…What does it mean, and more importantly how can and does it affect you?
This last year has seen the defeat of PIPA and SOPA in the US, but what seem like huge victories are actually only minor wins.
Across the world censorship on the Internet is rapidly turning the information super highway into a desolate place. People tend to think of China when they think of Internet Censorship, but it’s not the only place. It’s happening here and now in almost every place on the globe, even the United States.
First lets define Internet Censorship. Internet Censorship is the control or suppression of the publishing of, or access to information on the Internet. It may be carried out by governments or by private organizations at the behest of government, regulators, or on their own initiative.
A shining example of such censorship is China. In China the censorship has gotten to a point where the government basically maintains a separate version of the Internet. Search engines like Google and Bing are forced to strip out of their results anything that remotely comes close to being on a list of disallowed topics. Using a proxy server in China is punishable by jail time. In China most the ISPs are owned by the government and filter the Internet to within an inch of its life. Those that aren’t government owned must follow the same rules or be shut down. Internet providers are held directly responsible for the viewing habits of their subscribers. China maintains an “Internet police” believed to be more than 30,000 strong and attempts to squelch any public opinion that differs in anyway from the beliefs of the leaders. This practice gained substantial strength after a series of large anti-Japanese, anti-pollution, anti-corruption protests, and ethnic riots were organized using instant messaging and social media. Social media is banned, all Internet traffic is subject to deep packet inspection. China has put into effect more than 60 laws governing the filtration and censorship of the Internet. Section Five of the Computer Information Network and Internet Security, Protection, and Management Regulations approved by the State Council on the 11th of December 1997 states the following:
No unit or individual may use the Internet to create, replicate, retrieve, or transmit the following kinds of information:
- Inciting to resist or breaking the Constitution or laws or the implementation of administrative regulations;
- Inciting to overthrow the government or the socialist system;
- Inciting division of the country, harming national unification;
- Inciting hatred or discrimination among nationalities or harming the unity of the nationalities;
- Making falsehoods or distorting the truth, spreading rumors, destroying the order of society;
- Promoting feudal superstitions, sexually suggestive material, gambling, violence, murder;
- Terrorism or inciting others to criminal activity; openly insulting other people or distorting the truth to slander people;
- Injuring the reputation of state organizations;
- Other activities against the Constitution, laws or administrative regulations.
Also in December of 1997, Public Security minister Zhu Entao released new regulations to be enforced by the ministry that inflict fines for “defaming government agencies,” “splitting the nation,” and leaking “state secrets.” Violators could face a fine up to 15,000 Yuan ($1800). In September 2000, State Council Order No. 292 created the first content restrictions for internet content providers. China-based Web sites cannot link to overseas news Web sites or distribute news from overseas media without separate approval. Only “licensed print publishers” have the authority to deliver news online. Non-licensed Web sites that wish to broadcast news may only publish information already released publicly by other news media. These kinds of policies have caused China to have the highest number of imprisoned journalists and dissident protestors anywhere in the world.
Some of the sites blocked by the Chinese “Great Firewall” include (but not limited to): Google Docs, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Most of Wikipedia, Yahoo, Blogspot, WordPress, The Pirate Bay, Google Apps, Google Drive, and almost any site containing porn, streaming media, religion, file/photo sharing of any kind, or VPN/Proxy software. Methods like DNS Poisoning, IP Blocking/Filtering, Packet Filtering/Inspection, and DNS redirection make it difficult to get to any content labeled as “unharmonious”.
However polices like the ones in China are becoming more common place than most would like to know or admit to. In Europe some of the same policies have been implemented and others are being proposed as we speak. The ominously-named “Clean IT” project in Europe is designed to prevent use of the Internet by Terrorists. A leaked document uncovered recently by ERDI however brings to light a more chilling end result. Law enforcement agencies would under this law be allowed to, without due process, remove “terrorist content” and incarcerate its poster. Under the law any site linking to “terrorist content” would also be classed as illegal and visitors could be prosecuted. In the bill social media sites would be forced to only allow real photos of its users for profile photos and real names would have to be used online in place of current anonymous handles.This law would also create a “virtual police force” designed to “make regular users feel more secure online”. These virtual cops would have access to anything posted regardless of privacy controls and would essentially watch and scrutinize everyone looking for “terrorist” activity. Also buried in the laws proposal is a section that would require the revocation of security and SSL certificates, essentially destroying the HTTPS standard and the security of online transactions. A final segment of the law would require only certain languages be allowed on the Internet in Europe and other less common or foreign languages would be considered “abusive”.
In the US bills like SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) & PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) have been defeated thus far by an overwhelming opposition to Internet Censorship, however that doesn’t mean that we are immune. New laws are being proposed all the time that would destroy the Internet as we know it. The CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act), COICA (Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act), and other bills crafted similar to SOPA and PIPA are still in the wings. Bills that are designed to stop “Internet Terrorism” and protect Intellectual property that in the end destroy social media, freeware, and most importantly free speech. CISPA however is another huge threat, It would allow companies to collect and monitor private communications and share them with the government and anyone else.
Globally ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) has been proposed and is being worked out for implementation in Europe, the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and Canada. ACTA is aimed at intellectual property rights and is similar to the bills that failed here in the US (SOPA and PIPA). ACTA wouldn’t just effect Europe, it would also effect people here in the US and several other countries. ACTA is designed to raise international intellectual property standards, focusing particularly on counterfeit goods, generic medicines and copyright infringement. However it would also stifle free speech and creativity online. ACTA contains DMCA-like provisions against anti-circumvention, which for the most part make free software (otherwise known as freeware) illegal, since by nature it doesn’t support DRM. Under ACTA derivative works would be illegal, as would most commentary, sites like Facebook, Twitter, 9Gag, blogs, and others would suffer greatly. In addition to ending the current age for the Internet it would also make all generic prescription drugs illegal.
Not all censorship is caused by governments. Censorship online effects you every day and you probably haven’t even thought about it. If you have used Facebook, it tailors your news feed to show the things you are interested in. Thus censoring the content that doesn’t line up with your view point. By actively filtering out opposing views, they make for more polarized opponents, who are eventually unable to see past own preconceptions… A prime example of this is The Rush Limbaugh show, the show created an echo chamber where only people with extremely similar minded people listened, and so only callers that agreed with host, causing the show to creep further and further right. Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and others do this same thing now, but at the request of the user through filters they set on their own news feeds and by their own selections. Users are only seeing the parts of the Internet and news that they want and not the overall picture, which is just as damaging as the filtering done by China and others around the world.
- Russia Ramps Up Internet Censorship (techweekeurope.co.uk)
- Google Battles UN Internet Proposal, Censorship (theepochtimes.com)
- China tightens internet controls (telegraph.co.uk)
- What the Future of China’s New Internet Crackdown Looks Like (theatlanticwire.com)
- China tightens internet controls (bigpondnews.com)
- Australia Drops Mandatory Internet Censorship Plans, but Will Still Censor the Internet (news.softpedia.com)
- US sanctions Iran over Internet, media censorship (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- ELECTRONIC WEAPONS: China Makes War On Business Secrets (strategypage.com)