Why Is Internet Freedom Necessary Information Technology Essay

Published: 2021-07-29 21:30:07
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The Internet and other digital technologies enable an unprecedented level of communication and connection among individuals. They empower people across the world with the tools to share ideas and information as never before. In many ways, the Internet is the largest collaborative effort humankind has ever seen, magnifying the power and potential of individual voices on a global scale. Today, the Internet is what connects all of us around the world. We can chat with someone thousands of miles away in an instant. We can send pictures and share ideas in a heartbeat. The Internet links us all together. It gives us a chance to talk and work together and understand each other better. The Internet has become a revolutionary force in repressive regimes. The free flow of information and idea exchange has been perceived as a threat, rather than a blessing, by the authorities in these countries. In response, they have imposed strong censorship on Internet usage by monitoring, filtering, tracing and blocking data flows, using advanced technologies. Confined to a tailored and distorted cyberspace, innocent citizens face constant threats when they read, write or speak on the Internet, as their privacy is exposed under the authorities’ watchful eyes. The consequences can be life-threatening. In this environment, the service and content providers practice a great deal of self-censorship [1] .
But that is only true for those of us in the free world. There are certain governments around the world – such as in Mainland China, Iran, Burma and Vietnam -- that actively block millions of their citizens from accessing information on the web and also stop bits and bytes from being sent out. They are creating the Dark Ages in cyberspace. Since repressive regimes like China and Iran adversely control all forms of media as part of their political censorship and propaganda system, the Internet has become the greatest hope for gaining freedom of information in these countries. These regimes can easily shut down newspapers, block TV channels, jam short-wave radios, ban books, and/or confiscate hard-copy materials, but the Internet is far more elusive and robust. It is a vast, fast, convenient, and inexpensive way to share information and communicate. With the drastic increase of Chinese Internet users in recent years, the Internet presents an historic opportunity.
Yet just as people use these technologies to express themselves and advance freedom worldwide, numerous governments seek to deny the rights they enable. Repressive regimes are censoring search results, jailing journalists and activists, and imposing laws that restrict online discourse and access to information. Threats to Internet freedom are growing in number and complexity.
Why is Internet Freedom Necessary?
There are certain things most people take for granted in the free world, like being able to go on the Internet to do a quick search on Google or email or IM a friend. But these routine online activities are actually fraught with risk in closed societies such as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Iran where all online activity is subject to censorship and monitoring.
In recent years many students, journalists, and businessmen in these nations have been arrested for writing emails or blogs that contain information that the state arbitrarily deems "sensitive." What is it, one might ask, that these repressive regimes are so afraid of that they feel the need to suppress information and control what the people express? What is it they do not want people to see?
First of all, the nations that tend to suppress information are the ones that have a lot to hide. There are usually severe social problems in these societies such as serious unemployment and unrest, systemic and widespread corruption, and no rule of law. The leadership tends to believe that anything that goes wrong threatens their legitimacy, so they desperately want everyone to think things are stable and perfect in the society. They also know that if foreign investors were to see all the social ills and instability in the business environment, they may reconsider where to invest their funds.
Even when there are natural disasters and other potential dangers, some regimes will choose not to warn the populace. For example, the PRC’s unwillingness to admit there was a problem was a major factor in prolonging the SARS epidemic and contributed to the spread of the avian flu. In an increasingly interconnected world, this approach of denial and covering up poses a health risk of global proportions. These regimes also do not want the world to know about how they oppress their own people. In China, anyone who discusses the oppression of underground Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, and political dissidents is said to be "leaking state secrets."
Secondly, repressive regimes do not want their people to see or hear about freedom and democracy in other nations. People who have had a taste of freedom will rarely willingly choose to live behind an Iron Curtain or a Bamboo Curtain because they realize an open society, for all its imperfections, is probably a more natural condition for humanity. It is part of human nature to wish to have a say in how they live their lives. Individuals need to feel free to think for themselves and believe in what they choose to believe in. Any healthy society will allow for differences and disagreements among people and understand that these differences will ultimately make the society more stable and resilient. But a repressive regime fears these outside influences because they are a threat to their absolute control and authorities will seek to block these "seditious" or "sacrilegious" ideas from entering the minds of the populace.
Finally, repressive regimes will not only block information but will take information control to another level – information becomes a tool for manipulation and indoctrination. Perhaps the most insidious example of this is the use of propaganda in Mainland China to whip up anti-US sentiment via television, radio, print media, and the Internet. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) not only blocks websites on the global Internet, the net the rest of the world uses, but actively feeds false information to the populace through its own internal Internet search engine, baidu, and censored version of Google.
