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Internet Thought Police

Posted in the database on Wednesday, September 28th, 2005 @ 15:21:21 MST (1221 views)
from USAToday.com  

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Transport George Orwell's novel 1984- in which a totalitarian Big Brother government tries to rule citizens' lives and control their thoughts - into the 21st century, and it would look a lot like China today.

Consider what happened this week. Continuing a long battle to curb what it considers a subversive information source - the Internet - China tightened its censorship of online news services and bulletin boards.

Major search engines and portals have been ordered to stop posting unauthorized commentary. Only opinion pieces from government-controlled sources are allowed. Private individuals and groups must register as "news organizations" before operating e-mail distribution lists. Anyone who violates the rules faces prison. Already, China has jailed a journalist for sending text of a Communist Party memo to foreign websites.

Distressingly, Western companies, notably Yahoo, have cooperated with the authorities as a price of being allowed to do business in China. In doing so, they become partners of the totalitarian state. The specter arises that the Internet, usually assumed to be a catalyst for free speech and democracy, is becoming a tool for repression. If China is successful, other regimes no doubt would follow.

China, of course, can't possibly stamp out all material it doesn't want its citizens to see. Internet use in China is soaring, along with cellphone use and text messaging. About 8% of China's 1.3 billion people are now Internet users. Many have proven adept at skirting the most advanced censorship methods in the world.

At this point, it's anyone's guess how many Chinese will succeed in getting a free flow of information, and how many will be scared off by government intimidation or manipulated by censorship and propaganda.

What's more clear is that democratic nations and their companies should not help China's Thought Police turn the Internet into a platform for Orwellian Newspeak and Doublethink. However appealing collaboration might seem, they would eventually find that the world of 1984 was not a pleasant place.



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