Friday, May 12, 2006

TelCO lawsuits, NSA revelation is old news, disappointment

I was discouraged to hear the news lately. I'm sure you all know by now. I'm not here to debate about whether or not it is right or wrong - that would be reverse progress. It is obvious how backwards and wrong this datamining is.

The obscure fact is however, this was predicted a few weeks ago at the very least. came out with a report that should have raised more questions:

"AT&T provided National Security Agency eavesdroppers with full access to its customers' phone calls, and shunted its customers' internet traffic to data-mining equipment installed in a secret room in its San Francisco switching center, according to a former AT&T worker cooperating in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against the company."

Nonetheless, as usual, claims like this get ignored. But now that this allegation has legitimacy in America's eye, so now you too can sue your TelCo, according to's recent blog post. I'm sure the big three telephone companies are now a little concerned.

While I think a lawsuit may be extreme, and will eventually be absorbed by the consumer in the long run - I am more than willing to sacrifice a buck or two because of this for some security in knowing my telephone company actually has a backbone.

Qwest was the only phone company to withhold from the NSA their customers' data and I applaud them for this decision. The NYT is today posting an article explaining why Qwest withheld the info.

From the article:

"In a statement released this morning, the lawyer said that the former chief executive, Joseph N. Nacchio, made the decision after asking whether "a warrant or other legal process had been secured in support of that request."

Mr. Nacchio learned that no warrant had been granted and that there was a "disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process," said the lawyer, Herbert J. Stern. As a result, the statement said, Mr. Nacchio concluded that "the requests violated the privacy requirements of the Telecommunications Act."

The corporations in our country seem to lack any kind of values or integrity today. This can even be illustrated abroad, in companies like Yahoo Inc. who have notoriously given Chinese government officials the information to imprison journalists working towards freedom in China. These companies repeatedly claim they do not have any stance on issues - yet they cave to government demands rather than remaining neutral. Because of this pattern, we should have seen the recent data-mining by our major phone companies far in advance.

Not only was that corporate pattern of privacy destruction alarming, but while in office, George W. Bush has managed to trounce on more of our civil liberties than one could imagine. The Patriot Act should serve as a solomn reminder of when our country started reversing itself to the level of those who attacked us, all because we lack a strong leader who caves to the demands of ranking security officials craving blood, money and power.

Once again, we should have seen this all coming. To all of you out there, this should serve as a wake up call. Switch your service, start a lawsuit, write a letter to congress, impeach Bush.

Thank God we still have freedom of the press in America. In the future though, tell your congressman to wake up and smell the news of the day instead of having it handed to them.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Modernized Report about Chinese Blogging

Academic blogging studies of China merge best with real life situations...

[I publish this for the sake of scholarship. I am an undergraduate journalism major. This information certainly does no good sitting idle on my computer.]

Generally, blogging is best covered by bloggers worldwide who are familiar with the technology and language of blogging. Blogging changes constantly, and has loads of inaccuracy associated with it. These two reasons are not good motivations for academics to study blogging perhaps. A good analysis then of blogging, is best done by combining two approaches, as this summary attempts to do.

In a scholarly article associated with the book: China: Caged Media, the author claims bloggers are an annoyance to the 50,000 internet censors in China. An example of this is found in the story of Li Xinde, a rogue blogger who took his laptop and digital camera into the countryside and wrote stories about the people he found. He left the country so fast that nobody in the Chinese government could track him down.

This is perhaps blogging at its best. No printing presses are needed, and no editors with connections to the government can tear apart a real journalistic endeavor.

The problem however, is most people cannot just pack up and leave the country on a whim.

The article then points to more established blogging organizations like Bokee, that allows 2 million of the country’s estimated 5 million bloggers to have a blog webpage. By mid-2005, Bokee became so successful that they had over 200 staff, and some of the new staffers were consultants from major United States corporations like IBM.

The article also claims that Bokee does not allow much freedom. Founder of Bokee, Fang Xingdong, keeps a staff ready 24 hours a day to guard against “sensitive content, including anything critical of the Chinese government.”

Two examples of getting around censoring, according to the article, are found in the “Dog Newspaper” and the “Aggressive Little Snake” blog. These blogs gently conceal what they are doing by blogging about civil rights for canaries, in the Dog Newspaper’s case, rather than human rights. However, some may argue that this forces citizens of China to limit their discussion to trivial topics and then argue for credibility and about serious matters.

