Digital Newsmedia Group One: Difference between revisions

From Identifying Difficult Problems in Cyberlaw
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Line 489: Line 489:
Norms and law based levers that focus on the conduct of US companies that are present in the Chinese internet market and how these companies respond to CHinese censorship also work in an indirect way to promote internet freedom.  In its most extreme form this could take the form of the Global Internet Freedom Bill [] sought to prohibit companies from facilitating the censorship of US supported content. However, this Bill seems unlikely to gain traction. More realistic efforts are norm creating self-regulatory driven efforts with industry in partnership with the non-profit sector, such as the work of the Global Network initiative.
Norms and law based levers that focus on the conduct of US companies that are present in the Chinese internet market and how these companies respond to CHinese censorship also work in an indirect way to promote internet freedom.  In its most extreme form this could take the form of the Global Internet Freedom Bill [] sought to prohibit companies from facilitating the censorship of US supported content. However, this Bill seems unlikely to gain traction. More realistic efforts are norm creating self-regulatory driven efforts with industry in partnership with the non-profit sector, such as the work of the Global Network initiative.

Zuckerman points out that webhosting providers and social media providers are inreasingly important "as possible choke points as Web users publish content on Web servers they do not control" <ref> In
Zuckerman points out that webhosting providers and social media providers are inreasingly important "as possible choke points as Web users publish content on Web servers they do not control" <ref> “Intermediary Censorship”, p 72 in Deibert et al (eds) “Access Controlled, The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace” (2010, The MIT Press, Cambridge. </ref>

Policy levers that seek to indirectly undermine Chinese censorship can be influenced by other indirect policy levers.  For example, the reports released by Freedom House on subjects related to global freedom do not themselves influence Chinese pro-censorship policy levers.  While these reports reflect badly on the Chinese government, it his highly unlikely that the Chinese government will change its censorship policies after reading one of these reports.  Freedom House instead hopes the content of the reports will shape Western perceptions about the nations on which it reports and brings issues related to global freedom to the forefront of public debate.  This includes influencing lawmakers and the views of the public.  (In this way, are Freedom House reports norm-based policy tools?  It is difficult to decide to which, if any, of the Lessig categories these reports and other  circulation of information for persuasive or educational purposes (such as the reports of the Berkman Center or the document releases of Wikileaks).  Are there implications if a tool falls into one category rather than another?)  If the public feels sufficiently passionate about the issue, it will in turn pressure the government to take it up, which will in turn lead to actions such as increased funding for circumvention tools.
Policy levers that seek to indirectly undermine Chinese censorship can be influenced by other indirect policy levers.  For example, the reports released by Freedom House on subjects related to global freedom do not themselves influence Chinese pro-censorship policy levers.  While these reports reflect badly on the Chinese government, it his highly unlikely that the Chinese government will change its censorship policies after reading one of these reports.  Freedom House instead hopes the content of the reports will shape Western perceptions about the nations on which it reports and brings issues related to global freedom to the forefront of public debate.  This includes influencing lawmakers and the views of the public.  (In this way, are Freedom House reports norm-based policy tools?  It is difficult to decide to which, if any, of the Lessig categories these reports and other  circulation of information for persuasive or educational purposes (such as the reports of the Berkman Center or the document releases of Wikileaks).  Are there implications if a tool falls into one category rather than another?)  If the public feels sufficiently passionate about the issue, it will in turn pressure the government to take it up, which will in turn lead to actions such as increased funding for circumvention tools.

Revision as of 13:47, 18 December 2010

Internet freedom and China: a framework for analysis

Introduction: the situation in China

Internet access in China has grown at a startling rate, with the number of citizen users estimated at 384 million (28.9 percent of the Chinese population) -- 618 times the number of users in 1997, according to Chinese and U.S. government estimates. [1] But access to the Internet doesn’t mean its citizens have access to a free flow of information; rather, the government heads what the U.S. Congressional Research Service calls “one of the most sophisticated and aggressive Internet censorship and control regimes in the world.” [2]

Means of Censorship

The government employs many levers that work together to create an effective means of censorship – often referred to as the “Great Firewall of China.” The code-based censorship techniques it uses include website blocking and keyword filtering and registering websites and blogs to specific individuals and entities. The blocked websites include Radio Free Asia, international human rights websites, Taiwanese newspapers, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. [3]

Law-based techniques have also been effective. About 30 to 40 Chinese citizens are currently in prison for acts of “cyber dissidence” – writing about politically sensitive topics online. [4] The government has also used law to regulate Internet service providers, who are required to establish Internet security management systems and use technical measures to prevent the transmission of illegal information over the Internet. According to a June 2010 white paper released by the Chinese government, illegal communications are any that contain “contents subverting state power, undermining national unity, infringing upon national honor and interests, inciting ethnic hatred and secession, advocating heresy, pornography, violence, terror and other information that infringes upon the legitimate rights and interests of others.” [5]

By using law to require Internet service providers to regulate users, the Chinese government has delegated some of its censorship duties to the private market. Executives of Chinese versions of Twitter and Google – called Sina and Baidu, respectively – have publicly advertised their sites’ compliance with China’s censorship rules. Baidu commands 73 percent of the Chinese-language search market, compared to Google’s 21 percent, and admits to blocking content. "We do have an aggressive and extensive system to comply with regulations," Baidu spokesman Kaiser Kuo told AFP in December 2010. "We simply are required to do that, to have that in place. There is really no getting around it.” [6] Sina executives have espoused their censorship practices in great detail: 24-7 policing; constant coordination between the editorial department and the “monitoring department”; daily meetings; and systems through which both editors and users are constantly reporting problematic content. [7]

Clashes Over Law and Code-Based Censorship

Although the Chinese censorship system is, on the whole, quite effective, in recent months, there have been widely publicized clashes over some censorship tactics.

