A year ago, Russia adopted a “blogger law” that requires a person with more than 3,000 daily readers to register, disclose personal information and submit to the same regulations as Russian mass media. This will have a chilling effect on the candor of online opinion writers. During 2015, further restrictions will require the data of Russian users to be stored on Russian soil, subjecting them to Russian legal oversight and monitoring.
President Vladimir Putin seemed delighted with widely distributed pictures of him stroking tigers and topless while riding a horse. But comrade Putin was offended by Russian sites that were satirical or critical toward him. So, to restore the respectful flow of adulation Putin deserves, Russia’s Internet censor, made it illegal depict a public figure in a way that has nothing to do with their “personality.” In other words memes and parodies are off limits and subject to prosecution. With this regulation, the internet censor takes on the job of shielding those with an infantile level of sensitivity.
China wants its internet users to avoid information that does not meet Communist Party standards. To enforce that, the Chinese censors barred domestic websites from dealing in such content. However, Chinese users have long resorted to using so called “VPN”s that shield users’ actions from censors’ monitoring. Some US sites such as Twitter, Gmail, and Facebook are used as VPNs in China. By cutting off VPN access, China is wittingly jeopardizing the normal functioning of business by this disruption of access to the internet. The next step in China’s deep paranoia is expected to be replacement of internet with a whitelist internet – an intranet containing only sites that are pre-approved.
The European Union (EU) is also showing symptoms of paranoia toward a full-strength, open internet. The EU’s strange obsession with the right to be forgotten (RTBF) has metastasized into a demand that RTBF be honored worldwide. The result of this demand is that search operators such as Google probably cannot offer search services in the EU. The EU has stringent privacy laws and although Microsoft has received EU notice that it meets EU’s Data Protection standards. Some within the EU (and some inside the US) doubt that many US storage services can meet the requirements of the EU’s regulations. Technical issues on privacy protection, the quirky right to be forgotten, and the NSA’s invasive surveillance elephant in the room are nudging the EU toward embrace of an internet built upon substantially different rules than those that apply to the rest of us. As the EU’s rules solidify along a Eurocentric path, Internet in Europe will use different vendors and technical arrangements.
We can expect the emergence of three camps – Russia, China, and EU – where the law calls for content censorship or the rewriting of history. The rest of us will continue with relatively unfettered freedom of expression and the discipline of what you say and do coming back to haunt you.
Until now, internet hardware, software, and services from outside the content-censored camps, have been the common technological source for all Internet coverage. That will probably change as the content-censors continue making regulations and security arrangements that enforce their peculiar censorship. They will become isolated silos suitable for totalitarian rule. The camps will have the advantage of developing and selling products attractive to other countries (e.g., Iran, Egypt, North Korea and many others) where potentates struggle to monitor and control the speech of internet users.
Alan Daley writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research