The internet has become a wellspring for disseminating information to the world, but many governments who seek to deny the free exchange of information are taking great strides to censor the internet. The most common goals of censorship are to either suppress opposing political speech or speech that is contrary to the views of the controlling religion. There are various ways in which a government may censor the internet, and some are quite barbaric.
Controlling All Access to the Internet
In Cuba and North Korea it is illegal for ordinary citizens to own computers and the only places where access is available are in state-controlled cafes. In Cuba the computers are limited to text based e-mail and word processing and all computers in the cafes are monitored for any keywords that are deemed inappropriate. In North Korea, not only are all the publicly accessible computers only available in cafes, but they are not even connected to the internet, instead the computers in North Korea are connected to a state run intranet.
Routing Internet Access through a State-Controlled Node
Many countries, especially theocracies, are very careful about what information may pass through to the people. All internet access in Saudi Arabia is routed through a single proxy farm, and that is then connected to the web. With the control of this proxy farm, the state will censor topics that are contrary to the views of Islam, mostly pornographic content and homosexuality. They also block any sites that oppose the government or support Israel. China also filters access through proxies, but rather than simply stating that the site is blocked, they disguise the blocking as technical problems.
Hacking Online Publications
Belarus has been known, especially during elections, to actually hack into opposition websites and either change or disable the sites. In 2006, just before the March elections, several websites critical to the incumbent president disappeared until the election was over.
Close Monitoring of the Internet
Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, and Iran all allow internet access but everything accessed is monitored, and all e-mail is subject to inspection. Most content that opposes the government will either be blocked or will be deemed illegal to access. Anyone found guilty of accessing or producing subversive content may be jailed, often times for many years. In Tunisia, internet dissidents have been known to be tortured.
All the steps taken by nations, especially arresting and torturing people they view as offenders have the effect of encouraging people to avoid sites deemed inappropriate, and some countries go even further. In Iran anyone who subscribes to the internet is required to sign a contract which includes a statement where the user agrees not to access anything deemed immoral, including pornography, non-approved politics, and non-Islamic religions. The fines associated with breeching these contracts deter many from accessing the sites.
Censorship is rampant, and as the internet grows in breadth and content, countries that already fear the dissemination of information will go to great strides to prevent their citizens from becoming informed. Some of these tricks are creative and some are brutal, but anytime a government fears the internet, the citizens should fear their government.