In June 2009, the PRC government issued a directive requiring “Green Dam Youth Escort” software, designed to prevent children from accessing “harmful content,” such as pornography, on all Chinese computers sold after July 1, 2009, including those imported from abroad. International human rights activists, foreign governments, chambers of commerce, and information technology manufactures opposed the policy, saying it could be used to censor political content and that it could weaken Internet security. In August 2009, the Chinese government abandoned plans for mandating the “Green Dam” software for the time being.[8]

Google has also opposed Chinese censorship policies, and in January 2010 threatened to cease censoring its Chinese search engine or pull out of the Chinese market. It also disclosed that Chinese hackers had hacked its corporate network and were also accessing the Gmail accounts of human rights activists associated with China. [9] According to a CRS report, “Chinese discussion boards and micro-blog postings indicated that a small majority of China’s online population—and perhaps a large majority of its most active Internet users—wanted Google to stay in China, with some supporting Google’s challenge to the PRC government. A significant minority adopted a pro-government stance or interpreted Google’s move as profit-oriented.” [10] In March 2010, Google announced a compromise approach: users visiting are now redirected to, where they can access an uncensored search in simplified Chinese that is specifically designed for users in mainland China. [11] In its announcement, however, Google seemed to have backed off of its threat to the Chinese government to adamantly oppose censoring techniques; the company noted that the search is delivered via servers in Hong Kong and is “entirely legal.” [12]

Using Levers to Create Norms

These public clashes have not deterred the Chinese government from employing the many other law and code-based levers mentioned above, however. The government also uses these other levers to create norms in the culture of loyalty to government and self-censorship. According to the CRS report, the government has hired thousands of students to express pro-government viewpoints on websites, message boards, and chat room. Moreover, analysts have also argued that the government’s selective deployment of censorship measures and the threat of arrest creates an “undercurrent of fear and promotes self censorship.” [13]

Rebecca MacKinnon, a noted researcher on Chinese Internet censorship, refers to this as “networked authoritarianism.” MacKinnon herself best explains this concept:

“Compared to classic authoritarianism, networked authoritarianism permits – or, shall we say, accepts the Internet’s inevitable consequences and adjusts – a lot more give-and-take between government and citizens than in a pre-Internet authoritarian state. While one party remains in control, a wide range of conversations about the country’s problems rage on websites and social networking services. The government follows online chatter, and sometimes people are even able to use the Internet to call attention to social problems or injustices, and even manage to have an impact on government policies. As a result, the average person with Internet or mobile access has a much greater sense of freedom – and may even feel like they have the ability to speak and be heard – in ways that weren’t possible under classic authoritarianism. It also makes most people a lot less likely to join a movement calling for radical political change. In many ways, the regime actually uses the Internet not only to extend its control but also to enhance its legitimacy. At the same time, in the networked authoritarian state there is no guarantee of individual rights and freedoms. People go to jail when the powers-that-be decide they are too much of a threat – and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. Truly competitive, free and fair elections do not happen. The courts and the legal system are tools of the ruling party.” [14]

Chinese Views of Internet Freedom

Overall, Chinese citizens seem to favor Internet access. In a March 2010 BBC survey, 87 percent of Chinese Web users said Internet access is a basic human right – while only 76 percent of Americans said the same. [15] Still, this doesn’t lead to a similarly strong interest in an uncensored Internet. As the aforementioned Google case study demonstrates, Chinese Internet users have varying views of their government’s censorship policies, and no majority exists to strongly oppose the government censorship tactics. Chinese citizens are also wary of U.S. involvement in lobbying for greater Internet freedom in China.

A BBC news article captures the clashing thoughts of Chinese citizens after Google had announced it would pull out of China. While some seem to place a strong value on Google and how it aids the unrestricted flow of information, others worry about the effect the United States and Western countries could have on the Chinese society if all Chinese citizens had unfettered access to information on the Internet. [16] Still other comments show that Chinese citizens don’t view search engines like Google as a free information god; to them, Google provides useful software and organizational tools that allow them to talk to others and edit documents – tasks that don’t correlate to a strong interest in information being free for the sake of being free.

One user posted on the following on a message board. The post was translated into English: "Google is my homepage. Google Reader is my newspaper. Google Documents is my document editor. Google Voice is my communication tool. Without Google, how do I survive?"

Others expressed distrust of the United States and its calls for greater Internet freedom in China. One post on a message board read: "We can't rule out the possibility of the Americans thinking about some vicious tricks again, but what they are saying is true."

