Internet Freedom

Chapter 10, 2010 Annual Report

25 Apr 2010

 “Falun Gong-related websites remain among the most systematically and hermetically blocked by China’s Internet firewall.”

– U.S. House Resolution 605, March 2010

In 2009, the Chinese Communist Party continued to refine and expand its efforts to purge the online sphere of any reference sympathetic to Falun Gong. In particular, the “Green Dam Youth Escort” software that authorities attempted to introduce in May was heavily oriented towards censoring and monitoring Falun Gong-related content. The online activities of Falun Gong adherents, both within and outside China, are systematically monitored, while Chinese adherents continue to face imprisonment and torture for discussing or downloading information on Falun Gong online. Meanwhile, several Falun Gong engineers have emerged at the forefront of designing groundbreaking technologies to circumvent censorship.

 According to a report by Freedom House released in April 2009:

“Tests conducted recently found that entries containing sensitive keywords such as … ‘Falun Gong,’ … could not be displayed on Chinese blog hosting services, including the simplified Chinese version of Microsoft’s MSN Space Live service and Skype’s Chinese version, Tom Online.

… In November 2008, Liu Jin, a former university librarian, was sentenced to three years in prison in Shanghai on charges of ‘using a heretical organization to undermine implementation of the law’ after she downloaded information about the Falun Gong from the internet and passed it to others, which her lawyer argues is a common occurrence.” [1]


Refinement and Expansion of Online Censorship in 2009

Censored terms include:

Moreover, a query for the term “Falun Gong” in Baidu’s search engine, even when performed outside of China and in English, yields not filtered results as occurs for other “sensitive” terms, but an error message indicating the connection to the server has been altogether cut off.

According to one analysis of Green Dam’s keyword libraries, 2,700 keywords were related to pornography sites, while 6,500 keywords touched on “politically sensitive” topics—a majority of which related to Falun Gong. If a user attempted to visit certain Falun Gong websites, Green Dam would automatically kill the internet browser.[3]

Following a public outcry by Chinese internet users, governments and the international business community—as well as an announcement by overseas Falun Gong technology experts that had developed an antidote to the program [4]—the Chinese government rescinded the plan to require Green Dam’s installation in June. Nevertheless, officials reported that they would continue to require its installation in public access points, such as schools and internet cafes throughout China.[5]

 

The Global Internet Freedom Consortium

The human cost of the Communist Party’s pervasive online censorship, particularly in the case of Falun Gong, continues to be significant. As in other instances in history of large scale human rights abuses, the victims’ inability to have their voice heard combined with vilifying propaganda from the perpetrators directly contributes to victims’ dehumanization in the eyes of the general populace. As a result, ordinary Chinese become more likely to participate in the persecution, report a Falun Gong practitioner to the police if they spot one, or remain unaware that one of their neighbors may have been tortured to death.

It is for this reason that a group of Falun Gong engineers began shortly after the launch of the persecution to design software that could be used to circumvent the “Great Firewall.” They have since formed the Global Internet Freedom Consortium (GIFC). The group’s technologies—which include Ultrasurf, Freegate, GTunnel, FirePhoenix, and GPass—have emerged in recent years as the most successful and popular avenues for users inside China, Iran, and other closed societies to freely and securely access websites on the worldwide web.

According to the Consortium, as of June 2008, the number of hits noted on their servers reached more than 400 million per day. It is further estimated that over 90 percent of the internet traffic from China for anti-censorship purposes goes through their secure gateway services.

In addition to spreading by the word of mouth, the technologies are circulated to users inside China via mass outreach campaigns, including 10 million e-mail messages and 70 million instant messages per week.[7]  The New York Times’ Nicolas Kristoff took note in a June 2009 column of the impact GIFC technologies and the access to information they enable have on the views of people inside China:

"Freegate was a kind of bridge to the outside world for me,” said a Chinese journalist with dissident leanings, who asked not to be named. “Before accessing the Internet through Freegate, I was really a pro-government guy.”[8]

It is in this context that a key aim of the above mentioned Green Dam software was to disable vital anti-censorship tools, such as Freegate. “One of the reasons they started this Green Dam business and moved the filter to the computer is because they cannot stop our products with the current filters,” David Tian, a GIFC engineer told The New Republic in September 2009.[9]  As noted above, some observers attributed the withdrawal of mandatory Green Dam installation to the consortium’s development of an antidote technology—“Green Tsunami.”

In addition to China, a growing number of users in other countries, such as Burma and Syria, have made use of the GIFC technologies in recent years. In 2009, usage in Iran skyrocketed, the combined result of the release of a Farsi-language version and popular protests following elections in June. Indeed, within 20 hours of the GIFC opening their Freegate servers to Iranians (they had temporarily restricted access in order to retain server capacity for traffic from other countries), usage doubled to one million users. One user from Iran reportedly wrote to the consortium saying:

“I just want to say that FREEGATE saves our life in IRAN. because during election days there was no communication way for us in IRAN and freegates opened this way to us. So many Thanks to freegate men. I LOVE YOU.”

Notes:

[1] Freedom House, “Freedom on the Net: China,” April 2009; http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=384&key=197&parent=19&report=79

[2] For a rudimentary translation into English, see “What China is Censoring this Week,” May 5, 2009; http://jonathanstray.com/what-china-is-censoring-this-week

[3] For a video demonstration, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WF5S_ttOSpA; For a more detailed analysis of Green Dam software, see: Open Net Initiative, “China’s Green Dam: The Implications of Government Control Encroaching on the Home PC,” 2009; http://opennet.net/chinas-green-dam-the-implications-government-control-encroaching-home-pc

[4] On June 16, the Global Internet Freedom Consortium announced the release of “Green Tsunami,” an “antidote” to Green Dam; see: GIFC, “Green Tsunami Released to Burst Green Dam,” June 16, 2009;  http://internetfreedom.org/Green%20Tsunami%20Released%20to%20Burst%20Green%20Dam

[5] Aaron Back, “China Pulls Back from Edict on Web-Filtering Software,” The Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2009; http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125013563611828325.html

[6] http://bj.cyberpolice.cn/alarm/SmsAlarm.htm

[7] John Markoff, “Iranians and Others Outwit Net Censors,” The New York Times, April 30, 2009; http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/01/technology/01filter.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1 

[8] Nicolas Kristoff, “Tear Down This Cyberwall,” The New York Times, June 17, 2009; http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/18/opinion/18kristof.html

[9] Eli Lake, “Hacking the Regime,” The New Republic, September 3, 2009; http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/hacking-the-regime?page=0,0 

 

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