Thursday, November 17, 2011

Internet Apartheid: Its not just a Cuban thing

Amnesty International has highlighted five countries where your online comments can land you in jail: Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, Syria, and Vietnam. Out of the five countries only Syria (as of April 29, 2011) has sanctions leveled against it.

The other four countries have "normalized" relations with the United States. In the case of Cuba trying to provide Cubans with wireless internet connections is grounds for imprisonment. The lack of internet connectivity in Cuba has nothing to do with economic sanctions but everything to do with Cuban government policy.

In the case of Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, Syria, and Vietnam there are attempts to censor what is on the internet and to imprison those within their national territories that express critical opinions online. The Cubans also have to deal with an intranet but in addition are restricted access to the internet.

Yoani Sanchez over twitter expressed the everyday reality for Cubans on November 15, 2011:
Know why I can't use Twitter from the world wide web or read your messages online? Because I'm not politically correct or a foreigner.

Did you know a foreign resident in Cuba can contract home internet connection and a Cuban cannot? That is why I tweet through sms!

No foreign blogger would lend to a alternative blogger an Internet connection. But Twitter allows publishing by SMS. Long live the smoke signals!

That is why I will not stop tweeting nor of training my countrymen to publish on the web even without an Internet connection.

Internet and life! We will Twitter!
Internet apartheid exists in Cuba. Foreigners and members of the regime elite have internet access in their homes, but not the average Cuban. Whats the difference between Cuba and these other countries? US sanctions limit the role of American companies in Cuba but not in Azerbaijan, China, Egypt, Syria, and Vietnam.

Some internet companies have sold their souls for profits from repressive regimes.

In Syria where the United Nations reported in November that 3,500 Syrians have been extra-judicially executed by the Assad regime. At the same time American companies have blocked the internet and assisted the Assad regime in the persecution of the Syrian people. US senators want answers about the complicity of US companies.

Its not the first time. American companies such as Microsoft, Nortel, Cisco and Sun-Microsystems collaborated extensively with the Chinese communists to set up an intranet that blocks free access to internet to hundreds of millions of Chinese. In addition, American companies identified and located Chinese dissidents to the regime who were imprisoned and tortured. For example, according to Amnesty International, Chinese journalist Shi Tao is serving 10 years in jail after Internet company Yahoo! gave the authorities his personal email account-holder information.

American companies, such as Narus, aided the Mubarak regime during its brutal crackdown earlier this year tracking Egyptian activists during the Arab Spring and has also been suspected of helping Libya track dissidents.

The difference between Cuba and these other countries is that because of economic sanctions - some US technology corporations were blocked from doing the same sordid business on the communist island. Of course that does not mean that other companies from other countries are not already engaged in those practices. At the time of the 2003 Black Cuban Spring the Italian company, Telecom Italia, provided technology that was used to track activists that used the internet in a "counterrevolutionary manner."

Internet apartheid its not just a Cuban thing but thanks to US sanctions at least US companies do not have carte blanche to do the same thing in Cuba that they are doing in China, Syria, Egypt and in so many other places around the world. Unfortunately, there are other companies in Cuba collaborating and doing it.

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