CAT | Free Speech
From the Official Google Blog (follow link for the whole post):
So earlier today we stopped censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong. Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk. Due to the increased load on our Hong Kong servers and the complicated nature of these changes, users may see some slowdown in service or find some products temporarily inaccessible as we switch everything over.
I would expect to see China censor Google.cn very quickly (which would prevent the re-direct to Google.hk). It will be interesting to see if China will then take the next step of censoring Google.hk and possibly other Google properties around the world. It would be easy for Google to set up any or all of them to return results in chinese if the browser is detected to be configured in that language.
Google is officially stating that a number of email accounts hosted by Google were attacked from within China. The accounts seem to be mostly connected to Chinese human rights activists. They also state that this is part of a larger pattern extending over a number of other companies.
The most amazing thing about this is the very aggressive pro-privacy stance Google is taking in response to this. They are saying that they will stop censoring search results at Google.cn. That they will talk with the Chinese about how to do this, but are willing to completely pull out of operations in China if they can’t provide un-censored content from within.
The post is worth reading in full. Here are the concluding paragraphs:
These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.
The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.
Wow. We shall see.
A long time customer recently sent in the following question. Since it should be of broad interest, I asked his permission to anonymous post and answer it here.
How do you know that subscribing to an anonymizer does not simply mark you for observation?
We all know the NSA is capable of intercepting any electronic communication, and with gajillions of electronic communications happening every second, how would the NSA (or the FBI or the CIA or whoever it is who watches us) know which of those communications to watch?
Seems like the people wanting anonymity would be the first on the list.
Surely they COULD, couldn’t they? That is, get the subscriber lists, which would enable them to intercept communications this side of the proxy – i.e., intercept on the way out, on the way TO the proxy, BEFORE it gets securely tunneled? And no, that would not be possible with the web, but it would with email. Supposedly.
This is what has been proposed to me. What do you think? Does it have any validity?
It is certainly the case that the government could, in principle, monitor your access to privacy services. As long as that access is over a strongly encrypted connection, the contents of your communication, what sites you are visiting or who you are communicating with would be protected. The strength of your anonymity is then largely determined by the number of other users of the same service with which your traffic is being mixed.
In the United States, the use of privacy tools is not restricted. Strict separation of intelligence from law enforcement functions should prevent drift net monitoring of your use of Anonymizer from leading to any kind of legal investigation. The huge number of Anonymizer subscribers would also make this difficult and highly visible.
Outside of the US it is another story. Many countries exercise much greater control over the Internet. Even if it were not blocked by the Iranian government, accessing the Anonymizer website from within Iran would be a risky activity. Once again, the key here is safety in numbers. We have run anti-censorship tools in Iran that supported over 100,000 users. With those numbers, it is awkward for the government to go after people simply for using the service. This is not to say that if you are already under observation for some other reason that it would not give them added ammunition. Privacy tools are generally very effective at keeping you below the radar, but can be much less effective once you are on the radar for whatever reason.
The reality is that there is no evidence of widespread Internet surveillance being used in the US to track users of privacy services. As long as the connection to the service is well encrypted, you should be fine.
There is a disturbing trend towards increasing regulation of the Internet. In this case, Argintine judges have ordered Google and Yahoo to remove certain search results related to various individuals. This appears to be a back door way of removing the content without actually having to go after all the sites hosting the objectionable content. The concept is that information that can’t be found is almost the same as information that does not exist at all.
Because a few search engines dominate the market, they become an easy leverage point for achieving broad objectives. Countries like China and Iran have long understood the power of censoring the search engines to block access to information they don’t have easy reach to censor directly.
Activists at Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto, have discovered a massive program of surveillance against Skype in China. Specifically the Chinese are monitoring instant message traffic on Tom-Skype, a joint venture between eBay (the owner of Skype) and a Chinese wireless operator.
It looks like all of the text messages passing through the service are scanned for key words of interest to the Chinese government. This program captures both messages within the Tom-Skype network and between that network and the rest of the Skype network.
This is yet another compelling argument for using strong encryption to prevent interception of message content. People in China can avoid this surveillance by using the non-chinese version of Skype, and using a VPN to get the communications safely out past the Chinese scanners.
Chinese Bloggers Scale The Great Firewall In Riots Aftermath – WSJ.com In a triumph of low tech, Chinese bloggers are evading the Chinese national censorship system by simply converting their posts to read right to left rather than left to right.Clearly this is only a short term solution, and the government will adapt quickly, but it shows again how brittle these censorship systems are.
China won’t guarantee Web freedom over OlympicsHere is an interesting article on Internet censorship during the Olympics. Fortunately for visitors, it is easy to set up secure communication links back to the US before going over. VPN links back to a corporate headquarters outside of China can be a very effective conduit around the censorship. While Anonymizer’s commercial solutions are blocked in China, our censorship circumvention technologies are very effective within the country.
CNN to go dark 19 April 2008 1200 GMT according to Chinese Hackers | IntelFusionIn case anyone thinks cyber warfare is a myth, this is more evidence of its reality. It appears that a non-governmental group of Chinese hackers were planning to take down CNN as a protest against their perceived western bias in coverage of Chinese issues. Evidently news of the plans spread too far, and it was called off.
Swiss bank in Wikileaks case abruptly abandons lawsuit | The Iconoclast – politics, law, and technology – CNET News.comIn a follow up to the earlier story, it seems that the judge finally realized the implications of his actions to free speech, and the fact that his injunction was almost completely ineffective. This is a really good thing. If the ruling had stood under appeal and become precedent, it would have significantly changed the Internet landscape.
Finnish government blacklists ‘free speech’ site | The Iconoclast – politics, law, and technology – CNET News.comHere is another Declan article that deserves more attention. In this case the Finnish government is censoring a website for publishing a list of websites he discovered to be on a secret censorship black list compiled by the Finnish government. Censoring someone for trying to speak out about censorship is almost always a bad idea. As one might expect, free speech advocates around the world have mirrored the black list so many times and in so many places, it will be just about impossible for the Finnish government to contain the spread.