Behind China’s Great Firewall: Web Censorship in Other Countries

Behind China’s Great Firewall – Web Censorship in Other Countries – News and Analysis by PC Magazine: 06.06.08

Aside from China, there are many other countries that block access to certain sites, including some nations that might surprise you.

by Brittany Petersen

Just a few weeks before China cut off access to YouTube, the Pakistani government blocked access to the popular video-sharing site amid protests relating to controversial Danish cartoons that allegedly defame Islam. The cartoons, which were originally published in 2006 and caused rioting in countries around the world, were republished by various media outlets in February after police uncovered a plot to kill the cartoonist.

Other countries with a large Muslim population, such as Iran and Turkey, impose similar censorship measures to block content deemed offensive. Turkey blocked YouTube for two days in March of 2007 after videos appeared that were derogatory toward Turkey’s founding father and ‘Turkishness’ in general. The court agreed to unblock the site only on the condition that the particular videos were removed. Countries in the midst of political upheaval—such as Zimbabwe and Cuba—are also subject to government-enforced Web restrictions; all Cuban-based ISPs are under government control.

The biggest surprise in censorship may come from European Union countries, where Internet filtering for illegal content is the norm rather than the exception. According to the OpenNet Initiative, ‘illegal content’ usually refers to child pornography, racism, and material that promote hatred and terrorism, though using defamation laws as a pretext for filtering has generated controversy in some countries, particularly the United Kingdom. Opponents argue that the filtering is overly aggressive and curtails lawful behavior, pushing ISPs to remove content for fear of legal action, a repercussion called a ‘chilling effect.’ Australia stands as one of the most restrictive Western nations. The country lacks any free speech protection in its constitution, and the Australian government regulates the availability of potentially objectionable content and retains the right to take down any Web site hosted within its borders.

Even the good old U.S. of A. has restricted access in some cases. In May 2007, just a few weeks after placing restrictions on soldiers’ blogs, the Department of Defense blocked access for soldiers to 13 ‘social networking and recreational’ Web sites such as MySpace and YouTube, claiming that they took up too much bandwidth and presented operational risks. Ultimately, the ban severely limited the ability of soldiers overseas to communicate with loved ones at home, especially since the sites couldn’t be accessed throughout much of Iraq and Afghanistan.”