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Enemies of the internet named

Reporters Without Borders has called on IT managers to talk to companies that deal with repressive regimes
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Written by Tom Espiner on

Civil liberties group Reporters Without Borders has released its annual list of "Enemies of the Internet" — regimes the group claims restrict freedom of expression online.

Egypt is a new entrant to the list, with the RSF (Reporters sans frontières) claiming that president Hosni Mubarak displays an "extremely disturbing authoritarianism as regards the internet".

"Egypt is about harsh repression — they're jailing bloggers," said RSF Internet Freedom editor Julien Pain. RSF is protesting about three bloggers arrested in June 2006 and held for two to three months after calling for democratic reforms.

Three countries have been taken off the list because they have relaxed internet repression, as defined by RSF. Libya no longer censors the internet or jails cyber-dissidents, although RSF still sees president Muammar Gaddafi as "a press-freedom predator". Nepal and the Maldives also no longer censor the internet, according to RSF.

RSF called on IT managers and users to join an "online mobilisation" which encourages participants to click once on a world map to vote for a country they believe to restrict internet freedoms. The campaign has officially finished, but the website will be available for "a few more days", according to Pain. The protest has gathered over 17,000 individual votes in 24 hours, and began on Tuesday.

The organisation also urged IT managers to talk to technology companies that deal with repressive regimes, and resellers of those companies, to let them know of civil liberties concerns.

"IT managers can talk to resellers which buy Cisco products. They should know that Cisco is collaborating with the Chinese Government. I'm not saying managers should boycott Cisco, but if you have two products which are the same, at an equal price, don't buy Cisco," Pain told ZDNet UK.

Cisco supplies routers to the Chinese Government, which are used to maintain the "great firewall of China". It inspects web traffic for certain keywords that the Chinese Government wish to censor, including political ideologies and groups it finds unacceptable.

RSF also urged IT managers to "get in touch" with Yahoo to talk about its role in the arrest and prosecution of Shi Tao, a journalist sentenced to 10 years' hard labour after Yahoo turned his email records over to the Chinese authorities. IT managers could request that Yahoo relocate its Chinese mailservers, said RSF.

"Operating a mail service located in China is a terrible decision," said Pain. "If the servers are in China the police have full authority to access them."

ZDNet UK understands that while Google will not place its mailservers in China, Microsoft may be planning to do so. Microsoft responded to a request for comment with this statement:

"Microsoft previously announced revised policies and procedures with respect to MSN services, while at the same time maintaining our commitment to operate in China."

"We have publicly stated that industry should advocate policies and principles that maximise the value of the internet for individual users, including basic protections for human rights, commercial integrity and the reliability of information. We are working on these issues with our industry colleagues and international human rights experts to consider the kinds of principles that would advance these values on an industry basis."

"Given this, we think it would be premature to commit to any specific proposal at this time."

RSF plans to meet Yahoo next week to deliver a CD with 340 voice messages from RSF site users commenting on Yahoo and internet freedom. The CD will also contain 3,000 text messages about censorship.

The 13 countries presently on the RSF list of "Enemies of the Internet" are Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria,Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

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