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[liberationtech] The Myopia of excluding censors: The tale of a self-defeating petition - Opinion - Al Jazeera English

Martin Johnson greatfire at
Fri Feb 8 22:46:38 PST 2013

As an activist working against online censorship in China, I find this
petition both useful and encouraging for many reasons:

- It promotes much-needed discussion of Internet censorship in China.
- The petition and the public listing of individuals contributing to the
Great Firewall could dissuade some people from continuing or taking up such
work in the future.
- The initiative is an expression of the anger felt by people whose
Internet is restricted.
- Neither the White House Petition page nor GitHub (where lists of people
contributing to the Great Firewall are edited and commented) are blocked in
China. Both are HTTPS only so blocking individual pages is not possible.
It's likely that the authorities have backed down from blocking GitHub
completely because of it's importance to business.
- The individuals who are named likely feel uncomfortable about this
publicity. Perhaps some of them could see the parallel between that and the
surveillance of ordinary people that their technology is used for. Usually,
the authorities know everything that users do and users know nothing about
the authorities. This is an example of users knowing something about who
the authorities are, but the authorities probably not being able to track
down the users (since GitHub is HTTPS-only).

The specific idea outlined in this petition has a very small chance of
becoming law. Discussing, promoting or signing it is unlikely to change
that. But the existence of the petition helps spread awareness of the
massive restrictions on the Chinese Internet. If the petition succeeds,
only more so.


Martin Johnson
Founder - Monitoring Online Censorship In China. - Uncensored, Anonymous Sina Weibo Search. - We Can Unblock Your Website In China.

On Sat, Feb 9, 2013 at 3:17 AM, x z <xhzhang at> wrote:

