A global demand for Internet censorship equipment?

Posted by Martyn

In the 1990s, the widely held theory that the Internet would be an unstoppable force for fre3dom in China and would force the Chinese Communist Party to open up, reform and possibly democratize in the face of its unstoppable onslaught, has been proven totally incorrect. In fact, the opposite is now true because the Internet has become one of the strongest weapons available in China’s arsenal of information control tools. China has developed its own version of the Internet, the direct opposite of almost everything the Internet was supposed to represent. Rather than being the predicted hotbed of dissenting voices yearning for fre3dom and self-expression, the Internet in China is a heavily monitored, filtered and censored virtual world which is almost totally under the iron-fisted control of the Chinese government.

This article asks an important question, which until now, has not been raised anywhere else that I have seen: will China find a lucrative export market in the future for its highly sophisticated and world-beating Internet censoring and monitoring system?

“The biggest danger is that China creates a very large market and testing ground for surveillance and filtering software,” says Danny O’Brien with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco.

As Chinese Web companies seek to enlarge their markets particularly in developing countries, the question looms about whether they will export their values as well. Chinese tech firms have an eye on emerging markets in Africa, South America, and India. These firms are probably peddling censorship tools, says the free-speech advocacy group Rep0rters Without B0rders.

The Paris-based organization releases a new report Thursday filled with tips for bloggers and others to avoid censorship and monitoring. The report available on the group’s website, which is blocked here, crowns China the “world champion” of Internet censorship.

It’s an open secret that around 30,000 telecom workers are dedicated to policing the net as part of the country’s “Great Firewall.” However, less developed nations that may be attracted to the Chinese model are unlikely to have the same resources as Beijing to put into policing the net.

Read the entire article but don’t expect to come away feeling very cheerful or optimistic. The only optimistic note in the article states that some believe the Internet’s populist roots will win the day eventually and ‘for every centralized attempt to censor and filter, there are hundreds, thousands, of others working to circumvent it’.

The Discussion: 11 Comments

I have never heard of this either. I suppose the important questions are:

How many countries around the world are afraid of the growth of the Internet?


How many countries would like to have better control of the Internet?

We can safely put a few countries into the answer for the first question. Countries like North Korea, Burma, Cuba – all good friends of China I notice.

But regarding the second question, we can add, potentially, hundreds of countries. Islamic countries worried about porn and ‘western’ pollution, from Saudi to Iran to Indonesia.

African nations with dictators. Hell, ANY country with a dictator. Russia? India?

September 22, 2005 @ 5:07 pm | Comment

I had no idea how powerful the controls were on the internet here in China. I’ve always been aware of the censoring of the BBC and other foreign press but this total censorship and filtering is very scary.

But I can see why the government is doing this. They can’t afford people banning together and creating widespread instability. The internet is a perfect tool for disparate groups to come together. I mean if a revolt did happen life would be far worse for alot of people. We from the west can fly the banner of fre3dom but we cannot fully see what the future might hold if things got completely out of control here in China. Could any of us live with the realization that the internet was the main tool for this instability? The Chinese government isn’t perfect this I know but what is the option? Look at the power vacuum that occurred in Russia. Currently I don’t know if anyone has noticed how hard core the Chinese are becoming in almost every social and economic sphere?
I think we need to rethink just how the internet is used in a more responsible manner I have no problem with the use of the internet in China as a way to create forums and discussions concerning democracy, and anti corruption. Another thing we need to think on is how the internet is used in a developiong country as opposed to how it is used in developed countries. As well with the populaces of those said countries with repects to education per capita. Can the net be used responsibly? And fre3dom at what cost?

September 22, 2005 @ 9:05 pm | Comment

I think I got a bit off topic on the last comment. I think that the days of fre3dom are limited even though there maybe thousands of hackers out there trying to fend off this state of affairs. The basic fact is governements everywhere are cracking down on the internet. How can individual hackers compete with an army of people whose sole raison d’etre or career is to find ways to police the net? Personally I find it difficult to be optimistic in light of this information.

September 22, 2005 @ 9:11 pm | Comment

Daily linklets 23rd September

How many Maos does it take to change a nation? Mickey Mao – is China being Disney-fied or is Disney being China-fied? The logic and research behind Hong Kong Disneyland. China is targeting Latin America. Kate Moss loses another sponsor. Taiwan’s Li Ao…

September 22, 2005 @ 9:47 pm | Comment

No, China will not find a lucrative export market for internet control systems . . . because the hardware and software that make the Chinese system possible are imported by China — primarily form the US.

US companies are poised to exploit such a market, if it exists. And, giventheir track record in China, are perfectly willing to do so.

September 23, 2005 @ 1:30 am | Comment

There are Chinese companies such as Huawei (IIRC) that make routers and other telecoms equipment, and they will learn how to include filtering and monitoring functions in their products. And their kit will be cheaper than Cisco’s.

September 23, 2005 @ 6:11 am | Comment

I’m no computer expert but while Cisco and others have (to much publicity) sold China the basic tools, China has created the will and the environment to test and perfect the entire system.

Also, as David says above, as usual, China will sell any such equipment at a fraction of the price of Cisco’s equivilent kit.

September 23, 2005 @ 7:11 am | Comment

I’m interested in what Daniel sid above. How many governments would like to aspire to have greater control over their countries Internet? That’s a good question the answer of which would reveal the size of any potential export market.

I can imagine some Islamic states would be interested in blocking porn for example.

Perhaps other dictatorships would like to prevent the Internet from becoming a tool of any political opposition?

I suppose in the right hands Internet censoring and blocking equipment could be put to any use.

September 23, 2005 @ 9:25 am | Comment

Interesting comment Rene. I believe you are the editor of Beijing Lives?

Another point, I suppose any blocking equipment cound even be put to good use by, for example, blocking child porn etc.

September 23, 2005 @ 9:26 am | Comment

I can imagine some Islamic states would be interested in blocking porn for example.

Replace “Islamic” with “Red” and it works too. 😉

note: that was the first red-state blue-state joke I’ve ever made (quite timely I am) and hopefully the last.

September 23, 2005 @ 1:49 pm | Comment

China sorta has an confident and proud face but also a paranoid and fearful one that fears certain words and ideas and tries to keep the population as a whole deprived of certain information and news.

If I were Chinese, this would not make me feel proud!!

September 24, 2005 @ 6:22 pm | Comment

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