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Hasty legislation a threat to internet freedom, says OSCE watchdog

Warwick Ashford

Hasty legislation passed by governments, including the UK and US, in response to security fears is posing a threat to internet freedom, according to a global media watchdog.

Dunja Mijatovic, head of media freedom for the 56 countries that make up the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said both democratic and transitional governments in the organisation often act against openness in the media, including the internet.

The OSCE includes the European Union member states, Russia, the US and Canada.

Mijatovic said a study on media freedom in the OSCE countries shows governments are trying to restrict or suppress internet freedom in the interests of security.

"There is a witchhunt in OSCE countries and beyond against bloggers and journalists. Media professionals worry about themselves and their families if they write particular stories or make the wrong social media comments," she told the Guardian.

Mijatovic said there was a disturbing trend in some countries for dubious charges to be brought against those who try to speak out against an undemocratic government.

She believes that ultimately it is civil society – the media and activists – who keep the media and internet free, but said this is not yet established in many transitional countries.

As a campaigner for an open internet, Mijatovic said she had discussed concerns about the Anti-Counterfeiting Agreement (Acta), with the president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz.

After a weekend of protests against the intellectual property protection agreement in February, Schulz said in a German TV interview that Acta was not good in its current form.

Critics of Acta argue that it will lead to censorship of the internet, while supporters insist the agreement will not alter existing laws.

The UK's Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has backed the measures, describing piracy as a major global issue. Signing ACTA is important for the UK, as it will set an international standard for tackling large-scale infringements of intellectual property rights, the IPO said.

The treaty, which has been signed by 22 EU member states, including the UK, cannot be enacted before it is ratified by the European Parliament after a debate scheduled for June.

Outside of the EU, the treaty has been signed by the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea.


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