China has become notorious for the extent and sophistication of its Internet censorship. The government constantly adjusts its roster of banned Web sites. Search engines filter content, leaving only pro-government information on sensitive topics. Companies that provide space to bloggers censor hundreds of key words, such as "democracy," "Falun Gong," and "freedom." Chat rooms are monitored by tens of thousands of government workers, who remove offending posts. E-mail is subject to censorship, although less likely to be blocked than public communications. Even text messages are now perused by the authorities.
| See a map showing levels of internet|
censorship throughout the world.
But China is hardly alone in its vigilance. The map at right, based on research by Reporters Without Borders, a free-press watchdog group, shows the state of Internet freedom in fifty-five countries worldwide, based on how much of the Web is blocked and how vulnerable citizens are to government intimidation for unsanctioned use.
For the most part, the countries that police the Web most thoroughly are the ones you'd expect: Iran, China, and Vietnam are among the most aggressive, blocking a wide range of political, religious, human-rights, and vice-related sites while tracking Internet users carefully. In Burma and Cuba, only a tiny fraction of users can connect to the Internet at all; the rest can access only their country's intranet, composed mostly of business and government propaganda sites. Several states filter only minimally but make examples of those who speak up on the Web: there are currently fifty-five dissidents imprisoned for online activities worldwide—forty-eight in China, two in Vietnam, two in Iran, and one each in the Maldives, Tunisia, and Syria.