Internet: Big Brother, who are you watching? Source: Getty Images/Fotobank
The Washington Post published an article last week saying that the Kremlin has been tightening its grip on the Russian Internet as the only platform where one can find ‘independent voices’. This is how the paper reacted to the Russian government’s initiative to implement a new Internet filtering policy, including a blacklist of banned web sites. Such criticism coming from Washington sounds ridiculous since the U.S. was the first western country to impose Internet censorship in 1996.
Originally, the initiative belonged to American parents, psychologists and teachers who were concerned over the risk that their children might access adult-content web sites. The US Congress worked out the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which suggested banning web sites that could insult somebody’s feelings or contain obscene materials. When it turned out that the act violated the Constitution`s First Amendment it was suspended.
Nowadays all countries somehow censor the web, which is the right thing to do since the Internet cannot just spread materials about pornography and drugs, but also stir up extremism. The Arab Spring uprising is a good example to prove this.
Being the best means to share your thoughts with the world, the Internet presents some difficulties to the authorities as they want to have control over public opinion, according to Francesco D`Agata, a lawyer with Sportello dei diritti, a human rights organisation. “They say they want to censor the web to fight crime and corruption, or tax evasion,” D’Agata says. “The authorities use this as a pretext although this initiative violates people’s right for free exchange of thought and opinion. It reminds me of George Orwell`s novel 1984. Many international non-governmental organisations have been fighting to have the right to freely express their thoughts. We hope there will be no more totalitarian control in our life.”
In 2004, the US-based MetaCarta company launched a project to make software that would allow spotting the location of authors who publish any kind of materials on the web. The project is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which is the Pentagon’s research branch. Similar projects were also launched in some European countries.
“In Sweden, electronic communication between citizens is controlled by Internet providers and the national telecommunication systems,” says Chief Editor for ‘National Defence’ magazine Igor Korotchenko. “A similar system of censorship has long been introduced in the US. They can locate any Internet user if necessary. There has never been and won`t ever be anonymity on the U.S. web. Actually, when it comes to protecting Internet users from harmful materials, Russia should more actively use the foreign experience.”
Korotchenko believes that Russia has not yet realised that the western countries have plenty of opportunities to shape public opinion in Russia through the Internet. China did realise this long ago and took all necessary measures. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates insists, however, that it is impossible to censor the web.
First published in the Voice of Russia.
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