> Libtech,
> I am an ardent supporter for that GFW petition, and I feel compelled to
> write about it *again*, in reply to Tricia Wang's article.
> There are three major issues in this piece.
> 1. The intent of the petition is badly interpreted and exaggerated by
> Tricia even in the literal sense. Tricia claiming "*This petition would
> deny all CNNIC researchers and officials the opportunity to come to the
> US for conferences and events*" is appalling. The petition is for those "*people
> who help internet censorship*". Tricia herself argues using several
> paragraphs that many tasks in CNNIC are not censorship related!
> 2. A lot of people, including Tricia and many on this list, misunderstand
> the spirit of the petition. It is naive to perceive that many people,
> including many of the signatories of this petition, realistically think
> such a petition can make US government to actually adopt such an
> entry-denial policy. Like I mentioned in my previous email on this topic,
> this petition is a *symbolic* one. Its goal is to show to the world that
> many of Chinese netizens care, and it is a way to mobilize (and hopefully
> organize) us.
> 3. This article repeated again and again that engagement with China
> officials (including Fang Binxing) is beneficial. I don't disagree with
> this, but Tricia greatly overestimated such benefit. Most of China's
> officials, especially those overseeing censorship, know very well what an
> open society looks like. This knowledge *reinforces* their belief in their
> censorship policies, contrary to what Tricia may think. The present China
> is not Soviet Union in the cold war era. China's ideology system is way
> more robust.
> Regards,
> 2013/2/8 Collin Anderson <collin at>
>> Libtech,
>> I appreciated the short articulation of this counterargument at the time
>> of the petition being posted and this article summarizes it well. Firstly,
>> unfortunately while Libtech has fostered an impression of being a private
>> network, it has grown beyond that over the past three years, into a very
>> public community -- at times it still often feels like a closed, personal
>> community. I think we all agree that State Department employees are
>> entailed to a right of an independent opinion, and the only misstep was
>> perhaps sending from a work email address with an automatic signature. A
>> brief history of the drama of Internet Freedom programs and China makes it
>> clear that this is something that the US Government would never have the
>> political will to adopt, much less endorse. We may do well to give such
>> people the benefit of the doubt that they had intended to provoke
>> conversation and reach out to the community, rather than encourage
>> participation. Otherwise, a perspective may be lost.
>> That being said, the post and petition should have, but did not, provoked
>> a legitimate discussion about incongruences in American foreign policy
>> toward states that practice repression of media and Internet
>> communications. Case in point, on the exact day that Tricia Wang, of whom I
>> am a longtime fan, published her argument, the Department of Treasury
>> announced the designation of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB),
>> Iranian Cyber Police, Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA), Iran
>> Electronics Industries (IEI) and Ezzatollah Zarghami, head of IRIB, for
>> their participation in activities that "restrict or deny the free flow of
>> information to or from the Iranian people." These listings follow previous
>> designations by companies and persons responsible for the surveillance and
>> disruption of information networks under American laws, such as the TRA,
>> I was a vocal advocate for these actions and wrote extensively on their
>> justification, however, I was also left questioning whether it is morally
>> justifiable that I have not spoke out with similar passion against the
>> Bahraini MOI. I would ask whether Ms. Wang feels that Treasury's actions on
>> Wednesday are similarly unjustifiable within her philosophical argument?
>> Of minor importance, I do believe that the article over-interprets the
>> extent of the applicability of institutional sanctions on employees,
>> particularly low-level individuals. However, the tragedy of Treasury
>> sanctions is that they are specifically designed to be unclear, and so
>> let's allow that it may chill interactions with said researchers.
>> However, more broadly. At the time of its original attention, the notion
>> of travel restrictions was referred to as "coercive force" -- a label which
>> I fundamentally disagree with. States and publics have a fundamental right
>> to determine what activities that they directly or indirectly facilitate,
>> such as through the provision of financial transaction, technical services,
>> et al. The notion that Mr. Fang would come to Washington and be awestruck
>> by the wonders of a free press seems *optimistic*, considering 1.) my
>> recollection of him admitting to using VPNs and 2.) his substantial
>> investment in the status quo. Therefore, how does Ms. Wang react to the
>> notion of sanctions as signaling of expectations -- that designating Fang
>> Binxing would not be about making his life less comfortable per-say, but
>> calling attention to the fact that the level of censorship practiced by
>> China is in contravention to basic obligations under international human
>> rights conventions?
>> Cordially,
>> Collin
>> *I hope my former International Relations professor reads this list.*
>> [1]
>> On Fri, Feb 8, 2013 at 4:29 AM, Yosem Companys <companys at>wrote:
>>> The Myopia of excluding censors: The tale of a self-defeating petition
>>> Closing US borders in the name of openness does not create more
>>> freedom, but creates more divisions, writes author.
>>> Last Modified: 06 Feb 2013 06:58
>>> In the last week, thousands of people have signed a petition on
>>> titled, "People who help internet censorship, builders
>>> of Great Firewall in China for example, should be denied entry to the
>>> US".
>>> The petition proposes that the United States deny entry for people who
>>> "use their skills and technology for blocking people to use internet".
>>> It goes on to say that "as a responsible government [that] has always
>>> valued freedom, it [sic] reasonable to deny it".
>>> This petition is a horrible idea and I hope it does not gain anywhere
>>> close to the 100,000 signatures needed by February 24 for the petition
>>> to trigger a White House response.
