Type the keywords “Internet censorship” into Google News and you will immediately understand to what degree the world wide web is under assault from attempts by governments globally to regulate and stifle free speech. From Australia to Belarus, from Turkey to Vietnam, from Pakistan to Egypt, from Afghanistan to Iran, huge chunks of the Internet are going dark as the Chinese model of Internet regulation is adopted worldwide.
But why should Americans concern themselves with countries halfway across the globe adopting Chinese-style net censorship? Because under Senator Joe Lieberman’s 197-page Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, the United States would formally mimic China’s “great firewall” of web censorship.
When Lieberman himself attempted to debunk claims that the bill provides Obama, and any following President for that matter, with a figurative ‘kill switch’ to disable certain parts of the Internet, he explained that the government was merely seeking to emulate powers over the Internet already enjoyed by the Communist Chinese.
Firstly, despite Lieberman’s spin, the text of the bill clearly gives Obama the power to shut down the Internet for at least four months without Congressional oversight.
Secondly, and even more alarmingly, Lieberman’s acknowledgment that the United States is seeking to emulate China’s policies on Internet control confirm that the entire cybersecurity agenda is primarily concerned with silencing political opposition to the state, since this factor completely dominates the Chinese model which Lieberman openly invokes as the ultimate goal of cybersecurity.
China’s vice-like grip over its Internet systems has very little to do with “cybersecurity” and everything to do with silencing all dissent against the state.
Chinese Internet censorship is imposed via a centralized government blacklist of any websites that contain criticism of the state, porn, or any other content deemed unsuitable by the authorities. Every time you attempt to visit a website, you are re-routed through the government firewall, often making for long delays and crippling speeds.
China has exercised its power to shut down the Internet, something that Lieberman wants to introduce in the U.S., at politically sensitive times in order to stem the flow of information about government abuse and atrocities. During the anti-government riots which occurred in July 2009, the Chinese government completely shut down the Internet across the entire northwestern region of Xinjiang for days. In several regions, the authorities completely cut off the Internet for nearly a year, with many areas only now slowly starting to come back online. Major news and discussion portals used by the Muslim Uighurs in the area remain blocked. Similarly, Internet access in parts of Tibet is routinely restricted as part of government efforts to pre-empt and neutralize unrest.
Major websites like Twitter, Google and You Tube have also been shut down either temporarily or permanently by Chinese authorities.
News websites in China now require users to register their true identities in order to leave comments. This abolition of anonymity is used to chill free speech in that it prevents the user from engaging in criticism of the state for fear that they would be tracked down by authorities.
Chinese authorities are now going further than merely maintaining a “blacklist” of banned websites by instituting a “whitelist” of allowed websites, a move that “could potentially place much of the Internet off-limits to Chinese readers”. Websites not pre-registered with the government would be completely blocked to all Internet users, meaning “millions of completely innocuous sites” would be banned. This equates to requiring government approval to set up a website, which would obviously not be granted if the person or organization making the application has a history of or is likely to engage in dissent against the state.
President Obama himself has criticized Chinese Internet censorship as a hindrance to the free flow of information and allowing citizens to hold their governments accountable, and yet Lieberman wants to hand Obama similar powers.
The model Lieberman has identified as the goal of cybersecurity is centered around keeping people oppressed by eliminating any means of widespread dissent and preventing people from organizing politically. It has nothing to do with providing security against foreign hackers and terrorists and everything to do with strangling free speech critical of the state.
However, this is not merely a war on free speech, it’s a war on Internet anonymity. Even if the government shuts down portions of the web, new networks are guaranteed to pop up to take their place. Indeed, as people who have attempted to downplay concerns about the ‘kill switch’ have rightly pointed out, Obama could already attempt to shut down the Internet using the Communications Act, the PCNAA legislation merely codifies this power formally into law.
The real threat posed by the wider cybersecurity agenda is the implementation of an individual identity system for all Internet users. This is what was proposed by Obama’s cybersecurity co-ordinator Howard Schmidt in a paper compiled with the aid of the National Security Council.
The strategy revolves around, “The creation of a system for identity management that would allow citizens to use additional authentication techniques, such as physical tokens or modules on mobile phones, to verify who they are before buying things online or accessing such sensitive information as health or banking records,” reports the Financial Times.
Only with this government-issued “token” will Internet users be allowed to “able to move from website to website,” a system not too far removed from what China proposed and rejected for being too authoritarian.
So in this sense, the cybersecurity agenda will ensure a world wide web even more draconian than the Chinese model, where the threat of the government identifying individuals, now that anonymity is removed, who engage in “hate speech” critical of the government and revoking their license to use the Internet, will inevitably chill free speech from the very outset.
To trust the federal government with the power to regulate free speech by means of a licensing system for the Internet and not expect the state to abuse such power is the height of stupidity. Cass Sunstein, Obama’s information czar, openly wrote in a 2008 paper of his desire to combat “conspiracy theories” (ie any information communicated primarily through the Internet which represents a threat to the image of the state) by empowering the government to tax or even ban outright opinions of which it disapproves. This is what cybersecurity is all about, eliminating the voices of the oppressed as big government seeks to quicken its takeover of America with the aid of silent obedience.
The cybersecurity assault on the Internet is also dovetailed with an attack from a slightly different angle. Numerous private networks, from transport hubs, to libraries, to universities, to federal government agencies have installed filters that censor political websites which engage in the “hate speech” of dissenting against the state. Since the entire Internet consists of a fusion of privately-owned networks controlled by corporations such as Verizon, AT&T and Qwest, how long before such filters are standardized?
Lieberman’s kill switch bill and the broader cybersecurity agenda has little to do with over hyped threats from foreign hackers and terrorists and everything to do with placing a muzzle on the last outpost of true free speech – the Internet. The state wants to turn the world wide web into a clone of cable television, a sterile medium controlled almost entirely by mega corporations and regulated by FCC bureaucracy and red tape. Your political blog, no matter how many millions of readers it has the potential to attract, has no place in this newly regulated Internet police state.
Take action – call your Senator and demand that they vote against Lieberman’s Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, or kiss your right to unrestricted, unregulated, and anonymous free speech on the Internet goodbye. The bill has already been approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and is now awaiting a vote by the full Senate.
Find your Senator from the list here or call the Senate switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Tell your Senator’s office that you will vote them out of office if he/she votes in favor of PCNAA.
Article written by Paul Joseph Watson
Tuesday, July 6, 2010