One of Edward Snowden’s staunchest supporters recently told Fusion that China is not the oppressive surveillance state the West has made it out to be.
“It doesn’t feel like an oppressive surveillance state,” Jacob Appelbaum, who helped journalist Laura Poitras vet Snowden, said in Beijing. “China has been demonized by the West.”
Appelbaum, known as the American WikiLeaks hacker, travelled to China last week to meet with world-famous artist and activist Ai Weiwei.
The meeting between the two dissidents will be the subject of a new documentary by journalist and filmmaker Laura Poitras, who was given, along with journalist Glenn Greenwald, the bulk of the documents Snowden allegedly stole from the NSA in June 2013.
Appelbaum, who also helped develop the anonymous browser Tor, has worked as a
Der Spiegel contributor on the leaks.
Appelbaum also gave an hour-long presentation detailing a classified document listing technology available to the NSA’s hacking unit, known as TAO.
Pleased to discover upon arriving in Beijing that China’s internet censors had not blocked Tor, the self-proclaimed lover of privacy and internet freedom heaped praise on the oppressive Beijing regime.
“The perceptions of China don’t meet the reality,” he told Fusion reporter Kashmir Hill.
He quickly qualified his statement: “Sure, they have mobile death vans that harvest people’s organs,” he said, “but they’re not overtly restrictive.”
Nevertheless, based on the best available sources, what Appelbaum said is either extremely naive or flagrantly disingenuous.
By all credible account, China is one of the most overtly restrictive countries on earth when it comes to civil freedoms.
“In 2005, China began building a nationwide surveillance system.,” NPR reported in 2013. “Officials dubbed it ‘Skynet,’ with no apparent sense of irony.”
The Wall Street Journal, citing a a security industry specialist based in Shanghai,reported last year that there are “as many as 100 million surveillance cameras are installed in China, and the market could grow 15% annually in the five years.”
Freedom House, a US promotes “non-profit that non-violent civic initiatives in societies where freedom is denied or under threat,” lists China as one of the least free countries in its latest “Freedom in the World” report.
“Harassment of previously tolerated civil society organisations, labour leaders, academics, and state-sanctioned churches intensified [in 2014],” the reports states. “Internet controls continued to tighten, and several activists who had been detained in 2013 were sentenced to prison on politically motivated charges.”
“The Great Firewall”
Weiwei told Der Spiegel last year that the Beijing government’s repressiveness is holding the country back.
“The whole system — not just the political leadership, the military too, the whole power structure, our education system, the whole of society — is suffering from being cut off from the free flow of information,” China’s foremost dissident said.
The technology China uses to censor the internet is often referred to as “The Great Firewall,” and a recent Freedom House report gave China an internet freedom score of 87 on a scale of 1-100 (100 being the least free).
As the same report points out, China’s gateways to the world wide web are maintained by six state-run operators, who also have the authority — which they have exercised in the past — to shut down access to entire communications systems in response to specific events.
“Everyone should have the right to privacy”
“I knew long ago that my great contribution to the world would be to reveal surveillance,” Appelbaum told Fusion, despite also implying that this surveillance does not exist in China.
That simply is not the case. As of 2013, China had over two million internet police — known officially as “public opinion analysts” — constantly surveying government criticism and social unrest online.
“Everyone should have the right to privacy and know their emails won’t be read, even if they are horrible people, like the cops in Ferguson,” Appelbaum added.
This privacy does not exist in China, however, where private companies are required to monitor and block any online communications that express anti-government sentiment.
Given that he was wearing a shirt that said “F— the NSA,” it’s seems Appelbaum will not let facts get in the way of his agenda.