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Giovanni Vimercati

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Internet Censorship Beyond China

Posted: 15/01/2013 17:18

Lumbering Christmas readers over in the Western world were served up, along with their OGM dinners, yet another heartbreaking story on "Chinese censorship". Liberal newspapers in the Western world dutifully reported on the unveiling of tighter Internet controls from the Chinese government. Worried freedom-loving journalists fretted about the grim fate awaiting Chinese cyber-citizens once that harbour of free speech and generous bamboozlement, the Internet, will become tarnished by new regulatory restrictions. Meanwhile in the "free world," Julian Assange, an "alleged criminal" who exposed the neo-colonial suppression of dissent and methodical concealment of facts, is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy of the oldest democracy in the world.

For some obscure reason, the West wants Chinese people to have free and unrestricted access to information and debate while simultaneously "protecting" their citizens from the cyber-bandit, Julian Assange. The message is clear: know your place and stick to it! If you're keen on free speech then take it out on China but don't you dare question it at home (lest you want to end up like Mr Assange). This lame double standard would even be laughable were it not contemptibly hypocritical. The news agency Reuters reported on December 28 that "the new regulations, announced by the official Xinhua news agency, also require Internet users to register with their real names when signing up with network providers, though, in reality, this already happens." Yes, indeed, it is already happening, but not only in China.

Some time ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigated the Internet giant Google for illegally collecting personal data from users all over the world. It was of course, as Google scrupulously pointed out, an involuntary mistake: their Street View cars had "accidentally" picked up some personal data here and there.

Reassured by Google's explanation, the FTC immediately dropped the investigation. Timing was suspicious to say the least. The California-based Project Censored reports:

"Less than a week before the FTC's decision to drop the inquiry, President Obama attended a US$30,000 per-person Democratic Party fundraiser at the Palo Alto, California home of Google executive Marissa Mayer (Carlson). Google's former head of public policy, Andrew McLaughlin, joined the Obama administration as the deputy chief technology officer in mid-2009. Other Obama administration officials include: Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, who serves as a member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology; Katie Stanton, who joined the administration as Director of Citizen Participation after serving as a Google project manager; and the former head of Google.org's global development, Sonal Shah, who is now head of the White House's Office of Social Innovation."

Why did zealous journalists, who seem to have their hearts set on Chinese freedom of information, fail to report on such dubious events? It is indeed all a bit "confusing"... let's try to sort this out.

Back in 2010, Google ceased its operations in China's mainland alleging divergences in privacy policy with the Chinese government. What a noble excuse, er, reason. Why is it, then, that Google does not cease its operations in Saudi Arabia, which, in terms of Internet censorship is second to none? A possible reason comes to mind: China is one of the biggest Internet markets with a digital population of 300 million and no friend of the US (unlike the Saudi oil-monarchy). China for Google represents a huge untapped source of revenue, no less, no more. Its farcical manipulation of public opinion for profit's sake is ridiculous and insulting. If anything, Google is in fact a prime example of a corporate superpower well above any law or restrictions, from its aforementioned collusion with the U.S. government to its tax avoiding skills, there is not much transparency to its operations. And yet the noble cause of freedom of expression is routinely brought up in Western media when reporting the censorial activities of the Chinese government. While the latter cannot be denied, the impartiality of its critics is highly debatable.

As the experience of Wikileaks and its savage suppression at the hands of democratic governments clearly shows, freedom of speech and information are very rarely handed to you by your friendly government or "trusted" corporation.

This article has previously appeared on China.org.cn

 

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