“Even though information can travel now at lightening fast speeds, power by violence is still the global rule. Might makes right.”
Although many political leaders in our country, including Clinton, Gore and Bush, believe that the Internet is going to bring democracy to countries currently living under dictatorships, I believe that they’re misinformed or perhaps are just a bit too faithful in the “All-Powerful Internet”. And what better way to talk about censorship on the Internet than to state my dissenting opinion on said Internet.
In the beginning of 2007 fifty “cyber-dissidents” were in jail in China, four in Vietnam, three in Syria and Tunisia, Libya and Iran each had one.
The instant access we all take for granted on the Internet is a perfect tool for governments to catch “trouble-makers”. Cuba has installed spyware on public computers in coffee shops so that when a user types in a “banned” word, they see a warning that they’re being considered a “threat to state security” and the web browser instantly shuts down. China has paid Yahoo, MSN, Google, Microsoft and similar companies to install keyword filters making it impossible to talk about Taiwanese Independence or the Dali Lama, for example. They also have the clout and money to hire informants and cyber-police.
Even if a dictatorship doesn’t have the money to pay off Google, they have other ways of controlling their people’s use of the web. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, has blocked critical sites since 2006, the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, considered a law allowing the interception of online messages without any court documentation or proceedings. When the military coup of Thailand was successful, one of their first steps was to block critical news of the events. When dictators cannot effectively police the Internet, they just bar access to virtually everyone, as is the case in countries such as North Korea and Turkmenistan.
There is hope though, with web phone services like Skype making encrypted communication even easier, journalists are able to talk to sources in these countries and get their stories out.