Guess who likes the UK’s proposals to control the Internet?

In the wake of the riots, several British Conservative MPs, and indeed PM David Cameron himself, have suggested a harsher regime of state control of both messenger services and social networks. Their suggestions have attracted widespread derision from almost everybody who either knows something about the Internet and communications more broadly, or who places any value on freedom of speech, assembly and communication and regards these things as foundational to any democratic society.

However, the a yet vague proposals have gained support from one quarter: China. The Chinese state-controlled media have suggested that the Conservative Party’s undemocratic suggestions prove that the Chinese state was right all along about controlling the Internet and that now these events are causing liberal democracies to support the Chinese model of highly regulated provision (via Boing Boing).

This is pretty much what I have been suggesting is happening for the last 2 or 3 years – see here, here, here and here. It is just that now, the pretense of democratic communication is being dropped by western governments. And just in case David Cameron doesn’t get it – and he really does not appear to right now, no, it is not a good thing that the Chinese government likes your ideas: it makes you look undemocratic and authoritarian.

‘Turning Off’ the Internet

Boing Boing contributors have been doing a fascinating job of documenting the place of the Internet and social media in the ongoing turmoil spreading across Arabic countries. Until recently the focus had been on the use of social media tools by activists, but in the last few days, the empire has struck back. In particular the Egyptian state has effectively ‘turned off’ the Internet, cutting Net access and communications between Egypt and the rest of the world.

What’s particularly interesting is that the rulers of western ‘democracies’ seem to want similar powers. I’ve been writing about the growing movement amongst states to develop powers to split or close the Internet entirely for some time (see here, here and here, for example). Most recently, I reported on French efforts to develop Internet censorship power in wide-ranging circumstances, and as Sean Bonner on BB points out, a bill was introduced into Congress last year by, it’s that man again, Joe Liebermann, to give the USA government even greater powers to cut off civilian access to the Net entirely in the event of a ‘cyber-emergency’.

This is not a drill, people, this is happening…

Internet doit être défendu! (4)

I write this addition to my ongoing series of thoughts on the implications of the Wikileaks scandal, en Francais because according to Le Point, the the Assemblée Nationale has passed a bill, Loppsi 2, which, amongst other things, in its Article 4, allows the French government to ban particular websites, and essentially to ‘filter’ the Internet. The Bill of course has ‘good intentions’, in this case, it is aimed at paedophiles, but the wording is such that it allows a far wider use against “la cybercriminalité en général”. Regardless, as the article points out: “Les expériences de listes noires à l’étranger ont toutes été des fiascos,” in other words such bills have generally been a complete failure as in most cases the state’s technology and expertise cannot deliver what the law allows.

However, I am left wondering what makes this any different from what China does, and what moral right the French state now has to criticise Chinese censorship or indeed any other regime that is repressive of information rights. And of course, what other very reasonable ‘good intentions’ could be drawn upon for closing the Net – opposing ‘information terrorism’, par example?

Philippines: military targets writers and artists

There have been a couple of interesting stories that have caught my eye from the Philippines concerning the surveillance of writers and artists by the military. First, soldiers were discovered to have been watching the house of Bienvenido Lumbera, a major artist. More recently, prize-winning writer, Pedro “Jun” Cruz Reyes Jr. has complained of surveillance of his house by unidentified men in a white van – and this isn’t the first time.

The first incident was dismissed as a ‘training exercise’ by the Philippines Armed Forces (AFP) – which, even if it were true, hardly excuses the actions, although it does attempt to remove the suspicion of a concerted program or illicit policy. Now, with this second complaint, that first excuse starts to sound a little more hollow. But, there are some other facts here that make me more suspicious, in particular the status of both these artists as critical figures in Filipino cultural life, and secondly, a recent controversy over the attempt by the military- and US-backed President Arroyo to award special prizes to some of her favourite popular filmmakers and comics artists, an act which was prevented by the courts after complaints by, amongst others, Lumbera.

Of course, this kind of surveillance as personal harassment (because it is so obvious that it must be designed to be seen by the person being watched) is typically thought to produce a ‘chilling effect’ on democratic debate and criticism. The culture of fear and repression is often the result of the military being over-prominent in everyday life. In the Philippines, with its history of US military-colonial dominance, dictatorship, political killings, and the longstanding conflict between the AFP and Islamic separatist groups (which is also a conflict between landowners and peasants) in Mindanao, such an atmosphere is pervasive.

The treatment of these two artists pales in comparison with the treatment of others. Back in 2007 the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston, condemned the use of violence, arbitrary imprisonment and intimidation by both army and police under the cover of ‘anti-terrorism. The worldwide writers support group, PEN, estimates that since 2001, 60 journalists have been murdered in the Philippines, and in total 903 killings and hundreds more ‘disappearances’ of people from all walks of life have been reported. In August, the writer Alex Pinpin, and four friends who made up the s0-called ‘Tagaytay 5’ were finally released after a popular campaign. They had been held for 859 days without access to a lawyer and had been threatened, beaten and tortured in the name of the ‘War on Terror’. They were alleged without foundation, to have been members of a paramilitary group, the New People’s Army.

Read more from PEN here – it’s certainly eye-opening.

Australia gives up net censorship plan

Some good news for once. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the heinous plans that the Australian government had for surveilling and censoring the Internet have been iced. The plans would have introduced mandatory filtering of the Internet in Australia despite the technical impossibility and political and ethical objections. The fight over these proposals had been vicious with opponents even receiving death threats, but the side of both sense and liberty appears to have won an important victory.

Now, let’s see if similar good sense will prevail in other countries which are advocating similar, if not quite as extreme, China-style net-disabling proposals like the UK and Brazil

(Thanks to bOINGbOING who’ve been keeping us up to date on this one)