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Internet Freedom Also Victim of Sept 11, Group Says Thu Sep 5, 2:15 PM ET

PARIS (Reuters) – Security measures have curbed cyberspace so much since the September 11 attacks that the Internet can be counted among the collateral damage caused that day, a worldwide media watchdog group said Thursday.

The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RsF) group said in a report that western countries normally concerned about press freedom used last year’s attacks as a pretext to curb basic freedoms or crack down on domestic opponents.

New laws extending the time data is held by Internet service providers (ISPs) and making data available to intelligence services has make ISPs and telecommunications companies into “a potential arm of the police,” RsF head Robert Menard said.

“The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Denmark, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the G8 nations have all challenged cyber-freedoms over the past year,” Menard said in a statement accompanying the report.

Citizens in Europe and elsewhere would be outraged if their governments let police routinely read letters sent through their postal services, he argued.

“Yet these are exactly the kind of measures that have been taken or are being taken concerning the Internet,” he said. “We need to be much more vigilant.”

Among the laws RsF criticized as curbing Internet rights were the U.N. Security Council resolution 1373 on fighting terrorism, the U.S.A. Patriot Act and amendments tightening European Union ( news – web sites) rules on protecting electronic data.

The U.S.A. Patriot Act let the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI ( news – web sites)) monitor e-mail traffic of people suspected of contacts with a foreign power, but messages from innocent private citizens have been intercepted, the RsF report said.

In Britain, the RsF report said, police in many cases no longer need prior approval from a judge to monitor financial transactions and private e-mail online.

France has given judges the power to order e-mail messages to be decoded and encryption firms to hand over their codes so authorities can read e-mail. Police can also make remote online searches of ISP records.

Germany has given its intelligence services unlimited access to the police database and given both more access to telephone and Internet records about suspected persons, it said.

Italy eased rules for Internet surveillance and greatly increased the number of police and security officials authorized to do so, according to the report.

India’s Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance authorized the government to monitor e-mail without prior permission, it said, and use the evidence it found in court cases.

RsF said the current Danish presidency wanted the EU to oblige telephone companies and ISPs to retain all traffic records so security services could consult them if necessary.