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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Policy Planning Staff > Secretary's Open Forum > Proceedings > 2003

The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule

Shanthi Kalathil, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Presentation at the Secretary's Open Forum, Washington, DC
June 25, 2003

Opening Remarks and Introduction

MS. KALATHIL:  Thank you very much. It's a great honor to be here at the Secretary's Open Forum, and I would like to thank William Keppler for arranging all this. I think it's especially important to talk about these issues now. And I was trying to think of a good lead-in to my talk today, and someone suggested just prior that I should start with a joke. Unfortunately, the genre of authoritarian regime humor is somewhat lacking--shall I say--so I couldn't come up with anything appropriate. So I thought I would start with a quote instead by a former president--that's former President Ronald Reagan. He said, "The Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip." That's essentially what I am going to be talking about today; this very concept. It's a statement that intuitively makes sense, one that gives you hope about the future and that promises great things for technology. President Reagan said that in 1989, before the Internet was even a gleam in a dot-commer's eye. These days, as the Internet spreads around the world, that statement seems more apt than ever.

But what exactly makes this statement true? As it turns out, up until a few years ago no one really knew how to connect technology to political change. There were plenty of stories, of course. There were tales from Eastern Europe, and people made connections there between the spread of photocopiers and fax machines and the fall of communism. People also pointed to Indonesia and the fall of Suharto in 1988. In that instance, there were student groups who used e-mail to communicate with each other, and it is thought that the Internet played a vital role in helping them to communicate. Even the anti-globalization protestors have used the Internet to organize their protests. And, again, this seems to be a case where technology is playing a vital role.

But apart from saying that technology plays a vital role, when we tried to delve deeper into that, there was very little that we could find in terms of academic analysis or even journalistic accounts. Those studies that did exist tended to focus on individual country cases, and there was really nothing that set out broadly how the Internet might be affecting authoritarian countries around the world.

My colleague Taylor C. Boas and I at the Carnegie Endowment set out to examine this proposition: the connection between the Internet and political change in authoritarian countries. We asked the questions: Does the Internet lead to democracy? And, if so, under what conditions? We first looked at two main case studies, which were China and Cuba. We chose those cases because the Internet was present in both countries; we also had some expertise in both countries, and they turned out to have taken very different routes in Internet development. We then brought in our study to include three cases from the Middle East and three cases from Southeast Asia. And I'll talk a little more about China, because it's one case that people tend to focus on a lot, and there certainly a lot of interesting and dynamic developments going on with the Internet in China.

Typically when you talk about the Internet in China, you hear one of two scenarios. The first scenario is what I'd call the revolutionary Internet scenario. In this one, Internet cafes are mushrooming, Internet businesses are booming, there's a cell phone in every ear, and there's a mouse on every desktop. In this scenario people are chatting freely online, they are questioning government policies, they are reading news stories, they are e-mailing each other, and possibly even creating the beginnings of organized dissent.

In the other scenario, what I will call the stifled Internet scenario, firewalls are being thrown up around the Internet, the government is passing Draconian regulations that actually stifle the kind of speech that can appear online; people are being hauled off to jail for posting politically sensitive comments. And even international Internet companies are feeling pressure to modify the content that they make available to Chinese consumers.

Well, in fact, I think both of these scenarios are true. At any given time they may overlap with each other. And it's this duality that makes studying the Internet's impact in China and other authoritarian countries so challenging and rewarding at the same time.

I'll talk a little bit now about both sides of this coin and elaborate a bit more on these scenarios. So if you talk about this optimistic view of technology and this optimistic view of how the Internet is affecting China, you have to begin with the assumption that the Chinese Government is actually promoting Internet use. Rather than reacting to technology, it is actually trying to proactively harness this technology and use it for economic development. And the Chinese have even come up with their own separate term for this. They call it "informatization," or shenshewa (ph) in Chinese. That essentially means the incorporation of information technology into the economy, into society, and into politics. Because the government has promoted public use, use of the Internet in China has expanded exponentially. According to the China Internet Network Information Center, there were around 59 million Internet users in January 2003. Now, this figure is disputed, and it may be somewhat on the high side, as far as I can tell. But just to give you some perspective, in January 2002, there were only 35 million, and that's a huge jump.

