Friday, August 08, 2008

Subversion is a Crime Against The State

Isn't that one cute and non-threatening avatar? In China, he pops up every thirty minutes on web surfers' screens to cheerfully remind them that subversion is a crime against the state.

Beijing has declared war on cybercafes, the Internet, and bloggers. The government has frequently raided cybercafes claiming that pornography and violent, addictive video games are cultural pollution and threaten their youth and their future.

But the control-freak government doesn't stop there (they never do). Project "Golden Shield" is the name of the Chinese high-tech surveillance and censorship program. The program involves some 300,000 surveillance cameras, often disguised as lampposts, connected to a single, nationwide network. This network involves a massive, searchable database of names, photos, residency information, work history, credit records, Internet usage and biometric data.

When I read about these tools of oppression, somehow I don't shout "wow, great opportunity to make money!" Maybe that's why I'm not rich like those people at Cisco who are helping to build the Great Firewall of China (while possibly violating U.S. sanctions). Western companies -- even those that proudly attach themselves to the Internet’s reputation for anarchy -- peddle their wares to China’s Ministry of Public Security. Shanghai Business Magazine recently estimated that the Chinese security industry is enjoying 15% annual growth.

Undermining privacy is a profitable business. And privacy is the rock that dignity, freedom of association and freedom of speech are built on.

China, hosting the summer Olympics, is trying to awe us with their technology, planning, efficiency and social order, but this is not progress.

Naomi Klein describes the new police state:

The goal of all this central planning and spying is not to celebrate the glories of Communism, regardless of what China's governing party calls itself. It is to create the ultimate consumer cocoon for Visa cards, Adidas sneakers, China Mobile cell phones, McDonald's happy meals, Tsingtao beer, and UPS delivery -- to name just a few of the official Olympic sponsors. But the hottest new market of all is the surveillance itself. Unlike the police states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, China has built a Police State 2.0, an entirely for-profit affair that is the latest frontier for the global Disaster Capitalism Complex.

I used to believe that free people and free markets were a package deal. It's not true, unless you only value your freedom to buy stuff.

BBC News has an online video exploring China's cyberspace. I had to pause at the point where Sherang Chen, editor for BBC China, says that the Chinese "do feel they are enjoying quite a degree of freedom..." When Police State 2.0 arrives in the U.S., "quite a degree of freedom" won't be enough for me.

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