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Access to Information

Control of the Access to Information

Free access to information is a fundamental right of every individual; therefore, nobody is entitled to violate it. According to the Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. However, the recent unstable political environment in the world prompts governments, scholars, and general public pay attention to the problem of access, creation, and distribution of information. The majority of states in the globe adopt legislation that protects people’s freedom and right of access to information. Nevertheless, some countries still employ policies that deter people’s fundamental right by restricting information access and practicing data surveillance. The paper will analyze the aspects, aims, and methods of controlling the citizens’ access to information in the USA, China, the Russian Federation, and Germany.

Access to Information in the USA

The USA has the most democratic approaches concerning people’s right to have access to information held by the state. The public information is available to citizens according to their requests. Moreover, improved technology and digital communication assist people in obtaining required data in a short time. Digital communication makes the interaction between the government and the citizens more functional and operated. Accordingly, the main flow of information is mainly monitored and controlled in the country. The recent American governmental policy is based on the necessity to control the information that can threaten its citizens as well as national security. The government has created certain establishments and programs to manage the flow of potentially dangerous data.

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The National Security Agency (NSA) is responsible for conducting surveillance of electronic communications in the United States. Waldo explain that the intelligent organization “has focused on intercepting, without a warrant, phone calls and e-mails of the citizens that are believed to be linked, directly or indirectly, to the al-Qaeda terrorist organization”. The Agency uses the unique developed programs and databases to monitor the access of the citizens to information. X-Keyscore and Main Core programs are used to search and analyze the Internet as well as personal and financial data of the individuals who can threaten the national security. The Agency uses MUSCULAR program to monitor the citizen’s access to public information. Therefore, NSA aims to control and restrict the access to information that can assist the terrorists in conducting terroristic acts and harming the citizens. In addition, it monitors citizens’ information access that is legally forbidden to be used and distributed in the United States.

The government has implemented some acts to control and restrict people’s access to the illegal information that contains pornography. According to the Children’s Internet Protection and Child Online Protection Acts, schools and libraries receive Federal assistance for the Internet access to restrict children’s access to the unsuitable materials. The access to forbidden information is restrained by means of filtering software. Many large corporations such as Google and Microsoft practice self-censorship. Thus, the government of the United States of America controls its citizens’ access to information according to the national norms of legislation. The aforementioned measures assist the state in protecting its citizens from potential danger, guarantee their safe, and prevent crimes.

Access to Information in China

China employs non-democratic approaches of controlling and monitoring the citizen’s access to information. The state has strict regulations regarding information control in comparison to the legislation of other countries. The Chinese governmental policy is based on the protection of its ideology from the foreign influences. Therefore, it aims to keep the current political order and protect its citizens from any changes in the state ideology. The government has established a number of national and local authorities to control and monitor its citizens’ access to information. The Ministry of Public Security has the highest power. It is responsible for monitoring the information in the Internet and people’s access to it. The Ministry of Public Security uses the systems of control, namely the Great Firewall and the Golden Shield. Separate governmental departments as well as local and provincial administrations have the same monitoring systems.

The Great Firewall is a system of restricting citizens’ access to the foreign Internet resources. China monitors the access to foreign websites, human rights organizations, and social media. The state employs filtering software to control the usage of the specific information that harms the national ideology. Filtering software is programmed to restrict the access to the entire informative resource or its part. The government demands the national companies to follow the state requirements and distribute approved information to the citizens. It provides a list of restricted keywords and information. Accordingly, citizens’ access to information regarding collective protest, human rights, assembly, riots, and impact on people is restricted. The Great Firewall remains the most restricted governmental tool to control the individuals’ access to information in the Internet. Chinese government aims to prevent social disorder and disobedience in the country and control totally the flow of information among the citizens and their access to it.

Another mechanism of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security to monitor its citizens’ access to information is the Golden Shield. This system of domestic surveillance assists the government in managing the data that can influence the organization of social protests in the country. The system’s main goal is to restrict the information access used to co-ordinate or organize the forbidden social activities. Thus, China uses non-democratic approaches with the aim to control its citizens’ access to information. It employs strict restrictions and forbids the access to information that can potentially threaten the political and social situation in the country, its ideology, and governmental policy.

