Freedom of the Net: Implications of China’s Information Control Regarding Tibet
The Net can be a tool of democracy or at least for sharing the information some see as vital to a democracy. One country, China, knows this point and has moved to shut down information. Many may know that China has moved against Tibetan protestors. China has been quite shrewd about preventing information from coming out of Tibet. Observers are not allowed. Although observing repression seems odd, it may inhibit some of China’s acts. In addition there is a ban on foreign press in Tibet so any news feeds are from rather brave folks. China has also invoked its laws against distributing videos online that are “pornographic, violent or a threat to national security under rules that tighten Internet controls.” Arstechnica reports that China has shut down 25 video sharing sites and penalized 32 others. Furthermore, one news source reports that Web sites for groups supporting Tibetans against China’s presence (political, NGO, and support sites) have been under cyberattack. The attacks use friendly looking messages with attachments that appear to be power points or pdfs with information from inside Tibet. The attachments carry trojans. Whether China is behind these attacks is unclear but the Washington Posts notes that the “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,” according to Maarten Van Horenbeeck, an Internet security analyst.
On top of the moves to stop the flow of information, China is now sharing its view of the events in Tibet. by showing “Tibetan protesters attacking Chinese” and posting material to YouTube that claims “CNN, Germany’s Der Spiegel and other media [cropped] pictures to show Chinese military while screening out Tibetan rioters or putting pictures of Indian and Nepalese police wrestling Tibetan protesters with captions about China’s crackdown.”
All of these moves make me wonder about two questions Did sci-fi writer, Orson Scott Card, think of these types of events when he was writing the Ender’s Game series? And would a general right of freedom of the Internet work?
If I remember correctly, the series has version of Internet news dissemination where Ender’s sister uses pseudonyms to spread views. Those acts spur changes in the society. They can be manipulative as people may write under a pseudonym and fake positions. Or they may use anonymity to offer unpopular ideas that stand up regardless of the source. Today using technology to spread information with a directed purpose is not so wild. China’s acts highlight the way a government can and will try to control information. Note that the U.S. control of information in Vietnam and Iraq shows that any government can act as China is. China is perhaps more aggressive right now than others so it exemplifies the problem.
So would a general right of freedom of the net work? Would it matter? After all, one will still encounter claims that certain information is not valuable or speech worth protecting. And if net culture persists as it is (though I think Jonathan Zittrain has shown why that situation may not continue), many will find ways around whatever regulations are in place. Still, as demands for more ISP control emerge from the intellectual property and national security industries (yes like intellectual property, national security is an industry as well as a real concern) the ability to choke off the sharing of views looms over the Net. Maybe the ideal of a guaranteed right would at least allow people to point to the words and say the law has been broken. And even if that does not happen immediately because of rushing to fix alleged or real short-term problems or system capture, the words would endure and allow later people to say that was wrong; now, let’s move closer to the ideal.