It is hard to believe that politicians and misguided fools are still trying to censor or control Internet content after seeing their previous efforts totally nullified or just ignored. The one most noticeable aspect is the lack of knowledge by these people about how the Internet actually works. Of course until they finally learn how the Internet is constructed, they will never succeed, and even when and if they achieve enlightenment, their efforts will generally come to nought.
The Internet, known then as Arpanet, originated in the late 1960s as a military and educational communications medium and was specifically designed so that messages or data flow could not be blocked. In essence, if a data packet was blocked at one node, it would automatically try other nodes until it found its way through to the intended destination. Maybe in the old days when nodes were few and far between, some blocking could have been implemented, but with the massive increase in the use of the Internet in recent years and the sheer number of nodes and paths, any attempt to block sites or data is doomed to failure.
Having noted that the Internet is designed not to be blocked, some totalitarian governments have indeed tried to block and control the Internet to a certain extent by the only way possible. This was by routing all Internet traffic through one government controlled and censored portal, where IP addresses could be blocked en-masse to all Internet users in that nation. China and Burma have done this with some success, however where there is a will, there is a way. For instance, Internet users in China who found certain sites blocked, could still access those sites via proxy servers overseas or use anonymising web browsers such as Tor. They could literally surf to such a website, then call up prohibited content as they wished.
The only way the Chinese government could stop access to the sites they wanted blocked would be to put some sort of monitoring devices on the computers of every person who had Internet access, an impossible task. However, the Chinese government has taken total control of Internet cafes, forcing them to keep records of every website visited from computers on their premises and keeping records of all users. This has deterred many Chinese from exposing themselves to government retribution, but the proliferation of anti-government blogs by Chinese citizens on websites all over the world show that the only way that the Chinese government can stop the anti-regime criticism is to literally close all access to the Internet and this is something that even the Chinese government will not do.
One of the first attempts at Internet censorship by the Australian government was in relationship to pornography. Legislation was enacted that made it an offence to have certain types of pornography on websites in Australia, with huge fines and jail terms for offenders that did not comply with takedown orders. Even after being advised by experts who really knew how the Internet worked and the futility of such legislation, the government persisted and many websites were ordered to remove offending content.
Of course as predicted, these websites were immediately moved onto offshore servers, right out of Australian jurisdiction, however as their Internet addresses remained exactly the same, visitors who wanted to access the material could still do so without even realising that the websites had moved. The only losers were the Australian service providers that were hosting those sites and who lost the hosting business. Ultimately this was a huge embarrassment for the government, which found itself totally impotent.
The Australian government slapped a ban on Internet gambling and many operators who invested large sums of money to set up on-line casinos based in Australia were literally put out of business overnight. Granted that gambling is not the most socially beneficial pastime, nevertheless a major proportion of Australia's revenue comes from legalised gambling. Incredibly, both the federal and state governments are totally hypocritical about the devastating social and personal effects of gambling, where on one hand they condemn this blight and on the other hand allow the wholesale proliferation of poker machines, lotteries, casinos and other means to part suckers from their money and grab a sizeable proportion of gambling revenue in taxes. But these days, many bookmakers are operating lucrative Internet gambling websites, so the government has again been made to look stupid.
Physical gambling is easy for governments to control and to rake off the huge taxes, but cyberspace punting is another proposition altogether. Seeing that Internet gambling could be harder to control, the federal government decided to appease the anti-gambling lobby and also try to secure its tax revenue from established gambling by banning on-line gambling. The government obviously did not learn from its embarrassing experience with Australian based porn sites, because the banning of Australian-based gambling sites merely drove them offshore out of Australian jurisdiction and also pushed gamblers into accessing foreign on-line casinos. The outcome of this ludicrous and short-sighted action by the Australian government will not stop one single Australian cybergambler, but merely send their money into foreign hands.
Australian users of web-based email services such as Hotmail and Yahoo are constantly being spammed by on-line casinos from all over the world. Merely clicking the links in these emails is enough to bring up instant access to these casinos and establish credit card accounts and start gambling. Unless every on-line computer and every credit card transaction in Australia is constantly monitored, such activity is impossible to prevent, no matter what laws are in force. Internet Service Providers are powerless to prevent access to on-line casinos, as there are many ways to bypass IP address and site blocking techniques. The Internet was designed from conception to be unable to be blocked, so the Australian government needs to realise that no matter how good it feels about passing cyber laws, the hard reality is that such laws are completely unenforceable in relation to most activities, including pornography and gambling.
