freedom of expression and Internet censorship.

Plans for the demise of the free Internet

March 14, 2009 –“The Canadian’s” Mike Finch “North American Union (NAU) watch” reports that US and Canadian organizations want to end free flow Internet information. He cites an “net-neutrality activist group” discovery of “plans for the demise of the free Internet by 2010 in Canada,” and by 2012 globally.

free-internetCanada’s two largest ISPs, Bell Canada and TELUS, are behind a scheme to limit browsing, block out sites, and charge fees on most others as part of a 2012 “planned full (NAU) launching.” Web host I Power’s Reese Leysen called it “beyond censorship: it is killing the biggest (ever) ‘ecosystem’ of free expression and freedom of speech.” He cited big company inside sources providing information on “exclusivity deals between ISPs and big content providers (like TV studios and video game publishers) “to decide which sites will be in the standard package offered customers, leaving the rest of the Internet unreachable except for fees.”

Leysen called his source “100% reliable” and cited similar information from a Dylan Pattyn Time magazine article, based on Bell Canada and TELUS sources. Plans are for “only the top 100 – 200 sites making the cut in the initial subscription package,” likely to include major news outlets at the expense of smaller, alternative ones. “The Internet would become a playground for billion-dollar content providers,” like cable TV providers, unless efforts are made to stop it.

Leysen thinks US and global ISPs have similar plans that include free speech restrictions and privacy invasions. The stakes are high if he’s right. Yet the profit potential is huge and friendly governments may oblige. Also involved are “deceptive marketing and fear tactics” (like citing child pornography threats) to gain public approval for subscription services masquerading as online safety.

The time to stop it is now.

China blocked access to The New York Times

When computer users in cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou tried to connect on Friday to nytimes.com, they received a message that the site was not available, the newspaper said.

There was no access to the site from Beijing late on Saturday without the protection of a virtual private network (VPN).

newyorktimes-chinaA spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs defended government censorship efforts that block access to some foreign Web sites, saying they had broken Chinese laws by promoting the idea that “two Chinas” exist.

“I hope these Web sites will exercise self-discipline and not do anything that violates Chinese laws,” said Liu Jianchao, a ministry spokesman, according to a transcript (in Chinese) of a Tuesday press conference.

China regularly blocks sites it finds unsavory, particularly those related to Tibet or critical of the Communist Party.

Access to the Chinese-language versions of the BBC, Voice of America and Hong Kong media Ming Pao News and Asiaweek were blocked early this month, Asiaweek said.

China has the world’s greatest number of Internet users, allowing its citizens vastly increased access to information. The country has 162 million Internet users and at least 1.3 million websites, but free expression is closely watched by surveillance experts and material is scanned for political content, often with the help of big international service providers such as Yahoo! and Google.

In response, it has set up a team of personnel who police the Internet to remove sensitive content and posts, warn bloggers who cross the line and block access to certain sites. Their apparatus of Internet repression is considered more extensive and more advanced than in any other country in the world.

In fact, the regime not only blocks website content but also monitors who is using the Internet and what they are using it for. Amnesty International notes that China “has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world.” The “offenses” they are accused of include communicating with groups abroad, opposing the persecution of the Falun Gong, signing online petitions, and calling for reform and an end to corruption.

be-quietThe Chinese government maintains an active interest in preventing users from viewing certain web content, both sexually explicit and non-sexually explicit. That it has managed to configure overlapping nationwide systems to effectively block such content from users who do not regularly seek to circumvent such blocking. Such blocking systems are becoming more refined even as they are likely more labor and technology intensive to maintain than cruder predecessors.

Internet censorship is control or suppression of the publishing or accessing of information on the Internet.

Certain countries censor access to information on the Web through DNS filtering. This is a process whereby politically challenging information is blocked by domain address. State censors also filter for politically or socially-unacceptable ideas in e-mail. And individual privacy rights and community gatherings are similarly regulated.

Most countries indulging in censorship claim to be protecting their citizens from pornographic contagion. But the underlying motive is to prevent challenging opinions from spreading and coalescing through the chokehold of state-sponsored control. This includes banning information that ranges from political opinion, religious witness, “foreign” news, academic and scholarly discovery, news of human rights abuses all the intellectual exchange that an autocratic leadership considers to be destabilizing.

“The Chinese model of an internet that allows economic growth but not free speech or privacy is growing in popularity, from a handful of countries five years ago to dozens of governments today who block sites and arrest bloggers.”

China blocked access to Google and demanded that computers sold in China come supplied with an Internet nanny filter

The order by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology was unprecedented in scope: All personal computers sold in the country as of July 1 would have to include government-sponsored Internet filtering software.

Known as Green Dam-Youth Escort, the software must be preinstalled on all personal computers sold in China by July 1. The government has said it will pay for the software for at least a year as part of its campaign against “unhealthy and vulgar” material on the Internet.

Greem Dam internet filter in ChinaHuman rights advocates and the ranks of China’s Internet users have been especially critical, saying Green Dam, promoted by the government as a tool allowing users to protect themselves or their children against pornography on the Web, is really a thinly concealed attempt by the government to expand censorship.

“Their goal is to limit the access of information, not just pornography,” said Li Fangping, a rights lawyer in Beijing who is challenging the government directive. “I feel like as a citizen, my right to know has been violated.”

