ITGS Syllabus

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Topic 49

Legislation to prevent access by Aditya Kumar

Censorship is the restriction of information access to a certain people. This issue is developing into a more serious one. China is amongst the countries in which information access to citizens who have access to the internet is severely restricted. An example of this is the one involving Tianenmen Square. In Google China, if one types in Tianenmen Square in the image search bar, Google returns images depicting the beautiful architecture and not the ugliness that has transpired there. Google has been come under heavy criticism for condoning this sort of behaviour from the Chinese Government.

This is unethical because it is in violation of the human right which states that all humans have access to information. Also, since people have boycotted Google in China and in many countries across the world to voice their feelings, Google has suffered a severe blow to business and its integrity has suffered. This is not Google’s fault because any company ceases to expand its business in a legal way.

The fact of the matter is that the Chinese Government is engaging in unethical acts by preventing Google from expanding its business across the world. Also sites which are not filtered through by the Chinese Government are those belonging to Western news outlets, sexually explicit sites(even if legal), and also sites which are anti-China and pro-Taiwan independence. Thus, the Chinese cannot gain access to other sides of matters of grave importance, the Taiwan issue being one such.

Thus, in this case the Chinese are the party with something to lose and are inflicting this on Google, a legitimate company. Thus, China is a stakeholder and can lose reliability and its integrity by what is fair as per censorship norms across the world and also those specified by the United Nations Human Rights Commission. The monitoring tool (Access to Information Tool) developed by the Justice initiative aims to promote access to information. This tool allows monitoring in that it allows an administrator or an authority to see if there’s any discrimination that is involved when it comes to the distribution of information. It is currently be piloted(trialed) in 5 countries, namely Bulgaria, Armenia, South Africa, Peru and Macedonia. The other stakeholders are the people who are either being restricted to only limited to information. As humans, they are guaranteed the right to information and are losing out on what is rightfully theirs.

Also, apart from human rights, the academic or intellectual community is impacted. Scientists need to access information contained in databases to proceed with their research. Limiting their access, not necessarily through some law which is specifically targeted at them, could severely limit a country’s output and well being. Thus, over here the stakeholders include the larger community as well.

A justification for censorship of pornographic countries in the Gulf is simply religious law. They don’t want people to be exposed to sexually explicit content. Also, in Saudi Arabia, they block sites which challenge the sanctity of Islam, “anything damaging to the dignity of heads of states or heads of credited diplomatic missions in the Kingdom, or harms relations with those countries” and anything contrary to the state and its system. Despite it being well intentioned, i.e. to keep the country unified, the blocking of sites is unethical in that it gives Saudi Arabians a very one sided and objective view of the religion and the country’s affairs. This violates the very purpose of the declaration of human rights saying that every human has the right to access information.

In July of 2001, the "Internet Content Filtering Ordinance" came into effect in the state of South Korea. It blocks websites containing illegal information and those which promote “cyber sexual violence”. In 12/1998, in Sweden, the “Responsibility for Electronic Bulletin Boards” law was enforced.

The aims are to stop:

• instigation of rebellion
• racial agitation
• child pornography
• illegal description of violence
• or when it obvious that the user has infringed copyright law.

This is an instance of a censorship law being morally correct. Over here, the Government is not restricting inflow of information to its citizens, it is just working to promote the abolishment of social taboos. It is ethical because it is functioning to eliminate cultural wrongs which are unfortunately rampant in today’s culture and society.

The child online protection act was enacted in October of 1998. Its aim is to stop people from reaping commercial benefits that is “harmful to minors”. This maintains a child’s innocence and security and is therefore and ethical law which works to diminish the rampancy of an unethical act.

Censorship is also discrimination. A person in a different country has access to different and different amounts of information. This is simply wrong. There should not be any discrimination apart from the “content of one’s character” (how ethical one is) and the skill level of someone.

Thus, the arguments presented above clearly indicate how censorship laws can work productively or counter-productively for a community. The ethicality of its enforcement varies with the clauses.


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