Totalitarian states are learning to control citizens by creating the impression of ubiquitous surveillance.
Adam B. Kushner
Updated: 10:32 AM ET Apr 5, 2008
In the latest twist on Internet repression, governments don't just censor, they scare. Last week, for example, the Chinese government broadcast a text message to cell-phone users in Lhasa, Tibet, where Beijing has cracked down on protests in recent weeks. The message demanded that users "obey the law" and "follow the rules," and no protester could have mistaken the meaning, or the messenger. If the government also managed to terrify even quiet, apolitical citizens, Chinese and Tibetan—well, so be it. Repression 2.0 is not a precise technology.
The essence of the new repression is a form of surveillance in which the spies make their presence known in order to seem like they are everywhere. This strategy has emerged in recent years as authoritarian governments, led by China, have realized there are too many people online to control. State censors can't keep eyes on the 210 million Internet users in China, the 18 million in Iran, nor the 6 million in Egypt. The idea is not just to stop people from finding "dangerous" material online. It's to create an atmosphere in which none will seek it.