New media versus online censorship

In a lecture at New York University yesterday I was asked a question about web censorship in Sri Lanka. We are nowhere near Iran or China in the scope of online censorship, but there have been disturbing signs nevertheless about the government desire to control and contain the freedom of expression on the web.

RSF has an interesting article on growing contest between web censorship and web media leveraged to strengthen dissent online. But the way I see it, it’s not just the usual suspects who seek to control information flows online. We must deride in principle all countries that seek to regulate content on the web for disturbingly parochial reasons, often guised as measures that benefit society and protect morals.

The RSF article notes,

The outcome of the cyber-war between netizens and repressive authorities will also depend upon the effectiveness of the weapons each camp has available: powerful filtering and surveillance systems for decrypting e-mails, and ever more sophisticated proxies and censorship circumvention tools such as Tor, VPNs, Psiphon, and UltraReach. The latter are developed mainly thanks to the solidarity of netizens around the globe. For example, thousands of Iranians use proxies originally intended for Chinese surfers.

Global pressure makes a difference, too. The major world powers’ geo-strategic interests are finding a communications platform on the Web. In January 2010, the United States made freedom of expression on the Internet the number one goal of its foreign policy. It remains to be seen how the country will apply this strategy to its foreign relations, and what the reaction of the countries concerned will be.

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