Eastern and Western censorship: which is worse?

No visit of the Canadian Prime Minister to China would be complete without western media commenting on China's censorship policy. Western governments also engage in censorship, and are willing to go to extreme lengths to enforce that censorship. Some of that censorship has been called for by the corporations who own the western mainstream media that has been critiquing China.

"He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."

One example was by David Akin who wrote:

While in China, no Web site was allowed to even display the name “Liu Xiaobo”. Why on earth would a government of more than a billion people be so afraid of a few essays from a 60-year-old literature professor?

One of the ideas that western governments seek to censor relates to circumvention of "technological protection measures". This is part of the USA's Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), part of Canada's Bill C-11, part of the deceptively named Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), as well as other laws and agreements passed by or being promoted globally by western governments.

What are these technical measures? As we discuss in our Petition to protect IT property rights, these measures are applied to both content and devices. In the case of devices they lock the owner out of what they own and, as articulated by Stewart Baker, then US Department of Homeland Security's assistant secretary for policy, can represent a serious security problem.

"It's very important to remember that it's your intellectual property -- it's not your computer. And in the pursuit of protection of intellectual property, it's important not to defeat or undermine the security measures that people need to adopt in these days."

Tools to circumvent these measures, when used by owners on their own devices, are tools necessary to protect the rights of technology owners. They are necessary tools to enable owners to protect the security of these devices and thus the national security.

These circumvention devices should not be controversial, and if anything should be legally protected and provided by the government rather than prohibited by the government. As part of that protection, businesses which are built upon infringing the rights of technology owners should be clearly illegal.

Section 42 and 43 of the Canadian Copyright Act contain the few portions which are criminal in nature. In Bill C-11 the only addition to these criminal sections relate to circumvention of technical protection measures.

(3.1) Every person, except a person who is acting on behalf of a library, archive or museum or an educational institution, is guilty of an offence who knowingly and for commercial purposes contravenes section 41.1 and is liable

(a) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding $1,000,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both; or

(b) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding $25,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both.

Far from protecting the rights of owners from infringement, the government is suggesting that providing commercial services to enable owners to protect their own property is the most serious harm discussed by the bill.

We have censorship within western democracies relating to the tools required for computer owners to protect their property, privacy and other rights. We have these governments providing criminal remedies, including imprisonment, for disobeying this censorship. We have these same democracies including this censorship policy in treaties such as ACTA which they are lobbying other countries to ratify.

China also censors speech which many consider harmless (some consider beneficial and necessary), and provides for imprisonment for those who disobey this censorship. I have not yet seen any sign that they are trying to export their rationalization for this censorship to other countries, making their censorship a domestic rather than international policy concern.

I believe the western media needs to look much closer at their own governments, including to domestic policies which they have at best been apologists for - and at worst have lobbied strongly in favor of. Until they stop sinning themselves, it is clearly hypocritical for them to be throwing stones at China.

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