Another Chinese citizen e-mailed the BBC, saying, "I don't think there is complete freedom of access to the internet even in [the] US. Does America allow people to publish propaganda for terror attacks against them? So why should China lift its control on content which harms the national safety? …Why should we listen to lectures from the West saying we should do what they expect? They will not take the moral high ground any more. China should shape up its own culture. We want our own voice to be heard, not just that of the US and the West.”

Circumvention Tools

Circumvention tools are technical solutions to Internet censorship. Their uses include high-risk situations such as allowing users to bypass the filters of those countries that restrict access to certain types of content on the Internet, as well as low-risk situations, such as viewing Hulu from outside the United States. [17] Other goals of these tools include preventing eavesdropping and preserving anonymity.[18] Only three percent of Internet users in countries who substantially filter content use circumvention tools.[19]

These tools function primarily by routing the data of users through third-party proxies before it arrives at its destination. If a site cannot be viewed normally due to specific block by a filter, the proxy will retrieve the desired site and pass it to the user. The filter will not recognize the content of the site as restricted and will not block it if it is sent through the third party. This effectively allows users to disguise the source and the destination of the requests. However, it means a cat and mouse game as the filterer attempts to identify and block the proxies and the proxies attempt to slip by the filterer and continue providing service.

The Berkman Center breaks the tools down into four categories – simple web proxies, blocking-resistant tools, VPN services, and HTTP/SOCKS proxies.[20]

The most popular circumvention tools are simple web proxies, which are vastly more popular than more complex tools due to the ease of finding them on the Internet and the ability to use them without downloading or installing any particular software.[21]

Blocking-resistant tools use additional methods beyond that of the simple proxy to prevent filters from discovering and blocking them. Included in this category are the Global Internet Freedom Consortium-related Freegate[22] and UltraSurf,[23] , as well as Tor,[24], a service that touts its use by journalists and non-governmental organizations.[25] Freegate uses a web-based portal called DynaWeb, which uses tunneling and P2P-style relationships between users to pass along the newest addresses of DynaWeb portals, allowing it to adapt quickly to blocking.[26] UltraSurf uses SSL encryption to allow secure uploading and downloading while supporting all HTTP-based protocols and all browsers. [27] Tor disguises a user's packets from traffic analysis through a technique called “onion routing.” This technique repeatedly encrypts data so that each machine along a pathway only knows the identities of the servers immediately preceding it and immediately following it in the chain, preventing the source and destination of a packet from being recognized.[28] The Berkman Center believes the combined number of unique users for these three services is between 800,000 and 1,900,000 per month.[29]

VPN services are software-based tools that encrypt all data from end-to-end without needing each individual application used by an individual to be configured to encrypt its own data.[30] While this software is often accompanied by a monthly fee, the most popular service, Hotspot Shield,[31] funds its service through advertising to users.[32] VPN clients are heavily used on the business world, which makes nations reluctant to block these services outright.[33]

HTTP and SOCKS proxies pass traffic through firewalls and to a proxy IP and port that the user enters.[34] These services have a short shelf-life, constantly requiring new proxy addresses to be acquired, and there are concerns that governments with restrictive Internet policies may run their own proxies of this sort as a means of identifying users.[35] Such proxies can also be used as means to restrict access so that only users redirected proxies can access certain content.[36]

An additional service is Psiphon, an open source web proxy that might be described as a cross between the simplicity of the simple web proxy and the directed HTTP and SOCKS proxies. While it does guarantee anonymity all the way through a packet's path, it allows a user to bypass site blockages by using as a proxy a particular location that the user trusts as secure.[37] It was designed for its ease of use and ability to be propagated through social networks.[38]

A framework for analysis

The actors

Government actors

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. [[39]]

“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.


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. Policymakers make 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 could use trade pacts to negotiate with foreign governments regarding censorship policies, as Google has urged it to do. [[40]]

Agency Actors

State Department

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. [[41]]

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. [[42]]


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.


1. 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.


1. 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;


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.”

Commerce Department

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. [[43]] 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. [[44]] 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. [[45]]

Policy Levers Employed:

Code: 1. 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.

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.” [[46]] 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:


1. 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: 1. 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. [1] [47]). For the purposes of this discussion, ‘industry’ has been broken down into three different groups, because industry as a whole is not an effective level of analysis. It encompasses too many different groups with various goals and motivations. 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 film); 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 publicly 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 [48]. On this basis, Google has attempted to frame the issue as it is a free trade problem, with China’s firewall acting as 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 [[49] 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" [50].

Other industry players, such as Facebook and Twitter, also have strong incentives to promote Internet freedom to increase their market penetration and dominance in their respective niche service areas. Yet their rapid development and expansion has meant that, to date, they have made less explicit public comments on these issues than more established players such as Google and Microsoft. However, this is likely to change in the future as their platforms become 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 [51].

For companies providing platforms for user-generated content, achieving 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. 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 [52]. 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 steps 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. 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". [53].