Who are these people? Primarily they are young, they are relatively wealthy and well-educated urbanites. What are they doing online? Well, they are e-mailing each other; they are gossiping about their favorite movie stars and singers. They are probably checking up on their favorite sports teams and seeing how Yaoming (ph) is doing in the United States. Domestic Chinese websites feature flashing graphics and slick design, with a number of pop-up ads. In fact, it's almost impossible to get on a Chinese website without being attacked by about 10 pop-up ads. And, increasingly, there's an emphasis on news on Chinese websites. And what a lot of these websites are doing is they are taking news from papers all over China, and they are putting them in one spot. So that now if you are living in Beijing, you can access some of the more, the freer newspapers and some of the more adventurous magazines that you get in Guangdong Province, which is closer to Hong Kong.

Of course, there is a flip side to all this, and that's the other side of the coin that I mentioned. Now, in this scenario what is known as the great firewall of China constrains the Internet. The great firewall is basically a system of filtering sites the Chinese Government has set up, and it's thought that tens of thousands of sites are now blocked. Now, this can be anything from the websites of human rights organizations abroad to universities, to some U.S. newspapers. Sometimes the blocking system does seem a bit haphazard.

There are regulations that also make online news gathering illegal. So when I talked about people visiting news and getting their news from the Internet, you have to understand that these sites are only allowed to publish news from official Chinese newspapers. Now, some sites do manage to skirt those regulations. Sometimes they'll be sneaky about it. They'll translate, for instance, a Chinese newspaper translation of a Washington Post article online. And so sometimes you'll get foreign news that comes to domestic Chinese news sites in that fashion.

The chat rooms of Internet companies also are required to hire censors which scrub off some offending content. So in most of the companies that you will see in China you will also have somebody sitting in their office there that will be constantly scanning chat rooms, trying to see if the discussion on those chat rooms is approaching a point that might be considered politically offensive. And so if somebody makes a statement, say condemning the Chinese Government or calling for a government change, usually that statement will be scrubbed off by the censor.

And, finally, the government does arrest a number of people in order to make an example of these people, and to discourage the bulk of Internet users from going to that point. And so people who have posted politically sensitive comments online are not always, but occasionally hauled off to jail for that.

Now, are all these measures foolproof? No, they are not foolproof, and, in fact, many people do get around the firewall. They use proxy servers to access the global Internet, and they have developed a number of ways to try and get around this system of control. They can hold reasonably lively discussions online about current events without worrying about being arrested. But most people know that there's a boundary that they cannot cross, and the Chinese Government has tried to keep that boundary fairly loose so that people will approach that boundary but not go over it.

And that's essentially what the government's plan has been about. It's not trying to stifle Internet use; rather, it's trying to promote a Chinese Internet that is contained within boundaries that it has circumscribed.

So I focused a little bit on China here, because I think that it's emblematic of the approach that many authoritarian regimes would like to take, or that they are thinking about taking in the future. And some of the other cases in our study illustrate this. For instance, if you look at the most unwired end of the scale, you have countries like Cuba and Burma. Now, in these countries Internet access is spare or nonexistent. If you look at Cuba, in particular, the situation that you see there is something that is quite different from what you have in China. In that country the government tends to grant Internet access only to those civil society groups that it feels will support the government or, at least, will now challenge the government. I think it would be very difficult as a known dissident to get above-board Internet access in Cuba.

In Burma there are now a couple of Internet cafes that are open, I believe, but for the majority of people in that country accessing the Internet is really just a dream. I've read stories about how people at one point during the Internet boom in the rest of the world, people would gather in cafes in Burma and talk about the Internet, because they couldn't actually get online to the Internet. They knew it was out there somewhere, and that it was an interesting source of ideas, but there was really no way as a poor Burmese person to dial into the Internet. You would have had to try and do it through dialing overseas, and that's just not practical for most of the citizens there.

In fact, in Burma possession of an unauthorized fax machine or computer will land you several years in jail, and they have, in fact, arrested people for this and made examples of people.

