Internet Filtering Internationally

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Issues Involved


The politics of internet filtering is a complicated phenomenon in Asia. With majority of the nations who practice internet filtering in an attempt to minimize political dissent and to silence opposing voices towards the ruling ideology. Another main reason used to justify internet filtering in the region is nationalism. Filtering is construed to be a positive necessity in order to protect the nation’s security and strength. Religious motivations - to either support one or to prevent the rise of others - is another key factor behind internet filtering across Asia. As an extension of such religious justifications, are the more general moral grounds for internet filtering – such as the blocking of pornographic content.

1. Burma
1.1 Burma's Internet Crackdown (read the full report here)
Burma - COMM 215 Working PagesBurma - COMM 215 Working Pages
(Passive protesters: Buddhist monks lead demonstrations against the military Government in Burma)

Burma disappeared from the face of the WWW from 29 September 2007 until 6 October 2007 amidst protests stemming from sharp increases in fuel prices. A method more drastic and extreme than usual Internet censoring activities was taken. SPDS made use of its authority over Burma's Internet connections to shut down online access entirely. The move appeared to be aimed at preventing citizen journalists and their reports of photos and video footages of ongoing violent confrontations between protesters and the military from reaching the outside world. Internet cafes were shut down as well. The military Junta has yet to publicly acknowledge these acts and Burma's state telecommunications company claimed a break in underwater cables. This was an attempt by the Junta to immobilize and disarm the essential communication tools used by citizen journalists: cell phones and the Internet.

During the demonstrations, despite a heavy crackdown on media, and the shooting to death of a Japanese journalist, images of the beatings and shootings of unarmed protesters crossed the world within minutes of the events – all with the help of local bloggers & activist journalists rushed to nearby cafes or embassies with photos and reports. In addition, pictures, footage and commentaries about demonstrations (including evidence of deaths) also managed to find their way to international news agencies via the internet. The massive clampdown of all Internet connectivity was caused by this tremendous outflow of information from within the nation. Proliferation of online Information containing updates, videos and photographs showing the violent suppression of protests had led to global uproars over the military junta's abuse of human rights.

2. China
2.1 Support for Online Censorship
Often referred to as the ‘Great Firewall of China,’ the almost seamless integration of internet filtering into the online infrastructure is reflective of how paramount it is to the state. Reporters without Borders refers to China as the "world's biggest prison for cyber-dissidents." One of the main reasons for this is likely due to the inherent issue of nationalism. The success of nationalism as a justification for the need of internet filtering is commendable. A majority of the Chinese population support the government’s calls for censorship. In the 2008 Tibetan uprising, most Chinese supported their government’s official stand on Tibet and were satisfied with China’s attempts in blocking online content that furthered the Tibetan cause. The prevalent mindset is one which views the West as imperialistic and perpetually attempting to undermine the Chinese history and identity.

Another reason could be that the locally-controlled state media are often portraying negative repercussions of online usage to the masses; examples include gambling and internet addiction. However, an issue that arises here is the impact internet filtering has had on the mindsets of the Chinese. ‘Indoctrination’ of the people is an explanation that crops up regularly in the global media – painting a picture of a population who supports an oppressive government because they have not had the opportunity to be exposed to alternatives like a "free" internet.

2.2 Self-Censorship
While China stopped subsidizing newspapers and magazines in 2003, the state government still tightly controls the media sector. Netizens, journalists and corporations often do not know the exact boundaries for prohibited expression, hence the risk of losing their jobs, and facing civil or criminal liability. This ultimately leads to self-censorship in order to avoid legal and economic consequences. With the proliferating of self-censorship throughout the Chinese population and foreign businesses, the Chinese central government will be able to avoid a forefront picture, and have a much easier time in handling international critics and defenders of free speech. Several MNCs involved in voluntary self-censoring activities and actively aiding China's internet censorship regime include Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. This brings forth a whole series of issues on inherent Western beliefs and corporate ethics involved. Google's explanation in defense of their corporation can be found here.

3. North Korea
Considering its political system and its notorious reputation for being a closed community, the majority of available websites online are devoted to paying homage to Kim Jong-Il, his father and the country. To some extent, North Korea mirrors China in the usage of internet filtering as a tool for constructing and maintaining nationalism. Reporters without Borders (RWB) describe North Korea as the ‘worst internet black hole’. The country's state-created intranet is the prevalent mode of communication and "free" internet is only available to a rare handful of the elites. Internet elitism and the consolidation of power in information within the hands of several is a critical issue in the case of North Korea.

