Chinese Democracy and Other Corporate American Friendliness

On the continuing issue of How American Technology Corporations Should Treat Not-Very-Nice Governments:

  • The Online Journalism Review holds a roundtable discussion on the issue of Chinese censorship and regulation of weblogs. Mark Glaser writes:

    A recent report on China’s filtering efforts by the OpenNet Initiative called the government’s scheme the most sophisticated one in the world. “While there can be legitimate debates about whether democratization and liberalization are taking place in China’s economy and government, there is no doubt that neither is taking place in China’s Internet environment today,” the report concludes darkly.

  • Rebecca MacKinnon reports that all Typepad blogs have now been blocked from view within China. Be sure to read the comments on her latest posts, as the debate can get pretty interesting as tech companies explain themselves and readers point out lots of other companies which are economically entwined with the Chinese government.

It’s interesting to see how new technology can be disruptive to political and social structures, which is what we’re seeing in Chinese and Iranian blogs, but the technology can also be used to further the goals of a restrictive government. The digitization of communication makes it monitorable, in a way that a conversation on the street might not be. It’s much harder to encrypt a seditious email than it is to whisper.

I certainly believe that the Internet is a disruptive technology to political systems that restrict free speech, but I really don’t like the idea of American companies increasing their profits by enabling governments to censor what their citizens can read and write.