My regular Law Bytes column (free hyperlinked version; Toronto Star version, homepage version) reflects on a recent trip to China and the frustrations I encountered dealing with censorship of the Internet. Despite similar appearances with broadband access in my Beijing hotel, I found sites blocked, email downloads short-circuited, and Google searches cut off.
The column notes that the experience was a powerful reminder that unfettered Internet access is far more fragile than is commonly perceived. I try to connect the Chinese firewall experience to recent events in Canada (including the Gomery inquiry experience with web-based disclosures of information subject to publication bans and law enforcement authorities for greater surveillance powers under the lawful access initiative) and conclude that it would be mistake to think that the Canadian Internet will always remain as free as China’s is censored. The challenge in the months and years ahead will be to promote a vision of online freedom through lobbying for greater access abroad and rejecting unnecessary and potentially dangerous limits at home.