IP Justice at United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF):

Chinese Govt tells IGF: “We do not have

[Internet] restrictions at all”
IGF Questions Balance of Intellectual Property Rights in Cyberspace

31 October 2006

The inaugural meeting of the United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF) hosted lively discussion during today’s “Openness” session, which focused on online freedom of expression, the free flow of information, and access to knowledge.

During the session, a representative from the government of China had the audacity to tell a room of 800 IGF participants that China doesn’t restrict access to websites. The audience hissed with disapproval upon hearing this massive bold-face lie and several people even shouted out “liar” in a number of languages.

BBC reporter Nick Gowing, who moderated the session, asked the Chinese governmental representative about the inability to access the BBC Online in China, which is blocked by the Chinese government. The Chinese official responded:

“I don’t think we should be using different standards to judge China. In China, we don’t have software blocking Internet sites. Sometimes we have trouble accessing them. But that’s a different problem. I know that some colleagues listen to the BBC in their offices from the Webcast. And I’ve heard people say that the BBC is not available in China or that it’s blocked. I’m sure I don’t know why people say this kind of thing. We do not have restrictions at all.”

BBC’s Nick Gowing: Would you like to elaborate on that?”

Chinese official:

“How can I elaborate on it if we don’t have any restrictions? Some people say that there are journalists in China that have been arrested. We have hundreds of journalists in China, and some of them have legal problems. It has nothing to do with freedom of expression.”

Before we go too far down the path of exclusively bashing China for its use of the Internet to engage in massive surveillance of its citizens, let’s remember that China now points to the US Patriot Act as justification for its repressive policy, since the US also engages in massive spying on its citizens through the Internet and telephone. China claims it is doing nothing different and therefore the West has no right to condemn it.

Also during the Openness session, a representative from Reporters without Borders questioned the panelist from Cisco Systems, the company who provides the Chinese government with the technology to spy on its citizens and block websites — and that eventually leads to the imprisonment and killing of people who are critical of the policies of the Chinese government. Art Reilly of Cisco said it provides the same technology to all governments and does not feel responsible for the way in which China uses the technology to repress its people. Would that argument absolve a company of ethical responsibility for providing gas to the Nazis, knowing full well that the gas would be used to exterminate people? Here’s a video clip of the exchange.

Panelists CPTech Director James Love and Creative Commons Director Joichi Ito made a number of interesting points on the threat that copyrights and patents create for online freedom of expression and creativity. Here’s a video clip of Joichi discussing the inability for creators to grant permission to someone to copy part of a DVD because of the laws outlawing the circumvention of “digital locks” (such the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act). And here’s a video clip of Joichi Ito discussing the difference between digital and physical intellectual property.

Yesterday, during the “Setting the Scene” session, the Economist reporter Ken Cukier, who moderated the session, and panelist David Souter from the University of Strahclyde in Glasgow, had an interesting exchange on the tension between technological innovation and stability on the Internet. Here’s the video.

Stay tuned for more from the Internet Governance Forum in Athens, Greece.