The consequence of this is that there may be code-based mechanisms that could be employed, which are not currently being used, such as: [54]:

  • 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" [55]. DDoS attacks are not only expensive to defend against, but also can lead to users deciding to move elsewhere. Alternatively, a reputation for protecting users can mean the provider actually attracts users who need that protection. [2]

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 Iniative at the Berkman Center well summarizes this problem [56]:

"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 [57].

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 demonstrates, both Internet service providers and online service providers can come under political pressure to remove content or to stop hosting content. 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 [58] [59] [60]

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” [61]. To this list can be added distribution of content such as music, television shows, film and other copyrighted 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 restrict access to content that goes beyond the protection the law provides (e.g. restricting access to copyrighted 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 [62]. Microsoft also expresses its commitment to Internet freedom (see its policy document Microsoft on the Topic: Internet Freedom, available at [ 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 difficult, 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 (ie newspapers like the New York Times and the London Times; television news organisations, such as CNN and BBC; and 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 large 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 solutions could also be classed as market-based solutions, in which diplomacy and international law are used in order to negotiate for an open and free market of information. So, for instance, 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. [63]. It must be noted, however that this cannot be a complete solution because it does not prevent filtering but merely means that, if a government is going to engage in filtering, it must be done across the board.

Norms and Code

Intermediaries are in a powerful position because they have the ability to create effective code-based solutions to internet censorship, yet 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 code0based solutions to constrain Internet censorship in China. For example, Google stopped voluntary censorship of its site in January 2010. This move -- which meant users were 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 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 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[64]. 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. Some 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. Google provides a Google Transparency Repoert [65], which collates information about government requests for removal of content from Google's services. However, this report does not contain information about requests from China. Google states: "Chinese officials consider censorship demands to be state secrets, so we cannot disclose that information at this time."

In addition, more stringent transparency measures have not been implemented. 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 emphasizes 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.

Non-profit groups

Non-governmental Organizations

We have identified seven types of non-governmental organizations with regard to the Chinese censorship issue: anti-censorship organizations, pro-democracy organizations, education/information-seeking organizations, information disseminating organizations, industry responsibility organizations, press freedom organizations, and pro-market organizations. Each type is represented below with a description of a group that serves as an example of that type.

Anti-censorship organizations – Global Internet Freedom Consortium

The Global Internet Freedom Consortium is a partnership nonprofit organizations and private technology companies. Included as members of the Consortium are Global Online Freedom, Inc., (a nonprofit that provides analysis of Chinese blocking techniques and organizes grassroots action), Dynamic Internet Technology, Inc. (a private technology company that provides mass-mailing services), UltraReach Internet Corp. (developer of circumvention tools and techniques), and Garden Networks for Freedom of Information, Inc. (a Canadian nonprofit that also develops circumvention tools).[66] The Consortium is closely associated with the dissident Falun Gong spiritual movement. This association has created controversy with regard to American governmental financial support in developing the Consortium's circumvention tools.[67]

It's stated mission is to “build a pioneering online platform that breaks down the Great Firewalls blocking the free flow of information penetrating into, moving within, and originating from closed societies (e.g., China and Iran) via the Internet.” Consortium believes China to be the worst offender in engaging in Internet censorship.[68] It hopes that users of its online platform will find that they are able to “share information and viewpoints freely without fear of reprisal and with protection of privacy.”[69] It believes that information freedom is the critical means by which human rights and personal freedoms can be protected.[70] Pointing out its ability to bypass “ruling authorities” and communicate directly with a country's population, the Consortium believes the Internet to be “perhaps the most important information tool available” for the advancement of human rights.[71] “Only when we can communicate with the people of a society can they come to understand the benefits of having a more free and open society and engaging with the rest of the world.”[72]

Policy tools

Norms: The Consortium releases white papers that explain how the Great Firewall functions and how anti-censorship technology can bypass it.[73]

Code: The central element of the Consortium's strategy the development of technologies that allow information to pass freely to and from individuals in closed societies. These technologies include proxy services like FreeGate,[74] , UltraSurf,[75] and Gtunnel.[76] The Consortium also provides content services,markets these tools to potential users in closed societies, assists its users with technical difficulties.

Pro-democracy organizations – Freedom House

Freedom House describes itself as “an independent watchdog organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world. Freedom House supports democratic change, monitors freedom, and advocates for democracy and human rights. . . . [It] provides support to individuals working in the world's young democracies to overcome debilitating legacies of tyranny, dictatorship and political repression; as well as to activists working in repressive societies to bring about greater freedom and openness.”[77] The organization is heavily funded by the United States government,[78] which has lead some nations to question its independence.[79]

Freedom House's overriding goal can be described as the “growth of freedom” through the opposition of totalitarian regimes. “Freedom is possible only in democratic political systems in which the governments are accountable to their own people; the rule of law prevails; and freedoms of expression, association, and belief, as well as respect for the rights of minorities and women, are guaranteed.”[80]

Policy Tools – Norms

Freedom House annually releases surveys regarding “the state of freedom around the globe.”[81], Among the reports it has released, Freedom House has published on online freedom, including analysis of China's online censorship program.[82] It also hosts conferences such as the “Washington Human Rights Summit: Affirming Fundamental Freedoms,”[83] which produced recommendations for the Obama administration, as well as other governments and relevant institution, as to how to best advance freedom and human rights worldwide.[84]

