There’s an old joke about a person who sent a letter to an acquantaince in China. The writer ended his letter with “I hope this letter makes it past the censors.” When the letter arrived, the last sentence was crossed out and, in red lettering, somebody had written “There are no censors in the People’s Republic of China.”
Writing in Slate, Tim Wu profiles China’s efforts to ensure there are no censors on the Internet as well:
The Web was conceived as one global medium, by its nature open and free. But countries like China are pushing hard to divide that global network into a system of Balkanized national networks. Censorship of the sort Microsoft acceded to is grabbing headlines, but the more important restrictive measures are taking place quietly–and quietly succeeding.
Wu outlines ways in which the Chinese government both censors and manages ‘net technology — from chatrooms to blogs to search engines to wireless networks — so that a central authority — say, a government — can ensure that computer networks aren’t used for revolutionary activity.
Wu paints a frightening picture, particularly when one considers China’s likely market dominance in the coming century. What if China could insist not merely that Chinese networking equipment and programs be censored within China, but also that, in the interest of free markets, all technology nationwide be made compatible with the Chinese standards for registration and control?
What if other governments, of varying autocratic bents, successfully licensed or duplicated these Chinese-mandated technologies and, as Wu puts it, “balkanize” the Internet?
A sobering thought indeed.
Pennywit usually forecasts global doom and gloom from Pennywit.com.