China’s Fight to Contain the Internet

This morning, while I was trying to find something to watch other than Easter Sunday services I found myself over at CurrentTV watching a report on Chinese bloggers and the “Great Firewall of China.”  In the “pod” reporter Laura Ling showed how she could completely circumvent the system by using a piece of software from the company UltraReach.

“Founded by a group of successful entrepreneurs and renowned professionals in computer and Internet who dedicated to providing technologies and service for people to exchange information on Internet freely and safely, UltraReach is the first company with a mission that offers Internet technology and service immune to the national Internet censorship in China and other censor countries. ”

This all sounds pretty interesting and highlights the challenges faced by any government attempting to block or restrict access to the internet.

However, The Atlantic has some rather sobering reporting about just how far China is willing to go:

“Taken together, the components of the control system share several traits. They’re constantly evolving and changing in their emphasis, as new surveillance techniques become practical and as words go on and off the sensitive list. They leave the Chinese Internet public unsure about where the off-limits line will be drawn on any given day. Andrew Lih points out that other countries that also censor Internet content—Singapore, for instance, or the United Arab Emirates—provide explanations whenever they do so. Someone who clicks on a pornographic or “anti-Islamic” site in the U.A.E. gets the following message, in Arabic and English: “We apologize the site you are attempting to visit has been blocked due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political, and moral values of the United Arab Emirates.” In China, the connection just times out. Is it your computer’s problem? The firewall? Or maybe your local Internet provider, which has decided to do some filtering on its own? You don’t know. “The unpredictability of the firewall actually makes it more effective,” another Chinese software engineer told me. “It becomes much harder to know what the system is looking for, and you always have to be on guard.”

I find it hard to believe that anyone will be able to completely control access but this shows that control can often be attained psychologically when it cannot be done so technologically.

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