Freedom House regularly testifies before Congress, holdings briefings for congressional staff and lobbies congressmen.[85] It also sponsors fact-finding missions to closed societies, such as a recent mission to Liberia in preparation for that nation's elections.[86] Freedom House also sponsors exchange programs where human rights activists travel to “established and emerging democracies to become more familiar with the institutions in those societies and develop skills and relationships that will assist in the advancement of democacy in their home nations.[87]

Education/information-seeking organizations – OpenNet Initiative

The OpenNet Initiative is a partnership between the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto,[88] the Berkman Center for Internet & Soceity at Harvard University,[89] and The SecDev Group in Ottowa. [90][91] It is funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, grants from the Open Society Institute. The International Development Research Centre, the Ford Foundation, and other organizations.[92]

The Initiative describes its mission as to “investigate, expose and analyze Internet filtering and surveillance practices in a credible and non-partisan fashion. We intend to uncover the potential pitfalls and unintended consequences of these practices, and thus help to inform better public policy and advocacy work in this area.”[93] One of its projects is ONI-Asia, an attempt to engage stakeholders in countries with censorship issues to develop the local resources and capacity necessary to research those issues and advocate changes of public policy based on that research.[94]

Policy Tools – Norms

The Initiative provides profiles of countries describing the state of Internet openness, detailing the legal and regulatory frameworks within those nations, and detailing the results of the Initiative's testing of filtering policies within those nations. The profile of China is notable for its detail.[95] It also releases reports centered on specific categories of interest, including China's proposed Green Dam filtering software.[96] The Initiative presents some of its research in the form of easily digestible filtering maps.[97] In developing its ONI-Asia project, the Initiative is reaching out to potential advocacy partners in regions of censorship who would research how censorship occurs and how it might be addressed. One example is the Blogging in China project being pursued by The Law & Technology Centre of The University of Hong Kong, which seeks to study the writers, content, and filtering of blog posts in China.[98]

Public watchdog organizations – Wikileaks

WikiLeaks is a news organization that seeks to publish news stories alongside the primary source documents “so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth.” [99] It receives these documents not through their own investigation, but through submissions from readers including “restricted or censored material of political, ethical, diplomatic or historical significance.” [100] Julian Assange, founder and editor-in-chief of Wikileaks, describes the organization as seeking to not just report news, but also demonstrate that news to be true.[101] Assange's strategy in targeting powerful organizations, such as governments and financial institutions, that are “abusive and need to be [in] the public eye” is to bring about one of two results: “one is to reform in such a way that they can be proud of their endeavors, and proud to display them to the public. Or the other is to lock down internally and to balkanize, and as a result, of course, cease to be as efficient as they were.”[102] The most recent release contained many American embassy cables that provided confidential information about Chinese policy,[103] providing a sharp contrast from what China would allow journalists, bloggers, and others to publish.

Policy Levers


When accepting the submission of physical or electronic documents through postal services, Wikileaks uses a trusted network of facilitators. These facilitators act as middlemen, receiving documents from sources who are concerned about their anonymity, submitting those documents to Wikileaks electronically, and destroying the mailed package. [104] Norms also come into play in the content of Wikileaks reporting, which is often critical of powerful. These reports make readers increasingly skeptical of their governments and encourage them to “distrust[] big government as something that could be corrupted if not watched carefully.” [105] Those readers, in turn, pressure the government for reforms.


As the sorts of documents that Wikileaks wishes to publish have the potential to be obtained contrary to the laws of the nations in which they reside or otherwise be illegal to publish within a country, Wikileaks provides those who submit content a form of protection through its electronic drop box service. The dropbox collects documents in a secure manner without collecting or logging information as to the submitter's identity. Later steps in the editing process scrub those documents of any identifying characteristics that may allow a submitter to be identified. It also provides an anonymous, encrypted chat service that answers submitter questions.[106]

Industry responsibility organizations – Global Network Initiative

The Global Network Initiative (“GNI”) is a coalition that seeks to advance freedom of expression and privacy by establishing industry guidelines as to how businesses should respond to the demands of the countries in which they are providing products or services. Included in its membership are large industry groups such as Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, as well as public interest nonprofits such as the Center for Democracy & Technology,[107] the Electronic Frontier Foundation,[108] and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.[109][110]

The GNI recognizes that “companies in the information and communications industries face increasing government pressure to comply with domestic laws and policies that require censorship and disclosure of personal information in ways that conflict with internationally recognized human rights laws and standards.” It seeks to commit companies to free expression and privacy principles and “to provide a systematic approach for companies, NGOs, investors, academics and others to work together in resisting efforts by governments that seek to enlist companies in acts of censorship and surveillance that violate international standards.” [111]

Policy levers


The GNI promotes multi-stakeholder collaboration as a means of developing solutions to global free expression and privacy issues.[112] It is organized around four constituency groups (companies, NGOs, academics, and investors), with companies holding half of the seats on the Board by design. [113] In joining, a participant must adopt the GNI's Principles[114] and other core documents, implement a system of procedure described in the GNI's Implementation Guidelines if it is a company,[115]/implementationguidelines/index.php and meet other requirements. This Board has the ability to terminate a group's participation in the GNI if it doesn't meet the proper requirements. [116] An independent review process of the internal policies of participating companies is slated to begin in 2011.[117]


