Where once it was relatively easy to quash free speech within national borders by closing down radio stations or seizing printing presses, the global reach of blogs, and the relative ease with which they can be restarted, mean that the flow of dissenting information is less easily stymied.
Generally, bloggers are better able to dodge restrictions because they can assume different identities online and are not tied to a particular location. "One of the reasons for the growth of blogging and online journalism is that it provides a space for dissent that is harder for governments to control," explains Steve Ballinger, media officer at Amnesty International.
It took some governments time to catch up with all this, but catch up is what they are doing.
In May, the Open Net Initiative (ONI), a transatlantic group of academics from Harvard, Toronto, Oxford and Cambridge universities, revealed that 25 countries now apply state-mandated content filtering to block access to particular websites, compared to just a couple of countries five years ago.
"States are frightened by the freedom implied by the internet," says Julien Pain, head of the internet freedom desk at Reporters Without Borders. "They are developing more and more technology to improve censorship, either by asking bloggers to register and pushing them to self-censure or by closing down their blogs.
In 2003, Iran became the first country to imprison a blogger: Sina Motallebi, sentenced to 23 days in solitary confinement.
Since then, 28 bloggers and online journalists have been jailed, including Arash Cigarchi, who was sentenced to 14 years. He initially faced the death penalty, but was eventually acquitted of "insulting the prophets".
In recent months, the Malaysian government's rhetoric on punishing "irresponsible" bloggers has been translated into reality. Websites and blogs have been targeted one after another, and on the flimsiest pretext. Then, on 25 July, De-facto Law Minister Nazri Aziz threatened to use against bloggers the Internal Security Act (ISA) - which allows for detention without trial – and the Sedition Act.
But don't cut out the US of A.
Last year, Josh Wolf, a 24-year-old blogger videoed an anti-globalisation protest in San Francisco during which a police officer was injured. He was ordered to hand over the film which was to be posted on his blog to the federal court but refused, arguing he was protected by the First Amendment. He was jailed for 226 days, and has now been released.
The ONI's regional overview of the US makes for even more astonishing reading. It reveals that the Bush administration's warrantless wiretaps are reported to have included "taps on major internet interconnect points and data-mining of internet communications. Tapping these points would give the government the ability to intercept every overseas and many domestic communications ...
"If the allegations prove to be true," warns the ONI, "they show that the US maintains the world's most sophisticated internet surveillance regime."
By the way, a whole lot of the information above came from Security Magazine.
And now back to Iran.
The following interview is from Global Voices.
Women bloggers targets for filtering in Iran
Friday, August 10th, 2007 @ 16:45 UTC
by Hamid Tehrani
Mehdi Mohseni’s blog Jomhour [Fa] (means Republic in Perisan) is a definitive source of information about social and political issues in Iran. If you “chase” Iranian blogs, you shouldn’t miss this one. Around 1000 people visit daily.
Q: Would you introduce yourself and your blog ?
My name is Mehdi Mohseni and I was born in 1980 in Qom. I studied civil engineering. I am a sort of independent journalist. I published my first blog in 2002.
Q:You are based in South-West Iran. Can we talk about local bloggers? I mean bloggers that just talk about their own towns?
As you know blogs are borderless media. Bloggers can write from any place in Iran and have an audience anywhere in the world. They can talk about anything. I think there are local blogs that just give information about their town or location in their blog, but in general this kind of local focused blogging is not taken much into consideration.
Women in the line of fire
Q: What is the main problem of Iranian bloggers besides filtering? Do hackers create any problems?
Bloggers, like others, faces several difficulties in Iran. Many Iranian websites in general, and political ones in particular, have been filtered. In the last two years filtering and censorship has become worse. Especially many blogs by women were filtered. It is not really important what you blog about. If you are a woman, there is a real risk that your blog will get filtered. Political sites and blogs written by reformists and nationalist-religious people are targeted too. But the blogs hit the worst by filtering, belong to civil society activists such as students, women, and worker activists.
Hacking has not really been a problem for bloggers. So far only official sites have been hacked. In general, people also suffer form slow internet connections, high costs, and low quality technical problems.
Q: How do you evaluate the evolution of Iranian blogs in these recent years?
I can express my own ideas based on personal observation rather than a scientific analysis. I think there is a lot of pressure on people in society, and blogging is a good instrument to help people to express themselves in society. This may be the reason so many women and girls are blogging. Recently many middle aged people have started to use blogs to express their opinions too.
Q: How you see the influence of blogs in society?
There is growing censorship in Iran and in the absence of journals and news websites, blogs accomplish something beyond imagination even though we can not trust all the information that we find in them. Bloggers can transform a topics into hot issues in society, and force government to react.