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UN Forum: Property Rights Vs. Internet Freedom


UN forum tackles balance between property rights and Internet freedom

Reconciling the free flow of information with intellectual property law topped the agenda today as the United Nations Internet Governance Forum, which has brought together 1,700 delegates from government, civil society and the private sector this week, continued its discussions in Rio de Janeiro.

"For many outside this room, IP does not mean 'Internet Protocol' but 'Intellectual Property'," said Masanobu Katoh, Fujitsu's Corporate Vice-President. Freedom of information and regulations could coexist, as shown by legislation and guidelines adopted by the United States Congress, the European Parliament and Japan.

Self-regulation by the private sector should supplement government action, he said, and the dilemma between Internet freedom and Internet regulation could be resolved by striking a balance among the various competing interests.

Alexandre Jobim of the International Association of Broadcasters said broadcasters were held accountable through laws prohibiting child pornography, incitation to violence and other crimes. But these same restrictions did not apply to the Internet, leading to an unfair imbalance between traditional and Web-based media. Broadcasters fully supported Internet freedom, but saw the need to limit online criminal activities.

Nick Dearden of Amnesty International said Internet filtering was spreading rapidly, activists were imprisoned for legitimate online activities and companies cooperated with governments in censorship. "As Internet access continues to grow, this repression seems certain to increase as well," he said.

"For many governments across the world, human rights are actually slipping down the agenda," he said. Governments were concerned about credit card frauds, child pornography and cyberterrorism but seldom mentioned freedom of expression.

Peter Dengate, Chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), said freedom of expression was sacrosanct, but so was "the freedom to enjoy the fruits of your labour and the freedom to enjoy the undisturbed use of your property." The Internet had made the copying of property "extraordinarily easy," with images, music and texts able to be taken and used instantly.

Carlos Gregorio, an expert in privacy rights, said everybody wanted to keep the broadest degree of openness possible, but this was making people vulnerable, and "the State is a main destroyer of the balance between access and privacy."

In Latin America, many of the websites of the judiciary had been made public in the name of transparency, but in one country the names and social security numbers of almost all people living with HIV/AIDS, most of them children, were available online. Workers who had sued their former employer saw the verdict posted on the Web, and would never be hired again.

"Privacy, regrettably, is being lost," Mr. Gregorio said, "and it will be very difficult to keep it up."

ENDS

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