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GII Free Expression Letter [Human Rights Watch]
From: David Farber <farber () central cis upenn edu>
Date: Sun, 19 Feb 1995 21:40:42 -0500

     HUMAN RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES GROUPS URGE GORE
     TO PROTECT FREE EXPRESSION ON INFO-HIGHWAY


     February 16, 1995 -- A coalition of leading human rights and
     civil liberties groups today urged Vice President Al Gore to
     carry the banner of free speech to Brussels where the G-7
     will meet next week to discuss the future of the global
     information infrastructure (GII).  The coalition alleges
     that the current U.S. agenda for the GII is incomplete
     because it fails to include core free expression principles.


     The Clinton Administration has stated that it wants to
     achieve support from the G-7 for five basic principles for
     building the GII:  encouraging private investment; promoting
     competition; creating a flexible regulatory environment;
     providing open access to networks and services for providers
     and users; and ensuring universal service.  The
     Administration gave a detailed description of these
     principles in a document released yesterday entitled "The
     Global Information Infrastructure:  Agenda for Cooperation."


     The coalition asks the U.S. to add a "sixth principle" for
     adoption at next week's G-7 gathering that "explicitly
     recognizes a commitment to protect and promote the free
     exchange of information and ideas on the GII."  The letter
     (a copy of which is attached) recommends that the Clinton
     Administration:


        -protect against censorship and promote diverse ideas and
     viewpoints on the GII.
        -support broad access to the GII by people of all
     nations.
        -promote strong information privacy rights on the GII.


     The group points to the inevitable impact the GII will have
     on social, political, and economic life.  If properly
     designed, the GII will "motivate citizens to become more
     involved in decisionmaking at local and global levels as
     they organize, debate, and share information unrestricted by
     geographic distances or national borders."


     The letter was signed by Human Rights Watch, Electronic
     Privacy Information Center, American Civil Liberties Union,
     American Library Association, Article 19, Center for
     Democracy and Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation,
     People for the American Way, and Privacy International.


----------------------




     February 16, 1995


     The Honorable Al Gore
     Vice President of the United States
     S212 Capitol Building
     Washington, D.C.  20510


     Dear Mr. Vice President:


     We understand that you will be addressing the G-7
     Ministerial Conference on the Information Society, which
     takes place in Brussels February 25-26, 1995.  The
     undersigned represent leading human rights and civil
     liberties organizations dedicated to promoting free
     expression in the new information age.  We write today to
     ask you to urge the G-7 ministers to adhere to international
     free expression principles in any international agreement
     regarding the development, content, control and deployment
     of the global information infrastructure (GII).


     Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
     proclaims:


     *Everyone has the right . . . to seek, receive and impart
     information and ideas through any media and regardless of
     frontiers.*


     Since the Universal Declaration was adopted in 1948, the
     ability of individuals to exercise their free expression
     rights has been transformed by technological advances.
     Today, interactive communications technologies provide an
     opportunity to reinvigorate Article 19 by empowering
     citizens to seek, receive and impart information and ideas
     instantaneously, across the globe.


     The GII can motivate citizens to become more involved in
     decisionmaking at local and global levels as they organize,
     debate, and share information unrestricted by geographic
     distances or national borders.  Increased citizen awareness
     and involvement will contribute to the spread of democratic
     values.  In particular, the GII has the potential to:


        *       permit individuals with common interests to
     organize themselves in forums to debate public policy
     issues.
        *       provide instant access to a wide range of
     information.
        *       increase citizen oversight of government affairs.
        *       decentralize political decisionmaking.
        *       empower users to become active producers of
     information rather than passive consumers.


     Already, existing online networks empower citizens
     worldwide.  Individuals in war-torn countries have used the
     Internet and other online networks to report human rights
     abuses quickly to the outside world.  When traditional means
     of communication broke down and the war in Sarajevo made it
     impossible for civilians to leave their homes without
     risking their lives, many citizens used online technology to
     communicate with family members, the international press,
     and humanitarian relief agencies.  People from across the
     globe are communicating online to fight censorship,
     scrutinize government, and exchange information and
     strategies on an endless array of subjects.


     However, the GII's inevitable impact on social, political, and
     economic life presents risks as well as opportunities.
     Although the extraordinary potential for a GII has been
     suggested by existing online communications networks, the
     present online community is still quite limited.  Only
     countries with a sophisticated telecommunications
     infrastructure are able to take advantage of online
     technology.  While the Internet has reached more than 150
     countries, two-thirds of the Internet host computers are in
     the U.S., and the 15 countries with the most Internet hosts
     account for 96% of all Internet hosts worldwide.  As a recent
     report noted, "the Internet's diffusion appears to be
     inversely related to the occurrence of humanitarian crises --
     it is precisely those nations that lack a strong presence on
     the Net where wars, famines and dictators abound."