4. Iran
The most pressing issue with regard to Iran is the tightly co-related relationship between internet and politics. Many journalist-bloggers in Iran face the danger of being arrested, tortured and threatened by the authorities when sentiments are deemed to be anti-political or anti-Islamic. The arrest of several renowned bloggers and the shutting down of reformist sites are evidence of the strong political motivation behind internet filtering in Iran. In 2004 and 2008 elections, the government stepped up its internet regulations as an attempt to filter out anti-government sentiments. Although pornographic sites are 100% blocked, it is the anti-religious and anti-government sites in which visitors face the most severe repercussions.

5. Vietnam
Vietnam’s key motivations for internet filtering lie in their desire to protect the integrity of the nation's ruling communist party. Content that would compromise the reputation of the ruling party are of key concern to the local government. One example would be its sensitivity towards criticism regarding its human rights record in order to protect the state’s reputation. In addition, pro-democracy content is also heavily filtered in Vietnam's internet landscape. A blogger who downloaded a file entitled "What is Democracy?", translated it and shared it online was subsequently punished by the state. With Vietnamese regulations stating that Internet management capacity must be in-line with development requirements, consistent measures must also be taken at the same time to prevent internet abuse by the general masses at large.

Voices of the People - Social Media and PR across Asia

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Background Information

What is Internet Filtering?
Control or suppression of the publishing or accessing of online information
using different strategies and technical approaches as mentioned below:

1. Technical Blocking

various methods used to limit access to specific websites, domains,& IP addresses

- Domain Name System (DNS) Tampering

- IP Blocking

- URL Blocking

- Keyword Blocking based on wordings in URL & searches

2. Search Results Removal

Internet search engines cooperate with local governments to filter out subersive or undesirable websites from search results. This process makes the search for the sites harder as compared to the usual blocking of access to specific sites.

3. Take-Down

Using notices and threat of legal action in order for web hosts to take down the site containing restricted content. In cases where the authorities have control over domain servers, the domain in question will be de-registered, making the website invisible in the WWW.

4. Induced Self-Censorship

Can be in the form of both "reading" and "writing" content. Self censorship may take place through threats of legal charges, promotion of social norms or subtle methods of intimidation to induce compliance with
online restrictions. As such, netizens will be more wary of browsing and posting any content online that will draw unwanted attention by the authorities

Top 8 Advocates in Asia (excerpt from "Reporters without Borders" in 2006)

Flag of the People's Republic of China People's Republic of China
Flag of Burma Burma
Flag of Syria Syria
Flag of North Korea North Korea
Flag of Pakistan Pakistan
Flag of Iran Iran
Flag of Vietnam Vietnam
Flag of Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia

Country Summary (in alphabetical order)
BurmaFlag of Burma
Under control of the ruling military Junta - is heavily involved in pervasive filtering as a central platform for shaping public knowledge, participation, and expression. It has currently one of the world's most restrictive system of control. Despite the fact that only less than 1% of the Burmese has Internet access, the country has banned the websites of institutions advocating democracy or pro-independence in Burma, political opposition groups, online independent media, numerous sites relating to human rights and so on so forth. Similar to China, Burma also filtered various Internet tools; including free Web-based e-mail providers, blogging services, proxies and other circumvention tools.

China Flag of the People's Republic of China
The People's Republic of China is in OpenNet Initiative (ONI)'s category as one of the top countries involved in filtering of internet content. China has blocked political content with a wide breadth and depth - including human rights issues, reform and opposition activities, as well as independent media and religious minorities. Several censored examples are information relating to "Free Tibet", democracy,Taiwan independence, Tiananmen Square protests, freedom of speech, various blogging sites and services et cetera. Many Chinese have been caught and arrested for inappropriate Internet usage & suffered legal consequences. Internet filtering in the Macau and HongKong Special Administrative Regions differs greatly in severity from that of "Mainland China".

