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January 28, 2012

EFF explains Twitter’s new take-down policy

There’s a good explainer by Eva Galperin of Twitter’s new policy on censoring tweets within countries that demand it, At BoingBoing, Xeni Jardin points to one particularly relevant fact: this applies to countries whwere Twitter is establishing physical offices.

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November 16, 2011

Stop the next bad “We fear the Internet” bill from the Senate

Rebecca MacKinnon has an excellent op-ed in the NY Times about the latest bill from the Senate that would censor the Internet.


For a 5,000 word post on a topic I didn’t even know was a topic, there’s Harold Feld’s piece about “Will Cisco’s war against the TV white spaces tank incentive auctions? “


February 28, 2011

Am I blocked or Not: Wisconsin version

From the Berkman Center:

The Herdict team is looking for help testing the hypothesis that the Wisconsin Capitol building guest wireless blocks Websense’s “advocacy” category. (Background here, and see the various links in those posts).

If you have friends/family/contacts/colleagues who might be in a position to help Herdict with this testing, please share the links above or point them to Herdict’s “am I blocked or not?” testing queue for the US — Many thanks!

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October 18, 2010

Berkman report on circumvention tools

The Berkman Center has released a new report on the use of tools to circumvent restrictions on the Internet imposed by countries that control their citizens’ access to the Net. This is important especially given the State Department’s commitment funding of such tools (“We are also supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship.”).

Here is a brief summary from the email announcing the report:

In this report, the authors use a variety of methods to evaluate the usage of the first three of these four types of tools to test two hypotheses. First, even though much of the media attention on circumvention tools has been given to a handful of tools, they find that these tools represent only a small portion of overall circumvention usage and that the attention paid to these tools has been disproportionate to their usage, especially when compared to the more widely used simple web proxies. Second, even when including the more widely-used simple web proxies, the authors find that overall usage of circumvention tools is still very small in proportion to the number of Internet users in countries with substantial national Internet filtering.

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May 7, 2010

Washington court decides the Net is its content, not access to content

I’m not saying that there’s an obvious answer to this question, but a court in the state of Washington has decided that libraries have the right to filter Internet sites available on library Net connections.

The court came to this by choosing among analogies. The Internet is like a library’s collection:

“A public library can decide that it will not include pornography and other adult materials in its collection in accord with its mission and policies and, as explained, no unconstitutionality necessarily results,” wrote the majority, led by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen. “It can make the same choices about Internet access.”

Ok, I can see that. But the Internet is also not like a library’s collection. It is a protocol that gives access to materials, not the materials themselves. Why then should a library be able to control what (legal) materials I want to access? Why isn’t that plain old censorship?

On the third hand, I do understand that libraries may not want porn on display to people who are just passing by a terminal; nor do they look forward to guys viewing porn with one hand in their pocket.

Nevertheless, if I were the judge, I would have decided that libraries ought to be in the open access business, not the censorship business. (Found via ResourceShelf)


March 16, 2010

[berkman] Donnie Dong on separate Internets

Donnie Dong (Hao Dong), a Berkman Fellow, is giving a Berkman Tuesday lunchtime talk.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Donnie begins by asking us to play “spot the difference”: Google’s homepage on March 14 (3.14 — the Google pi logo) and (Google’s Chinese home page) on that day. Besides not having the pi logo, the link to gmail is missing on, there’s no sign-in link, therte’s a link to, and the Chinese version has an official government ICP license number. is a massively popular social network. At the hot topics in the forums, there can be millions visitors and millions replies. (Donnie shows one topic that has over 4 million replies, and it was only posted in February of this year.) There are hundreds of boards and board masters, organizationally structured in a way similar to the Chinese government: A secretary general, branching powers, judges, appeals judges, etc. The structure works well. The rules say that no posts can be deleted or edited, so people consider carefully what they are writing. You can petition for a change to any edits made by the board master, but that’s embedded in an administrative bureaucracy. This is “decentralization under a super power,” he says. is an instant messenger app with over 1.4 billion accounts. It offers many kinds of services, all based on IM. It is a closed system with an open API. is a Web 2.0 site. (“Douban” is a Chinese dish.) Douban provides links to media (books, DVDs), etc., and enables its 36M people to comment, review, and discuss them. Everything posted at Douban is public. “Douban has a lot of Habermas’ public sphere.” But, Donnie adds, it strongly supports censorship.

Donnie points to common features of Chinese Web sites. First, they accept Web 2.0 ideas, but make user-generated contents controllable. Second, they only comply with Chinese culture. Third, they provide integrated services, not an open API. Fourth, they are driven by instant messaging, with a bulletin board management style. The Chinese Internet is not driven by email but by IM.

Google has never made money in China, Donnie says.

Donnie points out the “music” link on the page. actually is provided by [I may not have transcribed accurately]. You can download legal music there. But at you can search the Internet and download what you find. Baidu has been sued, but it’s been defended by the safe harbor laws. Google has been copying Baidu, but not very successfully, Donnie says.

Until 2005, the Chinese control over the Net was accomplished mainly by technical control. From 2003-9, there was more and more legal enforcement. In 2010, there is a legislative rebooting. There is now a jungle of licenses: domains, commercial websites, webcast website, news website, online games…

The switch from tech to law has increased certainty because the authorities have explained why sites are being shut down. It has also caused important discussions to occur. But, the law is immature and thus enforcement is somewhat arbitrary. And the “clouds of licensing systems” are still difficult to navigate. But, these are temporary.

