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Author Topic: How free is the flow of information on the internet in other countries?  (Read 2627 times)

Offline cheryl j

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How free is the flow of information on the internet in other countries and how is it controlled or blocked? How effective is that control?

If a person wanted to communicate with any random individual in another country, what would prevent that from happening? I realize there are obviously language barriers, sometimes limited access to computers,  but are there technological ones as well? Could you "friend" someone on Facebook in Iraq or Syria or any country you want to and just start chatting away?

I hope this isn't a silly question.
« Last Edit: 29/09/2014 21:05:00 by cheryl j »


 

Offline evan_au

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You certainly could befriend a person in another country through Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites, if you both have access to it.

In one country I have visited, the idea of "Social Media" is considered "anti-social", because the government does not want to give individuals a public platform from which they could express opinions which may differ from the official government position. Social Media sites are blocked in such countries.

Governments can entirely cut themselves off from the internet, if they wanted to. This would have a major impact on multinational companies with their computers in other countries, and would greatly impact international trade, so I suspect that it would not be done for very long.

During the revolution in Egypt, the government was able to quickly shut down public internet, because all public internet went through a few internet companies owned by members of the ruling family, so they just turned off the internet routers. However, some international news still got through, as companies had their own international connections (it is very difficult to block satellite internet - it's painfully slow, but still usable).

In some countries, people have been arrested for having a satellite phone. All communications equipment must be approved by the government (sometimes the latter is disguised as concerns about electrical safety). All communications must go through government-run servers which screen requests for certain websites which are considered as "anti-government"; the individual requests are blocked, and these users could receive a visit from the secret police. The "Great Firewall of China" is a well-known example.

Many countries are actively promoting their own search engines which will return more selected results than Google; some countries are talking about a "Halal" internet, which would only deliver culturally appropriate content. There are also local laws which make certain content illegal, which is perfectly legal in adjacent countries - for example, certain webpages offering Nazi memorabilia are illegal to display in Germany, but legal in most other countries (but most pages from the same website are legal in Germany).

There are ways around this - The Onion Router (https://www.torproject.org/) encrypts and bounces messages around the internet in an attempt to hide what is going where - slow, but effective. However, as soon as a government recognises a TOR router, it will block it.

Even if the content is not blocked, recent revelations about the NSA showed that communications in all countries are routinely monitored for suspicious activity, and could result in a visit from the secret police.

The internet contains a lot of content which could be considered harmful to individuals, and so it is recommended that some degree of content filtering should be applied in schools and homes with young children. It becomes more debateable at the level of a public library or a whole nation.
 

Offline RD

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... Could you "friend" someone on Facebook in Iraq ...

The Iraqi government pulled-the-plug on Facebook & Twitter earlier this year ... http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-27869112

Citizens in blocked countries may be able to get around the block using a web proxy, but it wouldn't be wise to post on something like Facebook : publicly flouting the ban.
« Last Edit: 30/09/2014 00:38:35 by RD »
 

Offline cheryl j

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Can they selectively block or eavesdrop on things transmitted on cell phones?
 

Offline evan_au

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Can they selectively ..eavesdrop on things transmitted on cell phones?
Yes, every country has some form of "wiretapping" legislation, just as they have some form of physical search legislation. This allows approved police agencies to monitor a particular person's voice calls, SMS and internet usage, via fixed lines and mobile devices - and even search their home, car or computer hard disk.

The details differ from country to country, but typically involves the relevant agency appearing before a judge, and getting his or her authorisation to conduct a physical search or an electronic search of a particular address or person.

What annoyed privacy advocates about the US National Security Agency (NSA) allegations was that the NSA routinely bulk-monitored the communications of US citizens, when officially they are only supposed to monitor citizens of every other country. The FBI is supposed to conduct wiretaps on US citizens, and only after getting a specific warrant to monitor a particular person.

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Can they selectively block..?
That is theoretically possible, but based on every TV show I have seen, police and spies do not like to provide any hints to their targets that they are being "bugged" until they are ready to swoop - and then just disabling a person's phone account will prevent them calling co-conspirators to warn them.
« Last Edit: 30/09/2014 21:39:32 by evan_au »
 

Offline cheryl j

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The reason why I am curious about this is I was wondering if social and cultural exchange is an inevitable tide that authoritarian states are swimming against, or if they will still be able to keep large populations cut off from these influences. Sometimes the  struggle for free communication reminds me of bacteria and antibiotic resistance - as soon as one side gains a little ground, the other quickly catches up. On the other hand, countries like China have to balance the need for commercial/educational interaction with other countries with the desire for political control of its citizens, and it is probably not possible to eliminate all cultural or social influences from these interactions.
« Last Edit: 30/09/2014 15:48:12 by cheryl j »
 

Offline chiralSPO

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I think North Korea has about the tightest grip on the information flow into, out of and within their country. It may last a while, but I do think this kind of governance is ultimately unstable.
 

Offline evan_au

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keep large populations cut off from these influences
Something verges into an addiction when it interferes with normal life.
And there are certainly things on the internet that cause susceptible individuals to get addicted - just as there are addictive substances in the physical world.

So the inevitable dilemma is: Does the good of the few outweigh the freedom of the many?
Which can also be expressed as: Does the good of the many outweigh the freedom of the few?
Each country and culture will come to a different balance between these competing ideals.

The Amish and Mennonite communities in USA make a conscious decision about their adoption of new technology, based on their community values. As I understand it, they make a very brave decision, and encourage teenagers to experience life outside their community for a year - and most come back to their communities.

You could say that, despite their 17-18th century technology, these people have a social network of which the rest of us 21st century citizens can only dream.

I think that if the people of North Korea were let into South Korea for a year, few would come back. Even when freedom of speech and democracy is denied, given an opportunity, people will still vote with their feet.
« Last Edit: 01/10/2014 10:41:21 by evan_au »
 

Offline evan_au

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An experimental study on censorship of social media in China (17 minute podcast):
http://www.sciencefriday.com/segment/10/03/2014/mining-the-internet-for-clues-to-chinese-censorship.html
 

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