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Government Censorship of Internet Speech

By Peter Clarke, JD | Last updated on

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.

Here in the United States, we like to think that we can speak openly and freely on practically any subject while on the Internet. But is that universally true across the globe? Not necessarily!

Indeed, headlines have made clear that certain governments are intent on blocking Internet speech when it is in the interest of those who are in power but not necessarily when it is in the interest of some members of the citizens in those countries.

For example, it has been reported that the government of Uganda has used surveillance technology to spy on and muscle opposition movements in the wake of the 2011 presidential election in that country.

And according to the BBC, the government of Uganda is on the verge of acquiring a new communications monitoring center in advance of the presidential election next year. There is fear that this center would be used by the governmental for censorship purposes.

As another example of potential mass government censorship, FOX News has just reported that Russia has been running tests to find out whether it can remove itself from the World Wide Web in order to block the information flowing to foreign countries.

The point here is that the Russian government apparently would like to be able to implement a mass online information blackout in the event of a potential domestic political crisis. The Russian government purportedly is seeking to ascertain whether the Internet would continue to work within Russia while its citizens would be cut off from the global Internet.

Of course, the Internet does not know geographic boundaries in and of itself, so it may be difficult for the Russian government to completely block out the rest of the online world. To pull this off, Russia would need to construct a back up infrastructure that creates a closed online system. Meanwhile, Russian officials deny any such effort has been taking place.

Repressive regimes have sought to quell the speech of dissidents throughout history, and long before the advent of the Internet. It therefore is not entirely surprising that attempted censorship by governments will continue in the online world. But, hopefully, the Internet will help to foster free speech and communication, and will not be a means of governmental surveillance on citizens.

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.

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