Wednesday, April 06, 2011
Will The Information Age Be Curbed by Government Sponsored Internet Filtering and Censorship?
Google recently accused the Chinese government of blocking access to GMail in China, bringing to the fore issues of internet filtering and censorship. These issues are hardly new. For years, Saudi Arabia has been actively blocking its citizens from accessing websites which criticize the Saudi government or discuss conversion from Islam. North Korea apparently works to keep its citizens from accessing the internet at all. China has a history of blocking websites which the government finds objectionable.
With the revolution in Egypt, however, and the ensuing unrest around the Middle East, it is likely that more governments, particularly those which are unpopular with their people, will move to block or restrict their citizens’ access to electronic communications. But it is not only the usual suspect states which are censoring their citizens. According to Reporters Without Borders, France has passed a law granting the government the unchecked power to block websites and Australia is debating one. The French law is aimed at eliminating child pornography, while the Australian proposal is currently broader, aimed at “inappropriate” content.
The temptation to regulate the discourse on the internet is apparently a strong one. Totalitarian regimes clinging to power over their people are not the only governments seeking to exert some measure of control over what their citizens can and cannot see or say online. The goal may be laudable, but as the drafters of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution understood, censorship can snowball. The law that prevents “inappropriate” content can be as easily used to stop anti-government speech as to stop child pornography. Any legislation on the issue must be very carefully drafted to ensure that it is not used to quash dissent and stifle freedom.
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