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Free Speech Feels the Pressure

Free Speech TV (FSTV), an organization that provided free Web hosting for non-profits, announced on Tuesday that it has decided to discontinue its free service. The number of sites hosted by the company — there are currently 15,000 — has reached a point where the technical and financial burdens are too large for the organization to continue hosting for free, according to a statement.

FSTV ( www.freespeech.org) encourages clients to transfer their sites to a paying account at a rate of $8.95 per month, or $100 per year.

Brian Drolet, director of FSTV’s Web site, says that the decision did not come easily in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks. "We are also aware that members in many countries around the world do not have the freedom to express themselves free of censorship, and that repercussions of the September 11 attacks in the U.S. will pressure free speech here," FSTV said in a statement. FSTV will continue to provide a limited free service through scholarships for "progressive voices that are excluded or censored from the corporate media." Likely candidates for the scholarships are sites that support progressive social change, particularly international sites, Drolet said.

FSTV, which launched in 1995, was a pioneer in the user-generated content (UGC) movement that spawned a wide range of sites such as Eveo, Camera Planet, and Zoom Culture, which attempted to exploit the UGC model commercially but whose business outlook now seems uncertain.

FSTV’s Web site currently features interviews from New York’s Union Square on Wednesday September 12, the day after the attacks. One interviewee asks, "If this is worse than Pearl Harbor, will we do something worse than Hiroshima?" The FSTV homepage also includes an interview by David Barsamian of Alternative Radio with Ali Abunimah, director of the Arab Action Network, based in Chicago. In the interview, Abunimah discusses the ethnically motivated reprisals that American Muslims have experienced in the week since the terrorist attacks, but also the gestures of support that the Arab-American community has received.

Look Who's Watching

FSTV’s anxiety concerning pressures on free speech comes in the wake of a landmark decision by the U.S. Senate concerning online surveillance. Last Friday, the Senate approved the FBI’s use of the Carnivore e-mail surveillance system to investigate acts of terrorism and computer crimes. The measure, The Combating of Terrorism Act 2001, authorizes all U.S. Attorneys to order the installation of Carnivore, a power previously reserved only for U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney Generals.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, a group critical of online surveillance, issued a statement arguing that "surrendering freedom will not purchase security," and urging Congress and the president to act cautiously on surveillance issues. "If we give up the constitutional freedoms fundamental to our democratic way of life," said the CDT, "then the terrorists will have won."

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