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Government Censorship The Internet News

Human Rights and a Code of Conduct for China's Web 108

Posted by Zonk
from the try-to-play-well-with-others dept.
Ian Lamont writes "Human Rights Watch is preparing a code of conduct that specifies how major Internet service providers and portal operators should deal with Internet censorship in China. An officer for the group expressed concern that the Chinese government is 'setting the standard on control of the Internet' and also singled out international companies working in China for preemptively blocking access in 'anticipation of requests from the government' rather than waiting for orders from Beijing to block access. China has recently blocked YouTube following the posting of videos about the Tibetan protests, but has been unable to completely stop the flow of Tibet-related information in and out of China, thanks in part to bloggers and others using spam tactics to bypass Chinese filters."
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Human Rights and a Code of Conduct for China's Web

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  • by jacquesm (154384) <j.ww@com> on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:38AM (#22783790) Homepage
    It's interesting that this should even need to be spelled out. Normally you'd expect companies and the people who run them to have enough of a moral backbone that they don't need external input on things like this.

    Because quarterly profits are the only yardstick by which management is rewarded / demoted all other considerations have gone out the window. As long as there is not direct link between ethics and profits I highly doubt any of this will make a difference.
  • Re:first post (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Beefaroni (1229886) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:41AM (#22783832)
    ok seriously why are why having the Olympics there again?
  • Spam? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ShiNoKaze (1097629) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:46AM (#22783896)
    Ok, censorship is bad. Spam is bad. Two wrongs don't make a right... Right? Someone?
  • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:47AM (#22783914)
    This is just my gut instinct speaking but... There will be atleast one, probably several international incidents at the Olympics.

    Unless the Chinese government totally changes the way they do things, this is inevitable. There will be people taking advantage of the Olympics to do missionary work. There will be people taking advantage of the Olympics to publisize China's many indescretions.

    How will the government respond? Are we going to have dozens of people arrested, imprisoned and/or deported? In a way, I almost hope we do, it would open the worlds eyes to just what is happens there, how restricted freedoms really are.
  • by SleeknStealthy (746853) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:49AM (#22783930)
    I guess the day the world can't come to the conclusion that oppression is not unethical, is the day that humanity will lose all form of justice. I understand this isn't just about Tibet, but the overall censorship of China's web. However, when a country is censoring its own atrocities from its people it is a global problem.

    No one cares of course, China's disregard for environmental and humane concerns of its own people give the rest of the world the cheapest goods.
  • by plague3106 (71849) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:52AM (#22783956)
    If the Chinese government chooses to block YouTube, or any site which publishes articles critical of the government, that is their right. Every government, whether you like it or not, has the right to dictate the rules within its boundaries.

    Wrong. Governments are only valid if they rule with the consent of the people. Otherwise, they can and must be destroyed.

    To use a very bad example, what if the U.S. blocked access to sites which promote Al Qaeda's agenda? Would that be ok? Shouldn't we be allowed to see that propaganda? Is that on par with what China is doing?

    The US cannot do that, because it has no right to tell people what they can or cannot see. Should the US government do this, it becomes invalid and no longer has the right to govern, and must be overthrown.

    There is no human right to the internet. Billions of people survive every day without being addicted to staring at a glass screen from which images produced by radiation appear.

    There are rights to be able to read and gather information unhindered by government intervention.

    Yes, it would be nice if every government around the world produced a utopian society where everyone could rollick and play as they pleased, where the people could read whatever they wanted, but that's not going to happen anytime in the next thousand years. The best one can do is not support those countries who do have real human rights abuses (China being one in particular) by not buying their products or supporting those who want such abuses to continue.

    And here I thought freedom of expression, freedom to assemble, freedom of the press were already human rights. I guess in your mind people don't have those, or that the government "grants" them to us.

    Please, do everyone a favor, and move to China.
  • Re:first post (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:52AM (#22783976) Homepage

    ok seriously why are why having the Olympics there again?

    They bought the rights to do it.

  • by matt me (850665) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:53AM (#22783980)
    It's not just ISPs and sites who can be faulted for co-operating with foreign censors. Much of the censorware used by such governments is developed in America. A great step would be to introduce legislation to expose which companies are selling censorware to foreign governments. This a tool of oppression, and exports should be scrutinized like weapons.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/09/opinion/09jardin.html [nytimes.com]
  • like the geneva convention stopped atrocities in war? please

    human rights watch writing a code of conduct won't convince china of anything. it won't change its ways. if american companies didn't help them, they'd get someone else to help them, or do it themselves

    what's more important to you? helping human rights in china? or shaming american companies? the shaming of american companies should be put aside in pursuit of the larger more noble goal: getting free imformation to chinese citizens

    how do you do that? writing a code of conduct? preventing china from using your expertise to build their firewall?