Software engineers who have examined Green Dam in recent days say it is designed to do more than filter out adult content. Deep inside the program, they say, are data files with the sorts of search terms and key words the authorities use to block certain topics, including Falun Gong, the banned spiritual movement, and the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square.

“To us, it shows that the government fears it is losing control over the flood of information on the Internet,” said Isaac Mao, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, who has studied Green Dam’s coding.

Green Dam can also be used to block politics, not just Playboy. Once you start censoring the Web, you restrict the ability to imagine and innovate. You are telling young Chinese that if they really want to explore, they need to go abroad.

internet-censorship

The capriciousness of state-sanctioned censorship is wide-ranging.

In Mauritania – as in most countries – owners of cybercafes are required to supply government intelligence agents with copies of e-mail sent or received at their establishments.

Even less draconian governments, like Malaysia, have threatened Web-publishers, whose only crime is to publish frequent Web site updates. Timely and relevant information is seen as a threat.

South Korea’s national security law forbids South Koreans from any contact – including contact over the Internet – with their North Korean neighbors.

Turkey is blocking YouTube at the moment, Thailand and Vietman block sites like Youtube, online gaming and news or political sites. Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Oman also block access to sites and internet services.

Brasil Telecom, is blocking VoIP traffic using network management software called NarusInsight purchased from US-based Narus. Brasil Telecom chose the software so that they could regulate IP telephony within Brazil and stop revenue loss due to VoIP.

Internet censorship is spreading and becoming more sophisticated across the planet, even as users develop savvier ways around it. Thousands of controversial websites are blocked in each nation.

The Internet filtering regime in Saudi Arabia concentrates on a few specific areas: pornography, drugs, gambling, circumvention tools (sites that offer ways to access blocked sites) and religious topics.

Google’s page-translation service was blocked when it was discovered that it could be used as a proxy to access content by entering the blocked URL. The popular information technology blog boingboing.net is currently blocked because one entry from a few years ago offers information about how to surf the Internet anonymously.

Amnesty International has warned that the internet “could change beyond all recognition” unless action is taken against the erosion of online freedoms.

The warning comes ahead of a conference organized by Amnesty, where victims of repression will outline their plights.

The “virus of internet repression” has spread from a handful of countries to dozens of governments, said the group. Amnesty accused companies such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo of being complicit in the problem.

Interception of e-mail and monitoring online content

pornografy-censoredGermany was an early pioneer in facilitating Internet access and is today one of the 20 most connected-up countries in the world. However, the authorities have taken steps to fight online racism and pornography that could threaten freedom of expression and message privacy.

Germany’s history means it is quick these days to censor websites preaching racial hatred. But though it is simple to ask ISPs to block access to local neo-Nazi sites, it is a more delicate matter to routinely filter such sites based abroad and this has caused heated debate.

After the 11 September attacks, an anti-terrorist law pushed through parliament by interior minister Otto Schily at the end of 2001. The Telecommunications Interception Order allows intelligence officials and police to access online activity stored in digital form, including details of services used by customers, e-mail exchanges, data enabling senders or users to be identified and the records of telecommunications firms.

Germany belongs to the US spy network Echelon

The media revealed in June 2001 that the government had allowed the country to become a link in the US Echelon electronic spy network. The Bavarian daily paper Merkur, citing a US military intelligence report, said the US base at Bad Aibling (Bavaria) housed one of Echelon’s biggest European electronic monitoring and interception centres, after the US base at Menwith Hill, in Britain. It enables the US to spy on e-mails sent from much of Europe, including all the former Soviet bloc countries.

They’ve got it taped

In the booming surveillance industry they spy on whom they wish, when they wish, protected by barriers of secrecy, fortified by billions of pounds worth of high, high technology. Duncan Campbell reports from the United States on the secret Anglo-American plan for a global electronic spy system for the 21st century capable of listening in to most of us most of the time.

A secret listening agreement, called UKUSA (UK-USA), assigns parts of the globe to each participating agency. GCHQ at Cheltenham is the co-ordinating centre for Europe, Africa and the Soviet Union (west of the Ural Mountains).

The NSA covers the rest of the Soviet Union and most of the Americas. Australia–where another station in the NSA listening network is located in the outback–co-ordinates the electronic monitoring of the South Pacific, and South East Asia.

With 15,000 staff and a budget of over £500 million a year the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is by far the largest part of British intelligence. Successive UK governments have placed high value on its eavesdropping capabilities, whether against Russian military signals or the easier commercial and private civilian targets.

satellite_nasa

Both British and American domestic communications are also being targeted and intercepted by the ECHELON network, the US investigators have been told. The agencies are alleged to have collaborated not only on targeting and interception, but also on the monitoring of domestic UK communications.

Special teams from GCHQ Cheltenham have been flown in secretly in the last few years to a computer centre in Silicon Valley near San Francisco for training on the special computer systems that carry out both domestic and international interception.

3 Responses to “freedom of expression and Internet censorship.”

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  3. […] Brasil Telecom, is blocking VoIP traffic using network management software called NarusInsight purchased from US-based Narus. Brasil Telecom chose the software so that they could regulate IP telephony within Brazil and stop revenue loss …[Continue Reading] […]

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