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Internet censorship: Violation of right to information?


China FlagA recent PC World | IDG News service article reports that bloggers in China have been exempted from mandatory registration of their real names. It isn't just the Chinese government that has been employing repressive tactics against freedom of expression over the Internet. State-led censorship of the net has been prevalent for political, social, and security reasons. And the trend is on the rise.

Excerpt from an article in NewScientistTech.com

"By comparing their findings to earlier reports, the authors conclude that filtering is currently increasing worldwide. They also believe that governments are extending restrictions beyond just information websites to other online services, such as Internet telephony network Skype."
The findings are attributed to a survey conducted by The OpenNet Initiative (ONI), a nonprofit collaborative partnership of four of the world's leading academic institutions: University of Toronto, Harvard Law School, University of Cambridge, and Oxford University.

"Our aim is to investigate, expose and analyze Internet filtering and surveillance practices in a credible and non-partisan fashion. We intend to uncover the potential pitfalls and unintended consequences of these practices, and thus help to inform better public policy and advocacy work in this area." (from ONI Web site)

More on the report is available at:

Internet Censorship on the Rise Worldwide (TechNewsWorld.com)

Internet censorship involves the following techniques in inhibiting users:

1. Technical Blocking : These techniques are used to block access to specific Web pages, domains, or IP addresses

E.g. Microsoft Considers China Policy (BBC News )

2. Search Results Removal : Companies that provide Internet search services cooperate with governments to omit illegal or undesirable Web sites from search results

E.g. Google Korea Restricts Search (PC World)

Google kowtows to Thai Censorship (Sun)

No booze or jokes for Googlers in China (News.com)

3) Take-down : Removal of Web sites with inappropriate or illegal content

4) Induced Censorship : A strategy to limit exposure to the Internet content by encouraging self-censorship both in browsing habits and in choosing content to post online with the threat of legal action or informal methods of intimidation

According to survey results for Internet penetration across the world (Internet World Stats) , around 16% of the human population is Internet-enabled, implying that approximately 1 in every 6 persons in the world has access to the Net. Many projects, like The OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) initiative, had been planned to bridge this gaping information divide.

Last year, the first United Nations' Internet Governance Forum, consisting of stakeholders in the Internet, was convened at Athens, "to get all interested parties together in one place to discuss key issues about the Internet, to help form consensus so that those who do have control over the net sit up and take notice" (article from BBC News).

When the statistics prove that the need of the hour is to make the Internet more accessible globally, the rise in censorship is indeed sad news. Moreover, this seems to be a trend that large technology corporations are unable to stop and are in fact abetting to protect their pecuniary concerns.

For a deeper insight into Internet censorship, read this study conducted by Craig. A Depken,II : Who supports Internet Censorship?

The Internet has emerged as the unhindered, uninhibited medium for information dissemination. In this age where progress of humanity is centered on our acknowledgement of several fundamental Human rights, isn't Internet censorship a blatant violation of the right to information? Join the discussion.

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39 comments
Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Article 1 of the Bill of Rights (i.e. 1st Ammendment of the U.S. Constitution) prohibits the federal government from censoring your information (broad definition of the word "Press". And technically, only Congress is prevented from making laws to restrict the press. Supposedly the Executive and Judicial branches of the federal government would have no laws to "enforce"; but that hasn't stopped any of our presidents from issuing executive orders to supress certain types of information. For instance, classified information, the release of which could cause damage to the United States (the implication is the PEOPLE of the United States, but in fact, has been wrongly used to prevent damage to the reputations of administrations). State and local governments may or may not have local laws on censorship. That's up to them. Private companies are not subject to this restriction. The premise on which the United States government is supposed to operate is under the control of the desires of the majority of its citizens. The citizens of this country cannot exercise control without adequate knowledge. Restrict the knowledge out there by censorship, and you thereby control how the people vote; usurping their rights. The BIG QUESTION to ask ourselves daily is, "Has our government reached a level of censorship that has exceeded the ability of the citizens of this country to exercise our control of our own government?" If the answer is still "No", then we are okay. If the answer ever becomes "Yes", then we have the right, granted by the Declaration of Independence, to use whatever means necessary to restore our rights.