     Even in countries with advanced telecommunications
     infrastructures, only persons with access to equipment and
     training can take advantage of new information resources.
     General illiteracy remains the primary obstacle to computer
     literacy.  And while the GII may foster an unprecedented
     sharing of cultural traditions, current users of online
     technology are primarily American, affluent, white, and
     male.


     Finally, some governments have inhibited online expression
     through limitations on the use of encryption technology,
     restrictive access practices, and content liability laws.
     Just as authoritarian governments control other forms of
     media, governments may restrict access to the GII out of fear
     that citizens will use it to undermine government authority.
     In India, exorbitant licensing fees operate to exclude many
     people from online services, and an archaic telegraph law
     requires online carriers to ensure that no obscene or
     objectionable messages are carried on their networks.  In
     Singapore, users of Teleview, the government's sophisticated
     public interactive information system, must agree not to use
     the service to send "any message which is offensive on moral,
     religious, communal, or political grounds."  Even the United
     States has continued to impose restrictions on the free flow
     of technologies designed to provide users with greater privacy
     and to foster freedom of communication.


     The undersigned organizations have reviewed "The Global
     Information Infrastructure:  Agenda for Cooperation."  We
     understand that the U.S. hopes to achieve support among G-7
     countries for five core principles as the basis for a global
     information infrastructure:  encouraging private investment;
     promoting competition; creating a flexible regulatory
     framework; providing open access to the network for all
     information service providers; and ensuring universal
     service.  We recognize the importance of these principles in
     providing a foundation for a GII and applaud the
     administration's support of universal service.  However, we
     believe that the administration has failed to address some
     core free expression principles.  Absent consideration of
     these principles, the current U.S. position on the future of
     the GII is incomplete.


     To reduce the risks of the GII and to maximize its potential
     to promote democracy, the GII must adopt and expand upon
     international standards of free expression.  The following
     international rights and freedoms are of particular
     relevance to online activity:


     The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)


        *       Article 19:  "Everyone has the right to freedom
     of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to
     hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and
     impart information and ideas through any media and
     regardless of frontiers."
        *       Article 7:  "All are equal before the law and are
     entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of
     the law."
        *       Article 12:  "No one shall be subjected to
     arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or
     correspondence."
        *       Article 18:  "Everyone has the right to freedom
     of thought, conscience and religion."
        *       Article 20:  "Everyone has the right to freedom
     of peaceful assembly and association."
        *       Article 21:  "Everyone has the right to take part
     in the government of his country."
        *       Article 27:  "Everyone has the right freely to
     participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy
     the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its
     benefits."


     The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
     (ICCPR)


        *       Article 19:  The right "to hold opinions without
     interference" and "to seek, receive and impart information
     and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers . . .
     through any media."
        *       Article 17:  Freedom from "arbitrary or unlawful
     interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence."
        *       Article 18:  "Freedom of thought, conscience and
     religion."
        *       Article 21:  "The right of peaceful assembly."
        *       Article 22:  "The right to freedom of association
     with others."
        *       Article 25:  The right "to take part in the
     conduct of public affairs."
        *       Article 26:  "All persons are equal before the
     law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal
     protection of the law. . . . [T]he law shall prohibit any
     discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and
     effective protection against discrimination on any ground
     such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or
     other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or
     other status."


     All of the G-7 members, including the United States, are
     parties to the ICCPR.  The International Covenant on
     Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the American
     Convention on Human Rights, the European Convention for the
     Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the
     African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights also contain
     important free expression standards which should be
     considered in developing the GII.


     In the strong tradition of free speech protection under the
     First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the U.S.
     should advocate for the universal application of two
     important free expression principles not yet codified in
     international law.  First, the U.S. should advocate for an
     explicit prohibition against prior censorship.  Second, the
     U.S. should promote an explicit prohibition against
     restrictions of free expression by indirect methods such as
     the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint,
     radio broadcasting frequencies, or equipment used in the
     dissemination of information, or by any other means tending
     to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and
     opinions.


     Recommendations:


     The undersigned organizations have identified three
     principal areas of concern regarding free expression and the
     GII:  content regulation, access, and information privacy.
     We recommend the following guidelines to address those
     concerns.


        Content Issues


     Recognizing the mandates of Articles 7, 18, 19, and 20 of
     the UDHR, and Articles 18, 19, 21, 22, and 26 of the ICCPR,
     we call on the Clinton Administration to protect the free
     exchange of information and ideas on the GII.


