Global Voices Advocacy Summit: Free speech online

BlogHer Original Post

I'm in Budapest at the Global Voices Advocacy Summit, where over 50 blog and internet activists from around the world are here to talk about defending free speech online In morning sessions, presenters described the ways that countries block and filter bits and pieces of the Internet, including blogs and blog hosting sites. Currently, BlogHer readers are mostly from the U.S. and do not face government censorship. Yet privacy issues for women can also be domestic issues. Many women who blog share a computer, an email address, and a browser with their partner and family. The default for women in families is that they have no privacy -- and no expectation of privacy.

The techniques I describe below could allow, for example, a blogging mom and wife to surf the net and to blog from her own browser. Using a browser installed on a small, cheap USB drive she could keep on her keychain, she would get her own private history and cache and search terms, with the potential to read webmail and blog with a comforting layer of privacy and anonymity.

Here's the short version of what I heard. It's very easy to set up Torbrowser on a little keychain-size USB flash drive. There's a good step-by-step installation guide with pictures of each screen. What you need: a Windows computer, and a USB pen drive that's at least 50MB. (You can buy 1GB drives now for under $5.00.)

I recommend that anyone who wants to blog anonymously -- for real, not just with a pseudonym -- read Ethan Zuckerman's Guide to Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor, and read the EFF's How To Blog Safely (About Work or Anything Else).

It may seem frivolous to connect the human rights issues that bloggers in Egypt or Myanmar face to a U.S. housewife's lack of domestic and personal privacy. Yet it's an important connection to point out, both for bloggers in the U.S. and for Global Voices Advocacy members to consider, because women in all countries have a greater basic lack of privacy and more limited access to computers and the Internet than men.

I believe that it is especially important for women to share their technical and blogging skills with each other in person. So, if you try some of these privacy tips, teach them to your friends who blog.

Here's some technical details and background from the Global Voices talks, explaining why governments censor the Internet, how they do it, and how to get around it.

Roger Dingledine described Tor, software that allows users to make connections and browse to sites blocked by their government. Here's the gist of what he said: What are the goals of governments which block parts of the net? They're trying to restrict certain kinds of information. Embarrassing information, corruption exposed, human rights violations. Oppositional information - movements, sites that organize protests, etc. By giving the impression that sites will be blocked, they produce a chilling effect. They don't have to block everything - only the most highly visible and effective sites. There is no reprisal or little against passive consumers of blocked information. It is producers or distributors who are in danger. Governments have economic, political, and social incentives to allow net access. How do they block sites? IP address and port; keyword searches in TCP packets; DNS requests are given bad redirects.

From the irc channel, there's mention of specific filtering software:

* Smartfilter, produced by US company Secure Computing, is used by Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Oman, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and possibly in Iran.
* Feng points out that despite much filtering software coming from the U.S., China gets blamed in the media for exporting its censorship/internet filtering model.
* Here's the Council of Europe's recs on Freedom of Expression and filtering.
* A rumor of Singapore company Temasek building Burma's censorship system, unconfirmed; they may have just changed recently from Fortinet, a U.S. company.

To clarify what I said above about our readership: BlogHer's readers are primarily from US, Canada, UK, Australia, India, Germany, France, Philippines, China, Netherlands - in that order.

I'll be writing more tomorrow about the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit, I hope to have some good interviews posted of women who are bloggers and "citizen journalists" from all over the world.


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