Web censorship spreading globally


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Web censorship spreading globally
Financial Times | March 14, 2007
Richard Waters

Internet censorship is spreading rapidly, being practised by about two dozen 
countries and applied to a far wider range of online information and 
applications, according to research by a transatlantic group of academics.

The warning comes a week after a Turkish court ordered the blocking of YouTube 
to silence offensive comments about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern
Turkey, marking the most visible attack yet on a website that has been widely 
adopted around the world.

A recent six-month investigation into whether 40 countries use censorship shows 
the practice is spreading, with new countries learning from experienced 
practitioners such as China and benefiting from technological improvements.

OpenNet Initiative, a project by Harvard Law School and the universities of 
Toronto, Cambridge and Oxford, repeatedly tried to call up specific websites 
from 1,000 international news and other sites in the countries concerned, and a 
selection of local-language sites.

The research found a trend towards censorship or, as John Palfrey, executive 
director of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said, 
³a big trend in the reverse direction², with many countries recently starting to
adopt forms of online censorship.

Ronald Deibert, associate professor of political science at the University of 
Toronto, said 10 countries had become ³pervasive blockers², regularly preventing
their citizens seeing a range of online material. These included China, Iran, 
Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Burma and Uzbekistan.

New censorship techniques include the periodic barring of complete applications,
such as China's block on Wikipedia or Pakistan's ban on Google's blogging 
service, and the use of more advanced technologies such as ³keyword filtering², 
which is used to track down material by identifying sensitive words.

Methods such as these are being copied as countries new to censorship learn from
those with more experience. ³There's a growing awareness of best practice ­ or 
rather, worst practice,² Mr Deibert said.

Ken Berman, head of technology for the US state department arm that broadcasts 
Voice of America, said some countries were learning from China, which has the 
most experience in internet censorship, with Zimbabwe appearing to use the same 

While internet censors are learning to apply new technologies to expand their 
efforts, activists wanting to circumvent the controls are using the latest 
internet methods to advantage.

Escaping the Matrix website        http://escapingthematrix.org/
cyberjournal website               http://cyberjournal.org
Community Democracy Framework: http://cyberjournal.org/DemocracyFramework.html
subscribe cyberjournal list        mailto:•••@••.•••
Posting archives                   http://cyberjournal.org/show_archives/