“How can circumvention data help us understand the dynamics of information controls online?” This was the question that Keith McManamen, an analyst for Psiphon, attempted to answer during Workshop 7 of the Arab Internet Governance Forum (#AIGF2015).
The session began with a brief overview of Psiphon, a popular circumvention tool allowing users to bypass online censorship. It is a free, open source software which was conceived in 2006 at the Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto. A year later, it turned into a full-fledged private company partnered with renowned media organizations. The Psiphon has been launched for Androids and Windows Desktops, and the company has future plans to create Psiphons for iOS some time in 2016.
As for circumvention itself, it “is designed to confuse the censor into thinking you are someone else, somewhere else, or looking for something else”, explained McManamen. The world of information controls is extremely dynamic and complex, as people are becoming more and more familiar with tools that restore access to banned material. Effectively, and in accordance with proxy policy, all personal identifying information is being collected. There are hence some risks to be aware of when using open proxy, because you would be sending your internet traffic to a third party private user somewhere. Meanwhile, tools like Psiphon offer the advantage of open source, which presents a pre-review and security audit of proxies.
Finally, censorship is both expensive and lucrative. For instance, it protects businesses in countries like China or Iran from international competition by blocking websites like Twitter, Facebook, or even Amazon. McManamen stated that “https” will be the new system, whereby the channel between user and server will be encrypted, making access to content a little more manageable. For other countries, censorship might mainly focus on the connection between the server and the web. In Turkey, for example, the terrorist attack in October led to blocking all social media platforms to allow panic to dissipate. However, in Lebanon, freedom of expression is more permitted. McManamen referred to the “You Stink” protest, which started in mid-September, to praise the fact that there was no media blocking of facts and that transparency was exercised properly.
Done by : Luna Saad – May Boulos
Edited by: Sarah Yakzan