'Predators Of Digital Freedoms'

internet privacy 091200 AP

Several Western democracies have become "predators of digital freedoms," using the fight against terrorism to increase surveillance on the Internet, an international media-rights group said Thursday.

Reporters Without Borders criticized not only authoritarian states such as China that tightly police Internet use, but also Western governments — including the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Denmark — and the European Parliament.

"A year after the tragic events in New York and Washington, the Internet can be included on the list of 'collateral damage,"' the Paris-based group said in a report. "Cyber-liberty has been undermined and fundamental digital freedoms have been amputated."

The report accused China, Vietnam and other countries hostile to dissent of using the international counterterrorism campaign "to strengthen their police mechanisms and legal frameworks relating to the Web and to increase pressure on cyber-dissidents."

Among cases cited was that of Li Dawei, a former policeman sentenced in July to 11 years in prison on charges of using the Internet to subvert the Chinese government.

But even among Western democracies, "many countries have adopted laws, measures and actions that are poised to put the Internet under the tutelage of security services," Reporters Without Borders said.

It said measures to record information about Web sites visited and e-mails sent and received risk turning Internet providers and telecommunications firms "into potential branches of the police."

Since Sept. 11, many governments have sought to respond to concerns that terrorists can use the speed, ease of communication and relative anonymity of the Internet to plan attacks, swap information, transfer funds and publicize their ideas.

Critics fear the measures will erode users' privacy and freedom of speech, cause them to trust the Internet less and ultimately hurt the Internet's value as a new communications medium.

Two other advocacy groups, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Privacy International, also said in a report this week that governments worldwide have made it easier for authorities to eavesdrop on telephone and online conversations in order to fight terror.

Reporters Without Borders cited dozens of measures adopted or proposed by governments to expand police powers on the Web, including:

  • A Canadian anti-terrorist law adopted last December "clearly undermines the confidentiality of exchanges of electronic mail," the group said.

  • "Magic Lantern" technology being developed by the FBI will allow investigators to secretly install over the Internet powerful eavesdropping software to record every keystroke on a person's computer.

  • A new French law requires Internet providers to keep records of e-mail exchanges for one year and make it easier for authorities to decode messages protected by encryption software.
    • Jaime Holguin

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