At the other end of the scale you have semi-authoritarian countries like Singapore and Egypt. We included those in our study, because their political systems, of course, are quite different from some of the very severe authoritarian countries that we studied. But their approach to the Internet has been fascinating, because both of those countries have really promoted Internet use, and they have made every effort to try to get their populations up and running online. They are trying to educate their populations in use of the technology. Egypt, in fact, has a policy of no censorship online so, theoretically at least, you can access newspapers that may be censored within the country in their print version, but if you go online you can read the full story.

In Singapore, again, there are some sites that are blocked, but for the most part citizens there can use the Internet; and, not only that, they can interact with their government in a way that really leads the rest of the world. There are all sorts of online government services available in Singapore. You can pay parking fines; you can complain about corrupt officials. You can do pretty much everything you can imagine online there. So both of these countries are really taking that kind of an approach. I think you'll see in both of those countries, although they have chosen to get extremely wired, they are not experiencing a great level of political dissent. So we are not seeing some sort of inherent correlation there between penetration of technology and presence of political dissent. I think that has to do a lot with the underlying political system and the measures that are taken by the ruling government to control dissent in other ways.

In between are countries like Saudi Arabia, which also has an extensive firewall--perhaps even more extensive than China's. That country actually took 2 years between deciding to implement the Internet, deciding to actually allow Internet access within its borders, and then actually doing so. It is thought that in those 2 years that the government was really studying all the ways in which it could put in place a very comprehensive firewall. And, again, there are thought to be tens of thousands of sites blocked in Saudi Arabia. Many of those are not political sites though. They tend to be pornographic sites or sites which are deemed to be harmful to the social values of the country.

There also is Vietnam, which is trying to emulate China, and it's also experiencing a few more hiccoughs in that, because unlike China, which is really committed to an economic reform program and has done so for a number of years, Vietnam is really experiencing more difficulty trying to map out its economic reform program, and it hasn't quite deregulated all these aspects of its telecommunications sector.

So when you take all these countries together, is there an overall picture that emerges? It's a pretty complex picture, but--and some would say that it was a bleak picture. But I am going to try and argue that it's not entirely as bleak as it seems. It's true that more and more authoritarian governments are in fact adapting to the information age and are using the tools of the information age to enhance their own power. For now many are actually successfully controlling the political impact of the Internet. But does this mean that the Internet isn't capable of acting as a force for positive political change in these countries? I would argue no. I think this is because as we learn more about the global spread of the Internet and we learn about the specific practices that these governments use, and, in fact, the ways in which the Internet is affecting these populations, we will be able to make wiser policy choices. And rather than relying on the invisible hand of the Internet to spread around the world, and somehow mysteriously cause democracy, policymakers can focus on supporting specific concrete actions that may prove of tangible benefit to the citizens of authoritarian regimes. This may include fostering independent media and making sure that this independent media is accessible to citizens of these countries. It may be supporting efforts to broaden citizen oversight of government, such as e-government programs that can make government activities and procedures more transparent.

The Internet also can play a role in simply boosting the quality of life for citizens of authoritarian countries. The millennium development goals adopted at the General Assembly of the UN in 2000 aimed to reduce poverty, hunger, and the spread of AIDS, and to boost education, health care, and the empowerment of women. I think the Internet can actually play a role in all of these areas. For instance, one way to--one of the millennium development goals--a target is to reduce the mortality rate of under-5-year-old children. And perhaps it might be helpful in this goal to use the Internet to help construct health databases, to provide doctor-to-doctor e-mail networks, or simply to raise awareness in the population via the Internet and community centers.

In authoritarian developing countries, improvement on these fronts would constitute tangible benefits for the people. Although they are not immediately political in nature, they would, nonetheless, accrue eventually to political change. In short, while the Internet may not bring about the immediate demise of autocratic rule, it is helping to transform authoritarianism, and it can be strategically deployed to help bring about positive changes in authoritarian countries.

And this all means that optimism, not pessimism, is called for. It may not be the unbridled optimism that we witnessed at the birth of the Internet age, but a more informed optimism about the Internet and its effects can certainly be harnessed to help open closed societies around the world. Thank you. (Applause.)

