Oh, those silly governments. Internet censorship won't withstand the onslaught of web-savvy geeks! Nevertheless, the British and Dutch governments recently ordered ISPs to bar users from accessing The Pirate Bay whatsoever. Despite claims from anti-piracy groups that the blockade is being effective, new reports show that simply isn't true, and one website even explains how you can bypass the ban using only a web browser.
The porn – um, "privacy" – modes in modern browsers do a great job of letting workers browse Facebook under the noses of employers with strict Web policies, but privacy modes don't do squat when a heavy-handed regime blocks access to specific websites. Freedom-loving webizens in freedom-hating countries have long turned to TOR as their onion-routing proxy of choice to get around governmental roadblocks, but researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a new system that could help Iranians and other censored Web users access "immoral" websites like Twitter and CNN.
China's a great place to go if you want to find a company to manufacture some hardware components, but it's a little less awesome if you want to, say, blog about making those components. The country's ramped up its assault on the Internet over the past few years, jailing "immoral" citizens and shutting down websites left and right. Now, China's bragging about its heavy-handedness; the country boasts that its iron grip strangled the life out of over 1.3 million websites last year alone.
Despite losing a court case, and nearly selling to a shady gaming company, The Pirate Bay is still rattling cadges in the entertainment industry. A February meeting of the European Union’s Law Enforcement Work Party (LEWP) resulted in a proposal that, among other things, recommended a European firewall that would block 'inappropriate' sites.
The world has become a little hypersensitive to Internet blocking in the wake of the Egyptian incident. So it comes as no surprise that when traffic from the small nation of Bahrain began choking off, people took note. As protests in Bahrain increase in size and duration, data collected by Ann Arbor networks suggests large scale blocking of packets is taking place.
The BBC in reporting today that a Chinese human rights advocate is being jailed for sending a tweet. The incident occurred last month when Cheng Jianping's fiancé (who is also a human rights advocate) sent a tweet insinuating that those protesting Japan's presence at the Shanghai Expo would make more impact is they just smashed Japan's pavilion space. Cheng retweeted this comment, adding the words "Charge, angry youth".
Ten days later she was in police custody and is now sentenced to one year of re-education through labor. The charge was "disrupting social order". The Chinese authorities keep a close eye on comments made on social networking sites like Twitter. Even though the site is officially blocked in mainland China, some people do find ways to access it.
Cheng Jianping's fiancé, Hua Chunhui is trying to get her released to serve her sentence at home, but the government has not budged.
In recent days, residents of Turkey have had unrestricted access to YouTube for the first time in 30 months. Now a court in Ankara has ordered the site banned again because the video sharing site hosts clips featuring former opposition leader Deniz Baykal. Turkey's Telecommunications Minister has been instructed to request the removal of the clips, and block the site if Google does not immediately comply.
YouTube was originally banned in May 2008 after the courts took issue with some clips on the site. Specifically, some videos were found to be insulting to Turkey's modern founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, This is considered a crime in Turkey. Turkish users have been able to access YouTube through proxies, but the experience is degraded. Bloomberg is reporting that the site is still accessible right now, but that could change at any time.
It's long been known that the Chinese authorities don't take kindly to people using sites like Twitter and Facebook in the country. The possibility that people might anonymously congregate on these popular sites frightens them to such a degree that they are blocked by the so-called "Great Firewall". While traditional internet devices and services in China cannot access these and other sites, it looks like the 3G Amazon Kindle is capable of bypassing the Great Firewall.
The 3G version of the Kindle connects to Amazon's Whispernet to access web services. There appears to something about the routing, even using Chinese 3G networks, that allows the device to reach forbidden websites. The result is a thriving grey-market for the e-reader in mainland China. Amazon is not able to sell the Kindle direct to consumers.
One individual that resells Kindles in China claims to be selling over 300 devices per month. Chinese auction sites too are havens for illicit Kindle sales. The only drawback to this method is that the Kindle's web browser is not very pleasing to use, being on a slow device with an eInk screen. We'll have to wait and see if Chinese authorities find a way to block this as well.
If you're the type to fret over data security and government censorship, Google has your back with their new Transparency Report. The report is likely a response to the search giant's recent run-ins with the likes of China over blocking services and requesting user information. The Transparency Report is broken down into two sections, Government Requests, and Traffic.
The Government Requests section offers an interactive Google Map with flags in each country that data is available for. By zooming in, we can see the number of requests for each country, as well as various court orders for removal of content. The data on the map is currently only from the last year, but more could be added as time goes on.
The Traffic section consists of a graph showing the amount of data passed through Google over time. Users can choose the country and Google service to view in the drop downs. The idea is that by looking for large drop-offs in traffic, users will be able to tell when the free flow of information has been interrupted. Do you think this kind of transparency will make governments think twice about limiting freedom online?
In a blog post this morning, Google made note of a startling fact regarding censorship. By The Big G's count, out of the 100 countries they offer services in, 25 are blocking at least some part of those services. Google calls the problem of net censorship a "growing problem" and references the Open Net initiative's list of countries that censor online content.
According to Google, the increase in censorship is due to the unprecedented number of people meeting to share ideas online. This means the traditional methods of controlling a few print and television sources no longer work. The example of YouTube is used - the video sharing site sees 24 hours of new content every minute. As a result governments simply clamp down on the internet, blocking large sections of the internet that may contain content they do not approve of.
By way of examples, Google singles out China and Vietnam for political censorship. But Google points out that it complies with democratically elected governments that have specific restrictions - like a ban on pro-Nazi material in Germany and France. But Google sums it's position up as such, " We are driven by a belief that more information means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual."
Do you take Google at its word, or is this just business?