The AI UK Economic Relations team and The Observer newspaper in conjunction with AIUSA Business and Human Rights program have organized a webcast titled, “The Struggle for Freedom of Expression in Cyberspace” to be held today at 10:30AM PST / 1:30PM ET. The event will use the internet to link activists from around the world to discuss the struggle against internet repression and to celebrate the irrepressible desire of people towards freedom of expression. Speakers and contributors include internet gurus, cyber dissidents as well as net activists, writers and journalists, such as the following from the US:

The webcast will take place online. Shortly after the live webcast, the audio portion will become an episode of the Irrepressible.info podcast.

Related news and links:

Blogging live during the webcast: I am trying for the first time to blog during an event. I logged onto the webcast 5 minutes before the scheduled time (after thought: my computer clock is 5 minutes behind so I was actually one minute late – note to self :). The slides took a while to load and the Windows Media video and audio portion took a long while to connect. Now I am in but the event has already started. No way to tell who is talking but it sounded like it is Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia.

Jimmy finished. Someone else started talking about China. No idea who is talking. Okay, a person from The Observer came on the screen. Cool, The Observer gave birth to AI by printing our founder’s first appeal to the world. The speech is now concentrating on the Irrepressible.info campaign supported by The Observer. 68,500 signed up to that website. Talking about companies that are involved in internet censorship. Support Amnesty, woo hoo! Thanking those involved in putting together the webcast.

Clark Boyd will now take over. People are warned if they leave the room for the bathroom, they won’t be let back in. Good thing I am joining from home. Encouraged people to send questions from home. But how?

Introducing Martha Lane Fox of lastminute.com. The slide says it’s the keynote address. Remembering 10 years ago when Martha started lastminute.com. Story about how Australian and Korean students interacted through the internet. Internet companies disrupted our normal routines of shopping and looking for information in the past. 10 years on, it’s about the power of the individual from 3 levels, social (dating, networking, MySpace, Facebook), corporate (users versus corporations, read reviews about hotels before booking, find out about the truth), political (e-petitions, Amnesty campaign). 196 millions users on Skype. 24% people shop online last Christmas. Read news online. Customize how we want information delivered to us. Shopping online. YouTube videos. A person can do a lot online in a few hours. Be optimistic about the internet.

Introducing Ron Deibert of Open Net Initiative. Ron is participating virtually. There is only audio. The slide now says, “The state of the internet.” ONI has been testing since 2002 through local users and advanced network to tab into countries for the openness of the internet. In 2002, 3 to 4 countries engaged in internet content filtering. Last year, 25 countries are doing it. More numbers and names of countries that did more advanced filtering. Sophistication of filtering is also increasing. Porn or sensitive cultural info were past targets. Nowadays, blogs, streaming media, opposing views, independent human rights info are blocked. Commercial filtering products, such as Smart filter, are used in several countries. Few people pay attention to these smaller companies versus the attention to Google and Microsoft. Denial of service attacks were used during election. They are hard to trace the source. Those are just-in-time filtering, they are aggressive instead of passive. What needs to be done? Don’t take advantage of the internet for granted. States are actively intervening the internet. We need to protect the architecture of the internet. Build tools to protect it, like Psiphon. Hold governments and corporations accountable. Far too much secrecy. Emails are not magical. They pass through optical lines where authorities have plenty of opportunities to track the source of communication.

Talking about the human cost of internet censorship. Introducing Sami Ben Garbia, Tunisian cyber-dissident who was forced to leave his home country due to his internet activities. Why the internet is bad? Control of freedom of expression on the internet. Companies are helping with this control. Video sharing sites are blocked in many countries. Photo sharing sites have the same fate. Online maps, too. Blogging platforms, emails, SMS are blocked. Activists may not have enough technology to defend themselves but they have fear. They are powerless confronting powerful machines. Examples of experiences in Tunisia. People spent time in prison. People got into trouble for downloading a song. Journalists are harassed and imprisoned. Example of experiences in Syria. Blogging against corruption is a crime. In Egypt, bloggers are jailed. In Fiji, a businessman was labeled an anti-military blogger. In China, 50 cyber-dissidents are imprisoned. Conclusion, anti-personal land mines should be banned. Fight the companies which designed the softwares.

Introducing a blogger from Iran. He has been interrogated by the authorities. He was arrested and spent 23 day in solitary confinement, he was blind folded. After 2 weeks, he lost his mind. He was delusional. He started interrogating himself in his cell. He doesn’t know which blog posts he wrote caused him trouble. One interrogator told him that he was being made an example of the consequence of blogging. One year after release, his father was placed in jail for ten days although he had already left the country, seek asylum in the Netherlands. People are scared by how their families are affected. The internet is about the average users. It’s about the voice of ordinary people. The problem of finding reliable info online. Websites backed by government spreading certain info. Extremists spreading their views. It’s important to raise awareness for finding reliable information.

Introducing Josh Wolf, US cyber-dissident who was jailed refusing to turn over a video of an anti-G8 protest. His blog is a video blog. He filmed the protest in San Francisco. A police was injured during the protest. He was nowhere near the injured policeman. He was asked to turn over the video. He sited journalist privileges to defend himself. He was dragged to jail. Protect the press and also bloggers. He considers himself a journalist because he gathers info and distributes it. Freedom Media Coalition is a peer-to-peer support system. It will be launched in a month. Encourages people to blog from prison, get people from the outside to help them.

Moving on to corporate complicity. Introducing Morton Sklar, president of the World Association for Human Rights USA. He helped Yu Ling, the wife of a Chinese dissident to file a lawsuit against Yahoo!. In China, Yahoo! provided user info to the authorities. Cisco provided router technology to monitor internet use. Google put out a censored search engine. 4 individuals are known to have been imprisoned because Yahoo! provided their user info. Chinese court documents cited Yahoo! many times. Yahoo responded by saying they do what they are expected to do, they followed the orders, it was done by a Chinese affiliates. They must be held accountable. They must question the info request. They must not allow themselves to be complicit. Teresa Harris will now share a few words on behalf of Yu Ling. The first time she was able to see her husband after he was in jail, once about half hour every month, he was weak, he had no expression, he was coughing a lot, his hair turned white. Yahoo betrayed her husband. 9 pages out of 14 Chinese court documents contain her husband’s email address. Her husband was simply expressing himself on the internet. Yahoo didn’t even say sorry. Morton is back. He thinks the chances of the lawsuit is good. Companies’ argument for being in China is better than no internet access at all. Companies should ask themselves whether it is worth doing business and complicit to torture and repression of information. Ordinary people need to be more aware of what’s happening. People who own shares of those companies should put pressure on the companies. Yahoo is having a shareholder meeting on June 12th. People should vote for the resolution calling for an end to internet censorship.

Introducing Yan Sham-Shackleton of glutter.org. She worked for an ISP in Hong Kong and China. She blogs as an ordinary person. She was a producer in charge of writing the news for the internet. It was right after 1997. She put out a piece about the Chinese authorities she and her friend put together. They were called into a room by her boss one day and were told that they could no longer put up sensitive info about politics. June 4th came around. Tiananmen Square crackdown discussions were blocked from chat rooms. She helped the block but she eventually quit her job. The technology is really easy to use, it was first used to block swear words but more words were added. She started her blog to talk about democracy. It was her 30th birthday and wished for a democratic China. She was traveling in China and checked her blog. She ran into some people who worked for the authorities. She went home and she could not get into her blog. She contacted Typepad which hosted the blog and learned there was a regional block. She organized an online mini protest. She encourages getting the word out about your experience.

I have to get ready for work. I’ve only asked for a half day off so I must stop blogging now.

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