Generally, this is all the article has to say about blogging. However, the blogosphere in China is much more complicated and much more involved than this article suggests. Things change fast in a year on the internet.

For example, Ethan Zuckerman, whose popular blog is entitled, “My Heart’s in Accra,” [] wrote about the weblog search engine Technorati which maintains a rankings page that lists the top 100 worldwide weblogs by total hits in that blog’s lifespan. He claimed the top 100 blogs were fairly static. However, three months later, Technorati changed their search algorithm, and that changed the top 100 rapidly. The new algorithm calculates total hits in the last 6 months.[1]

When this happened, some major trends showed up. Of the 20 new blogs that showed up in the top 100, 11 of them were written in Chinese. Tied with Portuguese, this is the best non-English representation in the top 100 list. Some current, but inconclusive studies by US bloggers, are attempting to ping blog hits themselves and find if there really are only 12 blogs in China that deserve being in the worldwide top 100[2]. Pinging a blog hit is essentially the action of tracking where a visitor to a webblog came from, or where a blogger posted. The problem however, is that Bokee blogs are not even showing up on the US side of the internet, and the only ones that are seem to be bokee blogs are ones cleverly linked through MSN Spaces blogs. Thus, these blogs are also not showing up on other websites such as Technorati, and the world blogosphere has trouble understanding what is really going on in China.

A recent study by Baidu, the Chinese search engine equivalent to the the US’s Google, claimed that there are actually 37 million blogs in China set up by 16 million bloggers[3]. This statistic throws the statistic in the article out the window. Research by Analysis International company, found the number of China’s bloggers will be at 33.36 million by the end of Q3 2005 and will literally double from the 14.75 million bloggers in 2004. A projection of 99 million bloggers is expected by Analysis International, by 2008, with an overall growth rate of 65%[4]. Analysis International claims it is the leading Internet based provider of business information about Technology, Media and Telecom industries in China, and claims 10,000 clients worldwide.

One common theme surrounding the blogs in China is censorship. John G. Palfrey, Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, recently testified about Chinese censorship February 15, 2006[5], in front of the House Committee on International Relations. He heads up the OpenNet initiative, a team of researchers conducting empirical testing of China’s internet filtration system.

They concluded that China’s system is “by far, the most sophisticated and extensive in the world.” Their group studied systems by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain as well. China’s notorious firewall works differently as well, and on multiple levels of the internet. For example, while Saudi Arabia’s firewall openly blocks a site, deems it inappropriate, and offers a feedback link if one is disgruntled about the blockage. China, however, just makes it appear a site like Google for example, is unresponsive.

Therefore, with these conclusions, Palfrey suggested that it is in the best interest for US companies to enter China’s internet since China is just as capable of filtering internet content themselves. Palfrey claimed that if US companies did not continue entering, Bokee, the large blog provider in China, would simply become stricter and prevent users from saying things the State Security Bureau does not like. Bokee already blocks the publishing of certain words on their weblogs. MSN spaces is seen as the better alternative by some, according to Palfrey and various other blogosphere analysts.

MSN spaces, arguably one of the top 5 bogging providers in China, does not engage in active monitoring of their blogs, and rather have just announced an official policy of taking down blogs only if the government gives a “legally binding notice.” This does not mean MSN ignores government regulations however.

A posting by Zhao Jing on December 29-30, 2005 led the Chinese government to order MSN to remove “Anti’s Blog” according to the Washington Post[6]. The full detail of the post is available online, but the title of one of his posts should be illustrative enough to grasp what the blog was about: “The Beijing News is about to fall into enemy hands. The Guangming Daily wants to completely take control.” Essentially, “Anti’s Blog” wrote about Chinese media and was very controversial. Jing predicted this move and wrote that if the government rejected his blog, Microsoft would “sell me out,” he said. Immediately after Microsoft censored his blog, Zhao posted a message online cursing Microsoft and the young Chinese programmers who censor the internet. A few weeks later, he admitted that MSN Spaces is China’s most lightly censored blog. In a Washington Post article[7], he said, “In this political system, everyone has to compromise. It’s not black and white. Many of the people who delete my essays are also my friends.”

