|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 6||October 29, 1996|
The public's right to share information would be significantly reduced under a proposed new system of copyright for the Internet that is now pending before the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). In addition to placing new restrictions on the sharing of information, the proposal would lead to much greater surveillance over the flow of information.
The WIPO proposal essentially treats digital technology as a threat to the future of the publishing industries. Online service providers could be forced to look through your computer files and cut off your Internet service if they came across any unlicensed materials.
The proposed change in copyright regulation is one of several intellectual property issues under consideration. The Clinton Administration's "White Paper on Intellectual Property and the National Information Infrastructure" proposed banning the digital equivalent of such common practices as browsing through a borrowed book or making a copy of copyrighted material for personal use.
A new organization, Public-Domain, is being established to provide an independent voice for the public interest on this and other intellectual property issues. The organization is just getting started and the steering committee intends for it to be a membership organization. More information on Public-Domain, including details of the WIPO copyright proposal, is available on the Web at: http://www.public-domain.org
Written comments on the WIPO copyright proposal are being solicited by the U.S. Department of Commerce Patent and Trademark Office. Comments are due by November 22, 1996, and can be submitted by electronic mail to: For those close enough to attend, there will also be a public briefing on November 12, 1996, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the Marriott's Crystal Forum, a part of the Crystal City Marriott Hotel located in The Underground, 1999 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington, Virginia.
At a recent conference in Paris, France, sponsored by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), more than a dozen international human rights and cyber rights organizations endorsed a resolution supporting the right to use encryption technology in digital communications. The resolution was released just before the start of a meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and according to EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenber, it had an impact on the OECD's deliberations.
NetAction was among the organizations that signed the resolution.
As reported in an earlier issue of NetAction Notes, the ability to send electronic mail in coded form through the use of encryption has a significant impact on the efforts of human rights activists around the world. Organizations signing the resolution noted in their statement that some governments have already taken steps to detain and to harass users and developers of encryption, and that the technology is regularly used by human rights advocates who would otherwise be persecuted by their own governments. The organizations also urged the OECD to avoid policies that promote government surveillance activities.
The resolution was initiated by the Global Internet Liberty Coalition, a new coalition of national and international human rights and cyber rights organizations. The full text of the resolution is available at: http://www.gilc.org/crypto/oecd-resolution.html, along with information on how to participate.
Internet activists are probably most familiar with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) because of her strong support for expanded government surveillance authority, a position that has not won her many friends in cyberspace.
More recently, Feinstein has developed an interest in Caller ID and other consumer-related privacy issues, partly in response to the Federal Communications Commission's gutting of privacy protections that the California Public Utilities Commission ordered as a condition of implementing Caller ID in California. Federal regulators told California that the strong privacy protections in the state's Constitutional didn't matter, and that California had to abide by the weaker privacy protections that the FCC was requiring in other states. Caller ID was implemented in California last summer, preceeded by a massive education campaign ordered by the state PUC and paid for by the telephone companies.
Feinstein has recently developed an interest in the Caller ID issue and other consumer-related privacy concerns. An aide to Feinstein contacted NetAction recently to report that the Senator was very interested in developing a package of pro-consumer privacy issues to bring before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Internet activists with ideas for pro-consumer privacy legislation are encouraged to contact the Senator's office at 202-224-6443.
While Feinstein's aide said the Senator is not interested in reconsidering her support for expansion of government surveillance authority, it's certainly worth mentioning the issue along with suggestions for consumer-privacy issues.
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Copyright 1996 by The Tides Center/NetAction. All rights reserved. Material may be reposted or reproduced for non-commercial use provided NetAction is cited as the source.
NetAction is a project of The Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. NetAction is dedicated to promoting effective grassroots citizen action campaigns by creating coalitions that link online activists with grassroots organizations, providing training to online activists in effective organizing strategies, and educating the public, policymakers and the media about technology-based social and political issues.
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