e-Dictatorship – Is it a possibility?

Right after the departure of Hosni Mubarak, Wael Ghonim, a facebook activist, famously said, “if you want to liberate a society just give them the internet, and if you want to free a society, again just give them internet!”

With its “rapidity of awareness“, internet and social media amplify and often legitimize movements to a large number of people than what was possible in the pre-internet and mobile era. As a result, internet and social media have been acknowledged to have played an important role in Arab Spring. In fact such has been the optimism about social media that during 2009 Iranian Green Revolution the world started believing that an internet microblogging service that didn’t exist five year prior to the revolution had the power to transform the history of an ancient Islamic nation.

Of course the role of internet in promoting free flow of information and ideas cannot be undermined, but on the other hand internet has the same power to abet institutions in constraining and manipulating the information flow. Numerous examples are there wherein the government or other central institutions have embraced “networked authoritarianism” to censor online conversations, deploy surveillance technologies, and communicate false information with an aim to monitor online conversations, identify opposition elements and steer public opinion. So, what if government starts using internet to strengthen its power? Let us look at this aspect of internet to bring out a few examples to illustrate that e-dictatorship or e-authoritarianism is as much possible as e-democracy.

Undemocratic countries, and in some cases, even democratic countries have been seen to use the power of the internet to filter information, perform surveillance and spread propaganda to track populace for sensitive information, monitor public discussion space and manage public opinion. China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Cuba and Saudi Arabia are the most popular examples of states with internet censorships. However, recently a few democratic countries are implementing similar filtering, and surveillance mechanisms in their internet infrastructure. Even terrorist organizations like Al Shabab and Taliban have now started using social media to spread their propaganda.

Table below shows some examples of how different states are using internet censorship. It will be useful to point out that this table is an initial attempt to consolidate a list of internet censorship measures and if the readers can give more examples for this purpose, it will be highly appreciated.

Country

Filtering

Surveillance

Outreach

China
  • Filter search results
  • Bar individual websites with .cn domain
  • Block international news websites, anti-government websites, popular websites (like facebook, youtube, twitter etc), and human rights activist sites
  • Indigenous replicas of popular sites to ease tracking & censorship.
  • ISPs to monitor all web activity
  • Web Police monitors all web interactions
  • Pay and train bloggers to spread misinformation
Iran
  • Prior approval needed from Ministry of Culture and Islamic Culture for all websites
  • Block international news media, reformist political sites. In total 5 million websites are blocked.
  • Keep the cost of internet high to reduce wide penetration
  • Development of a domestic parallel “halal” internet. Halal internet aims at Islam at an ethical, & moral level.
  • State owned Telecommunication Company of Iran owns all internet infrastructure and controls & monitors all internet traffic
  • Identification details for internet access in internet café is mandatory
  • Crowd-source protestor identification after the green revolution
  • Recruit cyber army to spread false propaganda
  • Mass emails or texts to warn people from protesting
North Korea
  • Only allow access for websites on the domestic internet, Kwangmyong
  • Prior approval needed from the government for all websites.
  • Government control over all news media.
  • Keep internet and mobile phones prohibitively priced to reduce widespread penetration
  • Bar international phone calls
  • Monitoring of all web and telephonic communications
  • Use websites and other electronic media to widely promote government’s ideology, agenda and extol the virtues of the leader.
  • Fuel xenophobia myths by hiring propaganda artists
Russia
  • Working towards the creation of a domestic internet in Cyrillic
  • All ISPs by law provide cable link to the secret service
  • Security agencies access and monitor all internet transactions
  • Deploy internet brigades to spread government propaganda
Syria
  • Censor pro-Israel, hyper-Islamic, and anti government sites
  • Keep internet prohibitively priced to prevent widespread penetration
  • State owned Syrian Telecommunications Establishment owns all telecom infrastructure and controls & monitors all internet traffic
  • Identification details for internet access in internet café is mandatory
  • Unblock youtube access during protests to allegedly monitor opponents, and trace their location
  • Deploy internet army to spread pro-government opinion internationally
Cuba
  • Block US based websites run by Cuban dissidents
  • Low bandwidth connections to reduce internet usage
  • Pre-install computers with web-tracking tools
  • Special approval for computer purchase, which is given out selectively
  • Personal details are recorded for people accessing internet in an internet café
  • Government websites spread xenophobic propaganda and extol virtues of the leader
Saudi Arabia
  • Censor pro-Israel, anti-government, anti-Islamic, and websites criticizing ruling families
  • Prior approval needed from Ministry of Culture for all news websites.
India
  • Routing of all emails originating in India through servers in India for better monitoring

*All these facts are based on secondary research. Get in touch if you need more information on the facts cited in the article.

Advertisements

About Ankit Sharma

Born in Kashmir, Alumni of London School of Economics, Currently working for the Royal Bank of Scotland, Living in London with absolute passion and hope in the user of Information Technology to solve social problems.
This entry was posted in ICT4D, Internet Censorship, Iran. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s