Day 1 Thoughts
Tyler: I thought JZ's point about "half-assed" censorship was quite interesting. For example, I like the idea that Google created google.cn, while retaining an easy way for people in China to use a Chinese-language, uncensored google.com instead, as a way of convincing the Chinese government that it had taken steps to censor content that it had been ordered to censor but without actually preventing access to anything. A similar example of Microsoft censoring the titles of blogs but not their content was also given that I found interesting. I wonder if there are other, more subtle, behaviors that have been built into products that allow for the appearance of censorship without actually fully implementing the censorship?
- Jason: But notice that how effective this all is depends on what you think about how powerfully the "Principle of Bovinity" operates (amazingly, there appears to be no Wikipedia article on this topic - someone get on that! - but you can check out this Lessig article and scroll down to the second block quote). By this, I mean that if 99% of all users use Baidu or Google.cn without checking Google.com, isn't that more than enough control for the whole censorship project to accomplish its goal? Isn't "good enough" censorship really all the government is looking for? Those who believe in the strong operation of this principle might be highly skeptical of "work-around" solutions, even if they seem really easy to people like us. Here's Lessig in Code (quoted in that Cato link): "I think it is as likely that the majority of people would resist these small but efficient regulators of the Net as it is that cows would resist wire fences. This is who we are, and this is why these regulations work."
Juan: I agree. Google.com is indeed accessible in China via the home page of Google.cn. However, the question is how many people have knowledge of this small icon and really choose to click it to see the difference. Especially Google China does not promote Google.com in its marketing event, part of because Google China is a separate entity and its main task is to drive the traffic of Google.cn instead of Google.com. Also, one of the reason why Google.com is accessible in China is Chinese government have not noticed it. If there is enough awareness among Chinese people, government will know it too and I doubt if this service will be available then. In fact, during the anniversary of Tiananmen Square protest, Google.com is not accessible to Chinese people for several day.
Also interesting is the distinction between the two types of countries that may want to filter online content. The first type, like Saudi Arabia, can filter content as it comes into the country because its network topology is small and simple enough that each incoming server can be configured to support the government-ordered censorship. The second type, like China, has too large of a network to rely on an approach that is working in Saudi Arabia and must rely more heavily on the content servers/providers doing the filtering themselves. Are there steps, such as encrypting URLs to make keyword filtering more difficult, that could make filtering more difficult in either of the types of countries?
Reuben: I think a good point to remember for this class is that there are approaches to solving problems other than law, be it a technical solution, an incentives based solution, or other. JZ is right that lawyers and law students can fall into the trap of just saying "There oughtta be a law!" and minimizing the difficulty of actually getting a law passed.
- Tyler: I agree that this is a good point to keep in mind. I expect that as we get into our groups and start trying to make some progress on the difficult issues that we have been discussing the most creative and potentially effective solutions will combine regulatory and technical approaches. For example, regulation needs to be less powerful, and therefore in theory easier to pass, if innovative technology can start altering the incentives in the right direction at the same time.