Reporters Without Borders is holding a 24-hour protest against Internet censorship today. You can click here to create and avatar and banner and join virtual protests against Internet repression in Burma, China, North Korea, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. RSF has also released an updated version of their Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-dissidents, and issued a new list of "Internet Enemies" (Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam - I'm not sure why some of them aren't included in the online protest.)
While the countries named by RSF may have jailed the most people for Internet writing and may be blocking the most websites, they are not the only countries of concern when it comes to Internet censorship by any means. The Open Net Initiative has found systematic Internet filtering in 25 countries and in their new book, Access Denied. Researchers point out that the practice is spreading fast. We can expect the list to grow.
In the past couple of years countries that call themselves democracies have gotten into the Internet censorship game. Turkey censors Wordpress. Thailand censors extensively. Japan has been considering strict "regulation of online content" which is essentially censorship by another name. The U.S. airforce reportedly blocks all URL's with the word "blog" in them. And then of course abuse of surveillance powers is by no means limited to non-democracies. The U.S. certainly has a growing surveillance problem.
The point is, it's a bit misleading to divide up the world into "good" and "bad" countries. Some are certainly a lot worse than others, but we are all living along a continuum. No government can be trusted. They all have the potential to overstep their powers and censor content that adult citizens have a right to see, or to disrespect our rights to privacy, without serious oversight and vigilance by all of us. Ideology and nationalism get mixed up in global free speech discussions in very counter-productive ways. We need to find a way for people who truly care about free speech (as opposed to those who use free speech advocacy as a cover for other agendas) to transcend nationalism and ideology, discard defensiveness or sanctimoniousness, and work together for solutions so that we can ALL protect ourselves against abuse and manipulation.
I'd like to use this occasion to introduce a number of useful resources for anybody interested getting around censorship or protecting their privacy online.
This excellent guide to digital security and privacy written by Dmitri Vitalev of Frontline Defenders is labeled "for human rights defenders," but it's equally useful for journalists working anywhere that you need to protect yourself and your sources from reprisals by powerful people who don't want you doing stories about bad things they've done. Which is really any country on earth, pretty much. For more useful guides from FrontLine click here.
- Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor
- Blog for a Cause!: The Global Voices Guide of Blog Advocacy
From the Citizenlab in Toronto we have Everyone's guide to By-Passing Internet Censorship for Citizen's Worldwide.
Not long after I started teaching online journalism I realized I had to put together a resource page for my students (half of whom are mainland Chinese) on censorship circumvention and e-mail security. It's tailored towards their particular needs but anybody is welcome to use it here.