Post date: September 5, 2002 -- 9:30 a.m.
As part of its continuing efforts to study Web filtering policies of governments around the world, Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society is using an "open research" method to examine China's filtering policies. Visitors to the Berkman Center Web site (cyber.law.harvard.edu) can type in the address for an Internet site and learn instantly whether that site is being blocked in China.
"We're hoping to make clear what's blocked and what's not—something only previously understood piecemeal," said Professor Jonathan Zittrain, faculty co-director of the Berkman Center. "With the right data, we can come to an understanding of how that list of sites evolves over time—how much attention is paid to maintaining the list, how readily blocked sites relocate to unblocked locations, and how much the list of blocked sites might be said to track changing government foreign and domestic policies. For example, does the state of relations between the mainland and Taiwan affect the degree of blocking of Taiwan-oriented sites?"
Although it is too soon to determine what percentage of sites are being blocked, the project has already found that the Chinese government has, for at least some period of time, blocked access to numerous sites including the homepage for the federal judiciary (www.uscourts.gov), the popular search engine Google (www.google.com), and some university sites such as Columbia University (www.columbia.edu).
"In traditional censorship efforts, the state must tell its citizens and its staff what content is prohibited," said Ben Edelman, a first-year Harvard Law student conducting the research with Zittrain. "But in China, the contents of the block list to date remains more or less secret. With this project, we hope to list a substantial portion of sites blocked, allowing interested Internet users to discuss and analyze China's filtering policies."
The Berkman Center recently released the results of a study of Saudi Arabian Web filtering. That project concluded that the Saudi government actively blocks non-sexually explicit Web content for users within the Kingdom; that substantial amounts of non-sexually explicit Web content are in fact effectively inaccessible to most Saudi Arabians; and that much of this content consists of sites that are popular elsewhere in the world.
The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School is a research program founded in 1997 to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development. Today, the Berkman Center serves as the focal point for an international network of teaching and research faculty, students, cyberlaw practitioners, entrepreneurs and technologists engaged in innovative research projects designed to push the boundaries of current thought on law and the Internet.