The Washington Post article is perhaps one of the best, personal examinations into the world of blogging in China by a US journalistic organization. It is NOT black and white after all. It appears that many in China are resentful at Microsoft for coming into their country, as one Chinese college student claimed in an essay to Zhao, urging him to use a Chinese blogging host. Xingdong, head of Bokee, also complains about MSN censorship; however his site actively blocks weblogs that may not appeal to the government before the government even looks at the webblogs. Isaac Mao, co-founder of one of China’s first blogging firms, suggested a boycott of Microsoft. This is all contrary to what appears to be the other millions of Chinese internet users like Zhao, who like Microsoft because more slack is provided.

Microsoft recently offered Zhao a copy of all his deleted posts on a CD, but would only send the CD to him if they could use an address outside of China. Therefore, it seems that to avoid the brunt of Chinese blogging censorship – one must leave China. It would only seem this way though.

New strategies are now emerging to break the grip China has over expression. One example is called bridge-blogging. Bridge-blogging is essentially posting a blog outside of China in a Chinese language and making it accessible to Chinese people as well as United States visitors. Bridge-bloggers often distribute web addresses and ways of getting to their pages through printed instructions – given to Chinese citizens.

Another possible way of breaking Chinese censorship is simply to use an “information broker” or a program such as Freegate, in order to break into the world beyond. Freegate lets people access sites beyond the firewall of China, and also changes it’s address constantly so China cannot block it or tract the user’s IP. Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, pay the founder of Freegate money to send out emails featuring links to their stories. Kenneth Berman, manager of the anticensorship office of the International Broadcasting Bureau to which Voice of America and Radio Free Asia belong, says the bureau pays about 5 million a year to combat internet censorship abroad[8]. Many people, such as Palfrey, believe information brokers were becoming very popular in China. The main problem with these forms though, is that one is essentially taking “a red pill,” and cannot communicate easily to others in the country who are still not plugged into the rest of the world. Bill Xia, a Chinese hacker in North Carolina and founder of Freegate, likes the Matrix analogy, and says the digital bad guy in sunglasses (referring to Mr. Smith from the movie) “guards the internet like China’s Public Security Bureau guards the internet.[9]

Bridge-blogging seems to be the best way of blogging, and information brokers are the best way of receiving information from the world in which to blog about perhaps. Susan Stevens, a Las Vegas graphic designer, belongs to an “adopt a blog” program[10]. She has adopted a Chinese blogger by using her own server in the U.S. to broadcast the blogger’s work. She said, “this is where technology excels. We don’t have to have anything in common. We barely have to speak the same language.”

In conclusion, unless directed to better academic examinations of blogging – it appears that blogging has been best explained by the popular press and other bloggers who best understand the information. It also appears that private companies are taking the initiative to investigate the matter due to speculation. A few non-profits relating to press freedom and information flow are also popping up with legitimate handles on the topic. This is not to say that academic study does not exist, but for this topic, it appears that best understanding the reality of the Chinese blogosphere needs the attention of all sorts of people from across the globe, in multiple professions. The intention of this article was to examine the Chinese blogosphere and also show how other bloggers and alternative sources of information may best work with traditional academic understanding of such a new concept as blogging is.








[8] Fowler, Geoffry., Chinese Internet Censors face ‘hacktivists’ in U.S. Wall Street Journal February 14, 2006.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

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“The Impact of Great News Events” Reviewed

[In the name of scholarship, I publish this. I am an undergraduate journalism student. Perhaps this will help someone out there. It certainly does me any good just sitting around.]

In an article entitled, “Global News and Information Flow,” by Kuldip R. Rampal, a number of global news sources are discussed. These sources share one major thing in common: they are all mostly Western news sources. This article, entitled, “The Impact of Great News Events,” by William A. Hachten and James F. Scotton explore the consequences of a Western media on the globe.

To start off, the article opens with an illustration of the Berlin Wall destruction and how this event emptied the supermarkets and video shops of West Berlin since East Berlin people were so happy to get West Berlin stuff. The conclusion then, is that the Western media had an impact on public opinion and played a role in raising expectations and breaking the communists monopoly on information and popular culture. People obviously were desirous for new goods not found in their country because they heard, somehow, that these goods were good.

It can be said, based on this article, that Western communication brought on the end of the communist press idea. Hachten however, does not go as in depth on this as he does in another article he wrote, entitled, “Changing Ideologies of Press Control.” In his second article, he describes the Chernobyl disaster as a way of showing how communist press fell apart. In the communist press idea, news itself is only “positive” and a nuclear meltdown was not relevant. However, the Chernobyl disaster really showed the communist media could not deal with foreign competition since foreign media were reporting on the death and problems while the communist media was resisting it – sacrificing the lives of their own audience. Needless to say, citizens did not take kindly to this ideology of the communist press.

