The primary considerations when discussing censorship are whether or not the government has a right to censor its internet, and whether a person may ethically circumvent walls that the government builds to limit access to controversial content. Furthermore, do the hacktivists that illegally provide access to censored content violate ethical laws in addition to the legal boundaries that they overstep?
Certain governments have an understandable desire to suppress the information that enters and leaves their countries. For example, many details related to daily life in North Korea are still shrouded in layers of government censorship. Many speculate on what actually goes on in the country, and the fact that so little is known about North Korea has given life the film The Interview, which satirizes the insular nation. Countries with things to hide from their peoples would restrict this information to avoid unrest and rebellion. The western perspective would likely say that if a country has secrets to keep from its people (something that the US is not necessarily innocent of), then the government is doing something wrong in the first place. To maintain the status quo, or to keep a reigning leader in office, a country may obfuscate some of the dirtier facts.
I tend to think that it is not unethical for a government to censor the internet that its people access, although it is highly deprecated. My thoughts on this topic are not set in stone, but I’m trying to find a specific reason that would make censorship wholly immoral. If a government lies about something that cannot be repudiated because that government has limited access to the truth, then this would be immoral. However, a government may act in its own self-interest to limit what its people have access to. It’s not desirable, but I don’t think that unimpaired access to the internet is necessarily a right (don’t quote me on this, I may have changed my opinion by the time class starts).
If a hacker deems censorship unethical, then I do not think it would be unethical for him to write some code to evade this censorship. I think that because this issue is very new, and I find valid arguments on each side of the topic, then the issue of circumventing censorship becomes subjective. I don’t think I can say whether or not hacktivists are acting ethically.
I believe that technology companies that operate in countries with censorship should abide by their laws. If information is requested by a country pertaining to a user, and it has been clearly conveyed to the provider of the technology that they must provide the data in order to operate in the country, I think the company should provide the data. While it’s undesirable, I do not think that this is the best avenue to combat censorship. If you agree to operate within the legal bounds of a country, then you should honor that. I think a more effective means of diminishing the power of censorship would come from foreign committees, especially if self-organization and demonstration within the censored company is impossible or difficult. While I do not think it is morally reprehensible to censor a country’s access to information, I also think that it is morally permissible for other countries to look for means of eradicating censorship in foreign countries. I think that the US should look at ways of reducing the control of the government on the internet in China. My views on this issue are still kind of confused, but I think that I have articulated (maybe not too clearly) my foundational beliefs on the ethics of censorship.