We all know the downsides of the Internet. My dad jokingly calls it a creation of the Devil. But the many benefits are obvious, too, and far greater. I think even my dad believes so.
The power of the Internet is the reason authoritarian governments work so hard to control access by their populations. However, the desire for liberty is extraordinarily strong and drives people to find ways around government controls. Reports the New York Times:
The Iranian government, more than almost any other, censors what citizens can read online, using elaborate technology to block millions of Web sites offering news, commentary, videos, music and, until recently, Facebook and YouTube. Search for “women” in Persian and you’re told, “Dear Subscriber, access to this site is not possible.”
Last July, on popular sites that offer free downloads of various software, an escape hatch appeared. The computer program allowed Iranian Internet users to evade government censorship.
College students discovered the key first, then spread it through e-mail messages and file-sharing. By late autumn more than 400,000 Iranians were surfing the uncensored Web.
The software was created not by Iranians, but by Chinese computer experts volunteering for the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that has beem suppressed by the Chinese government since 1999. They maintain a series of computers in data centers around the world to route Web users’ requests around censors’ firewalls.
One of the most important aspects of this cat and mouse fight (it’s far more serious than a “game,” alas) is that the efforts of dissidents in one country–like China–aid those in another country, such as Iran. Moreover, those of us living in (more or less) free countries can contribute as well. While we can’t assume the good guys will inevitably win, there’s real hope for the forces of liberty. And that deserves celebration by people across the political spectrum.
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