The German government has made attempts to censor material on servers outside of Germany. South Australian Frederick Toben ran a website under the auspices of the Adelaide Institute, in which he claimed that the extermination of Jews by the Nazis, usually referred to as the Holocaust, did not occur. Although his website server containing this material was not in Germany, Toben was arrested when he visited Germany and charged with Holocaust denial, a crime in that country. In actual fact, the prime charges against Toben related to hard copy he sent to recipients in Germany, but supporting material to these letters was on his website in South Australia. However this completely futile attempt by German authorities did not achieve its aim, which was to remove the offending website content. There are literally thousands of websites all over the world where neo-Nazis and other right wingers post Holocaust denial material on a daily basis and these people are all out of German control or jurisdiction. Their sites cannot be removed by the German government but any German with Internet access can browse these sites at any time.
Notwithstanding the German experience in futility, the French ordered well known Internet portal Yahoo to block French subscribers from accessing Nazi related material. Any knowledgeable Internet expert could tell the French that the locally based portal could indeed block such access, however users could simply surf to a proxy server anywhere in the world and from there, jump to the offending sites with complete impunity and download whatever material they choose. Unless each and every Internet user in France was being constantly monitored, offending material could not be prevented from being accessed. With the exponential growth of the Internet in France, such an exercise would be logistically impossible, therefore this attempt at censorship is doomed to failure and the only result might be the removal of Yahoo from French jurisdiction. This would only achieve a denial of local service but not stop French citizens from accessing Yahoo portals or politically incorrect websites anywhere else in the world. In fact a US judge has now ruled that the French authorities do not have the power to censor content on Yahoo, even if French people can access the site, as such censorship would be contrary to the First Amendment to the US Constitution that guarantees free speech and expression.
An Italian court has ruled that foreign based websites that contravene Italian laws can be shut down if they contain defamatory material. How are the Italians proposing to do this when such websites may be in countries outside Italy's jurisdiction and that may not even have diplomatic relations with Italy, let alone those that would even tolerate being ordered by a foreign country to close down facilities based on their own soil? Stating the obvious yet again, websites can be relocated to anywhere on the planet and operate as if they were located around the corner, so unless every solitary nation on Earth agrees to apply universal Internet censorship laws and universal extradition and physically sit and monitor every website in the world, actions such as this ludicrous Italian attempt at enforcing its law on other nationals is also doomed to failure.
The way the Internet and the World Wide Web is constructed precludes any real and meaningful control measures. It is totally open and specifically designed to prevent blocking, so as long as one website can access another, offending material will be able to be accessed from any portal connected to the Internet. To their complete chagrin, the communist Chinese have discovered that they cannot prevent the wholesale flooding of China with anti-communist material, even when they completely control the only data backbone into China. Combined with very secure cryptographic tools to unbreakably encode e-mail, the flow of information into China is increasing day by day. The only repressive country in that region that does not have such a problem yet is Burma, because the military dictators have banned Internet access to the populace. Even the mere possession of a modem brings a lengthy jail term.
These days, any country that does block the Internet is courting disaster. As more and more business and international trade is being conducted on the Internet, any restriction to access will stifle economic growth and wealth. Even in the short term, countries such as Burma simply cannot afford to remain without the Internet if they wish to conduct any business with the rest of the world. Like China, if Burma eventually allows Internet access to more than a handful of people, material of which the regime does not approve will flood in regardless, simply because of the open nature of the Internet. In the case of Burma, this is inevitable.
One cannot help but notice that restrictions on Internet access are only implemented by totalitarian regimes. The list of nations with restrictions or bans on the Internet directly correlates with the degree of repression inflicted by those nations on their populations. These countries include Burma, North Korea, and to a lesser extent, China and some communist Asian nations. Iranians, who actually have enjoyed unfettered Internet access to date, have received a decree from their top religious council, stating that all ISPs must hand over their operations to the government of Iran, as according to these religious fanatics, only the government must be allowed to control the Internet. It is quite obvious that repressive regimes can only control their populations by restricting information and keeping people ignorant and isolated.
The only conclusion that can be reached from observing the attempts at Internet censorship is that because of the sheer nature of the Internet and the fact that it has pervaded literally the entire globe with so many portals and users, censorship simply cannot be enforced to any meaningful degree. If websites can be moved out of the jurisdictions of censors without affecting the ability of users to find them, then the censors are rendered impotent. Nations that try to enforce censorship on websites and people out of their jurisdictions are only going to suffer great embarrassment when they discover that the nature of the Internet will doom them to abject failure.