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Technology as a Restraint: Internet Censorship and Surveillance
Access to information is integral to free expression: speech is an empty right if it means talking into a box rather than communicating and sharing information and ideas with others.26 The internet, in this sense, is a powerful engine for free expression, creating global audiences and global sources of information, and it is understandable that states have sought to monitor and restrict it for both good reasons and bad. Privacy plays a less obvious, but equally important role in free expression in a democracy. The inability to choose ones audience or to seek ideas and information without monitoring, inhibits thought, speech, and association. And even for those not easily inhibited, surveillance is invasive. For that reason alone, privacy merits protection to ensure human dignity and integrity.27
The war on terror did not cause, but did exacerbate, the trend towards restriction of the internet and the proliferation of surveillance through modern technology. Governments that once invoked child pornographers as a good reason to censor internet publications shifted emphasis to terrorism as a rationale. Corporations became willing assistants in the fencing and filtering of access, even while justifying their cooperation with repressive governments in terms of expanding public access to information (and of course, their own access to markets). Surveillance and data collection grew exponentially, not only because developments in modern technology made such practices more economically feasible, but also because security fears made them more politically palatable.
Some governments have been eager to grasp the internet as a tool for economic and educational development but are wary that losing control over information will also cause them to lose control over their population. A number of Middle Eastern governments have embraced the cause of improving public access to the internet, but at the same time use advanced filtering and surveillance technology to monitor online expression. Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, and Syria prosecute and imprison online writers for politically objectionable material, and these as well as many other countries in the Middle East block websites for political, human rights, or Islamist content in addition to pornography and gambling, and monitor internet cafes.
In 2005 Tunisia hosted the World Summit on the Information Society to showcase its commitment to internet access. What also fell into the global spotlight was the governments robust censorship, harassment, and prosecution of online critics for offenses such as false news, defamation, or terrorism, expansively defined and interpreted. Tunisia strictly controls internet service providers, regulates internet cafes, and uses filtering technology to block political, news, and human rights sites. It has cited counterterrorism and the need to curb incitement to hatred and violence as among its justifications for censoring information online. Yet tests that Human Rights Watch ran in September 2005 on 41 radical Islamist sites found only four blocked, and numerous sites relating to weapons manufacture and purchase were also readily available. In contrast, the website of Reporters Without Borders was blocked as were numerous opposition political and news sites, discrediting the governments justifications for censorship.28
The Great Firewall of China is a case of corporate collaboration in censorship. Press liberty has deteriorated since 2003 when President Hu Jintao took office, and the government has taken harsh steps to control and suppress peaceful political and religious dissent, including jailing journalists and bloggers. China operates the most sophisticated internet filtering and surveillance apparatus in the world, employing tens of thousands, but also relying on the active cooperation of major internet companies in proactive censorship. Yahoo! has provided user information to government authorities that enabled China to convict four government critics, and it has censored the results generated by its search engine to eliminate politically controversial terms and sites. Microsoft and Google also proactively censor their Chinese search engines, in anticipation of what the government would require them to block.
Censorship has not always been transparent, with companies sometimes providing minimal notice that results have been filtered, but no indication of what is missing or why. Skype also censored text-chats, but without notifying users that it was doing so.29 Pressure is on internet companies to create a voluntary code of conduct to guide their dealings with governments that do not respect freedom of expression or information. It is unlikely, however, that this alone will avert a race to the bottom in human rights standards without government regulation to put the brakes on proactive censorship and the lack of transparency.
While China is probably the most advanced in filtering and monitoring its slice of the internet, it is hardly alone. China has exported its technology to censor and monitor electronic communications to Robert Mugabes government in Zimbabwe. Other governments are trying to reproduce Chinas success in fencing in cyberspace and purging it of unwanted ideas, among them Iran, Yemen, Vietnam, and Tunisia. Burma monitors emails and uses software in internet cafes that records what is displayed on the screen every five minutes, while Uzbekistan fines cafe surfers for accessing banned political sites.30
As important as it is to free speech, the internet is only one arena for burgeoning state surveillance. The US requires telephone companies to have a surveillance capability, and has pressed for internet voice telephony to have surveillance capability embedded into the service as well.31 In most jurisdictions, governments have easy access to both telephone traffic data and internet traffic data as collected by internet service providers, in distinction to the substantive content of calls, which usually requires judicial warrant. Internet traffic data, however, gives far more information than telephone traffic datafor example, websites and pages visited, chat partners, searchesenabling the monitor to create a thorough profile of individuals. EU nations have sometimes considered whether to require retention of electronic communications records for a period of time so that they may be searched, a measure the US supports.32 Governments are creating enormous databases of personal information in many other ways (from data collected during travel, corporate records, national identity documents) that can be shared. These days, the person standing on the soapbox in Hyde Park is likely to be preserved by the government on film; London has one of the highest densities of public surveillance cameras in the world. Many are unaware of this surveillance explosion, which is likely to continue and deepen as technological ability to track people improves. But when surveillance pierces the consciousness, as the intensive monitoring of Muslim charities has in the US, it can have a profoundly intimidating effect.33
Essay about Censorship Laws and Practices in China
2941 Words12 Pages
Censorship Laws and Practices in China
Introduction China joined the global Internet age in 1994, and has been commercially available since 1995. Since then, Chinese Internet usage has seen explosive growth, doubling every six months, and the number of online users is only second to the US. The Internet age ushered in the information age with a new world of freedom and expression for the Chinese. However, soon after its inception, the Chinese government has reined in the free wheeling Internet users and has imposed new laws and restrictions to access and content on the Internet.
It is interesting to note that some of the new Internet regulations contradict International Laws signed by the Chinese government. China signed the…show more content…
Now any website or web service also had to monitor and self-sensor any information from their services that might contain material that might be harmful to the state. In the same year “The Measures for Managing Internet Information Services” outlined what and how hosts should monitor Internet traffic. This document explicitly stated which forms of speech are not expectable. Any speech or information, harmful to the state, containing differing views on religion, or those that may cause disorder or lead to national disunity have been stated.
In, 2001, the Internet censorship laws went to the ultimate extreme. If state secrets are exported from China, the government can impose harsh penalties such as imprisonment and confiscation all belongings, and in extreme cases, the death penalty. In 2002, China banned those under the age of 18 from using Internet cafes. Internet cafe users are banned from viewing websites pose threats to “state security” i.e. websites with violence, sexuality, or heretic messages.
The Chinese government had enforced these rules and regulations through blocking, filtering and shutting down Internet cafes. According to Amnesty International, the Chinese government routinely blocks news sites, especially those with dissident views or banned groups. Anniversary’s such as the 1989 pro-democracy protests are heavily guarded days that see increase Internet blocking. Internet blocking of major search gateways is also