Another piece from David Rohde, who posts about a deeply worrying trend:
China’s system is a potent, vast and sophisticated network of computer, legal and human censorship. The Chinese model is spreading to other authoritarian regimes. And governments worldwide, including the United States, are aggressively trying to legislate the Internet.
“There is a growing trend toward Internet censorship in a range of countries,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, a prominent online democracy advocate and author of the forthcoming book “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom.” “The same technology that helps secure your network from attack, that actually enables you to censor your network also.”
The problem is not software or hardware developed in a secret Chinese government laboratory. Recent news reports have uncovered American and European companies selling surveillance technologies to Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Thailand and other governments that block the web and brutally suppress dissent.
A core problem is the pursuit of the almighty online dollar. An extraordinary story in The Guardian introduced readers to Jerry Lucas, the president of TeleStrategies, a Virginia company that organizes conferences around the world where firms sell surveillance and other technologies to governments. In an interview, Lucas said companies have no ethical obligation to determine if their products are being sold to regimes that will use them to suppress dissent.
“That’s just not my job to determine who’s a bad country and who’s a good country,” he told the reporter. “We’re a for-profit company. Our business is bringing governments together who want to buy this technology.”
A morning coffee with a prominent Chinese blogger brought to life the success of the Chinese model and the chilling intersection of modern communication and surveillance. The blogger, who asked not to be named, said the Chinese government’s “Great Firewall” is succeeding. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are banned in China, but the government allows the Chinese computer firm Sina Weibo to operate microblogs that are the mirror image of Twitter.
Sina Weibo’s CEO, in an interview with Forbes Asia, said the company has as many as 100 employees working 24 hours a day to track and block user content, in order to avoid running afoul of the government.
The blogger said that basing the servers in China made it possible for the Chinese government to allow microblogging but maintain control. “Put the server in your hands, the data in your hands,” he said. “The people are happy but they don’t overthrow you.”
He said that when he blogs in English, electronic and human censors largely ignore his work. When he expresses dissent in Chinese, the content is blocked by programs that search the web for banned terms, such as “Tiananmen Square,” “Tibet,” or “Falun Gong.”
“They just stop the topic,” the blogger said. “They have good search engines for the different topics.”
The “well it isn’t our fault if our products just happen to enable governments seeking to censor information, find dissidents, and crush dissent- what could we do, we’re just a for-profit company trying to make some money!” argument is one of the most loathsome things I’ve ever read. Their actions have real-life consequences for people around the world, but corporations exist to serve the dollar, not the human being. Are Western arms companies allowed to do business with these governments? If not, why should these companies be allowed to do so?! And beyond the law, why is it that they can get away with it without being shamed out of society by everyone else in the country?!