International Demand Overwhelms US Anti-Censorship Software
U.S.-funded anti-censorship software can't keep up with demand from all around the world, the Washington Post reported yesterday (Oct. 21). As a result, Internet freedom services slow down users' connections or don't work at all, the Post reported.
More funding would relieve the slowdowns, but the Broadcasting Board of Governors, one of the U.S. agencies responsible for funding Internet freedom projects, has been asked to cut its budget by $50 million. In addition, some software tools face controversy, as criminals may use them to hide their activities.
The Obama administration gives about $30 million a year to nonprofits and other groups to write software that helps users avoid firewalls and surveillance in their home countries. The software may route users' connections through other nations, for example.
Users hail from China, Iran and other countries that ban certain online content and employ people to watch online posters. More than 1 million people a day use the free-to-download programs, the Washington Post reported.
Internet freedom advocates want more money and attention to fix ailing workaround tools. "I can't imagine anything more cost-effective or strategic for the United States to do," one activist, Michael Horowitz, told the Washington Post. Repressive governments depend on Internet censorship to stay in power, he said. Horowitz was formerly general counsel for the Office of Management and Budget and founded a group, Twenty First Century Initiative, to try to increase funding for free Internet tools.
The Washington Post also reported on some unsavory users of Internet freedom software, who undermine software creators' requests for funding. One tool, Ultrasurf, sees spikes in countries that undergo political unrest, as people search for news outside of what's sanctioned by their home governments. But Ultrasurf also performs its own censorship, filtering online posts that criticize Falun Gong, a spiritual group founded in China whose members support the software.
Another tool, Tor, is a used by those who traffic drugs and child prostitutes to elude detection. That's not a good reason to shut down a service that's critical to legitimate users, Tor's development director, Karen Reilly, told the Washington Post.
The Post's report comes nearly two years after the beginning of the Arab Spring, when ordinary citizens took to Twitter and other social media to organize protests against repressive governments in the Middle East. Soon after the protests started, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. would fund technology to help people avoid Internet censorship from their governments.
Source: Washington Post