There is growing concern about the use of commercial filtering and surveillance technology in countries that regularly restrict Internet content and violate human rights. Considerable attention has been focused in recent weeks on Syria, particularly following the Syrian regime’s violent crackdown against the 2011 uprising. Numerous reports have documented the use of technology produced by U.S.-based Blue Coat Systems in Syria to filter Internet content. Despite initially denying the presence of their devices in the country, company representatives eventually acknowledged that 13 of their devices were being used in Syria. This recognition has raised a number of questions about the use of U.S.-produced filtering technology in a country under strict U.S. trade sanction.
Behind Blue Coat: Investigations of commercial filtering in Syria and Burma documents Citizen Lab research into the use of Blue Coat technology in countries under the rule of authoritarian regimes. This research identifies additional devices in use in Syria and describes attempts to obfuscate the use of these devices.
The report also documents the use of Blue Coat devices in Burma. Evidence indicates that these devices are actively in use in Burma and are being used to filter Internet content and facilitate surveillance. Given that Burma, like Syria, is also under strict U.S. trade sanction, the use of technology developed by a U.S. firm to restrict free expression and facilitate surveillance is troubling.
The Citizen Lab calls on Blue Coat to investigate these claims and take action to prevent the further use of its technology in Syria and Burma.
The OpenNet Initiative has compiled a bulletin on the recent demonstrations in Burma and the Burmese government’s shutdown of the Internet there. ONI conducted a technical analysis of the Internet’s uptime, documenting a complete shutdown in Burma, followed by intermittent periods of up-time throughout early October, with an apparent return to full connection on October 13 for one of the two ISPs and on October 16 for the other. This bulletin presents these results and investigates the impact that the use of communication technologies had on shaping these key events.
The report can be downloaded HERE.
According to Ron Deibert, director at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and an investigator at the OpenNet Initiative. “Now that the government’s crackdown has succeeded, they’re beginning to let information trickle out again,” he says. Deibert speculates that even for a country as repressive as Myanmar, the cost of shutting off all outside connections is too great to sustain for long. “There’s the cost of lost business and the government’s own inability to communicate,” he says. “Myanmar wants to avoid the risk of being seen as a pariah. These are all reasons they need to connect with the outside world.”
I have done some recent interviews about Burma and the role the Internet is playing in getthing the message out, including attempts by the government to shut it down. Two CBC radio interviews that I did with Eli Glasner, slightly different, can be found here and here. There is also a New York Times report appearing today to which I contributed that can be found here.
I did an interview with Clark Boyd about Burma here
The reclusive military regime in Burma — or Myanmar — can’t stop the news of protests there from spreading around the world. Information technology like the Internet and cell phones are helping Burmese pro-democracy activists get the word out. That wasn’t the case in 1988 – the last time there was a pro-democracy uprising in Burma.
I did an interview with Jon Gordon of American Public Radio’s Future Tense, which you can listen to here in real audio, on the ONI’s Burma Report.
There has been considerable news coverage and controversy around the release of the ONI’s Internet Filtering in Burma Report. Here is an Information Week article that is not just a reproduction of the Associated Press story. And Nart did up a nice little piece on his blog about Fortinet’s tangled web.
Some news reports today.
The first is from the NY Times and it covers the ONI’s report on Burma. Now reprinted in the International Herald Tribune. The second is a Toronto Star article on some of the controversies surrounding reform of ICANN.