- The Washington Times - Monday, September 2, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Vietnam's government tries to block its citizens from such U.S.-based Web sites as the one run by expatriate Pham Ngoc, whose pro-democracy rantings it considers dangerous and subversive.
The ruling Communist Party doesn't like the dissident writings and other postings on his Thong Luan site, shortened from the Vietnamese for "information debate."
No matter. Third-party Internet gateways known as proxies have long allowed Vietnamese citizens to bypass government filters by masking the sites.
But lately governments in such countries as Vietnam, China and Saudi Arabia have gotten smarter about blocking those proxies, as well. And that's forcing technologists to devise new ways of evading the censors.
"It's like a game," said Mr. Pham, who operates the site from San Jose, Calif. "If they discover this is a new proxy, they will spread the word to friends. But if they know, the police know."
A February 2001 report from Paris-based Reporters Without Borders noted censorship in 58 countries, including China, Vietnam and Tunisia. The group expects to list about 40 more in a January update.
Longtime censors have gotten even more aggressive, hiring technicians to find and close the technical loopholes through which people can reach forbidden content, including Western news outlets, dissident writings, and in the Middle East, pornography and sites deemed anti-Islamic.
"Most of these governments are not as worried about the elite," said Jack Balkin, an online speech expert at Yale Law School. "It's about making sure the vast majority don't get unfiltered access."
Early this year, it took the Chinese government 24 hours to discover new proxies as they circulated through online discussion groups, said Greg Walton, a San Francisco researcher who provides technical support for a Tibetan-freedom organization.
"Then it gradually went to 12 hours, six hours, now it's 15 minutes," he said.
And when technical measures fail, the Chinese government can encourage self-censorship by sending police to cyber-cafes and imposing lengthy prison sentences for downloading "subversive" materials. Other countries such as Cuba and Iraq make Internet access so expensive and difficult that formal censorship is hardly required.
When access is available, users can turn to proxies to fool filters into thinking they are visiting innocent sites. After governments caught on, technologists developed dynamic systems to keep proxies hidden.
Two commercial proxy services, Anonymizer.com and Megaproxy.com, are among those that frequently change domain names or numeric Internet addresses.
"By moving fast and keeping proxy sites moving around, we hope to be able to move faster than they are blocked," said Ken Berman, a program manager with Voice of America parent International Broadcasting Bureau.


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