    no and no

    you defeat the great firewall of china with better guerilla apps. anyone who care about this issue should forget about shaming codes of conduct or shushing american companies that helped the technocrats in beijing

    instead what you do is you build proxy servers, ip obfuscators, p2p web traffic redirectors, content caching, etc., etc.: you wage war with the great firewall with china, you smuggle content around it, you render all of the technocrat's efforts to screen what chinese citizens see fruitless and pointless and a joke

    that's where you put your effort

    shaming colluding american companies or writing well-intentioned but pointless codes of conduct means nothing. results mean something

    get to writing those guerilla apps if you really care about this issue. shaming american companies or writing ivory tower codes of conduct is pointless if you really want to help regular chinese escape their hermetically sealed tomb of sanitized braindead propaganda
  • by houghi (78078) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:59AM (#22784072)
    It is interesting that although the article talks about China, your comment can be applied internationaly.
  • by sunderland56 (621843) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:02PM (#22784122)
    Can we get a code of conduct here in the USA about ISPs not blocking content? And, can we get Comcast to sign it?
  • by vertinox (846076) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:03PM (#22784134)
    If the Chinese government chooses to block YouTube, or any site which publishes articles critical of the government, that is their right. Every government, whether you like it or not, has the right to dictate the rules within its boundaries.

    Rights? Governments have no rights. Rights are inherent to the person and not the state. They can neither be granted nor taken away by the state.

    That said, Governments do have sovereignty which I agree that China has. However, the Chinese government does not have the right to torture, murder, or repress the freedom of its citizens. It is wrong and the practice should stop.

    Now I will admit, I have a very relativistic western view on the matter, but I don't see how you can say that killing protesters even if they are violent is OK.

    Even in the LA riots in the states we didn't have soldiers shooting people indiscriminately without attempts to use non-lethal methods.

    At the same time, I will agree that its not our business to go into China forcefully with our military and force them to stop (or any nation for that matter) but it doesn't mean we shouldn't ignore the fact they do such a thing.
  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:07PM (#22784196) Homepage

    Because quarterly profits are the only yardstick by which management is rewarded...

    It's not just that. Management can be sued by shareholders if it intentionally enters a course of action that decreases profits, even if the action is ethical.

  • by fondacio (835785) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:11PM (#22784236)
    It is a mistake to assume that governments still have unlimited leeway to do whatever they want within their borders. That is why we have human rights: to protect individual citizens against their states, and that's why organisations like Human Rights Watch can express opinions on the human rights situation in all countries, including China. In the past sixty years, these rights have grown from what you would probably call utopian ideals into actual legal rights in international law, so much so that the originally non-binding Universal Declaration of Human Rights [unhchr.ch], which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, is now considered to be an expression of customary international law. If a notion of customary law is too vague for you, the fact still remains that the great majority of states have signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ohchr.org], which guarantees the freedom of speech in Article 19, which includes the "freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds". This right can only be restricted in accordance with the provisions of that article. China has signed up to this treaty, although it still has to ratify it. However, as a matter of treaty law it has to refrain from acts which would be incompatible with the purpose of the treaty there's quite a strong argument that arbitrary censorship violates it.

    I will be the first to admit that there are all kinds of shortcomings in the protection of human rights through international treaties, but the only point that I want to make here is that you are incorrect when you state that every government "has the right to dictate the rules within its boundaries". That right is no longer absolute, and in large part this is the result of governments providing the stick they are beaten with themselves by signing human rights treaties. It took only sixty years to get where we are now, so the utopian society you mention may be less than a thousand years away.
  • by internetcommie (945194) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:14PM (#22784268)
    Wouldn't it be more important to get Comcast to follow it?
  • Normally you'd expect companies and the people who run them to have enough of a moral backbone that they don't need external input on things like this.
    That, is the funniest thing I've read all day.
  • by smooth wombat (796938) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:15PM (#22784278) Homepage Journal
    Wrong. Governments are only valid if they rule with the consent of the people. Otherwise, they can and must be destroyed.


    What crack are you on? There are dozens of governments around the world which do not rule with the consent of the people, including ones the U.S. supports. Egypt come to mind? How about Saudi Arabia? Hell, we sent people to Syria to be tortured yet we criticize that governments rule of law. I don't see you or the U.S. government going after them because the people don't give their consent to be ruled by those in power.

    The US cannot do that, because it has no right to tell people what they can or cannot see.

    Sure it can, just as it has said it is illegal for U.S. citizens to gamble over the internet, visit Cuba or do business with Iran. There are numerous times when the government has told the people what they can and cannot see and has enforced it. Doesn't make it right or mean there is any logic, but yes, it can and has (and continues to do so).

    There are rights to be able to read and gather information unhindered by government intervention.

    Sure, in a perfect world that would be great but guess what, the world ain't perfect. Governments, within the confines of their own boundaries, can do as they please until their people decide to take matters into their own hands. Obviously the majority of people in China don't feel the need to change things.

