CDF Conference: Cindy Cohn, “Regulation and Control of the Internet”

Cindy Cohn, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Every time there’s a new tool of expression, a new media of expression, it has to fight for first amendment rights. Some media, like newspapers, has little regulation. Other, like TV, have lots of regulation. The Internet is no different – and a lot of those issues (freedom of speech, mobility, and privacy) are crucial to what role the Internet will play in the future. In many ways, China has represented the dark side of the possibilities.

China initially began to filter content, “the great fire wall.” But the technologies to get around filters are quite accessible. Currently, we’re seeing a much more distributive system of controls and surveillance, all the way down to the PC level. (Many of these tools, though, have been developed and sold by the U.S. so we are certainly complicit.)


It’s easy to demonize companies, but we need to start with the U.S. federal governement. The U.S. government pushed a telecommunications standard on companies (so that it has the authority and so that it’s relatively easy to break in on communications). This has quickly become the global standard.

You almost have to admire the ingenuity of Chinese surveillance. Voice-recognition software, surveillance cameras and software that allow quick digitalizing and transference of video, traffic analysis, facial-recognition software, about 30,000 people doing active online surveillance for the government.

China has embraced technology, but has embraced it to create a surveillance state and eliminate privacy.

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