Firewall of Shame-Countries Strictly Blocking Internet
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is by far the biggest offender when it comes to Internet censorship -- the apparatus of Internet repression is considered more extensive and more advanced than in any other country in the world. Forbes magazine featured an article entitled "Cracks In the Wall (Feb. 27, 2006):
"Censorship is quite an industry in China. Every village has spies to watch neighbors; the mail and the poster boards are watched, say expat Chinese. It is said (by dissidents) that China has 40,000 Web police hard at work just in Beijing, looking over the shoulders of Web users and composing lists of banned words that cause a Web search to freeze up or a site to automatically be blocked."
In fact, the regime not only blocks website content but also monitors who is using the Internet and what they are using it for. Amnesty International notes that China "has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world." The "offences" they are accused of include communicating with groups abroad, opposing the persecution of the Falun Gong, signing online petitions, and calling for reform and an end to corruption.
Burma, also known as Myanmar, is one of China’s largest neighbors to the south. Next to China, it is the top offender in Internet censorship in Asia as it is currently run by a group of military officials who maintain authoritarian rule over the state. Because of strict controls by the state and poverty on the part of the populace, less than 1% of the population uses the Internet in Burma. The censorship system combines broad, vague laws with harsh penalties and the Internet control is just part of the general regulation of speech by the state. Internet access is expensive and most dial-up Internet accounts provide access only to the limited Myanmar Internet, not to the global network that most people around the world can access. The state implements surveillance of communication methods such as e-mail and blocks users from viewing certain Web sites, including those of political opposition groups and organizations working for democratic change in Burma.
Iran has by far the largest number of Internet users in the Middle East [Ref 12], but it is also known to have the most sophisticated state-mandated Internet filtering systems in the region. The Islamist government has implemented filtering technology to control the tremendous growth in Internet usage among its citizens as more and more Iranians become interested in writing online in the Farsi language. Individuals who subscribe to Internet service providers (ISPs) must promise in writing not to access "non-Islamic" sites. The law requires ISPs to install filtering mechanisms that cover access to both Web sites and e-mail. Punishment for violations of content-related laws can be harsh. In an effort to curb access to foreign websites and prevent political opposition groups from organizing by uploading information on to the Internet, service providers must restrict online speeds to 128 kilobits per second (kbps) and they have been forbidden from offering fast broadband packages.
Internet Censorship in India
Internet censorship in India is selectively practiced by both federal and state governments. While there is no sustained government policy or strategy to block access to Internet content on a large scale, measures for removing content that is obscene or otherwise objectionable, or that endangers public order or national security have become more common in recent years. However, any websites blocked either by the government or Internet service providers can easily be accessed through proxy servers.
The OpenNet Initiative classified India as engaged in "selective" Internet filtering in the political, conflict/security, social, and Internet tools areas in 2011. ONI describes India as:
"A stable democracy with a strong tradition of press freedom [that] nevertheless continues its regime of Internet filtering. However, India’s selective censorship of blogs and other content, often under the guise of security, has also been met with significant opposition. Indian ISPs continue to selectively filter Web sites identified by authorities. However, government attempts at filtering have not been entirely effective because blocked content has quickly migrated to other Web sites and users have found ways to circumvent filtering. The government has also been criticized for a poor understanding of the technical feasibility of censorship and for haphazardly choosing which Web sites to block."
The India country report that is included in Freedom House's Freedom on the Net 2012 report, says: [2] 
India's overall Internet Freedom Status is "Partly Free", unchanged from 2009.
India has a score of 39 on a scale from 0 (most free) to 100 (least free), which places India 20 out of the 47 countries worldwide that were included in the 2012 report. This is considered, by Freedom House, to be a "notable" decrease from the previous year's rank of 14 out of the 37 countries worldwide that were included in the 2011 report.
India ranks third out of the eleven countries in Asia included in the 2012 report.
Prior to 2008, censorship of Internet content by the Indian government was relatively rare and sporadic.
Following the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which killed 171 people, the Indian Parliament passed amendments to the Information Technology Act (ITA) that expanded the government’s censorship and monitoring capabilities.
While there is no sustained government policy or strategy to block access to Internet content on a large scale, measures for removing certain content from the web, sometimes for fear they could incite violence, have become more common.
Pressure on private companies to remove information that is perceived to endanger public order or national security has increased since late 2009, with the implementation of the amended ITA. Companies are required to have designated employees to receive government blocking requests, and assigns up to seven years’ imprisonment private service providers—including ISPs, search engines, and cybercafes—that do not comply with the government's blocking requests.
The government and non-state actors have intensified pressure on intermediaries, including social media applications, to remove upon request a wide range of content vaguely defined as "offensive" and potentially pre-screen user-generated content.
