Censoring Technology: The pros and cons

August 26th, 2011

As a species we are connected. Our access to information is growing exponentially. Many authorities and governments around the world have concerns about what this access could mean for the people in their countries. These concerns cause them to censor the levels of communication that people have or cut them off completely if they feel the risk is too great.

This issue is at the forefront of many world leader’s mind and many governments have different approaches and levels of restriction for the Internet, mobile devices, and other varieties of communication via technology. Listed below 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 an effort to prevent protesters from coordinating 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 over 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 monitored 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 equally 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

Barney Warf, a professor at the University of Kansas, published a definitive study of the geography of Internet censorship in the December issue of the academic journal, GeoJournal. He believes that, ultimately, the more globalized a country becomes, or strives to become, the more difficult it is to control the amount of information the public has access to. The answer to the question of whether technological censorship is appropriate, is situational. We will continue to see the issue arise as the world gets increasingly more connected and as the flow of information becomes harder to control.

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


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