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China

China: When The State Wants To Protect You By Owning Your Privacy

Op-Ed: Some heavy skepticism, and sarcasm, by a Chinese commentator toward a new program that requires Internet cafes in Beijing to pay for a new system to allow authorities to control personal information by online users.

Internet café in Turpan, China.
Internet café in Turpan, China.
YANG Tao

BEIJING - In recent weeks, bars, cafes and hotels located in the eastern district of the capital have been required to pay -- at their own expense – 20,000 RMB ($3,105) to set up a "Network monitoring system." This fee permits them to continue providing their customers with the right to surf the Internet on the premises.

Most of these places were told by the police to install a "Safety Management System of Internet Services in Public Places', as reported by the Beijing News. The "system" would provide them with wireless networks, and allow for the government to control the information about the users. How considerate of the police!

We are told that the mandatory installation of the software is being done for the benefit of our Internet citizens, and the public interest more generally. We know that the rapid development of the Internet not only promotes progress in society, but also brings with it negative influences. Many criminals use it for online fraud, drug-trafficking, gambling, and spreading harmful information -- as well as computer viruses. It poses risks for the country and the public interest, and can add major new costs for businesses.

The system is an excellent idea indeed! Just like two years ago, the same justification was used when the Ministry of Industry planned to force people to install a monitoring system called "Green Dam" that was provided free by the government. Eventually, though, this proposal succumbed to public opinion, and was abolished.

The question is who is going to guarantee citizens' privacy? In particular, who is to protect those citizens who use the Internet to anonymously criticize corrupt officials or reveal the authority's abuse of power? We have yet to get an answer on this from the public authority.

But naturally, there are "specialists' who stand out to defend the government's "good intentions." They say the new monitoring system is like the "real-name system" (in this system, computers are installed with software that requires users to apply a specific surfing card by using their ID card. The Internet page will open only if the cardholder's identity has been identified. ) Here it is applied to the Internet cafes, they say, and as long as there's an appropriate managing system, it does not violate personal privacy.

Lessons of the Englightenment

And then the same specialists declare: "To maintain the public's security and the nation's security, it is necessary for the government to have people's privacy in hand."

However the philosophers of the 19th century Enlightenment taught that the power to rule is a necessary evil, and by this same token, alas, it can be called a "good." In other words, the public power, at its best, is just a necessary evil. At its worst, of course, it can be the most terrifying of forces.

In practice, we have so far witnessed the fact that the police do not respect the privacy of petitioners or people who courageously denounce the corruption of the authorities. On the contrary, it is these people's privacy that is revealed to the police.

Some also hold the view that since the customers in Internet cafes are already obliged to use the real-name system, what does it matter to have another software monitoring device?

I strongly contest this idea, and indeed I have never agreed that this system should be practiced in the first place. The public's freedom ought not be restricted indefinitely. Precisely speaking, this so-called "Safety Management System of Internet Services in Public Places' is at most a ministerial regulation, not a law. It is power to limit the people's freedom. And if the authority wants to enact a law to regulate our freedom, the legitimate reason has to be justified.

In addition, if this new system is indeed a good, and a favor granted by public authorities, what on earth are the 20,000 renminbi for!? So allow me to ask a small question: are there any interests and power entangled in all this? I have never liked to guess at possible corruption of some authority, yet if the government is really implementing this system for the good of the public, at least the cost of the software and a public tender should be announced.

It is a very modest request of a citizen.

Photo- Eviltomthai

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

When Did Putin "Turn" Evil? That's Exactly The Wrong Question

Look back over the past two decades, and you'll see Vladimir Putin has always been the man revealed by the Ukraine invasion, an evil and sinister dictator. The Russian leader just managed to mask it, especially because so many chose to see him as a typically corrupt and greedy strongman who could be bribed or reasoned with.

Putin arrives for a ceremony to accept credentials from 24 foreign ambassadors at the Grand Kremlin Palace on Sept. 20.

Sergiy Gromenko*

-OpEd-

KYIV — The world knows that Vladimir Putin has power, money and mistresses. So why, ask some, wasn't that enough for him? Why did he have to go start another war?

At its heart, this is the wrong question to ask. For Putin, military expansion is not an adrenaline rush to feed into his existing life of luxury. On the contrary, the shedding of blood for the sake of holding power is his modus operandi, while the fruits of greed and corruption like the Putin Palace in Gelendzhik are more like a welcome bonus.

In the last year, we have kept hearing rhetorical questions like “why did Putin start this war at all, didn't he have enough of his own land?” or “he already has Gelendzhik to enjoy, why fight?” This line of thinking has resurfaced after missile strikes on Ukrainian power grids and dams, which was regarded by many as a simple demonstration of terrorism. Such acts are a manifestation of weakness, some ask, so is Putin ready to show himself weak?

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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However, you will not arrive at the correct answer if the questions themselves are asked incorrectly. For decades, analysts in Russia, Ukraine, and the West have been under an illusion about the nature of the Russian president's personal dictatorship.

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