Access to Information in the Russian Federation

Russia maintains aggressive domestic security policy that is rather ambiguous concerning the issues related to the access to information. According to the current legislation, the governmental policy is based on the principals of democracy. The Russian Federation aims to protect its citizens’ rights and safety. Therefore, the government has implemented a number of acts that provide or restrict the citizens’ access to the certain types of information. Doctrine of Information Security stipulates the threatening factor to Russia’s informational safety that is irrational, excessive restriction of access to socially necessary data. Accordingly, the government guarantees the free access to the public information. In fact, the access to information is very commercial and cost-based in Russia. If a citizen needs to receive information access on the activities of the government, he or she should address to the commercial information firms. These organizations work on a commercial basis and provide requested legal information. However, it is not free of charge. Thus, the following procedure of getting public information could be considered a restriction of free access to information that should be available and open to the public.

The federal establishment, Roskomnadzor, is authorized to control the flow of information in the Internet as well as peoples’ access to it. According to the legislation, the state aims to control the citizens’ access to information in the Internet and restrict the access to resources related to pornography and materials on drug abuse or production and suicide. Roskomnadzor has an authority to block informational resources that contain offending content. In addition, the laws allow Roskomnadzor to censor individual URLs, domain names, IP addresses, and activities in social media. Thus, the state prevents the criminal activity by controlling the citizens’ access to information that is legally forbidden to use and distribute. However, the disputable issue regards to the surveillance and control of the citizens’ activities in the Internet and social media. The electronic surveillance assists the governments in collecting personal information of the individuals that is itself an invasion of privacy. Moreover, the state uses social media as a tool to facilitate the collection and distribution of information that supports the political ideology. Analyzing the recent legislation of the state, it is evident that the Russian government aims to protect its people from the potentially threatening informational resources. However, the governmental policy does not provide the free access to the public information that violates fundamental people’s rights. The Russian government seeks to monitor the citizens’ access to information with the aim to control and punish any attempts of diminishing the state policy and ideology.

Access to Information in Germany

Germany is considered the European democratic country that values its people’s rights. Therefore, it protects one of the fundamental human rights, namely a free access to information. The government has made available the access to the public information concerning the governmental policy and the work of the federal authorities. According to Federal Act Governing Access to Information Held by the Federal Government of 2005, the Germans have a right of access to official information from the agencies of the federal government and organizations that conduct public duties. The law stipulates free access to the required information that should be provided within one month. Therefore, the state does not restrict the citizens’ access to public information.

German current legislation provides the norms to regulate the procedure of monitoring illegal activities in the Internet. Federal investigators are authorized to control the citizens’ activities in the Internet and make a list of sites that have been accused of containing illegal data. However, the general public concerns that the German government employs a method of censorship that can be easily used to suppress other sites and prevent the freedom of access to information. In fact, the governmental policy aims to restrict people’s access to information that is considered threatening. Many regions in Germany block IP addresses of the websites that contain materials regarding racism, holocaust, xenophobia, and Nazi-related issues. Moreover, the majority of companies in German censor its content. However, Germany anti-censorship groups Eco, ODEM, Netzwerk Neue Medien, CCC, and BBA consider the aforementioned activity of the government as restrictions of people’s access to information. The organizations examine the laws and policy of the German government to protect the basic human rights, maintaining a free and unregulated Internet, and promoting the free data access.

Conclusion

Freedom of information is an integral part of the democratic social life. However, due to the high risk of possible illegal manipulations, usage, and distribution of data, the majority of states in the world control the flow of information and people’s access to it. Democratic states use the mechanism of control and monitoring the citizens’ access to information with an aim to secure its people from communication that can threaten the national and citizens’ security. Non-democratic countries use severe surveillance and restrictions of people’s access to information in order to keep the non-democratic regime and order.

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