Freedom of the Net: Implications of China’s Information Control Regarding Tibet

Deven Desai

Deven Desai is an associate professor of law and ethics at the Scheller College of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology. He was also the first, and to date, only Academic Research Counsel at Google, Inc., and a Visiting Fellow at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy. He is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley and the Yale Law School. Professor Desai’s scholarship examines how business interests, new technology, and economic theories shape privacy and intellectual property law and where those arguments explain productivity or where they fail to capture society’s interest in the free flow of information and development. His work has appeared in leading law reviews and journals including the Georgetown Law Journal, Minnesota Law Review, Notre Dame Law Review, Wisconsin Law Review, and U.C. Davis Law Review.

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8 Responses

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  3. Carl Liu says:

    Yes, it is true that China exercises information control. Probably for a couple of reasons: (1) the government does not want its people know the truth that undermines its authority or legitimacy. (2) mistrust of the Western media. (3) doubt its people’s ability to react intelligently, moderately, and peacefully.

    Articles like this one is profoundly disappointing. (1) It assumes the Western media is objective. (2) It assumes China’s version of the story is always false. (3) It always assumes the information control is for an ill purpose. (I admit the means is questionable, but that does not mean the end is evil. I am not asserting the end justify the means. But as a seriously commenter, you can not assume a Satan of a country, evil on all levels. The condescending attitude will never invite helpful discourse.)

    In this case, the Western media is a disgrace, mixing its position on the Tibet sovereignty issue with its responsibility to describe the facts. The Tibetans violently attacked people and business based on ethnicity.

    Most of the Western news outlets were quick to ignore these facts, and continue to paint an emotional and biased picture of China’s police response. China’s mistrust of the Western media is not unfounded after all. You may argue China invited such reporting because it blocked all the international journalists from entering Tibet. But why is it not Western media’s responsibility to show that it is trustworthy first? The responsibility is at least shared.

    The passion is high the Tibetans and the Han. Because there is no democratic tradition in China, conflicts are not always solved peacefully. I do understand the concerns of the Chinese government, if it does not control hate speech by the Han, or it allows videos showing the most heinous violence by the Tibetans. Ethnic violence is likely to escalate. We do not want Tibetans to be murdered, do we?

    Oh, I forgot, if China did not control the follow of certain information and violence gets escalated, the Western media would quickly point out that China always control the information, and fact that it did not, proves its intent to escalate the violence. China, because you are evil, whatever you do, you will always be condemned!

    China has many problems, maybe more than most countries, and it can be brutal at times. If you see it as all evil, it only encourage it to be worse, because it will seem to them that it dose not help to good at all.

  4. Deven says:


    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I do not think I was saying China is evil. You have projected that view into the post. Remember, I noted that the U.S. has behaved in similar ways in at least Vietnam and Iraq. That was to highlight the point that governments in general have a large ability to control information. They will do so. Nonetheless, the question is whether letting information flow freely will bring acts to light so better understanding is possible.

    Furthermore, if there were violent attacks in Tibet that the Tibetans started them, the issue may be more about whether Chinese control of the country is justified at all. Yet even if one leaves that question oout of the inquiry, at an abstract level the way a government perceives a group i.e., as rebel or freedom fighter will likely influence how the facts are portrayed. But maybe, just maybe, if there was more information in general provided by observers, the press, insiders with Internet access, and so on, one could see who is doing what and what the resolution should be. So again as it is China right now is an example of the more general problem.

  5. Carl Liu says:

    Thanks for your prompt and courteous response.

    Your clarification, “I do not think I was saying China is evil,” is welcomed. However, sometimes, the assumptions made or the perceptions encouraged, consciously or subconsciously, can be as “unfriendly” as explicit words. For example, to encourage the suspicion that the Chinese government is behind some cyber attacks on overseas Tibetan groups, you quoted Washington post, “[these] attacks shared the same Internet resources and tactics in common with those used in a spate of digital assaults against number of major U.S. defense contractors.” To add more weight to the statement, you named Maarten Van Horenbeeck, an Internet security analyst, as the source of the statement. However, you conveniently forgot to mention that Van Horenbeeck also “provides security and technical advice to several Tibetan groups.” This information is available in the same article you got the original quote from.

    I am a strong supporter of better information follow in China; I definitely find it appropriate to discuss/debate on Tibet’s sovereignty issue, considering Tibet’s many- century-long complicated relation with Chinese central government ruled by Mongolians, Hans, Manchus, and considering the underlying causes of the bloody riots. However, I am sure you will agree with me that such inquiry is not a true inquiry if the assumption is that Tibet should be an independent country.

    In the end, I am not opposing any of the positions that you are advocating. Instead, I am a bigger supporter of them. However, my point is, if you want to encourage a person to behave better, you have to give that person an impression that you are fair: be clear about the problems and at the same time give credits to the person when he deserves it. Otherwise, everything you say appears to him to serve a selfish agenda. Obviously, the agenda here in the article is not selfish, and it should not appear as one either.

  6. Deven says:


    It seems you will only stick to the idea that the post is unfair. O.K. That is your view. As for the allegation of hiding something, yes the analyst works with Tibet but the Post notes that he also worked for the U.S. government in finding the source of the first attacks that were based in China. Note that I acknowledged that the cyberattacks may not be from the Chinese governemtn but seem to based in China. You conflated that with the idea that I somehow said China is behind the attacks.

    In addition little things like China unblokcing the BBC (though never admitting to blocking in the firt place) and more attacks by unknown people but from within China on sites with views unfavorable to China’s policies (, make it hard to give China any credibility. Again more openness in general may change that view. The unblocking of the BBC (though Chinese language articles are still blocked) is a start.

    Last here is my question for you, what do you recommend? The alleged fairness move has some resonance but there is little to support your allegations. This post and comments have noted that China’s government is not proven to be the source of some acts (a point you ignored) and that other governments control information (again ignored). If you are suggesting some sort of uncritical comment (which I do not think you are) that will not work.

    So what do you propose regarding the actual question which is how to address information flow control by governments?



  7. Carl Liu says:

    We can disagree on many things. However, we all agree that the issue of “information flow control by governments” is an important one.


  8. byron says:

    No provision in the U.S. Constitution explicitly guards against government “taking” information away from people. It doesn’t even impose due process. The framers were sages. They did as LaoTze said:

    Not praising the worthy prevents contention,

    Not esteeming the valuable prevents theft,

    Not displaying the beautiful prevents desire.

    In this manner the sage governs people:

    Emptying their minds,

    Filling their bellies,

    Weakening their ambitions,

    And strengthening their bones.

    If people lack knowledge and desire

    Then they can not act;

    If no action is taken

    Harmony remains.

    No matter how hard Demos try not to perceive, men are not born equal. And many, if not most, do not appreciate the freedom of choice at a sea of conflicting information. I would even propose a moderate governmental control of information flow a “welfare” in the case that I don’t want my kid learn doggie at the age of 5.