Difference between revisions of "Digital Newsmedia Group One"
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==== Industry ====
==== Industry ====
Industry is obviously a key player in this area. As Faris, Wang and Palfrey explain “the leading software and hardware providers have tended to be U.S. firms selling technology they claim to be value-neutral or positive, but which is used to suppress free expression in international markets (in “Censorship 2.0” Innovations, Spring 2009, 165 at 169 [http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/itgg.2008.3.2.165?journalCode=itgg]). For the purposes of this discussion ‘industry’ has been broken down into three different groups because industry as a whole encompasses too many different groups with such different goals and motivations to be an effective level of analysis. The three categories are: online service providers (such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo!, Microsoft in respect of some content and the like) and internet service providers; online content providers (companies providing proprietary content via the Internet, such as music, software or news); and online news organisations. This section will consider the motivations and goals of each of these three groups, the tools they have used
Industry is obviously a key player in this area. As Faris, Wang and Palfrey explain “the leading software and hardware providers have tended to be U.S. firms selling technology they claim to be value-neutral or positive, but which is used to suppress free expression in international markets (in “Censorship 2.0” Innovations, Spring 2009, 165 at 169 [http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/itgg.2008.3.2.165?journalCode=itgg]). For the purposes of this discussion ‘industry’ has been broken down into three different groups because industry as a whole encompasses too many different groups with such different goals and motivations to be an effective level of analysis. The three categories are: online service providers (such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo!, Microsoft in respect of some content and the like) and internet service providers; online content providers (companies providing proprietary content via the Internet, such as music, software or news); and online news organisations. This section will consider the motivations and goals of each of these three groups, the tools they have usedto use in the future, and how these tools interact with their motivations.
'''Online service providers and internet service providers'''
'''Online service providers and internet service providers'''
Revision as of 22:37, 14 December 2010
Internet freedom and China: a framework for analysis
Introduction: the situation in China
A framework for analysis
Overview of Obama administration position:
The Obama administration has publicly stated its support for promoting internet freedom across the globe. The motivation for promoting widespread access to the Internet without censorship is twofold, according to an administration official who visited the Cyberlaw class on Nov. 22.
1. Economic and Jobs Creation Motivation: Some of the United States’ biggest exports are information based -- culture, music, and writing. Thus, censorship in countries such as China deprives U.S. companies of business opportunities. Supporting certain Internet freedom initiatives can help American businesses and exports to flourish.
Censorship could also negatively affect U.S. companies’ expansion into developing markets in countries where government censor information, according to a January 2010 speech on Internet freedom by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. []
“If corporate decision makers don’t have access to global sources of news and information, investors will have less confidence in their decisions over the long term,” Clinton said. “Increasingly, U.S. companies are making the issue of internet and information freedom a greater consideration in their business decisions.
2. Long-term Security Motivations: United States foreign policy has long followed the idea that free speech and free flow of information build stronger societies. The thought is that having a marketplace of ideas at the heart of as many societies as possible will make those societies stronger and more secure, thus making international relations more predictable and stable.
President Obama believes that “the more freely information flows, the stronger societies become,” Clinton said in her January speech. “The United States’ belief in that ground truth is what brings me here today.”
However, the administration’s goal of freely flowing information is tempered by other interests. U.S. laws limit and penalize the distribution of obscene or protected information, such as child pornography and copyrighted music and movie files. Thus, the administration must look to policy levers that allow it to promote Internet freedom, while maintaining its interest in limiting the free-flowing distribution of narrow categories of information it has determined to be obscene or protected.
Policy Tools Employed:
1. The Administration, working through the State Department, is funding circumvention tools in an effort to allow citizens to circumvent “politically motivated censorship,” Clinton said in her January speech.
Norms: 1. The government can remind companies of U.S. norms that herald freedom of information. Clinton used such a tactic in her January speech, saying, “For companies, this issue is about more than claiming the moral high ground....Censorship should not be in any way accepted by any company from anywhere. And in America, American companies need to make a principled stand. This needs to be part of our national brand. I’m confident that consumers worldwide will reward companies that follow those principles.”
1. Use market and economic arguments to encourage governments who censor information to at least allow accurate news reporting of events that affect the business and investment climate. As Clinton said in her January speech: “To use market terminology, a publicly listed company in Tunisia or Vietnam that operates in an environment of censorship will always trade at a discount relative to an identical firm in a free society. If corporate decision makers don’t have access to global sources of news and information, investors will have less confidence in their decisions over the long term. Countries that censor news and information must recognize that from an economic standpoint, there is no distinction between censoring political speech and commercial speech. If businesses in your nations are denied access to either type of information, it will inevitably impact on growth.”
