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[ NNSquad ] Internet Amorality, and Cutting Thailand Off From the Internet

Internet Amorality, and Cutting Thailand Off From the Internet
http://j.mp/trJTJn  (This message on Google+)

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In a recent posting ( http://j.mp/vuU7RO [Google+] ), I chastised
Thailand for demanding the censorship/removal of 10K Facebook links
deemed "offensive" to their royal family, Thailand's decree that
merely pressing the "like" or "share" button on particular articles is
being criminalized, and I noted their new case of a 61-year-old man
sentenced to 20 years in prison for text messages deemed "insulting"
to their royals.

And I added:

   "How about this for a way to prod these Neanderthals into the 21st
    century? Cut them off the Net totally until these practices cease."

Observant readers realized that I was writing somewhat tongue-in-cheek,
but to be honest not totally so.

And in fact, I've now received a couple of notes from people horrified
by my saying such a thing.  How can I support "censorship" of such
regimes, no matter how backwards, repressive, and abusive of their own
populations?  After all, I'm known to be an anti-censorship advocate.

This brings up an important question.  Are we, as technologists,
required to provide the fruits of our labors to the entire world
equally, even when those facilities are used for evil purposes?  Is it
"censorship" to draw some lines in the sand in this regard?

The amoral view is obvious enough, both historically and
contemporaneously.  IBM's support of 1930s Germany (via its subsidiary
Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen GmbH) has been long condemned.

Various major U.S.-based firms today are currently embroiled in
controversies regarding their provision of Internet and other
communications technologies to countries where it has been used to
battle dissidents, and the U.S. (disingenuously to a significant
extent, given SOPA , PIPA, and other legislation here) has condemned
such suppression.

Export controls have long been a tool of national policy -- sometimes
in logical manners, sometimes in utterly ridiculous, crazy ways.

In any case, I found it disturbing that a least a couple of readers
felt comfortable with a stance (amoral at best, more reasonably termed
unethical) that no matter how oppressive a regime might be, the global
Internet community should be obligated to continue providing equal
services to such players as if freedom and slavery were simply
equivalent "domestic policies" of no concern to the outside world.

I cannot accept such an assertion.  And I would add that an analysis
of these concerns should extend to repressive U.S. actions as well, of

These issues come into play not only when a country's demands affect
the entire world (e.g., demanding that YouTube videos be removed so
nobody can see them anywhere, due to their being deemed to be
offensive to the rulers of a single country), but also when
"compartmented" domestic repression is involved.

If we do not apply basic standards of freedom and civil rights to the
Internet and its technologies, if we treat evil as a form of normalcy
not subject to sanctions, our wonderful Net will be increasingly
morphed into a weapon aimed not only at our global neighbors, but at
ourselves as well.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com): http://www.vortex.com/lauren 
Co-Founder: People For Internet Responsibility: http://www.pfir.org 
 - Network Neutrality Squad: http://www.nnsquad.org 
 - Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance: http://www.gctip.org
 - PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com 
Member: ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com 
Google+: http://vortex.com/g+lauren 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/laurenweinstein 
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800 / Skype: vortex.com