Saturday, October 20, 2007

Report on Chinese Internet Censorship- "Journey to the Heart of Internet Censorship"

A Chinese colleague recently directed me to a Reporters Without Borders report on Chinese Internet Censorship. This report is produced by an anonymous Chinese internet expert, with funding and support from Reporters Without Borders and Chinese Human Rights Defenders, with good timing in light of the Beijing Olympics. 

Having designed and implemented projects in China for more than a decade now, and experiencing firsthand the culture of censorship and control, I think that this report is pretty accurate based on my experience.  Here are some key summary points: (You can view and download the full report here at Reporters Without Borders)

  • China has always controlled all traditional media, and the Internet poses a new challenge for control. China now has more than 160 million Internet users and at least 1.3 million websites, both of which continue to grow.
  • China blocks thousands of websites, censor online news and imprisons activists. 
  • Leading actors include the 
    • Internet Propaganda Administrative Bureau (affiliated with the Information Office of the State Council, the executive office of the government), 
    • Bureau of Information and Public Opinion (affiliated with the party’s Publicity Department, the former Propaganda Department) and 
    • Internet Bureau (another Publicity Department affliate).
    • Beijing Internet Information Administrative Bureau 
    • Other secondary bodies listed in the report
  • Some methods of control include:
    • (as per the report) "a skilful mix of filtering technologies, cyberpolice surveillance and propaganda, in all of which China invests massively.", at both the national and local level
    • Government employees and University journalism students are trained vigorously, to the point of 'ideology control', while key staff of online companies (including Yahoo!) are asked to go on a propagandistic Chinese "online media trip". 
    • The government, through the Beijing Internet Information Administrative Bureau, asserts daily editorial control via a variety of ways (such as meetings, emails/SMS and directives) over leading news agencies based in Beijing. Many agencies practice self-censorship as a result. 
    • In addition to passive monitoring, especially after 2005 when the Beijing Internet Information Administrative Bureau was formed, the government actively control internet news by insisting the publication of propagandistic materials.
    • Key-word censorship (where government or self-censors use to monitor sites):
      • masked words: words replaced by an asterisk
      • sensitive words: words that need to be checked by moderators before they can be posted
      • taboo words: words that cannot be posted or isolated or appear in an article’s content.
    • Penalties that have been inflicted includes: media criticism, strict fines, dismissal of site employee, and site closure. 
    • When bloggers and others have appealed or otherwise made their plight public, they have been ignored, threatened or imprisoned. Similarly, human rights activists are imprisoned.  
  • Recommendations on eluding control
    • proxy server to to hide IP addresses, and downloading software to access foreign sites
    • exploiting the different levels of censorship between provinces or between levels in the administration and 
    • using new Internet technologies (blogs, discussion forums, Internet telephony etc.)
You can view and download the full report here at Reporters Without Borders

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

First Second Life Law Firm Created?

Following my post earlier this year on law firms in second life, the American Bar Asssociation, which I'm a member of, reported that a Canadian law firm is claiming that it is the first law firm in Second Life. The ABA Journal article is reproduced and adapted below:

A Canadian law firm claims to be the first to establish an office on Second Life, a 3D virtual community that has attracted millions of participants from all over the world.
Davis LLP is staffing its Second Life office with lawyers from the firm's Video Game law & Interactive Entertainment Group, the firm reports in a press release posted on its law blog.
"The virtual world of Second Life gives us the opportunity to interact with our current and potential clients in a unique way," says Dani Lemon, a lawyer at the firm who will be known as "Lemon Darcy" at the new virtual office. "We also aim to generate business leads and attract job candidates for our bricks-and mortar business through Second Life."
Others lawyers reportedly have already found the virtual world a potentially lucrative game to play, as discussed in an ABA Journal feature story.
For intance, Stevan Lieberman, a Washington, D.C., intellectual property lawyer who is known on Second Life as "Navets Potato," has a virtual office and advertises its services in a Second Life classified. However, "his listing also directs viewers to his real-life law firm Web page," the magazine article notes. "As of December, he had picked up about $7,000 in business from Second Life."
In addition to Lemon Darcy, the Davis firm's "avatars," as participants who establish graphic characters on the site are known, will include: "BarristerSolicitor Underwood" (aka, in real life, Sarah Dale-Harris); "PabloGuzman Little" (Pablo Guzman): "IPand Teichmann" (Chris Bennett); "DaveS Blackadder" (David Spratley); and "IP Maximus" (Chris Metcalfe).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Emerging Trends for ICT in Parliaments

This discussion paper  (ICT IN PARLIAMENTS- CURRENT PRACTICES, FUTURE POSSIBILITIES by Jeff griffith) is a background paper for the World e-Parliament Conference 2007 on 11 October 2007 in Geneva, Switzerland. It describes briefly the history of ICT in legislative bodies,summarizes current practices, assesses the potential impact of some of the newest technologies and trends, considers some of the key requirements for the successful introduction and management of ICT, and underlines the importance of ICT in  parliaments.

While all of the paper is an interesting read (especially the section on current practices if you are not familiar with them), of particular interest to me is the section that predicts there new developments and emerging trends that might have the biggest impact on ICT in Parliament in the near future:

  • Interactive Technologies and Web 2.0- The newest Web technologies encourage user generated content and participation.

  • Open Standards and Open Source Software- Proprietary systems and software will remain in operation for some time, but there is a strong movement toward the use of open standards and the sharing of open source software.

  • Collaborative Development of Parliamentary Applications- While institutions may be cautious about investing in and accepting systems and software to support their most important functions if they are not developed and maintained under their direct control, development of a collaborative platform or application that can be customized might possibly be a trend. 

  • The Mobile Legislator- ICT allows legislators to be more mobile. Cell phones, lightweight portable PCs, small hand held computers such as personal digital assistants and email devices, coupled with the increasing ubiquity of the Web, enable Members to conduct their work from many locations and with many people.

  • Developments in regional and international Parliaments- The success of regional or international efforts is likely to put additional pressure on national parliaments to adopt some of the same approaches in their use of ICT.
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