Internet users have sporadically faced prosecution for online postings, and private companies hosting the content are obliged by law to hand over user information to the authorities.
In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that both bloggers and moderators can face libel suits and even criminal prosecution for comments posted by other users on their websites.
Prior judicial approval for communications interception is not required and both central and state governments have the power to issue directives on interception, monitoring, and decryption. All licensed ISPs are obliged by law to sign an agreement that allows Indian government authorities to access user data.
In April 2011, the government instituted Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules, which require intermediaries—including search engines and social-networking sites—to remove content within 36 hours if an individual complains that it is offensive. The list of potentially offensive content is both wide-ranging and vague. It includes information that is "disparaging," "harmful," "blasphemous," "pornographic," "encourages gambling," "infringes proprietary rights," or "threatens the unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order." Under the 2008 ITA, intermediaries in India are protected from prosecution for content posted by third parties, but according to the 2011 rules, they risk losing such immunity if they do not remove the offensive content within 36 hours of notification. Meanwhile, the rules do not provide an avenue for content producers to be informed of the removal or to contest the decision.
Censorship Tools and Methods
Internet censorship refers to technical and non-technical measures taken by repressive regimes to limit a user’s freedom to access information on the Internet. Such measures include, but are not limited to: monitoring of users Internet activities, denying users access to certain websites (blocking), tracking and filtering users’ data flow, and disciplining website operators to tailor their content to comply with censorship regulations. Sometimes the Internet censorship is also referred to as Internet blocking or jamming.
Internet censorship circumvention refers to counter-measures to Internet censorship, with emphasis on technical means to protect users in repressive regimes from being monitored, blocked or tracked, and to provide users with as much freedom of access to information on the Internet as in the free countries. Such measures are also called "anti-blocking" or "anti-jamming" among some of the circumvention developers. To implement Internet censorship, China has imported the most advanced networking technologies and equipment from western countries, to build the "Chinese Great Firewall" (GFW). Currently the most critical components are implemented on their international gateway, to perform three fundamental functions of Internet censorship:
IP-address blocking. The GFW maintains a blacklist of IP addresses, most of which are websites or other services they do not want users to access. The blacklist is manually updated based on demand of their blocking needs [3] 
DNS hijacking. This malicious mechanism can redirect a clueless user to a totally different website from what he intended to view, by snooping the user’s domain name resolution (DNS) request and supplying the user with a false reply. Currently many of the blocked websites (e.g., the Voice of America website, www.voa.gov) are done this way.
TCP content filtering. Most Internet traffic is carried in truckloads called TCP segments. Their firewalls constantly capture and analyze the content of every user’s Internet TCP segments, and will cut off their two-way Internet communication once the firewall matches any pre-defined signatures, such as sensitive keywords, especially in Chinese (e.g., "Falun Gong")
The censors’ blocking targets fall into two categories: websites and circumvention tools. Conventional websites are sitting ducks [4] ; they can easily be blocked by IP addresses blocking or DNS hijacking. Nowadays, the full suite of blocking measures are firing at circumvention tools by identifying the location and traffic patterns of the circumvention tunnels these tools tend to use.
Brief History of Internet Censorship and Circumvention
Internet censorship circumvention is the process used by technologically savvy Internet users to bypass the technical aspects of Internet filtering and gain access to otherwise censored material.Circumvention is an inherent problem for those wishing to censor the Internet, because filtering and blocking do not remove content from the Internet and as long as there is at least one publicly accessible uncensored system, it will often be possible to gain access to otherwise censored material. However, circumvention may not be very useful to non tech-savvy users and so blocking and filtering remain effective means of censoring the Internet for many users
The Internet censorship and its circumvention technologies did not reach the current state of sophistication in one day. The evolution of the field has been driven by a long, dynamic, and invisible battle between the two sides. The earliest form of Internet censorship was IP-address blocking in China in the late 1990s. As the usage of Internet expands from academia to the mass, and many traditional media established Internet presence, the communist authorities quickly realized the threat of nformation infiltration and implemented the rudimentary form of blocking. They transferred their blacklist in radio and television jamming to the Internet domain, and users found they
could not access websites such as Voice of America (VOA) or Radio Free Asia (RFA). The period from 2000 to 2002 saw a dramatic escalation of China’s blocking technology and intensity. Two advanced technologies, secretly implemented, caught many of the anti-blocking experts off guard: one was the dynamic filtering of Internet data flow, and the other was the DNS hijacking mechanism [5] . These two new measures made it impossible to use proxies alone to penetrate the Great Fire Wall. A few elite underground groups quickly figured out the workings of these two measures, and developed various counter-measures, which later would lead to some of the most popular anti-blocking software systems today. Meanwhile, totally unaware of the tricky blocking situation, some high-profile hacker groups proposed new ideas beyond the proxies approach and some provided prototype implementations.