MR. KEPPLER:  Dr. Kalathil is now available to take your question or if you have any comments you'd like to make about the presentation. I'd ask that you go to the microphones. If you are not seated on one, just so it will end up on our transcript, and if you are seated near a microphone, if you'll just press the button in front of you.

One of the questions I'd like to ask you, if I may. You and I discussed prior to your coming on the stage here about a proposal that I am working on to do the Open Forum program over live-stream videos that can be archived so that anyone in the world can log on at their convenience and watch the equivalent of a small TV program on the Internet. Are you aware of anyplace where this is being done broadscale? And not just in terms of accessing the World Wide Web, but this being used as a tool for communications of ideas and policies?

MS. KALATHIL:  I think it is being done. In fact, and this may not be the example that you're looking for, but in fact a lot of these authoritarian governments themselves are looking into ways to utilize the Internet to get their message across to domestic populations and to overseas populations. Now, of course, I think this type of effort is being done more by the United States and by countries in Europe, and so on. But one of the most striking examples that I can think of--and this is probably because I am looking at these countries all the time--is even a very unwired country, like Burma, the government there, which has all the resources, is actually now trying to utilize the Internet to try and get its message out. So if you look for information about Burma, or Myanmar, on the Internet, what you will get is a lot of overseas sites run by nonprofit organizations and transnational advocacy organizations. But you'll get a number of sites which have been set up by the government there. And the government realized a few years ago that it can actually make use of the Internet to try and, you know, get world opinion on its side, because it's up against formidable opponents like Aung San Suu Kyi--people who have a lot of the power, the media, and public opinion behind them. I think it's kind of ironic, because while the United States and other democracies are trying to harness these technologies to communicate with citizens in authoritarian countries and to perhaps spread democratic values, a lot of these authoritarian governments are taking lessons from them and also trying to get their message out, albeit not nearly as effectively, I think.

MR. KEPPLER:  Which governments in your experience and in your research seem to be most responsive in realizing the power of the Internet? Not necessarily the authoritarian regimes that you focus on, but, just in general, which governments in your experience seem to understand the potential best of all?

MS. KALATHIL:  I think the United States is doing a lot of work there. And, clearly, the State Department is making more of an effort now with its public diplomacy program to do more of that sort of thing. You know, if you are talking about harnessing the power of the Internet to communicate ideas abroad, I think, in fact, Singapore is doing a lot of that. When you are talking about harnessing the power of the Internet simply to improve government presence and improve its outreach to citizens in general, the United Kingdom is doing a lot with e-government measures and with e-voting, and Singapore is actually doing a lot in that regard as well, as I mentioned before.

MR. KEPPLER:  The gentleman in the back there, please?

Q:  Gordon Bayer (ph), Arms Control Bureau. Would you address the issue of Western companies cooperating with repressive regimes, particularly China, in setting up filtering censorship mechanisms? Is that going on?

MS. KALATHIL:  Yes, that's been a question that's been on the agenda of many organizations over the years. It was more relevant, I think, in China's case when China was first starting to set up what's called the firewall--the great firewall--because it's thought there were U.S. companies that did provide technology for that. I don't want to say the names of the companies, because I don't want to get them wrong, but, certainly, the information is out there, and I think that the argument made by these companies at the time was that they are not controlling what is being done with the technology; they are simply selling a neutral technology to these governments, and it's up to the governments to do what they will with it.

This, of course, didn't sit too well with a lot of the human rights organizations that work on Internet freedom and media freedom in China. So there's kind of an ongoing debate now about what the role of U.S. business should be and how it should act when operating in these countries. There have been, subsequent to the setting up the firewall in China, there had been a number of instances where U.S. companies have had to make some tough decisions. For instance, there was a voluntary pledge that many Chinese Internet--in fact, all the Chinese Internet companies signed onto last year. That pledge was--I believe the wording was to keep deleterious information off the Internet. That could be widely interpreted, of course, and generally was thought to mean that these companies would be censoring their material and would make sure there was nothing politically sensitive online. And the only foreign company to sign onto that pledge was Yahoo, I believe, and they also took a lot of heat from that from the international human rights community. So it's something--it is an ongoing issue.

