Global Voices Summit: Small Group Discussions

We broke into several groups to discuss the following issues in more depth:

  1. NGOs and activists: the need for better coordination.
  2. Understanding, fighting and bypassing online censorship.
  3. Digital security and privacy for online activists and bloggers.

I participated in Group 2 and took the following notes (apologies that I don’t have time to structure them):

  • Blogs untouched in the Sudan
  • When is content filtered automatically or manually?
  • Australian government recently proposed to censor ‘terrorist’ websites, which could be a slippery slope. At the same time, Australia’s government is democratic, which means the specific sites being blocked would be made transparent. Plus, the government would be susceptible to votes, unlike other regimes such as Sudan.
  • In Yemen, a proxy was used to provide aggregator news, then opened it up to everyone but then flooded with porn.
  • Access flicker firefox extension, developed by Iranian artist that can allow access to mirror site of flicker in countries where site is blocked. Problem, firefox not as popular in developing world; maybe IE skin?
  • Access flicker not attacked because few people using tool.
  • Ideally, prove to government that no matter what you do, the information will always get out.
  • if news sites blocked, next step is to aggregate and sent out by email.
  • Gmail highly unlikely to get blocked given wide use by private sector and government officials. Gmail can be secured with https, has SSL certificate; one of few web emails that does not put IP stamp.
  • Could Google set up satellite network, like Thuraya but for internet; would this end censorship?
  • Google should offer SSL for searches, https on all searches; but could still identify size of package retrieved and figure out website content being accessed.
  • There are two “arms race,” technology and learning under cover.
  • Evolution and learning effect; government will not learn all tricks over night.
  • Needs to be a human element, work on the ground, socially, needs to be a human element.
  • Flip side of filtering is surveillance.
  • In Russia, LiveJournal used, but users didn’t know site tracked by Moscow.
  • Encourage pursuit of legal means in addition to technical means.
  • To confront censorship, needs to prove it’s happening;
  • Can pursue legally? Yes, Pakistan, but only if not high profile; costing $5K for legal representation for person sued for speaking against company not based in Pakistan.
  • Who should be the actors providing pressure on governments to name/shame them? US to set up office/list for countries censoring Internet. Will this even be helpful?
  • Ideally, ask Musharaf on public TV about online censorship.
  • how about office within UN? for Pakistan, UN = US; UNESCO has focus on freedom of expression;
  • Yemen allowing extremists website to share info on building bombs; at same time censoring journalist sites.
  • State department had originally wanted to set up system for Chinese to report human rights abuses directly to US government; was dropped;
  • Circumvention technology is only fall back; but in terms of making a basic change, the legal option should be pursued further; but would it matter if you can take it to court and have any impact?
  • Google Accelerator is actually a backdoor VPN.
  • People are the weak link, not technology; train people.

Patrick Philippe Meier

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