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UK Internet Freedom Advocates Issue Open Letter Opposing ISP Net Censorship

Posted: 02nd Nov, 2011 By: MarkJ
consumer opinionUK internet censorshipA group of 11 organisations and "experts" on freedom of expression and privacy online have issued an open letter to the UK government's Foreign Secretary, William Hague MP, which calls upon him to "reject censorship and surveillance" of the internet.

The move occurred on the same day that William Hague warned other countries, including China and Russia, that cyberspace should never be "stifled by government control or censorship". The new letter notes that the UK's desire to promote such ideals internationally is potentially now being undermined by its own domestic policy.
The Open Letter

Dear [William Hague],

World leaders will today converge on London for the Conference on Cyberspace.

The conference will take place in the shadow of revolutions that have laid bare the relationship between technology, citizens' freedom and political power.

This has created a unique opportunity for the UK government to show leadership in promoting the rights of citizens online.

However, the government's record on freedom of expression and privacy is less than ideal. Britain's desire to promote these ideals internationally is being hampered by domestic policy.

The government is currently considering greater controls over what legal material people are allowed to access on the Internet. This is clear from recent public support by the Prime Minister, and through Claire Perry MP's ongoing inquiry, for plans to filter adult and other legal material on UK Internet connections by default. The new PREVENT counter-terrorism strategy contains similar proposals for the filtering of material that is legal but deemed undesirable.

Earlier this year the Prime Minister suggested there should be more powers to block access to social media, a policy that drew praise from China and which the government swiftly backed away from. There are also plans for more pervasive powers to surveil and access people's personal information online.

The government now has an historic opportunity to support technologies that promote rather than undermine people's political and social empowerment.

We call for the UK government to seize this opportunity to reject censorship and surveillance that undermines people's rights to express themselves, organise or communicate freely. That is the only way to both enshrine the rights of citizens in the UK and to support these principles internationally.

This government should be proud to stand up for freedom of expression and privacy off- and online.

This conference should herald a new stage in which these principles are upheld in UK policy.

Yours sincerely,

Brett Soloman, Executive Director, Access,
Dr Agnes Callamard, Executive Director, Article 19
Cory Doctorow, Fellow, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Jonathan Heawood, Director, English PEN
Evgeny Morozov, author, 'The Net Delusion'
Andrew Puddephatt, Director, Global Partners
Heather Brooke, author, 'The Revolution will be Digitised'
John Kampfner, CEO, Index on Censorship
Tony Curzon Price, Editor-in-Chief, openDemocracy
Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group
Simon Davies, Director, Privacy International
The letter makes a number of fair points, although any "plans to filter adult and other legal material on UK Internet connections by default" now look unlikely to happen. Four of the country's biggest broadband ISPs recently agreed to a new Code of Practice, which among other things will give customers a clear choice about whether or not to block adult sites (here).
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