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Our free and unfettered use of the internet under attack

It is hard to envisage daily life without computers and for almost everyone of us, access to a PC, Mac or tablet devise.     With that access and widespread use of the www has come freedom of expression and the ability to write freely and openly.    Witness WikiLeaks as just one example of the internet being harnessed to reveal papers which Governments would much rather have kept under wraps.    And therein lies the danger as governments around the globe, whatever their political hue, try to curb the use of the internet or at least impose restrictions of one sort or another.

"In horror movies, the scariest moments usually come from the monster you can't see. So the same goes for real life, or at least online life. Over the past few years, largely out of sight, governments have been clawing back freedoms on the internet, turning an invention that was designed to emancipate the individual into a tool for surveillance and control. In the next few months, this process is set to be enshrined internationally, amid plans to put cyberspace under the authority of a largely secretive and obscure UN agency.

If this succeeds, this will be an important boost to states' plans to censor the web and to use it to monitor citizens. Virtually all governments are at it. Some are much worse than others. The introduction last month of a law in Russia creating a blacklist of websites that contain "extremist" content was merely the latest example of an alarming trend. Authoritarian states have long seen cyberspace as the ultimate threat to their source of power.

They are given succour by self-styled democracies who seek to introduce legislation enhancing the rights of authorities and security agencies to snoop. The British government's current draft communications bill would produce a system of blanket collection and retention of all online data. As the group Privacy International pointed out in its submission to parliament: "The technology that will be used is only currently deployed in Kazakhstan, China and Iran … subjecting citizens to the near certainty of ongoing and unremitting interference in their private lives."

All governments, whatever their hue, cite similar threats: terrorism and organised crime, child pornography and intellectual property are the ones most commonly used. Unsurprisingly these, and local variants, are used by dictatorships, who need merely to point to precedents set in the west to counter any criticism with the charge of hypocrisy.

The internet, as originally envisaged, was borderless. In theory, anyone could – if they had access to the bandwidth – find out information anywhere and communicate with anyone. The demarcation between free expression and data and identify privacy on the one hand, and the state's right to security on the other, is continually debated and recalibrated, partly due to technological advances."


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