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. Numerousreports 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.
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.
“I think many people are, understandably, looking for China to take some unique and extraordinary technical measures to ‘punish’ Google,” said Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies.
I recently gave a Policy@Google Talk on December 8th 2009 at Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA. The talk was an overview of Internet censorship patterns worldwide, with a focus on the work of the OpenNet Initiative and some references to challenges around circumvention technologies. Google’s Free Expression point person, Bob Boorstin introduces….
1. We were told that the banner had to be removed because of the reference to China. This was repeated on several occasions, in front of about two dozen witnesses and officials, including the UN Special Rapporteur For Human Rights, who asked that I send in a formal letter of complaint.
2. Earlier, the same officials asked us to stop circulating a small invite to the event because it contained a mention of Tibet. They even underlined it in showing it to me. Because the event was just about to start, we said that we would not be distributing any more of these invitations so it was a moot point.
3. We asked repeatedly to see any rules or regulations governing this act. They did not give us any, only referring to the “objections of a member state.”
4. There were in fact many posters and banners in many of the rooms that I attended, including others in our own. The video itself shows us, at one point, taking one of the other posters we have and offering to cover up the original one. They objected to that and told us this banner must be removed.
On another matter of clarification:
The UN officials did not throw the banner on the ground. They asked us to remove it and one of our staff placed it on the ground for us to consider what to do. That’s where we had the discussion. When we refused to remove it, their security guards bundled it up and took it away.
The item also mentions the Citizen Lab’s GNI Monitor project: “The Citizen Lab, which runs out of the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies, announced last month it would examine how closely companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo follow their own principles regarding freedom of expression and privacy.”
…”What we’re trying to do with psiphon is build a technology that supports that original notion of innovation that drove the Internet,” explains Lab Director Ronald Deibert.
“[T]he guarantee of uninterrupted access to free information” is what is at stake, says Professor Deibert, whose background and training as a political scientist – not a computer scientist – shows through clearly.
The Citizen Lab started in 2001, as a research and development centre for “politically-motivated hacktivists.” Among other activities, it operates the Open Net Initiative, collaborating with organizations around the world on matters of online access, cyber security and Internet censorship.
Two years ago the Citizen Lab released a program called Psiphon, which allows users in countries such as China and Iran to circumvent their governments’ Internet censorship. The free software uses computers outside the censoring country — known as proxies — to fetch web pages and send them back over encrypted connections. The technique is also used by a host of other tools, but Deibert says the goal was to make it as user-friendly as possible.