The People’s Republic of China hasn’t moved far from Mao’s censorship policies and the ruling Communist Party of China (CCP) are notorious for cracking down on people who want to express their opinions online. But genuine decentralized blockchains are challenging the ability of autocratic rulers to suppress free speech.
On April 23 2018, an unusual transaction appeared on the Ethereum blockchain. There was no ETH sent, but the transaction had extra bytes beyond the ones used to complete the transaction. These bytes were a letter penned by Yue Xin, a Peking University student. The letter detailed the university’s attempt to hide sexual assault. The case was of a student, Gao Yan, who committed suicide after being sexually assaulted and harassed by her professor.
Yan had originally posted the letter on WeChat, a social media site where it was widely shared. Chinese censors started removing all copies off the platform.
Censorship in the country is mandated by the CCP and it’s used for silencing political content as well as control over the population. According to Wikipedia, the government maintains “censorship over all media capable of reaching a wide audience. This includes television, print media, radio, film, theatre, text messaging, instant messaging, video games, literature, and the internet”
China Could Set Precedent For Other Authoritarian Regimes
New guidelines set by The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) mean more regulations for companies involved with distributed ledger technology. These regulations insist that startups allow the state access to all stored data and it allows the government to censor whatever it deems sensitive.
Article 10 is particularly telling with its sweeping generalisations. “Blockchain information service providers and users shall not use blockchain information services to engage in activities prohibited by laws and administrative regulations that endanger national security, disrupt social order, and infringe on the legitimate rights and interests of others, and may not use blockchain information services. Copy, publish, and disseminate information content prohibited by laws and administrative regulations”
According to Nir Kshetri a Professor at University of North Carolina-Greensboro, China is working on developing blockchains that “help suppress contents that are objectionable to the Chinese government”. He maintains that activists vocal against the Chinese government may also be barred from using some blockchains. “In this way, China could also emerge as a role model for other authoritarian regimes in developing censorship-enabled blockchain solutions”.
The new guidelines claim that the rules are to “safeguard national security and social public interests” and “protect the legitimate rights and interests of citizens”. What is not stated but is implicit is that those rights must conform with the ideology of the CCP. The immutable and permanent nature of the public blockchain will ensure that no authority will be able to remove or censor content.
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