The Free World

A few months ago, Chinese journalist Shi Tao was sentenced to 10 years in prison for providing “state secrets” to a foreign entity. His crime was that he had given information pertaining to censorship to human rights groups outside China. Tao had used an anonymous Yahoo! email account to communicate with them, but the Chinese government found him anyway. They simply asked for, and obtained, his name, address, and phone number, from the Yahoo! corporation.

In a Guardian opinion piece George Monbiot wonders about the once widely-held belief that the Internet was going to lead to greater democracy around the world. He concedes that the Internet has facilitated revolutions in places such as Serbia, Lebanon, and Argentina, but, he says:

The technology which runs the internet did not sprout from the ground. It is provided by people with a commercial interest in its development. Their interest will favour freedom in some places and control in others. And they can and do turn it off.

He specifically cites Cisco, which manufactures routers, and which has signed agreements to block messages containing specific words (in China, for instance, the blocked words are “democracy”, “liberty” and “human rights.”) And don’t even get him started on satellite TV and Rupert Murdoch. He concludes:

Indispensable as the internet has become, political debate is still dominated by the mainstream media: a story on the net changes nothing until it finds its way into the newspapers or on to TV.

Read it in full here.

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