Article 43


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Flickr And The Golden Shield

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19.

Internet photo site says service is being blocked and hopes it’s only temporary

By Verne Kopytoff
San Fransicso Chronicle
June 9, 2007

The popular Internet photo site Flickr said that its service is being blocked in CHINA, although the YAHOO subsidiary did not directly blame the Beijing government, which aggressively CENSORS THE INTERNET of material it deems subversive.

The blocking, which began Thursday, is keeping Internet users across a large part of China from viewing photos on Flickr, home to millions of snapshots of everything from birthday parties to beach vacations to nudes.

The Web site also hosts a smattering of images that may be frowned upon by Chinese censors, including student protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, which includes the famous photo of a man blocking the progress of Chinese army tanks, and bodies of students who were killed in the streets as part of a government crackdown.

China’s tight control over the Internet has become a high-profile issue in recent years as the online world makes increasing inroads with its vast population. Authorities routinely block access to online information about political opposition groups, Taiwanese independence and overseas Web sites such as BBC News, prompting outrage from human rights advocates.

U.S. Internet companies have been caught in the middle, forced to weigh free expression against building their businesses in a potentially lucrative market. Mountain View’s GOOGLE and Sunnyvale’s YAHOO have faced intense criticism for their positions, which have included censoring search results and providing information about dissidents to police.

In POSTINGS ON IT’S WEB SITE Thursday, Flickr said it was experiencing no technical problems and that its service was in fact being blocked, without saying by whom. In an update Friday, co-founder Stewart Butterfield wrote that the Web site’s staff is checking on the issue periodically and that the blocking continues.

“We hope that this is a temporary issue, and we currently believe that it will be,” he said in the posting. “In the meantime, we are investigating our alternatives.”

Telephone and e-mail messages left with Butterfield and a Yahoo spokesman were not returned.

Users from across China posted messages on Flickr describing difficulties accessing images on the Web site, voicing frustration and laying blame on the Chinese government. Access to the Flickr home page and comments area is still apparently possible in China.

Jain Hua Li, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said he hadn’t heard of Flickr until told about it in a conversation with a Chronicle reporter, and then suggested that the blocking may be because Chinese authorities are trying to protect children from racy images.

Lucie Morillon, the U.S. representative for Reporters Without Borders, a French group that promotes free expression, said that the Beijing government often censors Web sites under the guise of protecting children or national security. She called the blocking of Flickr “one more blow against the free flow of information online by Chinese authorities” and added that it is particularly lamentable in light of promises by China to loosen restrictions before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.



China’s Golden Shield

Information and communication technology is often described as the driving force behind globalization. It is also promoted as a tool for democratization with connectivity heralded as the end of the digital divide. In truth, there is no doubt that electronic communication has facilitated the flow of information around the globe and that it has increased opportunities for human rights and democracy activists to build international support for their struggles.

Unfortunately, the advent of modern communication technology has also brought NEW CHALLENGES for human rights advocates, particularly those living under repressive regimes. In a world where the rules of international trade are unconnected to international human rights law, technologys promise of democratization is threatened by economic priorities. In the People’s Republic of China, where there is no democratic accountability or legislative protection of human rights, technology can be and has been used as an instrument of repression.

At stake is the right of all people to an international order within which the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) can be fulfilled. The UDHR and its accompanying covenant on civil and political rights protect fundamental human rights including the individuals right to privacy. The protection of human rights is the obligation of governments and must be reflected in all activities implemented under governmental authority whether they are trade promotion activities, the negotiation of bilateral and international trade agreements, export financing or development assistance.

This report reveals how sophisticated technology, developed in Canada and promoted through a series of national and international processes, could undermine the principles enshrined in human rights agreements. CHINA’S GOLDEN SHIELD project threatens the protection of human rights, in particular the right to privacy - a right that underpins other essential elements of democracy activism such as freedom of association and freedom of expression. It positions the alliance of government and business in opposition to those standing on the cyber-frontline of the human rights movement in China today.

It is my hope that this paper will provide a glimpse into the world of high-tech, big business and the struggle for human rights and democracy in China. On behalf of Rights & Democracy, I offer it in the spirit of solidarity with the people of China who may find its content of some use as they develop and consolidate social movements for change. I offer it also to my fellow Canadians who, following recent reports on police surveillance of dissent in Canada, may discover how intimately the rights of citizens in China are linked to our own.

Warren Allmand, P.C., O.C., Q.C.


Posted by Elvis on 06/09/07 •
Section Privacy And Rights
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