Saturday

Behind the Great Firewall of China

If you've been watching the news about internet privacy, security, and censorship, you've undoubtedly heard mention of the "Great Firewall of China" and the tight grip it maintains over what information goes in and out of the country. Whatever your view on the politics, tech geeks and industry professionals have essentially the same question at the root of it all.

How does the Chinese Firewall work?



The task of monitoring and censoring the entire internet at a country's borders is simply a huge task. Despite persistent rumors that the NSA, FBI, and CIA do this sort of thing in the United States, people in the technical inner circles of the defense and intelligence industries - the so-called "Beltway Bandits" - know the truth... it's simply not feasible to do this.

Chinese Firewall

So how does China, with over a billion people, effectively censor and monitor all internet activity going in or out of the country? It seems impossible. The amount of money you would need to spend, the kind of equipment you would need, the sheer quantity of manpower to monitor all that traffic - how much would it take?

Well, as it turns out, it takes about 30,000 people. That's roughly how many people the Chinese government employs to monitor the internet.

When you add the internal monitoring and censoring provided by private companies, as required by Chinese law, the number of people providing these services grows to at least double those provided directly by the government.

To a country like the United States, or most of the so-called "free world" in Europe and western Asia, the notion of Chinese government control is beyond our experience. Every single internet router in the country is owned and operated either by the government itself, or under tight government scrutiny.

Occasional hand-waving by the internet at large about how easy it is to bypass this scrutiny is largely uninformed. We just don't get it. Out here, in the rest of the world, most of us have just never seen anything like the Chinese government. Ever. And a lot of people have decried their actions, not because there is anything really wrong with those actions, but simply because they are different than what we expect. We are not used to them.

chinese internet censor
Cultures differ. Whatever we might think about the Chinese practice of censoring and blocking internet sites, it is a part of their culture, and they have a right to it. Those of us who do business with China and the Chinese accept this, in much the same way we accept other Chinese customs. While Americans may feel entitled to freedom of speech, this too is a cultural difference - and the Chinese may very well be just as shocked by it.

And the fact remains, no matter how you look at it... from a purely technical standpoint, monitoring all internet traffic to and from a billion people is absolutely awesome. It's a tremendously difficult thing to do, and the Chinese are doing it. If you're really into internet technology, a part of you always thinks that's really cool.

People forget about that. When you talk about the principle of a thing, it's not always just one principle. The great firewall of China, no matter what you may personally think about speech and censorship, is an absolutely awesome accomplishment. No other country in the history of the world has equalled it. And that principle, if no other, deserves our admiration and respect.

from Guest Blogger - Kaliban.

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