Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Internet is NOT An Inherently Free Tool

Take the example of China - the country's rulers successfully pressured Google to impose a country-wide censorship.

The Internet has been prophesied as the next great tool of democracy, that will invariably lead repressive regimes to a new era of freedom.
In 1989 Ronald Reagan proclaimed that “The Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip”; later, Bill Clinton compared Internet censorship to “trying to nail Jell–O to the wall”; and in 1999 George W. Bush (not John Lennon) asked us to “imagine if the Internet took hold in China. Imagine how freedom would spread.”

Such starry–eyed cyber–optimism suggested a new form of technological determinism according to which the Internet would be the hammer to nail all global problems, from economic development in Africa to threats of transnational terrorism in the Middle East. Even so shrewd an operator as Rupert Murdoch yielded to the digital temptation: “Advances in the technology of telecommunications have proved an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere,” he claimed. Soon after, Murdoch bowed down to the Chinese authorities, who threatened his regional satellite TV business in response to this headline–grabbing statement.
It's true, of course, that a country that lets in the unabridged Internet COULD find itself experiencing that "Springtime in Prague" freedom.

But, it's likelier that the dictatorship would simply block the more egalitarian aspects of the Net - the social networking, the videos, etc. - and monitor all other activity. Control of the means used to connect (routers, modems, DSL lines, etc.) are well within the dictator's grasp.

In fact, it's even easier to censor the Net today, than when it began. I used the early Internet, through BBS and Fidonet. Because it wasn't as centralized, it was easier to evade the law (there's a reason there's a Talk Like a Pirate Day, ya' know). If one node (BBS) was caught, another could simply pick up the traffic.

Today, all you'd have to do to shut it down is to hit the major players, and the Net is effectively toast in that country.

Read the rest of the post - Evgeny Morozov is also a skeptic of the concept that everything is groovy with Internet - he thinks it's more likely to spread entertainment, than freedom.

No comments: