The Politics of Internet Control

Government and the Web

A common assumption amongst companies and society in general is that governments cannot control what goes on beyond their borders and as a result cannot control Net communications from abroad. A good example of where national governments have asserted control abroad is over the local effects of offshore Internet communications.
The government has done this by targeting entities within their borders through coercion instead of computer sources abroad.

This has proved effective, as the Internet requires a source, an intermediary and a target. When a destination offshore, sometimes referred to as a ‘haven’, provides a source of Internet outside of the government’s physical limits to control, the government still has either the intermediary or target within its borders. This provides a key insight, which is that effective control over any of these elements of transaction provides the government with control within its borders.

Another common assumption is that with the Internet there are no intermediaries, as you don’t need an actual bookstore for example to buy a book online. However, all that has happened is that the Internet has changed these intermediaries to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), search engines and the physical network itself. This is a common mistake as most of the time these intermediaries are invisible as the Net is home to many of them in order for the whole virtual experience to function as it should.

This therefore makes local intermediaries an aspect of the Internet that cannot be eliminated. As ISP’s are deemed the most obvious and important gatekeepers to the Internet these are usually the first target for governments looking to form a strategy of intermediary control. A control that China has maintained from the very beginning over every element of the Internet.


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