Tig2
Tig2

I personally self regulate. I have a cause that I feel strongly about but do not widely publish the links that would take you to information about that cause. Because of URL simplification, you can't even type my name into a browser and find my pages supporting my cause. I am a single person. Let's extrapolate. If I were a country, I would be doing something harmful- restricting access. As a person, failing to restrict access results in spamming a perfectly good tech board. So what is the right thing? I think that there is a point at which the individual becomes responsible for the content they read, and aware that they may not see all the content they wish to. Countries other than this one (hopefully) will filter information in the way they see fit. Nothing will change that. Period.

deepsand
deepsand

to non-governmental entities.

andersonjesse28
andersonjesse28

Information from the internet is for those that are trying to do good for the world. Those that are evil peoples should not used the internet for evil.

Wayne M.
Wayne M.

Governments have long limitted access to and blocked information in the form of books, magazines, letters, and television and radio broadcasts. Why do people suddenly run around in a froth when suddenly "Internet" is attached to common practices? One doesn't have to agree with the choices made by individual governments, but it is really up to the people ruled by the particular governments to take action.

pr.arun
pr.arun

Is the rise in Internet Censorship a violation of the right to information ?

chrisbedford
chrisbedford

...but remember that Constitution, and its First and all subsequent Amendments, are applicable to approx 300 million people of a world population of - what, five or 6 billion? All those other countries have their own laws, and more importantly, mores and standards. The Internet, on the other hand, is (intended to be) an anarchic medium - you can censor a newspaper easily enough, but when a website is published anonymously, or offshore, it makes everything trickier. Not impossible, obviously, but trickier. And, inevitably, inconsistent. I do firmly believe that there should be a universal right to free speech, but you have to respect that some other cultures don't think like that. And I'm also not sure where that leaves us with the bomb-making instructions. The intent and design of the Internet were based around government and university - i.e. regulated and educated - users. Now every man and his dog is connected we should perhaps be thinking about how to regulate the Internet more consistently. Dunno. Remember that there are no rights without responsibilities. We hear so much about Rights, rights, rights, but there's no such thing as a free lunch and you DON'T have the right to mess with other people's lives, or minds, if you don't respect their rights.

deepsand
deepsand

"[i]State and local governments may or may not have local laws on censorship. That's up to them.[/i]" While it is true that it was once held that the States were not subject to the restrictions re. Civil Liberties as embodied in the Bill of Rights, that has ceased to be the case quite some time ago. It is now a generally accepted principle of Constitutional Law that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment does, by incorporation, bind the States to the same restrictions as is the Federal Sovereign. I.e., the States are subject to the same limitations as is the Federal government as re. censorship.

NolandQQ
NolandQQ

Information/knowledge is a tool that can free or enslave. Some people have always sought to dominate or control others. Those that choose to dominate believe it is their right or duty. Having uncensored information/knowledge is a powerful tool we can use in making choices. Is it a human right to have choice? Where does that right begin or end? How much overlap of your choices and my choices can there be and still each have their own rights and freedoms? This string of blogs are outstanding. It is happening because of a level of freedom (as well as support of TechRepublic and their sponsors as a business choice). Yet we still ask who leads, who follows and why? That takes uncensored information to decided.

nathan.a.ward
nathan.a.ward

Well at least someone realizes that not every country has the freedoms like we do. This just goes to show that there are many people who do not understand how priviledged of a life we have in the states. Protect your freedom, but don't abuse your privileges.

Larry the Security Guy
Larry the Security Guy

In the U.S., our right to freedom of expression is protected by the Bill of Rights. Some countries don't enjoy this kind of protection, but I don't think it's our place to interfere in their government. But even in the U.S., your right to freedom of expression doesn't mean I have to receive or carry your message. We are responsible to ensure that the exercise of our rights doesn't interfere with the rights of others. I can't (and won't) stop you from expressing yourself, but I can stop you from using my property to do so.

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

Wow, and it's a BIG can too. But interesting. So here's my $.02 I'm not so sure there is a "right to information" as much as a right to free speech. Whether or not you choose to listen to that speech is up to you. Hitler decided it was better to keep the people uninformed, that's why he burned all the books. I guess the thinking was that if people didn't know any better, they would be less likely to rebel. Remember the saying "Knowledge is power"? So what it comes down to is who has the right to tell us what information we have access to? Who?s morals do we use to decide the available content? Now I realize I?m dating myself here (and I?m not THAT old), but when I was a kid we didn?t see women in their underwear on TV commercials. And you couldn?t say SOB, or a whole list of other words on TV, that are now (apparently) considered acceptable. Stores weren?t open on Sundays because it was the Sabbath Day. And it still is. And so you ask: What does that have to do with the question at hand? Censorship. People don?t care until it affects them directly. You don?t care about the tax on cigarettes and alcohol if you don?t smoke or drink. But when they go after something that does affect you, then you care. It?s human nature. So you won?t care about the information being made unavailable until they take away something that you found interesting or informative. You can change the channel on your TV, the station on your radio, or simply not read the book. Why then can we not just simply choose to block certain content? The tools are readily available. Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. Thanks.

