The cyberwar continues. As governments set up new barriers to censor free speech citizens find new ways to bypass the digital equivalent to the Berlin Wall. Software created by Global Internet Freedom Consortium, the Tor Project, and Psiphon among others allow users to avoid various roadblocks set up by governments to block unrestricted access to information.
This from today’s New York Times:
This from today’s New York Times:
The Iranian government, more than almost any other, censors what citizens can read online, using elaborate technology to block millions of Web sites offering news, commentary, videos, music and, until recently, Facebook and YouTube. Search for “women” in Persian and you’re told, “Dear Subscriber, access to this site is not possible.”You can read the entire article here.
Last July, on popular sites that offer free downloads of various software, an escape hatch appeared. The computer program allowed Iranian Internet users to evade government censorship.
College students discovered the key first, then spread it through e-mail messages and file-sharing. By late autumn more than 400,000 Iranians were surfing the uncensored Web.
The software was created not by Iranians, but by Chinese computer experts volunteering for the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that has beem suppressed by the Chinese government since 1999. They maintain a series of computers in data centers around the world to route Web users’ requests around censors’ firewalls.
The Internet is no longer just an essential channel for commerce, entertainment and information. It has also become a stage for state control — and rebellion against it. Computers are becoming more crucial in global conflicts, not only in spying and military action, but also in determining what information reaches people around the globe.
More than 20 countries now use increasingly sophisticated blocking and filtering systems for Internet content, according to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group that encourages freedom of the press.
Although the most aggressive filtering systems have been erected by authoritarian governments like those in Iran, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria, some Western democracies are also beginning to filter some content, including child pornography and other sexually oriented material.
In response, a disparate alliance of political and religious activists, civil libertarians, Internet entrepreneurs, diplomats and even military officers and intelligence agents are now challenging growing Internet censorship.
The creators of the software seized upon by Iranians are members of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, based largely in the United States and closely affiliated with Falun Gong. The consortium is one of many small groups developing systems to make it possible for anyone to reach the open Internet. It is the modern equivalent of efforts by organizations like the Voice of America to reach the citizens of closed countries.
Separately, the Tor Project, a nonprofit group of anticensorship activists, freely offers software that can be used to send messages secretly or to reach blocked Web sites. Its software, first developed at the United States Naval Research Laboratories, is now used by more than 300,000 people globally, from the police to criminals, as well as diplomats and spies.
Political scientists at the University of Toronto have built yet another system, called Psiphon, that allows anyone to evade national Internet firewalls using only a Web browser. Sensing a business opportunity, they have created a company to profit by making it possible for media companies to deliver digital content to Web users behind national firewalls.
The danger in this quiet electronic war is driven home by a stark warning on the group’s Web site: “Bypassing censorship may violate law. Serious thought should be given to the risks involved and potential consequences.”