Ever since the completion of its Great Wall, China has been known for its high standards of national protection. The Great Firewall is no different, it simply operates on a different subject at a higher level of security. The aforementioned name was coined in a 1997 article in the magazine Wired, the year in which China created its first internet legislation. China’s ruling Communist Party has had a history of censorship, and once the internet had become a relevant threat to the government, they cracked down on free speech and the spread of anti-government ideas over the web.
Because of this, mainland China’s population has not had access to some of the websites that you and I may take for granted, such as Facebook or news sites such as Al Jazeera or the BBC. If you are curious if a certain site is blocked in China, you can check it here. The government of China has poured significant amounts of resources into removing all citizen dissent on the internet by blocking any Chinese-critical websites and making it much harder to be anonymous on the internet. Chinese regulations block certain search words such as “Tibetan independence” or “persecution” so that Chinese citizens will not develop any more anti-government sentiment. Their internet regulations grow in number and in strength every year as the Chinese government seeks a duplicate internet for its people that it can more easily control.
In January of this year, the government in China heightened security online, cracking down on VPNs and requiring U.S. web companies to submit themselves to intrusive inspections. The people of China who would like to bypass the strict set of online rules dislike them, and search for ways around them constantly, making the job of Chinese internet officials much more difficult. The average citizen, however, is not very concerned by the censorship because it is either all they have ever known, or it is of no consequence to them or their lifestyle. It is important to form an opinion on these matters, because one day internet censorship may be implemented in your country or region.
The ethics of the internet regulations are mainly subjective, and hinge on whether or not one believes that security is more important than liberty, or vice-versa. If you are reading this article on a website from somewhere in the world that provides a relatively uncensored internet, take a moment to think about the possibility of internet censorship in your region, and consider how it would affect your life. If you think that internet censorship is unethical or constricting, or if you think that it has its place in society and in a nation’s security, take action. It could be just next year that the Great Firewall comes to you.
There is some more outspoken opposition to the policies, however. Last September, Chinese citizens in Hong Kong protested the internet censorship laws for three days, created an international movement to support them and their protest. While the Chinese government used its censorship abilities to stop the flow of information about the protests out of the country, but news still managed to leak out of the country to the rest of the world. This movement also mobilized some other areas of China as well, briefly bringing the issue of internet censorship to the forefront of the Chinese people’s minds. This was a step forward for China, but more action will have to be taken for progress to be made in that region.