With the frequency and severity of computer crimes occurring worldwide, even the most democratic countries are instilling some pretty questionable laws to combat cybercrime. And though China is most often on the receiving end of censorship charges, governments around the world have begun using the same methods to censor their netizens. Here’s a look at how cyberlaws are being handled across the globe.
Australia’s Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy is pressing Google for more filtering power. Since 2008, the governing Australian Labor Party has proposed to “extend Internet censorship to a system of mandatory filtering of overseas websites which are, or potentially would be, “refused classification” (RC) in Australia”. This means that Internet Service Providers would be required to block any dodgy material entering the country from overseas.
The Great Aussie Firewall already blocks 1,370 sites according to the Sydney Morning Herald — mostly child pornography, excessive violence, instructions in crime or drug use and advocacy of terrorism. But it also touches a broader range of content such as sex fetishes and computer games not suitable for under 18s. Considering that the Australian ratings system doesn’t even have R18 categories for games, games available in the UK and the rest of the world are simply banned in Australia.
The Australian Classification Board has also put a ban on small breasts in adult material, claiming that material featuring small breasted women encourages pedophilia. According to Fiona Patten, Convener of the Australian Sex Party: “We are starting to see depictions of women in their late 20s being banned because they have an A cup size.”
Some pages from Wikileaks, a website that publishes leaked documents alleging government and corporate misconduct, were also added to the blacklist of websites which Australians are not allowed to look at.
Conroy also wants Google to censor YouTube, expressing his admiration for “Google’s role in suppressing controversial web content in countries like China and Thailand”. He is trying to use similar filtering to prevent Australians from viewing YouTube videos that break the RC content rules. Google warns however, that doing this would lead to the removal of many politically controversial but harmless YouTube clips and will not “voluntarily” comply with the government’s request.
Censorship in Denmark is prohibited as per the Constitution § 77, however Internet censorship is another story. Two days after a list of URLs on Thailand’s Internet censorship blacklist were published on WikiLeaks.org, the contents of Denmark’s blacklist were also published. According to WikiLeaks, the list contains 3, 863 sites blocked by Danish ISPs participating in Denmark’s censorship scheme. Back in 2006, one of Denmark’s largest ISPs, Tele2, was given a court injunction and told it must block its customers from accessing The Pirate Bay, the world’s largest bittorrent tracker.
Thailand was guaranteed Freedom of Speech in the 1997 Constitution. However, censorship may still be imposed to preserve national security, maintain public order, protect public morals, and prevent criticism of the royal family and insults to Buddhism. The Royal Thai Police blocks approximately 32, 500 websites, by informally “requesting” blocking to Thailand’s 54 commercial and non-profit ISPs. ISPs who fail to comply are punitively sanctioned by the government in the form of bandwidth restriction or even loss of operating license.
On Friday, September 18, 2009, access to popular social networks MySpace and Last.fm were blocked from Turkey, because of “intellectual property infringements” following a request by “Mu-yap”, the Turkish Phonographic Industry Society. But just about any complaint to a lower court seems to be able to get a website blocked, and it happens frequently with sites like YouTube, DailyMotion, Alibaba, Slide.com, and some WordPress blogs. In 2008, a Turkish court blocked access to YouTube because of clips allegedly insulting the country’s founding father. That same year, the number one Turkish atheist site, Ateizm.org was removed by the Turkish government twice. Ateizm.org was one of the busiest forums for the Turkish speaking online community over the Internet, getting over 1000 visitors a day.
Net censorship in China is one of the strictest in the world. China-based websites cannot link to overseas news websites or carry news from overseas media without separate approval. Their filtering systems are so advanced and complicated that they can block by keywords, phrases or even disable a user’s Internet access who happens to request a page with forbidden content. Considered dangerously powerful and highly repressive, China’s Internet police force is estimated at over 30,000. Many popular websites like Wikipedia, BBC, Yahoo, Google, Hotmail, Blogspot, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, webshots, imageshack, Technorati, Flickr and Tripod, among many others, have been blocked on various grounds (though only 3-4 of these sites have now been unblocked). A Harvard study found that at least 18,000 sites are inaccessible/blocked within mainland China.
Any unfavorable or litigious comments appearing on Internet forums, blogs, and major sites are usually erased within minutes. The PRC has also been known to monitor individuals’ internet access.
Iran also has one of the most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet, which allows authorities to examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale. The technology was developed with the assistance of European telecommunications giants, Siemens AG and Nokia Corp.
Iran has an estimated 23 million users and can track all online communication through a single location called the Telecommunication Infrastructure Co., (part of the government’s telecom monopoly). All of the country’s international links run through this company.
In 2006, the Government of India established a Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) which allows for the monitoring of all incoming and outgoing Internet traffic from India. India’s Information Technology Bill officially bans Internet porn, with prison sentences for up to five years.
These are only some of the many controversial cybersecurity measures underway. Technology and law are at critical stages, and for now, cybersecurity is taking high precedence over the rights of netizens. But as John Gilmore (co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation) states, “the Internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it.” Essentially, the very nature of the Internet is to access and share information and the Internet community will always find a way to do so.