[Paleopsych] open Democracy: Becky Hogge: The Great Firewall of China

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Becky Hogge: The Great Firewall of China

    Google is doing business with a communist China notorious for internet
    censorship. Not only techno-libertarians should worry, says Becky

    In December 1993, talking to Time magazine, technologist and civil
    libertarian [62]John Gilmore created one of the first verses in
    internet lore: The net interprets censorship as damage and routes
    around it. But according to a [63]report published by George Soross
    Open Net Initiative ([64]ONI), the Chinese government are doing a
    great job of disproving this theory. On 11 May, [65]Google announced
    it would set up shop in the Peoples Republic by the end of 2005. What
    can this mean for the citizens of China, and the citizens of the

    The Chinese effort to censor the internet is a feat of technology,
    legislation and manpower. According to the BBC, which is almost
    completely blocked within the great firewall of China (as it is known
    among techies), 50,000 different Chinese authorities do nothing but
    monitor traffic on the internet. No single law exists to permit this
    mass invasion of privacy and proscription of free speech. Rather,
    hundreds of articles in dozens of pieces of legislation work to
    obfuscate the mandate of the government to maintain political order
    through censorship.

    According to [66]Internet Filtering in China in 2004-2005: A Country
    Study, the most rigorous survey of Chinese internet filtering to date,
    Chinas censorship regime extends from the fatpipe backbone to the
    street cyber-café. Chinese communications infrastructure allows
    packets of data to be filtered at choke points designed into the
    network, while on the street liability for prohibited content is
    extended onto multiple parties author, host, reader to chilling
    effect. All this takes place under the watchful eye of machine and
    human censors, the latter often volunteers.

    The ramifications of this system, as the ONIs [67]John Parley stressed
    when he delivered the report to the US-China Economic and Security
    Review Commission in April, should be of concern to anyone who
    believes in participatory democracy. The ONI found that 60% of sites
    relating to opposition political parties were blocked, as were 90% of
    sites detailing the [68]Nine Commentaries, a series of columns about
    the Chinese Communist Party published by the Hong Kong-based [69]Epoch
    Times and associated by some with the banned spiritual movement
    [70]Falun Gong.

    The censorship does not end at the World Wide Web. New internet-based
    technologies, which looked to lend hope to free speech when ONI filed
    its last report on China in 2002, are also being targeted. Although
    email censorship is not as rampant as many (including the Chinese
    themselves) believe, blogs, discussion forums and bulletin boards have
    all been targeted through various measures of state control.

    What then, of Chinas 94 million web surfers? One discussion thread at
    Slashdot, the well-respected and popular discussion forum for
    techno-libertarians, is telling. When a well-meaning westerner offered
    a list of links prefaced with assuming that you can read Slashdot,
    here are a few web pages that your government would probably prefer
    you not to read, one poster, [71]Hung Wei Lo responded: I have
    travelled to China many times and work with many H1-Bs [temporary
    workers from outside US] from all parts of China. All of them are
    already quite knowledgeable about all the information provided in the
    links above, and most do not hesitate to engage in discussions about
    such topics over lunch. The fact that you feel all 1.6 billion Chinese
    are most certainly blind to these pieces of information is a direct
    result of years of indoctrination of Western (Im assuming American)

    Indeed, the recent anti-Japanese protests have been [72]cited by some
    as an example of how the Chinese people circumvent their states
    diligent censorship regime using networked technologies such as mobile
    text messages (SMS), instant messaging, emails, bulletin boards and
    blogs to communicate and organise. The argument here of course is that
    the authorities were ambivalent towards these protests one blogger
    reports that the state sent its own SMS during the disturbances: We
    ask the people to express your patriotic passion through the right
    channel, following the law and maintaining order.

    China will have to keep up with the slew of emerging technologies
    making untapped networked communication more sophisticated by the day
    RSS feeds, social bookmarking systems like del.icio.us and Furl and
    fledgling Voice over Internet Protocol ([73]VoIP, or telephony over
    the internet) packages such as Skype. Judging by the past record, it
    cannot be assumed that the state censorship machinery will not be able
    to meet these future challenges.

    What does this mean for the internet? As the authors of the ONI report
    point out, China has the opportunity to export its censorship
    technology and methodology to states such as Vietnam, North Korea,
    Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, to whom it already acts as a regional
    internet access provider. Further, as the second largest market in the
    world, it is a natural attractor for global web firms. The
    announcement that Google has secured a licence to operate in China has
    prompted many to ask how the US company will practice business there
    whilst staying true to its informal company motto [74]Dont be evil.

    Already Google has been accused of collaborating with the Chinese
    government by omitting from its Google News service links blocked by
    the state. If these two experts in internet traffic Google in
    cataloguing it and China in censoring it start working together, what
    can we expect? Will Google attempt to persuade the Chinese government
    to open up the free flow of information? Could the Chinese government
    force Google to hand over search logs and other identifiable

    It is not only repressive regimes that have an interest in the
    censorship of the internet. Technologies now used by the Chinese, like
    choke points for packet filtering, were advocated in the 1990s by
    rightsholder lobbies in the [75]National Information Infrastructure
    talks in the United States. And the acceptance of VoIP as a mainstream
    telephony solution has been slowed by the concerns of US and British
    security services that conversations cannot be [76]tapped. What the
    situation in China demonstrates to techno-libertarians is that they
    can no longer rely on John Gilmores old maxim: from now on, the
    internet may need a little human help routing around the damage of


   62. http://www.toad.com/gnu/
   64. http://www.opennetinitiative.net/
   65. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/05/11/google_china/print.html
   66. http://www.opennetinitiative.net/studies/china/
   67. http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/palfrey/2005/04/14
   68. http://english.epochtimes.com/jiuping.asp
   69. http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=13769
   70. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falun_Gong
   71. http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=149180&cid=12506552
   72. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4496163.stm
   73. http://www.fcc.gov/voip/
   74. http://investor.google.com/conduct.html
   75. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NII
   76. http://www.computerweekly.com/Article132467.htm

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