Countries in Asia limit expression on internet through legislation
The internet can be both a liberating and confining force depending on who controls its use – if it's in the hands of autocratic governments, its effects can be devastating.
Human connections are one of the strongest binding forces between people. Face to face interaction is quite important, but the internet has also been able to connect people from all around the world, thereby exchanging information and knowledge that would have otherwise been limited by geographic barriers. This can be as simple as a video or song, but this exchange can also spread ideas that can help liberate entire communities.
The Arab Spring is a perfect example of such ideas circulating as much of the youth used social media outlets like Twitter to mobilize thousands of people in unified protest. While the aftermath of such protests has become increasingly complicated, the movement that was initially spurred is a testament to the internet's power to bring people together in unified protest.
However, some governments are starkly aware of this power, and have implemented strict legislation aimed at limiting its use.
Vietnam signs Decree 72 into law
After some debate and criticism from foreign governments, Vietnam has implemented a controversial law that will effectively limit the kind of content that can be spread on the internet. The law restricts bloggers and social media users from sharing anything other than personal information on their websites. This means that news articles and other publications that are not ones own will not be able to be shared throughout cyber space in the country. On top of this, the BBC explains, foreign internet companies would be required to keep their servers inside the country.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation explains that one of the major problems of the law is that it uses vague wording that could be interpreted in a number of different ways. While some might see it as legislation to fight online piracy, it could also be used to silence speech against the government. Because of this wording, many critics urged the government to revise the decree earlier this summer, however, it did not listen.
One of the major problems with this legislation is that it would prevent the sharing of information that could paint the country in a poor light, such as news stories examining the actions of government. In this way, the decree undoes much of the important information sharing that internet enables.
China releases dissenter, still little hope for progress
The state of online freedom in China is no better, despite the government releasing a journalist who had been in prison since 2005. Earlier in September, Shi Tai was released from prison, 15 months ahead of schedule, according to Radio Free Asia.
The journalist was arrested in 2004 after an email that he sent discussing media limitations in anticipation of the 15th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. Sadly, Shi was able to be identified as a result of the government receiving information from Yahoo about his account. One alarming aspect of this situation is that such action is something that may have been allowed through the United States PRISM program.
Despite his release, many feel that the state of internet freedom in the country is in no better position than it was when Shi was arrested. The Telegraph explains that transmitting "false information" or "slanderous comments" could be subject to three years in prison, though such comments would need to be seen by 5,000 or more internet issues or re-tweeted at least 500 times again raising concerns about the state of information exchange on the internet.
Both of these situation further raise questions about the nature of such legislation. Though the internet can connect people from all over the world, these governments are working counter to this, and in doing so limiting the important circulation of ideas.