TCS Daily


Cooperating on What Ends?

By Richard Weitz - July 7, 2006 12:00 AM

At their recent summit, the leaders of the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) -- China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- issued a declaration on "international information security." The statement expressed concern that modern information and communication technologies present a danger "for the entire world tantamount to that from the use of weapons of mass destruction." It warned about the use of the new technologies to interfere "in the internal affairs of sovereign states" and "for criminal, terrorist, military and political purposes that ... [will] trigger social instability in countries." The summit attendees called on the United Nations and other parties to take "collective actions to eliminate these threats." SCO leaders announced the formation of an expert group to develop detailed recommendations for managing the issue.

Authoritarian governments face the arduous challenge of maximizing the economic benefits of the Internet while negating the Web's ability to liberate information from state control. The Web has the potential to empower their domestic opponents by providing them with a mechanism to mobilize supporters and propagate anti-regime messages. Many opposition movements reside in exile and rely on the Internet to remain engaged with their home countries.

Even before the recent SCO declaration on information security, the international community had raised concern about these governments' efforts to control the Web. Last November, Reporters Without Borders designated SCO members China and Uzbekistan, SCO observer Iran, and SCO aspirant Belarus as "enemies of the Internet." Although the Russian government has yet to crack down on Internet usage, its continuing takeover of other Russian media sources suggests such a development may be forthcoming.

Besides violating the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Internet censorship presents a major challenge to international security. For example, Beijing's suppression of news about the March 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) made public health authorities in neighboring countries less prepared when the disease struck them shortly thereafter.

The SCO's interest in strengthening censorship represents a logical extension of its members' recent efforts to counter internal political challenges to their governments. The organization has long insisted on the principle of "non-interference" in countries' domestic affairs. Since June 2004, the SCO Regional Antiterrorism Structure (RATS) in Tashkent has vigorously sought to counter the three evils of "terrorism, separatism, and extremism" -- defined to include non-violent ethnic, religious, and political dissidents. Furthermore, the SCO has formed its own cadre of election monitors to help legitimize national elections questioned by other observers.

External actors have limited influence on SCO decisions. The entry of genuinely democratic governments like India into the SCO presently offers the best hope for countering its authoritarian tendencies. India, which currently has observer status in the SCO, has some of the world's most vigorous and unfettered Internet communities and other mass media outlets. Concerned about the SCO's anti-Western political tendencies, the Indian government sent only their petroleum minister to represent them at the most recent SCO summit. This action highlighted that Indians want the SCO to focus on developing the region's energy wealth rather than becoming a modern dictators' club.

Richard Weitz is a Senior Fellow and Associate Director of the Center for Future Security Strategies at the Hudson Institute [weitz@hudson.org].

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12 Comments

American Responsibility for Internet Censorship
This article brings up a number of important points about the serious consequences of internet censorship. When governments like that of China restrict their peoples' access to subversive material on the internet, they abridge fundamental human rights and endanger global security.


Americans need to remember, however, that this phenomenon can not simply be attributed to only repressive governments in Central Asia and the Far East. US companies like Google and Yahoo make it possible for these governments to block their citizens’ access to “threatening ideas” right at the source. This new type of foreign corrupt practice is antithetical to the ideals of free speech and democracy. If restricting free access to ideas is the price that American companies have to pay to do business in places like China and Uzbekistan, our Companies should stay out of these markets.

Comments on Internet Censorship
While it is absolutely true that there are serious consequences with internet censorship and that the op-ed brings up important points, there are certain security benefits that come along with internet censorship. In the global war on terrorism, many terrorists use the internet to correspond and plan attacks, by increasing censorship in hot spot countries, one could theoretically reduce this type of criminal activity. So I pose the question, at what point should we infringe on freedom of speech and other rights and allow internet censorship in order to preserve global security?

SCO and Google
This is a well planned article, however, I have a few comments.
My first comment would be that although the censorship of the internet is, at first glance, a stirictly SCO- Eastern European issue, it actually has ramifications that are worldwide in impact. China has recently struck a deal with Google to allow Google access to the major Chinese internet market. In return, China would have censorship over what kind of search results their citizens could obtain.
The United States can not, and should not, do business with countries that censor the internet. This can cause widespread political oppression, as well as other ramifications.

Unlikely to be a problem...
This was a very thought-provoking and interesting article. However, while the SCO does pose a potential threat to international security (especially if more moderate members/observers such as India exit) their attempts at Internet censorship do not. When it comes to balancing security with economic growth, I believe authoritarian governments will err on the side of growth. Additionally, the ever-changing nature of the Internet will ensure any attempt at wholesale censorship must remain a protracted and expensive endeavor. In the end I believe information dissemination technologies will remain the chief tool for undermining authoritarian governments and promoting worldwide solidarity for the foreseeable future.

problem is awareness, not censorship
Governments have always engaged in censorship in one form or another. Whether it is labeling certain information as "classified" and not releasing it to the press, banning particular books, or requiring seach engines to filter words such as "democracy" or "Tibet," governments are interested in making sure that their messages are heard and accepted as truth. This is not a new phenomenon.

