China Tries to Justify Internet Censorship

Lora Bentley

We haven't heard much out of China since the hubbub surrounding Google's decision to leave the country died down, but this week the communist government released a white paper explaining why it is committed to censoring the Internet for its citizens.


Over at All Things Digital, John Paczkowski notes that the Chinese Constitution grants citizens the right to free speech on the Internet as long as what they post does not include "subverting state powerpropagating superstitious ideasspreading rumorsand other contents forbidden by laws and administrative regulations." Those things, of course, could apply to just about anything the government finds objectionable, he says. And if the government blocks most Google offerings and other networking services, he says, "That's just the Chinese government 'voicing its opinion' in this 'vigorous online ideas exchange'." Paczkowski calls the whole thing BS.


James Fallows at The Atlantic points out the spin in the China Daily is completely different, of course. The government doesn't want its subjects questioning the status quo, so the headline there is "Freedom of Expression on the Internet Guaranteed." Funny how they forget to mention the guarantee only applies to those whose Internet speech falls in line with the government's way of thinking.


Meanwhile eWEEK's Don Resinger argues that China obviously doesn't "get" the Web because censoring it is not going to cause users to give up. Instead, censorship makes users more determined to get their messages out. They find workarounds or other means of communicating them. Moreover, new Web services are available every day and the government won't be able to keep up with all of them forever. And most importantly, the whole world is watching, Reisinger says. China's decisions on this issue will affect the way other countries choose to interact (or not to interact) with it.


I agree with Reisinger, but I don't think China cares. If it did, I don't think we'd be clicking through a government-issued white paper justifying censorship, and the big blowout with Google wouldn't have been so big.


Maybe China would care a little more if the United Nations stepped up to oversee the Internet. That's what fellow IT Business Edge blogger Don Tennant says should happen. He writes:

The United Nations is absolutely the right body to turn to for help in persuading China and other countries to change their Internet policies and allow more freedom of access to information. But we need to be prepared to promote and support that body's wherewithal to effectively address matters of that nature, and to wield the authority to enforce its decisions.

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