Friday, August 01, 2014


Tangled Web

North Korea To Create Internet Oasis

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Last month, "IT World" reported about plans being drawn up for the Chinese city of Chongqing to offer a free Internet zone -- basically, an uncensored Internet, but only for the foreign companies working there:
 
The city's Cloud Computing Special Zone will be home to a handful of state-of-the-art data centers and is designed to attract investment from multinational companies and boost China's status as a center for cloud computing.
 
To attract business, the Chongqing municipal government will provide the site with unrestricted access to the Internet, meaning companies located there won't be restricted by China's pervasive Web filtering system, according to Chinese media reports.
 
That has sparked an uproar among some Chinese Internet users, because the unfiltered Web access will be available only to foreign companies, according to the reports. People commenting on social-networking sites have slammed the zone as a throwback to the days of "No dogs and no Chinese allowed," a reference to how local Chinese were prohibited in the early 20th century from entering certain foreigner communities.
 
Now, according to "North Korea Tech," it looks like North Korea is doing the same:
 
North Korea plans to allow Internet access and the use of mobile phones by visitors to the Mount Kumgang tourism zone.

Visitors are typically relieved of their mobile phones when entering North Korea and public Internet access is not available inside the country.
 
[…]
 
In a recent interview with China Central Television, an official confirmed some of the plans.

The official was not named, but identified as “with the guidance bureau of the Mt. Kumgang international special tourist zone.”

He said Internet access would be available and said the phone service detailed in the law would include mobile phones.
 
(North Korea already has its “Kwangmyong,” essentially a national intranet, with government-approved search, email, and content.)

The "dictator's dilemma" -- the idea that authoritarian states might think twice about censoring the Internet as they don't want to damage their country's economic standing -- is often presented as a kind of either-or scenario, but in reality, as the Chinese and North Korean cases show, it's much more complex.

The solutions countries like Iran or China tend to fall back on -- for instance Iran's plans to launch a Halal Internet -- show that more often than not they want to have their Internet cake and eat it too and the solutions tend to be more gray than black or white. (A good recent example is the selective filtering Belarus employs so well, where opposition sites, including RFE/RL, are targeted mostly in times of crisis.) 

Instead of looking at China's efforts to filter the Internet through the monolithic framework of the "Great Firewall," the scholar Li Yonggang has likened it to a hydro-electric or water-management project, meaning a much more complex and sophisticated system, where managers can expand or restrict freedoms on the fly as the conditions require.

The problem, of course, in allowing more of this flexibility and allowing little oases of web freedom on your territories, is the uproar it might cause and the further stratification of society into digital haves and have-nots -- the "no dogs or Chinese" sentiment mentioned in the "IT World" piece. 
 
I guess these online enclaves are just an extension of the privileges Westerners already have when visiting and working in foreign lands with more restrictive cultures. You're allowed to drink alcohol in Dubai hotels; now you can surf the web in North Korea.
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About This Blog



Written by Luke Allnutt, Tangled Web focuses on the smart ways people in closed societies are using social media, mobile phones, and the Internet to circumvent their governments and the efforts of less-than-democratic governments to control the web. 
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