Internet censorship in China

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I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a presentation about internet censorship in China. In China, there is a very successful firewall that keeps you from visiting pornography, pro-democracy sites, etc. - pretty much anything the state feels could be harmful to you or the state. The presenter presented this as something that is very bad and I tend to agree with her, but I really started to think about it while I was eating my dinner tonight.

In the context of China, which has suppression of speech in all fronts, it is very disappointing to have such limited access to the Internet.

What really got me thinking was going back to a presentation I recently did on network neutrality. To Americans, an open Internet is a basic utility. To some people (the founder of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee among them), the Internet is a basic human right. I’m not sure that we should look at it that way.

Yes, I love the Internet and the open web. I don’t know what I would do without it (call me addicted if you want), but the issue in China is an issue of not having free speech at all - not that the Internet is locked down. I’m way less concerned that people in China can’t get their free pornography than that they can’t voice their opinion in ANY forum. The fact that the Internet is locked down there isn’t that big of an issue to me - just a small morsel in a giant chocolate cake of suppression.

Don’t get me wrong, I want the Internet to be open there and here, but it just seems like a smaller issue in the grand scheme of things.

Edit: After writing this, I thought of another issue I want to bring up. During this presentation I saw earlier, it was contended that China had the most sophisticated firewall system in the world, yet China has a fair number of warez “scene” sites (for more info, visit Wikipedia) run inside the country. Most countries and organizations work very hard to get rid of these sites - both because of the IP law implications and the strain they put on networks. I know China has a large pirated software issue (along with a huge grey market for such software) but wouldn’t they want to stop these sites? The software/music/movies/pornography/games on these sites aren’t limited to what is “approved” by the Chinese government. Fill me in via the comments section if you have any more info on this.