Posts Tagged ‘China’

“CFP moments”

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Every Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference has some magic moments that capture the essence of CFP.  For example, when I think of 2005 in Seattle, I remember the grainy surveillance camera and eyecam footage projected in parallel with the opening “panopticon” knot of people surrounding Undersecretary of State Frank Moss after the ACLU’s RFID demonstration, and the four local teens on danah body’s panel explaining their use of technology to astonished oldsters like me.

What about 2009?

For me, magic happened a coupel of times on Thursday:

  • the panelists on the Internet and social change in China panel using Twitter and their cellphones to track reports of the demonstrations in Hong Kong and the mass censorship of the Chinese internet
  • at the closing Panopticon panel, where speakers like Anne Roth and Steven Hatfill talked about how their lives had been turned upside down by total government surveillance — at the same time as tweets about the unexpected success of the Chaffetz amendment limiting whole-body imaging (aka “digital strip search”) showed the potential for privacy advocates using social network activism

What are the other “CFP moments” you particularly remember, from CFP 2009 or past years?


Panel, June 4: the Internet and social change in China

New Media, New Repression: China Blocks Social Networking Sites

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Jim Harper writes on CATO@LIBERTY about internet censorship in China:

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the massacre of students and other anti-authoritarian protests in Tiananmen square.

If you want background info, including causes and the wider political context, check Wikipedia.

You can also see stirring videos on Youtube.

There are incredible photos on Flickr.

And of course Twitter has a wealth of real-time information and thinking about the anniversary.  Just search using the hash tag #Tiananmen.

But for those 1.5 billion people trapped behind the Great Firewall of China, absolutely none of those links are accessible.  To mark the event that the government assures never happened, the Chinese government has blocked most social networking sites.


China and the Internet

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

This morning I attended a panel discussion on The Internet and Social Change in China, moderated by Rebecca MacKinnon. Her opening address and the discussion that followed were impressive. I particularly liked that MacKinnon opened with a powerpoint featuring work from Chinese bloggers. It was great to see the ingenuity of Chinese bloggers firsthand! One video showed a group of alpacas frolicking in a field singing  a children’s song in Chinese. MacKinnon explained that the lyrics, “cao ni ma”, mean “grass mud horse”. That’s what alpacas are called in Chinese. But change the tones of the words slightly (as the singers did in the video) and they means something very different…about your mother. What a crafty, funny way to protest against internet censorship in China, where the “Great Firewall” blocks content that could weaken the legitimacy of the government. Content relating to Tiananmen Square and other sensitive topics is routinely blocked, but resourceful internet users find ways to get around the censorship. In China, MacKinnon told us, the most popular search midday June 4th was “What day is June fourth?”, evading the censor that blocks “Tiananmen Square” on certain search engines. Search for “Tiananmen Square” on baidu, a Chinese search engine, and you will not get any results.

However, my lasting impression from the discussion is that the role of the internet in China is more complex than monolithic censorship of liberals. China has the largest population of internet users in the world, and the government has effectively used the internet to connect with the people. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao recently participated in a two and a half hour live chat with “netizens”, discussing policy and his private life. The “E-Congress” website has a large posting section that even featured a discussion about China’s one child policy; a discussion that was not removed from the website. Internet users also use the internet to connect with the government. Popular support organized via the internet may help a young woman named Den Yujiao, who was arrested after stabbing an official who tried to rape her. She has become a popular heroine in China, and MacKinnon believes the charges will soon be reduced if not dropped. Nationalists also use the internet in creative ways to support government policies such as the recent crackdown in Tibet.

The three panelists, Shen Tong, Hu Yong and Michael Anti, discussed how the internet has changed China on an individual and nationwide level. They all agreed that the internet is a liberalizing agent in China. Hu Yong claimed that “netizens share different values than older people” and as many as 80% have been liberalized by their exposure to the internet. Freedom of speech and democracy are more valued among netizens. Shen Tong agreed that the internet is gradually liberalizing China, but argued that immediate freedom of speech would lead to greater civil liberties and make China a “better country faster”.

Throughout the panel discussion, all four of the speakers were regularly checking their cellphones. MacKinnon assured the audience that it was not because they were bored. Instead, they were checking Twitter updates about a Tiananmen anniversary rally in Hong Kong that attracted 150,000 people.