[Documents menu]History of world telecommunications
Date: Thu, 11 Sep 97 09:31:55 CDT
From: Arm The Spirit <ats@locust.etext.org>
Subject: Time-Warner's "Net Guerrillas"

The Real Revolution: Net Guerrillas

By Elizabeth Frantz,
Time-Warner Pathfinder
21 July 1997

[The following article appeared on Time-Warner's Pathfinder web site a few weeks ago. - ATS.

The recent kidnapping and assassination of Spanish politician Miguel Angel Blanco by the Basque separatist group ETA has ignited a violent backlash that is spilling into cyberspace.

In the wake of the widespread protest against ETA, the Spanish government requested last week that the Cable News Network (CNN) remove its link to the group's web site. Miguel Garzon, spokesman for the Spanish Embassy in Washington D.C., defended the move by saying the ETA should be considered terrorist and not separatist, and therefore links should not be made to them. The ETA has killed nearly 800 people since it took up arms in 1968 to fight for independence for Spain's northern Basque provinces.

CNN refused the Spanish government's request, saying that it was standard practice to provide links that relate to the subject matter -- even if the subject is terrorism. More and more terrorist groups are creating pockets of resistance online, a fact that is beginning to raise serious questions, especially for educational institutions, where John Q. Taxpayer might be indirectly paying for a Zapatista web site.

Meanwhile, warring factions are simply taking their fight onto the information battlefield. The Institute for Global Communications (IGC), a nonprofit Internet service provider for activist groups, has seen its system crippled by a deluge of mail bomb attacks against a site maintained by the Euskal Herria Journal (EHJ -- a New York-based group supporting Basque independence in Spain and France.) It contains information on the ETA as well as human rights and lawful Basque groups. A flood of mail with bogus or no return addresses from anonymous automated mail relay systems swamped the IGC's servers last week.

"It's bringing our business to a standstill," said Maureen Mason, program coordinator for IGC. "The legitimate protest mail we receive from Europe we take very seriously. However, there is no way we would ever cancel a client's site because of a mail bombing attack on IGC."

On Friday, however, IGC suspended the EHJ site.

"This destructive campaign has overwhelmed our ability to keep our system running and we have made the difficult decision to suspend the Euskal Herria Journal Web site -- under protest -- so that we can continue to serve the many other individuals and organizations who depend on our services," IGC said in a press release.

On the page now replacing the EHJ site, the IGC asked for support from organizations and individuals concerned with freedom of expression on the Internet. Audrie Krause, director of the Internet policy and educational organization NetAction, responded by saying that "mailbombers need to know that vigilante censorship is just as unacceptable as government censorship."

IGC's Maureen Mason remarked, "If a nonprofit Internet provider like us can't keep up a controversial site, I don't know who can."

In fact, IGC is not the only group under fire for its links to guerrilla group web sites. Along with the ETA, rebel groups such as the MRTA, FARC-EP and Zapatistas have joined the burgeoning ranks of political groups that are bringing their message to the Internet. Some are even finding cyberspace allies on American university servers, raising a hot debate on First Amendment rights.

In early May of this year, officials at the State University of New York at Binghamton learned that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP), Latin America's largest guerrilla group, was running a web site on the university network. Though uncertain as to how the group originally gained access, the school's administration quickly shut down the site.

"It [the FARC site] was in clear violation of university policy," said Anita Doll, director of communications at Binghamton. "For us, it was not an issue of academic freedom. It was an issue of resource use. Our facilities are supposed to be used by university faculty, staff and students. It was an issue of the appropriate use of university resources."

Officials at the University of California at San Diego, however, had a far different reaction to their taxpayer-funded guerrilla site. Shortly after the Peruvian rebel hostage crisis began at the Japanese embassy in December, Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement sympathizers posted an MRTA web site, the Solidarity Page, on the school's computer. The Communications Department at UCSD provides the web space for the site.

"We're proud that our students are part of that communications network. We don't see any reason to get rid of it because it's controversial," said Dan Hallin, chairman of the Communications Department at UCSD.

In the give-'em-an-inch-they'll-take-a-mile school of thought, the students who run the Solidarity Page and go by the name the Burn! Collective also provide links to a lot of other fringe political groups and radical organizations, including Radikal, the German resistance magazine banned in Germany; Arm The Spirit, the Toronto-based anti-imperialist collective; and the Zapatistas, who launched an uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, three years ago. The Zapatistas were among the first rebel groups to bring their revolution to cyberspace.

The Burn and FARC-EP sites have prompted criticism from predictable outside groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, a national conservative public policy research group.

"It is outrageous that groups who have attacked Americans repeatedly in the past were allowed to worm their way into a situation where American taxpayers subsidized their propaganda on the Internet," insisted Jim Phillips, terrorism specialist at Heritage. "SUNY-Binghamton was correct to shut down their site when they discovered what was going on. I think that UCSD has a hard time explaining why they are subsidizing terrorists."

On the other hand, SUNY-Binghamton may have violated the First Amendment by closing down its FARC-EP site. "The question turns on whether the university is censoring students' sites based on content or whether the university has a neutral, non-content-based rule," said James Dempsey, senior staff counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit Internet civil liberties group. "If it looks like the government singled out this one site because of its content, then it's impermissible under the First Amendment."

On a similar note, Carl Kadie, president of Computers in Academic Freedom, said that SUNY-Binghamton was reinventing an old censorship trick that universities used to restrict unpopular speakers from off-campus. In 1958, for example, the University of Illinois established rules for visiting speakers which said that no employee of the university shall allow any subversive, seditious and un-American organization the use of university facilities for publicizing the activities of that organization. Kadie said that in the 1950s, the University of Illinois was more the norm than the exception, and that many state universities maintained similar policies.

However, this changed in 1967 with the American Association of University Professors' (AAUP) Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students. The main declaration of student academic freedom in the U.S., it said that university control of campus facilities should not be used "as a device of censorship," and that students should be allowed to invite and hear any person they chose. Though the AAUP's Joint Statement was not automatically binding on universities, according to Kadie, many have adopted parts of it.

"I suspect that SUNY-Binghamton does not even realize that it is falling back into the old patterns of university censorship. I hope it will reconsider its policy," Kadie said.

A full copy of the AAUP's Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students is available at: http://eff.org/pub/CAF/academic/student.freedoms.aaup

Con las Masas y las Armas, Patria o Muerte ... VENCEREMOS!
MRTA Solidarity Page - http://burn.ucsd.edu/~ats/mrta.htm

[World History Archives] [Gateway to World History] [Images from World History] [Hartford Web Publishing]