For decades, the Former Soviet Union banned the publication of books promoting democracy, censored television stations, and controlled newspapers. However, democracy, democratic ideals, and notions of capitalism were eventually able to seep into Soviet society, arming dissidents, and engaging the public.

This happened for a simple reason: people knew that the government was censoring, and looked for alternative sources of information. They huddled around radio stations listening to Voice of America, or read banned literature in their basements. This is how we must help people living under authoritarian regimes which attempt to censor media: we must help them to realize that they are not getting a full picture of the world, so that they can seek out alternative sources of information. Then, government censorship - be it of the internet or otherwise - will make less of an impact on the world.

a clear analysis, both of the new internet battlefield and the SCO
The article was lucid and blunt about the troubling moves by the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to restrict speech and information on the internet. Most disturbing are the actions of China, which label as "extremist" most any sites and opinions opposing either the Communist Party, or calls of increased liberalization.

Declaring the need to control and restrict internet speech as being as or more important than cooperation against terrorism and internal radical groups indicates that the East Asian states are moving toward increased centralization and a cooling of attitudes with the west (from a moral and ethical standpoint, but not necessarily at the expense of mutually shared geopolitical aims). The prediction of Putin's Russia, which has since last January moved to restrict NGOs and is already suffering from the bitter herbs of a state funded on a super-presidentialist constitution, becoming more involved in internet restriction makes this issue even more urgent.

Not so much our problem
It seems the fact that some eastern countries are beginning to use internet technologies as a way of censoring information is just another sign of deteriorating democracies, or shifts away from democracy. Censoring the internet is not the only evidence we have of these governments crushing its citizens' freedoms. I don't think this should be any big surprise to any of us who have been following these trends. Although the situation needs monitoring and shoud raise concerns among other democratic countries, I disagree that stopping this type of business with these countries will help in bringing about a solution to their problems.

It is true that many of these countries have engaged in censorship for a long time, and even without Google, they would still be doing it. Even with censorship, these technologies can benefit countries. I think it is up to the citizens of these countries to find ways of getting around censorship. They have in the past, and I am sure they will be able to do it again in the future.

The United States and other democratic countries should certainly work, to the best of their abilities, to disseminate the correct information to these countries and continue to criticize these governments for restricting freedom of speech, religion, etc. However, stopping business with them will not stop the censorship, nor will it change the regime. That must come from the will of the people and their own efforts, which should then be supported by the US.

RE: Cooperating on What Ends?
Weitz’s article clearly explains the motivation behind ongoing censorship of internet content under the authoritarian regimes of the SCO. In concluding, Weitz highlights India as, perhaps, the best hope for avoiding a modern “dictator’s club.” This conclusion demands consideration of what action other free nations should take to curb the SCO’s attack on human rights. It is not enough to leave such an important topic to India.


Blaming Yahoo and Google, in my mind, is unfair. Their software supports an oppressive regime no more so than the dollars from other Western interests in these countries. It is unfair to ask internet companies not to tap into a billion person market when the US confers normal trade relation status on China. The Western response must come from states not companies.

Cont
Authoritarian regimes want to have their cake and eat it too. They hope to extract as much profit from the internet while minimizing its ability to disseminate controversial information. The free world must make it clear that such goals are unacceptable. If possible, using technology to block internet profits from theses authoritarian regimes seems appropriate. After all, this suppression of human rights has not only hurt citizens of the regimes but also citizens of the world.

Keeping it in Perspective
Controlling the content of the Internet appears strange to those of us from the West because our conception of the Internet is that of unlimited access to information. The World Wide Web seems limitless.

However, authoritarian regimes have consistently controlled the media (radio, television, newspapers) and other forms of information dissemination in their countries. Just because it is a newer technology, we should not expect any different treatment for the Internet. The real issue, the issue that always is at the heart of every debate about authoritarianism, is freedom of speech. Minor economic incentives like restricting profits from the Internet will not affect these regimes' control of the Internet. Within these countries, the citizens must continue fight to have their opinions heard. Meanwhile, the democracies of the world must do everything they can so that one day soon every human being has the right to express themselves privately and publicly.

"Keeping it in Perspective" was posted by rkhart
For some reason, the discussion board failed to show that I wrote my post.

THREAT OF INTERNET
It is true that internet is threat to privacy of individual and government, communist China ban on internet. some period they may be successful but in long run all will expect the independent internet,because that one is first step of progress of mankind.By nature man born independent, and no one can kill his insting.

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