I could hardly believe this story when I saw it, yet it’s true and an extremely scare inducing thought for the future of Internet users, particularly in Britain where laws are being expanded as we speak.
Shi Tao is a Chinese Journalist who was sentenced to imprisonment for a decade just last year was put there by the Chinese authorities with the aid of information provided by Yahoo. The information was his account identity which is advertised as being anonymous.
Now before you ignore this story be aware that many other Countries in the world could use this case to find out information and imprison others. It’s not just foreign countries either, the UK Government is pushing for laws that make ISP’s record and keep information on your Internet activities for many more years than they currently do, and also to make this information available without a Court Order to authorities.
The story from Boing Boing tells it all:
Imprisoned for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, a right entrenched in international law and the Chinese Constitution, Shi Tao is considered a Prisoner of Conscience.
Companies must respect human rights, wherever they operate. Yahoo’s business ethics are becoming questionable due to its role in assisting the Chinese government to sentencing Shi Tao. The company has signed the Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the Internet Industry, effectively agreeing to implement China’s draconian system of censorship and control.
Amnesty International has raised its concerns with Yahoo. The company has responded without addressing all the concerns raised.
Frightening indeed, and the situation is made worse by the news that Google is providing a Chinese only version of their engine housed within China which blocks out all content deemed so by their Laws and their Government. The only good thing is that it tells you it’s filtering them.
There are lots of arguments going around saying that all search engines filter, and that everyone is restricted access in some way, but these arguments stumble on what is being restricted. Sure, it’s good to restrict groups inciting racial hatred, organisations promoting terror and murder, and sites of child exploitation, but how can you argue that in the same breath as what the Chinese Government restricts? People who speak out against the current Government, voices that fall firmly under freedom of speech, how is that the same? They are not inciting terrorist acts, murder of innocents, abuse of children, they are wanting to open up their Country and their lives to freedom itself. That’s not the same, not by a long shot, otherwise you would argue that Guantanamo is a legitimate US prison.
Here’s a couple of examples of information that will be filtered out, Tibetan independence and the Tiananmen Square massacre. Are you telling me that these are comparable to the filtering of Nazi groups, Terrorist Organisations or Child Pornography? I think not.
Yet it’s not just Google. This latest move by Yahoo is even more frightening. Passing information that Shi Tao would have thought was safe and secret onto his Government to help prosecute him for what seems to have been free speech rights. Yahoo would have had no idea that he was to be sentenced to ten years in prison, but they surely understand the Chinese Laws, after all, all the major Search Engines operate there and do filter content already. They would have known what happens to such a person.
This type of news scares me. I can rest easy in the fact that it’s happening as far away as China, but the UK is not far off such monitoring and passing of information from the ISP’s and Internet Companies. For looking up information today on this very subject in China, have I now been recorded and the information been sent to the authorities? For researching the events of September 11th and reading such books as the 9/11 Commission Report, The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, and various research on other such political stories and events, is my information being freely passed to the authorities by my ISP and the Internet sites visited without a Court Order?
The most worrying trend by my Government is its attempt to imprison the citizens of its own Country without any explanation for months at a time. I can be picked up by the authorities and be placed in jail for months without conviction or charge. Doesn’t that remind you of some South American Country?
So this latest story regarding Yahoo is even more frightening. Despite what you might try and do on the Internet to protect yourself you may find the company behind Proxy Server, Blogging software, Flickr account, etc you are using suddenly giving up all it’s private information on you to the authorities.
If you’re lucky they’ll maybe just hold the information, perhaps you might even consider lucky to be the confiscating of your Internet equipment, perhaps even being removed from the Internet, but detained, jailed, killed?
I thought the Internet would help push the freedom of speech to all, yet more and more it’s becoming a tool for these oppressive Governments and regimes. A tool to monitor and capture the very ones attempting to push that free speech.
My thoughts are with Prisoners of Conscience everywhere, champions of non-violent free speech.