Friday, June 17, 2005


FIRSTAMENDMENT: Chinese -- and U.S. -- censorship discussed

Posted by Taran Rampersad on June 15, 2005 at 01:02 AM | Permalink

The Media Center blog
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Wednesday, June 15, 2005
China Makes Bloggers Register: Who's Next?
Some news that slipped by my radar, and those of a few others, was a story
that got published last week. I kicked myself a bit over it (my excuse was
being tied up in WIPO's Online Discussions ). While we're talking about
China's Free Speech Crackdown, we should also mention the fact that China
has also ordered bloggers to register with the government.

That caught my attention today via email from the email
list. Few things surprise me these days, but that link had my heart in my
throat for a second. It wasn't because of what some may think, either - it
wasn't that I saw civil liberties go down the drain in a very highly
populated country.

The truth is that I am not Chinese, and that I have no voice for China,
and the people I do know from China aren't in China anymore. China's
actions in this regard could be equated to what people have to suffer in
American airports these days. I'm equally uncomfortable with both, but the
latter is something that I contend with from time to time - and it's
almost normal now. So that wasn't what caused my reaction.

What caused my reaction is why it happened. The mechanics and the logic
are easy to follow:

(1) China wants to know who these bloggers are.
(2) ICANN doesn't even have dependable information which China could have
gotten. Try doing a WHOIS on the spam e-mails you get (spam is so common
now we type it in lower case), and try to track down who it is that is
sending you these e-mails. Then try to contact them.
(3) China, and probably the rest of the world, knows that WSIS isn't going
to have much effect on ICANN, if any effect at all.

So the logical thing to do (never mind why) is to have bloggers register
with the government. The logic in that is chilling, but what's more
chilling is not that China is doing it. It's that it is happening all over
- if that looks ominous, then consider this quote from Cory Doctorow:

...Before the 2004 [US] elections, internal memos from Diebold leaked onto
the Web detailing the company's illegal responses to the failures of its
voting machines. Diebold didn't deny the memos, instead it targeted the
ISPs of the activists who republished them, claiming that the notes were
copyrighted works and demanding that they be taken offline immediately...

And here's another:

...In 2001 the FBI imprisoned Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov the day
after he gave a presentation at a Def Con hacker conference demonstrating
the incompetence of Adobe's e-book protection. Charges were eventually
dropped, but on Sklyarov's return to Russia, the Russian government issued
a warning to its scientists to steer clear of American conferences, as
we'd (the United States) turned into the kind of nation that threw people
in jail for talking about math...

So maybe China's required registration of bloggers with the government is
something that we consider normal. Both quotes of Cory Doctorow are
effective censorship - and by the Chinese government requiring bloggers to
register, it can sway people from blogging. It could effectively be
censorship. And that's OK for many, it seems, but is it OK that it's OK?
Put the politics out of your mind if it's there, and ask whether or not
it's OK that we view this sort of thing as normal within the United
States, but we might react differently when China does something that is
more openly subtle?

But it goes beyond the United States. It goes beyond China. Have we
forgotten the mystery of the Indymedia server seizures? Or the Civil
Society Plenary lists for WSIS, that was discussed for maybe a week, and
seems to be largely forgotten?

Meanwhile, on my own personal Web site, the entry "Crime In Trinidad and
Tobago" is the most visited page on my site. I have a lot of questionable
e-mails on that, a lot of supportive e-mails, and I also have the
advantage of not being there. Some claim positions in government, but the
ones that would worry me most are not the ones that say that. The ones
that do worry me a bit are the ones that say, "Take it down or else," from
strange Yahoo (and yes, gmail) accounts. Or else?

Or else what?

We know Microsoft changed it's Chinese portal so that they could get
customers. Who else do they change their portals for? Who else alters
their information to bypass governments? It's an iceberg, maybe, and the
tip is all we see. It's the silences that are most worrisome. We give up
our liberties, perhaps because we see the value of our ability to
communicate or report effectively as lower than the cost of other people's
same ability.

In the words of the Guardian Unlimited Article:

..."Those who continue to publish under their real names on sites hosted
in China will either have to avoid political subjects or just relay the
Communist party's propaganda," the group said. "This decision will enable
those in power to control online news and information much more

While we look at the Chinese government's decision, maybe around the world
we should be looking at all of the governments instead of focusing on
China, where we have as much effect as humans on tanks. Or do we feel we
can talk more effectively about censorship in distant countries because we
worry about it within our own countries?

But while we still look at Tiananmen Square's Protest in 1989, maybe what
we should be focusing on is the Tank Man, the anonymous man whom the crowd
sheltered after he stopped 17-plus tanks - where a human did have an
effect on the tanks. A.J. Liebling once said, "Freedom of the Press is
limited to those who own one."

I'd like to modify that. Freedom of the Press belongs to those who
maintain one. Sadly, it seems, they don't come with maintenance

Posted by Taran Rampersad on June 15, 2005 at 01:02 AM | Permalink

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