Amnesty International warns that the Internet could change dramatically, unless action is taken against the erosion of online freedoms. From London, Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA.
Amnesty International UK made the warning before a global Web-cast conference that will feature victims of Internet repression from around the world.
Amnesty International UK Campaign Director Tim Hancock said "the virus of Internet repression" is spreading. He cited China, where the Internet allows economic growth but curbs free speech or privacy. Hancock said dozens of governments are following the Chinese model by arresting bloggers and blocking Web sites.
He accused major Internet companies of attempting to expand their markets by colluding with governments' efforts to control what people see on line. Amnesty says Internet companies such as Cisco, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! are providing filter hardware and releasing personal data that leads to arrests.
When challenged on their presence in countries such as China, the Internet companies have maintained that they are simply abiding by local laws.
Amnesty spokesman Steve Ballinger told VOA that the companies are putting profit ahead of the human rights of web users who are their customers.
"Companies have tried to use local laws as an excuse for the way they have operated in these countries," said Ballinger. "All Amnesty is saying is the companies have an obligation to act within international human rights standards and global human rights norms and just because the laws in a country like China for example might require them to act against human rights that does not mean they must roll over and do so without a fight."
Amnesty noted an increase in reports of 'Internet filtering' around the world. It says some governments block access to specific sites or sites featuring particular words or themes.
Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Burma Ethiopia, India, Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Thailand and Tunisia are named as among at least 25 countries where state mandated net filtering is practiced.
Politically motivated closures of Web sites and Internet cafes, as well as threats or imprisonment are more widespread, Amnesty says. It gave the example of Egyptian blogger Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman who was sentenced to four years of prison earlier this year for "contempt of religion" and "defaming the President of Egypt."
The conference Web cast is entitled Some People Think the Internet is a Bad Thing: The Struggle for Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace can be watched on www.amnesty.org.uk/Webcast.
It will look into the future of Internet freedom and how Web users are using the power of the Internet to resist attempts to repress freedom of speech by governments and global information technology companies.
Amnesty said it recognizes the need for some limits to freedom of expression, such as stopping Web sites promoting racial hatred, violence or child pornography.