Friday, March 26, 2010

Some more random thoughts...

China's firewall goes international. Ignoring the technical side for a moment, the possibility that people outside of China are having their requests routed through China - and its firewall - poses a conundrum. One of the major selling points is the absolute freedom of information available on the internet. And while there is a growing possibility of mini-nets that will be regional, or even country-specific, and thus liable to suffer from whatever forms of control asserted by the local authorities, the possibility that an error such as that described in the linked article could occur can have consequences far beyond the given area. Indeed, it is the opposite of the problem that many authoritarian countries face now whereby they worry about information getting to their citizens. But the ability to export their controls external to their regional area is far more frightening for everyone. It simply goes to show that there is balance everywhere. It is easy to see the "good" side of the internet and its information flow and ignore the "bad" side where impediments to that same free flow can be far too easily exported. Hopefully a good answer will be found in the near future - though the fact that this has occurred previously does not bode well.

The nanny state is at it again. In a plan that seems more reminiscent of something from the designers of The Patriot Act (or maybe the creators of The Matrix or even V for Vendetta), it would appear that the UK government is asking internet cafes to voluntarily monitor the usage of its customers. The stated purpose, of course, is to help prevent terrorism. The problem is that this becomes a rather slippery slope. Once we know that you're helping us to check up on your fellow citizens, then let's see what else we can do to continue to establish the sense of paranoia and fear that allows us to exert other forms of control over a citizenry too cowed to tell us no. Is it scare-mongering to warn us to be on the lookout for those who would potentially harm us? Is it just responsible government? Is it another step on the way to a more dangerous form of authoritarian government with fewer controls on its exercise of power? To know the answer would be to know the intent of those who wield this power. And the reality is that it is impossible to know the intent of anyone regardless of their actions. If history has not yet demonstrated the ability for government to relinquish its hold on power, then it would seem that we are fated to learn the lesson - again.

And, just so no one thinks it's just a Western thing, moderates in Islam continue to suffer losses. And for some perspective, bear in mind that Qatar also hosts CENTCOM Forward HQ (US military central command). It also is the home of Al-Jazeera, the most widely viewed news source in the Middle East and the source, according to some, of the inflammatory rhetoric used against the West (and has regularly been the primary source for Al-Qaeda communications). But now, to help reshape it as a more religiously conservative site, the government has forced out the moderate leadership (moderate, of course, being a relative term), including Al-Qaradawi, of the company that funds the site. What is the old mantra? Money talks, BS walks? Yes, that is it. And here it is clear that if the moderate message put through by the site could not be erased by an equally rational message from those who disagreed with it, it is easier to simply wipe the site out (or at least dilute it) by taking away its funding. Then the government can step in and force its own message onto the site. Come to think of it, I'll bet Hugo Chavez could learn a lesson from Qatar...

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