The Great Firewall: How China Polices Internet Traffic1 | 2 |
Some of the blocked sites include Wikipedia, YouTube, Hotmail, Skype, MySpace, WhiteHouse.gov, Amnesty.org, Greenpeace.org, Disney.go.com, BoingBoing, LiveJournal and TheOnion.com. Perhaps in an effort to conceal this widespread censorship from the press — or, from a kinder perspective, to increase communication ability during a critical time — these sites were meticulously unblocked from many Beijing-area hotels and the city’s 110,000 Internet cafes during the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Response to Crackdowns
A popular example of government crackdown and the ensuing international response can be found in the case of Wang Xiaoning, a Chinese dissident from Shenyang. Wang, along with other activists, used Yahoo e-mail addresses to post illegal comments anonymously. Yahoo capitulated to government pressure and handed over the identities of the anonymous posters, who were eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2001.
Yahoo was later successfully sued by the World Organization for Human Rights for turning over the identities of Wang Xiaoning and others. Even in light of these lawsuits, however, major search engines, including Yahoo, Google and MSN, have decided to comply with Chinese government requests.
According to Amnesty International, China has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and “cyberdissidents” in the world. Google’s stance is that a censored Internet is better than no Internet. According to TheRegister.com, Andrew McLaughlin, Google’s senior policy counsel, explained it thus: “In order to operate from China, we have removed some content from the search results available on Google.cn, in response to local law, regulation or policy. While removing search results is inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission.”
The Future of the Great Firewall
Blocking Internet traffic in China is generally effective because it takes resources to be able to work around the government controls — resources that most average Chinese citizens don’t have at their fingertips. Technical and legal hurdles act as a further deterrent.
However, for those with the means and desire to beat the system, the Great Firewall is more like a sponge than a wall. It is an impressive technological and political feat, but when it comes to keeping foreign invaders out, the original bricks-and-mortar version probably has it beat.
Shawn Conaway, VCP, MCSE, CCA, is a director of NaSPA and editor of Virtualize! and Tech Toys magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org | 2 |