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As Chinese Group Agrees To Self-Censor Web Content, Hackers Provide Workaround

As Chinese Group Agrees To Self-Censor Web Content, Hackers Provide Workaround

by , 7:30 AM EDT, July 17th, 2002

As a group of Chinese Internet professionals has formed, voluntarily pledging to keep Chinese websites free of politically objectionable material, a hacker group has announced that they will be releasing software that permits people in Net-censored countries to share information anonymously.

Since March, the Internet Society of China has attracted over 300 signatories to the "Public Pledge on Self-discipline for China Internet Industry." While the pledge contains much that is of use, including promotion of Internet use and prevention of cyber-crime, a troubling clause binds them to produce content that is not politically 'objectionable' to the Communist Party. The group of signatories to the pledge includes Yahoo's Chinese portal. According to a Wired News article:

Those who sign the pledge must refrain from "producing, posting or disseminating pernicious information that may jeopardize state security and disrupt social stability." The prohibition also covers information that breaks laws and spreads "superstition and obscenity." Members must remove material deemed offensive or face expulsion from the group.

Signers also pledge to monitor content of foreign-based websites and block those containing unspecified harmful information.

The pledge conforms closely to government policies making Internet service providers responsible for content posted on websites they host. It's a strategy to give the Internet enough room to blossom while keeping operators on notice not to push the envelope politically.

China's policy towards 'subversive' use of the Internet is severe, with long prison sentences for people who disseminate 'politically unsafe' information from blocked websites, and usage of Internet cafes closely monitored.

Hot on the heels of this pledge, the Hacktivismo group have announced that they will be offering free software to promote anonymous Internet use by people in China and other Net-censoring countries. A first program, named Camera/Shy, permits users to embed messages into images, a process known as steganography. Additionally, a hacker from Germany announced that Hacktivismo will release the 'Six/Four" protocol, enabling users to set up virtual private networks free from the scrutiny of governments. According to a CNet article:

Six/Four protocol designer Mixter said the system is named in honor of the date when Chinese authorities cracked down on democracy activists in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

Six/Four is designed so that each computer user that uses software running the protocol becomes part of the shared capacity of the network, taking a page from so-called "peer-to-peer" sharing network that gave birth to Napster and other music sharing programs such as Gnutella.

"This is going to be a guerrilla information war," Oxblood Ruffin said. "Sites will pop up for a few days and then be taken down," he said as he described a "moving war," in which computer activists react quickly to government efforts to block such programs.

Although this will be a boon for those users in censored countries like China and some Middle East countries, it's likely that both Six/Four and Camera/Shy will trouble Western law enforcement agencies as well.

You can read more about both of these developments at the Wired andCNet News Web sites.

The Mac Observer Spin:

If you've read through this and thought that the Hacktivismo announcements didn't apply much to you, think again -- US Observers should keep in mind how easy it is becoming for law enforcement to snoop on your online doings without a warrant or official investigation. Although the US is by no means as restrictive as China when it comes to Internet usage, such applications may become useful for those who value their privacy over an increasingly strident Justice Department. Those of you who have nothing to hide should still care.

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