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Portugal divests from Web service

Following protest over its temporary shutdown of a Web hosting service, the Portuguese government divests from the service, protesters say.

After nearly two weeks of protest over the Portuguese government's decision to temporarily shut down a Web hosting service, the government decided to divest itself of the service, according to people protesting the move.

Over the weekend, Portugal's ministry of culture turned over operation and support of the service, Terràvista--routers and all--to a nonprofit association, the protesters said.

Portuguese government officials could not be reached for comment.

On July 29, Portugal's minister of culture closed down Terràvista, a 1-1/2-year-old hosting service built for Portuguese speakers worldwide, after a newspaper found a page on the service that contained nudity, according to the group.

While there had been controversial pages on the service in the past--which led to scandals involving gay and Nazi home pages, for example--Terràvista had always handled it by telling the individual page's Webmaster to simply take it down, Maria Joao Nogueira, coordinator of the project, said today.

This time, however, the ministry decided to close down the entire service to review each page--nearly 26,000 of them from all over the world--for offensive material, Nogueira said.

In response, the Webmasters did what countless others have done before them: they called for a Web protest. People who registered their protest said they weren't angry that the government disallowed nudity or other kinds of content. They instead contended that the ministry's move was extreme, penalizing thousands of people because of the content on one site, Nogueira said.

Plus, she added, the site in question did not contain what she considered pornography, such as sexually explicit images. It did contain some nudity, however.

"When [the minister made] the decision, he could not see how many people his decision would affect," Nogueira said. "He was not seeing that his decision would affect [nearly] 26,000 people. He was not aware of the real power of this Web [service]."

Nogueira said the government decided to resolve the issue by turning Terràvista over to the Webmasters. On Friday, a nonprofit association was formed comprising the Webmasters, and the government relinquished control of the service to it.

With the Net's constant growth as a medium of international communication, citizens have more than once turned to it to protest what they consider to be repressive policies.

And, as in this case, they also use the Net to reach a much broader audience than previously available. Using the Web and email, protesters can instantly reach an international audience, given that they have full Net access, to wage a cyberdemonstration that might otherwise be more confined geographically.

For instance, three British journalists used the Net last year to disseminate a controversial government report that had been banned. The local government tried get sites that posted the report to take it down, but the effort was largely unsuccessful.

Nogueira and the Portuguese protesters greeted the government's move with mixed sentiments. "All the people believe strongly in this project," she said. "Being able to work directly with this project and saving this project means a lot to all of us."

But, she added, taking on the service will be difficult to do because those involved want it to remain noncommercial, which generally means it needs government or private support.

"We no longer have support from the ministry," Nogueira said. "We have to look for sponsors. We do not want Terràvista to be like GeoCities."

Nogueira and others have called for people to continue sending in their names for the protest until Wednesday, according to a press release the group issued.

They still are protesting the original move, which they said lost the service several days' worth of traffic.