In this article, Hachten looks primarily at television programs, and other factors of the consumer nature of the Western press as ways of enticing communist bloc countries to “convert” to Western media. The fact is, according to this article, that the communist countries were just not technologically advanced to meet the new demands the Western media was generating. In other words, communism was just not fit to compete against capitalism. Hachten would agree with this statement, since he sees the media as intrinsically tied to either capitalism and consumerism in the West, or the state in the East. Add this factor, to the problem of Russian news media actually endangering the lives of citizens as stated in the previous paragraph – and one can understand how the Western media really did have an impact.

This article focuses itself however, and looks to specific events to show how the media had an impact. In the revolutionary acts in 1989, the news coverage of these events did three things according to Hachten: The events helped report things are happening and times are changing; The events showed the world was watching; The events showed that anti-communist demonstrations were possible.

When coup attempters arrested Mikhail Gorbachev and closed down all media – they assumed a nation would like the changeover. According to Newsweek, as quoted by this article, “the coup leaders apparently relied on popular indifference and fear of authority. But those are not the attributes of people in the know. And last week, Russians proved that they have entered the information age.” The people rejected the takeover through unfettered news coverage according to this article.

This article goes onto suggest that the same type of mentality is prevailing in China – where China’s leaders assume the nation would agree with their authority. However, unfettered news access and lack of central control is slowly deteriorating the central authority.

China, in their acceptance of capitalism, as this article suggests, is actually accepting a freer media. As an example, the article points to the number of satellites in China. Satellites are allowing people to connect uncensored to the global village. Ten years ago, in China, satellite dishes were banned from use. Today, it is unenforceable. An estimated 500,000 roofs have them. The Chinese Government estimates about 15 million people there have access to unrestricted multiple channel devices.

This article however, also goes on to talk about the potential downfalls of Western news impact on the globe. For example, some people feel that the media is being used by the media. This can be illustrated by the Iran hostage crisis, according to this article. In the Iran hostage crisis, the Iranian government counted on the fact that American media would report on the crowds gathered outside of the embassy supporting the hostage takers in order to shed light on the Iranian desires. NBC news even gave into unethical terrorist demands just to interview an American hostage. Some feel the foreign journalists were simply becoming puppets of the terrorists. Fred Friendly, former president of CBS said (in the article) the worst errors in coverage had been caused by a “haphazard frenzy of competition” and the compulsion to obtain “exclusives:” “We have to learn that they (the terrorists) watch TV. We need to get across that you can’t shoot your way onto our air,” said Friendly.

On the other hand, the article also points out that foreign coverage is needed as without it, we probably weren’t able to grasp foreign perceptions of the US, and in turn – understand a major terrorist attack like September 11 was imminent.

One problem with this article is that it is only concerned with a Western media’s interpretation of global events – particularly, the United States’ interpretation, as all of these events mentioned involve the United States. While it is good to analyze our media’s impact on other people, we must also analyze other forms of media and its impact on others. For example, China’s foreign press’ media impact on its own people must be looked at, as well as India’s, or Pakistan’s, or a number of other countries if we are to look at our own media’s impact on ourselves. Yes, the majority of big media conglomerations are Western, but that does not mean they are the only ones that exist. Al Jazeer has a wide audience, and their coverage of events undoubtedly influences other people as well. In addition, European coverage of American events should also be examined. Do they simply mirror American press style? Many “Western” news sources are both European and American. Would it not help to untangle this mess of a word we call “Western?”

Another major flaw in this article is that it seems to make too many conclusions without understanding other elements that may have led to an effect. For example, to state that the Western media helped lead to the “electronic execution of Soviet Communism” is a bold statement that cannot be verified. More statistical data must be provided to show how the Western media alone caused the downfall of the communist state, or even the communist press – besides simply a generalized conclusion the author implies we will accept as fact. Proof needs to be provided, and until then, much of this article becomes a thought experiment – supplying conceptual framework without any legitimate studies or solid evidence in certain areas where evidence should be provided to support a conclusion. Nonetheless, this article gives one much to think about in regards to the Western media’s coverage of foreign events.

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