Saturday, March 8, 2008

Tear down this (fire)wall

The other day, I had a funny image in my head. It was a picture of W. standing on the Great Wall of China. In his best Reganesque posture, our fearless leader declares, “Mr. Hu, tear down this wall!”

Just to make sure this image was not too contrived, I did a quick Google. I did not find my concept, but I did come across a wall that does need to come down and it is called the Great Firewall of China. Basically, the Chinese government blocks content from a large number of primarily western Internet sites. In fact this site is blocked in China. So:

Here is a website that will test any site to see if it can be accessed in the People’s Republic. Here is a technical explanation of how the great firewall works. The Chinese government has an estimated 50,000 people working to make sure that the other billion plus don’t see anything that the government does not want them to see. The gods help you if you dare to question the government on-line.

American on-line corporation are guilty of compliance with the Great Firewall initiative, mostly to protect their access to this huge, but repressed market. Google’s Chinese product comes with built-in filtering devices and the government is free to block any searches that it wishes, including blogger. Google does make the attempt to let users know when information is being blocked, but that is not exactly news to the user in China. It is possible to get around the filtering through Google’s cache feature. Here are some ideas if you are planning to attend the Olympics this year and need to find this picture:

Not that many people would try. Attempting to circumvent the firewall could draw as much attention as posting subversive material in the first place.

Still, they are not as bad as Yahoo, which turned over the names of at least two dissidents to authorities. In order to distance itself from accusations of human rights abuses, Yahoo has essentially outsourced it entire Chinese operation to an existing company called Alibaba. Notice how the press release speaks high-mindedly of commerce but does not broach issues of basic human rights like free speech. Did they really think that cases like Li Zhi and Shi Tao would never come up? Both of these men posted information not “pleasing” to the Chinese government and ended up with long prison sentences. These are not the country club prisons that American white collar criminals populate. Even the worst American prisons (with the exception of Gitmo) pale in comparison to what this founder of the China Democracy Party endured in a Chinese prison.

Finally, we come to Microsoft, whose censorship efforts are much more benign. (Scroll to page 19 toward the bottom. This document also details actions by Yahoo and Google.) Don’t bother trying to register a Microsoft spaces account in China using terms like “democracy,” “freedom of expression,” “Tiananmen Square,” “Tibet independence,” or “Falun Gong.” In the most egregious example of collusion with the Chinese government, Microsoft removed a blog run by Michael Anti, again to protect profits.

These major corporations make arguments like “we are complying with local law” and “access to some information is better than no access.” The problem is that the denied information is exactly the kind of information that the people of China really need to see in order to force a change that will end repercussions for free thought and free expression. Additionally, the argument that America “needs” to do business with China is incredibly weak. Look around at all of the jobs that have been sent to China. I’m fairly certain that the folks who lost their jobs to cheap forced labor would like to have those jobs back. Then they could quit their current jobs at Walmart selling the same stuff that they used to make much better right here.

One last thought about Falun Gong. It is really depressing that this outfit is the current best hope for a democratic movement on the Mainland. Maybe it is their view that interracial people have no place in heaven. Perhaps it is their view that homosexuality is degenerate behavior. It could also be the practice of healing physical illness spiritually rather than through modern medicine. At any rate, these are the people being actively suppressed and are the current poster children for loosening political controls in China.

So, in the interest of promoting free speech, I present my original picture idea anyway. Enjoy:

Next up: The FISA bill: Domestic corporate collusion to root out subversives.


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