Worsening of Internet Censorship in China

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The Chinese government is going to blacklist universities and corporations for using VPN connections to access restricted websites. The Guardian reported that the Chinese government cracked down on VPNs and closed a loophole that allowed users to bypass their Internet censorship.

The users are complaining that since May 6th it has become very difficult to access sites such as Google and MSN. Moreover,  Apple's app store has also been blocked. Internet connections from China Telecom and China Unicom have become unstable, which makes using VPN services difficult.

Universities and corporate connections are suffering, due to the new difficulties, more than broadband connections. The Public Security Bureau has already blacklisted the Chinese Academy of Sciences, that is now asking people to avoid using "circumvention tools to access illegal content".

Hilary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, doesn’t approve of the Great Firewall. She also claimed that the US would assign $19m to fight against Internet censorship in China and other authoritarian states. This funding will be part of the sum that  the US Congress has already allocated to combat against the Chinese Firewall.

Innovations of the PROTECT IP Act

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The new US Internet censorship bill will soon be released. It’s called the PROTECT IP Act, that stands for "Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property". The new bill gives a more accurate definition of sites “dedicated to unlawful activities” and gives more ways of restricting access to them.

COICA suggested using a  DNS blocking system to limit access to foreign "rogue sites". It also asked that credit card companies and advertising networks stop working with such sites. Also, according to the PROTECT IP Act, search engines will not be allowed to show search results from seized domain names. The bill reads that this decision "responds to the concerns raised that search engines are part of the ecosystem that directs Internet user traffic and, therefore, should be part of the solution."

But search engines, credit card companies and advertising networks will be protected by the law if they “voluntarily cease doing business with infringing websites, outside of any court ordered actions.” If a search engine considers a web site to be a law infringer, not only it will be able to disable their advertising, but it will have a legal right to do so.

The PROTECT IP Act also gives the right to trademark and copyright holders to go to court and target foreign domains directly,  without government mediation. However, they won’t be able to sue search engines and internet providers, only payment processors and advertising networks.

Freedom on the Net 2011

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Recently, Freedom House has released its report Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media. The report contains information about internet freedom in 37 countries. It says that the violation of users’ rights has increased and has become more varied during the last few years. Among the main threats to online freedom are the cyber attacks, politically-motivated censorship and government control over internet infrastructure.

Bans against access, restrictions on content and users’ rights violations were the major points of evaluation regarding internet freedom  in the countries studied. In accordance with the report, Estonia has the highest level of internet freedom. The United States are on second place and Iran is last. Eleven other countries are evaluated as "Not Free", among them Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia. There are also plans to restrict the internet freedom during the next twelve months in countries  such as Jordan, Russia, Thailand, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

The situation is very difficult in the countries where internet is under the total control of the governments. Sanja Kelly, managing editor of the report, claimed that “the ability to communicate political views, organize, debate, and have access to critical information is as important online as it is in the offline world. A more urgent response is needed to protect bloggers and other internet users from the sorts of restrictions that repressive governments have already imposed on traditional media”.

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A “New Era” in the Middle East?

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In February, Syrian authorities repealed bans on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The fact that Facebook was widely used in recent disorders in Tunisia and Egypt didn’t stop Syrian officials. 

Though Facebook had been blocked in Syria since the end of 2007, young Syrians have been using free web proxies allowing them to go around firewalls and traded them. The government strictly controls this market to prevent any kind of undesirable activities. Yet the president and first lady are already registered in Facebook, as well as other officials. 

Syria’s governing party remains stable, having been in power since 1963. The wake of regional unrest hasn’t influenced much the situation in Syria. But its president has already promised to force reforms to meet a “new era” in the Middle East.

Syrians have an ambiguous position regarding the loosening of restrictions. The government has a wide control over freedom of expression in the country. According to Reporters without Borders, Syria ranks a lowly 172th, out of 178 countries, for press freedom. Many websites, popular in the rest of the world, remain blocked.  


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