Civil rights group criticizes China for blocking YouTube

A civil liberties advocacy group Tuesday stepped up criticism of the Chinese government's decision to block access to the YouTube video sharing site to users in the country, at least the second time it has done so in a year.

Access to YouTube has been blocked in China since Monday, according to Scott Rubin, a spokesman for YouTube. "We do not know the reason for the blockage, and we're working as quickly as possible to restore access to our users in China," he said in an email to Computerworld.

The site was blocked gradually starting Monday afternoon, and all users in China had lost access to YouTube at some point on Tuesday, he added. Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal quoted a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry as saying the government had "taken up management of the [YouTube] network according to the laws."

Brock N. Meeks, director of communications at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said in a blog post Tuesday that China has provided no reason for the blockage to YouTube, its parent company Google Inc. or to users in China. "Instead, Chinese officials are engaged in their own fanciful brand of obfuscation," he said.

"While Beijing may be operating with blinders on, the rest of the world is watching this game of geopolitical charades in crystal clear, high def," wrote Meeks. "The 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre is fast approaching and the Chinese aren't taking any chances that subversive digital propaganda will trickle into their country on the bitstream."

This week's action isn't the first time that individual countries, including China, have blocked access to YouTube.

A year ago this month, for instance, the Chinese government blocked some Internet access amid rioting in Tibet. During that time, China blocked access to Google News and YouTube in what appeared to be an effort to stop the spread of video footage related to the rioting in several cities in Tibet, including the capital Lhasa.

"There is a long history of China violating the international right of free expression," said Meeks. "On Monday they flipped some switches, monitored some blinking LEDs on a console, and choked off YouTube's air supply."

Dan Olds, a principle analyst with the Gabriel Consulting Group, said that Chinese officials should be aware that they can shut off access but information can still trickle through.

"There are millions of routes into and out of any country that has a decently developed tech infrastructure, and china definitely is in this category," he said. "China will soon discover, if they haven't resigned themselves to it already, that they can't have it both ways with the Internet. They can't use it as a tool to make their society and businesses more productive, and then expect that they can wall themselves off from anything they don't like. It isn't a faucet. It's a huge water pipe with only a semi-functional valve. It can't be turned off all the way anymore."

This story, "Civil rights group criticizes China for blocking YouTube" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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