Much has been spoken over what rights we have to access the internet, however it is becoming a very real issue. Whether you can log onto your Facebook account might sound a rather flippant issue with regards human rights but to many people it really is that important.
A couple of years ago I was living in Turkey, a modern, secular country with a fairly relaxed attitudes to most things. But politics change and in Turkey there is a growing power of religious parties, who have a much less relaxed view towards the internet than most of the population. There have been a series of court cases and lots of lobbying for a huge number of websites to be blocked inside the country. For example the atheist author Richard Dawkin’s website was blocked for some time (indeed I think it still is) because he published a review ridiculing a book on creationism that stated the world was a few thousand years old.
Now whatever your politics or religion, the reason so many people are keen on a secular government is that no one religion can define what you can or can’t do based on their own beliefs. The idea that a religious leader has decided that no one in Turkey should be able to access a book review is quite clearly ridiculous. But the issue can become even more complicated when you look at media sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. These sites are incredibly popular because they are pretty much open to everyone, people are allowed to speak their mind and say what they like. That will obviously lead to some people being offended, but can you block an entire site like this?
Facebook has been blocked in Turkey for a few weeks, I believe it was due to someone publishing some of the Muslim cartoons that caused such controversy. Fortunately it’s not blocked now, but the black list of sites blocked in Turkey grows every year – the majority due to pressures from fundamentalists in positions of power. Indeed any country which has a dubious human rights record or a reputation for suppressing free speech will always look to control the internet and social media sites specifically.
You don’t need it at the moment, but you never know when it might change so here’s a Facebook proxy method which costs nothing and works virtually anywhere –
These tools do get blocked and in somewhere like China you’ll find a lot of them don’t work or are detected. Fortunately the technology is improving on both sides, some of the latest hi tech proxies are virtually undetectable and some VPNs even pass through the Great Firewall of China too.
The problem is that the most popular sites on the internet usually are havens for free speech. You might not agree with much of what is said on them, but that’s only natural we don’t always hold the same views. Censorship of these sort of sites, will only lead further down the dark road of filtering and control that countries like China and Iran take part in. Sure there is a solution to accessing these sites and maintaining your anonymity through proxies and VPNs but not everyone will use these.
There’s a huge debate online about the future of the internet. In it’s infancy one of the most important concepts about the web was that it was completely open and not controlled by any single power. In those early days that was pretty much fine, whilst a few of us connected using our 14.4k modems and used geeky tools like Archie, Gopher and Telnet to navigate our way around the various web sites that were available. For the first few years I can scarcely remember a block or filter of any kind even to important resources. Now it’s pretty routine, I was even blocked from watching Match of the Day online because I’d travelled out of the country for a few days.
But those days have long gone now, the web is big business and is much easier to use. Sit a toddler down at an online computer and point them at a games web page and pretty soon they’ll be surfing around the internet whilst playing Pacman in a minimized window. The web is now truly global and for many has become an intrinsic part of our every day lives.
But this of course makes people nervous, the web is not always used for nice stuff. Sure you can do your online banking and search for the cheapest utility prices, whilst chatting to your friends. But bad people also use the web – criminals, thieves, hackers and paedophiles all have their own online communities. You can visit web sites were people openly buy and sell stolen credit and debit cards, all hosted in some far off land where the police will happily turn a blind eye. The bad guys love the web too.
In countries like China and Iran, the ruling powers are also not overly keen on the ’free speech’ element it allows. Places like this already have a heavily filtered and censored version of the internet, the authorities blocking access to discussions and topics they’d rather you not view. The reality is that in countries like this, someone else has control about what you can do online.
In Iceland for example the ruling government has decided that they don’t want people to access pornography online, you can read here about their efforts. You might agree with this stance, however again it is allowing a government to decide what ordinary people should be allowed to use the web for. Remember governments come and go, each one with different ideologies and beliefs. Is the next Government going to be religious and ban all access to gay or atheists sites for example.
There are of course some serious technical difficulties with controlling access to something as widely distributed as the internet. Many believe that it is actually technically impossible for any one nation to control all access without blocking the internet completely and replacing it. It is why such filtering that the Icelandic Government are contemplating is such a bad idea. People who want to download such items will simply use advanced proxies and VPNs to download their pornography, including the criminal stuff. In effect you’ll only censor the people who don’t mind being censored, all the while slowing down access for everyone.
That’s not to say that even these efforts can be blocked if you spend enough money and throw enough resources at it. The Great Firewall of China for example heavily controls all access to the internet from China, heavily filtering or blocking many sites completely. On a smaller lever, most media sites online try and control access to who can watch their content. Over the last few years the BBC has started to block proxies and VPNs in order to enforce it’s own geo-targeting efforts.
We all have our own opinions on these issues, but whatever yours it’s worth getting involved with the debate. All countries are considering their options so make sure your opinions get heard is filtering is to be implemented at an ISP near you.