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European Union6 July 2006

European Parliament condemns ethical breaches by Internet sector companies

Reporters Without Borders hailed a resolution on online free expression that was passed today by the European Parliament and said it hoped the European Commission and EU member states would heed its recommendations.

The resolution criticises Internet sector companies that cooperate with repressive regimes and names several US companies (Yahoo !, Google, Microsoft and Cisco Systems) and European ones (Telecom Italia and France Telecom) that do so. It also welcomes a draft law designed to regulate the activities of Internet companies when operating in repressive countries - the Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA) - that has been introduced in the US congress.

"This resolution shows that Europe is becoming aware of the extraordinary importance of online free expression and the need to regulate the activities of companies working in this area," Reporters Without Borders said. "It also supports the work of the legislators who introduced the GOFA in the US congress in February."

The organisation added: "It is essential that Europe should move forward in this area at the same time as the United States to ensure that all companies respect the same ethical principles and that none of them can take advantage of more permissive legislation to increase their market share."

The resolution calls on the European Commission to establish a "voluntary code of conduct" that places limits on the activities of companies in repressive countries and urges it to take account of the need for unhindered Internet access when considering its assistance programmes to third countries. The resolution is not, however, binding on the commission, which has exclusive responsibility for implementing EU policy in this area.

Yahoo !, Google and Microsoft are singled out for agreeing to censor themselves in China. Cisco Systems is accused of supplying Internet censorship technology. The European companies France Telecom and Telecom Italia are named because of their Internet area cooperation with Tunisia and Cuba.

The resolution also calls on EU member states to "agree on a joint statement confirming their commitment in favour of the protection of the rights of Internet users and of the promotion of free expression on the Internet worldwide."

It mentions the list of 15 Internet enemies compiled by Reporters Without Borders - China, Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Iran, Libya, Maldives, Nepal, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam - and the cases of several bloggers and cyber-dissidents detained in these countries - Hao Wu, Yang Zili and Shi Tao (China), Motjaba Saminejad (Iran), Mohammed Abbou (Tunisia), Pham Hong Son (Vietnam), Habib Saleh (Syria) and Mohamed Sharkawy and Karim El-Shaer (Egypt).

Finally, the resolution welcomes the joint investor statement on freedom of expression and the Internet that was signed by 32 investment funds at the initiative of Reporters Without Borders (see: http://www.rsf.org/fonds-investissement.php3).

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Texts adopted by the European Parliament

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