Study: Antiterror campaign curbs Net freedoms

The antiterrorism efforts sparked by last year's Sept. 11 attacks have already taken a serious toll on Internet freedoms, as governments worldwide have clamored to increase surveillance, clamp down on hackers and shield content, a report released Thursday revealed.

The report, issued by Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, says that while antiterrorism-terrorism legislation and regulations were put into place to shore up security following Sept. 11 they have also served to chill free speech and stymie the flow of information on the Net.

"One year after the tragic events in New York and Washington, the Internet can be added to the list of 'collateral damage' caused by the general spate of security measures," the report said.

The group flagged legislation such as the USA Patriot Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush last October, and the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act passed in Britain last October, as flagrant Internet curtailers.

Among other things, the Patriot Act seeks to increase electronic surveillance, loosen wiretap rules, and place stiffer penalties on Internet hackers. The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, meanwhile, increases the amount of time that Internet service providers (ISPs) have to retain users' Net activity, and also gives the Interior Minister the power to monitor financial transactions and private e-mail traffic, according to the report.

But the U.S. and Britain, the most high-volume anti-terrorism saber rattlers, were not the only countries to pass Net stifling legislation, the report says. India, Italy, Spain, Germany and Denmark and Canada were also cited.

"The Internet is not just under siege in countries traditionally hostile to freedom of expression. It is also threatened in Western democracies," the report states.

Reporters Without Borders said that measures such as general retention of e-mails and information on which Web sites people visit are worrisome, as well as moves that turn ISPs and telephone companies into a potential arm of the police.

Furthermore, countries which were already considered to be "enemies of the Internet" have used the heightened security concerns to further crackdown on Net activities, the group said.

China, for instance, sentenced a cyber dissident to 11 years in prison last August and Tunisia jailed a Web site founder who was critical of the president.

Warning that Internet freedoms continue to be threatened by the new anti-terrorism measures, the group concluded that "we must be more vigilant."

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