Global Internet Censorship

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  • Topic: Internet, Internet censorship, Wi-Fi
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  • Published : March 16, 2010
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What aspects of the internet make global censorship difficult? Why might a government be inclined to impose internet censorship on its citizens? Is global internet censorship moral?

Internet Censorship has been a topic of much debate and growing concern in the past decade. According to the OpenNet Initiative, the number of countries seeking to control access of content on the internet has been rising rapidly (Documenting Internet Content Filtering Worldwide n.d). Reporters Without Borders published a list of thirteen countries as ‘internet enemies’ in 2006. The list consisted of Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam (List of the 13 Internet Enemies in 2006 Published 2006). The Chinese government has restricted internet access so heavily that it is called the ‘Great Firewall of China’ (Healy, 2007: 158). Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also have heavy restrictions on gambling, pornography, homosexuality and anti-Islamic sites. According to the OpenNet Initiative, the four main reasons why a government imposes censorship are securing Intellectual Property (IP) rights, protecting national security, preserving cultural norms and religious value and shielding children from pornography and exploitation (Documenting Internet Content Filtering Worldwide n.d).

Global censorship may not be as easy as it sounds. Many aspects of the internet make global censorship difficult. The absence of a centralized hub is one of the main reasons why global internet censorship may not be feasible. As of now only individual countries have imposed censorships through their Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The internet is extremely vast and there is no way people can be employed to check on every single content that is put up on the web. Automated checking tools are not as effective and can only filter content to some extent. The internet is a many-to-many media and people all around the world can post web pages. It is thus quite difficult for one agency or government to curb all activities on the internet that may be deemed offensive to them.

Along with all its benefits the internet also brings with itself a lot of harms. Hacking, identity theft, pedophilia etc are just some of them. In September 2006, Time.com reported that Brazilian prosecutors claimed that a number of pedophiles, anti-Semites and racists lurk around the country’s most popular social networking site, Google’s orkut (Downie, A. 2006). There has been a recent uproar in Dubai, regarding orkut where some members of the public questioned why the site was not banned and that certain communities were posting immoral material. ‘Dubai-based lawyer Abdul Hamid Al Kumity, of Al Kumity Advocates, said according to Article 15 of the UAE's cyber crime laws, people risked a jail term of between six months and three years, and a fine of up to Dh30,000, for making, constructing, exhibiting, showing, circulating, inducing or impelling people to watch a website with obscene, immoral, pornographic or erotic material. Article 15(4) puts those who publicise such websites for others to watch or attract people to such websites at risk of a fine or a jail term. According to Article 13, anybody who allows youngsters to access such websites or helps them in viewing them will be punished with a fine or a jail term of up to five years’ (Bardsley 2007). Thus after a huge public uproar, orkut has been blocked by the country’s most popular ISP – Etisalat.

The main reasons why a government might be inclined to impose internet censorship on its citizens are to protect the regional moral values, to protect children and to protect the country. Preserving moral values of the country would include the censorship of any site deemed offensive in the context of religion, culture and relationships. Homosexuality is considered an offence in the UAE and all sites related to the topic are...
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