The human rights group Amnesty International has called on internet service providers to do more to protect free speech online.
Speaking at the annual awards dinner held last week by the Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA), Amnesty's campaigns director, Tim Hancock, told delegates that: "Web users and service providers alike have a responsibility to keep alive the things that have made the internet great — its democracy, its freedom and the way it gives people access to knowledge and the opportunity to participate and be heard, in a way that was unthinkable 45 years ago".
Hancock also criticised "companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo [that] continue to do the bidding of the Chinese authorities and deny people in China their basic rights to freedom of expression and information — by censoring search results, for example". Hancock said that he was hopeful negotiations between Amnesty and those companies would bear fruit.
"Some governments fear the spread of information, the free exchange of ideas and independent expression. The internet is the means of delivering it. It's a forum for freedom and that's why the authorities in many countries seek to constrain it," Hancock added.
Last year, Amnesty accused networking giant Cisco of helping China create its Great Firewall — the internet-filtering system that prevents its citizens from accessing certain sites. Yahoo has been accused of helping the Chinese government catch cyber-dissidents, while Google has admitted that it may have been a mistake to launch a censored version of its search engine for the Chinese market.
Responding to Amnesty's call, the chair of the ISPA council, Jessica Hendrie-Liaño, said ISPA was "in regular dialogue with the UK government, NGOs and other stakeholders regarding online content" and was "pleased to be in a position to offer Amnesty International a platform to encourage freedom of expression on the internet around the world".
Last May, Amnesty launched a website to campaign for online freedom. So far, more than 60,000 people have signed the site's pledge to protect freedom of speech on the internet.
The ISPA event also saw European commissioner Viviane Reding awarded the title of internet villain of the year.