Online Freedom Around the World

Did you know that in Burma (Myanmar)  a screen shot is taken every 5 minutes of any computer that is online in order to monitor activity? Did you know that there are employees in China whose only task is to read e-mails all day?

Using the internet is such a natural thing to do now-a-days. We expect the internet to be available to use whether it’s getting mad when a building doesn’t have wireless or expecting the whole world to have 4G so we can access the internet from our phones. We Americans are obsessed with the internet, and we are expectant of the internet. We expect all sites to be available to us, and we expect all of our web surfing to remain private. Americans have been going crazy over the idea of the government spying on our telephone and internet usage.

I saw a clip in Time Magazine about Cubans and the internet, which sparked this post. As you know, Cuba is a communist country, so many things there are restricted, and the internet is one of those things. In Cuba, it costs $4.50/hour to use the internet when the average monthly salary is only $20. If you are found to have connected to the internet illegally, you can be thrown in prison for 5 years.

Reporters without Borders considers Cuba to be one of the top 10 restrictive countries in regards to online freedom. The full top 10 is as follows:

-Belarus

-Burma

-China

-Cuba

-Egypt

-Iran

-North Korea

-Saudi Arabia

– Syria

-Tunisia

-Turkmenistan

– Uzbekistan

In most of these countries the internet is state controlled. That means that the government decides what sites are able to be accessed, what search terms will bring up error messages, and if the going online means going on the internet (worldwide) or the intranet (within the country). For example, North Koreans only have intranet access, which means they can view only a small number of sites controlled by the communist government. Only a select few government officials can access the internet. In Turkmenistan, less than 1% (ONE PERCENT!?) of the population is online.

Self censorship is essential in these countries if a person wants to retain his or her internet “freedom”.  Currently in China, 52 people are imprisoned for expressing themselves too freely online. Bloggers in many of these countries are imprisoned or forced to shut down their blogs if the government deems them inappropriate.

In many of the countries listed, governments blame internet blocking on technical problems. However, Saudi Arabia is honest and straight up says certain websites and topics are blocked because of their immorality. For example, pornographic sites cannot be accessed, governmental opposition sites or searches are blocked, and anything about homosexuality is inaccessible. In the same manner, Iran currently blocks 10 million websites its government sees as immoral.

Much of my information was gathered from the Reporters Without Borders website, which can be directly accessed by clicking the embedded link.  Check it out for more details. US citizens should make themselves more aware of cyberspying issues and internet freedom issues here in America. Do you think think it’s only a matter of time before all governments in the world try to control the internet more? Are they already doing this and we don’t even know about it? How is it in your country? Be sure and leave your opinion in a comment and share this post on your social media site if you enjoyed it and want others to as well. Thanks for reading!

Girls Rule and Boys Drool and Other Olympic Epiphanies

Like over 1 billion other humans, I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics last night, and I found quite a few things interesting. I love all things cultural and international, so the Olympics are enjoyable for me to watch, especially the opening ceremony and the parade of nations. And so far with the 2012 London Olympics, I’m learning a great deal too!

This is  quite the year for women in the Olympics! This was the first Olympics that every country has women competing. Brunei, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have never permitted women to participate before 2012. Qatar even had a women carry the flag in the march of nations. In Atlanta, just 16 years ago, 26 countries didn’t have women competing. This is the first year that the US has more women competing than men (269 women and 261 men). In fact, 45% of the athletes in the games this year are women. Women’s boxing is having its first run at this year’s Olympics.  To quote the wise words of my younger sister, “Hey, women have just as much right to punch each other in the face as men do.” I agree.

There are also some skirmishes involving the different nations. As I recently witnessed myself, there are so many hard feelings and issues still between North and South Korea. Apparently, when the women’s soccer team for North Korea was announced for their first match, a South Korean flag was shown. In protest, the women left the field for an hour until the issue could be fixed.

Taiwan has issues. No one knows who they are. For many sporting events they are separate from China and are referred to as Chinese Taipei. It’s a whole separate issue as to whether Taiwan is part of China or if it is its own country, but the issue here is recognition. On some newscasts, such as in South Korea or Japan, the announcers will just say Taiwan instead of the official Chinese Taipei, so people will know who is being talked about. In London, on Regent Street, a Taiwanese flag was hanging with the flags of other nations, but at the “request” of the Chinese embassy, it was removed and replaced by the Chinese Taipei Olympic flag causing an uproar by some Taiwanese.

