Asia.Com: Asia Encounters the Internet

By K. C. Ho; Randolph Kluver et al. | Go to book overview

4

Cyberspace, surveillance, and social control

The hidden face of the Internet in Asia

David Lyon

Cyberspace is often thought of as a realm of freedom, even of fun. At least until recently, few would have associated surveillance with cyberspace. The "cyber" prefix has been attached to fiction ("cyberpunk"), and to fashion, as well as to entertainment, education, finance, architecture, and city planning. Cyberjaya, within the Malaysian Multimedia SuperCorridor, is one of the world's first cities to include "cyber" in its name. This in itself is paradoxical, because at first cyberspace was popularly associated with the immaterial, the virtual, the displaced, and the disembodied. In William Gibson's novel, Neuromancer, cyberspace seems to be apart from the corporeal, institutional world. But in Cyberjaya, the integration of the built environment and the global economy with "cyberspace" is taken for granted. The fiber-optic broadband links that provide the infrastructure for cyberspace are tied tightly to government plans and a changing economy, but not necessarily to surveillance.

In Asian countries, no less than in others outside Asia, cyberspace is a realm of surveillance. Personal data are gathered, sorted, stored, and traded - processed for the purposes of management, influence, and social control. Most innocent, seemingly, would be the efforts of e-commerce online marketers to use customer profiles to create consumer clusters in order to target specific persons and groups for advertising and solicitation. Most sharply, perhaps, would be the use of Internet data-tracking techniques to discover the whereabouts and plans of Al Qaeda members since the devastating "terrorist" attacks of September 11, 2001. In March, 2002, for instance, American Internet intelligence experts detected Al Qaeda email-use patterns in airports, Kinkos, and public libraries in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan (Risen and Johnson, 2002). At either end of this spectrum, I shall argue, some critical questions are raised about the "hidden face" of the Internet. Although he acknowledges Ho, Baber and Khondker's (2002) argument that civil society may use the Internet to extend freedoms in Singapore, Manuel Castells also points out that the Internet is used in Asian countries as elsewhere for repressive and illiberal surveillance purposes (Castells, 2001).

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