Inside the Chinese Firewall

Here is a great first hand account of of the state of the Internet in China. Of particular note is the point about network administrators blocking access to their networks from China (for reasons of spam etc… in effect a form of geolocation filtering).

After investigating the problem, I discovered that it was not a firewall restriction or China’s own network failure, but foreign networks and servers outside of China blindly blocking larger parts of China’s networks from connecting.

This, in effect, strengthen’s the mystique of the “great firewall”:

This failure to connect, both inside and outside China, is then attributed to the government sensors and the mystic of the firewall is reinforced. The effect is that the Chinese firewall, if only in part and inadvertently, is being reinforced by Western democratic countries and companies protecting their systems from China’s infected computers.

Charles Spencer suggests that network administrators should continue to protect themselves against spam and botnets but that “it needs to be done with more of scalpel and less of a howitzer. ” This is a very important point. Increasingly network administrators and ISPs are making decisions on blocking IP addresses in China and elsewhere based on their own discretion. The ONI has reported about such actions by Telus where in trying to block one Union website they blocked an additional 766 sites. The decision by ISPs to block, even temporarily, for spam, phising, DoS and so forth should be done in a much more accountable and transparent way. And the blocking along the lines of what Telus did is just plainly unacceptable.

Another point which Charles Spencer has right is on the ability to access information in China:

There are very real controls on the flow of information in China. What needs to be understood is the practical reality for millions of Chinese to access information is far less terrible than what it is made out to be in Western Press, at least on a Political level.

While there is significant censorship targetted at key topics there is a wide variety of information available. One of the inherent flaws with filtering is underblocking. But while information that provides a distinctly different view that the official Chinese Gov’t position may be available it is, as Charles Spencer points out, the “psychological intimidation” whihc encourages people to self-censor and not access the content in the first place.

In addition, it is the expression of an opinion which lands people in trouble. Generally, simply accessing information does not appear to invoke the full wrath of the security aparatus. But attempts at disseminating information, engaging in critical political discussions or organizing seem to trigger threats and arrests.

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