| The Internet has long been a headache for those that wish
to uphold public
decency. Controlling the enormous flow of information on the net, chopping,
spiking or "correcting" the innumerable texts and images lodged
on the web
is surely the dream of any censor.
The only problem is that no one has yet managed to put this fantasy
practice. In essence, the Internet does not differ significantly from
spoken word. Newspapers and TV channels can be controlled, books can be
burned, but as the Soviet authorities learned, it is impossible to control
what people say in the privacy of their own kitchens. The Worldwide Web
just such an uncontrolled "space," in which everyone is free
to act as they
wish, so long as they have access to a computer and modem.
However, members of the Federation Council are determined to bring an
to this Internet anarchy. They are working on a law that would regulate
publishing of material on the web. Tuva's senator, Lyudmila Narusova,
member of the Federation Council's commission on information policy,
believes that the situation calls for immediate intervention by the
appropriate authorities: "The Internet has become a cesspit where
dump anything, without making one's case or in any way verifying its
authenticity," she said. "It is spreading like the plague --
that's why it
is high time to do something. On the Internet, one can find the most
incredible rumors, including those that denigrate people's reputations.
while one can sue a newspaper, with the Internet this is virtually
Absolutely true -- the Internet is indeed full of rubbish and has its
share of outright filth. The real issue, though, is who should be
responsible for sorting the wheat from the chaff and using what criteria.
On this count, it seems our senators have no doubts: Specially empowered
officials will do the job and whatever they do not like will be labeled
rubbish and filth.
Narusova and her colleagues are not exactly original in their desire
bring order to the Internet. Where the real originality lies is in the
proposed methods for achieving this end. Until now, all such attempts
come up against the problem of the web's extraterritoriality. The moment
you close down a site in Russia, it pops up in Belarus. What is illegal
Germany, can be put on the web in Denmark. Where a site is registered
no importance to Internet users.
Our senators studied the unsuccessful experience of their Western
colleagues. According to Narusova, they are not so interested in
controlling websites, as in being able to bring to book "the authors
sites that publish all manner of cock-and-bull stories."
This approach to Internet censorship promises to be highly effective.
text can be placed on the net anywhere, but it is much harder for the
person responsible for the text to hide. He or she has a home, work,
friends -- it's not that easy to up sticks and move. Of course, materials
will be published anonymously. But even forcing authors under ground would
be a serious victory for the authorities.
If the Russian experiment proves successful, we can expect it to be
exported to other countries. Right-wing fundamentalists in the United
States have long dreamed of doing something similar, but they simply lacked
imagination. The Chinese communists may very well be interested. Indeed,
one could well imagine the emergence of a global cartel, coordinating
censorship of the web. There would be nowhere to run.
No doubt, Narusova would be very upset to learn that she is suspected
involvement in trying to impose worldwide totalitarianism. She is linked
not to the Communists or nationalists, but specifically to the democratic
and liberal part of Russia's political establishment. And her roots are
St. Petersburg, famous for its liberal traditions.
In order that there should be no doubt about the democratic approach
problem, Internet site owners and representatives of public organizations
will be called upon to assist in drafting the law. Representatives of
of the largest IT companies have already been tapped. Obviously to refuse
would be a show of disloyalty.
"We cannot allow one of the best inventions of the 20th century
turned into a reeking cesspit. I hope you won't argue with that,"
said. Sacred words.
The only thing is, the Internet accurately reflects reality as it is
society. Don't blame the mirror, if the Internet is unseemly -- work to
make things better instead.
Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.
the original at
Freedom of Speech
and Media Law in Russia