        *       Prior censorship of online communications should
     be expressly prohibited on the GII.
        *       Any restrictions of online speech content should
     be clearly stated in the law and should be limited to direct
     and immediate incitement of acts of violence.
        *       Laws that restrict online speech content should
     distinguish between the liability of content providers and
     the liability of data carriers.
        *       Online free expression should not be restricted
     by indirect means such as the abuse of government or private
     controls over computer hardware or software,
     telecommunications infrastructure, or other equipment
     essential to the operation of the GII.
        *       The GII should promote noncommercial public
     discourse.
        *       The right of anonymity should be preserved on the
     GII.
        *       The GII should promote the wide dissemination of
     diverse ideas and viewpoints from a wide variety of
     information sources.
        *       The GII should enable individuals to organize and
     form online associations freely and without interference.


        Access Issues


     Recognizing the mandates of Articles 7, 19, 20, 21, and 27
     of the UDHR, and Articles 19, 21, 22, 25, and 26 of the
     ICCPR, we call on the Clinton Administration to support
     broad access by individuals and groups to the GII
     development process, to online training, and to the GII
     itself.


        *       Governments should provide full disclosure of
     information infrastructure development plans and should
     encourage democratic participation in all aspects of the
     development process.
        *       The GII development process should not exclude
     citizens from countries that are currently unstable
     economically, have insufficient infrastructure, or lack
     sophisticated technology.
        *       The GII should provide nondiscriminatory access
     to online technology.
        *       To guarantee a full range of viewpoints, the GII
     should provide access to a diversity of information
     providers, including noncommercial educational, artistic,
     and other public interest service providers.
        *       The GII should provide two-way communication and
     should enable individuals to publish their own information
     and ideas.
        *       To protect diversity of access, the GII should
     have open and interoperable standards.
        *       Deployment of the GII should not have the purpose
     or effect of discriminating on the basis of race, colour,
     sex, language, religion, political or other opinion,
     national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
        *       The GII should encourage citizens to take an
     active role in public affairs by providing access to
     government information.
        *       Governments should encourage widespread use of
     the GII and should strive to provide adequate training.


        Information Privacy


     Recognizing the mandates of Article 12 of the UDHR and
     Article 17 of the ICCPR, we call on the Clinton
     Administration to promote strong information privacy rights
     on the GII.  Online communications are particularly
     susceptible to unauthorized scrutiny.  Encryption technology
     is needed to ensure that individuals and groups may
     communicate without fear of eavesdropping.  Lack of
     information privacy would inhibit online speech and
     unnecessarily limit the diversity of voices on the GII.


        *       Governments should ensure enforceable legal
     protections against unauthorized scrutiny and use by private
     or public entities of personal information on the GII.
        *       Personal information generated on the GII for one
     purpose should not be used for an unrelated purpose or
     disclosed without the person's informed consent.
        *       Individuals should be able to review personal
     information on the GII and to correct inaccurate
     information.
        *       The GII should provide privacy measures for
     transactional information as well as content.
        *       The Clinton Administration should oppose controls
     on the export and import of communications technologies,
     including encryption.


        *       Users of the GII should be able to encrypt their
     communications and information without restriction.
        *       Governments should be permitted to conduct
     investigations on the GII pursuant only to lawful authority
     and subject to judicial review.


     The G-7 Ministerial Conference on the Information Society
     will focus international attention on the development of the
     global information infrastructure.  We encourage the Clinton
     Administration to use this opportunity not simply to promote
     free expression values in principle, but to secure these
     values through specific decisions regarding the development,
     content, control and deployment of the GII.  We request that
     the U.S. add a "sixth principle" for adoption by the G-7
     gathering that explicitly recognizes a commitment to protect
     and promote the free exchange of ideas and information on the
     GII.  The U.S. is seen as the world's champion of the
     fundamental right of free expression, and it should continue
     to carry the free speech banner as it shapes the development
     of the GII.


     Sincerely,


     Gara LaMarche, Director
     Ann Beeson, Bradford Wiley Fellow
     Free Expression Project
     Human Rights Watch


     Marc Rotenberg
     Executive Director
     Electronic Privacy Information Center


     Ira Glasser
     Executive Director
     American Civil Liberties Union


     Judith F. Krug
     Director, Office for Intellectual Freedom
     American Library Association


     Sandy Coliver
     Law Program Director
     Article 19 International Centre Against Censorship


     Jerry Berman
     Executive Director
     Center for Democracy and Technology


     Andrew Taubman
     Executive Director
     Electronic Frontier Foundation


     Arthur J. Kropp
     President
     People for the American Way


     Simon Davies
     Director General
     Privacy International




     cc:  The Honorable Ronald Brown
          United States Secretary of Commerce


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