Posts Tagged Democracy

Censorship & China, Technology & Freedom

8 April 2010

The NY Times had a great article yesterday on censorship in China.  While much of the focus here has been on the relationship between Google and China, the Times smartly distinguishes between China’s censorship of unwanted foreign content– which it does comprehensively and successfully– and the censorship of domestic content– which is a heckuva lot harder to do, but a far more pernicious evil. From the article:

Today, China censors everything from the traditional print press to domestic and foreign Internet sites; from cellphone text messages to social networking services; from online chat rooms to blogs, films and e-mail. It even censors online games.

That’s not all. Not content merely to block dissonant views, the government increasingly employs agents to peddle its views online, in the guise of impartial bloggers and chat-room denizens. And increasingly, it is backing state-friendly clones of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, all Western sites that have been blocked here for roughly a year.

CensorshipThe government’s strategy, according to Mr. Bandurski and others, is not just to block unflattering messages, but to overwhelm them with its own positive spin and rebuttals.

The government makes no apologies for what it calls “guiding public opinion.” Regulation is crucial, it says, to keep China from sliding into chaos and to preserve the party’s monopoly on power.

For anyone wanting to begin learning about China’s censorship practices, this article is a great place to start.

And for anyone interested in how connection technologies– like the internet, mobile phones, social media, etc.– are both promoting freedom and enabling suppression around the world, I’d encourage you to come to our offices on Monday for a speech from Alec Ross, Secretary Clinton’s Senior Adviser on Innovation.  Ross has been one of the forces behind State’s 21st Century Statecraft Initiative, and has been a leader in State’s new focus on internet freedom. On Monday, he’ll be giving a talk on the role of connection technologies in open and closed societies.  Please RSVP here, click here to watch the webcast, or here for more information.

In 2007, NDN published a paper co-authored by Ross and Simon Rosenberg called A Laptop in Every Backpack, which contained one of the first public calls for universal access to the global communications network to be a major domestic and foreign policy priority of the United States.

For more of our work on internet & information freedom, take a look at this backgrounder, and come back to visit Global Mobile for regular commentary on the role of connection technology in promoting freedom around the world.



India Bans Pre-Paid Mobiles in Kashmir – Security or Suppression?

10 November 2009

For eight years, the Indian government dragged its feet until, in 2003, it finally permitted mobile phones in conflict-torn Kashmir. Intelligence officials had feared that Kashmiri and Pakistani militants would use the phones to plan attacks on Indian army outposts throughout the region, but in ’03 they relaxed the ban, and the past six years have been the most peaceful since the conflict began in 1989. Causation? Probably not. But correlation, anyway.

Srinagar Cell PhoneLast week, the Indian government walked back on technological freedoms in Kashmir, banning pre-paid mobile connections. In Kashmir, as in much of the developing world, pre-paid is a popular option thanks to its known costs, and low commitment; the new ban will take phones out of the hands of 3.8 million Kashmiris. Unsurprisingly, hundreds of Kashmiris have taken to the streets of Srinagar, the capital city, to protest the law in recent days.

The stated reasons for the prohibition are that mobile vendors are not conducting proper background checks on new subscribers, and that militants are using mobile phones to detonate bombs– a practice observed in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. I suspect the actual reasons are considerably more Machiavellian.

Srinagar is one of the most heavily-militarized cities in the world, and the dense presence of Indian troops has led to frequent clashes between Kashmiri civilians and the military. As the BBC documented earlier this year, young Kashmiris have been using their cell phones to bear witness to the disproportionate, often unprovoked violence of the Indian army. With a camera phone in every hand, every citizen is a journalist, and the explosion of photos, videos and other first-hand accounts of the violence in Kashmir has brought images of the violence to the world.

What’s more, the Indian intelligence services have met with some success finding and killing militants by monitoring the cell phone conversations of Kashmiris. The consistency and higher background-check requirements for post-paid cell phone plans makes it much easier to monitor those subscribers.

It’s my strong suspicion that the pre-paid ban in Kashmir has more to do with suppressing critical citizen media and monitoring civilian phone conversations than it does with preventing phone-bomb attacks. The ban consists of a suppression of basic freedoms and a violation of privacy in an already repressed state. Further, the government is denying citizens a valuable tool for economic development and access to the global ICT network– increasingly a fundamental right in itself.

FD: I spent some time reporting in Kashmir. My views are certainly informed by that experience. My reporting is published here.