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War On Terrorism Reduces Access To Information

(Washington, DC--April 5, 2002) The war on terrorism has "reduced immediate access to information" from governments, according to a leading expert on press freedom.

Speaking to an audience at RFE/RL's Washington office this week, Leonard Sussman, former executive director and now senior scholar at Freedom House, said that governments engaged in the war on terrorism have chosen to slow down information flows rather than censor journalists covering the story. This "accomodation" appears to work well, Sussman said, because the information is evenually available and the national interest is protected.

However, Sussman warned that there are serious implications for the media and press freedom because of the effort by many governments to "aggressively monitor" the Internet and telephones in the effort to prevent terrorist acts "by getting the information in advance." Sussman noted that Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States are among the governments to "clamp down", but he noted that the USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act recently passed by the U.S. Congress strikes a good balance by including a sunset provision to end these monitoring practices in four years.

Sussman urged the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), "the oldest international telecommunications organization," to take a close look at the anti-terrorism measures directed against the Internet as its next conference scheduled for December 2003. He said, "going into content is dangerous" referring to the new restrictions imposed since 11 September.

Sussman also previewed a major study to be released by Freedom House next week which concludes that press freedom world-wide remains intact despite the stepped up war on terrorism led by the United States.