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Creeping censorship: Governments look to control online speech

President Barack Obama leaves the White House in Washington Tuesday, June 21, 2016, for a visit at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

At least a dozen countries have enacted laws that restrict online speech, and concern has grown that it’s the beginning, not the end of such restrictions.

China and Iran have restricted the online speech of their citizens for years, according to Yahoo! News. Now, countries such as Brazil, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bolivia, Kenya, and Nigeria are considering following in their footsteps.

A report on internet governance from the OECD, prepared by the London-based Chatham House and the Centre for International Governance Innovation, describes of dangers of governments restricting free speech and controlling content on the internet.

The risks mentioned in the report include intrusive surveillance, rising cybercrime, and fragmentation.

Advocates of restricting online speech say some of the proposals would criminalize conversations that “disturb the public order” or “convey false statements.” Critics say that those measures could curtail political speech.

“Free expression is one of the foundational elements of the internet. It shouldn’t be protecting the political interests of the ruling party or something of that sort,” Michael Chertoff, former secretary of Homeland Security and co-author of the report, said.

“This is the next evolution of political suppression,” Richard Forno, assistant director of the University of Maryland Baltimore County Center for Cybersecurity said. “Technology facilitates freedom of expression, and politicians don’t like that.”

Proposals to restrict online speech are not just occurring in foreign nations. In the United States, some have called for restrictions on internet communication.

In November, President Obama asked the FCC to pass the “strongest possible” rules to preserve net neutrality, despite many opponents believing it will restrict free speech and allow government censorship.

A June 2-1 decision in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the FCC’s 2015 order to regulate the internet under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, more commonly known as “net neutrality.”

This ruling came despite legal challengers claiming that the order violated administrative law, the Communications Act, and the First Amendment.

“The decision ratifies the FCC’s decades-long transformation from economic regulator to social regulator and, if not reversed, will do lasting damage to U.S. technology and to free speech,” Brent Skorup wrote for National Review.

According to law professor Tim Wu, net neutrality gives the FCC the ability to shape “media policy, social policy, oversight of the political process, and issues of free speech.”

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