Wars on the Internet – The Voice of Russia

Wars on the internet

Apr 4, 2012 18:03 Moscow Time

In recent years, the Internet has proven to be one of the most powerful tools of manipulation. The WikiLeaks row of last year (not over yet), the “Twitter” revolutions in Arab countries and other instances have shown that entire countries and governments cannot feel immune to tsunamis originating in the virtual realm – to say little of ordinary people.

Yet, attempts to stop the tsunami waves are being taken every now and then. Some politicians tend to be confident that by imposing restrictive measures they can prevent the negative effects the virtual world might (and does) have on the course of events in the real world.

For some time, it seemed that such attempts were confined to countries like North Korea or, at most, China. Authoritarian rulers tend have the impression that the Sun rotates around them and that the laws of nature can be governed by their will. Hence, almost a total ban on the Internet in North Korea, and some kind of restrictions imposed in other, less authoritarian countries.

For some time the “free world” tried to oppose such actions. For example, about a year ago, the U.S. State Department allocated $19 million in order to work out technologies that could help bypass Internet censorship in countries like China and Iran. The idea was to create atechnology that would open the banned sites for web users in the respective countries.

But lately, the attempts to spit against the high wind have been initiated in the “free world” itself.

Plans to monitor email and social media use have been announced in the U.K. and have given rise to an uproar by civil rights advocates who declare that the authorities are planning to establish a kind of “Big Brother” intelligence network monitoring all citizens with a total disregard for their privacy.

In the U.S. such attempts have been made on the state level.

Last week, the state legislature of Illinois passed a bill requiring thatonline dating sites conduct criminal background checks on their members, or at least disclose whether such checks have been conducted on their homepages.

And on Monday, the Arizona state legislature went even further. It passed a bill which makes it a crime to use any electronic or digital device to communicate using obscene, lewd or profane language with intent to “annoy,” “offend,” “harass” or “terrify.” What exactly is meant by “lewd” and “profane” is not defined. The bill is presented as an anti-bullying one, but for taking punitive measures it does not really matter whether the person addressed in this or that electronic message was in fact “terrified” or offended. The judgment is left for the government.

“The New American” writes that the Arizona legislation “should come as no shock to anyone.” Such attempts have been taken on the federal level as well. For example, Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s confidante and head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, even proposed Internet censorship to be enforced  through regulated links in news articles, although he himself admitted that it was “almost certainly unconstitutional.” But despite that, Sunstein went as far as to call for the rewriting of the First Amendment.

Now the question is, whether this is a continuation of a recent story initiated by the New York Education Department which tried to forbid “obscene” and “profane” words like “dancing”, “divorce”, and “dinosaur”. Or, maybe, by trying to monitor social networks and electronic communications British and American lawmakers are trying to prevent  Twitter revolutions in their respective countries and states? The fuss surrounding the extradition process of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gives reasons to believe that this may well be the case.

The weirdest aspect of the whole story is that while spending millions of dollars on the attempts to open the web for the “oppressed” users in countries like China and Iran, the free Western world is doing the same at home. Well, at least Chinese web search engines, instead of speaking about some vague definitions like “profanity” and “lewdness” that allow for arbitrary judgment, have introduced a concrete list of words banned from the search. The words  include, for example, “jasmine” (with reference to the “Arab spring”) or “Hillary Clinton”.

Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studie


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