Internet Surveillance, Censorship, and Democracy: Annotated Bibliography
Bambauer, D. (2012). Orwell’s armchair. The University of Chicago Law Review, 79(3), 863-944.
After Supreme Court Decisions invalidating the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) and the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), soft censorship has largely replaced hard censorship. Government can still influence access to content via enforcement of unrelated laws as means of blocking material, persuading intermediaries to limit content, or the use of threats where the laws are insufficient to block something. The article argues that since censorship is already occurring it should be admitted to and codified. It doesn’t advocate censorship, but feels that the indirect variety is more harmful than something transparent, targeted, and consistent with established ideals of access, fairness, and legality. The title of the article suggests that the government is trying to ease people into acceptance of a censored environment through “soft” means.
Diamond, L. & Plattner, M. (2012). Liberation Technology: social media and the struggle for democracy. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.
This book contrasts the experiences of different populations regarding the success of technology in winning democratic gains. For instance, while the internet and social media played a pivotal role in the toppling of autocratic regimes in Egypt and Tunisia during the Arab Spring protests of 2011, the same cannot be said of democracy advocates in China and Iran. This raises the issue of whether a more entrenched autocratic regime can successfully use technologies against a restive population. Control of the internet through censorship and surveillance allows governments to establish the boundaries of debate.
Fung, Brian (2014, September 19). World Wide Web inventor slams internet fast lanes: ‘It’s bribery.’ The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://washingtonpost.com
Timothy Berners-Lee, designer of the first Web browser and server, says that the internet was intentionally made to be decentralized, preventing any one party from dictating terms to all others. This ideal of net neutrality, of all content on the internet being treated equally, is being challenged by corporations that would benefit from preferring some content to others. By offering preferential treatment to some sites (faster speed, usually), the environment is created whereby content providers would feel the need to secure the faster speeds. This is where Berners-Lee’s use of “bribery” comes into play. Such a two-tiered internet would affect anyone unable or unwilling to pay the price dictated by the providers. Ultimately, everyone else stands to lose a benefit we’ve rather come to take for granted.
Greengard, S. (2010). Censored!. Communications of the ACM, 53(7), 16-18.
Many countries, notably China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, significantly censor the internet. While most often used to stifle dissent (according to Reporters Without Borders, some 118 people worldwide were in prison because of things they posted online at the time this article was written), censorship can also be used to boost or protect government-controlled businesses. Naturally, people try to circumvent such restrictions, but the price of getting caught can be very high. Such censorship is rarely, if ever, admitted to outright. Foreign visitors in Chinese hotels, for instance, will have unimpeded internet access, for fear that they would report censorship back home. The locals, though, have no such luck. On the bright side, censorship is usually sporadic and not systemic. There will always be more mice than there are cats.
Hart, J. (2007). Democracy in the age of the internet: An analysis of the net neutrality debates of 2006. Conference Papers- American Political Science Association, 1-24.
Net neutrality, a term first used by Professor Tim Wu of Columbia Law School in 2003 and published in 2003, has become a constant source of contention between various parties. In strictly political terms, Democrats are strongly for it, with Republicans being opposed. In the business world, the internet companies are for it, while the cable companies that provide internet service to consumers are opposed. The ideal of freedom and impartiality is pitted against the possibility of greater profits and the disincentive of upgrading broadband capabilities. The politicization of the issue suggests that the debate may also be about the role that the internet can and should play in our political process.
Jiang, Y. (2012). Cyber-nationalism in China. Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press.
Jiang explores China’s blogging community and addresses the issue of censorship that other writers took for granted. The truth may be more complicated. The Chinese themselves have a different tradition and view of censorship than the West and often resent the lecturing tone that accompanies accusations of Chinese censorship. This anger becomes fuel for Chinese nationalism, which the state ultimately benefits from. It is easier to censor people who deny that you are doing so or defend your right to. At the heart of the issue may be the assumption many Westerners have that if not for censorship, the Chinese people would rise up and demand regime change. They see this Western desire for political change in China from a defensive, or nationalist, perspective.
Joseph, Sarah. (2012). Social media, political change, and human rights. Boston College International & Comparative Law Review, 35(1), 145-188.
As in other articles I have cited, the role of social media in fueling political change is examined by Sarah Joseph. She also takes a look at the role social media played in the Arab Spring protests of 2011. But, the conclusion is not cut and dry. She cites one prominent argument that it has a decisive role in revolutions and one that dismisses such a causal role. And Joseph also includes the idea that social media is just a tool and not pro-democracy per se. In other words, it can be used to spread fear and hate as easily as more benevolent or uplifting messages. Terrorists seem as drawn to it as democratic activists. The medium is not always the message, it seems.
Nisbet, E., Pearce, K., & Stoycheff, E. (2012). Internet use and democratic demands: A multinational, multilevel model of internet use and citizen attitudes about democracy. Journal of Communication, 62(2), 249-265.
This article examines the role of internet use on the functioning (or pursuit) of democracy in various countries. First off, the attitudes of citizens to democracy is key. Are they consciously desiring more democracy? If the answer is affirmative, then the amount of internet use has a positive relationship to increase democratization. The internet is different from “one-way” media such as print, radio, and television, which provide information to an audience but do not allow for the level of feedback made easy by the web. As one might imagine, though, the impact that the internet has on democratization in an already fairly open society is greater than in a closed one that closely monitors the internet.
Paliwala, A. (2013). Netizenship, security and freedom. International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, 27(1-2), 104-123.
Paliwala examines the way in which citizen desire for a free and open internet is restricted by state monitoring and control. His particular focus in on the Arab Spring movements of 2011, where regimes such as that of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt tried to hold onto power through restrictions on the internet and social media. He ultimately fell, but not all governments were toppled. The role of internet companies such as Google is also more ambiguous than many think. While supporting internet freedom in the abstract, internet companies often support state security concerns (or are intimidated by governments into doing so). Also, there will be different standards in different countries (for example, the U.S., China and the E.U. all have very different laws governing internet freedom). The author feels, though, that people will always resist restrictions imposed by governments or corporations and will work to circumvent barriers to free access or communication.
Sajuria, J. (2012). Is the internet changing our conception of democracy? An analysis of the internet use during protests and its effect on the perception of democracy. Conference Papers- American Political Science Association, 1-26.
People’s views on democracy can be altered by their use of the internet. The ultimate relevance of these views are the sense of legitimacy they give a government. There is also a difference between what people think of democracy as a general ideal and the specific way it is manifested (or not) in their particular society. One can be pro-democracy, but against the democratically elected government in power. The internet’s role in this is the ability it affords opponents or protesters to communicate with each other and mobilize. This often leads to a more horizontal, or non-hierachical, ideal of democracy. The opportunity to do democracy, to participate as a democrat, influences one’s views on power.
Shyu, J. (2008). Speak no evil. San Diego Law Review, 45(1), 211-249.
American internet companies are ultimately complicit in Chinese government censorship and prosecution of dissidents. The House Committee on International Relations invited executives from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Cisco Systems and asked them to account for their roles in this. At the end of the hearing, the House proposed the Global Online Freedom Act which would seek to prevent American companies from being involved in the state-sponsored censorship of other countries. This raises the issue of whether American companies should be bound to American laws or the laws of the countries they do business in. One practical consideration is that to do business in China, companies must comply with their internet censorship laws. The conflict of democratic ideals and commerce is an interesting one to watch played out in the real world.