Instapundit is going on about American companies selling “censorship technology” to China. I understand the concern here, but it’s not clear to me that this is a reasonable complaint, in the sense of being able to do something about it.
The fundamental issue is that there is no technological difference between censorship and network security. Both are defined by the concept of allowing only authorized use of a network. The only difference is the particular definition of “authorized”. If you want to allow legitimate businesses and private individuals to control access to their own computers, then you are endorsing the technology of censorship.
For another exampe, I haven’t been posting much lately because I have been slinging big code for some of my Movable Type plugins. One of those projects is anti-junk protection, to protect my weblogs against abuse. In effect, I am censoring the people who want to post to my weblogs, deciding who is legitimate and who is abusive. That’s no different than what the ChiComs are doing, they just define “spam” a bit differently than I do.
But, you say, there’s a big moral difference between shutting down massive floods of comments advertising hard core pornography and shutting down dissenters from the oppressive ChiCom regime in China. Well, yes. But it’s purely a moral difference, not a technological one. One should note, also, that a big part of the problem is the very limited private property in China, which makes the deployment of (somewhat) effective network censorship possible.
Personally, it doesn’t concern me very much. If the technology didn’t exist, then the ChiCom’s network censorship would be 100% effective — nothing is more secure than a non-existent network. The argument, therefore, is that network technology isn’t a perfect means of allowing free communications, that the ChiComs can to some extent restrict it. Yet, overall, the existence of computer networks in China does greatly loosen the ability of the ChiComs to control information and that’s good. So, those companies that Instapundit is whining about have, in the big picture, aided the forces of liberal democracy. Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good.