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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

I’m feeling lucky

The next time you pull up your Google browser or check your Gmail-hosted CatMail, consider how you’d feel if your search results were determined by what the government wanted you to see, or if your e-mail account was hacked because of your social activism. Don’t like that hypothetical? Be glad you’re not a Google user in China. 

Following a long timeline of threats, censorship and Gmail account-hacking, Google has decided to effectively withdraw from China by defying censorship regulations. Because Google is no longer following the Chinese government’s self-censorship guidelines, Google services will not be available to Internet used in China. This controversy brings the subject of censorship, intellectual liberty and transculturation to the top of our proverbial Google-search links list.

The company has decided to stop censoring its Google.cn site in reaction to several events, including a series of cyber-attacks on the Gmail accounts of human rights activists that originated in China. On the official Google blog, Chief Legal Officer David Drummond posted this explanation: “”Gmail accounts of dozens of human rights activists connected with China were being routinely accessed by third parties … these attacks and the surveillance they uncovered — combined with attempts over the last year to further limit free speech on the web in China including the persistent blocking of Web sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Docs and Blogger — had led us to conclude that we could no longer continue censoring our results on Google.cn.””

Drummond also explained, “”We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services.””

A casual search on American Google.com will quickly reveal a myriad of ideas on what this means for the world community and the future of Internet liberty, but there is one consensus: The Google/China situation is bigger than just Google/China.

Perhaps the most novel aspect of this controversy for American college students who use Google mostly to steal music and circumvent textbooks is that even outside of China there is not total Internet freedom. In a column that calls this situation the biggest revolution in information technology since Gutenberg, the Guardian’s Timothy Garton Ash argues that the current way in which information is supplied to us is determined by a combination of the state in which we live and the big companies on which we rely, like Google. He then states that while one approach would be a “”radical libertarian option,”” allowing everyone to see everything, the method for which we should aspire is for everyone to be able to see everything except for “”that limited set of things that clear, explicit global rules specify should not be available.””

From the perspective of a news organization that strives to bring the most information from every side of an issue to everyone who chooses to read it, total Internet freedom is the method to which we should aspire. To limit information is to limit intellectual liberty. As a free citizen, something so basic as what one reads on the Internet should be without restriction and without firewall. The reader should be free to determine what he or she does and does not read.

Ash makes a strong point that it is somewhat the job of the state to enforce accepted normalcy, such as limiting access to jihadist propaganda, child pornography or bomb-making information. But the problem there is that there is no “”set of clear, explicit global rules”” that determine what should and should not be available. As the issue of China reveals most harshly, the Chinese government’s idea of what information should be available is quite different than the casual American conception.

Of course there are always limitations to intellectual freedom, whether conscious and concentrated or not. Whether you think Google search results are determined by number of hits a site has or a bunker full of Freemasons in the basement of the White House, one must acknowledge that it is impossible for the limitations of information gathering methods to be entirely irrelevant. But governments and companies like Google should err on the side of greater liberty of information rather than less.

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