December 14th, 2009 | Published in Google Public Policy
Last week, Dr. Ron Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, came to the Googleplex in Mountain View to give a presentation on the Open Internet Initiative's recent studies on the policies and technologies that repressive governments are using to censor Internet content.
They found that Internet filtering is a growing phenomena around the world. The number of governments that censor has grown from 3 to 4 in 2002 to more than 30 countries today. And in efforts to restrict information for their citizens, governments focus more on targeting local language content rather than global content.
It's interesting that many countries that are just starting to explore the possibilities of Internet connectivity already have sophisticated tools for blocking and filtering content. We are seeing cross-border replication, where some governments are adopting the practices of others who have cracked down on their citizens. Repressive regimes are finding ways to install more advanced tools against dissidents. As Berkman Center fellow Ethan Zuckerman has said, these governments are "baking in" tools to co-opt Web 2.0 features rather than play catch-up after criticism has been aired.
The lack of transparency and accountability in blocking and filtering is a concern to the ONI. Often governments, even democratic ones, choose to blacklist certain sites that they deem harmful without an easy way for others to see what was blocked, so citizens never know if what's blocked is actually harmful content. In the next few years, the ONI predicts that we will see more targeted surveillance and malware tactics like spamming to make monitoring and documenting government censorship more difficult.
Given the urgency of this issue, we're hoping to bring online free expression to the forefront of policy discussions by hosting similar events at our DC office in the coming months. Stay tuned!