The GNI seeks to establish industry standards for properly identifying and acting in situations that involve human rights issues. These include performing human rights impact assessments as to their own internal policy, integrating their commitments to free expression and privacy into their business, and ensuring that partner companies follow the Principles of the GNI.[118]

When its stakeholders share a position on an issue, the GNI publishes a statement expressing the opinion of the group. These statements have the potential to influence the positions that other businesses hold with regard to public policy and signal to lawmakers that industry actors and NGOs agree on a course of action.[119]

Press freedom organizations – Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders is a free press advocacy organization with a focus on journalist protection. It seeks “to inform people and try to give countries which do not respect this basic right a bad name in the eyes of international institutions, the media and governments that have ties with them.” The organization lists the activity in which it engages as defending imprisoned and persecuted journalists, aiding journalists and media outlets who face financial difficulty improving journalist worldwide, and fighting against censorship and laws that undermine press freedom.[120] One of its recent foci in China is campaigning for the release of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.[121] It is primary funded by nonprofit foundations.[122]

Policy levers


Reporters without Borders funds and otherwise assists journalists and media organizations worldwide that are in need of support, ranging from assisting the families of journalists imprisoned in Gambia to providing funds and bulletproof vests to journalists in Somalia.[123] It also annually awards the Reporters Without Borders Prize, which includes an award of 2500 euros, to a journalist, a news media, and a cyber-dissident.[124]


Reporters Without Borders brings attention to attacks on press freedom worldwide,[125] which includes reports generated by individuals in those countries.[126] It also publishes guides and training for exiled journalists, [127]

Pro-market organizations – Progress & Freedom Foundation

The recently-defunct Progress & Freedom Foundation's Center for Internet Freedom sought to “advance a comprehensive market-oriented approach to Internet policy issues. Our approach minimizes government control and regulation while maximizing the freedom of the online sector to innovate, invest and grow. By offering timely analyses and critiques of Internet policy that diminish the vital role of free markets, free speech and property rights, the Center seeks to drive the Internet policy debate in new directions and counter the proliferations of advocacy groups calling for government intervention.”[128] It should be noted that this is a US-focused organization, but including it in this document is important in ensuring that their motivations are represented in any future calculus as to how the issue of Internet censorship should be approached.

Policy levers – Norms

Like Freedom House, the Foundation's primary tools were informational, writing articles on American Internet freedom issues,[129] and briefing congressmen and their staff on Internet freedom issues.[130]


A Clash Among Motivations and Favored Tools

From this list of motivations and actors, five general motivations to create a freer Internet in China can be gleaned:

1. Promotion of free flow of information to serve democratic and U.S. ideals

2. Free trade/promotion of foreign business and expansion into China

3. Expansion of trade while protecting intellectual property of foreign companies

4. Promotion of human rights and government dissidents

5. Maintaining U.S. national security

What makes the problem of promoting Internet freedom in China so difficult for its backers is that the only thing they can all agree on is that Chinese citizens should have access to a freer flow of information. Beyond that, all similarities end. The actors cannot reach a consensus on why a less restrictive online environment should exist in China or how to achieve this. In short, supporters of Internet freedom in China are motivated by wildly different goals that aren’t served by deploying the same combination of tools to make the Internet in China “freer.”

For example, film, music, and software companies who do business in China also want to make sure their intellectual property is protected from piracy – but copyright and other laws meant to protect intellectual property are being “abused [by the Chinese government] to silence or intimidate political critics.” [131] Because these companies believe they make their largest profits when their intellectual property is guarded stringently, this concern will take precedence over the promotion of free trade and free flow of information in China. In short, they’d prefer to have copyright law that’s abused by the Chinese government but still affords some protection to their intellectual property rather than have no copyright law at all. Intellectual property concerns also make these companies – and the Obama administration, who seeks to protect these companies – reticent to support several effective tools that would promote free flow of information on the Internet in China, because the tools would also make it easier to create and pass along pirated copies of movies, music, software programs, and the like. These tools include peer-to-peer file sharing programs, which could be used as an effective and anonymous way for dissidents to transmit files and messages, but can also be used for widespread intellectual property piracy. Nor is it likely that peer-to-peer sharing programs will find support from companies motivated by free-trade goals, because P2P networks won’t foster a more open business climate and thus won’t help these companies increase their bottom lines.

Other motivations may block the funding of some of the circumvention tools discussed above. As noted in the preceding sections, the United States has a strong national security interest in promoting the free flow of information in China, as one of the tenets of U.S. foreign policy is that the free flow of information will lead to strong, stable societies, which will in turn make foreign policy more stable. Still, national security and state secrets concerns will inevitably trump promoting the free flow of information simply for the sake of free flow of information. For example, as the United States government continues to struggle with WikiLeaks, other anonymous leakers, and the leaking of classified documents, national security concerns may trump its willingness to promote Internet freedom by supporting circumvention tools, most notably Tor, that provide anonymity to such leakers. [132]

Meanwhile, organizations whose main goals are to protect human rights, government dissidents and the free flow of information have no interest in protecting intellectual property and aren’t as moved by national security concerns. Nor do they have an interest in making sure complete business information is available to U.S. and foreign companies; they’d rather ensure that dissidents have the tools to freely pass along policy messages. Thus, human rights activists are more likely to favor P2P and circumvention tools.

