Monday, February 13, 2006


Chinese Censors of Internet Face 'Hacktivists' in U.S.

The following is an ACM TechNews Summary of a Wall Street Journal (02/13/06) P. A1; Fowler, Geoffrey A.

While the Internet's growing pervasiveness in China has made it difficult to police the activities of an estimated 111 million users, the Chinese government is nonetheless attempting to reinforce its authority, requiring all bloggers to register with the state and continuing its block on objectionable content, such as Wikipedia and the BBC, as well as dispatching roughly a dozen state agencies to monitor Internet activity.

Chinese Web censorship, sometimes referred to as the 'Great Firewall,' has sparked an insurgent community of U.S.-based 'hacktivists' who have developed programs such as Freegate, which links computers within China to U.S. servers, enabling users to access prohibited sites. Other efforts mask the identity of Chinese Web users through multilayered host messages that obscure their trail, and adopt-a-blogger programs furnish Chinese writers with external servers to transmit their message. Practitioners of the Falun Gong--the banned Chinese spiritual group that has been persecuted for alleged subversion--have contributed substantially to the development of anti-censorship applications such as Freegate.

Voice of America and Radio Free Asia also contribute to Freegate, and a major boost in funding could come from the renewed congressional consideration of legislation to create an Office of Global Internet Freedom in response to harsh criticism of Google, Microsoft, and others for complying with Chinese censorship laws. Freegate, run by North Carolina-based programmer Bill Xia, cannot be blocked by Chinese censors because it constantly switches the address of its U.S. server. Freegate's effectiveness is limited in China, however, as it is employed mostly by technically proficient users, and many Chinese censor their own Internet use, consciously avoiding keywords and content that could be considered subversive. Meanwhile, the government continually devotes more resources to combating Freegate and other anti-censorship applications

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