China risks reverse censorship--it could be cut off from vital information

Web site owners could choose to block users from another country to protest foreign government actions.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

Should US companies such as Google acquiesce to the censorship requirements of foreign governments? Dan Farber and colleagues write about Bill Gate's defense of China's actions.

I do know that we all can have a say on this issue, and we can take some powerful actions.

We can publish our opinions in major media outlets and on blogs. Countries tend to monitor global public opinion and are very keenly aware of how their actions are received. And they are surprisingly sensitive to any criticisms.

The second action is one that is potentially more powerful: web site owners could choose to unilaterally block the traffic coming from a country that practices forms of censorship, or forms of government, that the web site owner disagrees with.

It is easy to block access from any region in the world. What would happen if say MIT blocked access to all of its online educational material (which is freely available) from online users in countries with governments that it deemed had unfavorable practices?

What would be the economic cost to a country that is unable to access all of the internet all of the time?

Would the economic cost be large enough to create pressure on governments to moderate inhumane or undemocratic behaviors?

I think it could--that's if we are right about the importance of the internet and the free access to information.

But would it be ethical? Would reverse censorship be just as bad as censorship in any form?

Could it lead to a new type of information-based boycott? Could governments seek to ban other countries from accessing its countries web sites? For example, the US government could mandate that all internet access from Cuba be restricted.

Yes, the internet is porous, yes, information could and would find its way around such blocks. But it wouldn't be easy, and it would reach smaller numbers of users; and leakage of banned information could be patched and re-patched.

I tend to think that the above scenarios will happen--because they can happen. And because information is valuable and it has commercial and social value.

The internet is a wonderful thing, but its current open, sharing nature is a temporary phenomenon.

There are many "choke points" on the internet through which information has to pass through. And at each choke point controls of various kinds can be applied.

The quality-of-service (QoS) capabilities that are coming into use, to prioritize certain data packets, are opportunities for new commercial services and also censorship. In QoS you can peek at a data packet to see if it is a high priority data packet.

For example, a Skype data packet might or might not, be a high priority data packet on some networks. Similarly, data packets coming or going to certain geographic locations could be prioritized or not--or could be blocked completely.

It's a whole new internet that is being formed, and Balkanization and censorship will be two of its less favorable characteristics, imho.

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