Ai Weiwei is not the only stifled individual in China. The number of Chinese citizens detained for their thoughts and opinions expressed online has skyrocketed in the past several years, partially due to the fact that the government can easily access the personal communications of those suspected of being a political dissident. The CCP uses several methods to control what content mainland users can access online. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are indefinitely blocked, and have been replaced by Chinese-owned versions with similar functions. The Chinese versions (QQ, Youku, Sina Weibo) of these popular webpages can be easily monitored and edited for content by the CCP., and their international popularity is lacking. This greatly reduces the likelihood of Chinese citizens having access to international viewpoints or information considered ‘sensitive’ by the CCP.
The biggest infringement on Chinese internet freedom by far is the “Great Firewall.” Often known as the “Golden Shield Project” in China, the system was launched nationwide in 2006 after eight years of development. Any webpage that focuses on restricted topics is blocked by mainland servers. The automatic censors direct searches with obvious ‘taboo’ words, including ‘democracy’, ‘Dalai Lama’, and ‘Tiananmen’ to a CCP-approved website. The Great Firewall gives the CCP full access to personal email accounts, IP addresses, and users’ personal information. Chinese citizens must register with the CCP in order to access the internet; this is in place so the CCP can track every website they have viewed.There are also reports of internet users known as the “5 Cent Party” in China, who are routinely paid by the government to post more favorable opinions about the CCP on blogs and other sites. These processes are not only invasive, but scare people into submission. The CCP has stripped any anonymity the internet could have provided.
While it is easy to place blame solely on the CCP, many fail to realize that multinational corporations play a huge role in aiding the Chinese government’s monitoring and tracking of peoples’ communications. A leaked Cisco PowerPoint from 2002 states directly of developing internet software to help the CCP track down political dissidents and followers of banned “cult” religions. Most of these companies are foreign-owned, and operate out of Western countries where freedom is espoused as the most salient trait in society. Yet their business dealings do not coincide with this value, and the wrongdoings they help repressive regimes achieve should be noted.
In 2008, Yahoo! gave the Laogai Research Foundation administrative rights to the Yahoo! Human Rights Fund, which provides financial support to Chinese citizens who have been persecuted by the CCP for political viewpoints they have expressed online. The fund is currently supporting several dissidents in the Du Daobin v. Cisco case. The prosecution claims the technological equipment developed and implemented by Cisco aided the Communist party in tracking their identities and internet activity, leading to torture and arrests. The case could potentially set a precedent in international law. It poses the question: Are corporations obligated to abide by the moral and legal standards of their home country, or are they free to follow the laws of the countries they operate in, even if it results in gross abuses of human rights?