wallowamichael
wallowamichael

And the Internet did NOT start out as a free speech medium. It started as a way for scientists and researchers to communicate with each other and search each other's libraries. The fact that a vast majority of people have to pay to access the internet already creates a privileged class, those that can afford access. In America we have always limited who has access to the Internet, let alone what sites they can access. So, you say, libraries have free Internet access, and library cards are free. Yes, but there's this thing called CIPA, which requires that libraries have filters in place so that information deemed "harmful to minors" is not displayed. You have to ask to have the filters turned off, and most libraries/librarians aren't the ones who run the filter, so the request could take days. I rely heavily on filters for our 'corporate' Internet access. Since I work with schools, the same CIPA regulation applies. I also filter adult and guest access to the Internet from our network. The best thing people like is when they browse with me, they don't get ads! So, my emphasis is on sites that are 'harmful to minors'. If an adult brings a laptop and connects to my wireless network, they don't get any of those sites, either. If you want to download p0rn, BUY ACCESS from home. My _free_ Internet access still costs me money, and I don't want that traffic traversing it, and in almost every state in the nation the courts have sided with me. (Or made it law that I must do it - CIPA)

clark1
clark1

reference the part of the constitution that grants you the right to information? This is just one more example of people confusing privileges and rights.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

right to information come from? And who is allegedly violating it?

deepsand
deepsand

It was designed for the use by the military in case of catastrophic damage to the then existing communications systems, not for general use by either governments or universities. The World Wide Web, which is but a single protocol used on the Internet, [b]was[/b] designed for the common use by all. The distinction between the Internet & the Web is one with a very important difference. The Internet, which is a physical infrastructure, is subject to the control of those who own its myriad parts. The Web, which is non-physical, i.e. virtual in nature, is essentially uncontrollable.

mgordon
mgordon

You must live in a different country -- even though San Diego seems to be in the U.S.A. I did not realize how much of our liberty we have already sacrificed until I spent two years in Iceland. they don't have our "bill of rights" but they have a LOT more real liberty. You see, the bill of rights stops at the edge of private property, and private property includes almost every place you will go throughout your life. You have little freedom in a store, in a school, or at work. Do you think there's freedom of religion at school? Work? Store? Take your camera to a mall and start taking pictures; see how long it is before a rent-a-cop shows up to tell you that you cannot do that. What we have *feels* like freedom because you've been raised from childhood in a cage and the bars have become invisible. We boast of freedom, but in fact, freedom can be a very bad thing -- we had it plenty in 1880 and it allowed "robber barons" and extreme social stratification. The internet has been unrestrained because the powers-that-be do not understand it. When these powers DO understand it, it will be caged just like everything else. We cage our children through ignorance and careful selection of history books that tell things the way we want. Example: 5th grade history book, Baltimore schools, explaining Brigham Young. Their version is that western territories became available after Mexico lost the Mexican-American war (1849 I think). Brigham Young took a bunch of land grabbers west to settle Utah. No mention at all of the Mormon religion and he wasn't going TO Utah as much as escaping persecution in Illinois; a persecution that got no mention. How free is this child to choose, when her foundation is contaminated by half-truths and falsehood? The internet is fantastic insofar that it is totally libertarian, for now. Good news and junk exists side-by-side and helps us refine our abilities to distinguish one from the other. The problem of control is that it could end up blocking Good news and leave only the junk.

Jordon
Jordon

Does the broadcaster own the broadcast? I don't think so. How would you feel if the news broadcast was jammed by someone that didn't want you to hear the message?