Circumvention, Anonymity, Risks, and Trust
Circumvention and anonymity are different. Circumvention systems are designed to bypass blocking, but they do not usually protect identities. Anonymous systems protect a user's identity. And while they can contribute to circumvention, that is not their primary function. It is important to understand that open public proxy sites do not provide anonymity and can view and record the location of computers making requests as well as the websites accessed.[4]
In many jurisdictions accessing blocked content is a serious crime, particularly content that is considered child pornography, a threat to national security, or an incitement of violence. Thus it is important to understand the circumvention technologies and the protections they do or do not provide and to use only tools that are appropriate in a particular context. Great care must be taken to install, configure, and use circumvention tools properly. Individuals associated with high profile rights organizations, dissident, protest, or reform groups should take extra precautions to protect their online identities. [6] 
Circumvention sites and tools should be provided and operated by trusted third parties located outside the censoring jurisdiction that do not collect identities and other personal information. Best are trusted family and friends personally known to the circumventor, but when family and friends are not available, sites and tools provided by individuals or organizations that are only known by their reputations or through the recommendations and endorsement of others may need to be used. Commercial circumvention services may provide anonymity while surfing the Internet, but could be compelled by law to make their records and users' personal information available to law enforcement.
However, there is one frontline of the battle that has been ignored until now by the anti-censorship community. Besides technological pursuit in censorship implementation, the Chinese communist regime makes strategic plans to export their propaganda and disinformation machinery to free countries inconspicuously, apparently, applying the "an offense is the best defense" philosophy. Many Chinese-language websites, as well as newspapers in the United States are largely controlled by Beijing through ways such as investment or joint venture, and these media can spread the same disinformation in the western world as on the other side of the GFW [7] . Sometimes it is ironic to see web surfers from China, after successfully penetrating the GFW, end up in traps skillfully set up by the censors they are trying hard to evade. Hereby it is important to build and maintain trustworthy content platforms in their native language, to provide users with a true, independent cyberspace immune to the censors’ infiltration.
Anatomy of an Anti-Censorship System
The ultimate function of an anti-censorship system is to connect censored users to uncensored Internet securely and anonymously. This function requires a complex system with many components working together. Figure 1 shows the components of a typical anti-censorship system. Censored users (1) use circumvention client software (2) on their computers to connect to circumvention tunnels (4), usually with the help of a tunnel discovery agent (3). Once connected to a circumvention tunnel, a user’s network traffic will be encrypted by the tunnels and penetrate the GFW (7) without being detected by the censors (6). On the other side of the GFW, the network traffic will enter a circumvention support network (8) set up and operated by anti-censorship supporters (9). The computers, sometimes called nodes, in the circumvention support network act as proxies to access content from the unobstructed Internet (10) and send the information back, not necessarily taking the same route, to the censored user’s computer.
Initially if a censored user knows nothing about the other side of the GFW, it is necessary to get them bootstrapped by employing out-of-band communication channels (5). Such channels include emails, telephone calls, instant messages, and mailing of CD-ROMs. Sometime users can also take advantage of these channels to locate circumvention tunnels (4), if the client software in use does not have a tunnel discovery agent (3).
A brief summary of anti censorship technology is as follows:-
Operational Aspects
We emphasize here that technology alone is not enough to make a circumvention system successful. To turn such technology into valuable service, an anti-censorship system has to be run like a business operation. It is the operational quality and experience that eventually make a service stand out. The daily operation of an anti-censorship system consists of the following aspects:
1. User support. Timely technical support for users is a must for a successful anti-censorship system. For example, five systems (Garden, UltraSurf, DynaWeb, GPass and FirePhoenix) are now sharing a unified technical support platform, www.qxbbs.org, which each system has its own user forum, where users can share their experiences and developers can provide technical support. For example, there are more than 20,000 posts on DynaWeb’s support forum, with information ranging from technical tips, user complements, and reports from China of new blocking test results. This operational area also includes internationalization, i.e., translation of user interface, documentation and instructions into users’ native languages.
2. Marketing and promotion. Because anti-censorship software and its related information is naturally a target by censors, aggressive marketing and promotion are needed to get the word (and software) out via other channels so users can be informed and jump start. Successful conduits are emails, instant messaging, chat room and bulletin board posts. It is also highly effective when the anti-censorship systems can form an alliance and promote and protect each other, so a user can always have spare channels available to get new information or update their software when one particular system is blocked.
