Which freedoms do we want online?

We can't take an all or nothing approach to online expression, argues Bill Thompson.

The idea that the internet is an unregulated space where free expression is the guiding principle and we can all talk openly took another blow last week with the latest report on net filtering from the Open Net Initiative.

Their study found many countries were filtering websites and email, and some were blocking new services such as net telephony.

China, Burma, Tunisia and Iran were among the countries mentioned, and the overall message was that things are getting worse for the open internet.

I had been discussing many of the same issues just a few days earlier at a seminar at Wolfson College, Cambridge, where I am spending a term as a Press Fellow.

My colleague, Chinese journalist and blogger Michael Anti, pointed out that although political expression is tightly controlled in China the government is not really interested in other aspects of people's lives, while here in the UK we can talk about democracy but other forms of speech are restricted for legal and commercial reasons.

He has a point. The ONI report only looked at official, state-sanctioned filtering, and it did not consider the situation in the UK or US where most controls are imposed by companies trying to protect their reputation or achieve competitive advantage.



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