1. The government could, but has not yet done so, use laws to restrain the behavior of people and companies subject to U.S. jurisdiction, such as manufacturers who sell routers in China and information services platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Such a law could prohibit companies from complying with the censorship requests of the Chinese government and institute penalties for companies or individuals who violated the law. There’s likely not enough political will to force this type of law through Congress.
2. The government can use existing trade treaties to negotiate with foreign governments regarding censorship policies.
The State Department has established the NetFreedom Task Force to coordinate policy and conduct outreach for Internet freedom. It was formerly named the Global Internet Freedom Task Force (GIFT) and had been established by Condoleezza Rice in 2006. The NetFreedom Task Force is coordinated by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and the Bureau of Economic, Energy, & Business Affairs – a pairing that illustrates the competing interests at issue within the State Department itself. []
1. Human Rights Interests: According to its website, one of the reasons the State Department is promoting Internet freedom is to advance the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees that all people can “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
2. Business and Free Market Interests: The Bureau of Economic, Energy, & Business Affairs’ mission is to promote economic security and prosperity at home and abroad, according to its website. It tries to open markets and protect intellectual property abroad on behalf of U.S. businesses. Thus, its motives are twofold: to encourage the free flow of information to allow for more transparent markets, while also protecting intellectual property. The latter motive may make it reluctant to support some Code policy levers, such as peer-to-peer file sharing software or some circumvention tools, because they can also be used to obtain pirated intellectual property.
Policy Levers Deployed:
According to an April 2010 report by the Congressional Research Service, the State Department will continue with initiatives that implicate several policy levers. []
Code: 1. The NetFreedom Task Force will continue the work of the State Department’s GIFT as it oversees U.S. efforts in more than 40 countries to help individuals circumvent politically motivated censorship by developing new anti-censorship tools and providing the training needed to safely access the Internet. Norms The government will make Internet freedom an issue at the United Nations and the U.N. Human Rights Council in order to enlist world opinion and support for Internet Freedom.
2. The State Department will try to extend a “freedom of the press and information” mentality to the international sphere by urging U.S. media companies to take a proactive role in challenging foreign governments’ demands for censorship and surveillance.
Market: The State Department will attempt to manipulate the marketplace for Internet freedom tools by providing new funding grants for ideas and applications that help break down communications barriers, overcome illiteracy, and connect people to servers and information they need;
Law: 1. According to the CRS, $15 million for fiscal year 2010 has been allocated from State Department appropriations to a range of programs that, in full or in part, support Internet freedom. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner describes these programs as “not just circumvention…. [I]t’s a lot about training people…. It’s some about technology. It’s some about encouraging groups that are in danger. It’s a lot about diplomacy, too, for us getting out there and being sure that when groups are in trouble, we provide a lifeline.”
Internet Policy Task Force: Launched in 2009, the Internet Policy Task Force is a Commerce Department initiative created to examine the effect of public policy and operational issues on the ability of the U.S. private sector to recognize economic growth using the Internet. [] In the realm of Internet freedom issues, the Task Force has begun to examine international barriers to the free flow of information and their effect on American businesses and global commerce.
In September 2010, the Task Force published a notice seeking public comment on various government policies that restrict information flows on the Internet. [] The comments will be used in a report detailing what affect the policies have had on economic development and global trade and investment and how best to address negative effects. The report will be used to shape the Obama Administration’s “international engagement on these issues.”
The Task Force is comprised of staff members from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the International Trade Administration (ITA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), and is coordinated through the Commerce Department's Office of Policy and Strategic Planning.
The Task Force’s goal is to “assist industry, and other stakeholders, to operate in varying Internet environments and to identify policies that will advance economic growth and create jobs and opportunities for the American people.” Policy Levers Employed: Publicized research is ongoing; no levers publicly deployed.
Broadcasting Board of Governors The U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent government agency International Broadcasting Bureau that oversees all U.S. non-military international broadcasting. According to its website, the Board’s goal is to provide “accurate, objective, and comprehensive news reports,” while providing a “clear and effective presentation” of U.S. policy to citizens of foreign countries. [] Policy Levers Employed:
Code: According to the Congressional Research Service report, the Board funds counter-censorship technologies and has committed approximately $2 million per year to help enable Internet users under repressive regimes to have access to the Board’s Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts and other U.S. governmental and non-governmental websites and to receive VOA e-mail newsletters.
