Fear and Loathing in Tunis
It seems somehow appropriate that the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is being held in Tunis. What to do with a government widely criticized for its repressive watchfulness in the public sphere? Let them host a mega-conference designed to make progress toward a more equitable, open vision of the web and the new ICT-driven world.
I'm not being sarcastic: It sounded like a good idea to me. Tunisia has relatively high internet usage for Africa (just over 10%). What better way to encourage change in a society than to put them on the world stage? I thought they would get their act together.
But this hasn't happened in Tunisia, and, in, fact, quite the opposite has occurred. Two days ago, before the meeting could really even get underway, journalists and human rights advocates were being beaten at the very doors of the conference, just as they had arrived.
At 09.30 am on Monday, November 14, 2005, at the Place d’Afrique in Tunis, more than 30 plainclothes policemen impatiently awaited international and Tunisian delegates and members of civil society.
Omar Mestiri, Director of the online magazine Kalima and a founder member of the National Council for Freedom in Tunisia (Conseil national pour les libertés en Tunisie – CNLT) was seized as soon as he arrived at the site for the meeting of the coordinating committee of the Citizens’ Summit on the Information Society (CSIS).
The Citizen's Summit is perhaps the best thing going for an otherwise depressing Tunis conference — and, depressingly, Tunis has already acted to block the independent events from ever happening.
When it was decided in Geneva a couple years ago that the meeting would be held in Tunis, they could not have been so optimistic (as I was!) as to think that Tunisia would return the favor by behaving beautifully for the conference — this isn't the Olympics.
Amnesty International is has been calling for Tunis to be held accountable:
"... the Tunisian government’s record on freedom of expression and access to information is a poor one, and those who speak out in favour of reform and greater protection of human rights are subjected to persecution and harassment by the state authorities. Currently, the Tunisian government maintains strict controls on free speech and use of the Internet, refuses to allow the free operation of domestic human rights groups and holds hundreds of political prisoners, including some who have been jailed for the peaceful expression of their beliefs and are considered by Amnesty International to be prisoners of conscience."
But this beating of Mestiri at the WSIS is absolutely shameful: The UN needs to be protecting these attendees. I'm worried for all the good folks who are going there, as Ethan Zuckerman says as he blogs his visit there, to visit with friends in spite of sense that it is a repressed, pointless endeavor.
Real discussion of the internet is not, apparently, on the table at WSIS. But meanwhile the blogosphere continues to spin: Andy Carvin is reposting blogs covering the event.
Leadership on the internet is important. WSIS is an essential event. Yes, it may provide opportunity for a host country to clean up their act, but these events are ridiculous. Tunisia is no better for being the host this year, and the world is certainly no better. What a waste.
French Police Fear That Blogs Have Helped Incite Rioting
"The banners and bullhorns of protest are being replaced in volatile French neighborhoods by cellphone messages and Skyblog."
Read it: French Police Fear That Blogs Have Helped Incite Rioting
(Found on:NYT > Technology.)
Study Says Software Makers Supply Tools to Censor Web
The misuse of good technology. Or perhaps just the use of bad technology.
Study Says Software Makers Supply Tools to Censor Web: "A new report raises questions about the use of filtering technologies by autocratic governments bent on controlling what their citizens see on the Web."
(Via NYT > Technology.)
Yahoo Participates in Chinese Censorship
Recently, the mega search engine Yahoo! collaborated with Chinese authorities in jailing Chinese journalist Shi Tao for allegedly distributing state secrets. Apparently Yahoo has taken the initiative to provide the journalist's email address and IP address in order to link him to posts and emails that he was making while distributing information. Why is Yahoo participating in the Chinese censorship program?
Because it's good business. Yesterday Rebecca MacKinnon took the time to illustrate exactly what it's like to search for "Tiananmen Massacre" on the Chinese Yahoo.
An Authoritarian "Third Way" on the Internet
There's an old dream held by certain Englishmen of the Enlightenment: the perfect prison, the panopticon. In the panopticon, every cell can be seen into by a single guard standing in the center tower. But the prisoners can't see into the guard tower. The prisoners begin to monitor themselves; they must assume that they are always being watched.
The regulation of the internet has become just such a panopticon in China, where about 100 million regular internet users are dealing with an extremely sophisticated network of monitors and police-state software that regulates their activity.
Worse, it appears that a rather large industry has grown up around the censorship, because all businesses realize they've got a lot to lose if their employees get busted for reading about human rights at work. So corporations, like individuals, are participating in their own punishment.
It was interesting to note that this is all wholly different from (and much more successful than) other authoritarian countries, which regulate by simply restricting access. Here's a bit form the article:
"Its filtering system has become at once more refined and comprehensive over time, building a matrix of controls that stifles access to information deemed illegitimate by authorities," said a study released April 14 by the OpenNet Initiative, a partnership among scholars at Harvard Law School, the University of Toronto and Cambridge University. China's rulers foster the impression of an all-encompassing ability to monitor Internet usage. Arrests of Internet "subversives" are widely reported. And no one denies persistent but unconfirmed reports that as many as 30,000 government employees toil at monitoring Internet traffic. "They want you to think that every bit of your activity is tracked. That's what has everybody nervous. If they say something in a chat room, will they get in trouble?" said Anne Stevenson-Yang, who until recently headed the U.S. Information Technology Office, a nonprofit trade group in Beijing representing U.S. information technology businesses operating in China. As Internet usage explodes, billion-dollar businesses have emerged, offering gateways, news sites, auctions and other services. Private Internet tycoons, reliant on government approval and fearful of criminal prosecution, ensure that online postings don't broach sensitive topics. They hire online moderators with lightning-fast fingers on the "delete" key.
Read the Entire Article (via Wichita Eagle): KRT Wire | 07/13/2005 | In China, sophisticated filters keep the Internet near sterile