In turn, they condemn the diplomatic and norms-based measures favored by free trade advocates, since these measures often result in companies agreeing to aid in Chinese censorship and content filtering in return for access to the Chinese market. Bill Gates said Microsoft complied with Chinese demands and summed up its approach in an interview with Good Morning America in January 2010, saying, “You've got to decide: do you want to obey the laws of the countries you're in or not? If not, you may not end up doing business there.” [133] Such an acquiescent norms-based approach does not benefit the agenda of human rights and freedom of information advocates, whose anti-censorship goals can only be achieved fully if U.S. government and foreign entities take a hard-lined stance against censorship.

Because actors interested in a less restrictive online environment in China are motivated by varying end goals, there are few, if any, tools they can agree to support. The next section will discuss this clash among proposed tools and the likelihood of success of these tools in combating Chinese censorship.

Interaction between different tools

Chinese Policy Levers

In analyzing the policy levers available to government entities, commercial and industry groups, and non-governmental organizations in pursuing their goals related to Internet censorship in nations like China, it should be noted that each category of policy levers functions by attempting to weaken the influence of the policy levers within China that allow a censorship regime to be maintained. These opposing levers also fall within Lessig's four categories of law, markets, norms, and code. Of these categories, law and code have the greatest effect on the censorship regime. The policy levers in the category of law have made it a national aim of China to use the machinery of the state to control how information is disseminated online. The policy levers in the category of code provide the necessary technological tools so that the censorship goals of the Chinese government can be carried out. While market- and norm-based policy levers may reinforce the censorship regime, these aren't the most critical levers in maintaining that regime. If the legal policy levers that promote censorship, such as specific Internet regulations or financial support for censorship programs and their enforcement, are weakened, then Chinese Internet users will be able to enjoy a less restricted online environment. If the Chinese code policy levers supporting censorship are weakened, then the government will be unable to develop and maintain the necessary network architecture to allow the enforcement of Internet regulations,, again presenting the opportunity for a less restricted Internet for the Chinese people. A strong argument can be made that the legal policy levers are the more critical to the Chinese censorship regime than the code policy levers, as the government has the ability to strengthen the code levers by providing more funding for network development and innovation while using police power to arrest or intimidate those who would disrupt that process through circumvention tools or by other means. It seems unlikely that the code policy levers would be able to support the legal position of the government with equal magnitude. To put it another way: if the architecture of Chinese networks fail to silence undesirable speech, the Chinese government can expend resources on innovation of those networks to eliminate vulnerabilities in a sort of circumvention arms race. If the funding of enforcement or police power of the Chinese government is weakened due to a change in national policy on censorship, the arms race would end and it would be unlikely that network architecture alone could silence unwanted speech.

Direct Policy Levers

The various policy levers that are used to directly undermine the Chinese censorship regime don't simply target it as a monolithic entity. Each targets different policy levers in China. Code based levers are the only levers that have the ability to directly affect the Chinese censorhsip regime. These code-based policy levers in opposition to censorship mostly target the code policy levers that support the Chinese censorship regime. Proxy services like Freegate and Gtunnel, for example, use code to as a method of bypassing Chinese filters, providing a technological solution to a technology-created problem. Google's automatic redirection of users to an uncensored search page following its recent conflict with the Chinese government contributed another code-based solution to the filtering problem. Other anti-censorship code policy levers are more ambitious, seeking to undermine non-code Chinese policy levers. For example, the Wikileaks dropbox that allows for anonymous submission of leaked documents is designed to protect its users from being identified and prosecuted by governments, undermining the ability of those governments to use the available legal policy levers to censor speech that will be damaging to those governments. Technological tools may also may have secondary effects that weaken pro-censorship norms in China by making circumvention of Chinese speech restrictions more common and more socially acceptable.

Indirect policy levers

Some levers do not directly target Chinese policy levers. Norms, market and law based levers tend to work more indirectly and rely upon a chain of events in order to have some impact on the Chinese censorship regime. The government funding of circumvention tools is a good example of this phenomenon. The provision of government funding cannot itself influence censorship in China. Legal, social, and technological leaders in China will not notice that a nation has increased funding for a purpose and be motivated to alter the censorship regime. Perhaps government spending would directly affect the censorship regime if the spending were provided directly to an influential official in the form of a bribe, but the effectiveness of such a strategy would be highly dubious. Funding itself does not make it easier for censored material to be reached. The exact source of the money from within the government also has little direct influence on censorship; it matters little if the outgoing funds are budgeted as State Department funds or Department of Defense funds.

