You won't find this blog in China

Chinese government seeking to extend its censorship to PCs

The Chinese government has announced that it is seeking to require mandatory censorship and filtering tools on PCs sold in that country beginning July 1. While the Chinese government claims that it aims to filter out pornography or other "unhealthy" information, the reality is that the government has wide lattitude in making these determinations to include pretty much anything it wants. The Chinese government regularly censors information about Tibet, Tiananmen Square, Falun Gong, and a wide range of related topics.

I visited China two years ago and was surprised to see what range of sites were not accessible. OK, I expected that would be blocked, but other sites, including CNN and Wikipedia, were inaccessible. And in recent months leading up to the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Chinese government has cracked down not only on pornography sites but also blocked a wide range of sites such as Flickr, YouTube, Hotmail, and Twitter.

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If you've ever seen video footage or photos of Tiananmen square in 1989, you can understand the government's fear. What started out as student protests set off a spark that resulted in hundreds of incidents around the country and hundreds of thousand of people crowding into the central square of Beijing. Now imagine that force multiplied by the power of the Internet. Ultimately, the embarassed Chinese government committed to clearing the square by the dawn of June 5 and it did not hesitate to fire on its own citizens to do so. (For a detailed documentary on the subject, checkout the film "The Tank Man" available on PBS and on YouTube.) What's even more concerning is that 20 years later there is not a shred of evidence or consciousness in China about Tiananmen Square. The Chinese government has largely succeeded in airbrushing Tiananmen Square out of history.

How does the Chinese government implement all this "big brother" technology? Mostly it comes down to U.S. companies, including Cisco, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google, helping the government implement its Golden Shield programs of surveillance and censorship. While companies claim they are only following local laws, the reality is their efforts have resulted in journalists being imprisoned. It's high time U.S. tech companies take a stand against supporting the Chinese government's efforts of repression. Imagine instead if the power of the Internet and open source technology to help establish a free society in China.


Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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