Censorship On The Internet: Some Key Players & Perils

Posted on March 2, 2011 in Specials


By Akanksha Mittal:

The right to freedom of speech and expression has been allowed to people packaged with the duty to not hurt anybody else’s sentiments through that freedom. However, since not all of us follow our duties well and love to claim our rights without any responsibility, the much debated exercise of censorship comes into play. In the Age of Information, internet censorship is perhaps a dangerous and horrible evil that a lot of us wish to combat. To name a few of those who wish to combat it – OpenNet Initiative, Reporters Without Borders, Peacefire.org, Censorware project etc.

To all those who feel that the censored information provided by the Internet is not enough, there is always an option to disable or circumvent censorware. Another popular means of having access to the “wrong” information is through proxy sites, which are basically webpages that allow you to browse the Web without using your own IP address. You type the name of the restricted site in the URL bar, which is then retrieved by the proxy site. While an outsider can see that you have visited the proxy site, there is no way they can find out which webpages you have viewed through them. Almost like the old magician trick. The Proxy sites play the magicians who magically pull out the fluffy pink rabbit from a small hat. While the audience is left gaping at the sheer awesomeness of the trick, there is no way they can find out how it was all done!

While countries such as Belarus, China, Iran, Egypt, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia etc are accused to be rigid censorship-loving nations, USA in fact has liberal censorship policies in comparison. China, with its obsession of The Great Wall has an advanced filtering system internationally known as The Great Firewall of China which can search webpages, blogs etc for subversive contents and block the audience from viewing them! Peter Yuan Li, a US citizen who maintained anti-China’s Communist Party webpages was kidnapped from home, almost beaten to death. He lost his two laptop computers – stolen from him. He alleges that it was an attempt by the Chinese government to silence him.

In an age when internet is the religion followed by humans to reach the God of information, parents are not being entirely unreasonable when they wish to censor porn sites, real money gambling sites and social networking sites from their kids, young enough to be sucking at their thumbs! There is no doubt that the vast multitude of information provided by the internet is a source of distraction not only for kids but also adults! The productivity of the employees being what suffers the most at the workplaces! Infact, non-censorship of crude pornographic websites can also lead to a lot of employees perceiving their work environment as hostile and unproductive. At the macro level, countries often use censorship of the internet to prevent leakage of secret information related to security, war threats, controversial religious information etc.

All the key players mentioned above our Monitors. But, in the words of Dan Brown, “Who will monitor the monitors?” Considering that most web filtering programs encrypt their list of undesirable websites, how exactly do we know that the websites blacklisted by them indeed deserve such treatment and are not pages that perhaps reveal controversial information about the Web Filter itself? Moreover, there are certain webpages that might be deemed dangerous for a specific age group, which in no way implies that members of another age group would have no solid reason to read the contents of that webpage! Also, most often web filters filter webpages according to certain keywords. This often leads to blocking of many innocent webpages that perhaps contain a mention of the “forbidden” keywords in an entirely different connotation!

Thus concluding and I quote from the luckily un-forbidden webpage howstuffworks.com, “It may be decades before the Internet reaches its full potential as a conduit for ideas. Ironically, it isn’t going to get there through technological breakthroughs, but through changes in national and corporate policies.”

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