Rather than directly seeking to influence the ultimate target, which is censorship in this case, some policy levers instead enhance other policy levers. The policy levers being enhanced by government funding are the circumvention tools which the government is funding. Unlike government funding, those tools directly target censorship by providing a technological means by which it can be bypassed. There are multiple ways in which government funding can enhance the power of the circumvention policy lever. Funding can lead to the development of new circumvention tools by newly funded organizations, increasing the breadth of what the circumvention tool lever can accomplish.. It can lead to greater innovation by already well-funded organizations that develop such tools, increasing their effectiveness. It can lead to the development of new features in existing tools that make them easier to use and allow them to more quickly adapt to government censorship tactics, increasing their ubiquity.

The government funding policy lever does not act solely on the circumvention tool policy lever. It also has secondary effects on other levers within other categories within the Lessig framework. Increased funding of circumvention tools increases the resources entering the market for the development of circumvention tools, which will lead to a greater, more effective array of tools, which will encourage greater investment into the market, and so on. Making circumvention tools easier to use could change the culture surrounding circumvention tools. While these tools are only used by 3% of Internet users in those countries that face the greatest Internet censorship problems, [134], changes in how they function might expand their accessibility, make their use more common, and make their use more socially acceptable in these countries.

Another good example of a policy lever that is intended to have an indirect impact on censorship in China is the law and diplomacy based mechanism currently being promoted by Google. As noted above, filing a complaint with the World Trade Organisation is not going to be a complete solution by any means: for one thing there is the political problem of persuading the US government to take that step. Even if a complaint is lodged, there is the the process would be long and slow and the ultimate outcome would only limit China's ability to discriminate against foreign countries, not its ability to engage in censorship generally. Possibly, however, the real indirect benefit to taking this approach might be in the publicity and increased conversation around the Chinese situation that it might create, as well as sending a signal to China that the US is serious about trying to reduce Chinese censorship.

Norms and law based levers that focus on the conduct of US companies that are present in the Chinese internet market and how these companies respond to CHinese censorship also work in an indirect way to promote internet freedom. In its most extreme form this could take the form of the Global Internet Freedom Bill [135] sought to prohibit companies from facilitating the censorship of US supported content. However, this Bill seems unlikely to gain traction. More realistic efforts are norm creating self-regulatory driven efforts with industry in partnership with the non-profit sector, such as the work of the Global Network initiative.

Zuckerman points out that webhosting providers and social media providers are inreasingly important "as possible choke points as Web users publish content on Web servers they do not control" [3]

Policy levers that seek to indirectly undermine Chinese censorship can be influenced by other indirect policy levers. For example, the reports released by Freedom House on subjects related to global freedom do not themselves influence Chinese pro-censorship policy levers. While these reports reflect badly on the Chinese government, it his highly unlikely that the Chinese government will change its censorship policies after reading one of these reports. Freedom House instead hopes the content of the reports will shape Western perceptions about the nations on which it reports and brings issues related to global freedom to the forefront of public debate. This includes influencing lawmakers and the views of the public. (In this way, are Freedom House reports norm-based policy tools? It is difficult to decide to which, if any, of the Lessig categories these reports and other circulation of information for persuasive or educational purposes (such as the reports of the Berkman Center or the document releases of Wikileaks). Are there implications if a tool falls into one category rather than another?) If the public feels sufficiently passionate about the issue, it will in turn pressure the government to take it up, which will in turn lead to actions such as increased funding for circumvention tools.

This above discussion highlights some of the reasons why it is difficult to develop and analyze the censorship issue. There are numerous parties, each with their own diverse toolkit that includes items that stretch across Lessig's categories,that seek to influence numerous other parties, including those in the West and in China, to advance very different motivations. The result is an ornate spider-web of actions that make it very difficult to find and quantify the result, influence, and effectiveness of any one party or its acts.

Policy Levers that Work Together

Policy Levers that Conflict

Conclusion and Questions for Further Analysis

The actors have a general goal – to induce a less restrictive online environment in China. However, their motivations for seeking this result are fractured and oftentimes, these motivations make them reluctant to support certain tools that would achieve a free flow of information, because these tools would undermine other important goals, such as preserving national security, protecting intellectual property, promoting free trade, and advancing human rights.

Given these conflicts and the complexity of the interactions between these parties in attempting to accomplishing their goals, it is nearly impossible for policymakers and academics to perform an analysis that would allow them to put forth a coherent and effective palate of tools that would achieve the goal of a less restrictive online environment in China, while also protecting interested parties’ secondary motivations.

Questions and things to explore:

1. How much do Lessig’s categories matter? Is a law tool so different from a code or market-based tool?

2. How can parties influence each other’s hierarchies of motivations?

3. How does one determine if a tool is out of play/off the table?

4. Which tools might be out of play?

5. Should Internet freedom efforts be centralized, or do we want individual actors to consider a piecemeal approach? Is the U.S. government an effective point of centralization?

6. When tools conflict, they will weaken the ability of some parties to act. Would having clashing tools work at the same time have a greater benefit than the harm to the individual parties?


  1. In “Censorship 2.0” Innovations, Spring 2009, 165 at 169
  2. 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.
  3. “Intermediary Censorship”, p 72 in Deibert et al (eds) “Access Controlled, The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace” (2010, The MIT Press, Cambridge.