In 1996, cyberlibertarian political activist Barlow addressed the ‘Governments of the Industrial World’ about his fears for the end of net neutrality and the rise of surveillance. “We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity”, Barlow stated, “On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone” (Barlow, 1996).
As powerful as this statement still is today, it would appear that the ‘past Governments of the Industrial World’ aren’t so much in the past as utopian idealists, such as Barlow, would have hoped. The Australian government is currently trying to have surveillance over the population in the name of “terrorism”. In fact their scheme to track our metadata had me worried until I heard George Brandis stumble over himself just trying to determine what exactly metadata is (listen below, the struggle is real).
However, in other governments, net neutrality and freedom from surveillance is already a thing of the past. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and while the rest of the globe were able to access information about this great tragedy, China’s Google search equivalent, Baidu, only featured censored images that were selectively filtered to remove any association with the 1989 massacre.
For some of us, the internet is separated from a ‘mainframe’ system and allows users to communicate with each other over distributed networks without the interference of a centralised hub (Mitew, 2014). However, the Great Firewall of China has effectively removed this freeing system of distributed networks and maintained a system that allows for a controlled and coordinated censorship. In 1996 when Barlow spoke of his concerns, China was already experiencing their first bout of online censorship.
The graph below shows the timeline of China’s censored internet access.
This censorship was formed through a centralised hub system, set up by the infamously hated Fang Binxing. However, the ‘father of the Great Firewall’ would not have an effective system were it not for the Golden Shield. The Golden Shield is a system of online policing that involves filtering, interception of any messages that breach the censorship code and surveillance. Most interestingly, this Golden Shield employs not only cyber-police, but also citizens to “censor their own content and implement government directives” (The Economist, 2013).
While in Australia we can laugh as politicians stumble over what exactly it is they are trying to control, the Great Firewall of China is a well established network of coordination and control. However, where there is control there are always those who seek to remove it. From the beginning of this great firewall’s hold, hackers have tried to break through. Today, there are various sites setup by Chinese citizens to allow users to surpass the wall. While they may be successful, these citizens have had to hide their identities in order to avoid a jail sentence simply for seeking online freedom (Chen, 2014).
On behalf of the past, present and future, I ask the Governments of the Industrial World to leave us alone.
**If you are wanting to see more on what is censored through Weibo, China’s biggest social media site, go to this link.
Baidu – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 2014. Baidu – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [ONLINE] Available at:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baidu#Censorship. [Accessed 20 August 2014].
Chen, L, 2014. Breaking Through China’s Great Firewall. Bloomberg Businessweek, [Online]. Available at: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-03-20/secretive-web-activists-give-chinese-a-way-around-censorship [Accessed 17 August 2014].
Mitew, T (2014) Liquid Labour Week 3 Lecture, Accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3M9x_UJkoo
Olesen, A, 2011. Fang Binxing, China’s Internet Firewall Designer, Hit By Shoe. Huffington Post TECH, [Online]. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/21/fang-binxing-shoe-attack_n_865155.html [Accessed 17 August 2014].
Sonnad, N, (2014), See what China sees when it searches for “Tiananmen” and other loaded terms[ONLINE]. Available at: http://qz.com/216829/see-what-china-sees-when-it-searches-for-tiananmen-and-other-loaded-terms/ [Accessed 14 August 14].
Special Report, (author/s unidentified), 2013. The art of concealment. The Economist, [Online]. Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21574631-chinese-screening-online-material-abroad-becoming-ever-more-sophisticated [Accessed 16 August 2014].
Triple J, Hack (2014), 07 August 14, 8 times politicians tried to explain technology and failed. 07 August 14, https://soundcloud.com/triple-j-hack/attorney-general-george-brandis-totally-understands-metadata. [Accessed 14 August 14].