Monday, September 20, 2010

Internet Restrictions

In my technology class we are working in groups and my group was assigned the topic of web use outside the U.S.  We read an article on internet cafes in China and on the internet restrictions imposed by the government on the chinese. I found an article, link included below, entitled Dumbing down democracy: Trends in internet regulation, surveillance and control in Asia by James Gomez from the Monash Asia Institute of Monash University. The article was written in 2002 for the Pacific Journalism Review and although things change very quickly in the world of technology, the information to be gained from it is still relevant in  2010. The article argues that internet censorship and regulation will lead to a reduction in political expression. There are examples of censorship in several countries in Asia including Vietnam, Singapore, and Pakistan. The governments of these countries feel the need to regulate and limit the internet because of efforts to eradicate terrorism and to protect national security. The article claims that Vietnam is one of worlds most repressive countries. Vietnam blocks all sites that are considered politically dangerous and has made it illegal to use the internet to oppose the government. Citizens of Vietnam that are found guilty of improper internet use are sentenced to several years in prison. Like China's policy regarding internet cafes, Vietnam will be requiring internet cafe owners to be responsible for how its  customers use the internet. The article also comments on Singapore's policy towards email spam. While spam is partly being countered because of the commercial use of spam, it is also of interest to the government because of spam's political implications. Spam is being used by political organizations and NGOs to reach people with restricted internet access. Spammers found guilty can receive a fine or a prison sentence. In an attempt to counter terrorism, Pakistan has taken reduced the privacy of internet users and required internet cafe owners to keep records of the names, connection times, numbers called and computer identities of their customers. The Pakistani government claims that it this is making it easier to track terrorists. 

Aside from denying basic human rights like self expression, internet censorship can also prevent people from accessing essential information. I can see how preventing access to sites like google and twitter could cut people off from STD prevention information that could improve their lives. In the global community that is our world today, we can all benefit from the free exchange of information that the internet provides. For example, if a non profit in the United States develops a prevention strategy for AIDS, another non profit that has access to the internet can easily benefit from the discovery of the first non profit. Internet censorship for the purpose of protecting a paranoid  government from public opinion, does not justify the risk of losing out on valuable global collaboration that could improve the lives of milions in our world.

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