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Amnesty takes a strike against web censorship

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The worldwide movement of activists who campaign for internationally recognised human rights launched a campaign on Sunday to challenge what it calls the increasing governmental censorship of the internet.

In conjunction with The Observer newspaper and multimedia art company Soda Creative, Amnesty set up the Irrepressible website as a flagship for the campaign.

"The web is a great tool for sharing ideas and freedom of expression," the group states on the new website.

However, efforts to try and control the internet are growing in countries like China, Iran, Myanmar, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Syria and Vietnam, it said.

"People are persecuted and imprisoned simply for criticising their government, calling for democracy, and greater press freedom or exposing human rights abuses online," the Irrepressible.info site states.

The campaign urges people who operate websites or send emails to include a "badge" that contains some of the censored information. These badges can be copied and pasted from the Irrepressible.info website.

The badge "contains a fragment of web content that somebody somewhere has tried to suppress", Kate Allen, the British representative for Amnesty International, wrote in an Observer article published on Sunday. The emails with attached "badges" will then circulate the censored writings around the globe and thwart efforts to suppress certain information.

Amnesty is urging people to petition governments to cease censoring the web. It also urged technology companies not to facilitate such activities. Information technology companies "have helped build the systems that enable surveillance and censorship to take place", Amnesty claims.

The Irrepressible website cites Yahoo! as an example of an email provider which has supplied confidential user information to the Chinese authorities resulting in suppression of freedom of expression, and even jail terms.

Amnesty claims Microsoft and Google have also complied with Chinese requests. In a recent visit to Dublin soon after Google unveiled its Chinese search site, Google's "Internet Evangelist" Vint Cerf told ENN that the company's hidden success had been allowing Chinese users to know when information they requested had been censored.

"It's amazing the Chinese government let us do that," he said, adding that Google had to be sensitive to local laws to protect locally-based employees from prosecution

Amnesty works with the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), which publicises internet censorship. ONI members include the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, the Advanced Network Research Group at the University of Cambridge and the Oxford Internet Institute.

ONI documents patterns of internet filtering and surveillance worldwide. Reports on 11 countries show "the scope, scale and sophistication of numerous filtering regimes worldwide", it said.

Copyright © 2006, ENN

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