Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 While circumvention techniques often depend on a user’s needs, access to network resources as well as levels of expertise, the larger question is whether or not such efforts are ultimately sustainable on the long run. At present, as the battle for online dominance is fought between government and savvy Internet users, the know-how of circumvention is trickling down to the layperson. This is largely due to how the relevant technology starts to become more accessible and easier to handle. Reporters without Borders regularly update and publish their comprehensive yet free-to-download freedom advocacy guide entitled Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents (2008). This guide features handy tips and technical advice on how to remain anonymous, as well as to get round censorship by choosing the most suitable method for each situation. It also explains how to set up and make the most of a blog, publicize it via search-engines andestablish its credibility through observing basic ethical and journalistic principles.


Figure 25: Chaos Computer Club’s Freedom Stick (CCC, 2008).

Comment Icon0 Advanced circumvention technology has also become more accessible. As shown in Figure 25, this US$30 USB dongle is pre-loaded with software that will secure the communications of any computer it is slotted into, including public terminals at Internet cafes. Made available by Germany’s Chaos Computer Club, the stick uses the TOR (The Onion Router) network to cloak the user’s connections, routing traffic around the world through anonymous computers, thus avoiding detection (CCC, 2008).

Comment Icon0 Even though there exists a wide variety of systems for circumventing Internet censorship in countries like China, ‘hacktivist’ Bennett Haselton believed that no clear winner would emerge as the single best anti-censorship method (2002). Haselton argued that a reason for this was a lack of investigation into how well such circumvention systems would function under various types of attack by the censors. Even if there were volunteers from around the world contributing their time towards running software to assist in circumvention, censorship authorities would simply need to find a flaw in the system that would block the whole system. Furthermore, once such a system was discovered, authorities could trace the traffic back to individual users within China and impose severe penalties on them (e.g., jailing dissidents). Even if circumvention technology were to improve, there is a constant need to find newer network resources since the Chinese authorities would have permanently blacklisted previous circumvention servers via their IP addresses. This highlights the constant cat-and-mouse game between the Chinese authorities and individuals who use circumvention services.

Comment Icon0 Adam Segal, a senior fellow in China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, believes that despite all this cleverness, the government’s censorship has been fairly effective. SMS messages can be tracked to the phone’s owner, while most of the advanced techniques are labor-intensive and require extensive knowledge of the Internet. “For the casual user,” Segal said, “there’s no way the government can stop everything. But they can stop a good deal of people from hearing about it within a certain timeline” (New York Times, 2005).

Comment Icon0 Recent times may have turned things around, as we now bear witness to a growing “Internet freedom” industry catering particularly to citizens in politically- sensitive countries such as China, Iran, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Non-government organizations such as the Global Internet Freedom Consortium (GIFC) advocate for freedom of information for what they term “closed societies” (see Figure 26).


Figure 26: Global Internet Freedom Consortium at http://www.internetfreedom.org.

Comment Icon0 As explained in the mission of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium: “Our mission is to build a pioneering online platform that breaks down the Great Firewalls blocking the free flow of information penetrating into, moving within, and originating from closed societies (e.g., China and Iran) via the Internet. This open, free and resource-rich online platform will enable hundreds of millions of users, both inside and outside of closed societies, to share information and viewpoints freely without fear of reprisal and with protection of privacy. It will serve as a vehicle to inform, connect and empower the people with information on a free Internet to effect positive social change” (Global Internet Freedom Consortium, n.d.).

Comment Icon0 In line with their mission of promoting Internet freedom, GIFC partners have developed several anti-censorship solutions, including five popular circumvention client software packages: UltraSurf; FreeGate; GTunnel; FirePhoenix; and GPass. While the software is largely free to Chinese users, all these tools track user data on Internet use, allowing the GIFC to partially fund itself by selling valuable anonymous data via ranking.edoors.com.

Comment Icon0 Reflecting on the cynicism of Bennett Haselton and Adam Segal, the GIFC has managed to sustain themselves against the Chinese government this long for two reasons: First, it is founded and supported by Falungong practitioners from around the globe (Zhou, 2008). Secondly, GIFC members actually receive funding from the U.S. government. According to a 2005 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, “since 2003, the IBB [International Broadcasting Bureau] has primarily funded Dynamic Internet Technology (DynaWeb) and UltraReach, which have each developed software to enable Chinese Internet users to access VOA [Voice of America] and RFA [Radio Free Asia] websites”. Finally, Human Rights in China and the Falungong-affiliated Epoch Times are also clients of DynaWeb (MacKinnon, 2009).

Chapter 7.4 – Conclusion

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