China’s Information Duality

A decade ago a common belief was that the Internet would inevitably free societies from governmental regulation, John Perry Barlow’s “weary giants of flesh and steel.” Times change. In chapter 6 of Who Controls the Internet? Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu describe how China has created what is, in essence, a national intranet, “an Internet that is free enough to support and maintain the world’s fastest-growing economy, and yet closed enough to tamp down political threats to its monopoly on power.” A network that provides market-sensitive information on German fixed-income rate fluctuations and bars information on Falun Gong is not supposed to be possible, information wanting to be free* and all that, but there you have it. Perhaps the tensions inherent in such a network are irresistibly fatal, yet meanwhile China continues to pursue information-control duality. It was widely-reported this week that China has barred licensing of new Internet cafes for the rest of the year to allow investigation of existing cafes’ compliance with licensing and customer-registration requirements and to “clean up ‘Internet culture.'”

*If Wikipedia is an appropriate source for anything, it is for a cyberworld quotation such as this.

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