The battle that Google has been having with Chinese authorities over internet censorship has been headline news all over the world.
At the last count, the company with the 'don’t be evil' motto decided to stop censoring its Google China site by moving its operations to Hong Kong, and attempting to redirect users to an uncensored search engine.
So Google has made its move against Chinese censorship, even if it did take a long time to make the decision for reasons of profit. Most people would agree that it was the right thing to do, but what is the IT community’s wider responsibility in fighting censorship and what westerners might think of as totalitarian regimes?
The battle against internet censorship is already being waged. Austin Heap, a 26-year-old wunderkind hacker from Ohio, created a piece of software called Haystack. Last year this was used by Iranians to run on their computers which encrypted their data, as well as hiding traffic so it looked like they were visiting permitted sites.
It led to communications being opened using methods such as Skype and Twitter without being tracked, and played a major role in helping to organise protests in Iran against what citizens protested were rigged elections.
Speaking at the Digifest event at the Science Museum in London, Heap said that Haystack was created after analysis of Iran’s systems from a technology standpoint, in terms of what software it used and its limitations.
“That’s possible for every single country. There’s always going to be a limit to the technical ability to censor things," he said.
Companies like Cisco had a lot to answer for, as in the late 90s it provided China with much of the technology to censor its population. There was also an outcry over the fact that Nokia Siemens provided technology to monitor the population of Iran through computers and mobile phones.
But Heap said it was impossible to completely censor the web. “There will always be things like Tor [free software that protects you from network surveillance] and Haystack, that will make it much more difficult to get around any type of real censorship.
“If you’re committed to hiding something in an email, you can hide it. If you’re committed to encrypting something and splitting it into multiple chunks, it is very easy to hide data and get around government protocols.”
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