Iran Flag of Iran
Iran has one of the most heavily regulated censorship regimes in the internet world and is often referred to along with China. The government requires all individuals who subscribes to ISP (Internet Service Provider) to agree in writing, not be access "non-Islamic" sites. Although known to be lacking in enforcing this rule, repercussions of being caught are terrifying. The medium of control over internet falls within the generic media control which included conventional media, where it is highly restrictive, and politically motivated. Iran filters mostly porngraphic sites, anonymizer tools and large number of gay-lesbian sites, women's rights sites and some politically sensitive sites.

North KoreaFlag of North Korea
North Korea is the only country in the world yet to adopt Internet for public usage. A lack of infrastructure coupled with the regime’s anxiety about the free flow of information, means that only a select group of government, educational and research institute officials are authorised to access the Web in the country. Nor are personal computers widely available to the general public. With what little access there is to the Internet, the government maintains strict controls and censorship. At the same time, North Korea’s obsession with secrecy has made it extremely difficult to get a clear picture of the country’s telecom sector.

VietnamFlag of Vietnam
Vietnam primarily blocks political and religious content but interestingly does not filter much pornographic content. Filtering is conducted by the state and focuses on blocking Vietnamese sites in their language as compared to sites in English. The state also creates its own list of sites as opposed to relying on a commercial list. From a technological perspective, Vietnam uses a system unlike its other Asian counterparts. Official justification is as follows: "Internet management capacity must be in line with development requirements; consistent measure must be taken to prevent abuse of the Internet to affect the national security and break national virtues and traditional good customs" to achieve the "national cause of industrialization and modernization."

Wikipedia Founder, Jimmy Wales on Internet Censorship
"The Heros of Internet Freedom"

An Overview of the Situation

Background Information - Social Media and PR across Asia

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Voices of the People
The level of dissatisfaction rely heavily on the individual nation, and there are no overriding responses that the Asian countries researched share. The ardent need for free internet access is most strongly felt in Burma where local bloggers risk serious repercussions of getting caught. However, different countries have varying degrees of consequences with regards to citizens attempting to make their stand known. For examplein Iran,pressure from the online community have forced the government to retract its filtering of several sites in many instances. On the other side of the spectrum, people seem genuinely satisfied with the internet regime imposed by their governments and see criticisms of the filtering regimes as attempts to impose western ideology on a wholly different culture.

1. Burma
Within Burma's heavily controlled media & Internet environment, citizen journalism has provided at least a limited means for free expression. Repressed Burmese citizens are always asking for information as well as requesting help and assistance from the outside world. Nevertheless, few of their voices ever reached the world at large. With all internal media controlled by the state, the Internet provides one of the few routes left for the people to get information from inside Burma through to the outside world.

Civilian journalists represent a group of amateur journalists who bravely took up responsibility of capturing the Burmese story when professional journalists are denied entry or even killed in the course of reporting. Local bloggers engage in activities such as the disseminating information on how foreign proxy sites can be hosted to view blocked sites and swapping tricks and links on their pages with the help of modern technology like cell phones, laptops etc. Although the repercussions of getting caught are great, many of these civilian journalists are still in the battle against online censorship using the internet as a platform. These actions, although risky, represents a powerful statement of political dissent. Burmese netizens have shown that the tools of Web 2.0 and UGC (user-generated content), they can create bi-directional communications and create awareness of the Junta's many brutal sides of Burma's ruling military junta, would have never been known to the outside world.

2. China (see more here)
Despite the general misconception that the Chinese are unhappy with internet censorship in China, a majority of the Chinese population are satisfied with current online filtering activities. Based on a recent survey by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, over 80% of the Chinese feels that the internet should be controlled. In 2007, approximately 85% of them stated that they think the state government should be responsible for internet filtering activities. Most maintains a negative perspective on the Internet environment - from untrustworthy content to risky consequences on daily life.

Many of the Chinese trusts information on government websites more than any other kind of online content from established media, search engines or bulletin boards. An estimated 93% of Chinese internet users considered online content to be unsuitable for children. One of the reasons for this could be that the locally-controlled state media warn frequently of the repercussions of a "free" internet platform.

