Some countries are ratcheting up their regulation of foreign Internet companies. These efforts, a New York Times article explains, “increasingly” oblige firms like Google, Facebook and Twitter to mull “which laws and orders to comply with,” which to resist.
The juggling act is nothing new. Cyber-companies have always wrung their hands about which tyrannical demands to obey.
On the one hand, we have such praiseworthy examples as Google’s eventual decision, in 2010, to stop censoring its search results in China. In consequence, the Chinese government kicked Google off its Internet.
More recently, Turkey sought to prevent leaked documents from being distributed via Twitter, demanding that Twitter block posts providing access to those documents. When Twitter refused, the Turkish government blocked its service. But it then lost a court battle over the issue even as users found ways to skirt the ban.
Also heartening is the fact that, so far, American tech firms seem determined to reject a new Russian imperative that they store user information on Russian servers.
But the firms do sometimes obey demands — saying they must abide by laws that, however lamentable, are verifiably on the books — and such obedience does amount to abetting repressive efforts.
Here’s what I suggest, instead: always say No.
Never agree to help violate the rights of users, even if your services are formally banned as a result. Instead, use your ingenuity and resources to help people end-run the obstacles to free expression that governments keep imposing.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.