In a world where freedom of speech and expression continues to be under threat from various political forces, global Internet giant Google’s decision to stop censoring its Chinese search engine is an event that is to be celebrated. On March 22, 2010, Google stopped censoring its search in China. The company did this by delivering search results through its Hong Kong servers. Visitors to google.cn are now being redirected to google.hk.
Google’s decision to oppose the Chinese government was sparked off by a series of incidents that pointed to unethical activities taking place in Chinese cyberspace. China has been actively censoring internet usage within its borders for several years now. In 2003, the “Golden Shield Project” began its operation under the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. The Project is also dubbed “The Great Firewall of China” as it mainly functions as a firewall that blocks certain content and websites from the Internet. Apart from this, all search engines in China have to comply with their Internet censorship laws. Searches relating to topics like the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and other issues which the Government would rather not have the public remember, either give error messages or pages heavily doctored by the Government to present a rosy picture of things. Until recently, all search engines, including Google, complied with these Orwellian regulations imposed on them. However, Google discovered that GMail accounts of certain Chinese human rights activists had been hacked and they traced the hackers to mainland China. It also came to light that several other companies, including Yahoo!, Symantec, and Adobe Systems, had been the targets of similar attacks. Google subsequently announced that it was unwilling to censor its services. This was followed by a dispute with the Government which ultimately resulted in Google’s move to Hong Kong. This event has brought the attention of world media onto the aggressive and restrictive practice of Internet censorship practiced by The People’s Republic of China.
The Internet is celebrated as a medium that encourages free speech. World over, people express their views on a variety of issues on their blogs and websites, thus taking their opinions to an audience of over a billion people. It is this ability of the Internet to hand the power of the media over to the common man that is its greatest strength. Websites like Wikipedia, Blogger and social networking sites all provide testimony to the might of the Internet. During times of war and crises, the Internet has been a medium for people to convey their views to the world at large. What China, and other countries like it, is trying to do is to curb this avenue for uninhibited articulation of thoughts. It tries to manipulate public opinion by doctoring the information that its people receive. And what’s more, all this is done in the name of protecting its citizens from Internet pornography, terrorism and to prevent Western cultural influences. While there can be no objection to these objectives, the fact is that the Government uses these rules to extensively censor any and all voices of dissent that rise against it. United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said in her speech on Internet freedom that the challenges of Internet porn and terrorism “must not become an excuse for governments to
systematically violate the rights and privacy of those who use the Internet for peaceful political purposes.” The China Government has been censoring public opinion on not just the Tiananmen Square protests, but also the Tibet and Uighur issues. Several activists who spoke out against the atrocities of the Government in these areas found their views blacked out. Quite a lot of them were even detained in prison. The activities of the Chinese Government strongly resemble the propaganda practices of the Nazis and the KGB. Obliterate the opposition by gagging their mouths – that seems to be their mantra. The sad fact is that such a situation exists in what we claim is a modern world. China is slated to be the next big global superpower. It apparently plans to get their by curtailing the most basic rights of its citizens. Yet another distressing detail – there are several companies that still play by the Government rules. Baidu, which is China’s biggest search engine, controls about 63% of the market share. It is also follows one of the most restrictive censorship policies in the cyber world. Other search engines like Yahoo! China and Microsoft’s search engine Bing also censor their results. Analysts say that they are unlikely to follow the Google way and risk the wrath of the Chinese Government. Google has not pulled out of China completely. It has only re-routed its search through the Hong Kong servers. However, if Google does back out, then the field is open to those willing to comply with Government regulations.
What the Google vs. China issue has done is to bring the restrictive practices of the Chinese Government under the global scanner. It has created an embarrassing situation for China, which is already under fire for Human Rights violations in Tibet and Urumqi. The United States has taken the first step by supporting Google and asking
China to put and end to its censorship practice. Others must also take up this issue as a free and fair China is in the best interests of all countries. An internet campaign to put and end to censorship would be a fitting answer to this breach of basic human rights.