When it comes to freedom of speech and expression, as an American, one wouldn’t think that the U.S. government and the Chinese government would treat them the same.
In the United States, the Constitution – the nation’s founding document – recognizes speech and expression as a fundamental human right, divinely endowed and not subject to government permission. Protests are not simply tolerated they are encouraged. Government redress is a basic right. Speaking out against those in power is as American as it gets.
In authoritarian China, of course, the opposite is true: Speech is tightly controlled and regulated. Chinese citizens have little redress with their government, protests are essentially banned, and anyone deemed too critical of the state is hauled off to jail.
‘Department of the Internet’
The most innovative form of communication since the telephone – the Internet – is also tightly controlled in China. In fact, in late February some of China’s largest Internet firms deleted tens of thousands of online accounts because, as Reuters reported, “their names did not conform to regulations” that took effect at the end of the month.
China’s top Internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), said that Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, Tencent Holdings Ltd, Baidu Inc., and Sina Corp. affiliate Weibo Corp., among others, deleted more than 60,000 accounts in a bid aimed at “rectifying” online names.
Reuters reported further:
The reasons for their removal included accusations of being misleading, rumor mongering, links to terrorism, or involving violence, pornography and other violations, the CAC said in a statement on its website…
It’s just the latest move by the Chinese government to lock down even more control over the Internet, this time by exerting influence over Internet account names. Censors have struggled with the issue in the past, even though Beijing has introduced numerous control efforts.
The goal, Reuters noted, is to get Internet users to use their real names when they register for online services so the government can better track citizens.
“Previously, the real-name registration system hasn’t really been enforced,” Rogier Creemers, a researcher on Chinese media law at the University of Oxford, told Reuters. “These rules essentially impose a uniform and consolidated system for all online services requiring accounts.”
China’s control of the Internet accelerated after President Xi Jinping took power in early 2013. And the United States government’s effort to exert more control over the Internet will be forever tied to President Barack Obama.
The recent “Net Neutrality” rules foisted upon the entire U.S. Internet community by an unelected, supposedly “independent” federal agency, the Federal Communications Commission, will eventually lead to similar controls over Americans’ accounts as exerted by the Chinese government, say critics.
Those who back the FCC’s actions say they were necessary to ensure that Internet Service Providers (ISPs), telecoms and video streaming companies like Netflix provide “equal access” to all Americans, and that some companies should not be able to pay for faster access.
As noted by USA Today:
The regulations aim to ensure that all the Internet content you want to access – be it streaming video, audio or other material – will be treated equally by ISPs. Another goal: To give start-ups and entrepreneurs access to broadband networks without undue influence from the ISPs.
‘It’s worse than I thought’
The problem, though, is that a) the full set of rules, as of this writing, have yet to be published in the Federal Register, as required by the Constitution, so b) it is impossible to know at this time precisely what all is contained within the rules.
Also, critics say, those who think Obama’s FCC is doing the right thing have to suspend their belief system, knowing that under this president (and the prior president), the NSA and other government spy agencies have forced the ISPs to reveal personal, private metadata on tens of millions of Americans, in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s privacy clause.
“The American people are being misled about President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet,” said FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican appointee, one of two on the five-commissioner panel.
“Last week’s carefully managed rollout was designed to downplay the plans of a massive intrusion in the Internet economy. I have now read the 332-page plan. It is worse than I had imagined,” said Pai. Specifically, Pai said reclassifying broadband would pave the way for new Internet taxes and regulations, handing the FCC “broad and unprecedented discretion to micro-manage the internet” as reported by The Verge
Sort of like Beijing on the Potomac.