3. Monitoring and responses. The censors, especially the GFW operators, have been closely watching the leading ant-censorship systems, and responding with a dynamic blocking strategy in terms of its scope, scale and frequencies. Thus, it is critical to monitor the changing blocking situation and adjust the system at work accordingly.
4. Infrastructure support. When an anti-censorship system grows to a larger scale, the management of the whole computing infrastructure becomes a challenge. Without professional support to ensure stability, availability and scalability, it is impossible to support hundreds of thousands of users like Garden, UltraSurf and DynaWeb do today.
5. Content services. To better protect and serve users who have overcome the blocking and reached the other side of GFW, it is highly beneficial to provide them with an uncensored, trustworthy portal site in their own native languages, which provides services such as search engines, directories, bulletin boards, emails and chat rooms. These services are better protected when they are tightly integrated with the anti-censorship tools they use. More importantly, such a portal site can shield users from those overseas websites set up by the Chinese regime or communist regime-backed entities. Their websites serve as a trap to collect users’ information as well as serve their exported propaganda machinery.
These anti-censorship technologies and products have changed forever the Internet landscape in oppressive regimes. The social and political impacts they bring are hard to over-estimate. The increased failure rate of the Chinese regime’s attempt to cover up critical issues is good evidence of our successes. Typical cases include the news reaching Chinese mainlanders of the SARS outbreaks in China, the arrests of dissidents, and the destruction of Christian churches. In addition, the inflow of uncensored information and perspectives from the free world challenge and often contradict the official propaganda, while stimulating independent and critical thinking.
Though the majority of these technologies and products are tuned for users in China, apparently the good news has traveled fast and far. Nowadays a significant number of Internet users from other censorship inclined countries, especially Iran and Burma, have discovered and adopted these products. For example, during the junta crackdown of the protests in Burma in September 2007, both UltraReach and DIT reported a surge of Internet traffic from Burmese IP addresses through their censorship-circumvention networks. The Burmese people were endeavoring to get the word out to the world when the junta jammed the Internet.
DIT also witnessed, through DIT’s anti-censorship portal, Burmese posting on blogs the photos of protesters and the crackdown. If these anti-censorship tools are localized with native language support for the users in countries such as Iran and Burma, they will acquire much more popularity there.
Summary and Recommendations
Since the late 1990s a variety of technologies have been developed by grassroots organizations and volunteers, to challenge Internet censorship imposed by repressive regimes. the ingredients for anti-censorship success are new technologies and transparent operation. As this technology has become more mature and stable, we would argue that simple, practical operations are the key to success. In fact, the core technologies implemented in the most successful anti-censorship systems are not extraordinarily complicated. It is a transparent operation that makes a tool stand out, and perhaps accounts for at least 70% of the success of an anti-censorship system.
As the anti-censorship technologies mature, the battle between censors and anti-censors is now ending up mostly as a resource battle. The leading anti-censorship system designs have the potential to support many more users than today. However, due to the limited human, computational and bandwidth resources available to the grassroots organizations and volunteers, the number of users they can support and the level of service are reaching a cap. Therefore, the anti-censorship community has been facing a Goliath of censorship with very limited resources at its disposal.
We urge government agencies, NGOs, and commercial companies to step in and back up these heroic efforts. Especially for democratic governments, many actions can be taken to bring the anti-censorship endeavor to a new level:
Provide resources to these efforts. This is the most effective support. Since anti-censorship technologies have matured and been field-tested, most of the resources would be devoted to the operation of these systems, instead of research and development. The impact of such support would be immediately visible.
Limit technology export to repressive regimes. Abundant evidence shows that the advanced Internet filtering technologies used in the Chinese GFW are provided by western companies [8] . Democratic nations should impose restrictions on such exports, which could be exploited for any future enhancements of GFW.
Eliminate the "trade deficit" of government propaganda. It is strange to see the government propaganda from China, direct or under various covers, enter freely into democratic nations and spread misinformation, while the censors block information flow in the other direction, such as Voice of America (VOA)’s radio broadcasts and website. The infiltration of propaganda from the censors is harming the efforts of the anti-censorship community, as the users in repressive regimes see the disguised, misinformation on the other side of the GFW. Therefore, governments in free nations can pressure repressive regimes by imposing barriers to their propaganda exports unless the repressive regimes agree to stop blocking our information exports, like the VOA.
It is a challenging mission for grassroots organizations to bring freedom and privacy to Internet users in repressive regimes. We believe with support from government, NGOs and commercial entities, we will soon witness the fall of the Great Firewall, as we did the Berlin Wall.

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