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Following China and Cuba, regimes control
Internet use: study

 
 

Agence France Presse
By: ROB LEVER


Authoritarian regimes, emulating China and Cuba, can
and do control their citizens' Internet use, often to
keep themselves in power, a study found.

The study by scholars at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace suggests that authoritarian and
semi-authoritarian governments keep a close grip on
the Internet by limiting access or filtering content.

The report, published in a new book, expands on
earlier research by the scholars on China and Cuba,
examining Internet usage in Singapore, Vietnam,
Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab
Emirates. The study authors note that widely held
beliefs that the Internet would foster democracy by
allowing the free flow of information have, so far,
failed to materialize.

"Many people believe the Internet will be a virus of
freedom in authoritarian regimes," said Shanthi
Kalathil, co-author of the report.

But Kalathil said that the Internet, like the
telephone or television, is simply a tool that can be
used a number of ways.

"Many authoritarian governments are developing an
Internet that serves their own goals," she told a
recent forum here.

The report says that some regimes follow the Cuban
model of limiting access to computers and the
Internet. Others follow the Chinese model of using
technology to filter out sites linked to dissidents,
pro-democracy activists or other objectionable
content.

In both cases, she noted, the regimes may crack down
on those who try to use the Web for anti-government
activities.

"Users are intimidated (about using the Internet) and
are inclined to self-censor," Kalathil said.

Still, the study's authors acknowledge that even in
countries with authoritarian rule, the Internet can
help facilitate economic growth that will help expand
the entrepreneurial class and middle class and that
this could eventually lead to democratization.

"Use of the Internet will contribute to change but not
precipitate the governments' collapse," said Kalathil.


Among the highlights of the book, "Open Networks,
Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on
Authoritarian Rule":

- Chinese authorities have chosen "to encourage mass
Internet usage and education in an environment that it
is able to shape if not wholly control."

- In Cuba, the government "has taken a more active
role in controlling unauthorized access (to the
Internet) ... reacting strong against any attempt to
communicate outside official channels."

- Singapore, described as a "semi-authoritarian"
state, uses sophisticated technology to control
content of the Internet, requiring that all
connections go through government proxy servers that
filter out "objectionable" content.

- Vietnam is emulating China by using "a system of
firewalls, top-down access controls and the
encouragement of self-censorship" to control the
Internet, which is less widely used than in many
countries.

- Myanmar discourages Internet access through a harsh
1996 decree that provides prison terms of up to 15
years for possession of an unregistered telephone, fax
machine or modem. "The 1996 decree has largely done
its job of discouraging the public from attempting to
access the Internet illegally," the authors note.

- The United Arab Emirates, a country with "an
authoritarian political system," uses filtering to
block pornography but may also limit dissident
political content.

- Saudi Arabia uses perhaps the most extensive
Internet filtering, the authors say. "Attempt to
access a forbidden site are greeted with a message
that all access attempts are logged, which is certain
to encourage self-censorship," according to the
authors.

- In Egypt, which the authors call semi-authoritarian,
"there is no overt censorship of public Internet use
(but) the government has cracked down on some
individuals who posted controversial material online."
This has included prosecution on persons soliciting
gay sex on the Web.





 

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