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OSCE Experts Favor Free Internet With Wider Access - 2004-08-27

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says it wants to see maximum freedom of expression on the Internet, as well as wider access worldwide.

OSCE officials say the organization is beginning to worry about restrictions it says have been imposed by some governments on the Internet.

Media and legal experts from the United States, the Council of Europe and the United Nations agreed at the Amsterdam meeting that, without proper care, the Internet could be abused as a technology of control.

Alexander Ivanko, a representative from the OSCE media office, said, for instance, that, in the past, the government of Uzbekistan, in Central Asia has set up firewalls to block access to certain Web sites. Matthew Berry of the U.S. Justice Department told VOA such an approach is a mistake.

"Some governments seem to see the Internet as something to be feared, and they wish to control the Internet, and wish to either deny citizens Internet, access or strictly filter the sites which their citizens may visit," he said. "We think that's a fundamental mistake, and the Internet should be open to all viewpoints, and that governments should take steps to encourage their citizens to have Internet access, and be able to access a wider range of information."

Mr. Berry said any attempt to control information flow because of the viewpoint expressed sets a dangerous precedent. But he added that there should be some restrictions for certain criminal threats or views that could incite lawlessness and violence. The Uzbek government says its concern is with security following a series of terrorist attacks it alleged were launched by Islamic fundamentalists. This week, the courts handed out stiff sentences to those who confessed to the attacks. But the United States has said it was concerned that the confessions were obtained through torture.

The OSCE conference in Amsterdam continues Saturday, when the situation in Central Asia is expected to be discussed in more detail.