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Internet rights poster sparks UN fight

November 18, 2009

CBC News (Canada)
November 16, 2009

The United Nations is drawing fire after
disrupting a meeting of rights activists at its
internet governance convention in Egypt.

Over the weekend, UN officials asked organizers
of a book reception at the Internet Governance
Forum to remove a poster for a book, which
mentioned censorship and the Great Firewall of
China. The organizers, a group of activists known
as the OpenNet Initiative, were told the poster
had to be removed because of objections from a member state.

Ronald Deibert, co-founder of the OpenNet
Initiative and director of the Citizen Lab at the
University of Toronto, said the UN was being
hypocritical by demanding the poster's removal.

"If we cannot discuss issues of internet
censorship, surveillance, and privacy at a UN
forum on internet governance, then what is the
point of the Internet Governance Forum?" he said.

UN officials told BBC News they had received
complaints about the poster from conference
delegates, and that the group had not received prior approval to display it.

Parts of the poster read "internet censorship and
surveillance are increasing in democratic
countries as well as authoritarian states," and
"the first generation of controls, typified by
China's 'Great Firewall', are being replaced by
more sophisticated techniques that go beyond mere denial of information."

Earlier in the conference, UN officials had also
asked the OpenNet Initiative to stop distributing
flyers that mentioned Tibet. Officials said the
flyers were invitations to a movie about freeing
Tibet, which was a political issue not related to internet governance.

The group agreed to stop handing out the flyers.
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