Friday, November 14, 2003

The Great Chinese Firewall

The government of China wants it two ways: they want the technological and commercial advantages of information access for their citizens, but they also want to decide what that information will be. As an example, CNN is totally blocked in China.

In our part of the world this does not make sense. Information is information and should be freely available. In China, the gateways into the country are limited and owned by the government. So, the whole system depends on information coming from the top down. Xiao Qiang, who now lives in the United States and has his own blog, sees a change coming:

However, what they cannot really completely control is when the Internet starts to spread through China, reaching the new middle class in urban populations, young professionals who are educated, it's started to have input from the bottom up.

In response, the government has started monitoring the exchange of information from the bottom:

There's Internet police divisions being built up in every province, in every city. Their job is to monitor online content. And they also use this highly sophisticated technology not only blocking the international Internet information but also monitoring the internal information flow. All these things are happening at the same time. They are constantly arresting people. Just last week, there were two major cases of Internet writers being arrested because they are publishing things that the Internet police think crossed the line. These things are happening all the time.

This is another example of the way we take basic freedoms for granted. When you're writing a blog you don't even think twice about what you want to say from the perspective of whether it will land you in jail or not. In China, the information coming from the top is controlled at the gateway while the information from the bottom is controlled by the "thought police."