Catching up with my email after being out and about for a while, I came across this article by the Open Rights Group
Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google are each singled out for criticism in the report. Although they have defended themselves by claiming China’s laws force them to censor internet material, it is significant that none of the companies has been willing or able to precisely specify which laws or legal processes oblige this censorship.
This rather missed the point. As my friend Richard Clayton (and many others, but I’m familiar with his paper) has documented, the firewall filters based on keywords, so search engines either comply with the filtering rules or get blocked. The firewall itself is obviously run by the government, who choose the keywords, so to that extent it is Chinese laws that force compliance with censorship.
In any case, I’m generally struggling with the concept that some kinds of censorship are OK when others are not. No-one seems to mind that Yahoo!, for example, complied with France’s demand that it not allow the sale of Nazi memorabilia. Similarly the UK’s rules on “hate speech” disallow certain topics; but that, apparently, is hunky dory. It seems to me that all censorship is to be despised, so why pick on China in particular?
There is also this important question: are the citizens of China better served by a censored search engine or no search engine at all? Keyword-based filtering is well known to be far from perfect, so presumably the average Chinese citizen can easily figure ways around it. Furthermore, all they need is a good proxy and they can easily get at the uncensored versions of the ‘net available in the rest of the world.
(Declaration of interest: I am a director of the Open Rights Group and an employee of Google).