Saturday, 6 October 2012

Enemies of the Internet

Yep this is another one of them preachy posts, once again accompanied by a nice Infographic from the good people of Open-Site, for a quick recap of similar posts click on the following links:

Technology production
Online Activism

 Today's theme is sort of a companion piece to the one about Activism (though arguably they are all interconnected) its about those whom threaten all the good things the Internet gives us, including pornography and fan sites about obscure television shows an out of print pulp series.

If you think that identity theft is the worst-case-scenario of Internet use, you clearly don’t live in any of the nations that make the list of top “Enemies of the Internet.” Not only do these governments monitor their citizens’ web activity, but they also make it nearly impossible for them to safely share and gather information through anonymous microblogs, Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. One nation sports a cyber police force that is larger than the city of Orlando, Florida. And when protests erupted in another country, Twitter accounts were created for the sole purpose of diverting citizens from spreading information. Although these nations represent the extremes of national cybersecurity, the measures they use are based in legislative bills like SOPA, PIPA and CISPA. Check out the following infographic to find out which nations make this list. The next time you surf the web, think carefully about who’s watching you and who’s blocking you.

 If you're finding the graphic a bit small you can get the full sized version here.

Anyway I believe this is a fairly comprehensive list of nations that have less then liberal attitudes to the world wide web. In fact do take a look at both lists in the second image, we have the usual suspects China, Burma, Belarus, Russia, Cuba etc all well known for Authoritarianism but we also have a few surprises, Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia, all of which had until the Arab Spring been well known for tourism and an accommodating attitude to Westerners.

And yet all of them at least embraced legislation that allowed their security forces to monitor the web. Why is this necessary? Well its quite easy to co-opt mainstream or old media either nationalise it or keep it in private hands and reach an agreement with the owners. Murdoch used to be the perfect example of this in the UK before the phone hacking scandal ruined his credibility and usefulness to government. Remember private ownership of the media doesn't necessarily equal independent or free.

Of course the problem with that framework is lying about a problem doesn't make the problem go away. People whom are frustrated and not getting anywhere through official means often go "underground"  and the internet has made this much easier to do and more effective to reach a larger audience. Owning the Times and Government FM simply won't stop dissent from spreading hence monitoring programs, and criticism laws (which we'll get to later) and don't hold your breadth for the new governments in Egypt and Tunisia to get rid of these particular laws. You would be surprised how useful such measures are once someone else has done the hard work and took the flack for implementing them.

For example in South Africa the ANC kept very unpopular Apartheid era laws in case their Administration faced an insurrection. Or did you think they just forgot about the legal justifications to arrest and beat them when they were the people's Vanguard?

Bahraini bloggers have often faced arrest and fines and that was before the protests against the Monarchy kicked off in full. Now you can expect a night raid and assault.

You may also wonder why Australia and France are on the list, after all those are civilised "Democratic" Western liberal nations. So why are they playing follow the leader with the Moustachioed Despots? Put simply because the same tensions that make surveillance and arbitrary detention so attractive to Governments exist in all nations. Can you honestly think of a nation that is completely homogeneous in outlook and harmonious? I can't... well that's not true North Korea (As its government portrays it anyway) seems pretty orderly, but given that its society is heavily militarised and has an extremely powerful police and intelligence service suggests that harmony is manufactured to some extent. And even they have very restrictive internet monitoring programs.

In the UK Tory and Labour governments have been blocking sites since the 90's. Some because of allegations of terrorism promotion and child pornography but, sometimes file sharing, I can't access Piratebay.Se anymore to give a recent example. In fact if I remember correctly in the 90's most websites blocked or shut down were Scatological pornsites (I'm not checking to make sure, you do that if you want too) which while unpleasant content wise isn't exactly what I'd call and economic or societal menace.

And of course I'm sure we're all familiar with the Alphabet bills in America and the EU trying to increase restrictions on the internet in our lands. SOPA, PIPA, CISPA, ACTA and so on. This initiatives need to be fought, not because they'll take away free films and music (even though its been debunked that piracy negatively affects those industries) but because they all legalise attacks from both government agencies and corporate "Rights holders" to attack our democratic space. You are naive in the extreme if you don't realise that these measures open the door to censorship of ideas and groups. And maybe you don't care all that much when the groups being shut down are "terrorists" or of the political and social opposition, but can you honestly guarantee that that is were the line stops? Would you be so complacent if the party bringing in these policies was one that opposed your beliefs and tried to silence your activism and debate?

Again credit to the Open-Site for the infographic.

More from this series:

Technology production
Online Activism

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