>>> I came across the petition on Libtech, a great listserv out of the
>>> Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. The person
>>> who circulated this petition works on "Internet Freedom" at the Bureau
>>> of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor (DRL) of the US State Department.
>>> I am shocked that someone from the US State Department is circulating
>>> this petition, listing their affiliation, and making it appear as if
>>> the US State Department approved the petition. This person forwarded
>>> it to the listserv without a disclaimer that circulation does not
>>> suggest US government’s endorsement. This person also pointed out that
>>> the petition needs 92,204 more signatures to reach its goal. While
>>> this person did not explicitly endorse the petition, these actions
>>> suggest endorsement.
>>> But even more troubling than a semi-official circulation is the idea
>>> that we should be denying people the opportunity to enter the US
>>> because they are associated with censorship.
>>> Public face of censorship
>>> How do we even define someone as a person "who help(s) internet
>>> censorship" and is a “builder of the Great Firewall”? Fang Binxing is
>>> the architect of China’s extensive censorship network, widely known as
>>> the “Father of China’s Great Firewall”. This petition would deny him
>>> entry into the US.
>>> But Fang Binxing is only one person who has become the public face of
>>> censorship. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT)
>>> oversees and implements filtering software. Would anyone associated
>>> with the MIIT be banned from coming into the US?
>>> The MIIT oversees the China Internet Network Information Center
>>> (CNNIC). Often referred to as the equivalent of the US’ FCC, CNNIC
>>> manages administrative affairs such as domain registry and
>>> anti-phishing. CNNIC also has a research arm that is similar to the
>>> Pew Internet Research Center, producing statistical reports about the
>>> Chinese internet that researchers and journalists often cite.
>>> I spent a summer as a National Science Foundation Fellow doing
>>> ethnographic fieldwork at CNNIC in Beijing. The people who oversaw
>>> CNNIC relished the chances they had to go to conferences outside of
>>> China. Conferences provided CNNIC officials an important source of
>>> firsthand information and experience of the world beyond China.
>>> One of the most important things I learned from my time at CNNIC is
>>> that these people whom we call "censors" are much more aware of the
>>> world than we in the West often portray them to be. This should inform
>>> policy decisions to maintain open exchanges with officials who oversee
>>> the Chinese internet.
>>> This petition would deny all CNNIC researchers and officials the
>>> opportunity to come to the US for conferences and events. Such a
>>> petition is backwards. We should be encouraging Fang Binxing to come
>>> to the US. He should witness what a society with limited censorship
>>> looks like and be a part of the discussions about internet freedom at
>>> internet governance conferences.
>>> Internet tech conferences are a lot like track two diplomacy. They
>>> bring together people who have opposing views to offer up insights or
>>> knowledge.
>>> Just as much as it is important for officials from authoritarian
>>> regimes to attend conferences in the US, it is also important for
>>> Americans to go to conferences that are held in authoritarian regimes.
>>> Internet freedom conferences
>>> In 2005, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was held
>>> in Tunisia, an authoritarian society at the time. In 2012, the
>>> Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was held in Azerbaijan, still an
>>> authoritarian society.
>>> Would we want these very same countries to turn around and deny US
>>> citizens the opportunity to enter just because we engage in
>>> anti-censorship practices?
>>> Sarah Kendzior argues that there is a very good reason why internet
>>> policy conferences are held in authoritarian states.
>>> In her article, she points to editorials that asked why a conference
>>> on internet freedom was taking place in a dictatorship. Kendzior
>>> argues that internet freedom conferences should always take place in
>>> authoritarian regimes because to do so holds all stakeholders
>>> accountable, "such a gathering holds accountable the claims of all
>>> sides - the Azerbaijani government, which proclaims to promote free
>>> speech while punishing those who speak freely; the international
>>> media, which decries the choice of host country while ignoring it
>>> otherwise; and the delegates, whose newfound willingness to help
>>> Azerbaijanis needs to be borne out in practice".
>>> In the same way that these forums raise awareness of a host country's
>>> issues, visits to the US could do the same for Chinese officials.
>>> Increased contact with people and places outside of one’s own
>>> authoritarian regime is an excellent opportunity for government
>>> officials to understand what a much less censored society looks like.
>>> Here's the thing, just as much as many in the US find it hard to
>>> imagine living in a censored society, it is even harder for people who
>>> grow up in a censored society to imagine what a largely open society
>>> looks like. And it is very likely that officials, like Fang Binxing,
>>> who grow up in a family with close ties to the party bureaucracy, have
>>> been indoctrinated with regime theory from a young age. The worst
>>> thing we could do is to create policy that prevents them from seeing
>>> and experiencing other countries' policies and perspectives.
>>> Even though this petition has not yet gained traction, it is still
>>> troubling that some people thought this was a good idea. Closing our
>>> borders in the name of openness does not create more freedom; it only
>>> creates more divisions.
>>> Tricia Wang is a China- and US-based cultural sociologist who uses a
>>> range of ethnographic methods to create commercially relevant insights
>>> about people's interaction with the internet. Her writing and talks
>>> are available here.
>>> Follow her on Twitter: @triciawang
>>> The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not
>>> necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
>>> Source:
>>> Al Jazeera
>>> --
>>> Unsubscribe, change to digest, or change password at:
>> --
>> *Collin David Anderson*
>> | @cda | Washington, D.C.
>> --
>> Unsubscribe, change to digest, or change password at:
> --
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