Regardless of what country you’re in, the internet is censored in some way or another. This makes internet censorship a very interesting topic. After all, if every country does it, who’s to say what’s too much censorship, and what’s enough.
There are many charts and color coded maps that indicate what the level of censorship is in corresponding countries. Wikipedia is always a good source – here’s an example.
And some organizations go as far as to label countries “Enemies of The Internet”, as you can see here from Reporters Without Borders.
What type of information is censored?
The underlying principle for most levels of censorship is something to the tune of “Protection”.
It could be protecting the public from terrorism.
Or protecting victims from criminals.
It may even be protecting people from themselves.
Though the United States and other developed countries label themselves as “free” and protect our right to the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of The Press, there are many instances in which websites are blocked due to national security.
So when China blocks Facebook and Twitter for national security, is it much different?
Perhaps the difference lies in that China, Vietnam, Iran, and other enemies of the internet are preventing our basic human freedoms under the guise of national security.
I lived in China for a few years, and to tell you the truth, most people don’t see the CCP’s policies as invading their basic human rights.
Can’t access Facebook? They have QQ and RenRen.
Can’t get on Twitter? No worries, they’ve got Weibo.
It’s monitored by the government? Just don’t say anything controversial.
It’s a way of life. And as someone growing up in “free country”, I can’t understand why it doesn’t bother them. But it doesn’t. Most people just don’t care. As long as they can get on with their daily routine, most people aren’t that worried about whether or not the CCP can read their texts.
China is a bit of an anomaly because they’ve got a long history of being under totalitarian rule. And I’ve not lived in places like Iran, Pakistan, Vietnam, Egypt, Tunisia, or these other countries, so I can’t say what the average person thinks there. Though honestly, I think the Western media likes to sensationalize things like riots and protests to make it seem like everyone is struggling for basic human freedoms.
The Future of Internet Censorship & Privacy Online
We are not as safe as we think!
I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist or revolutionary, but in recent years, there have been attempts (some successful) by the governments of our countries to gain control of what happens on the internet.
New Zealand and Australia have put laws in effect that label an IP address as a person, so if copyrighted content is downloaded on your IP, you could face fines, jail time, or banning from the internet.
France temporarily instated HADOPI which received a lot of criticism from privacy advocates, and was later repealed.
The UK and the US both instated laws that give the government the right to monitor your internet activity and even seize your ISP’s servers should you become suspect of breaking the law. That may seem like a good idea until you realize that these policies are very vague and they open the door for further infringement on our right to privacy in our own homes.
Could buying camping equipment online get you red flagged as an extremist?
Could researching the Tea Party, Libertarianism, or other alternative political affiliations label you as a threat to your country?
Maybe having a blog about VPNs, proxies, and internet privacy is enough to have your ISP notified and your IP tracked.
And the possibilities go on.
Getting Privacy Online
Now that I’ve got you thoroughly paranoid, I’ll let you know that there is a way to get privacy online. Though it’s impossible to be 100% anonymous, all the time, without being a bit tech-savvy and militant about what you do online (ie paranoid), it is possible to get some extra privacy and security while going about your daily online activity.
VPNs are convenient because they’re easy to use, and take very little upkeep. Basically, you sign up for a VPN service, install the VPN software, and each time you connect to the internet, you connect to the VPN as well.
A VPN does two things.
1. It encrypts your data. This is more for protection against hackers and online criminals, so I would label it as added security. It scrambles your data and creates a key (usually 128 number or higher) that only you and the VPN are able to open (so you can interpret the data). This means that hackers would have to work very long and purposefully target you to actually crack the code and see your private data. With a 256-bit key, it’s basically impossible.
2. It creates a virtual tunnel. This makes a private pathway for your data to be transferred to and from the private network (virtual private network servers) that you connect to. No 3rd party is allowed to access this data, not even your own ISP. This means even if your government would seize your ISP’s servers, they would only see encrypted traffic. To access your data, they would have to get a court order to seize your VPN services servers.
And to do that, they would need jurisdiction over your VPN service. If you live in The UK and the US uses a court order, it’s basically useless unless you’re breaking international laws. If you use a US service and China requests access to their servers, it’s not going to happen, regardless of a court order because the Chinese government basically has no say in stuff like that. They’re always up to something fishy.