US: India, Stop Censoring Websites! India: Wikileaks, Hello? US: That's Different!

by Mike Masnick
Aug. 30, 2012

We've argued for a while that the US's effort to censor websites at home while talking about internet freedom is hypocritical and takes away any moral high ground the US might have had with other countries concerning their efforts to censor the internet. What's stunning, unfortunately, is how rarely US officials seem to recognize this problem. When confronted on it -- they always revert to a "but that's different!" claim, missing that this is exactly the excuse that other countries use to justify their own censorship efforts.

Case in point: there's been significant concern in India, as the government has been censoring Twitter accounts of certain journalists and political groups, as well as blocking certain websites (sometimes just blog posts, other times, full websites). As that last link explains, the content targeted for censorship tends to have to do with content around "communal issues and rioting," and thus there's an argument to be made that the censorship is for the benefit of the public, to prevent riots. Even so, of course, one can question whether or not such censorship is even effective, let alone the rather obvious temptation for those in power to overblock for their own benefit. Indeed, that last link explains that there have been "egregious mistakes" in how the blocks have been carried out.

And what about the US? With plenty of attention being paid to the debate over this Indian censorship, the US State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, was asked her thoughts about what was happening, and trotted out the standard line about internet freedom:
"On the larger question of Internet freedom, you know where we are on that issue, and we are always on the side of full freedom of the Internet," she said.
Which sounds great, of course, but if Nuland thought that such a blanket statement would let her off, she was mistaken. Reporters immediately hit back, pointing to examples of the US fighting against internet freedom in its own back yard. And Nuland apparently wasn't happy, and pulled out the "but that's different!" excuse:
But when she was probed on the issue of WikiLeaks, Nuland snapped: "WikiLeaks didn't have to do with freedom of the Internet. It had to do with the compromise of US government classified information."
To be fair the US government has not "blocked" Wikileaks. It has blocked it on certain government computers and has used public pressure to have its hosting and payment processors cut it off. Whether or not that's to the same level as to what's happening in other countries may be debatable, but it certainly opens up the US to criticism on that point. And that's the real issue here. Even if you argue "but that's different," just the fact that the US has opened itself up to such an easy retort any time it argues for internet freedom in countries that espouse censorship, it makes it that much harder for the US to seriously push an internet freedom agenda abroad.

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