Monday, February 13, 2006

Tearing Down The Great Firewall Of China

There's a quiet war going on between the Chinese tyrants censoring Internet access and smart people in the US and China thwarting them. The upcoming House hearing on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft complicity in the censorship might consider suggesting that those wealthy companies to help the good guys out.

story (WSJ, subscription):

Surfing the Web last fall, a Chinese high-school student...noticed something missing. It was Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that accepts contributions or edits from users, and that he himself had contributed to.

The Chinese government, in October, had added Wikipedia to a list of Web sites and phrases it blocks from Internet users.

The tyrants play very dirty pool (my emphasis & ellipsis):

Roughly a dozen Chinese government agencies employ thousands of Web censors, Internet cafe police and computers that constantly screen traffic for forbidden content and sources -- a barrier often called the Great Firewall of China. Type, say, "media censorship by China" into emails, chats or Web logs, and the messages never arrive.

It has required all register. At the end of last year 15 Internet writers were in jail in China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York group.

Chinese freedom fighters in the US play cat-and-mouse with the censors, using a variety of solutions that enable access to banned sites via uncensored sites:

...with each new version of Freegate (an anti-censor service)-- now on its sixth release -- the censors "just keep improving and adding more manpower to monitor what we have been doing," (the developer) says. In turn, he and volunteer programmers keep tweaking Freegate.

At first, the software automatically changed its Internet Protocol address -- a sort of phone number for a Web site -- faster than China could block it. That worked until September 2002, when China blocked Freegate's domain name, not just its number, in the Internet phone book.

The government accomplished that by actually taking over China's whole portion of the Internet naming system, the common directory that computers on the Internet use to talk with each other. It then diverted Freegate users from the company's North American servers to several addresses China had picked.

So the UN conference that sought to transfer control of the Internet naming service from the its US inventors to corrupt governments needn't have bothered - the tyrants have already done it.

But there's good news here - as well as the resistance fighters. The tyrants are using "black list" firewalling that stops access to named sites, rather than the more draconian "white list" prevention of access to all but specifically identified sites. Which means they're scared of their censorship becoming too visible inside China.

Rich, technologically competent and well-equipped companies like Microsoft, Yahoo and Google can do a lot to help the resistance out, and should do so - prodded by Congress of necessary.