MR. KEPPLER:  The gentleman at the microphone, please.

Q:  Yes, I would like you to speculate about the likely outcome on these authoritarian regimes if, indeed, they just let the Internet alone and just let--stopped all their attempts to suppress debate and so on. And then after you answer that, there's a follow-up.

MS. KALATHIL:  Well, it's hard for me to answer that, because I think since the Internet's inception there's been a misconception that the Internet can spread of its own accord. In fact, with a lot of these authoritarian countries, they have been in control of not only content, but of the actual infrastructure from the beginning. So it's been actually a very proactive decision on their part to say, okay, we are going to build the pipes, we are going to use our telecommunications infrastructure, our cable network, et cetera, in this fashion. So, you know, it's hard for them to say, okay, we are not going to control it, because they own all the architecture already.

Q:  I meant control simply in the sense of the content regulations that you were talking about.

MS. KALATHIL:  Well, Malaysia and Egypt, which are two semi-authoritarian countries, have tried this kind of approach. Egypt, again, is ostensibly adopting a non-censorship approach in terms of print materials online. And it's interesting because, so far, I don't think there have been a number of very significant challenges to the government because of uncensored online material there.

With Malaysia, again, they are sort of waging this on-again/off-again battle with certain independent media companies there. But even in these cases, and in the case of Singapore where you are not seeing a lot of content control, I am not seeing a lot of political dissent online. Now, that may be different in a country like China, which is much more authoritarian and has a different political system. But what we argue in our book is that it's not only about online access and what people are doing online. A lot that has to do with political change in these countries has to do with the underlying political structure, and that can be quite powerful online and offline. And so if the country is set up to stifle dissent, that can happen even if the online environment is free.

Q:  The follow-up is that suggests that the use of the Internet by the United States as a foreign policy instrument to help undermine authoritarian regimes doesn't seem to be very likely, according to what you said. Is that a fair statement?

MS. KALATHIL:  Well, I think you have to qualify exactly what types of use. I think if U.S. policy is simply to let the Internet spread and hopefully something good will happen of it, I think that's likely to be a not-very-effective approach. But, for instance, in areas that I mentioned before, such as e-government programs, that may tangibly help open up governments and provide some oversight of governments in these countries. That's a kind of use of the Internet that may lead to political change. Now, it may not be the sudden collapse of a government, but, yes, I think that can have some democraticizing political effects.

Q:  I was thinking of something more subversive like promoting technology that would enable people to --citizens in these countries to block or circumvent filters, for example.

MS. KALATHIL:  Right, there is that going on already, of course, and I think that those efforts to allow citizens to access online material are worthy of support, because people are unable to get around the firewall by themselves sometimes, and they worry about being identified. If there is a good anonymizing software that's developed, that allows people to access the Internet without fear of being monitored, that can be helpful. But I would also argue that we really have to look at what citizens in each country are looking at. For instance, if we are trying to open up the Internet in China, and if U.S. policy is to try to unblock websites so that Chinese people can read more about the world, we have to look at what Chinese people are really interested in reading. And it's been my experience, and just from talking to people there and reading surveys of public opinion there, that not that many people are interested in going to the New York Times or CNN or the Washington Post. So if we make an effort to unblock those sites, the leverage that you get out of that, I am not sure exactly what the measurable benefit will be. Whereas if you try and create access to Chinese language sites, I think that would be much more effective. So it's really a question of targeting that.

MR. KEPPLER:  The gentleman in the back there, please.

Q:  In response to your last statement on China, it's interesting that the first two information revolutions in China led directly to student-led revolutionary movements. The May 4th movement in 1919 was a direct product of the then new mass newspaper. The 1989 student movement was a direct product of fax machines, which spewed information and calls to arms across China. But now the information, a third information revolution, the Internet, is having a very different impact or utilization in addition to the firewall--the government firewall. You have the government fairly effective at channeling that rage into nationalism, almost a xenophobic nationalism that really aims at the United States and outside hegemons. And so it's interesting that that is actually reinforcing the whole.

