Explore the battle for a free internet on World Day Against Cyber Censorship. Uncover the threats, celebrate the victories, and join the global movement for digital liberation.
- Date: March 12th
- Main Components: Online event, Netizen Prize, Enemies of the Internet list
- Popularity: Observed by millions of internet users, activists, journalists, and organizations worldwide
- Pairings: Freedom of expression, information, and speech; human rights; democracy; internet access and control
- Variations: World Day for Internet Freedom, World Day for Online Freedom
The internet is a global network of interconnected computers that allows people to communicate, share, and access information across the world. It is a powerful tool for reporting, awareness, and activism. It spreads information quickly and connects millions of people worldwide at the push of a button. However, not everyone enjoys the same level of freedom and access on the internet. Some governments, corporations, or other actors try to control or suppress online content that they deem undesirable, harmful, or threatening. This is called cyber censorship.
Cyber censorship blocks or limits access, communication, and expression of certain information on the internet. It can take various forms, such as blocking, filtering, geo-restriction, malware, disinformation, surveillance, hacking, intimidation, arrest, or imprisonment. Cyber censorship can violate human rights, such as the right to freedom of expression, information, and speech, as well as the right to privacy, education, and participation. Cyber censorship can also undermine democracy, accountability, and transparency, as well as stifle innovation, creativity, and diversity.
World Day Against Cyber Censorship is an online event held each year on March 12 to draw attention to the ways that governments around the world are deterring and censoring free speech online. The day was first observed on 12 March 2008 at the request of Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International. The annual event is symbolized by a logo created by Reporters Without Borders consisting of a computer mouse breaking free from a chain. The purpose of this essay is to examine the history, issues, and solutions of cyber censorship from different perspectives.
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History of Cyber Censorship
Cyber censorship is a relatively recent phenomenon, as the internet itself is only a few decades old. The origins of the internet can be traced back to the 1960s, when the U.S. Department of Defense funded the development of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), a network of computers that could communicate with each other using packet switching technology. The ARPANET was the precursor of the internet, as it allowed the exchange of data and messages across different networks and locations. The ARPANET was also the first network to use the Internet Protocol (IP), a set of rules that defines how data is transmitted and received over the Internet.
The World Wide Web (WWW) was invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). The WWW is a system of interlinked documents, images, videos, and other resources that can be accessed via the internet using a web browser. The WWW made the internet more accessible and user-friendly, as it allowed people to navigate the internet using hypertext links and Uniform Resource Locators (URLs). The WWW also enabled the creation of websites, web pages, and web applications that could provide various services and functions on the internet.
The internet and the WWW soon became popular and widespread, as they offered unprecedented opportunities for communication, information, education, entertainment, commerce, and social interaction. However, they also posed challenges and threats to some governments, corporations, or other actors who wanted to control or limit the flow of information and expression on the internet. Thus, cyber censorship emerged as a way of regulating, monitoring, or restricting online content and activity.
One of the earliest and most controversial examples of cyber censorship was the Communications Decency Act (CDA), passed by the U.S. government in 1996. The CDA made it illegal to post material on the internet that was deemed “patently offensive” or “indecent”. The CDA was challenged by various groups and individuals who argued that it violated the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that most of the CDA was unconstitutional, as it was too vague and broad, and that the internet deserved the highest level of free speech protection. However, the Supreme Court upheld Section 230 of the CDA, which reduced the liability of internet service providers (ISPs) and other intermediaries for the content posted by their users.
Another example of cyber censorship was the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed by the U.S. government in 1998. The DMCA criminalized the dissemination of technology that bypasses copyright protection, such as encryption, decryption, or circumvention tools. The DMCA also established a system of “notice and takedown”, which allowed copyright holders to request ISPs and other intermediaries to remove or disable access to infringing material on the internet. Critics have long argued that the DMCA limits free expression and the fair use of copyright material. They also claim that the DMCA restricts technological innovation and scientific research, as it prevents the use of encryption or circumvention tools for legitimate purposes.
One of the most notorious and comprehensive examples of cyber censorship is the Great Firewall of China, also known as the Golden Shield Project. The Great Firewall of China is a system of laws, regulations, and technologies that control and filter internet access and content in China. The Great Firewall of China was launched in 1998 by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, with the aim of protecting national security and social stability. The Great Firewall of China blocks or limits access to websites, web pages, and web applications that contain content that the Chinese government considers harmful, illegal, or sensitive, such as pornography, gambling, violence, terrorism, separatism, democracy, human rights, religion, or criticism of the Chinese Communist Party. The Great Firewall of China also monitors and censors online communication and expression, such as emails, instant messages, social media posts, blogs, forums, comments, etc. The Great Firewall of China employs various methods and technologies to implement cyber censorship, such as IP blocking, DNS poisoning, URL filtering, keyword filtering, packet inspection, traffic shaping, VPN blocking, etc.
