Cutting off the censors

Cutting off the censors

: Hoder reports another big crackdown in Iran blocking access to major blogging sites. He suggests technical, civil and legal means to fight. Two questions:

1. What will it take to create the technical means to allow blogs to be distributed around addresses that can be blocked — e.g., distributed via P2P means such as BitTorrent, or via RSS and email…. We’ve talked about this on blogs and at meetings but there’s no momentum because no one is leading the charge. What are the solutions? Who can create them?

2. Shouldn’t we bloggers be protesting the censorship of blogs? Shouldn’t some of us — via Media Bloggers or Global Voices or Google or journalism schools or journalists’ associations or the Online News Association — be decrying this censorship of citizens’ media and goading political leaders in the U.S. and Europe to protest?


  • “We’ve talked about this on blogs and at meetings but there’s no momentum because no one is leading the charge.”
    Sigh. Because it’s hard. There’s all sorts of politics involved, where The Usual Suspects line up at the feeding-trough for the grants, while on the other hand, software which is likely to get the programmer sued by the MPAA/RIAA, is often unattractive.
    Remember, a system that the government of Iran wouldn’t be able to control, US copyright owners wouldn’t be able to control either.

  • Yes, I know it’s hard.
    But part of what we also need to do is get out with more — what do you call it, nonviolating? — uses of P2P and BitTorrent. It’d be harder to attack something used to spread democracy in the world, eh?

  • There are several ways of getting around this kind of filtering. I am a little unfamiliar with what is going on, however. Are these blogs that are being blocked by the mullahs so they cannot be read in Iran? Are they bloggers in Iran that cannot post to their blogs? Are they bloggers being blocked so no one outside Iran can read their blogs?
    There are ways around all of these, and I’d be glad to help if you can tell me what the problem is.
    Stay Free.

  • es, more noninfringing uses are great, but defending a lawsuit is prohibitive even if one is abstractly in the right. In fact, there’s going to be an important Supreme Court decision about liability very soon (the _Grokster_ case).
    Anyway, if I can cite myself, I did a long interview where I give reflections (some not very pretty …) on many issues of fighting censorship after nearly a decade:
    For technical tips, the best single source I know is:
    HOWTO bypass Internet Censorship

  • thanks, seth.

  • Cog

    I am so grateful for what Hoder has done, I would be willing to stand outside of Google with a protest sign for a few hours.
    Last year I was in Europe, and while I was traveling through several different countries, I saw Iranian students undertaking a hunger strike in almost every one. Just listening to some of their stores was heart wrenching.
    It sucked all of the air out of admiring some of the architecture in old Stockholm, or the galleries in Paris. Just signing their petition made me feel guilty I could not help more.
    But the mainstream media can not pull itself away from non-stop anti-American war for oil coverage long enough to cast a furtive glance at the laundry list of attrocities occuring daily in Iran.
    Couldn’t something simple like a network of anonymous proxies be set up? There are similar underground networks in China that pass along the information by word of mouth.

  • Here’s my suggestion:
    1. Prepare a site with a database of public proxy servers which is multilingual (not the servers, the site’s interface)
    2. Prepare instructions in different languages how to set up proxy server connections for modern browsers. Or if possible scripts that automagically do this (I don’t know how feasible this is).
    3. Mirror this information EVERYWHERE you can.
    4. Start proxy servers wherever you can (academic institutions particularly useful places) and add them to the database.
    5. Use p2p networks to distribute URLs to the database sites (or downloadable files containing the same information). Make sure this has some basic signing to ensure spoofs are weeded out of the network.
    The weakness of state sponsored censorship thus far is it allows then denies access. Politically (and economically), they can’t use the more robust deny then allow approach to limit what sites are accessible.
    We have to turn this weakness of their approach against them.
    Whilst I’m sure there are political things that may help things, I’m not sure anything but raising the stakes for the Iranian government will do the job. Are they prepared to ban Internet access altogether? And enforce it? They certainly didn’t have the guts to do so with satellite TV.

  • goading political leaders in the U.S. and Europe to protest?
    Yes, let us all turn our attention away from the quagmire in Iraq, the 150,000 dead along the Indian Ocean coast, the slaughter in Darfur, the millions dying from aids, malnutrition and preventable diseases, the threat of terrorism and nuclear proliferation, the many conflicts around the world and a host of other problems so we can focus on helping some bloggers who are being censored.
    I don’t mean to sound snarky, but I think you can see the point. Besides, if blogs are as relevant and meaningful as you claim them to be, then shouldn’t you be rounding up the posse to take care of this insignificant–when compared to the list above–problem instead of looking to governments to deal with it?

  • If moves to internet censorship in the developed world are sucessful these kinds of technologies will be important for all of us in the blogosphere.
    (see for example:

  • Old Grouch

    The Voice of America is already involved. See this post from Slashdot.

  • Cog

    Robert, who do you think is contributing to the quagmire in Iraq? I hope you do not plan on vacationing in Iran or Syria in the near future.
    And have you watched an Arab network cover Iraq over the last 2 years? Al Jazeera tops anything Dan Rather has misrepresented daily. A few months ago they ran a long piece that was a thinly veiled justification for attacks on translators and truck drivers because they had the flimsiest of connections to coalition troops. Two weeks ago a “commentator” spoke to the fact that airing beheading videos was actually just good reporting.
    And where did you get the notion that bringing to light attrocities in Iran [of which there are many], means that we should not focus on other problems? Those are your words, not mine.
    You dont sound snarky, you sound foolish. I wish you could have stood in front of some of those Iranians on a hunger strike and said “why should we care about a few bloggers being censored?”.