According to the CRS report, Congress has expressed its interest in Internet freedom issues through congressional hearings and legislative proposals.
1. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs: The Committee conducted a hearing in March entitled “The Google Predicament: Transforming U.S. Cyberspace Policy to Advance Democracy, Security, and Trade.” [] The hearing discussed the December 2009 Chinese cyber attacks on Google and other U.S. companies and considered policy tools to address Internet freedom, trade, and cyber security issues. Chairman Howard Berman (D-California) said at the hearing that the committee had competing interests and had to figure out how to balance a support for freedom of information with the reality that software and technology that facilitate freedom of information and development can also facilitate censorship by government regimes and intellectual property theft. “The notion that American companies can heedlessly supply their software, routers, and information to governments that use them for repressive purposes is untenable, Berman said. “But preventing companies from engaging in trade with countries ruled by those repressive governments is equally untenable, for it would deny billions of people the ability to access the very information needed to support their resistance….[an administration policy review] suggests that the government may need to retool our intelligence and diplomatic communities to protect U.S. intellectual property abroad.”
Policy Levers: Norms: The committee is currently using hearings to clearly delineate its own policy goals and motivations and to raise awareness about Internet freedom issues on Capitol Hill.
2. House Globe Internet Freedom Caucus: The Caucus was formed in March by Representatives David Wu (D-Oregon) and Christopher Smith (R-New Jersey). According to a press release, its goals are to “promote peaceful free expression on the Internet and serve as a forum for members of Congress, the executive branch, and U.S. industry to discuss and debate ideas on how to enhance online freedom and address minimum standards of conduct for U.S. businesses that operate in Internet-suppressing countries.”
Policy Levers Employed by the Caucus:
Laws and Norms: Proposed bills could become law, but even if they do not, the congressmen who introduced them sought to raise awareness about Internet freedom and influence norms – to shape the views of the public and their fellow lawmakers.
Recent Legislative Action
Bills and Resolutions in the House of Representatives
1. H.R. 2271, Global Online Freedom Act of 2009. Introduced by Representative Christopher Smith and referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Makes it U.S. policy to (1) promote the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media; (2) use all appropriate instruments of U.S. influence to support the free flow of information without interference or discrimination; and (3) deter U.S. businesses from cooperating with Internet-restricting countries in effecting online censorship.
Expresses the sense of Congress that (1) the President should seek international agreements to protect Internet freedom; and (2) some U.S. businesses, in assisting foreign governments to restrict online access to U.S.-supported websites and government reports and to identify individual Internet users, are working contrary to U.S. foreign policy interests.
Amends the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to require assessments of electronic information freedom in each foreign country.
Establishes in the Department of State the Office of Global Internet Freedom (OGIF).
Directs the Secretary of State to annually designate Internet-restricting countries. Prohibits, subject to waiver, U.S. businesses that provide to the public a commercial Internet search engine, communications services, or hosting services from locating, in such countries, any personally identifiable information used to establish or maintain an Internet services account.
Requires U.S. businesses that collect or obtain personally identifiable information through the Internet to notify the OGIF and the Attorney General before responding to a disclosure request from an Internet-restricting country. Authorizes the Attorney General to prohibit a business from complying with the request, except for legitimate foreign law enforcement purposes.
Requires U.S. businesses to report to the OGIF certain Internet censorship information involving Internet restricting countries.
Prohibits U.S. businesses that maintain Internet content hosting services from jamming U.S.- supported websites or U.S.-supported content in Internet-restricting countries.
Authorizes the President to waive provisions of this act: (1) to further the purposes of this act; (2) if a country ceases restrictive activity; or (3) if it is the national interest of the United States. 2. H.R. 4784 Internet Freedom Act of 2010. Introduced by Representative Wu and referred to the House Science and Technology Committee, Subcommittee on Research and Science Education. Directs the National Science Foundation to establish the Internet Freedom Foundation governed by a board of 12 members, with equal representation from government, academia, and the private sector. The Internet Freedom Foundation shall—
• Award competitive, merit-reviewed grants, cooperative agreements, or contracts to private industry, universities, and other research and development organizations to develop deployable technologies to defeat Internet suppression and censorship; and • Award incentive prizes to private industry, universities, and other research and development organizations that successfully develop deployable technologies to defeat Internet suppression and censorship.
The Internet Freedom Foundation shall be funded by such sums as may be necessary.
