U.S. in compromising position for online freedom
The United States Secretary of State John Kerry has urged the Chinese government to pursue more open forms of Internet regulation but the Chinese have retorted that the U.S. is in no position to judge.
Internet freedoms are climbing up the list of personal liberties that many feel should be granted to everyone in the world. There are numerous capabilities that online activity can provide to individuals, from connecting individuals on various sides of the globe to providing access to important information.
These capabilities, in theory, should be open to everyone. However, many governments believe that the Internet could be used to undermine their power, which has prompted them to implement controls of varying levels on the Internet. Especially in countries where government power is quite large, this can be a particularly concerning prospect.
There are numerous forms of government control from outright firewalls to more subtle surveillance measures. Despite these differing appearances, any form of government control that can prevent access to certain pieces of legal content is deplorable, as it limits the freedom of information. Two countries that are caught in the middle of this controversy are the U.S. and China.
The Great Firewall and PRISM
In China, the government has issued strict controls over the Internet through what is referred to as the Great Firewall. This program has created a very insulated cyberspace in the world's most populous country. Search terms such as the "Tiananmen Square Massacre" turn on no results, which means that numerous people are being restricted access to important information about their country.
However, this is only the start of the Chinese Internet controls. Controversial bloggers, such as Ai Wei Wei have not only been restricted from posting to their websites but also put under house arrest. Further, news websites like the New York Times have been banned.
While these are certainly deplorable actions, so too are many of the U.S.'s. The Edward Snowden leaks revealed that the National Security Administration has been gathering mass amounts of data about users both at home and abroad without their permission. This has been a major invasion of privacy, and has even trickled into international affairs, with world leader like German Chancellor Angela Merkel falling victim to these practices.
In both the U.S. and China, these actions are deplorable. While they take on different forms, they invade the personal freedoms of Internet users. While it may not have a huge impact on the amount of people who use the Internet, it does have an impact on their access to information – one of the most important elements of the Internet.
Both of these super powers engage in their own forms of Internet censorship but this hasn't stopped either from pointing fingers. Secretary of State John Kerry recently visited China during which time he met with four of the country's leading bloggers to discuss Internet freedom and expression. Ultimately, these talks resulted in the Kerry urging China to open up its policies.
"Obviously, we think that [the] Chinese economy will be stronger with greater freedom of the Internet," Kerry said, according to the Washington Post.
However, China was quick to point out that the U.S. is not free from these issues itself. While Secretary Kerry talked about online freedom in China, he did little to acknowledge the flaws in the U.S.
"I think the topic of this discussion could have been even more open, for example discussing Snowden's case and issues like that," said Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, according to Reuters.
Both countries are in compromising positions, but could be poised to do good in the Internet freedom arena, given their positions as the world's two largest economies. In order to do so, however, they both need to be more honest and transparent about their actions.