Curtailing Internet
The 6th Letter in the series Cyberactions

The European Union proposes to prohibit unsolicited e-mail, so-called spam. Of course I do not want to be bothered by obtrusive messages from people who want to sell me something. I should like to get rid of all commercial advertisements. But what happens if citizens want to send their ideas around. Will this also be considered as spam, will this also be prohibited? Will the freedom to communicate with other citizens through the Internet be curtailed?

It is sure the European lawmakers have thought of this possibility. Internet is a factor in the greater openness of our society and some people at the top do not like openness. They prefer to act in secrecy without being bothered by awkward questions of common citizens. In the USA many sites have already been removed and other sites are whitewashed of pages that could be connected with terrorism. Terrorism is (just the same as with spam) not precisely defined. The government determines what is terrorism (and also what is spam). The sites of the Trilateral Commission and of the Carlyle Group (which later reappeared as www.carlylegroup.com) suddenly vanished from the Net. It are sites of two important American (financial) think tanks that now advice in a quiet and hard to disturb surroundings. www.imf.org (International Monetary Fund) and www.worldbank.com lost many interesting pages. Other leaders could not find anymore some important information. 

But blocking information is also done by the elite. Without any warning Yahoo removed my site but I was neither the first nor the last victim of censorship by commercial enterprises. www.cafeunderground.com had also its difficulties because the contents was controversial or better said was not very appreciated by some members of the establishment. Another site was even bombed by viruses and had to change provider. Already before 9/11 the American administration closed down a provider that took care of Internet connections of many Americans with an Arab background. Maybe some clients had connections with suspected terrorists but many innocent citizens were harmed. In the Afghan War they call that collateral damage, the consequence of the picking up of a yellow cluster bomb instead of a yellow food dropping.  

Yahoo is very active. In Yahoo-groups people are free to discuss, at least that is what you should suppose but The Washington Post of November 17 writes that already accepted messages are later removed: “But what's revealing is what is being deleted.  Gone are some gloating messages that say America deserved the attacks.  Gone are some links to extremist sites promoting a jihad, or holy war, against the Western world. Gone too is a sarcastic note posted by college student Usman Sheikh: "America successfully attacks terrorists, pinpoint smart bombing," the note began, linking to pictures of bloody children who were hurt or killed as a result of the recent military raids”.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2001/1203/p1s3-ussc.html) points to the premeditated removal of pages from government sites: "We're an open society, but we're at war," says Bush and all kinds of data about pollution of nature that can be used by environmental action groups suddenly vanished. “The Pentagon has urged defense contractors to use discretion in publicizing "even seemingly innocuous industrial information" normally touted in press releases. The federal Freedom of Information Act has been curtailed. Calls have surfaced to censor environmental groups that reveal toxic polluters in the name of public health and safety.” The Afghan War is being used to reduce the flow of awkward questions of common citizens. Several scientific publications that maybe had something to do with weapons (f.e. the production of chemicals) vanished. But not only terrorists but also trusted scientists cannot anymore find necessary data even if they are vital for their research. In this way the curtailing of the freedom of information becomes a handicap in the further development of the economy. The petrifaction of our society has already started by forcing citizens to wear strait-jackets – and we have already so many laws and rules that nobody knows anymore what is allowed and what not. Only the elite can avoid the restricting laws with the help of expensive lawyers.

But indeed, the Romans said already Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi, what Jupiter may do is not allowed to the bulls. But we, the bulls, want to live in freedom with an open Internet. And that is not possible when the government gets the right to monitor and store e-mail of citizens. See the article in Le Monde Diplomatique with the title The Fragile Superpower US no longer the land of the free. (http://www.statewatch.org/news/2001/nov/10lemonde.htm

The situation has not yet deteriorated as far as in China where people can be arrested because they visit “wrong” Internet sites. But I am sure that under the many citizens arrested after 9/11 – and who are not allowed to talk to lawyers and to their family – some were arrested because they made a “wrong” use of Internet for example by surfing too much to the site of Al-Jazeera. Bush did already try – up till now in vain – to close this news source. But several American columnists lost their job because they were too critical of this unscrupulous American War. The European Union is making a whole litany of new laws that can be used against any criticism of governments. See http://www.statewatch.org where you can find many articles for example about “the threats to civil liberties post-11 September/European Commission anti-hacking proposal”.  

To demonstrate the mentality of the present world leaders I will conclude by citing some sentences from the New York Times of 8 December 2001: "It's no longer just politically incorrect to criticize George W. Bush or anyone in his administration these days — now it's treason. John Ashcroft, testifying before the Senate on Thursday, declared that those who challenge his wisdom "only aid terrorists" and will "give ammunition to America's enemies." The danger that our freedom will be damaged seriously comes closer."

Freedom must be preserved and guarded against someone who is hiding behind the slogan: "you are either with us or against us". It is not only possible but it is necessary to remain critical of everything what is happening. Otherwise the autonomy and the creativity of people will vanish and these are just two important characteristics that distinguish man from other animals.

Joost van Steenis (December 9 2001)


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