Toronto’s Citizen Lab uses forensics to fight online censors

A basement in the gray, Gothic heart of the University of Toronto is home to the CSI of cyberspace. “We are doing free expression forensics,” says Ronald Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab, based at the Munk Centre for International Studies. Deibert and his team of academics and students investigate in real time governments and companies that restrict what we see and hear on the Internet. They are also trying to help online journalists and bloggers slip the shackles of censorship and surveillance.

From the Committee to Protect Journalists, found here

Amnesty Slams Cisco

The Amnesty campaign is continuing to raise awareness and debate about Internet censorship practices around the world. Part of the purpose of the campaign is to focus on western companies who provide technologies of censorship and surveillance. There is a ZDNet UK article about the topic, with some of my comments on the matter, and the same old responses from Cisco about how they just sell the technology, not determine how it is used. Whatever their level of support actually is, they cannot deny that they know how the technology is actually being deployed in China and elsewhere around the world.

It is interesting to see how you end up being represented in these stories. For the record, here is my exchange on the matter with the reporter:

ZDNET: Can you comment on Cisco’s involvement in China?
1. How do you know that the Chinese authorities use Cisco routing technology and hardware?

RD: I know that Chinese authorities use Cisco routing technology because Cisco themselves say that they do. Cisco does not deny that its technology is being used, as evidenced by the testimony to US Congress of Mark Chandler, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of CiscoSystems. You can read it yourself here:

ZDNET: 2. Does Cisco configure the routers for the Chinese, or actively help to block access to the Internet? Does Cisco supply any other kind of service to the authorities?

RD: In the same testimony as noted above, Mr. Chandler says:

“Cisco does not customize, or develop specialized or unique filtering
capabilities, in order to enable different regimes to block access to information…”

However, this is contradicted by the testimony of Ethan Gutman, which you can find here:

so it is a matter of making an educated guess. Some one is not telling the truth. My educated guess is that it would be unlikely for any company to have a major contract of this sort without supplying support for one of its primary service functions.

ZDNet:3. If Cisco supplies the hardware, is this detrimental to the local population, and why? Is Cisco aware of it being detrimental?

RD:I believe not only is it detrimental to the population of China, it is a violation of human rights, as outlined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. As to whether Cisco is aware of it being detrimental, you would have to ask them.

Amnesty International and ONI flash map

Amnesty International and the Observer have jointly launched a major global campaign on Internet censorship called to commemorate Amnesty’s 45th anniversary.

The objective of the campaign is to show that online or offline the human voice and human rights are impossible to repress. You can sign their pledge and post fragments of irrepressible information on your website.

The OpenNet Initiative is one of the project’s partners. We produced a Global flash map of Internet filtering, and the fragments of banned information for the mirroring campaign.

You can read more about the campaign in the Observer, BBC, and CBC.

NPR ON Point Radio Interview

I just did a radio interview with Tom Ashbrook on NPR’s On Point radio show. The topic was Internet censorship and surveillance worldwide. You can listen to it here. Timothy Wu of Columbia University Law School, Julien Pain of Reporters without Borders, and Declan McCullaugh of CNET were the other guests

Reporters Without Borders Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents

Reporters Without Borders has just released their very useful Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents.

 The Citizen Lab contributed two chapters, one a  general guide to the Civiblog, and a second chapter by Director of Technical Research Nart Villeneuve on Technical Ways to Get Around Censorship.  Congratulations
Julien Pain and all of the people at RSF for what promises to be a timely and very useful contribution.