Dead Ends on the Information Superhighway
The freedom to journey the web is largely taken for granted here in North America. Unfortunately, that's hardly the case in Asia, where mere images (or videos) are scrutinized for their most basic and even remote meanings. Two stories on this reality are emerging right now, and they're both fascinating glimpses of political environments Americans struggle to comprehend.
And, despite that rather comforting disconnect, the United States plays a role in both accounts.
The first involves (relatively) popular search engine Yahoo Inc, which is facing a lawsuit by imprisoned Chinese political critics. Allegedly, Yahoo turned over the identities of jailed Chinese citizens who spoke out against the communist government there. Those who've seen both their web and personal freedoms lost believe Yahoo is responsible, and argue that the company violated international laws by handing over critical details to the Chinese government.
Yahoo is defending itself by simply blaming those that jailed the Chinese: their own government. The company recently stated, "Yahoo has no control over the sovereign government of the People's Republic of China, the laws it passes, and the manner in which it enforces its laws". As a result, Yahoo hopes to have the lawsuit dropped, a decision that would have serious ramifications for international law. (Source: pcworld.com)
Across the continent in southeast Asia, Thai officials have decided to lift their ban on popular video page YouTube. The country, which still rules via military junta and monarchy, X'd out the American site after offensive images were posted of King Bhumipol. In order to turn the lights back on, YouTube was forced to agree to monitor its site for any images that might be considered offensive to Thailand's royalty, laws, or (last and perhaps least), people. YouTube is, according to most critics, far from the first controversial web site shut down by the country's powerful military leadership. (Source: abc.net.au)
Although Thailand's youth are surely pleased with the decision to resurrect the entertaining site, the fact that big brother is watching remains. It seems both cases are evidence that while the web certainly is an information superhighway, major speed traps remain to the Far East.