A random observation for the day. The NYT reported that an American of Chinese birth recently traveled to China and was detained and tortured by state security officials (fortunately, just in an ad hoc street cop kind of a way, not sent-to-Guantanamo style) because he engages in the mildest of human rights activism, particularly posting to Twitter. Apparently they mostly wanted his Twitter password, which could only serve to let them hijack his account and mimic him, since public broadcast of all the info that is there is kind of the point of Twitter.
What struck me about the story, beyond the always useful reminder about the behavior of governments and our “important partners” in China, was the following:
In a phone interview on Monday from his home in Fremont, Calif., Mr. Ge described how the agents, infuriated by his assertion that bloggers in the United States were volunteers and not government-sponsored agitators, demanded that he turn over his Twitter password.
That seemed vaguely familiar. Kind of like the cries from members of the anti-tobacco extremist industry when confronted with human rights or good-science activists who challenge their bullshit, accusing people of doing it under the secret employ of industry. Low-lifes like Chinese government thugs or paid astroturf activists simply cannot understand that someone might take a principled position and devote their time because they simply care about the world. Since said thugs personally would never do something they were not getting paid for, they reason (to the extent they are able), no one else would either.
Of course, I realize that this is not the story for everyone. Some pro-government thugs in China etc. might be decent people who simply have no access to honest information and have been brainwashed — it is not that difficult to persuade idealistic young men to become monsters. Western “public health” activists have no such excuse, though in fairness to them, presumably many of them are just lying as part of their jobs and do not genuinely believe that everyone who calls them out is as dishonest as they are.
As a side note of warning from that story:
In the end, Mr. Ge and his captors came up with a compromise: he did not reveal his password but logged on to Twitter and allowed them to peek inside his account. “The truth is I have nothing to hide,” he said.
Unfortunately, he might as well have just given them his password, because he undoubtedly did so, as the reporter should have known if he read his own newspaper’s article about how Chinese and Russian officials are adept at installing password stealing software and otherwise breaking into computers. Companies with security concerns have taken to not allowing employees to take their computers or phones to these countries or log in from there, bringing only temporary burner devices that they sometimes then forbid from ever plugging into the company network based on the assumption that the spyware is so good that it cannot be removed. A good lesson for all of us. And don’t forget that the border guards even from “free” countries sometimes seize and search computers, your email, etc. when you come through customs, even entering your own country — Canada did it to me once.