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

Bill of Rights Amendment I Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Would not the censorship of the Internet fall under "or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. " ??

macumazahn
macumazahn

Are we talking about porn or the right to print your opinion or article and the rights of others to read it, the internet is like a library if you don't like porn don't check out the adult fiction sections, the internet is no different, freedom for people to check out anything they are interested in even porn, children are restricted from these things and there is nothing wrong with that but adults should have rights.

herbertg
herbertg

Which country?s constitution has that ?right??I am sure the US constituion doesn?t even mention it (even in 27 admendments), also I can gaurantee it's not in the Australian, so what right to information is Arun Radhakrishnan rabbiting on about?

jck
jck

I think the IN = India...not Indiana... unless of course, you're an Indian legal scholar :D awwwww sookie sookie...

deepsand
deepsand

I was merely pointing out that while the 'Net, being physical, [b]can[/b] be easily controlled, the Web, being virtual, [b]cannot[/b]. However, those that do control the 'Net can exercise a degree of control over the 'Net at a gross level, by controlling what content is allowed to travel where.

chrisbedford
chrisbedford

... but hasn't been for - what - 13 years? In an era where 1 year is a long time, the amount of change and REDESIGN that the Internet has undergone since being opened to the public has made it something completely different. It's hardly recognisable as the ARPA net or anything remotely resembling it or its various incarnations since it was first conceived. But anyway, the point I was making might perhaps have been better stated if I had talked "web" instead of "Internet" although it hardly makes a difference; it doesn't change any of my arguments.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

I was referring to "free" as in free of cost.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

2 different points here. Articles, Blogs, and information meant to be shared is on the Internet. Censoring the Internet in the USA would be in violation of the Bill of Rights. Companies and Governments do not (or should not) post confidential information where it can be easily obtained by others. I have no problem with the idea that a company wants to share info (even confidential) on the Internet, and then uses security features to block access. This is information to be shared to a smaller group, not for everyone. But if the government wants to block, say, and article in the news, or Joe Blows' blog, or a storefront, then that is censorship and should not be tolersted.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

[i]Do we have a "right" to all information? I'd have to say no to that or there would'nt be "classified" and "top secret" information, not to mention all the other stuff they don't tell us.[/i] Would that right create an obligation on others to ensure that everybody has "free" access to all information? If so, then I would think they'd have to invalidate every "intellectual property" law on the books.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

I would have to say no, because it is not just information, it is freedom of the press. Yes, information that is not made public can be held privately (such as top secret). But this has to do with the information made public via freedom of speech/press. It does not say that the press is only 'the press' if they use printing presses, or newspapers, or even that they are registered. However, I would like to see what the definition of 'the press' really is. However, I still believe that in the USA, a censorship on 'information' which has been made public is in violation of the Bill Of Rights, just like some of the videos after 9/11

Desktop Veteran
Desktop Veteran

Well, the question was "Is the rise in internet censorship a violation of our right to information?". I don't think there is so much a question of our right to say it, the question is do we have a right to see it, read it, hear it. And more to the point for me, does someone else have the right to make that decision for me? Do I need someone else to do that for me? No. Do we have a "right" to all information? I'd have to say no to that or there would'nt be "classified" and "top secret" information, not to mention all the other stuff they don't tell us. So you have the right to say it. The question is, does someone else have the right to tell me I can't read it? Should the content on the internet be controlled by someone? I'd have to go with a "no" on that one.

wallowamichael
wallowamichael

Adult Media is not the primary concern. It is the one that gets bandied about the most, so I made an example of it. We have to make some assumptions. First, the Internet is NOT free from monetary cost. This means by default, some people are excluded from the information on the internet, and cannot put their information onto the internet to be accessed by others. (Censorship by economic class) Second, no free information resource is comprehensive. There is not a library in the world that has access to all printed material. There are libraries that do better than others, and there are cross-lending capabilities, but the general public with free access to libraries cannot get ANY book they want, any time. They can only access what the library has available. Other materials may require a fee, membership (college libraries), or presence (restricted stacks, historical documents, etc.). Using these two assumptions, which cover 99.99% of the cases, I'm guessing, we can see that there is already 'censorship' of information available in any country, at any time. Even if you have a library membership and can get a daily newspaper for free, you don't have access to all the information or printed material that you might want. Even leaving adult media out of the equation, there is quite a bit of censorship, if you define censorship as 'restricting a person's right to access the information they want to read'. Now comes the internet. Anyone can access it (with $$). Anyone can publish on it (again, with $$, since you have to have access before you can publish). Then comes 'free' internet access provided by governments, municipalities, NGOs, or charitable organizations. In theory, any person using a free internet account can publish to a web site for all to see, and can view any web site available. I AGREE that this is how it should be. The U.S. government does not allow transmission of bomb building instructions. This law appeared after the Oklahoma City bombing. Rather than get in a fight with the government, I restrict access to bomb-building sites by the people that use my internet system. My system is NOT free, I have to pay for it. My users do not have to pay a fee directly, but they are part of an organization that pays for access to the internet. I also provide the general public access to the internet through this infrastructure that already exists. The general public has to abide by the same restrictions that I place on all of my regular subscribers. Is this censorship? YES, by the definition that exists in this post. I also censor porn sites, hate sites, racial sites, hacking/warez sites, and a myriad of other sites that publish material deemed 'harmful to minors'. If you don't like my censorship of these items, go and purchase your own internet access. Just because I provide free access to the internet (you still have to purchase your own computer, however) doesn't mean that I have an obligation to let those subscribers visit any site they wish. Many of these same organizations that provide free internet access do actually block sites. As for other countries; the ones that don't have the same freedoms as most democratic societies do have no problem with censorship (obviously). If there's no freedom of the press, the government is likely already censoring publicly available information, so why not the internet, as well? I don't agree with censorship in the form of restricting a person's right to express themselves in any form they choose. I also don't agree that just because I provide 'limited' access to the internet that I'm participating in censorship.

