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#31591 - 23 Sep 06 14:42 Asian Internet-phobia
riccardo Offline
Pujangga

Registered: 12 Oct 05
Posts: 2195
Loc: Jakarta
Southeast Asia
Sep 22, 2006


ASIA HAND
A quantum leap in censorship

By Shawn W Crispin
http://atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/HI22Ae01.html

The future of Internet freedom is being decided in Asian cyberspace, and judging by recent trends and developments, that future looks increasingly dim.

Past hopes that an unfettered Internet would empower lots of little information-driven democratic uprisings have more recently been met and systematically squashed by a number of censorious Asian governments.

China's highly restrictive state-run firewall - which significantly is built into all levels of the country's Internet infrastructure, from routers, to Internet service providers, to e-mail and in chat rooms - is fast emerging as the region's cyberspace censorship and surveillance model of choice.

Southeast Asian governments are increasingly taking their technological cues from China on how to filter and block politically sensitive content, as well as locate and jail cyber-dissidents bold enough to make online postings calling for more democracy and freedom of information.

Some of the region's most backward, otherwise mismanaged military-run regimes are emerging as surprisingly adept at Internet censorship. Vietnam's crusty Communist Party-led government and Myanmar's highly inept army-led junta represent two troubling cases in technological point.

According the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), a collaborative research partnership among Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford Universities, Vietnam's Internet-filtering regime has shown the most dramatic improvements of any country the research unit has studied. A newly released ONI report on Vietnam says that "the technical sophistication, breadth and effectiveness of Vietnam's filtering are increasing with time" and "it seems inescapable that the state's online-information control will deepen and grow".

Apart from blocking hundreds of political and religious-related websites, the study found that Vietnamese censors are increasingly focusing their filtering technology on so-called "anonymizer" sites - which are designed to allow users to bypass state-run filtering systems and remotely access blocked content. On the surveillance front, at least 10 Vietnamese have been arrested for conducting perceived political activities over the Internet, seven of them sentenced to prison.

Myanmar's ruling military junta likewise implements one of the most extensive Internet-censorship regimes in the world, according to ONI. Sophisticated software-based filtering techniques limit the content in-country Web surfers may access, while state censors have more recently improved their capabilities to conduct surveillance over Internet-based communications, including blogs, e-mail, and chat rooms.

For instance, the junta has long blocked local access to major global e-mail providers Yahoo and Hotmail. In June, government censors temporarily blocked access to the significantly more secure G-mail and G-Talk services, neatly planned to block Internet dissident chatter concerning detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday.

Meanwhile, ONI now is focusing on the Internet-control capabilities emerging in Thailand, Singapore and Pakistan, according to one of the group's researchers who recently spoke with Asia Times Online.

Splitting the 'Net
Worryingly, while China's, Vietnam's and Myanmar's Internet controls are already among the most repressive in the world, all three regimes appear to have even more ambitious censorship designs - that is, to cut off their Internet users from the World Wide Web altogether.

This year China raised new concerns that it may soon move to split the global Internet by migrating the country's tens of millions of Internet users over to a new Chinese-language top-level domain, a state-managed intranet service completely disconnected from the global Internet.

That in the main is already the case in Myanmar, where most dial-up Internet accounts provide access only to the limited Myanmar intranet rather than the globally connected World Wide Web. Vietnam is in the process of implementing its own Vietnamese-language second-level domain, similar to China's, which will further improve its Internet-filtering capabilities and curtail the country's Internet connectivity with the wider Web.

Internet-freedom advocates often understate these threats, contending that tech-savvy cyber-dissidents will always remain a step ahead of pursuant government censors through the use of hyper-secure e-mail systems, such as Hushmail, and internationally hosted proxy servers. However, those arguments only hold on the assumption that governments do not unplug from the broader World Wide Web - a move that many repressive regimes are in fact now making.

The sadder part of the story is that many US and European technology companies, which publicly enthuse about the Internet's democratizing potential, provide the region's censorious regimes with the blunting technology they so desperately crave. Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Skype have all cravenly complied with China's strict censorship requirements, in effect supplying Chinese censors with the most sophisticated filtering techniques in the world.

Meanwhile, lesser-known US technology companies are more directly profiting from selling censorship tools. Myanmar has substantially upgraded its technical filtering capabilities through its recent deployment of US technology company Fortinet's firewall product. Researchers are still trying to ascertain exactly how Vietnam has been able to accomplish its quantum leap in censorship capabilities, but suspect it too has had foreign technical help.

It's a matter of melancholy fact that the region's repressive regimes will do everything in their power, including censoring the Internet, to keep their respective peoples information-starved and disempowered. But what's more lamentable is that profit-oriented, morally bankrupt Western companies should so eagerly line up to assist in the process.

That otherwise technologically challenged countries such as Myanmar and Vietnam now possess some of the world's most repressive censorship platforms would seem to indicate that Internet freedom in Asia is already a lost cause. That may or may not be the case. But it's certainly high time that global technology companies stop assisting the region's censorious governments and instead work to develop and deploy easy e-solutions for end users to bypass and subvert the filtering systems they have already been paid to put in place.

Shawn W Crispin is Asia Times Online's Southeast Asia editor
_________________________
Just here proffering my pearls to swine, my throat to wolves and my trousers to the flagpole.

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#31592 - 23 Sep 06 15:04 Re: Asian Internet-phobia
riccardo Offline
Pujangga

Registered: 12 Oct 05
Posts: 2195
Loc: Jakarta
It's an interesting article until he starts whinging and moaning like a child about Big Bad America being at fault -- again.

All a bit disingenuous and ungrateful, to be sure. Whatever backward, tech-challenged, inferiority-complex country he's comes from is always playing follow-the-leader, a decade behind these "lesser-known US technology companies" and "profit-oriented, morally bankrupt companies"

Uh.. hello Comrade Crispin, It is these same shameless companies that gave us the WORLD WIDE WEB! And it is similar companies, likely from Big, Bad America, that will profit from creating technology that will bypass all the censors (i sure hope so, and soon). And in this world, whether he wants to believe it or not, 'greed is good, greed works' and if there was no profit incentive, there would be no new techno innovations.

But overall, a bit scary if RI starts getting similar ideas -- that will be it for me, I will take my family and my annual Rp50 million in tax payments elsewhere the next friggin' day.
_________________________
Just here proffering my pearls to swine, my throat to wolves and my trousers to the flagpole.

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