- WSJ report suggests China wants to exert influence over every part of the tech industry from social media to semi-conductors
- Web content could be policed and effectively censored under new plans
- Its move is in stark-contrast to the views of Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the web, who has called for its freedoms to be safeguarded
China has in the past banned sites such as Facebook and Twitter and filtered online content using the ‘Great Firewall’. Now its government is reportedly trying to redesign the internet so it can police parts of it on its own terms. A report suggests China wants to exert influence over every part of the tech industry and web in the country, from social media to semi-conductors. Its move is in stark-contrast to the views of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the web, who has called for its freedoms to be safeguarded.
The ‘father of the web’ has previously said: ‘The original design of the web…was for a universal space, we didn’t have a particular computer in mind or browser, or language. ‘When you make something universal… it can be used for good things or nasty things… we just have to make sure it’s not undercut by any large companies or governments trying to use it and get total control.’A report by The Wall Street Journal suggests President Xi Jinping intends on fracturing the international system that enables content to be shared freely online around the world.
A report suggests China wants to exert influence over every part of the tech industry and web in china, from social media to semi-conductors. Its move is in stark-contrast to the calls of Tim Berners-Lee (pictured), the creator of the web, who has called for its freedoms to be safeguarded
Under the plans, website content would be patrolled by the government. A draft law has been passed aiming to tighten controls over the domestic internet, including the power to cut all access during security emergencies. Other draft laws that are being considered include terms that could force foreign tech companies to hand local authorities encryption keys to take control of devices. The Cyberspace Administration of China declined to comment on the publication’s article.
The government’s move follows the Arab Spring, where protestors used social media to fight government control, and the rise of Chinese e-commerce giants such as Alibaba, which are thought to be easier to control than the likes of Facebook, for example. Fang Xingdong, who introduced blogging to China and now runs a think tank, predicts: ‘In the next two decades, China will become the centre of cyberspace. ’Beijing is also helping Chinese tech firms financially to seemingly squeeze out Western players, forcing some Western firms to surrender to government rules so they can continue to grow in China. The country is an major market with almost 700 million internet users.
Earlier this year, China, along with Russia and some Central Asia governments, proposed the United Nations should adopt an Internet ‘code of conduct’ to give governments a veto over Internet protocols. Rebecca MacKinnon, director of the Ranking Digital Rights Project for New America, told The WSJ: ‘More and more countries are enforcing their own requirements. ‘Nations enforcing their own Internet restrictions present a tension between national interests and participation in a global marketplace. ’However, the moves by China – and other countries such as Russia and Turkey – to control parts of the web, may backfire. By squeezing people’s free access to online content, Beijing could hold back its growth by stopping academics and medical professionals for example, from accessing global research, and foster a sense of distrust.
On the 25th anniversary of the creation of the web, Lea Simpson, strategy director of digital agency TH_NK said: ‘It’s the open nature of the web that has made its impact so transformative. ‘It seems quite poetic that the opportunities of the next 25 years will depend on whether we – as users, businesses and governments – will maintain its libertarian spirit. ‘This issue of openness versus surveillance sits at the nub of the future of the web. ‘The decentralised web Sir Tim Berners-Lee is campaigning for is powered by open data, destroyed by surveillance. ‘Openness connects people and objects with one another, transcending borders or platforms. ‘The result could be a more efficient, brilliant way of living and doing business, as more informed and empowered citizens and consumers. Let’s hope that’s the future we write about in 2039.’
SIR TIM BERNERS-LEE’S CALL FOR A DIGITAL ‘MAGNA CARTA’
World wide web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee called for a digital ‘Magna Carta’ to enshrine the rights of users across the world on the 25th anniversary of his proposal for the web. Sir Tim said that a digital bill of rights should be introduced to ensure that the web should be accessible to all and the principles that have made it successful defended. Speaking last year, he said: ‘I hope this anniversary will spark a global conversation about our need to defend principles that have made the web successful, and to unlock the web’s untapped potential. ‘I believe we can build a web that truly is for everyone: one that is accessible to all, from any device, and one that empowers all of us to achieve our dignity, rights and potential as humans.’
Sir Tim told the BBC that people should take a stand against surveillance. ‘He said: ‘It’s time for us to make a big communal decision. In front of us are two roads – which way are we going to go? ‘Are we going to continue on the road and just allow the governments to do more and more and more control – more and more surveillance? ‘Or are we going to set up a bunch of values? Are we going to set up something like a Magna Carta for the world wide web and say, actually, now it’s so important, so much part of our lives, that it becomes on a level with human rights?’
Calling for increased vigilance against surveillance so people can use the internet without feeling ‘somebody’s looking over our shoulder’, he added: ‘The people of the world have to be constantly aware, constantly looking out for it – constantly making sure through action, protest, that it doesn’t happen. ‘In 2013 the five people who invented the internet as we know it – Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf, Louis Pouzin, Tim Berners and Marc Andreessen -were awarded the first Queen Elizabeth prize for Engineering.