New curbs on internet content by Asian nations: Report

June 18th, 2009 - 11:48 am ICT by IANS  

By Frederick Noronha
Penang (Malaysia), June 18 (IANS) Led by China, many Asian governments are shifting to a “new generation” of restrictions to control content on the internet and the growth in these curbs has been “accelerating”, according to a new study.

The OpenNet Initiative (ONI), which monitors internet surveillance practices by nations, released its report here Wednesday. It pointed to “an emerging inclination for states to actively engage in cyberspace as a way to achieve the same effects of information controls”.

“These new techniques go beyond blocking access to websites and are more informal and fluid, implemented at edges of the network. They are often backed up by increasingly restrictive and broadly interpreted laws,” said a statement from ONI.

ONI is a partnership of four leading academic institutions: the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies; Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University; Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme of the University of Cambridge; and Oxford Internet Institute of the Oxford University.

“Since 2006, many Asian governments have quickly realised the potential benefits of exploiting opportunities for conducting propaganda or public relations strategies over the internet, even while cracking down on independent and critical voices thriving in these online spaces - an example of the evolution towards next generation controls,” said Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab.

The report says China continues to stand out amongst its neighbours as it has invested “significant resources to consistently pursue both aggressive technical measures to pervasively filter information as well as a regulatory regime aimed at perfecting these next-generation controls against private companies and other non-state actors”.

Giving an example, ONI said the Green Dam Youth Escort filtering software has been mandated for pre-installation on PCs sold in China starting July 1.

“However, even China’s example demonstrates that restrictions on information are far from uniformly effective, and will meet resistance and be contested by the very groups they are intended to silence,” said Rafal Rohozinski, CEO of the SecDev Group and co-founder and principal investigator of ONI.

“The Internet has been shown to be an especially effective tool for journalists, civil society activists and opposition leaders in Asia during elections or other national political crises,” said Al Alegre, regional coordinator for ONI Asia.

“Asia continues to be home to some of the most and least connected countries in the world, while a large middle tier of countries are witnessing rapid and steady growth. In 2008, Thailand and Vietnam reached penetration rates of a quarter of their population. China trailed at 22.6 percent, though in 2008 it became the country with the most Internet users in the world, at 298 million,” said the report.

It pointed out that over 90 percent of internet users in China had broadband access by the end of 2008, a spike of over 100 million.

“On the opposite end of the spectrum, countries including India, Nepal and the Philippines with less than 10 percent internet penetration rate have been actively promoting and investing in infrastructure and access, particularly in rural areas that have been affected most profoundly by the digital divide,” it added.

The report also noted that about 80 percent of Bangladesh’s fixed line connections are installed in or around its four largest cities, yet about 80 percent of all Bangladeshis live outside these cities.

In Nepal, with an internet penetration rate of only 1.4 percent, the Nepal Wireless Project connected 22 remote mountain villages to the internet in five years, “allowing villagers to exchange information about commodity prices, local goods and markets, and implemented telemedicine facilities”.

The reports for Asia will be featured in a forthcoming MIT Press volume “Access Controlled: The Shaping of Rights, Rule and Power in Cyberspace”.

(Frederick Noronha can be contacted at

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Sci-Tech |