China's Lack of Information in The Information Age

Attending the Beijing Olympics in August, 2008 as a spectator and fan, I was immediately struck by the all too apparent censorship of information. On my first day in Beijing, I remember grabbing a USA Today to read while sipping my coffee and wondering why it was only two pages thick (thin). Later, when I logged online at my hotel to check e-mails and see "what was going on the world," I had an eerie sense that I wasn't getting a full report. Turns out I was right. Apparently, the stabbing of an American couple by a Chinese man at the Games didn't make the news-I only learned of the occurrence days later on a phone call home to family in the States.

My thoughts on censorship at the Olympics were reignited yesterday as Google's relationship with China made headlines.

Google threatened that due to a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack on [its] corporate infrastructure originating from China" that resulted in the theft of intellectual property, the company would no longer censor its search results in the country and that it might just pull its business out of China all together. Equally troubling was the evidence they have that suggests the primary goal of the attackers was accessing the accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Google's chief legal officer David Drummond, in a post to the company blog, recognized that this "goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech."

Internet censorship in the People's Republic of China is not new news. The censorship in China is considered more advanced than any other country in the world and the Internet police force is estimated at upwards of 30,000 people who not only block certain websites, but also monitor the internet access of individuals. Despite the lack of information they may be receiving, China currently leads the world in Internet users.

Although Google spokesman Matt Furman declined to say whether the company suspects the Chinese government's involvement, the writing is on the wall. The Beijing Olympics were regarded as a "coming out" party for China, but coming out as what? A more progressive China or one that is even more comfortable with repression and state control? Looks to me like yet another case of the Chinese government trying to dim the light of those trying to shine a light on China 's alleged abuses.

I often take for granted the Internet freedom at my fingertips everyday. Should this be a fundamental human right? Is ignorance really bliss? Do you think Google should leave China altogether? Is this a step in the right direction?