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Kazakhstan: Government Tries To Control Internet

Kazakhstan has enacted a new law on telecommunications, and experts say it will give the government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev government enormous power over the use in Kazakhstan of the worldwide computer network known as the Internet. RFE/RL Correspondent Julie Moffett spoke to Internet experts and reports on this development in the control of information.

Washington, 21 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A U.S. expert says Kazakhstan's new law on telecommunications gives the government sweeping powers to monitor the Internet.

Gerald Kovacich, an expert on the Internet and author of numerous books on computer security, told RFE/RL that the Kazakhstan's resolution creating a new National Telecommunications Billing Center will give the government the opportunity to do "basically whatever it wants" in regards to the Internet.

The Kazakh government passed the resolution in early December, establishing the billing center. According to the resolution, the center will not scrutinize the content of Internet traffic, but only monitor the volume of international voice and data communication. Officials say the center will also permit them to confirm the billing accuracy of local telecommunication companies and enforce tax payments and collections. In terms of the Internet, the resolution provides only that the government will take control of assigning Internet domain names in Kazakhstan.

But Kovacich says this law is typical of many other governments' attempts to control the Internet. Russia, China, and many other nations have similar legislation, he says. Such resolutions are purportedly enacted because of economic considerations, he adds, but established primarily to try to control and monitor the Internet.

In Kazakhstan's case, Kovacich says it is interesting to note the government's open denial that the center will attempt to monitor the Internet.

"Well, the Internet runs over the telephone line. So, how could they differentiate between Internet traffic and non-Internet traffic? And once you have the access to monitor that, you have the access to read it, block it, change it, to do whatever you want. So, if you look at their old communist background and see who is still in power, and you know they don't have democracy really down yet, you question their real need to do what they are doing."

Rinat Akhmetshin, director of the Kazakhstan Twenty-First Century Foundation in Washington, told RFE/RL that many non-governmental organizations and opposition political groups within Kazakhstan are greatly concerned by the new law.

He says their concerns are heightened by the fact that the government has already shut down or blocked access to several Internet sites that contain information critical of Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

"The worst part of this law is that it has been adopted secretly. It has been adopted without discussion in the press. It has been adopted without any consultation with media specialists or journalists. And I think that is proof that they try to secretly do this when no one is watching."

The Kazakh Embassy in Washington did not return calls to RFE/RL for comment on the new legislation.

Kovacich says to expect similar legislation to come out of many more countries as governments attempt to grapple with the power of the Internet. He says governments are afraid because the technology is progressing so rapidly that people no longer have to rely on government-controlled newspapers or radios to get their information.

He adds: "As we enter the twenty-first century, [nation-states] are starting to lose power. The reason they are losing power is because of the technology which makes individuals more aware of the world around them. The nation-state must control the Internet, and telecommunications is where the Internet is."