Magazine article New Internationalist

Big Brother Online: World Developments in Security Surveillance of Internet Users

Magazine article New Internationalist

Big Brother Online: World Developments in Security Surveillance of Internet Users

Article excerpt

[Graph Not Transcribed]

THE internet was supposed to revolutionize the world of news: to allow everyone - Chinese and Cubans included - to access independent information, to exchange news and to escape state control. A new report by Reporters Without Borders questions whether the internet has promoted free expression or brought us closer to the era of 'Big Brother'.

Far from being destabilized by this new medium, dictatorships have discovered how to turn it to their advantage. China, for example, has managed to develop the internet while at the same time taking care that no 'subversive' news can get through. With the help of US companies, it has equipped itself with a censorship and surveillance system unequalled in the world. Today the Chinese authorities are capable of real-time monitoring of internet-users - reading their emails and, if necessary, pinpointing them geographically. Result: 61 internet users or cyber-dissidents languishing in prison for expressing their opinions online.

In March this year in Tunisia, nine people were sentenced to prison terms of up to 26 years for downloading files from the internet. They were tried for terrorism on no other evidence than their habit of using the internet.

Every repressive regime on whatever continent now knows how to use the net to spy on its citizens. Cubans have also undergone a painful apprenticeship. In May 2003, 27 journalists were arrested and sentenced to heavy prison terms for posting news on the internet. It appears that the sole Cuban Internet Service Provider, ETEC SA, gave evidence at the trial to denounce 'counterrevolutionary' statements that the accused had exchanged online. …

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