Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Freedom Finds A Way Through

David Harsanyi weighs in on China's requirement that PC makers include software that allows the government to block "harmful" websites. His view is that even with such software installed, more personal computers in China will eventually lead to more personal freedom:

But if we believe that the U.S. has no business imposing its values on other nations, why would we expect corporations to spread the good word?

Some critics have presented the issue as a straightforward choice between corporate "profits" and enlightened "principle" (profit, predictably, being the immoral choice). Which is technically true. But what if profit is the constructive way to advance our principles?

The 40 million personal computers sold in China last year--many of them in the hands of once-isolated people--will do more to liberalize that nation than any government sanction or well-intentioned protest we could concoct. When, after all, has any policy of isolation or trade restriction helped spread democracy or undermine tyranny?

It won't surprise onlookers that around the 20th anniversary of the military crackdown in Tiananmen Square, Internet users across China had problems accessing popular networking sites like Twitter, MySpace, Hotmail and Yahoo, among many others.

These sites allow people to interact in areas all across China, exchange ideas and grievances, plan political opposition or simply discuss frowned-upon topics. Across China, users openly complained and speculated about the reasons for the shutdown, which in itself is a sign of growing independence.

To combat this kind of Internet liberty, China's government utilizes over 30,000 censors. It deploys unknown thousands of true believers who troll websites, affixing positive and fawning comments about the Communist Party on message boards and Internet discussions.

The more computers China has, the more censors it will need. The more computers the Chinese use, the more difficult it will be to control the flow of information.

A government that tries to control the flow of information in today's world may succeed in the short run. But over time such control will prove impossible to maintain. Agreeing to the Chinese government's demands to include such censoring software may seem to be helping them build their information wall. But the longer the wall gets, the more difficult it is to prevent it from being breached.

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