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Robert Halfon MP: While the Internet can be a bastion of freedom, it is still controlled by governments and corporations

HALFON-robertRobert Halfon is the Member of Parliament for Harlow. Follow him on Twitter.

There was a good article on modern censorship in last weekend's Observer by Denis MacShane MP. He reviews the new book on censorship by Nick Cohen, who explains that - contrary to popular belief - everything is not rosy in the Internet Garden of free expression. Instead of providing a forum for democracy, modern corporations, Governments, and advanced technology companies are seeking new ways in which to control the Internet. In China, for example, whilst there are millions using micro-blogging sites (Twitter is banned), there is a new requirement for all micro-bloggers to be 'publicly registered' - anonymity is to be curtailed.

Even Twitter has succumbed. Often cited as the bastion of freedom of thought, the company appears to have now agreed to ensure that twitterers are subject to individual government laws. Although Twitter denies that this will have any impact, the effects of this 'ruling' have only just begun. Only yesterday it was reported that Brazil and Twitter have apparently agreed to prohibit twitterers from reporting police activities, such as police road blocks, speed checks and the like.

The logical extension of this is enormous: after Twitter censorship, then what about mobile phones. There is little difference between banning phone conversations that report 'police road blocks', as there is to banning twitter for doing the same. The message here is clear: whilst the Internet is a great source of liberation, at the end of the day, we are subject to the whims and decisions of Governments and the huge corporations that control it - whether it be Google, Microsoft, Twitter or Facebook.

It is a bit like being a regular at a wonderful Pub to have a drink, until the Landlord decides he doesn't like the cut of your jib, restricts what you drink and then throws you out. What all this means is that the alluring romanticism of the Internet is coming to an end. Yes it brings enormous benefits, but we are naïve if we think we are living in an Internet libertarian's utopia.


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