There are, however, signs that the West is getting cold feet about its laissez-faire approach. Concerns about cyber crime, paedophilia, pornography, violence and terrorism are growing, and even though in most cases the internet merely offers a newer and more fashionable outlet for age-old crimes and vices, the clamour for more invasive regulation may be difficult to resist.
In fact, resistance may be the least attractive option. Allowing unchecked web traffic runs counter to the deep-seated desire for control felt by many governments, and not just unelected ones. Last year, the US Government outlawed online gambling and the EU indicated a desire to regulate YouTube and other video-based websites as if they were broadcast television. Such measures may seem relatively trivial compared with China’s interventions, but they indicate a willingness to extend national boundaries onto the web. Western democracies may not like what China is doing in practice, but they seem to like the principle of nationally regulated cyberspace.