MS. KALATHIL:  Yeah, that's a very good point actually. I would point out that newspaper and fax machines did have that sort of effect in China, but you also had other mass media, like radio and television, which also were historically part of the propaganda apparatus of the party. So you have different precedents for these different types of media in China. I think what the government would like to do with the Internet is have it be in the model of the cable television networks or the radio of the old really hard-line communist regime, which is to try to get a message out from the government to the people.

Now, of course, the Internet is much more; they are much more sophisticated about it. They're not aiming for a similar approach. But, again, as you say, there are many outlets now for people to express popular opinion. The government is, I think, trying to have that opinion expressed in a certain way. Frequently, it does take the form of nationalism and sometimes extreme xenophobia. This is a trend that, I think, is on the rise in China, and it may be exacerbated by the Internet. I think it's one of those effects that people aren't really looking at. We tend to assume the Internet is going to lead to democracy but not perhaps a nationalistic movement.

MR. KEPPLER:  The gentleman in the back there, please.

Q:  I'm curious to know--let me give a little bit of background on my question. I'm deal with network security, and I spend a considerable amount of time in chat rooms and that kind of an open forum. The perceived anonymity that people gain by associating themselves with some handle--some sort of an assumed identity--tends to make them much more free in the comments they make. Particularly if you read U.S. chat sites, you would tend to think that everyone within the U.S. is racially biased and so on and so forth. I'm curious to know that--particularly in countries that have a more open stance toward the Internet in relation to the State Department's role-- is this type of communication-- which like you said tends to be venting as opposed to really expressing genuine feelings and what-not, has that been seen or perceived as a negative, as a hindrance to the democratization of some of these types of regimes?

MS. KALATHIL:  I think that you do see a lot of that in some of these countries where the Internet is starting to develop, and particularly in countries where people are even more uncomfortable about using their real identities online. I mean you can imagine if people use handles in the U.S., they are even more likely to do so in a country like country. I think that because of that sometimes you get a skewed perception of what actual public sentiment is. I am not sure how that relates to democratization, except that if the U.S. and policymakers are looking to some of these chat rooms for an indication of how best to approach people, I think that has to also be paired with again offline factors, such as the political situation and polls and other things that will help get a read on public sentiment, because you do tend to get sometimes a self-selecting group of people who are on the Internet all talking with each other and reinforcing each other.

Q:  What I am curious about more is you mentioned--as he was mentioning nationalism in the case of China, for example. Has it ever been seen that Chinese officials, who do have a more open access to the Internet, are using this type of open forum, which is not necessarily indicative of U.S. public sentiment or opinion, to be presented to their people--as this is what the U.S. tends to think of you?

MS. KALATHIL:  I see. I haven't seen any indication of that so far. There is speculation that sometimes people are misrepresenting themselves online. Usually it's less about Chinese Government officials trying to represent the U.S. position, and more suspicion that U.S. Government officials are trying to represent the U.S. position as a Chinese person. I think that's the main concern, and that could be an impediment to some public diplomacy programs if interactions on the Internet are viewed as suspect and everyone is viewed as a potential CIA agent.

Q:  The gentleman here, and then the gentleman over here. This gentleman here first, please.

Q:  Yes. Can you say something about the SARS experience as a model that possibly refutes, or at least would take exception to, some of the statements that you are making? And how does your concept of how the Internet is working in the openness authoritarian regime manipulation game--how that fits?

MS. KALATHIL:  The SARS case was interesting, because I think that it showed that the Internet is capable of transmitting information, but only to a certain degree, and certainly not in a reliable fashion. So what you saw in China was that the official media, which was alternatively prevented from reporting on the story, or allowed to report on it, and as a result of which people had no official or reliable source that they could go to for information about SARS. So many people turned to the Internet. And on the Internet, as I was just at a presentation earlier where somebody was talking about some of the wild rumors that were going around on the Internet--people were e-mailing each other about how it was all a creation of the--SARS was a creation of the U.S. Government. There were helicopters that were going to spray the population--all sorts of things like that. You know, the Internet is not--it may provide information, but it's not necessarily verified information. It may be false. And in cases where there is no other information available, it can be a dangerous conduit that helps to inflame panic in these situations.

Q:  But isn't it true that some of the early indications that something was going on in Guangdong and other places came through Internet networking and that kind of thing?