3. H.Res. 590, Expressing grave concerns about the sweeping censorship, privacy, and cybersecurity implications of China’s Green Dam filtering software, and urging U.S. high-tech companies to promote the Internet as a tool for transparency, freedom of expression, and citizen empowerment around the world. Introduced by Representative Wu and referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Expresses (1) grave concerns about the sweeping censorship, privacy, and cybersecurity implications of China’s Green Dam filtering software; and (2) support for the Chinese people in their quest for Internet freedom and free expression.
Calls on (1) the Chinese government to rescind its requirement for Green Dam to be preinstalled on all new computers; and (2) U.S. high-tech companies to promote the Internet as a tool for transparency, freedom of expression, and citizen empowerment around the world.
Industry is obviously a key player in this area. As Faris, Wang and Palfrey explain “the leading software and hardware providers have tended to be U.S. firms selling technology they claim to be value-neutral or positive, but which is used to suppress free expression in international markets (in “Censorship 2.0” Innovations, Spring 2009, 165 at 169 ). For the purposes of this discussion ‘industry’ has been broken down into three different groups because industry as a whole encompasses too many different groups with such different goals and motivations to be an effective level of analysis. The three categories are: online service providers (such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo!, Microsoft in respect of some content and the like) and internet service providers; online content providers (companies providing proprietary content via the Internet, such as music, software or news); and online news organisations. This section will consider the motivations and goals of each of these three groups, the tools they have used, those they have expressed an intention to use in the future, those that the might be prevailed upon to deploy in the future, and how these tools interact with their motivations.
Online service providers and internet service providers
Companies that provide platforms for user generated content typically frame the question of Internet freedom and internet censorship as a free trade issue. These businesses are in an interesting position. In many respects, they are the best placed actors to actually do something meaningful to improve the situation, but on the other hand, they are private bodies -- meaning their policies and decisions will not necessarily be in line with the public interest.
Not surprisingly it is the large companies that have been around for a while that have publically expressed views on the issues of internet freedom, censorship and the situation in China. Google, for example, has been forced to consider how to deal with censorship in order to be able to provide its search engine services in countries such as China. From Google’s perspective the problem government censorship poses is the restriction of the free flow of information. In a recent policy white paper, Google commented on how important open flows of information are for its business, in which 53 percent of its total revenue comes from overseas - see Google's White Paper Enabling Trade in the Era of Information Technologies: Breaking Down Barriers to the Free Flow of Information . On this basis Google has attempted to frame the issue as it is a free trade problem, with China’s firewall a barrier to free trade.
Google does not focus on China exclusively in this White Paper, although it does provide some examples of Internet censorship by the Chinese government, and is clearly motivated by concerns about the disruption of free flows of information in China (see, for example, Google's statement to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China's hearing on Google and Internet Control in China [ at p. 8). And in a blog post on release of the white paper, Google's Public Policy Director commented: "The premise is simple: In addition to infringing human rights, governments that block the free flow of information on the Internet are also blocking trade and economic growth" .
Other industry players, such as Facebook and Twitter, also have strong incentives to promote internet freedom, in order to increase their market penetration and dominance in their respective niches. Yet their rapid development and expansion has meant that, to-date, they have made less explicit public comment on these issues than more established players such as Google and Microsoft. Yes this is likely to change in the future as their platforms become increasingly more widely used. Twitter, for example, has been used by dissidents and social organizers in repressed regimes with varying degrees of success so far. Access to Twitter is currently blocked in China by government censors. However, Iranian protesters tweeting during protests in Iran in 2009 and Twitter's decision to postpone routine maintenance so that the site would remain available received a good deal of publicity. Twitter does not have a policy on 'Internet freedom' as yet and has said that it considers its response to situations such as the Iranian protests on a case-by-case basis. However, as Twitter becomes a vehicle for dissidents and promoters of Internet freedom, the company will likely to have to think about these uses more deeply in the future. See following article from the London Review of Books for a good discussion of the use of twitter in Iran .
For companies providing platforms for user-generated content, as wide access as possible is critical. Without access to markets such as China local alternatives will develop and may end up dominating the market, even if a foreign platform is ultimately given access. This creates not only a strong incentive to see the issue as one of free trade, but also, in many cases, strong incentives to make compromises about censorship in order to gain access to markets that might not otherwise be available. So, for example, for a long time Google acquiesced to the Chinese government’s filtering of its search engine and YouTube allows material to be blocked when it is in violation of local laws. Faris, Wang and Palfrey describe this as the “block or be blocked” problem (2008, p 183). In Google’s case, this position has recently changed (see discussion below under the tools heading), after Google became frustrated by cyber-attacks on its services, originating from China, as well as the hacking of the gmail accounts of human rights activists in China. See  but as the aftermath of the Google/China stand-off illustrates, even a powerful and large company such as Google has not taken all the step possible to limit censorship in China.
