21st Century Berlin Wall

Protesters in California demand China end its Internet censorship

President Ronald Reagan stood before the Berlin Wall in the presence of Chancellor Kohl and the Mayor of Berlin on June 12, 1987, and made one of the most memorable statements of his presidency: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Later, he stated that the fundamental difference between the East and the West was that the totalitarian world produced a backwardness because it “thwarts the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship.” Reagan concluded his speech with a word of hope that the wall would fall. “For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.”

Reagan was right. The Wall fell two years later on November 9, 1989.

Today, totalitarian states such as China, Iran and Cuba have built even more seditious walls. These invisible walls isolate their people, restrict free press and limit political, cultural and religious freedom. These Internet firewalls keeps citizens in the dark about events taking place in their own countries as well as the outside world.

The recent Republican Platform included a statement submitted by 21CWI that stated:

“Internet firewall circumvention and anti-censorship technology must become a national priority … A focus on Internet freedom is a cost-effective means of peacefully advancing fundamental freedoms in closed and authoritarian societies.”

If the circumvention of these censorship tools is to be a national priority, then the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) must make it a priority in its budget. The mission of the BBG, a U.S. government agency, is “to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.” While this mission was effectively advanced by ensuring the free flow of radio transmissions in the 20th Century, 21st Century communication norms demand that the BBG’s mission include robust support for free access to news and information through independent online sources. Without free access to the Internet, the BBG’s mission to inform and engage people is compromised.

While China spends billions on Internet firewalls, the BBG continues to spend sixty percent of its budget on short wave radio and only a small fraction on firewall circumvention, despite its responsibility to promote Internet freedom.

The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, the Lantos Foundation and China Aid have joined together in a coalition to encourage Congress, the State Department and especially the BBG to “tear down the wall of Internet firewalls.” Millions are living in the darkness of government censorship and are facing religious persecution, economic sanctions and isolation from their fellow citizens and the global community. Technology is already available to circumvent these firewalls. This must become a national priority as we seek to challenge the BBG to “tear down this wall!”

Randel Everett, Founder and President

Action Items

1. Write BBG Chairman Jeff Shell and insist that he make Internet firewall circumvention a budgetary priority. Encourage him to use any excess funding in this year’s budget for Internet freedom technology.

Jeff Shell — JShell@bbg.gov

330 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20237

2. Write your Congress members and insist on Internet freedom becoming a national priority. If the Representative or Senator is a Republican, remind him or her that this is considered a national priority in the Republican Platform (p. 54).

3. Follow the information that will be coming to you from the Coalition of the Lantos Foundation, China Aid and 21CWI as we seek to work with Congress, the State Department and the BBG in this urgent challenge.