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Global: Thoughts on the World Day Against Cyber-Censorship

Map of cyber-censorship from Reporters Without Borders 'Internet Enemies' report, published March 2011.

Map of cyber-censorship from Reporters Without Borders 'Internet Enemies' report, published March 2011.

Joining forces against censorship

March 12, 2011, was the World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, an international day of action “intended to rally everyone in support of a single Internet without restrictions and accessible to all”. Throughout the world, bloggers spent the weekend commenting on a new report by Reporters Without Borders on the state of online freedom of expression, joining forces to raise awareness about censorship and sharing tips to overcome it.

The 100-page report, which identifies ten countries as being ‘Internet Enemies’, is available for free online [en]. As the rsf.org domain name is blocked in many countries, users experiencing problems can also check the organisation's mirror website.

Doja Daoud, a blogger who advocates human rights, reform and better living conditions in Lebanon, has issued a call for bloggers to join the conversation:

هل تؤمن بحرية التعبير؟
هل تعتقد أن رصد وتعقب نشاطك الإلكتروني ممارسة طبيعية؟!
هل تؤمن بحقك في حرية تصفح الانترنت والبحث والتدوين؟
هل تؤمن بحرية الوصول للمعلومة؟
هل تريد الدفاع من أجل انترنت بدون قيود ومتاح للجميع في أي وقت وأي مكان؟
دَعْم اليوم العالمي لمكافحة الرقابة الإلكترونية، 12 مارس.
أنشر الرسالة!
Do you believe in Freedom of Speech?
Do you think it’s normal to be profiled or tracked while being online?!
Do you think it’s your right to enjoy uncensored Internet search & blogging?
Do you believe in Freedom of Information? Right to Access Information?
Do you want to defend an Internet without restrictions and accessible to everyone at anytime and anywhere? Support the World Day against Cyber-Censorship, 12 March… Spread the Word!

German blogger Paul-Christian Britz took the opportunity to share advice on how to make the most of data available online:

Of course, in order for data journalism to be most effective in finding out the hidden relations in information, it is essential that there is free access to this information! So fight online censorship!

Internet censorship threatens freedom of information and more. Image by valorfreedom blog.

Internet censorship threatens freedom of information and more. Image by valorfreedom blog.

Website blocking and filtering, and the adoption of repressive Internet laws, are some of the tactics used by governments to manipulate online information and remove critical content – but there are ways to circumvent them.

From Cameroon, where Twitter by SMS has been reportedly banned by the government, Djia Hervé [fr] draws attention to a new piece of technology designed to fight attacks against freedom of expression: he explains how the Open Mesh project works:

Un réseau sans fil, dédié, quasi impossible à bloquer ou à filtrer. L’objectif étant de réussir à créer un réseau Internet secondaire (grâce aux routeurs mobiles reliés entre eux) où téléphones portables et ordinateurs personnels de se connecteraient. Une fois les personnes connectés, il suffirait alors de les relier au reste du monde. La mise en place de connexions intermittentes par satellite leur offrirait la possibilité de mettre en ligne et de télécharger les informations avec l’extérieur.

This dedicated wireless network would be nearly impossible to be blocked or filtered. The aim is to create a new secondary web, thanks to linked routers connected to each other, where mobile phones and personal computers could connect. Once people are connected, all there would be to do is to link them to the rest of the world. An intermittent connection to satellites would allow them to upload information and publish.

Consequences of circumvention

If circumventing is possible, there are consequences to be born. In many corners of the world, people using the Internet to exercise freedom of expression, face harassment, online surveillance or threat of arrest. This censorship grows proportional to the increasing importance of the Internet as a tool for the promotion of human civil rights. Global Voices Advocacy author Marianne Diaz [es] explains:

Los recientes acontecimientos con Wikileaks y las revoluciones en los países árabes son, quizás, las pruebas más evidentes e inmediatas de la magnitud y alcance de las herramientas proporcionadas por la web, en manos de ciudadanos que desean ejercer sus derechos fundamentales. No son las únicas, sin embargo: a lo largo de todo el planeta, los internautas no sólo utilizan la red para ver fotos de gatitos, sino también para hacer que sus políticos rindan cuentas, para organizarse en torno a las elecciones o para denunciar las violaciones a los derechos humanos.

Recent developments with Wikileaks and the revolutions in the Arab countries are perhaps the most obvious and immediate evidence of the magnitude and scope of [the power of] tools available on the web in the hands of citizens who wish to exercise their fundamental rights. They are not alone however; across the whole world, netizens don't just take advantage of the web to look at cute kitten pictures, but also to hold their politicians accountable, to get organized around election times, or to voice human rights violations.

Internet censorship is a very common practice worldwide, although this reality is not one that many people are aware of. Blogger Mind Soup only discovered this after being fired because of an opinion piece published on his personal blog; this weekend, he has been helping to spread the message against cyber-censorship:

I want the world to realize how freedom of expression is important and how even the most advanced and democratic countries in the world (US and Europe included) contribute to cyber-censorship. I want to raise awareness about the limitations that we still have in this world at a time when mankind has achieved so many technological and evolutionary advances. We are in the 21st century! You would think that people would at least have the freedom to say what the want. I guess there's still a looooooong way to go!

Enemies of the Internet

Amended 'Internet Enemies' map, as seen by robinlea blog.

Amended 'Internet Enemies' map, as seen by robinlea blog.

According to the report by Reporters Without Borders, at least 117 people around the world are known to have been detained for expressing their views online. Furthermore, one in three Internet users in the world does not have unrestricted access to the web. Around 60 countries currently censor the Internet.

Considering these figures to be conservative, John Francis Lee has decided to recolour the cyber-censorship map (see above). He elaborates about it in a post called ‘No state is a “Friend of the Internet”‘:

Very interesting. Reviewing my own countries’ behavior over the past several years, and every mindful of Izzy Stone’s dictum : “All governments lie”, I was inspired to recolor rsf‘s mapping

Read the ‘Internet Enemies’ report free online now.

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