MS. KALATHIL:  It did. And I think that some of it did come through in early November and throughout. But it's interesting that despite that it still didn't--actually the news didn't come out of China until several months later. So you can see that even though there was information circulating on the Internet, so much still depends on official state policy and the information that the government chooses to make public and not to make public. And, again, I think the official media had a really large role that it could have played in this. Sometimes the Internet will pick up on stories that are reported in the official media. But without that underlying base it can devolve into a very amorphous sort of mass of information that ordinary people simply--they don't know what to believe and what not to believe.

MR. KEPPLER:  The gentleman over here, please.

Q:  Charles Weiss (ph), Georgetown School of Foreign Service. Do you find any sign that China or anybody else is sufficiently worried about either open information coming into their country or more broadly about U.S. control over Internet governance through ICAN and other organizations, that they might be tempted to set up a counter internet that they can control better?

MS. KALATHIL:  I think that that is one concern, and China has been concerned a little bit about being a part of ICAN. I don't follow ICAN issues very closely, but I know that at one point China wanted to also have its own domain-name registration system, and that it's trying to establish some sort of role in that.

In terms of setting up a counter Internet, I don't think that anybody--I don't think any of these governments are looking to do that. But what they are looking at in some countries is trying to set up a national Intranet, which would essentially be a system of white-listed sites. Rather than taking the global Internet and blacklisting out several sites, you would simply preapprove a set of sites and then make those sites available to the population. I believe that is what Cuba has been exploring for a while. I don't know how far along that is, but it's frequently talked about in this context in some of these countries. I think it would be hard for them to implement though.

MR. KEPPLER:  The gentleman over here, please.

Q:  Hello, my name is Ken Burman (ph), and I manage the Internet anticensorship program at the International Broadcasting Bureau. We send out millions of e-mails a week with Voice of America and Radio Free Asia News, and we also have proxy sites on there. We send out and change the proxy address and domain name daily, depending on when it's been blocked. I do want to say that you are absolutely correct about Chinese language sites. People on our proxies can go to any Chinese language site--Tibetan independence, Taiwan freedom, or anything else.

What I wanted you to comment on, though, if you would, was how the cell phone revolution--and there are 220 million cell phones compared to 50 or 60 million Internet users--the cell phones have text-messaging. Text-messaging was used extensively during the SARS outbreak. And we can also use it to transmit proxy information so people can go to the Internet and get updated sites. So how do you see cell phones integrating with the Internet and then together changing the society? Thank you.

MS. KALATHIL:  One thing that unfortunately we couldn't look at in the book is how the Internet is evolving over the years, and I think that that's--in fact, cell phone technology is a potent new force in the development of the Internet, and it takes things to a different level. Clearly, as you mentioned, during the SARS outbreak it did play a role in helping to inform people. I think that that's an issue that the Chinese Government is now looking at.

I don't know--I am not a technical expert, but I understand that even text-messaging, though, it's not a totally decentralized technology, so that if the government did decide to try to attempt some sort of filtering system or control system, theoretically, it could do so. Now, I think it would be a lot harder. And I do think that it is in these types of technologies where they enable very quick instantaneous mobilization of people that you may see some interesting side effects from that.

MR. KEPPLER:  Do you have any more questions? I want to thank Ms. Kalathil for a very interesting presentation, and also for her command and her knowledge of the issues and responding to your questions. I think it's been a very stimulating program, and I want to thank you. (Applause.)

Just to remind you, next week, a week from today, we are going to have Dr. Aaron Miller come. He'll be talking about is peace between Arabs and Israelis possible? And, if so, how do we get there? He'll be talking not so much an alternative approach, but a supplemental approach. Should the road map succeed, or any diplomatic initiative succeed in achieving a peace, the real issue is: Can it be sustained? Dr. Miller is going to be talking about how do we go about creating an environment that makes peace more possible; but, more importantly, if it is achieved, how do we make it enduring? So that will be next Wednesday right here from 12:00 to 1:15. I hope you'll join us. And, once again, thank you for joining us today. Have a good afternoon. (Applause.)


Released on July 10, 2003

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