November 7, 2009

WTO Faces Tough Call On Censorship Case

Internet censorship will be challenged at the World Trade Organization, as it can limit online trade and delivery services, a study says.

A censorship case at the WTO could bring up dominion questions, as members can already censor for moral purposes, like prohibiting contact with child pornography websites.

However, a WTO decision might restrict blanket censorship and force states to utilize specific filtering, says the study available on Thursday.

"Censorship is the most important non-tariff barrier to the provision of online services, and a case might clarify the circumstances in which different forms of censorship are WTO-consistent," stated the study, written by Brian Hindley and Hosuk Lee-Makiyama.

"Many WTO member states are legally obliged to permit an unrestricted supply of cross-border Internet services," they wrote.

It is common for some countries to block the Internet for political or ethical reasons. China has a highly developed system, and in Cuba the majority of casual web surfing is illegal.

WTO rules permit members to confine trade to defend morals or ethics, but those steps must be essential and upset trade as little as possible.

The study states that a strong argument can be made against uneven censorship that harms commercial activities at the censoring government's benefit.

Balanced censorship would allow discriminatory censorship instead of unending bans.

"There is a good chance that a panel might rule that permanent blocks on search engines, photo-sharing applications and other services are inconsistent with (WTO services) provisions, even given morals and security exceptions," the study said.


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