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It’s Time To Do Something About China’s Internet Censorship

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Just last week, Beijing further tightened the screws on US companies when it imposed a ban on Apple’s online book and film services. The order came as part of a broader set of regulations, introduced in March, which established strict curbs on all online publishing.

Claude Barfield writes: For the first time this year, the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) “National Trade Estimate Report” took note of China’s Great Firewall. Granted, it was with this tame statement: “China’s filtering of cross-border Internet traffic has posed a significant burden to foreign suppliers.” The report did not indicate what steps, if any, the US plans to take against the People’s Republic of China’s heavy-handed and economically damaging censorship regime. But it is high time for the US, possibly in conjunction with other major trading partners, to test the legality of China’s sweeping Internet censorship system.

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The nature of Chinese censorship

Chinese online censorship operations are not new, and they have been well-documented for over a decade. But the situation has grown worse since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012. Today, the USTR reports that eight of the 25 most trafficked websites worldwide are currently blocked by the Chinese government. Especially targeted are popular search engines such as Google, as well as user-generated content platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Sometimes, the blockade is permanent — Google formally withdrew from China in 2010 — but more often it is intermittent and random, as has occurred with increasing frequency with Gmail and Hotmail. The New York Times has been banned since 2012, and recently (as a result of reporting on the misdeeds of President Xi’s relatives) the Economist and Time magazine have also secured spots on the honored block list. Just last week, Beijing further tightened the screws on US companies when it imposed a ban on Apple’s online book and film services. The order came as part of a broader set of regulations, introduced in March, which established strict curbs on all online publishing.

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In many cases, the filters and blocks carry with them a strong whiff of industrial policy. The now-giant Chinese firm Baidu received a huge boost when Google was forced to withdraw from the Chinese market (Baidu stock shot up 16 percent the day Google announced its withdrawal). Sina’s Weibo and Tencent’s QQ are direct competitors to popular blocked websites such as Twitter and Facebook. Read the rest of this entry »

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The New York Times Endorsed a Secretive Trade Agreement that the Public Can’t Read

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For The Washington PostAndrea Peterson reports: The Obama administration is secretly negotiating a treaty that could have significant effects on domestic law. Officially, it’s a “free trade” treaty among Pacific rim countries, but a section of the draft agreement leaked in 2011 suggested that it will require signers, including the United States, to make significant changes to copyright law and enforcement measures.

 “…it seems strange for the Times to be opining on a treaty the public hasn’t gotten to see yet. If the Times has gotten a leaked copy of the report, it should publish it so the public can make up its own mind.”

Strangely, the administration seems to be encouraging the public to have a debate on the treaty before they know what’s in it. The Office of the United States Trade Representative has solicited comments about the treaty on its Web site, but there is no particularly detailed information about the content of the agreement, or a draft of the current version of the proposal. Read the rest of this entry »