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Freedom to read? - getting a picture of the internet censorship


Päivikki Karhula

Artikkeli julkaistu Suomen Tieteellisen Kirjastoseuran lehdessä Signum, numerossa 3:2011

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People often experience that the space of free speech has increased duringthe internet era. However, this feeling may be related to users´ geographicallocation and social position. In fact, there is an opposite trendgoing on. Internet censorship has extended during last decade from a coupleof countries to over 60 countries. As a response to these challenges twoFinnish Universities together with IFLA´s FAIFE committee have launched aresearch project to study new forms of censorship.

Control over the internet extends

It is easy to find support for the view of extended sense of liberty based on fast and easy accesson the internet and fluent usability of social media. Lack of visible controlling forces also developusers' sense of borderless, safe and casual environment.

In practice, different efforts to restrict access toand use of the internet or to take control over the use of its´ contents are increasing. Although the most severe restrictions have been taken in usein so called closed countries, also different kinds of mechanisms to restrict and control the use ofthe internet have been applied in Europe and the USA. Major internet companies, like Google andFacebook, gather data as well on users and their information behaviour extensively.

Future plans to extend methods of controlthrough national or international regulations are well on their way. Governments have on severaloccasions suggested establishment of mechanisms which would practically give them controlover the users' content on the net. ACTA agreement, Hadopi laws ("3 strike laws") and BritishDigital Economy Act are some examples of these kinds of practices. Lately even Nicholas Sarkozyproposed strengthening of global internet control for G8-meeting. Users and their behavior onthe net are increasingly becoming under control and surveillance.

New formulation of problem is needed

Among the speeches of IFLA presidential meetingin The Hague 2011, Marietje Schaake, Memberof the European Parliament from the Netherlands,stated that at the moment there are threecore problems concerning intellectual freedom:access to information, copyrights and internetcensorship. Although access to the net is a crucialissue, it is no more the most problematic issue.Access only does not solve the problems ofrestricted use of the contents or data surveillance.It seems inevitable that we face a growing problemwith restricted access to internet contents.Accordingly, research on this field would bevery necessary. Internet censorship extends, newforms of censorship develop and these developmentsare accelerated by different parties. Also,as Marietje Schaake underlined, decision makerswould need a clearly defined message of the situationand considerations about how they couldsupport the user's rights.

The new forms of censorship have become verycomplex. Tools of control may be in the hand ofgovernment bodies, private companies or regular people. Also, there may be various commercial,political or religious goals behind new forms ofcensorship and data surveillance. Even groups ofcitizens may desire to use filtering, forced identificationor surveillance cameras to control the internetuse based on child protection or crime detection.Maybe the most worrying part in the newforms of censorship is that they become mostlyhidden from the user.

Up-to-date picture of censorship -research project launched

There are plenty of good reasons to study the development path and future perspectives of controlmechanisms and users' rights on the internet during last decade. FAIFE will participate inthis work through a research project. Freedom of speech and censorship in the internetera project was launched in January 2011. Chairman of FAIFE, professor Kai Ekholm, is aleader of the research project which will be completed 2011-2012. The research project is a cooperativebetween two Finnish universities, the University of Helsinki and Tampere UniversityDepartment of Information and Interactive Media Studies (INFIM). The research project isfunded by the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation - Helsingin Sanomat representing aleading Finnish media company. The project will be supported by a advisory board. Among theboard members are professor and FAIFE's former chairman PaulSturges, IFLA's senior policy advisor Stuart Hamilton and director of ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom Barbara Jones.

FAIFE involves in disussion

The outcomes of the project willbe shared in different forms andmedia including scientific journalsas well as social media. The main theme ofinternet censorship will be divided to group oftopics studying, e.g. internet culture, technologies,privacy and anonymity and forms of censorshipin different articles. All these topics will getattention on FAIFE's web pages, FAIFE Newsletterand FAIFE's social media channels.

Internet censorship and freedom of speechwill also be a major topic of discussion in severalevents which are targeted both at professionalsand general public. IFLA Conference 2012in Helsinki will be the main event to bring upthese topics.

Information on the project:

  • Kai Ekholm, library director, chairman of FAIFE, National Library of Finland email. Kai.ekholm[at]
  • Reijo Savolainen, professor, Information Studies and Interactive Media Studies (INFIM) Tampere University, email. Reijo.savolainen[at]
  • Päivikki Karhula, researcher Tampere University email.