Friday, August 26, 2011

Access Restricted: Censorship worldwide

As a species we are connected. Our access to information is growing exponentially. Many authorities and governments worldwide have fears about what this access could mean for the people in their countries. These concerns lead them to censor the degree of communication that individuals have or cut them off entirely if they feel the threat is too great.

This dilemma is at the forefront of many world leader’s mind and many governments have different approaches and levels of constraint for the Internet, cellular phones, and other varieties of communication via technology. Here are some examples of differing severity levels of censorship in various countries.

The United States – The US censors technology very little. In the US it is illegal to use cell phone jammers for private use. However, federal officials can use them in some instances. Recently, transit officials in San Francisco shut down power to cellular towers preventing all cell phone usage on the BART in order to prevent protesters from organizing on stations and platforms to convene upon.   This censorship incited a public outrage and government investigation regarding the legality of the shutdown.

China – It is common practice for Chinese officials to monitor chat rooms, private screen, and black list websites. Their censorship of the Internet is referred to as the “Great Firewall of China”. Go to this link to find out if your website is blocked in China.

North Korea – The government of North Korea has total control of all computers with Internet access. Only three websites can be accessed in North Korea and they only contain academic information. There are some chat rooms allowed, but they are heavily supervised by the government. The high level of censorship has created a huge cell phone black market in North Korea.

As you can see, different governments approach the idea of technology censorship very differently throughout the world. And the socio-political reasons behind the amount of restrictions vary just as much. Here are some common arguments for and against censorship:

Reasons why censorship is necessary

  • Censorship can protect the safety of the public
  • Censorship can prevent youths from being exposed to inappropriate content
  • Censorship can protect social unity and national glory
  • Censorship can prevent disturbing the social order
  • Censorship can protect national security


Reasons why censorship can be dangerous

  • Censorship violates the natural right of self-expression
  • Censorship can prevent people who have an emergency from getting help
  • Censorship can lead to ignorance of the world and other cultures
  • Extreme censorship can lead to social upheaval
  • Extreme censorship can lead to an oppressed and uneducated society


A professor at the University of Kansas, Barney Warf, published a definitive study of the geography of Internet censorship in an issue of GeoJournal. He believes that the more globalized a country becomes, the harder it is to control types and amounts of information the public can access. Whether or not technological censorship is right or wrong is situational and up to individual opinion. As the world becomes more connected it will become harder for nations to control the flow of information and we will see this issue continue to arise worldwide.

You can read this article to learn more about Professor Barney Warf and his study.


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