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Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

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Internet Rights Portal Meets Growing Need

13 June 2003

Internet rights activists and practitioners met last night to celebrate the launch of the UK Internet Rights Website, www.internetrights.org.uk



Coordinator of the UK Civil Society Internet Rights project, Karen Banks introduced the project recalling the event that sparked its origins. “When we received a legal threat 5 years ago from Carter Ruck alleging that we were by-proxy hosting defamatory and libelous content, we knew we had some tough challenges ahead.”

Speaking at the launch, website author, Paul Mobbs said, “When laws are passed that affect people access to water or electricity, then thousands of people march together in the streets; but when a government passes a law that enables it to read people’s personal email, then there is silence.

Our rights of expression and association have been steadily built up over the last 200 years. Today we have access to media and can associate freely. But in 20 years, when many media outlets will be online, as will many public services, will we enjoy these same rights of access and expression? We need to work today to ensure that the rights we take for granted in the real world are effectively transposed to the virtual world. At the moment, they are not.”

Mobbs attributed this fact to the complexity and technicality of the issues and the lack of easy-to-understand information that explains to people how legislation governing the Internet has profound effects on our daily lives.

The UK Civil Society Internet Rights project aims to meet this need by providing a wide range of information resources that will engage people in adding their voices to the important debates that will govern the Information Society in the future.

Aimed particularly at civil society organisations who wish to be actively involved in ICT policy development, the website contains detailed briefings as well as concise fact sheets outlining some of the major issues in Internet rights, including data retention, software patents, online privacy and anti-terrorism legislation.

The site also contains practical toolkits for those who wish to find out more about how encryption is used to protect a person’s privacy online, how the Internet can be used as an effective tool in lobbying and the rights of workers in the Information Society – amongst other topics.

UKIR website project manager, Heather Ford, said “The site was built around the idea that these are important issues that need to be ‘made real’ and understandable for civil society organisations so that they can actively engage in the policy making process. The latest feature on data retention, for example, explains current proposals by the UK government to retain communications data and maps out possible implications of this for UK civil society and the general public.”

The UK Civil Society Internet Rights project is part of a global initiative of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) to secure the Internet as a space for open debate and discussion. Until recently, the social norms of Internet communities, together with a very open architecture based on supporting these norms, regulated the Internet, and was responsible for its openness. The main forces of regulation now, however, are the business sector and government legislation. Corporations and governments are pressing for fundamental changes in legislation and in the architecture of the Internet. Unless challenged, these moves could radically change the nature of the Internet, making it a place of oppressive controls instead of freedom and openness.

In a letter from the APC, Executive Director, Anriette Esterhuysen, stated, “The APC is proud to be associated with the UK Internet Rights project.” She added that, “This project is doing precisely what we believe is necessary if people are to secure Internet rights in a sustainable way: fighting the battle at the local level.”

This site promises to be a useful tool in our attempts to recognise and articulate the right of every person to communicate by making use of the vast opportunities afforded by the Internet and ICTs.

The UK Internet Rights Project was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

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