New internet curbs a step in wrong direction

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 December, 2009, 12:00am

The internet is a boundless frontier of business, education and recreation opportunities. The central government has curtailed those benefits by seeing it as a threat. The decision this week to stop individuals from having their own websites damagingly restricts possibilities. Not only are users' ideas and opinions further censored, but an important outlet for entrepreneurial skills has been shut off.

Only businesspeople and government-authorised organisations can now register new domain names. Individually owned websites are steadily becoming inaccessible. Authorities say the measure is to curb pornography and copyright infringement. It is more likely yet another step to silence perceived dissent. Unwittingly, users are also put at an increased disadvantage to their counterparts elsewhere.

Most of the world's websites have been established and are operated by individuals. Many are for pleasure and convenience; through them there is communication with relatives and friends and a sharing of images and thoughts. But a good number are also for livelihoods and to supplement incomes. Careers and businesses grow from them - opportunities that would otherwise have been limited or non-existent.

The internet in most of the world is borderless. Increasingly tight restrictions ensure that on the mainland it is a shrinking fenced field where the government allows productivity and enjoyment only within rigidly defined zones.

Danger lurks for those who roam beyond, but there are no shortage of users willing to find ways around the obstacles. In the case of personal websites, innovative users are already looking to overseas internet providers.

China's growth on all levels will be limited without freedom. Restriction through censorship, policing and surveillance breeds discontent. Leaders should set aside their authoritarian fears and ways and allow imaginations and thoughts to flourish. There is no better way for this to happen in a nation as vast and diverse as China than through the internet.