    And here I thought freedom of expression, freedom to assemble, freedom of the press were already human rights. I guess in your mind people don't have those, or that the government "grants" them to us.

    As far as the Geneva Conventions, U.N. Conventions on Human Rights, the U.S. Constitution and various other documents say, yes, those rights exist. That doesn't mean everyone follows them. The U.S., to use a tired example, doesn't fully allow any of its citizens unhindered expression of those rights. There are limits. We simply choose to allow the greatest possible expression of those rights.

    China, and other countries, choose to interpret those rights differently. The people are free to express themselves so long as what they say or write doesn't fall under certain prohibited, as defined by the government, topics. Tiananmen Square and Tibet would be two such topics.

    I'm not saying it's right, I'm merely pointing out that we in the U.S. think we have all the answers, that we're right while everyone else is wrong, that everyone else should follow us. Sure, that would be nice, but it's not going to happen. People have developed their own governments based on numerous factors including their own cultural foibles.

    While you or I might say complete freedom of choice is a great thing, to someone else in another country they might wonder why. To them, having limited choices, as defined by their government, is better than having a thousand choices.

  • by flyingsquid (813711) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:26PM (#22784402)
    The last time the Chinese government responded to a large gathering of popular dissent, which as you say will surely accompany a high profile global event such as the Olympics, they did it with tanks, tear gas, and machine guns [wikipedia.org]. I suspect that not much has changed since then.

    The authoritarian nature of the government probably hasn't changed, but quite a few things have- remember, that was 20 years ago. First, the explosion of portable digital devices- digital cameras, digital video cameras, cell phones, Blackberries, and laptops; second, the explosion of networks, including the Internet and the cellular network, to distribute digital data. Given the number of tourists they are expecting, Beijing will be under greater scrutiny than at any time in its history, and there will be no way to stop the videos once they get out. Third, Beijing is now linked to the United States and the rest of the world by trade. That puts the government in a bind: they want to maintain control, but they also want to keep the money rolling in, and a crackdown on any protests could harm trade with the West. We'll see what happens; the government crackdown in Tibet has been pretty effective, but Tibet isn't overrun with Westerners carrying video cameras and laptops.

  • by electrictroy (912290) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:36PM (#22784496)
    Yeah, why fear the government's censorship

    when it's actually *the corporation* that is filling the role of Big Brother? Thomas Jefferson predicted 200 years ago that too much money in the hands of just a few would lead to fewer freedoms for the average citizen. It is now "those few" that we call CEOs and CIOs that are doing the job of censorship.

  • walling yourself off from the world makes your country go into decline. all countries need an exchange of ideas with the outer world to prosper. the grumpy old men in beijing are controlling bastards, but they aren't stupid

    even if only the elite chinese get (censored) access to the outside world, it's still useful to write guerilla apps that help the elite get uncensored info. actually, that's the case now: the mass of the interior of china is still poor, only the rich and middle class on the coastal cities are getting real internet access
  • by Kelbear (870538) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:49PM (#22784636)
    No entity has inherent rights. Only the ability to assert his/her/its will.

    Even something so basic as having the right to live is meaningless unless they can stop those that decide they don't have that right.

    The reality is that moral arguments, the weight of public opinion, is founded on the threat that the public can pose. Some can choose to respect that power, but not everyone will, and clearly many governments do not.

  • by sydneyfong (410107) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @02:09PM (#22785668) Homepage Journal
    My non-crystal ball reading of the Chinese authorities view of Tienanmen incident is that it wasn't supposed to happen. Not even back then. Well probably not due to "human rights" concerns or the casualties, but in any case it was a mishandling of public dissent. I believe that's how they view the incident.

    As another poster has pointed out, that was almost 20 years ago. Governments, people, and circumstances change. Why would you think that "not much has changed since then"? (this is intended as a legitimate question)

  • your position is that censorship and propaganda don't actually effect people's opinions, and people's opinions stand as they would whether they had completely unfettered access to info, or completely limited access to info

    i wish i could be more diplomatic, but i'm sorry i can't: you're a total moron if you really believe that. if you're just playing devil's advocate, you fail

    you are basically making the argument that it doesn't matter how tainted or censored your media is. i'm sorry, you're not a moron. you're a stupid asshole
  • and i don't care who you are. all i know is that whatever your points are, they seem inane and frivolous

    here's my point, across which all of your points break: the more access there is to more media sources, no matter what the source, and the more you are allowed to pursue that media without fear of repercussion or censure, the healthier the body politic, and the healthier the society

    meanwhile, your points fall secondary to that, and they do not overrule my larger point. such that the conclusions you seem to be making amount to little more than counterproductive cynicism about humanity. for example: yes, you can have all the free media you want, you're still going to have uninterested fools. no shit. this is true of all societies

    but the whole point is you will have LESS uninformed fools. and if that fact carries no weight with you, if that point fails to make an impression on you, then you're an empty useless negative cynic

"Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods." -- Albert Einstein

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