The stark divide between those nations that support a so-called free and open internet and those that favor strict controls and monitoring policies for the web has been a source of global contention for years. The World Telecommunication/Information and Communications Technology Policy Forum (WTFP) is held each year to seek a global accord on how to proceed with internet governance, yet each year — with 2013 no exception — the divide remains ever more clear between the two factions. And the sides boast the usual suspects: China, Russia, and several Middle Eastern nations support heavier web control while the U.S. and Europe do not. While other world voices are peppered on either side, some Asian countries are becoming more virulent in their communications technology crackdowns.
One of the biggest offenders is China. For a country with such a burgeoning internet user base, mobile subscribers, and growing high-speed wireless structure, its censorship policies turn solidly in the direction of stricture and control. At China’s Internet Conference held in Beijing in August, leaders set forth the Seven Base Lines meant to provide parameters for internet usage and to describe what is appropriate online behavior. These regulations have already had impacts on Chinese technology companies — particularly communications-based apps or those in social media — in the form of penalization and removal of content. More severe punishments for those in violation of China’s internet censorship laws have tightened recently as well: Bloggers have been detained in increasing droves. While the country has always had notoriously strict internet use rules, 2013 has seen a more swift grip and closing in on those who would oppose the web regulations.
Vietnam is quickly gaining a name for itself as a deployer of aggressive crackdowns on communication technology use. Decree 72 is the country’s version of the Seven Base Lines; a creed dictating what can be written across social media and implementing requirements for foreign technology companies to establish server centers within its border. The country has been one of many that have attempted to block VoIP-based applications for desktop or mobile devices, and it joins China in its fervor for detaining outspoken bloggers who resist intensifying controls by voicing their opinions across social media.
India joined the censorship party more firmly over the last year as well, asserting more control over available websites and communication has continued from its initial clumsy crackdown in 2012. Google reported a doubling in requests for removal of content from the Indian government earlier this year, and in a conference concerning internet security India’s Minister for Communications and Technology made it plain that the country supports asserting further jurisdiction on web content.
Among other Asia-Pacific nations that are growingly glomming on to the idea that more internet censorship is better sits Cambodia, which banned internet cafes near schools in December 2012, and Malaysia, whose government is actively looking into setting internet filters and controls as a means of shoring up Islamic law and mores. Yet for all of the efforts of these countries tightening web controls, technological expansions continue; U.S. technology companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple continue to create ties with Asian telcos and software companies. They continue to set up shop for the future of the internet in Asia.
With hundreds of millions of users, how does China’s government truly expect to contain the freedom of speech that the internet so notoriously breeds? And with the ever-growing numbers of free web applications that encourage peer-to-peer communication and forums for every ideology known to man, how do any of these governments expect to maintain what is already mainstream? The future is uncertain for these countries in which internet user numbers are growing, but for whom access and censorship practices are narrowing. But one thing is certain: More people in more thus-far unreachable regions are going to have access to the internet in the coming years — a reality for which today’s local legislative bodies are likely unprepared.