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WTO could examine internet censorship

WTO could examine internet censorship article image
Internet censorship could be a form of trade restriction because it denies access to some online services, according to a study by the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE). The study suggests internet censorship could therefore be subject to challenge at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), raising issues over sovereignty. WTO member states are allowed to restrict trade on moral grounds, for example blocking access to sites containing child pornography. According to the report, "many WTO member states are legally obliged to permit an unrestricted supply of cross-border internet services" and this has implications for systems in countries with restricted access such as China, Cuba and even Australia's intended filtering plan. The study said the WTO could preside over cases of disproportionate censorship that disrupts commercial activities by more than necessary to achieve the goals of the censoring government. Proportionate censorship would involve selective filtering measures rather than blanket 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] provisions, even given morals and security exceptions," stated the report. The full study by Brian Hindley and Hosuk Lee-Makiyama can be downloaded from the ECIPE website.

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