The recent history of governments vs. the Internet

RIM-UAE dust up only the latest example of countries fighting access

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At what price free information?

" Information wants to be free ," the saying goes. But what if the information in question consists of state secrets, copyrighted material or is simply something a government doesn't want its citizens to see?

Well, that's where things get tricky. Since the Web makes it far easier to access information than ever before, governments have had a harder time keeping the lid on information they don't want the public to consume and have often found themselves butting heads with tech companies who deliver Internet services or content. The most recent flap is between BlackBerry maker Research in Motion and two Middle Eastern countries that want to restrict what their citizens can do with their BlackBerry devices. In this slideshow we'll provide you with a brief overview of some of the battles over information that governments have waged against tech companies over the past decade, from Sweden's battle against Pirate Bay to Saudi Arabia's RIM restrictions.

Sweden vs. Pirate Bay

Sweden vs. Pirate Bay

For years, the Pirate Bay had served as a hub for tracking torrents of copyrighted material distributed throughout the world. Swedish police raided 12 Pirate Bay locations in 2006, seizing 186 of the organization's servers for evidence. Swedish prosecutors first filed official charges against Pirate Bay at the start of 2008 and accused four people within the group of "promoting other people's infringement of copyright laws" by tracking torrents on their Web site. The site's operators were convicted in 2009 and were fined roughly $3.5 million while being sentenced to a year in prison. An appeals trial for the four defendants is slated to start this September.

Winner: Sweden

Iran vs. Twitter

Iran vs. Twitter

After the results of the fraud-riddled Iranian presidential election rolled in last year, thousands of angry Iranians took to the streets to protest the continued reign of incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. One of their key weapons in keeping the outside world apprised of their activities was through Twitter, as Iranians used the micro-blogging site to provide real-time updates of rallies and actions. The Iranian government was none too keen on this, of course, and it began severely throttling users' access to the Web in hopes of choking off the stream of information leaking out of the country. While the government didn't succeed in censoring Iranian tweets altogether, it did slow many of them down to a trickle and successfully undermined the protesters' ability to organize.

Winner: Iran

China vs. Google

China vs. Google

Search engine giant Google has always had a somewhat rocky relationship with the Chinese government, but tensions between the two really blew up earlier this year when Google revealed that it had come under a cyber attack widely believed to have come from the Chinese government itself. In threatening to bolt China, Google said that it was "no longer willing to continue censoring" its search results to please the government and that it would start redirecting traffic to its uncensored Hong Kong version of the search engine.

Google has since relented in its decision to redirect traffic to an unfiltered search engine and the company is still actively looking for ways to please Chinese censors so that it can continue operations within the country. No matter how much Google may shout and complain, it seemingly can't quit China.

Winner: China

The United States vs. WikiLeaks

The United States vs. WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks, an online document archive for classified information, has been on the U.S. government's radar since at least 2008, when the U.S. Army and Counterintelligence center published a report outlining the Web site's threat to national security. The site didn't start garnering serious attention from both the government and the public at large, however, until it released more than 92,000 classified documents related to the war in Afghanistan, some of which showed that the Pakistani government had been working with the Taliban against in the United States. The massive leaks have led to hawkish pundits such as the American Enterprise Institute's Marc Thiessen to call for using "intelligence and military assets" to bring WikiLeaks down.

Winner: WikiLeaks so far. All bets are off if Obama takes Thiessen's advice and starts launching predator drones at WikiLeaks servers, however.

United Arab Emirates vs. Research in Motion

United Arab Emirates vs. Research in Motion

The UAE is putting pressure on RIM to modify its security policies and to build a proxy server that would allow the UAE to monitor communications sent within the country. RIM had originally agreed to build out a proxy server under the deal it signed with the Emirates Telecommunications Corporation, according to the Wall Street Journal . The UAE now says that unless RIM changes its tune, its devices will be shut down in the UAE by mid-October this year.

Winner: Neither side has blinked officially yet, but if the past is any guide RIM will make concessions to the government to remain within the country.

We want to hear from YOU! What will be the next big brouhaha between a government and tech companies? Should tech companies be going out of their way to please governments? Let us know in the comments!

Related stories:

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Google tries new approach to placate Chinese censors

Iran so far unwilling to completely choke off 'Net