"Our Country!
In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right;
but right or wrong, our country!"

    --Commodore Stephen Decatur

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Great Firewall of China and Internet Piracy

A weapon of war

Almost from the beginning, the Chinese Communist Party recognized the power—and the threat—of the Internet and has invested huge resources to limit access to its own people while simultaneously using the internet to undermine the intellectual and economic output of the United States. Whether we admit it or not, we are in a state of digital war with China. How we fight this war today will have lasting consequences not only for freedom on the Internet but also for freedom generally.

The Internet has matured to the point that actions in the digital world can now cause real changes in the physical world. Last year, we witnessed revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere that were started online. We also witnessed a hacking attack which disrupted an Iranian nuclear research laboratory. The Iranians responded by hacking into an American stealth reconnaissance drone and hijacking it—digitally. The Internet is no longer a mere novelty. Digital actions affect real-world events.

One front of this digital war is the rampant and aggressive intellectual property theft which is likely sponsored directly by the Chinese government. State-sponsored and well-funded hackers are constantly attacking American companies to steal intellectual property and the piracy of movies, music, and software is only one element of this attack. Nevertheless, Congress has crafted misguided legislation in SOPA and PIPA to target this small fraction of the onslaught while mostly ignoring the larger conflict.

We must be wary about ever limiting access to the Internet. The amazing power of the Internet to bring freedom to the world is precisely because of its openness. China recognizes this and along with North Korea and Iran is one of the most restrictive countries in the world. There is a legitimate need to combat piracy, but the language of SOPA and PIPA is so broad that the Chinese and other bad actors could actually use it against us by causing self-inflicted restriction of the Internet. This will only benefit the Chinese government’s efforts to restrict access and limit the free exchange of ideas.

The Internet has the power to bring freedom to China, Iran, North Korea, and all the other tyrannical regimes on the face of the earth. As Napoleon once said, "I fear three newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets." Just as Gutenberg’s printing press brought about the Enlightenment in Europe, so too can the Internet bring about a global digital renaissance. America invented the Internet and is arguably the most creative nation in the world. We can use this power to be a force for good in the world—or not. The choice is ours to make.

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