Thank you, Ms. Chair Heidi Hautala and Human right subcommittee, for inviting me here for this important hearing to discuss new information technologies and human rights. I will speak on Internet and satellite television technologies and their role in human rights, with a focus on China.
Today, one in four of the world’s Internet users does not have freedom online. China is perhaps the best example of systematic control of the Internet. Tens of thousands of cyber police engage in monitoring and surveillance of Internet users, some of whom end up in prison for voicing their opinions online. China’s “Golden Shield” – censorship technologies developed with the help of western corporations like Cisco – blocks many websites completely, and filter out topics deemed too politically sensitive by the ruling party.
China’s model of Internet censorship is now being emulated elsewhere. Repressive governments such as those of Burma, Cuba, Iran, and now some Central Asian states of the former Soviet Union, are increasingly adopting technologies to stifle dissent, control information, and prevent citizens from communicating with the outside world.
The information censorship walls have become the 21st century Berlin Wall that separates our world.
In closed societies like China, information control is often used for manipulation and indoctrination. Whenever a crisis erupts in China, all of its state controlled media outlets use anti-West rhetoric to fan hatred among Chinese people and shift attention away from the unconscionable behavior of those in power. The xenophobia fostered in China following the Tibet crackdown and the Olympics Torch Relay in 2008 also affected the operations of western businesses such as French company Carrefour in China.
Information censorship can also cost lives. In China, news of disasters, epidemics, and other health scares like SARS and the tainted milk scandal, is still carefully controlled or even suppressed, at great risk not only to the health and safety of its populace but increasingly to the rest of the world.
Amid the darkness of the Internet censorship in closed societies, sources of hope and firewall-shattering reforms are clearly present. Those sources are the Internet lifelines offered by the anti-censorship systems like those of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium – GIF for short, which has been providing millions in closed societies with free access to the Internet for years.
GIF consists of a small team of dedicated Chinese-American engineers, including myself, who were brought together by our practice of Falun Gong. Many of us were also among the students on Tiananmen Square during the 1989 Massacre, and we watched in the days and weeks that followed the massacre as the government began to rewrite history and distort the truth. We relived a similar experience in 1999, when the Chinese regime banned the Falun Gong spiritual practice and engaged in a campaign of misinformation and censorship to turn public opinion against Falun Gong, and to suppress news of the brutal persecution being carried out – a persecution that myself and my family have experienced personally, when a good friend of mine was killed in a Shanghai prison, and my cousin was imprisoned in a labor camp in Beijing.
Through these events, we have personally experienced how frightening the state-controlled media can be – it confounds right with wrong, incites hatred, and institutionalizes ignorance. It is our belief that free flow of information is the most effective and powerful way to peacefully transform closed societies and promote human rights and civil liberties.
This conviction has driven us to spend many sleepless nights contending with the tens of thousands of Internet monitors and censors in China and around the world so that the citizens inside repressed countries may safely communicate with each other and with the world. The men and women of GIF maintain operations out of our own pockets, but we provide our products and services to the citizens of closed societies entirely free of charge.
We have developed a series of software programs – most notably Freegate and Ultrasurf – that provide users with encrypted connections to secure proxy servers around the world. We constantly switch the IP addresses of our servers – in the recent past at a rate of about 3,000 shifts per hour, now about 10,000 times per hour – in ways that make it impossible for censors to block effectively.
After years of hard work, our anti-censorship protocols have attained a global reach – they are used by people from almost every closed society in the world, so that they now support the largest user bases in the world’s most censored countries like China, Iran, and Burma. Today estimated over 90% of anti-censorship traffic comes through our servers.
During the saffron revolution in Burma in late August 2007, we experienced a three-fold increase in average daily traffic from Burma. Many Burmese used our system to post photos and videos of the crackdown to the outside blogs and websites. The Burmese government had to entirely shut down the Internet to stop the outflow of information about the suppression.
Before the Beijing Olympics, when uprisings in Tibet led to thousands of arrests and large-scale human rights abuses, we saw our traffic from that region increase by over 400%.
Perhaps the best example of the role of GIF software was during the Iranian elections last June, when our traffic from Iran increased by nearly 600%. On the Saturday of June 20, 2009, an estimated over 1 million Iranians used our system to visit previously censored websites such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Google. The Iranian users posted videos, photos, and messages about the bloody crackdown.
The services GIF provides are invaluable, and the impact goes far beyond the Internet. When the people in closed societies gain a taste of freedom and are given a way to share information, they will no longer acquiesce to tyranny and injustice as the people in the former Eastern Bloc experienced.
In fact, the battle for freedom of information on the Internet has now boiled down to the battle of resources: for every dollar we spend on anti-censorship technologies, repressive governments must spend hundreds—perhaps thousands—of dollars to block us. It is my hope that EU will make ensuring the freedom of Internet communication in closed societies throughout the world a priority, and provide resources to such efforts.
On a related note, I would like to say a few words about satellite television and the role it can play. Satellite televisions are exceptionally common in some repressive countries like China and Iran, and are a prime medium to reach and communicate with the people there. Unfortunately, here the problem of censorship is not just a domestic issue within those countries. I have experienced the long reach of Chinese censorship first hand when the independent Chinese satellite broadcaster that I work for, New Tang Dynasty TV, had our signal cut off from our carrier – French satellite company Eutelsat, which is formerly an intergovernmental company in Europe, in June 2008 - two months before the Beijing Olympics. Before the cut off, NTDTV was the only Chinese-language TV broadcasting uncensored programming into China that can reach tens of millions of viewers. Eutelsat has never provided a clear explanation as to why the signal had to be cut. Reporters Without Borders said in a statement soon after that their evidence shows it was a “premeditated, politically-motivated decision” of Eutelsat to satisfy Beijing’s demands and get Chinese concessions and contracts.
In January 2010, we learned that Eutelsat took another unequivocal stance that money trumps principles when it comes to business, and backed out of an agreement to broadcast Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Russian-language First Caucasus (1-K) channel in favor of Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom Media Group.
Thanks to the European Parliament - a resolution was passed in February 2009, urging Eutelsat to "resume NTDTV transmission to China without delay”, and calling on the European Commission and 27 EU Member states “to take necessary action to help restore NTDTV’s broadcasts to China and to support access to uncensored information for millions of Chinese citizens.” As the Treaty of Lisbon has entered into force, in which freedom of expression and information, freedom and pluralism of the media are all enshrined, it is my hope that the European Parliament can continue this effort of supporting freedom of media, and that the European Commission and Council can follow through on this call to action. NTDTV has been bringing a ray of hope to the Chinese people like what Radio Free Europe and VOA did during the Cold War.
In the 1980s, citizens living in the Soviet bloc used fax machines, photocopiers and short-wave radio to learn about the world, to tell their own stories and to communicate with each other, and in so doing, they helped bring down the Berlin Wall and bring an end to the Cold War. Today, Internet and satellite television are the new instruments of free expression. They are perhaps the greatest hope for global information freedom and democratization, and provide an important vehicle for the development of civil societies. Imagine, if you will, how much safer the world could be, how much better we could understand each other, and how quickly authoritarianism and repression would collapse when confronted with an engaged, educated, and free citizenry.