Even with prevalent fears of online dangers, there was still a sharp increase of 65% from 137('000,000) to 210('000,000) internet users from 2006 to 2008. Most feel that the internet culture is "cool" and frequently uses the platform as a channel for interactivity, entertainment, as well as to keep themselves updated. In addition, more than half of the Chinese population feels that they might be out dated if they do not know more about the internet. For the Chinese who advocates for a "free" internet, a variety of methods are frequently used in order to circumvent these censors. These include the use of proxy relays, software that allows users to surf the internet anonymously, web-based circumventors, and tunneling that allows users in a censored location to access information through a tunnel to a computer in an unfiltered location.

3. Iran
There is much dissent over the way in which Iran governs its internet content. In 2004, the arrest of three online journalists and bloggers led to massive online protests against the blocking. Also, this led to the widespread boycott of the controversial elections that year. The strength of the online and international community seems formidable, and pressure have resulted in several impressive acheivements for the oppressive online censorship. Massive pressure from the online community led to the release of the arrested journalist. On the same day, more than 200 Iranian bloggers protested against the shutdown of reformist news site, Emrooz, by renaming their sites "Emrooz" and featuring content from the particular site. Bloggers adopted the use of the Real Simple Syndication (RSS) technology to evade the blocking of the sites.

Arrest and detentions of bloggers and online journalists have been increasing over the recent years. Many accused the state of holding them in solitary confinement and subjecting them to torture in order to force them to confess. Despite continual pressure and threats from authorities on bloggers, the internet community continues to strive towards preventing the augmentation of the Iranian internet control. Insofar, applications/tools/websites such as Google Cache, Emrooz, Gooya News, Voice of America among many others that were previously blocked by the Iranian authorities have been unblocked due to massive online and global pressure. This seems to be a positive inclination towards the inability to rely on censorship as a long term basis of control. Despite attempts at censorship, the World Wide Web is simply too vast. The exponential development of technology would also create redundancy in the filtering regime as censorship gets increasing harder to implement.

4. North Korea
Despite claims by Kim Jong II on being an internet expert, this is clearly not the case for majority of citizens residing in North Korea. Little information is available on the general opinion of internet users in North Korea but with inference from available statistics and information, several conclusions can be drawn. First, with the negligible population of online community in North Korea, with majority of its users being elites and members of the party, there can hardly be much negative sentiments over the heavy censorship of the internet regime. In addition, being one of the most impoverished nations in the world, access to internet is nowhere near the priorities of an average North Korean struggling for survival in the harsh communist regime.

Foreigners living in North Korea access internet using Chinese and Japanese ISPs, and are subjected to the filtering laws of the countries in which the ISP presides in. Any opinions regarding the filtering regime is hence, not specific to North Korea per se. It would be inconsequential towards drawing a conclusion for the internet filtering regime in North Korea. Putting the North Korean internet filtering regime into perspective, the population of internet users is too minimal and too skewered to be of much significance to the analysis of the above section.

Blogging is considerably active in light of the heavy restrictions imposed upon the population. Although not highly publicized like the China and Burma internet filtering regime, the Vietnamese have seen several arrests of journalist and pro-democratic activist in recent years. In 2007, Nguyen Van Dai, one of the leaders of the pro-democracy movement was arrested and persecuted for posting regular pro-democracy essays on foreign websites. Although appeals have been made to protest the sentencing of these Vietnamese online dissidents, they were mass appeals from people outside Vietnam.

Most bloggers prefer to write in English primarily in order to remain unfiltered. This would naturally also compromise the extent of each blogger’s reach. In this way, the Vietnamese government has managed to limit voices of the people. Nguyen Dan Que, who was arrested for writing on the lack of freedom of information, has since been released but remains under surveillance. But the constant and consistent presence of such dissenting bloggers suggests a deep dissatisfaction with the level of control over the internet.

Despite all these constraints, the internet is a rising power in Vietnam - with 88% of professional internet users stating that the internet is indispensable in their daily business. Inafew cases, people are still able to circumvent the reach of internet filters. One anecdote speaks of a 75-year old who used the internet platform as a means of reaching out to fellow citizens tired of corrupted officials in a bid to end it. Although faced with threats from anonymous people, she stood firm with her views and is, thus indicative of mounting pressure for a freer internet.

Related Links
Access Denied: "The Policy of Global Internet Filtering" (68:57) from Berkman Centre
Research Director, Rob Faris of OpenNet Initiative talks on Internet Filtering on a global perspective.