Hillary Clinton said there is a single Internet, says Donnie. “I do not think it is really true from the cultural, legal, and linguistic aspects.” Tim Wu, in Who Controls the Internet, says that the Internet is splitting, and there are under-appreciated advantages of this. “I agree,” says Donnie. Can we get along with each other in this world if the Net splits? “I think we can,” he says, because the Net consists of autonomous systems connected without hierarchy. We have to look at the Internet as pluralist, he says.

What we should really care about, he says, is that those with wealth, who have more access to the Net, do not replicate the economic/social divide on the Internet. [This is based on a brief conversation with Donnie afterwards.]

Q: The Chinese language itself is a barrier, in both directions, but not with Taiwan. Are the sites accessible?
A: Most of the Taiwanese Web sites are accessible in China, including the official government sites. Some sites that advocate Taiwan’s continuing autonomy are not accessible.

Q: What will be the effect of the announcement that access to the Internet is a basic human right?
A: The BBC had a survey that showed that 80% of people believe that, and that news was published all over the Chinese Web sites without problem. The problem is the law from the 1990s. I believe they will be changed sooner or later.

Q: To what extent does the system of govt bureaucracy account for the siloed nature of their services?
A: I think those structures were based on the notion that the Internet is just like other public media, such as TV.

Q: How does the censorship look from the inside?
A: As Rebecca MacKinnon said, most of the citizens don’t feel the censorship. There’s so much information available, so much news, so many services, so many forums. And if you really want to get some information, you can find a way to. And if you really want to express something, you can. The filtering mechanism can’t work perfectly, and their are many examples of this.
Q: What’s wrong with the system?
A: Because it reflects the old mass media, not on the Internet’s nature. It’s old logic. If we can reform the law so that it fits the Internet better, the question will be less urgent.

Q: You’re optimistic about the future of the split Internet. But there should be a common denominator wherever you go. A core function of the Net is to foster the circulation of info. What about the Chinese attitude toward copyright protection?
A: You can compare the systems of censorship and copyright protection. In China, there is a great deal of “freedom” (in quotes) in using copyrighted materials, even though China’s copyright laws are pretty much the same as everyone’s. The govt could do a campaign to fight piracy just as it does to fight pornography, and it could be very effective.

Q: It’s normal that a medium would be adapted to local needs. But do you think there is something about the Net’s design and essence that is core so that if it were changed, it’s not the Internet?
A: I believe everyone in the world has universal rights that should be complied with. But I’m suggesting that the separated parts of the Net could have universal principles and universal protocols.
Q: What separates the Internets?
A: Infrastructurally, linguistically, culturally, legally. By infrastructure, I mean the physical base of the Net. The protocols are the same.

Q: Can you compare the Chinese Internet to other linguistically isolated cultures? E.g., Would you say that Japan has a different Internet as well?
A: The term “pluralism” itself has many layers.

Q: What’s the effect on the ordinary Chinese citizen on Google’s departure? A Nature poll says that Google is the first choice of scientists in China.
A: Google won’t quit all of China. (This is just a guess, he says.) Resourceful users will be able to get to Google even after it departs.


November 16, 2009

UN’s Internet Governance Forum censors a mild mention of censorship

Holy cow!

The Open Net Initiative, a group that monitors government filtering (= censorship) of the Internet held a book launch at the United Nations-sponsored Internet Governance Forum in Sharm El Sheik. A poster for the book — Access Controlled — contained the sentence: “The first generation of Internet controls consisted largely of building firewalls at key Internet gateways; China’s famous ‘Great Firewall of China’ is one of the first national Internet filtering systems.”

This statement was so objectionable, so outrageous, such a violation of common decency, such a hateful expression, such an offense to the tender sensibilities of UN diplomats that it must not ever be uttered. Security guards were sent to take the poster down.

If the people who want to govern the Internet think that’s beyond the pale of free speech, what the hell are they going to do with the rest of the Internet?

And, by the way, if you want to see what it looks like when UN diplomats take bold action, watch this video of the take-down itself.

[Source, video statement by ONI, BoingBoingage]

(Disclosure: the Berkman Center is a member of ONI.)


October 1, 2009

Sub-Saharan Africa: Generally an open Net

A new report from the Open Net Initiative (in which the Berkman Center is a participant) says that among Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Nigeria, only Ethiopia does any substantial amount of blocking of sites:

Filtering in Ethiopia was found to be substantial in regard to both political and conflict/security sites. Ethiopian authorities have also blocked two major blogging platforms, Blogger and Nazret, suggesting political bloggers are the prime targets of censure.

The full report is here.

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February 25, 2009

Am I Blocked or Not?

The Berkman Center has launched, a site that lets you report sites you can’t reach, aggregating reports from every other Herdict user, to paint a picture of the openness of the Net.

You can join here. (And see Eszter Hargittai‘s better explanation of it. We’re both using as the title of our posts an aptly-named URL — — that takes you to a page accessibility test at Herdict.)

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February 18, 2009

Italy proposes harsh Internet filtering

Berkman’s Corinna di Gennaro posts about a proposed amendment in Italy that would require ISPs to block sites that permit postings that defend or instigate crimes. So, if there were a video on YouTube that defended a crime, Italian ISPs would be required to block all of YouTube.

Which content would be proscribed by this law? That is up to the Minister of the Interior, whose decisions cannot be appealed in a court of law. I can’t see any problems with that, can you?

So, you’d better think twice before you post to Facebook that you think that that photo of Michael Phelps and the bong is cool, kewl, or figo. You could get Facebook banned from all of Italy.

[Thanks to Marco Montemagno for the alert. And thanks to Twitter for telling me that Italian for “cool” is “figo.”]

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