Surveillance and International Context

During the course we have looked at online tools that make the practice of journalism more accessible to more people: in essence, democratizing the practice of journalism. For many people New Information Technologies are inherently democratic and enhance democracy. Our brief examination of online surveillance may call that into question, as might the following:

A report from Amnesty International, “Undermining Freedom of Expression in China,” criticizes the internet companies Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google for having “facilitated or colluded in the practice of censorship in China.”

  • Yahoo! provided the Chinese government with private, confidential information about its users. “This included personal data that has been used to convict at least two journalists, considered by Amnesty International to be prisoners of conscience.” One of these, journalist Shi Tao, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sending an email in which he summarized the content of oral communication from the Chinese Central Propaganda Department to the newspaper where he worked.
  • Microsoft shut down a user’s weblog based on a request from the Chinese government. It deleted a blog by Chinese journalist Jhao Jing which was housed on MSN Spaces in the United States. It restricts access to its services by users from China, including blocking “attempts to create blogs with words including ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’, and ‘freedom of expression’ in the title” and filtering searches for politically sensitive terms.
  • Google launched a self-censored version of its search engine for use by people in China.

Amnesty International accuses the companies of a “mismatch” between their statements about their own support for freedom of information and their actions.

The OpenNet Initiative is a multi-national project whose “mission is to investigate and challenge state filtration and surveillance practices.” Among other things, it maintains an internet filtering map to show the prevalence of filtering and surveillance in various countries.

Reporters Without Borders has published a Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents.


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