Home > COM580 > The Internet is a Basic Human Right, Even China Agrees.

The Internet is a Basic Human Right, Even China Agrees.

In an effort to warn about the risks of misuse of networks as in China’s sovereign power to patrol the Internet, Jonathan Zittrain states: “Perhaps it is best to say that neither the governor nor the governed should be able to monopolize technological tricks.” (pg. 196, Future of..)

For example, the blocking and unblocking of Wikipedia in China without announcement or acknowledgment—might be grounded in a fear of the communal, critical process that Wikipedia represents.  In the days leading up to Google’s decision last week to remove its Chinese search engine from China, there is much debate about the future of the generative Internet in that part of the world.

While the Internet exploded in popularity for Americans in the 90s amidst a blizzard of AOL discs and disconnects and dot-com booms and busts, it wasn’t until the last decade that it went mainstream for the Chinese. And, China has done quite well making up for lost time.

Google has been there since 2006 and realizes more than anyone that Chinese Internet users have become a defining element of modern Chinese society. In fact, there are now more Chinese online than there are Americans in this world. (China now has over 384 million Internet users, which is nearly 80 million more than the population of the United States.)

Google’s public complaint about Chinese cyber-attacks and censorship reflects a recognition that China’s status quo – at least when it comes to censorship, regulation and manipulation of the Internet – is unlikely to improve any time soon, and may in fact continue to get worse.

Chinese government attempts to control online speech began in the late 1990’s with a focus on the filtering or “blocking” of Internet content. Today, the government deploys an expanding repertoire of tactics. Zittrain calls them “technological tricks.”

Filtering is just one of many ways that the Chinese government limits and controls speech on the Internet. They have also engineered ways to delete content at the source, have developed domain name controls, ways to disconnect and ways to launch cyber-attacks.

China is pioneering a new kind of Internet-age authoritarianism. It is demonstrating how a non-democratic government can stay in power while simultaneously expanding domestic Internet and mobile phone use.  In China today there is a lot more give-and-take between government and citizens than in the pre-Internet age, and this helps bolster the regime’s legitimacy with many Chinese Internet users who feel that they have a new channel for public discourse. On the other hand, reports state that the Communist Party control over the bureaucracy and courts has strengthened over the past decade, while the regime’s institutional commitments to protect the universal rights and freedoms of all its citizens have weakened.

But, there is great hope for the generative Internet and no one understands that better than the Finns, who last October made Finland the first country in the world to declare broadband Internet access as a “basic human right”.

With the revolution having thus begun by the Europeans, it is perhaps not surprising that four out of five respondents to a recent BBC World Service poll believe access to the Internet is a fundamental right. And these feelings are particularly strong in South Korea and China.

More notable findings from this study using 27,000 adults across 26 countries:

  • 78% believed the Internet gave them “greater freedom”.
  • And over half feel the Internet shouldn’t be regulated whatsoever by any governments anywhere.
  • South Koreans, Mexicans, and Nigerians apparently felt most strongly about this.
  • Whereas Pakistanis, Turks, and Chinese did not.
  • Americans were ahead of the curve when it came to expressing opinions online.
  • 65% of Japanese, however, felt differently, that they couldn’t “safely” express themselves on the Internet.
  • People in France, Germany, South Korea, and China felt likewise.
  • Over 70% of respondents in Japan, Mexico, and Russia said they couldn’t live without being able to go online.
  • But respondents feared online fraud, more so than violent/explicit content and threats to their privacy.
  • 9 out of 10 said the Internet was a good place to learn.
  • Nearly 50% say that the Internet was valuable for finding information.
  • Over 30% valued it as a means of communicating and interacting with others.
  • But only 12% valued the Internet as a source of entertainment.

China is going to continue to be the focus of the expansion of the generative Internet. Hopefully, if companies like Google are patient enough they will be able to affect some changes in Internet filtering and over-cautious censorship. And free speech advocates want to see the Internet do what we were promised it would — connect people, serve as a check against abusive governments, and ultimately serve as a democratizing force throughout the world.

Categories: COM580
  1. April 13, 2010 at 7:45 am

    great post..please visit my blog

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