Tech's Repressive Dark Side Threatens Us All

How's that "the revolution will be televised, blogged, and Twittered" thing going in Iran? Or the "Web 2.0 will us set free" mantra?

Oh. I see. Not so well.

Supreme Leader Khamenei, who really runs everything in that country, and his pseudo-"elected" lackey, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have gained a firm upper hand in putting down the Iranian resistance to the rigged election in particular and its repressive society in general.

It turns out that the bad guys know technology and, when threatened, can be particularly adept at thwarting their opponents' use of it.

The first and most obvious strategy is to keep pictures out of the news. The Associated Press reports that "Iranian authorities have barred journalists for international news organizations from reporting on the streets and ordered them to stay in their offices." Another tactic is to hinder the opponents' organizing efforts. While Iran's opposition leader and putative election loser is putting on a brave face, the supreme leader's thugs "have arrested most of his inner circle and made it progressively harder for him to communicate with his followers."

Meanwhile, the death of Neda has been swept from American and world viewers' short-term memory banks, replaced by almost pathologically obsessive coverage of the death of "Nada," (as in, "nada in the way of meaningful musical accomplishments since 1982").

Perhaps President Barack Obama, assuming he even cares, is among those swept up in the absurd notion that solely with the help of technology, oppressed people will rise up, throw off their shackles, and be free, while all we have to do is watch. If it were only that easy.

Take China. For decades, the elitist notion has been that if the Chinese get a taste of and grow to relish the benefits of economic freedom, they will also clamor for and achieve personal and political freedom. The Chinese communist government will simply one day capitulate and all will be sweetness and light.

The government has had a very different idea. There has been no significant sign of a legitimate change in outlook since Tiananmen -- which, by the way, was also televised, with little real-world effect.

Its economic model is decidedly not based on truly free markets. In publicly traded Chinese corporations, the government is almost always the dominant or by far most influential owner. It is naive to believe that the party isn't making or approving the vast majority of meaningful decisions at these enterprises. Oh, and by the way, they sort of own us and they're starting to throw their weight around.

Meanwhile, the party has "progressively" tightened its grip on information. Since 2005, outrageously assisted by U.S.-based high-tech companies, the government's smiley-faced police-state apparatus has clamped down on blogs, Internet news, websites, hosting companies, and search engines. Yahoo!, Google, MSN, and others filter searches at their Chinese affiliates. Google's agreement to censor Chinese search engine results in early 2006 ended the credibility of that company's signature claim that it would "do no evil." Additionally, companies like Cisco and Fortinet have helped the government prevent access to disfavored sites.