Feb 16, 2010

Internet censorship: the great firewall of China

by Katie Bell

Google, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the People’s Republic of China make for an interesting trio with a debacle playing out on the international stage. The problem originated with China attacking Google’s infrastructure.

“In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google,” Google’s Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond said in Google’s official blog.

What Google initially deemed as a security breech was soon discovered to be much more than that. Google has evidence to suggest that the main goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based upon the information that Google has to date, they believe that the attackers did not achieve their objective, according to Drummond. Google is also considering ceasing operations in China.
Although China has become a modernized nation in recent decades, the communist nation remains light-years behind when compared to United States in the citizen’s access to information that is available at the click of a mouse.

The Chinese government has the right to restrict access and monitor the use of the Internet. I was in China in 2008 when Tibet was invaded. Tibetans posted video of what was happening on YouTube and as a result the Chinese government blocked access to the site. Liberty alumnus, Andrew Logan is currently living in China. His sister, junior Erin Logan said there are times he cannot access certain Web sites such as Facebook.

When one examines how much authority the Chinese government excercises over it is people, it is not at all surprising that the Internet itself use is censored. While Internet censorship is a strange concept to Americans, it is a harsh reality to the citizens of China.

Clinton threw down a direct challenge to Beijing’s censors, pledging to help citizens here jump the Great Fire Wall that blocks access to tens of thousands of Web sites. She announced that Washington would go on “supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their right of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship,” and “make sure that those tools get to the people who need them,” according to Truthout.org.

“Those who disrupt the free flow of information in our society or any other pose a threat to our economy, our government and our civil society,” Clinton said, according to the New York Times. “Countries or individuals that engage in cyber-attacks should face consequences and international condemnation.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supports Google’s position and cautioned China’s rulers that their practices of censorship risked, “walling themselves off from the progress of the next century.” Needless to say, her words did not please Chinese government officials.

Clinton’s speech, however, “won’t change people’s minds,” Internet affairs and U.S.-China relations reporter Kaiser Kuo said, according to truthout.org.

“As Chinese netizens watched her speech — Web cast live and linked to several Chinese blogs – many of them crowded onto chat rooms to offer divided opinions. There will always be those who chafe against censorship and those who defend the regime,” Kuo said, according to truthout.org.

Clinton’s statements against Internet censorship in China are noble, however they are not going to be effective against a communist regime that has been in place since 1949. It is absurd to think that by verbally criticizing the Chinese government that change will occur. The oppression the people of China face is horrendous. However, people need to realize that the Internet censorship practices of a communist government do not disappear overnight and as Americans, it is not our job to tell other nations how to govern their people.

Contact Katie Bell at

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