Cyber censorship has increased and evolved over the years, as the internet has become more diverse, complex, and dynamic. Cyber censorship has also become more global, as it affects internet users, activists, journalists, and organizations around the world. Cyber censorship has also become more sophisticated, as it uses more advanced and covert techniques, such as malware, hacking, surveillance, disinformation, etc. Cyber censorship has also become more contested, as it faces more resistance and opposition from various groups and individuals who advocate for online freedom and rights.
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Issues of Cyber Censorship
Cyber censorship poses many issues and challenges for the internet and its users. Cyber censorship can have negative impacts on various aspects of human rights, democracy, and development. Some of the main issues and challenges of cyber censorship are:
- Cyber censorship can violate the right to freedom of expression, information, and speech, which are essential for human dignity, autonomy, and participation. Freedom of expression, information, and speech allow people to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers and through any media. Freedom of expression, information, and speech also enable people to express their opinions, beliefs, and values, as well as to challenge, question, and criticize the opinions, beliefs, and values of others. Freedom of expression, information, and speech also foster diversity, pluralism, and tolerance, as well as dialogue, debate, and deliberation. Cyber censorship can limit or deny people’s access to information and ideas on the internet, as well as their ability to communicate and express themselves online. Cyber censorship can also expose people to misinformation, propaganda, or manipulation, as well as to harassment, intimidation, or persecution for their online expression.
- Cyber censorship can violate the right to privacy, which is necessary for human security, identity, and dignity. Privacy allows people to protect their personal data, communications, and activities from unauthorized or unlawful interference or access. Privacy also enables people to control their own information and expression, as well as to decide who, when, where, and how they share or disclose their information and expression. Cyber censorship can invade or compromise people’s privacy on the internet, as it can monitor, collect, store, analyze, or use their personal data, communications, and activities without their consent or knowledge. Cyber censorship can also expose people to identity theft, fraud, blackmail, or extortion, as well as to discrimination, profiling, or targeting for their online data, communications, and activities.
- Cyber censorship can violate the right to education, which is crucial for human development, empowerment, and opportunity. Education allows people to acquire knowledge, skills, and competencies that are relevant and useful for their personal, professional, and social lives. Education also enables people to access, understand, and use information and technology that are beneficial and meaningful for their learning, work, and leisure. Education also fosters creativity, innovation, and curiosity, as well as critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making. Cyber censorship can restrict or hinder people’s access to education on the internet, as it can block or limit their access to educational resources, platforms, and opportunities online. Cyber censorship can also affect the quality and diversity of education on the internet, as it can limit or distort the information and knowledge that are available and accessible online.
- Cyber censorship can undermine democracy, accountability, and transparency, which are vital for human governance, justice, and participation. Democracy, accountability, and transparency allow people to participate in the decision-making processes that affect their lives, as well as to hold their governments and other actors accountable for their actions and policies. Democracy, accountability, and transparency also foster trust, legitimacy, and responsiveness, as well as prevent corruption, abuse, and impunity. Cyber censorship can weaken or damage democracy, accountability, and transparency on the internet, as it can limit or distort the information and opinions that are available and accessible online. Cyber censorship can also interfere or influence the electoral processes and outcomes, as well as the political and social movements and mobilizations, that take place online.
- Cyber censorship can stifle innovation, creativity, and diversity, which are essential for human progress, development, and prosperity. Innovation, creativity, and diversity allow people to generate new ideas, products, and solutions that can improve their lives and the lives of others. Innovation, creativity, and diversity also enable people to express their individuality, identity, and culture, as well as to appreciate and respect the individuality, identity, and culture of others. Innovation, creativity, and diversity also stimulate competition, collaboration, and cooperation, as well as learning, growth, and change. Cyber censorship can inhibit or suppress innovation, creativity, and diversity on the internet, as it can limit or discourage the creation, dissemination, and consumption of original, diverse, and valuable content and services online. Cyber censorship can also reduce or eliminate the opportunities and incentives for innovation, creativity, and diversity on the internet, as it can create a hostile, restrictive, or uniform environment online.