Digital Walls, Digital Holes
An interesting, in-depth -- and encouraging -- article on China's attempts to distort the internet to its own purposes, and how eventually they must fail at complete control.
TCS Daily - Digital Walls, Digital Holes
Digital Walls, Digital Holes
By Hampton Stephens
Details of the conversation between Bill Gates and Chinese Premier Hu Jintao when they met recently at the Microsoft campus near Seattle, and afterward at a $20,000-per-plate dinner at Gates' Lake Washington compound, are somewhat scarce. A new deal between Microsoft and Chinese computer-maker Lenovo to pre-load Windows on the company's Chinese-made machines probably was eagerly discussed. It is less likely that Hu and Gates were eager to talk about the Chinese government's Internet censorship and control policies. In recent debates about that issue -- in international human rights circles, in the national media and even in the halls of Congress -- both men have been portrayed as villains.
Indeed, the Chinese Internet censorship story owes much of its national prominence to the growing realization that American Internet companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco are enabling China's censorship regime. The moral and practical dilemma about whether technological engagement or a principled embargo is the better way for U.S. companies to affect change in China has rightly been the subject of much debate, though the correct solution to that dilemma is not immediately obvious. More readily apparent is the logic of the Chinese government's censorship efforts. In a delicate balancing act between economic liberalization and the maintenance of political authority, China's leaders want to harness the Internet's potential as a propaganda tool and as a contributor to economic growth -- the bedrock of their tenuous legitimacy -- while suppressing the Web's use as a tool of political activism and truth-telling.
In the midst of this recent attention, however, the most important question about China's censorship of the Internet has not received its due consideration: Will the Chinese regime achieve its goals? Can it cleanse the Internet of undesirable information and thus shield its people from the influence of subversive truths? [....]
However, unfortunately for Hu and his Chinese Communist Party, and to the benefit of Gates and the rest of the American computer industry, which no doubt would love to do business in China without an authoritarian regime looking over its shoulder, the success of Chinese Internet censorship is bound to be short-lived. In the long run, the Chinese government's efforts are likely to fail because of the sheer magnitude of its task. China's censorship regime cannot possibly keep up with the dramatic growth in the number of Chinese Internet users and the resulting rise in the ranks of those actively working to subvert government control. Thus, the existence of the Internet will be a persistent and growing thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party. [....]
These technologies demonstrate that the struggle over control of the Internet in China is not a one-sided battle, in which the Chinese government has all the resources on its side. The situation more closely resembles an arms race between the Chinese government and activists and freedom-loving computer programmers the world over. As the number of Chinese Internet users grows, so will their access to tools like DynaWeb and UltraReach. [....]
Despite the early success of the Chinese government in controlling and censoring the Internet, it is clear that the difficulty of its task will only grow. Whether future holes in the filtering regime are due to Chinese government failures or new filter-proof technologies, more and more Chinese citizens will inevitably gain access to an unfiltered Internet. Xia, recounting his journey from Chinese citizen to expatriate working to undermine the censorship of the Chinese Communist party, neatly characterized the political effects that free access to information can have. After studying in the United States for a period, "I realized that many things I learned in school were basically propaganda from the CCP, and that key facts were actually lies," Xia said. That revelation was enough to turn him actively against his government. China's leaders have sought to censor the Internet because they know the truth has such power, but theirs is a fool's errand.