At a UN-sponsored event today in Egypt, UN officials demanded the removal of a poster that alluded to the issue of Internet restrictions in China.
The poster was an advertisement for Access Controlled, an MIT publication about the so-called Great Firewall of China, one of the first national Internet filtering systems and a policy that has come under harsh international criticism. The poster was being displays at the fourth annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. The purpose of the forum is to support UN mandates regarding the sustainability, robustness, security, stability, and development of the Internet.
Its mission makes the poster's removal all the more puzzling. The poster, displayed at an Open Net Initiative reception, was apparently removed because it contained a sentence that violated UN policy. The sentence in question reads as follows:
The first generation of Internet controls consisted largely of building firewalls at key Internet gateways; China's famous "Great Firewall of China" is one of the first national Internet filtering systems.
The goal of the Open Net Initiative is to investigate, expose and analyze Internet filtering and surveillance. We remain unclear on the exact policies the poster violated; however, we must strongly question the act of its removal, which amounts to censorship of protest of censorship - a censorship sandwich, if you will, which few of us can find appetizing.
"It is ironic that while people are allowed to gather here to discuss freedom of expression online, censorship, and surveillance practices on the Internet, we are being restricted in expressing our views," said Al Alegre of the Foundation for Media Alternatives, a member of the ONI Network, to reporters today. We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
In our previous coverage of Chinese censorship of Internet access, we alerted readers to the fact that every new computer sold after July 1, 2009 would be equipped with software "intended to block pornography and possibly filter politically disruptive material, all while quietly gathering private user data." This "Green Dam Youth Escort" software is closely related, both ideologically and politically, to the "Golden Shield Project," China's national firewall aimed at censorship and surveillance of user activity.