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UK: Letter to foreign secretary on cyberspace

By Marta Cooper / 1 November, 2011

As the London Conference on Cyberspace begins, Index on Censorship has joined leading media freedom groups and activists in calling on Foreign Secretary William Hague to reject censorship and surveillance techniques that undermine free expression.

Dear Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs,

World leaders will today converge on London for the London Conference on Cyberspace.

The conference will take place in the shadow of revolutions that have laid bare the relationship between technology, citizens’ freedom and political power. This has created a unique opportunity for the UK government to show leadership in promoting the rights of citizens online.

However, the government’s record on freedom of expression and privacy is less than ideal. Britain’s desire to promote these ideals internationally are being hampered by domestic policy.

The government is currently considering greater controls over what legal material people are allowed to access on the Internet. This is clear from recent public support by the Prime Minister, and through Claire Perry MP’s ongoing inquiry, for plans to filter adult and other legal material on UK Internet connections by default. The new PREVENT counter-terrorism strategy contains similar proposals for the filtering of material that is legal but deemed undesirable. Earlier this year the Prime Minister suggested there should be more powers to block access to social media, a policy that drew praise from China and which the government swiftly backed away from. There are also plans for more pervasive powers to surveil and access people’s personal information online.

The government now has an historic opportunity to support technologies that promote rather than undermine people’s political and social empowerment.

We call for the UK government to seize this opportunity to reject censorship and surveillance that undermines people’s rights to express themselves, organise or communicate freely. That is the only way to both enshrine the rights of citizens in the UK and to support these principles internationally.

This government should be proud to stand up for freedom of expression and privacy off- and online. This conference should herald a new stage in which these principles are upheld in UK policy.

Yours sincerely,

Brett Soloman, Executive Director, Access

Dr Agnes Callamard, Executive Director, Article 19

Cory Doctorow, Fellow, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Jonathan Heawood, Director, English PEN

Evgeny Morozov, author, ‘The Net Delusion’

Andrew Puddephatt, Director, Global Partners

Heather Brooke, author, ‘The Revolution will be Digitised’

Jo Glanville, Editor, Index on Censorship

Tony Curzon Price, Editor-in-Chief, openDemocracy

Simon Davies, Director, Privacy International

Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group

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