Archive for the ‘This Week In Review’ Category

October 20, 2007

This Week In Review  

Articles of Review:

International Herald Tribune, Blogging from Havana, secretly  


Myanmar’s “Saffron Revolution”: The Geopolitics behind the Protest Movement, Centre for Research on Globalization  

The effects of the Internet and blogs as a communication tool has been a central topic in the analysis of information dissemination in the pro-democracy protests in Burma; the same topic has recently been raised in regards to disseminating information of life in Cuba. The Internet has become an effective means of relaying information to a global audience with significant impacts. 

This week the article on bloggers begin to tell the realities of life in Communist Cuba, from the International Herald Tribune, discusses how bloggers use their blogs to relay information about the conditions of life in the state, where the government has tight control of information. The government not only controls information but also access to the Internet.  For example, blogger Yoani Sanchez, being a local, is prohibited from using the Internet in hotels, where Internet access is reserved for tourists and visiting foreigners.  

The control of media and access to information can be compared to the situation in Burma, on the grounds of government attempts to create a closed information society. As has been written in commentaries spanning the past two weeks, the Burmese government attempted to control information dissemination about the pro-democracy movement.

The two cases are similar in that the government feels that the Internet is a threat to their position of authority since the information that is being disseminated may undermine their capacity to exercise power. Thus, each government exercises their authority with their actions to contain the tools that disseminate information, in this case, the Internet.   

This type of response is worrisome for two reasons. The model of this type of government response serves as a model for other states. As the Burmese and Cuban governments display these kinds of actions, they become more available to others. However, although in each case there is an attempt to control Internet access, this tactic is somewhat ineffective given the growth of information communication technologies worldwide.   

The second cause for concern is that in an information based society, controlling information or access to it is an infringement on human rights.  The right to access information is a human right as declared by Article 19 and should be protected. Therefore, the precedent setting effects of such actions by states and the infringement on human rights are two aspects of the Cuban and Burmese cases that are similar between the two situations.  

The potential political impacts of the technology of the Internet cannot be underestimated, especially towards the support of democracy and political change.


The Week in Review

October 12, 2007

Among the events of the past week, the main issues have been focused on government restrictions of access to the Internet and access to information. Efforts by the state to restrict information were demonstrated by the actions of governments, actions which limited freedom of expression and access to information. The following comparative commentary analyzes the Internet restrictions imposed by governments in Burma and China.

Nearly two weeks ago the Burmese government decided to turn off Internet access during the pro-democracy protests. This impaired access to information for those within the region as well as those outside of the region trying to receive information about events within the state. What has recently been reported about this situation has been the effect of the Internet in the political realm. The Forbes article, titled “Myanmar’s Net begins to lift”, raises a key issue of the incorporation of the Internet as a communication tool within the state. 

While the Internet improves communication potential, the potential effect of increased communication among citizens is not favourable from the perspective of the government.  Mark Poster, in “Cyberdemocracy:  the Internet and the Public Sphere” [Available at, notes the emergence of decentralized technologies, a good example of which is the Internet. Due to its decentralized structure, the Internet is difficult to control; while a government may benefit from the technology, the technology is, quite literally, uncontrollable. 

Traditional means of authority exercised by the government do not necessarily translate to the realm of cyberspace. In an attempt to control communication and media, the Burmese government decided to prevent access to the Internet by removing the the Internet as a tool for communication.    

This week, the Chinese government has been prevalent in current events due to the consequences it imposes on Internet users who fail to comply with its regulations. The government is becoming more attuned to the patterns and online activities of its users and thus attempting to use such information in their censorship efforts, such as with cartoon Internet police. Thus, privacy rights and security online are not a priority for the government, effectively infringing the UN declared right of access to information.

The comparison of the Chinese and Burmese governments on Internet access further reveals two issues. The first is that each government strategically censors information online; the second issue arises with their different strategies.  Interestingly, China and Burma block access to information but each carries out this end by very different means.  Whereas China encourages self-censorship, Burma instead censors the communication technology in its entirety.  From the reports this week, China’s censorship strategies are intensifying.  The International Herald Tribune notes, in “China’s Internet controls tightened ahead of sensitive political congress”, that bloggers have had their blogs blocked and have subsequently decided to hold their internet service provider legally responsible; these sorts of tactics appear to be ongoing practices for the government.

Burma, on the other hand, experienced a short disruption in its communication technology which affected access to information; however, it does not seem as though the censorship tactics will continue for an extended period of time.The differing strategies calls into consideration the means by which governments restrict access to information.  One of  the means has included the use of commercial internet filtering software, known as censorware. 

The difficulty with this type of product arises in its skewed purpose; what was intended as a product to block particular sites to support Internet use has had its purpose altered.  While produced in the United States, the censorware products are exported to other states.  These ‘other states’ often use them as content filtering devices, blocking certain sites which prevents access to information.  Although the censorship tactics of Burma and China differ in their approaches and of internet censorship, the differences that accrue lead to the same outcome, in that the freedom of speech and freedom of expression are compromised.   

The Week In Review

October 6, 2007

The protests in Burma this past week highlighted the Internet as a tool for political activism, with images and videos posted on social networking sites and blogs drawing international attention to the Burmese pro-democracy movement.  The information available from online sites prompted the military regime to turn off the Internet within the state.  While this may have disrupted communications and information flows, the Internet blackout had not caused an information blackout.  The use of other technological tools, such as satellite imagery of the region, provided an alternative means with which to communicate the events unfolding in Burma. 

The Burmese pro-democracy movement brought forth the significance of information communication technology to further the political efforts of the pro-democracy protestors.  The use of social networking sites, such as YouTube and Burmese blogs, was able to extend the protest and political message outside of the state to the international community.  The military regime ruling the region, in an attempt to create a closed information society, attempted to turn off information communication technology.  The ‘just-in-time’ internet filtering delayed but did not prevent information from being revealed about the situation.  The media crackdown was short lived and difficult to sustain due to the flexibility of information communication technologies. 

The idea of a closed information society is an outdated notion in the information age due to the adaptive nature of information communication technologies.  One of the themes of this weeks articles is the right of access to information; in the Burmese protests, access to information, a UN declared human right, was infringed due to the Internet being turned off at a politically convenient point in time.  The violation of access to information was also witnessed with the confiscation of video cameras and cell phones, with which citizen journalists attempted to inform those outside the region on the events unfolding within.  A second prevelent theme was that of right of privacy and security.  The technological equipment used to capture images was confiscated for those in the Burmese region.  The right to privacy was similarly violated in the Bangladesh region, in which authorities went door to door to collect passwords and login information of those with high speed internet.  Thus, in one sense, the politics of the Internet may have little to do with being online.   

The Internet has become an effective tool of political protest.  Jeffrey Ayres notes that the Internet is a tool which has a widespread, global audience which can efficiently diffuse information regarding political protests [Ayres, Jeffrey. “From the Streets to the Internet: The Cyber-Diffusion of Contention,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.  566: 1999, 132-143.]  Whereas Ayres observes the use of email to facilitate political activism in a somewhat coordinated and organized method, the Burmese pro-democracy protests used the Internet in a different manner.  While the Burmese protests may not have been organized by emails, the use of the Internet as a political communication tool was clearly evident as well as its political impact both within and outside of the region.

Although the right of access to information was infringed due to the military regime turning off the Internet, the Internet became a central tool of political communication for the pro-democracy movement.  The current events articles of the past week demonstrated the effects of the efforts of bloggers and civil society in an attempt to disseminate information across borders and reach the international community.