January 14, 2009 | By Danny O'Brien

Global Net Censorship in 2009: For The Children, for the Rightsholders

Across the world, politicians perennially declare their intention to purge or
blacklist websites they fear are damaging to children or the public welfare. The call for censorship hasn't stopped, despite many years of evidence that pervasive Net censorship is invasive, infeasible, and href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-a-santoro-and-wendy-goldberg/chinese-internet-censorsh_b_156212.html">economically
damaging. Nor is it likely to be stopped by today's href="http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/node/4987">Internet Safety Technical
Taskforce Report on protecting children from internet predators, which reinforced that href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/14/us/14cyber.html?_r=1">Net censorship is an ineffective solution to an exaggerated problem.

Accordingly, this year sees continuing plans by governments across the world
to limit Internet traffic by content type, or expand existing systems of control.
China heads the list of censoring states in the public consciousness.
Last week, its Ministry of Public Security demanded action and an apology from
search engines for failing to take "efficient" measures against "vulgar
content". Baidu href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gWnevrdW9bQ6A502eXZLl1ptzn0AD95I23QG0">apologized,
and Google committed to "working with the community to establish a healthy
social climate"
. Smaller blogging sites like bullog.cn were simply shut down.

Even in a state with such pervasive government censorship infrastructure, asking
search engines and ISPs to proactively identify and eliminate all pornography online is
asking the impossible. Nonetheless, the Chinese government has once again
publicly demonstrated its continuing political power to demand that any site or
link disappear from servers operating within China's control.

China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region lies outside the Great
Firewall and China's mainland censorship system. Its government is currently
completing public
consultations
on how it should update its regulation of obscene and
indecent material for the digital age. (The consultation ends on January 31st).

The Hong Kong consultation is currently leaning towards a narrower censorship regime, similar to that adopted by many
countries: it would not require mandatory censorship infrastructure, but
rely on opt-in filters that can be used by end-users to stop
minors from viewing such content. There is one new twist, however. One of the
suggestions for publishers of offensive or indecent articles:

may involve limiting the bandwidth made available to such offenders or imposing temporary suspension or termination of service in case of contravention of contractual terms;

Regular followers of the global battle against "three strikes" policies will recognise this language as that suggested by IP rightsholders against alleged
infringers.

It's not unexpected that when one group proposes controlling content online,
others will pick up on the techniques they propose. And if there's one thing
to look out for in the censorship rhetoric of 2009, it will be the ongoing efforts of IP rightholders to build multi-interest coalitions to advocate the same suite of blocking and
filtering initiatives that we've seen elsewhere.

In Australia, Senator Conroy's proposed href="http://www.nocleanfeed.com/">compulsory filtering system continues to
advance, with recent comments indicating that his plans include href="http://blog.nocleanfeed.com/2008/12/talk-of-bittorrent-filtering-shows.html">controlling
peer-to-peer and BitTorrent traffic. In the United Kingdom, Culture
Secretary href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/technology/technologynews/3965051/Internet-sites-could-be-given-cinema-style-age-ratings-Culture-Secretary-says.html">Andy
Burnham hinted at plans for a universal categorisation system for the Net,
covering both "harmful content" and "copyright".

The demands for Internet censorship never seem to go away. Neither do the
obvious threats they pose to citizens' privacy, freedom of expression and online freedom. The danger is that there are now many groups with an interest
in pervasive and pre-emptive control over online content. Who else will join
2009's global censorship chorus?


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