World governments sending mixed signals about internet freedom
While China has often been considered the biggest censor when it comes to freedom of the internet and the press, many world governments, including some of China's biggest critics have not been consistent with their censorship policies.
The Great Firewall of China is among the most infamous cases of the limiting of internet freedom. The ways in which users in China are closed off to internet freedom are multifold, and in many ways, so nuanced that its full effect is not realized. According to U.S. News and World Report, there are an estimated 100,000 people on staff in China to manually censor online content. While these blatant efforts of online censorship are widely recognized and criticized by governments around the world, many freedom limiting subtleties go unrealized.
News censorship in print and online occurs regularly. Often times, editors of newspapers are forced to shy away from certain topics that they would expect to be controversial and when these topics do need to be discussed they are often glazed over in a generic enough fashion so as to not conflict with the government agenda, according to Sampsonia Way Magazine. The point here is to show that the limiting of internet freedom is not always as simple as the direct blocking out of certain content or prohibition of certain materials being released, and it is because of these more discreet forms of censorship that it is so dangerous.
Critics deserving of criticism
Two of the world's biggest advocates of free speech have made headlines in recent months but not because of their triumphs in the field.
The United Kingdom's Prime Minister David Cameron once criticized foreign governments who used cybersecurity as a guide for censorship, but now it is he who is employing similar techniques. According to Wired UK, Cameron has recently proposed a law that would install internet filters on home broadband networks by default, with the idea that it would be able to shield children from obscene content like pornography. In order to bypass these filters, one would have to register with the government to have them removed. This has drawn widespread criticism as many believe this limits privacy and freedom on the internet and is the start of a situation that looks all too similar to the Great Firewall of China.
It has been hard to escape news surrounding the case of Edward Snowden, the government contractor who leaked information regarding the NSA's PRISM program which was used to effectively spy on American citizens. In the aftermath of the leaks, Snowden himself was accused of being a spy and has since sought asylum in Russia from the U.S. government. The same government that only a few years before criticized the censorship programs of many countries including China.
The situation in China and the situations in the U.S. and U.K. are of course different, but they are all too quickly taking on qualities of one another.
Xu Zhiyong is a human rights lawyer in China who was arrested in July for "gathering a crowd to disrupt social order," USA Today reported. The news source explains that Xu gathered people to protest the lack of transparency in government assets. His outrage had led to over 1,000 Chinese citizens signing a letter of public protest, but on a larger scale his arrest has not been widely reported throughout the country.
The cases of Xu and Snowden are individually unique, but they both draw certain similarities. In both cases, the two worked to spread wider public knowledge of what they felt was wrong, and their governments both responded by virtually deeming them enemies of the state. While the causes they were fighting for differed along with the political situations of their respective countries, there are certain comparisons that can't be ignored.
In both instances, there are elements of internet freedom, that is, the dissemination of what the two believe should be public knowledge, that is being identified as criminal. Cases like these make one wonder – should the spread of information of the public good really be considered criminal?