Should the internet be filtered

Internet security

Stephan Zeidler

To person

Dr. phil., born 1969; Historian; Scientific advisor to a member of the German Bundestag. Uhlandstrasse 11, 13156 Berlin.
Email: [email protected]

Internet censorship against oppositionists and human rights groups is on the rise, especially in communist and many Islamic countries.


The Internet has developed into the leading global communication medium. Internet access is available in almost every country in the world. It is not only private individuals who use the Internet, but also human rights organizations, human rights defenders and journalists who exchange information online from their home countries. However, the rapid exchange of data in particular is viewed by many governments as a threat to their own position of power. This is why authoritarian and dictatorial regimes in particular try to control and regulate access to the Internet.

The basic requirement for the censorship of Internet content and the control of the users' e-mail traffic are the technical access options of state authorities to the data traffic in a country. The fewer the number of Internet Service Providers (ISP), the greater the possibilities for police and law enforcement agencies to monitor the network. The simplest and most effective control can take place if only those who are considered to be a system-loyal supporter have access to the Internet. In Turkmenistan, for example, it is not possible to have private internet access, so that only a few thousand people can access it via business devices. [1]

While this method relies on largely excluding a country's citizens from the Internet, many governments are more "advanced" in controlling the Internet. They use technical methods to regulate and censor the surfing behavior of their residents. The technically simplest, but also the least effective method is for government agencies to instruct the ISP to filter certain Internet addresses (domains) and redirect them to other, government-compliant sites. [2] This system has prevailed above all in Uzbekistan, where the state Internet provider can also exercise extensive control over other companies. [3] Chinese surfers, on the other hand, are often confronted with technical error messages that are intended to suggest to the user that the requested page does not exist (or no longer exists). However, such manipulations can be circumvented by experienced users with relatively little effort. [4]

It is more time-consuming to filter individual pages or page contents that contain unwanted text. Some pages from different providers can only be partially displayed, and only as long as they do not contain censored terms such as "human rights" or "freedom of expression". Modern content filter software does not give such websites a chance and blocks them immediately. Even search portals such as Google, which are "non-political" per se, can only be reached by Internet users in China if they do not search for corresponding terms. [5] Filters are used at the central transfer points of the Chinese Internet to control data traffic and, in particular, to block foreign sites as soon as they offer unauthorized content. However, the Chinese authorities' need for control has already had a negative effect: Due to the large number of users, the servers and filters can hardly keep up with data transport, so that the entire network becomes slow at peak times because too much data has to be controlled and filtered. Against the background of economic expansion, the limited use of the Internet in China is counterproductive. [6]

In addition, the control is mainly carried out via access to the Internet. For example, many governments oblige the ISP to keep precise records of the surfing behavior of their customers in order to obtain appropriate evidence that they have visited unpopular sites. [7] A user must expect that he will receive visits from the police and the judiciary, for example when looking at the pages of human rights organizations or political dissidents. Not only surfing the web, but also personal e-mail traffic is frequently monitored in order to take action against opposition activists or human rights defenders. Since most e-mail users forego the use of effective encryption techniques, it is easy for the security authorities to "listen" to the e-mail traffic and to locate the sender or recipient.