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Making online censorship obsolete

Guest commentary
Oliver Linow, Technical Distribution at DW

It’s not always easy to deliver reliable information to audiences around the world. During the Cold War, Deutsche Welle (DW) had to regularly deal with broadcasting signals being disrupted, preventing listeners in Russia and the Eastern block from tuning in. At that time it was known as jamming.

Technology and distribution channels may have changed and the Cold War now seems like ancient history, but the problem remains: There are still those who try and prevent international broadcasters like DW from reaching their intended audience. The perpetrators are governments, most notably in Iran and China, who are looking to buffer their citizens from international news and information online. But we don’t take this lying down. The Technical Distribution department at DW is responsible for ensuring that content is available on censored networks. And, over the last few years, we have been utilizing a censorship circumvention system developed by Psiphon Inc. based in Canada.

Psiphon works by using a network of different proxy servers (an intermediary between a user and an online source). Psiphon has also developed software and applications designed for desktop and mobile devices that circumvent online censors. DW uses these networks and applications to make content available in censored areas. When logging on to the proxy URL or when starting an application, users in Iran for example, will be redirected to DW’s Farsi homepage and users in China to the Chinese page. Other users are directed to a landing page and can then reach the respective DW site.

Thanks to the introduction of Psiphon technology, users in countries like China and Iran have been given the power to access unbiased information from reliable sources. By engaging in this technology, we have sent a message: DW will never give up trying to provide unbiased, quality news and information to ALL audiences around the world.

Predicting how these issues will play out in the future is difficult. There are currently many indicators that the Internet will be even more regulated. Whether it is to fight crime and terrorism, preserving moral and religious precepts (like preventing access to pornography in Arabic countries), commercial interests (when content providers have to pay network operators for quality access) or political interests and influencing public opinion – there are numerous motivations for filtering online content. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies, refers to such measures as “Internet regulation”. Conversely, online activists want to see continuous, uncontrolled traffic on the information superhighway, and will speak out against even the smallest amount of censorship.

Getting around censorship is a game of cat and mouse requiring software that is continually updated in order to circumvent firewalls that are also continually improving in functionality. Soon Psiphon will provide an Application Programming Interface (API), a type of software which will equip certain Smartphone Apps with a censorship circumvention function. This technology would make DW Apps available in Iran and China.

In the future it will surely not be a simple task for international broadcasters like DW to provide worldwide Internet services on every network in every country. One thing we do know is that as technology expands and politics become more complicated, the issues related to Internet regulation will become more and more important.


2013-08-28 | 7:52



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