1. Burma
Citizen Journalism(1:48)
- Remix from The Listening Post

Burma's September 2007 Protests

2. China
"Internet Censorship in China" on the Diane Rehm Show(49:21) Click here to listen (Windows Media)

- China has demanded U.S. Internet companies limit what's available to users in China. Some U.S companies have complied. We'll talk about free speech, repressive regimes and the role of U.S. corporations.
Guests Lucie Morillon, Washington director, Reporters Without Borders Rebecca MacKinnon, research fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School Congressman Chris Smith, 4th District, New Jersey, Republican. Sebastian Mallaby, director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies; deputy director of studies and Paul A. Volcker senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations

Overcoming Internet censorship- Part 1: The "Great Fire Wall (2:46)
In a series of three Web videos, Ken Berman, director of Internet Technology at the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), describes the "Great Fire Wall" of China

The Connection has been Reset byJames Fallows (March, 2008) The Atlantic Monthly

Pulling the Strings of China's Internet by David Bandurski (December, 2007) Far Eastern Economic Review ttp://

Few in China Complain About Internet Controls by Deborah Fallows (March 27, 2008) Pew Research Center Publications

3. Iran
"Filtering Internet and Censorship in Iran" from the program "In the Realm of Culture" (28:52)
Broadcast by AFNL AFNL TV Satellite Network. Posted in Persian. Attempting to access English translations

"Cyber Dissidents - Iran" from Journeyman Pictures
Dissidents in Iran faces arrest, beatings and torture for publically denouncing the regime. However, the internet is offerng a safer and bigger avenue for opposition

Internet Regulations
The level of internet regulations and restrictions in Asia seem to preside over the extend of rule the individual government has over their country. Basically, the more control the government has to wield over its people, the stricter and harsher the regulations of the World Wide Web (WWW). North Korean and Burma are notably the strictest and exhaustive in terms of regulations. One clear outcome of such controls is the emergence of an “intranet-like" internet.

1. Burma
As the Burmese military junta faces immense international pressure over its rule; political content is the primary source of information to be filtered. Internet content directly regulated by the 2000 Web Regulations strictly condemns any form of content regarding politics or any issues that are “detrimental to the interest of Burma” which ultimately, points to the way in which the country is governed. The military junta regulates and restricts access by imposing strict checks, as well as making internet access expensive for the average Burmese.

2. China
China has come a long way in the area of internet filtering since 1994, when the internet was first introduced commercially. The Chinese government holds tight control over China’s media and its General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) as well as Public of Ministry of Public Security regulates. In short, China’s filtering regime seems to be headed in the direction of a political rather than cultural motivation although pornographic sites and sites deemed “inappropriate” are also heavily filtered. Violating the internet censors will either receive a warning or be fined a maximum of 5,000RMB. Serious offenders will have their network access terminated for up to six months.

3. Iran
Iran imposes strict regulations and censorship on its news media with regards to their religions, morals, national security and anti-revolutionary activities. The system of media controls are politically motivated at times and arrests of media personnel are frequent. However, the internet platform in Iran enjoys higher freedom relatively to other Asian countries despite the seemingly uncompromising stand on its filtering regime.

4. North Korea
North Korea's internet access is one of the most limited and is frequently referred to as the worst "Internet Black Hole" of Asia. Under the regime of Kim Jung II, the community of internet users amounts to only mere thousands, with elites and foreigners making up almost the entire population of this online community. Cost is the tool that the state imposes to deter ordinary average users from accessing the internet. Available internet cafes offer connectivity and internet classes at a steep price of more than 7 times the average monthly wage in North Korea.

5. Vietnam
Like the rest of the countries discussed, the Vietnamese government maintains tight control over internet usage. However, what remains interesting is the trend of tightening control over the internet. In 2006, the Decree of Cultural and Information Activities stated the crime of “denying revolutionary achievements” as punishable by law, with authorities reviewing articles by journalists before they are being published.

To date, it is unlawful to use internet resources and host materials that destabilize Vietnam’s security, social order, or interferes with the state's Domain Name Systems (DNS) servers. Although Vietnam claims that censoring efforts are directed towards safeguarding the country against obscene or sexually explicit content, most of its filtering efforts are actually aimed at blocking sites with "politically or religiously sensitive material that could undermine Vietnam’s one-party system”.

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