May 14, 2005 23:28 | Political / Technology

WSIS, censorship & RSF

Michael is in Winnipeg participating in a UNESCO sponsored conference in preparation for it's presence at the WSIS summit in Tunisia in the fall.

This is serious, big boys stuff. ;)

He just reported something VERY disturbing:

The Tunisian ambassador to Canada has been here the whole conference (and some other guy from the Tunisian gov.) and he was a member of the welcoming commitee. The thing is - the internet in Tunisia is censored, so that Tunisians can't even visit the websites of the groups that will be at the conference. There's this human rights guy from tunisia and he keeps on bringing it up, and then the Minister get's all huffy and has to go and clear his government from blame.

This strikes me as not just ironic, but plainly idiotic.

Reporters Without Borders puts it thusly:

"President Ben Ali believes that the fact the UN agreed to hold a summit on the Internet in his country means the international community approves of his policy in this field," the organisation said. "We believe that, on the contrary, the Internet model advocated by Tunisia, combining censorship and crackdown, should be condemned by countries that care about freedom of expression".

No kidding.
/me is holding tongue... biting it even...

Poking around the Reporters Without Borders webiste I notice they have nominated a couple of weblog journailsts I know (even one who's site I built) for "freedom of expression blog" awards:
Dan Gillmor (Americas), Ethan Zuckermann (International), Rebecca McKinnon's "NKZone" (Asia), Hossein Derakhshan (Iran).

Great, congrats. Now, can we do something about the WSIS telling a president that it's ok to crackdown and censor access to information?

From WSIS's Declaration of Principles:

1. We, the representatives of the peoples of the world, assembled in Geneva from 10-12 December 2003 for the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, declare our common desire and commitment to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

4. We reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that 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. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers.

Gott es wullen, das gibt's ja doch neht! So ein verdamtes Bloedzihn.


I agree that it's a big concern. I guess that the thinking is that Tunisia is willingly opening their current policy to criticism by hosting this conference. Unesco might be gambling that this will help advance the cause. Just a guess - I'm not trying to excuse anyone.

What I find strange/difficult to comprehend is Unesco Canada's unwillingness to condemn Tunisia's Internet policy.

The same goes when business is in game. As Mikel said in his weblog, the censorship system in China is built by… Nortel Networks, a canadian company (and others). Once again it shows that a free market is not necessary what makes people free.

The fact that some organization does not condemn openly some practices is a question of strategy. I'm often the one who will open my mouth, but sometimes it's not that effective. Boris instead tries to convince people even if they do things wrong and step by step change the road. For humaninatarian organizations, the same thing is happening, You can surely make a blow statement saying "Hey, guys you are bad", and a few months after, if you want to help schools, to install a medical team in a region with problems, authorities will tell you "Hey, we are bad, you don't have the right to enter". Then the people who are suffering about it… are not the politics, but the common people.

Sometimes all people know about the dirty thing, but the best way to move forward is a kind of shut-up and take actions.

Sad, but reality. But boris will say I blah blah too much ;) sorry for the space used.

A few references:
[[[The report, published last week,
singled out Microsoft, Sun, Cisco, Nortel
Networks and Websense as vendors that have
"provided important technology which helps
the Chinese authorities censor the Internet."]]]

Amnesty International report

Foreign companies, including Websense and Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks, Microsoft,(27) have reportedly provided important technology which helps the Chinese authorities censor the Internet. Nortel Networks(28) along with some other international firms are reported to be providing China with the technology which will help it shift from filtering content at the international gateway level to filtering content of individual computers, in homes, Internet cafes, universities and businesses.

Many companies, including notably Nortel Networks, until recently Canada’s largest firm, are playing key roles in meeting the security needs of the Chinese government. Nortel Networks and other international firms are in effect helping China to displace the firewall it constructed at the international gateway with a more sophisticated system of content filtration at the individual level.


In order to make the Golden Shield a reality, the Chinese government is dependent upon the technological expertise and investment of Western companies. Canada’s Nortel Networks is playing a key role in these developments as witnessed by:

-- its joint research with Tsinghua University on specific forms of speech recognition technology, for the purpose of automated surveillance of telephone conversations;

-- its strong and early support for FBI plans to develop a common standard to intercept telephone communications, known as CALEA, in conjunction with technology transfer through its joint venture, Guangdong Nortel (GDNT);

-- its close relationship with Datang Telecom, a Chinese firm with substantial interests in the state security market in China;

-- the promotion of JungleMUX which allows video surveillance data to be transported from remote cameras back to a centralized surveillance point to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS);

-- the deployment of its "Personal Internet" suite in Shanghai, greatly enhancing the ability of Internet service providers to track the communications of individual users;

-- a US$10 million project to build a citywide fibre-optic broadband network in Shanghai (OPTera) enabling central authorities to monitor the interests of subscribers at the "edge" of the network, principally through the Shasta 5000 firewall, in direct conflict with the right to privacy. This technology will also make it more difficult for dissidents to have clandestine communications and facilitate police monitoring of Internet users attempting to access URLs not judged appropriate by the Chinese government;

-- the integration of face recognition and voice recognition technology in collaboration with AcSys Biometrics, a subsidiary of Burlington, Ontario-based NEXUS. (2)