Twofish's Blog

August 10, 2006

Human Rights Watch report on internet censorship

Filed under: china — twofish @ 3:58 pm

http://www.hrw.org/reports/2006/china0806/

There are several problems with the report….

I’m not sure what the point of the report was.  If it was to explain the details of the Chinese firewall, then it did a good job, but then why were there recommendations at the end?  If the point of the report was to argue for a course of action, then it did a very poor job of coming up with counterarguments to the suggested courses of action.

The legal arguments that Chinese behavior on the internet is illegal under Chinese and international law is a bit dogdy. Something you have to remember is that the ICCPR and other international human rights agreements were drafted during the Cold War, and they have a lot of “wiggle words” which allowed the Soviet bloc to do things that most human rights activists argue should be done. The question comes as to what you are trying to do. If you are trying to argue a legal point in an adversarily proceding, then of course you present one side of an argument. However, if you are trying to provide background, you need to provide both sides including the view that Chinese actions *aren’t* illegal, just wrong.

The second problem is with the conclusion. I don’t see the point of a global code of conduct directed at China. If you are going to create a global code of conduct for internet companies, it should be worldwide, and not directed at any one specific country.  For example, should Yahoo have the power to voluntarily shut down a pro Al-Qaeda discussion group on its site.  I don’t know, but discussing that issue means that you are likely to get more real stuff done than if you get a bunch of Western countries to gang up against China.  Should an ICP which is obviously and clearly a site for Democrats to discussion strategy *be forbidden by law* from removing pro-Republican posts.  That’s what the wording of HRW suggests should happen.

And the problem is that it won’t work.  If all of the Western ICP’s and ISP’s pulled out of China, basically nothing would happen to improve free speech in China.  Again, I’m not sure why that argument was left out of the report or commented on.

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