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Czech Magazine Looks at Threats to RFE/RL Websites

Czech Business Weekly mentioned several examples of RFE/RL web services being interfered with in a report on proposed legislation in both the United States and the EU aimed at punishing western-based internet providers for aiding governments seeking to censor internet content.

An excerpt is reprinted below. The full article is available here.

Censuring the Censors

By Todd Milbourn | Czech Business Weekly

Few organizations deal with Internet censorship abroad as routinely as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Headquartered in Prague, the U. S government-funded broadcaster provides a steady stream of news on the radio and online across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The agency broadcasts in 28 languages in 20 countries including Iraq, Afghanistan and Russia.

Julian Knapp, a spokesman for the agency, offered Iran as a case study in how a regime can censor the Web. According to the international academic consortium OpenNet Initiative, Iran runs the world's most extensive Internet filtering system, blocking 100 percent of pornographic sites and asmany as 15 percent of blogs and 30 percent of news sites.

To get around the blockades set up by the Iranian government, which controls nearly every ISP, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty frequently sets up proxy sites that allow users to bypass the filters and access its information. Once one proxy site is discovered and blocked, the agency establishes another, and so forth. "It's a game of cat and mouse," Knapp said.

Beyond Iran, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has also faced restrictions in Kazakhstan, where its sites were blocked for seven weeks in 2008. The agency's Belarusian service was shut down in an "unprecedented cyberattack" in 2008. Agency officials suspected foul play given that the attack coincided with an anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, which remains a politically sensitive issue.

"Generally, we're seeing worrying trends," Knapp said, although he noted that most governments remainmore concerned with censoring traditional media, such as newspapers, radio and television. Knapp said he wasn't in a position to comment on specific EU or U. S. legislation. "Of course, we welcome any legislation aimed at supporting free access to information-online and elsewhere," he said