In addition, for some online content providers whose revenue is derived from advertising there may be limited motivation to improve the situation in some markets if the company does not perceive the market as likely to be a significant source of advertising revenue. So, for example, Zuckerman comments that YouTube may not be particularly concerned by censorship in Turkey and possibly even in China:
"YouTube doesn’t really have an economic incentive to be unblocked in Turkey. If anything, being blocked in Turkey (and perhaps even in China) may be to their economic advantage". .
The consequence of this is that there may be code-based mechanisms that could be employed, which are not currently being used, such as: :
- increasing the number of IP addresses that lead to the webserver and using a technique called “fast-flux DNS” to give the Turkish government more IP addresses to block.
- maintaining a mailing list to alert users to unblocked IP addresses where they could access YouTube
- creating a custom application which disseminates unblocked IPs to YouTube users who download the application.
Related to this is the fact that online content providers have incentives not to "host content that might provoke a DDoS attack or raise costly legal issues" . DdoS attacks are not only expensive to defend against but the can lead to users deciding to move elsewhere, or alternatively a reputation for protecting users can mean the provider actually attracts users who need that protection (see the discussion in Zuckerman “Intermediary Censorship”, p 80 in Deibert et al (eds) “Access Controlled, The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace” (2010, The MIT Press, Cambridge).
There is a tension between the fact that some of these companies are in relatively strong positions to have some influence on Internet censorship in China, yet, of course, they are not motivated by the public interest, except to the extent that it might be valuable for their business (e.g. on a reputational level) to take such a position. This really just underlies the point that industry players are motivated by self-interest. This self-interested position means that, to a large extent, they have a greater motivation to push for diplomatic solutions to remove trade barriers, rather than to go out alone and employ whatever code-based solutions that they can to inhibit the ability of the Chinese government to engage in internet censorship -- unless there are very strong economic incentives for them to do so or strong reputational benefits to be gained from doing so. Most importantly, they are unlikely to take a strong stance against Internet censorship when the consequence is that their site will get blocked: they are likely to value having their site accessible to users in China over a principled stand against Internet censorship.
A recent report on Policing Content in the Quasi-Public Sphere from the OpenNet Initiatve at the Berkman Center well summarizes this problem :
"Balancing freedom of speech against other social objectives is complex and there are no easy solutions. The five companies cited in this paper are all US companies, but are frequently under pressure by foreign governments to restrict certain areas of speech. They are struggling to balance business decisions with legal and social pressures spanning numerous jurisdictions and dramatically different conceptions of acceptable speech. There is no obvious solution to such conflicting standards and frequently the result to such disputes comes in the form of blocking by foreign governments, which in some cases means individual blogs or videos, and in other cases, entire platforms."
The report suggests that companies do need to be aware of the "human rights implications of their policies" and to develop transparent mechanisms to balance the concerns of activists, the business and ordinary users, in order to maintain user trust. In other words, the most effective mechanism of encouraging companies to use the power that they have is bottom-up community activism and pressure placed on these industry players by users of their services. In this regard, the proposals by Robert Faris, Stephanie Wang, and John Palfrey in their article Censorship 2.0 are instructive .
Finally, while online service providers have more recently become important players in relation to internet censorship, internet service providers are still an important part of the picture. Internet service providers have similar motivations to online service providers although they are perhaps less strongly driven by the need to maintain reputational goodwill in the user community. As the most recent wikileaks release of documents demonstrate both internet service providers and online service providers can come under political pressure to remove content or to stop hosting. While the wikileaks situation is not directly related to internet censorship in China, it does provide an important reminder that the internet is controlled primarily by private organisations that may make decisions that are not necessarily in the interests of “internet freedom”. See   
Online content providers
Companies that provide content via the internet also are likely to be motivated by free trade concerns to some degree -- clearly, the larger the market for their products, the more profitable they are likely to be. However, a powerful competing consideration is protection of intellectual property. Mechanisms to increase Internet freedom and to inhibit the ability of the Chinese government to engage in Internet censorship, such as the development and promotion of circumvention tools, can be problematic from the perspective of traditional content providers, because these tools can also be used for the illegal acquisition and distribution of copyrighted materials.
