No, You Can’t See That! – Internet Censorship in China and Around the World

Internet censorship is control or suppression of the publishing or accessing of information on the Internet. (Wikipedia)

Attempts to censor Internet content have been around for years. In the good old days of the US Internet we had a lot of innovative censorship ideas including the Communications Decency Act of 1996 and the “clipper chip.” In recent years we’ve added additional utilities demanded free speech, john savageauby the Children’s Internet Protection Act and Online Predators Act.

It is not only the United States. Many countries around the world restrict Internet access for a variety of reasons, both political and to prevent access to “indecent” materials. Not surprising, governments which are the most repressive, such as Burma/Myanmar, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and China, have the harshest controls over who can access the Internet – and what they can or cannot view via the Internet. Most of these countries are concerned with free access to world news and opinion, with pornography a slightly lower censorship priority.

China recently took the requirement for censoring internet access to a new level by demanding PC manufacturers and computer vendors to install Internet filtering software on each device sold within China. The filtering software is called “Green Dam,” and is causing an uproar not only within the Internet community, but also among several governments.

“The aim of this internet filter, contrary to what Chinese authorities contend, is clearly to censor internet and limit freedom of expression,” the European Commission said in a Statement. (AFP)

“We therefore urge China to postpone the implementation of this mandate and request that a meeting is organized at technical level to better understand what is at stake.”

According to the Washington Post, the Green Dam software is designed to protect viewers from pornographic images and content. However it is also clear the software is also capable of providing additional filtering utilities for blocking politically sensitive content, including news. In addition, many in the Internet community believe the software is not only technically flawed – posing many access and security risks, but also designed to provide Chinese officials access to data stored within individual computers and networks.

This is disturbing, as our computers are now under frequent attack by a growing list of nefarious utilities such as adware, viruses, spyware, and other malicious code. State-sponsored spyware runs counter to the intent of the Internet, and puts those countries well into the list of “Enemies of the Internet,” as provided by the Open Net Initiative (a partnership among several universities with the objective to “investigate, expose and analyze filtering and surveillance practices in a credible and non-partisan fashion.”).

The Electronic Frontier Foundation/EFF believes that Internet users and content providers have a set of basic rights to free speech:

  • You Have the Right to Blog Anonymously
  • You Have the Right to Keep Sources Confidential
  • You Have the Right to Make Fair Use of Intellectual Property
  • You have the Right to Allow Reader’s Comments Without Fear
  • You Have the Right to Protect Your Server from Government Seizure
  • You Have the Right to Freely Blog about Elections
  • You Have the Right to Blog about Your Workplace
  • You Have the Right to Access as Media
  • Know Your Rights and Prepare to Defend Them

This set of rights rubs against the grain of US politicians, who have tried to limit the Internet’s desire for open communications and the basic rights of internet use through laws such as the Patriot Act, which the American Civil Liberties Union/ACLU believes gives government the right to “threaten your fundamental freedoms by giving the government the power to access to your medical records, tax records, information about the books you buy or borrow without probable cause, and the power to break into your home and conduct secret searches without telling you for weeks, months, or indefinitely.” This includes having access to your computer, your network and online profile, your access records, and your usage of Internet web sites.

Companies such as Yahoo and Google have frequently come under attack by not only Internet rights advocates, but also the US Government when their desire to do business within China resulted in both companies cooperating with Chinese authorities to not only install censoring software within their product, but also turn over user records. Yahoo allegedly turned over records of some Chinese dissidents, resulting in those persons being imprisoned.

Several organizations are developing software that allows citizen journalists in countries such as Iran to access the Internet, report anonymously, and beat the censors. The Global Internet Freedom Consortium offers their GIFC Anti-Censorship Tools Bundle to help citizen journalists not only transmit their stories, but also read news online which is being aggressively censored by the Iranian government.

Censorship is a very hot topic. While the US and other governments hop on the bandwagon to promote Internet freedom, at the same time they are enacting restrictive laws within their own countries. The good news for Internet freedom fighters is that news, like the Internet packet, will eventually find its way around blocks, censors, filters, and restrictions to the eyeballs and minds which crave a view to that which is not known.

Find out more about Internet censorship, form your own opinions – for or against censorship, and make a stand. You might fall somewhere in the middle of the issues, you might be teetering on the far edge of each issue, but the Internet is a global tool, and you have the right to make your voice heard.


John Savageau, Long Beach

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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