Tig2
Tig2

Arun is speaking as an Indian who has learned to cherish the availability of information on a general level and does not want to see restriction of information, believing that restriction is a bad thing. I agree with Arun. There is no guarantee of information availability. I sometimes think that there should be to the extent that the information widely available is not personal non-public information. I don't like censorship in any form but recognise that it exists.

jck
jck

that's why it's not the end of the story...Congress can change the law :) The FCC and Congress seem intent on making them give consumers full choice a priority over their maximizing their profits via not offering maximum quality. Guess maybe Trent and Dick and Carl's stocks in TimeWarner and Comcast might go down if that happens. hahaha. Blind trust's arse.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

that would seem to be the end of the story.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

but nobody is obligated to provide you the means to listen.

mgordon
mgordon

You have a right to speak, in particular political speech; and others have a right to listen, if they can get close enough to you to hear what you have to say. What is on the table is something else entirely, something called "a right to information." If indeed you possessed this right, you could compel at law anyone possessing information to give it to you. This is clearly not the case. In a limited sense, FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) *can* be used to compel the government to cough up information. Thus, we see that a "statutory right" (defined in law) exists for certain kinds of information in certain circumstances.

jck
jck

You're right....in one aspect. They are not obligated by *law*. However, good business practices would mandate carrying any programming whose short and long term operations would ensure the cable or satellite provider a net profit/added revenue stream. But they do not give all content originators the right to show their product even if it would make them a profit....and, there are consumers who want that programming. Hence not only are re-broadcasters limiting the freedom of speech of program originators, but they are doing it via harboring an unfair business practice with their bias toward existing relationships and favoring their current business partners and liaisons. If a rebroadcaster charges a fee for one product to be carried, they should be required to let any other content originator of programming of a legal content be allowed to *at least negotiate* for that same right to be broadcast within their open bandwidth. Some cable providers do that, but most don't. They buy package programming, with the usual exception of carrying local stations with whom they negotiate in a one-on-one basis. If you don't force rebroadcasters to give people the right to choose what they want to see, most cable/satellite companies will only favor those in business with whom they have closest ties. For example, they can easily offer a small set of spanish language programming for an extra fee (Time-Warner and DirecTV both already do). Why can't they offer individual channels the same way as they offer 5 or 8 spanish channels? Answer: there is no reason. the technology exists to do it. And really, the business operator that is really worried about this are the stations that get sold in packages that get practically no ratings as it is. If individual channels were totally dependent on making all their revenue for themselves, rather than being part of a package sold by a parent company...probably one-third of your cable/satellite channels would cease operations within a year. Channels like American Health Network...or VS channel...or EWTN...or even some local television stations. Personally, I'm going to look into get a Sky system and pointing a dish east and getting UK programming. They make most of the good documentaries anyway. Anyways...it makes no difference. So long as business is allowed to buy and sell politicians, this country will have its rule of law set by corporate enterprise and aristocracy.

macumazahn
macumazahn

If a person has a right under the constitution to speak his / her mind don't we also have the right to listen, in this day and age when newspapers print what they are told the internet is where I find out what is right and wrong, real or false, not newspapers, with advertising and political agendas

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

a right to speak (in all of its forms) does not obligate anyone to deliver said speech to any/all who may want to hear it.

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