Now,  to the opening ceremony. It was very theatrical, and I know people have mixed feeling about it. But I was only concerned about one thing.  Was I the only one that was surprised when the children’s choir sang “God Save the Queen”, the national anthem of the UK, and it had the same tune as “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”? We all learn this song as  children, and it was the unofficial national anthem of the US before “The Star Spangled Banner”, and an American didn’t even write the music to it? Woe is me! I also discovered that the Star Spangled Banner sounds eerily similar to an old British drinking song called “The Anacreontic Song”. My faith in patriotic song writing  is fizzling out.

I also learned from the opening ceremony that some musicians are British that I had no idea about, such as Eric Clapton and Freddy Mercury. Singers are tricky, because they don’t sing with an accent, and if you never hear them speak, you have no reason to know. Thank you London Olympics for teaching me this important information.

Well folks, this is what I have gleaned from the 2012 London Olympics thus far. What have you learned that you didn’t know or what have you found the most interesting?

That One Time I Saw North Korea…

While I was disappointed to leave Japan, I knew I had the excitement of visiting yet another new-to-me country: South Korea. My flight from Tokyo to Seoul was only about 2.5 hours, and since my last flight was 12 hours, that flight was a breeze! My flight didn’t arrive in Seoul until 9 pm, so after my contact, Sang, picked me up from the airport and took me to where I was staying, I called it an early night.

The next day, Sang picked me up to do a little sight-seeing. After going to a park by the river, Sang said, “Hey, do you want to see North Korea? The DMZ is only about 45 minutes from here.” I wasn’t expecting that, but I absolutely wanted to!

In the US, the Korean War is sometimes called “The Forgotten War” because this war’s issues were deemed as a little more unclear than previous wars and people today tend to forget about this war. In South Korea, it’s known as “625”, which refers to the date the war started (June 25th). In North Korea, they call it the “Fatherland Liberation War”, and in China (because China aided North Korea in this war), it’s known as the “War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea”. Wow! Everyone has some different viewpoints on this conflict.

The war, which took place between 1950 and 1953, erupted because at the end of World War II, Korea ceased to be a Japanese colony after Japan’s defeat. Who would help this newly freed nation? The Soviets would assist in the north, while American troops would help in the south. The Soviets ended up bringing communism to the North, and the situation turned into the first military act of the Cold War. Harry Truman, US president at the time, said that the US had to intervene because if not “the Soviet[s] will keep right on going and swallow up one [place] after another.” Nearly 5 million people died during these 3 years, and, as you know, North Korea is still communist.

Now the DMZ, the demilitarized zone,  exists. It’s a 150 mile area that serves as a large border between North and South Korea. It is the most heavily fortified border in the world with soldiers on the edges of it always standing guard, barbed-wire fences everywhere, and the knowledge that anyone that tries to cross illegally will be shot on site with no questions asked. The part of the DMZ that I went to was just right at the edge of it-still on the South Korean side.

People on the South Korean side decorate the fences with ribbons that have wishes written on them-wishes to be reunited with their loved ones. Can you imagine if someone suddenly cut your country in half and you were never allowed to see or hear from your friends and loved ones on the other side? North Koreans aren’t allowed to leave their country. They can’t make a phone call to family. They aren’t permitted to even use the internet. They are completely isolated. Sang translated some of the messages on the ribbons for me, and they made me so sad. One of the most touching was one that simply said, “Grandma. Grandpa. I miss you.” There was also a birthday card that said something like this, “I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again or if you’re even still alive, but happy birthday.” That’s when I just started crying. I just can’t even fathom how hard that must be on the Korean people on both sides.

DMZ

North Korean Border

North Korean Border

North Korean Border

North Korea

There is also an official border crossing that is really only for South Koreans to cross. South Korea built a great deal of factories that give 100’s of 1,000’s of North Koreans jobs and many South Koreans cross that border daily to work there as well. I was allowed to take pictures from the car, but I wasn’t allowed to get out of the car.

North Korea

Going to the DMZ was an eye-opening experience for me. I knew a few things about the Korean conflict, but this made it real to me. It is a sad situation that I hope can be fixed sooner rather than later.

When we were leaving, I asked Sang, “Do you have any family in North Korea?”

He said, “I do. But I try not to think about them. I don’t know if they’re living or dead. I can’t think about it, or I’d be sad every day of my life. I must put it out of my mind.”