Hal Roberts notes that, while there is little firm evidence about what uses circumvention tools are being put to, there is “lots of circumstantial evidence that simple web proxies are generally used for nonpolitical purposes like browsing social media, pornography, and gambling sites” . To this list can be added distribution of content such as music, television shows, film and other copyright material. And, in fact, many of these companies are engaging in what could be described as a form of censorship themselves, by creating technology protection mechanisms around their content that sometimes restricts access to content that goes beyond what the law provided (e.g. restricting access to copyright works, also restricts access for fair use purposes).
Microsoft is a good example of a company for which intellectual property protection is a critical element of the internet freedom debate. See a recent speech by Microsoft’s corporate Vice President Pamela Passman, who advocates for China and Microsoft to work together to strengthen and enforce IP protection (available at . Microsoft also expresses its commitment to internet freedom (see its policy document Microsoft on the Topic: Internet Freedom, available at [download.microsoft.com/.../Microsoft_on_the_Topic_Freedom_of_ Expression.doc]) and was a founding member of the Global Network Initiative (discussed in more detail below). It seems inevitable that these two motivations might be expected to be in tension with each other: companies such as Microsoft might find it hard, or be less likely to push a strong internet freedom agenda in negotiations with China, when they also want to ensure China’s support in protecting their intellectual property.
Online news organisations
Traditional news organisations that now have an online presence, such as newspapers like the New York Times and the London Times as well as and television news organisations such as CNN and BBC as well as purely online media organisations such as the Huffington post and various blogs have similar concerns to online content providers in the sense that they want to be able to maintain control of their intellectual property. However, in their role as media organisations, freedom of information and a lack of censorship are fundamental value which they have traditionally sought to preserve, and reporting about internet freedom and censorship issues is a big part of their mission. [???]
Policy levers employed
Law and Market
Seeing the problem as one of free trade/global commerce leads online content providers to propose solutions that fall primarily into the 'law' and 'market' levers when thinking about Lessig's four levers. Free trade type solutions could also be classes market based solutions, in which diplomacy and international law is used in order to negotiate for an open and free market of information. Google sets out clearly the perspective of online content providers. Google states that US policy makers should (p 2):
- Focus on and publicly highlight as unfair trade barriers those practices by governments that restrict or disrupt the flow of online information services.
- Take appropriate action where government restrictions on the free flow of online information violate international trade rules.
- Establish new international trade rules under bilateral, regional, and multilateral agreements that provide further assurances in favor of the free flow of information on the Internet.
Google has been lobbying the US government to file a complaint at the World Trade Organization (WTO) alleging that China is in violation of the General Agreement on Trade in Services, which requires that States treat foreign service providers equally to domestic service providers. . This cannot be a complete solution, however, because it does not prevent filtering but merely means that fit must be done across the board.
Norms and Code
Intermediary are in a powerful position because they have the ability to create effective code based solutions to internet censorship, and they also have the ability to use code in furtherance of censorship agendas. There have been examples of online service providers engaging in self-motivated code based solutions to constrain internet censorship in China. For example, Google stopped voluntary censorship of its google.cn site in Jan 2010. This move -- which meant users got automatically redirected to the (uncensored) Hong Kong Google site -- could be categorised as the use of code - the automatic redirect - to try and have an effect on Internet freedom in China. The effect of this code-based approach might also have been thought of as a push to change norms -- to make it Chinese users want and value access to uncensored material. In the end, however, Google backed down to a certain degree by providing a Chinese Google search site, which only provided minimal services and a link to the Hong Kong Google website, rather than an automatic redirect to the Hong Kong site, which was Google's initial approach. See this piece from TechCrunch which discusses the aftermath. Google's ultimate solution could be characterised as a weak norms-based approach.
As noted above, there are more code based solutions that could be utilised by online content providers that would make it more difficult for the Chinese government to engage in censorship. But the problem is creating incentives for companies to use these tools, when on its face there may not seem to be much in it for them. Weak code based approaches do currently exist. For example, users are informed when content has been filtered on Google’s search engine and on YouTube. However, more stringent transparency measures have not been implemented. So, for instance, users are not able to view a list of sites that have been filtered from a Google search.
Traditional news organisations also act in a norms-based way. Reporting on censorship emphasises the norms of freedom of information and can also lead to pressure on private companies to use code-based tools to limit the ability of the Chinese government to engage in censorship, and to encourage the government to engage in diplomatic effects in the same direction.