi, Head of Economic Affairs, has recently declared that national Internet will become "a genuine halal network, aimed at Muslims on an ethical and moral level". It means that the network will not violate Islamic laws.
Moreover, the reports of the local press say that Windows will be replaced with a new Iranian operating system. Iran is also going to create its own alternatives to popular websites and e-mail services; for example Ymail will substitute Gmail.
The current situation in the country causes alarm for many users, especially those who browse the Internet for business purposes every day. They think that to impose a national Internet can affect their current relationship with international partners. People are afraid that they will not be able to bypass the new form of censorship, even with the help of the best VPN services.
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Governments in Africa are afraid of protest movements and have decided to strengthen internet censorship in order to prevent them. Much attention has been paid recently to the blocking of sites in Egypt and Libya, to the filtering of the Internet in Tunisia and to the incarceration of the Moroccan bloggers. However, the situation in the rest of the region is also very difficult.
The filtering of websites has been used by the Ethiopian government for a long time. Moreover, some sites, such as political opposition websites, independent news sites and sites of some human rights organizations, are blocked in the country. The government is the only owner of Ethiopia's Internet infrastructure, which is why it exerts total control over it.
Despite the fact that all the sites are available in Burundi, the situation in the country isn’t any better, because users don’t enjoy Internet freedom. The internet filtering allows the government to track down users and to control their activity. For example, the editor of an online news site was arrested in 2010. And these practices are widespread in many African countries.
As for Sudan, people are free to use a lot of websites, but this access is under control. Researcher Patrick Meier claims in his blog post that the Sudanese government uses social networking sites to track down protesters. A group of people that called for protest was arrested; also many people that joined the street protests were taken into prison.
In response to political unrest in the Middle East, many countries have restricted Internet access in order to control protesters. The OpenNet Initiative carried out a research focused on how countries use network filtering to control the flow of online content. The authors have analyzed the use of American- and Canadian- software in the Middle East and North Africa. Nine countries in the region utilize Western-made tools to block over 20 million Internet users from accessing Websites showing prohibited political and social content.
Internet filtering can be used by schools or parents to protect their children, by companies to control their employees Internet access, by governments to shape and track the flow of information at national level. The urgent issue is that filtering technologies are tending to be repurposed by governments to achieve a state-sanctioned censorship. It is good if it is targeted at protecting minors from pornography. But if filtering tools and services are used to censor search engine results by request of national governments, the freedom of expression seems to be doubtful. Especially if the filtering technology is being built and supported by Western countries, advocates of human rights and free flow of information.
People try to find their own solutions to unblock Websites: strong VPN connections, anonymous web proxy. But the global answer to the question lies with the leadership of companies that produce filtering software. Such companies must be aware of the role they play in the global community and put their policies towards protecting the Internet privacy along with technical development.
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