When it comes to censoring the
Internet, China is a the leader in terms of filtering questionable political
content. But politics is not what causes most nations to interfere with
Internet use. The most frequent reason for net censorship is the search for
pornography and questionable religious content. Another popular government ploy
is not trying to keep their citizens from certain kinds of Internet content,
but rather eavesdropping on who is saying what to whom. In all, we're talking
about some three dozen nations here that meddle with Internet use.
In China, 30,000 Ministry of Public Security
employees man the Golden Shield Project (also known as The Great Firewall of
China), and monitor Internet use throughout the country. In the last decade,
over a billion dollars has been spent on this effort. This has inspired other
police states, like North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Iran, Cuba,
and Myanmar to do the same.
A much larger number of nations censor Internet
access to keep people away from "impure" material. Most of the nations in the
Persian Gulf (especially the oil rich nations) spend lots of money on
commercial filtering technology, and make it very difficult to reach web sites
that allow gambling, show naked women, or say anything bad about Islam.
A lot of other nations recognize that fact that the
Internet has replaced letters (on paper) and telephone calls. Police cannot bug
criminal suspects unless they can do it on the Internet. But the law, in most
countries, is a little vague on this point. So many countries just set up
filters on all, or a great deal, of their Internet traffic, and fish for
certain words or phrases. This has become a big deal in the war on terror, as
Islamic terrorists have become big users of the Internet.
The Internet has changed the ways in which people
communicate, and governments are responding in many ways. It's still rather
confusing out there, if you are trying to figure out who is doing what to whom.
It may be another generation before the situation clarifies.