Paul D. Miller on Fri, 10 Mar 2006 13:38:16 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Censoring Boing Boing: A Case in point

One of the things that always makes one chuckle is the subtle way 
that we've probably moved into a far more totalitarian world than the 
Soviets could have imagined in their wildest dreams. The internet was 
made to withstand nuclear war, but it can barely hold its own in the 
face of politics!


Published: March 9, 2006

AMERICAN technology firms are taking heat from the public and 
Congress for helping China's government police the Internet. But this 
controversy extends well beyond China and the so-called Internet Gang 
of Four: Google, Yahoo, Cisco and Microsoft. Just how many American 
companies are complicit hit home for me last month when dozens of 
readers of e-mailed us to say they had been suddenly 
denied access.
Luba Lukova

The cause was SmartFilter, a product from a Silicon Valley company, 
Secure Computing. A recent update to the nannyware's list of no-no 
sites had started blocking our site as containing "nudity." This is 
absurd: a visit to BoingBoing might yield posts about iPod-shaped 
cakes and spaceship blueprints, but not pornography. SmartFilter's 
data managers later told us that even thumbnails of Michelangelo's 
"David" could land a site on the forbidden "nudity" list.

Many of our locked-out readers were trying to view BoingBoing from 
libraries, schools and their workplaces. That is regrettable but not 
tragic, as American viewers generally have other options. But after 
regular visitors from Qatar and Saudi Arabia complained, we 
discovered a more worrisome problem: government-controlled Internet 
service providers were using SmartFilter to effectively block access 
for entire countries.

Secure Computing refused to provide me with a list of the governments 
that use its filters. However, the OpenNet Initiative, a partnership 
between the University of Toronto, Cambridge University and Harvard 
Law School, has compiled data on how such products are used in 
foreign nations where censorship is easy because the governments 
control all Internet service providers.

The initiative found that SmartFilter has been used by 
government-controlled monopoly providers in Kuwait, Oman, Saudi 
Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. It has also been 
used by state-controlled providers in Iran, even though American 
companies are banned from selling technology products there. (Secure 
Computing denies selling products or updates to Iran, which is 
probably using pirated versions.)

According to OpenNet, filtering products from another American 
company, Websense, have also been used by a state-controlled service 
provider in Iran, ParsOnline. Yemen uses Websense products to filter 
content on its two government-owned service providers. Websense 
software, the initiative says, filters out "sex education and 
provocative clothing sites, gay- and lesbian-related materials, 
gambling sites, dating sites, drug-related sites, sites enabling 
anonymous Web surfing, proxy servers that circumvent filtering, and 
sites with content related to converting Muslims to other religions."

The initiative also found that Myanmar, arguably the most repressive 
regime in the world, uses censorware from the American company 
Fortinet. And Singapore's government-controlled Singnet server uses 
filtering technology from SurfControl, a company formed from the 
merger of several censorware companies that is now technically 
British but has its filtering operations headquarters in California.

One of our most laudable national goals is the  export of free speech 
and free information, yet American companies are selling censorship. 
While some advocates of technology rights have proposed consumer 
boycotts and Congressional action to pressure these firms into 
responsible conduct, a good first step would be adding filtering 
technologies to the United States Munitions List, an index of 
products for which exporters have to file papers with the State 
Department. While this won't end such sales, it will bring them to 
light and give the public and lawmakers a better basis on which to 
consider stronger steps.

If American companies are already obligated to disclose the sale of 
bombs and guns to repressive regimes, why not censorware?

Xeni Jardin is a co-editor of .

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