Saturday, March 13, 2010

Enemies of the Internet 2010

An international press group, Reporters Without Borders, has recently published a report on internet freedom around the world. Considering factors such as national content filters, user anonymity, and government monitoring of internet use, the group has identified countries that have, or are considering, excessive controls over what their citizens can find on the web.

The group's website provides both a summary and a detailed report on their findings.  They note that:
The “Enemies of the Internet” list drawn up again this year by Reporters Without Borders presents the worst violators of freedom of expression on the Net: Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, North Korea, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.
The report describes these countries as using "massive filtering" to maintain "tight control over the Web’s political and social content."

A second category lists those countries that are "under surveillance."  Without changes in thinking and law, these countries seem headed toward stronger controls and a place on the "enemies" list. Russia and Turkey, for example, are in this category, as are some more noticeably democratic countries, such as Australia and South Korea.

Oddly omitted from the report is New Zealand, which is in the process of implementing a government controlled black list of internet sites that are to become invisible to the public  So far, Internet Service Providers are complying only on a voluntary basis, and that might be one reason New Zealand has been overlooked.  Their implementation of this system is also quite recent, and the omission might be just a question of timing.  See a March 14th article in the New Zealand Herald.

Australia's system, also a government-controlled blacklist, has gathered a lot more press coverage and has generated more debate.  It has yet to be implemented, but some in the government seem determined to move forward in spite of considerable resistance. See, for example, a March 13th article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

These plans are surprising in countries that are theoretically modern, western, and democratic. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of plans such a Australia's is that the government determines in secret which websites go on the blacklist, and the list itself remains a secret. In some countries, of course, such secrecy would be commonplace. In more open societies, however, it is difficult to comprehend what would motivate government officials to operate in so clandestine a manner. Secrecy and censorship are a dangerous combination, leading inevitably to abuse of power.


  1. New Zealand? Really?

    The Internet is luckily, a bit harder to supress than books. What with computers getting smaller and smaller, all you need is a few good hackers.

  2. Indeed! A lot of the debate in Australia and New Zealand says just that, that these government plans will just give hackers something to do, and will easily be bypassed. I hope so. Interestingly, the Internet Freedom Act of 2010, were it ever to become law, would put the US in the business of funding research on just how to bypass such filters. I suspect the Act will never get out of committee, however.

  3. That's good.

    Whoever said geeks don't come in handy ;)?