U.S. Gov. censors web service set up to evade consorship:
- A web-proxy service set up by the US government’s International Broadcasting Bureau to enable websurfers in Iran to evade censorship is itself massively censoring what they can see.
That is the conclusion of an independent new report released from the OpenNet Initiative, an international collaboration between researchers at the University of Toronto, Harvard University and the University of Cambridge.
Tens of thousands of Iranians log on each day to the US government’s IBB Anonymizer service, run by government contractor Anonymizer in San Diego, California. The service was set up in 2003 by the US government to allow people in Iran to surf websites blocked by Iranian authorities.
The sites blocked include those of political dissidents, pro-democracy sites, and western news media such as news.bbc.com. IBB Anonymizer makes these accessible, but the report says it also blocks hundreds of other sites.
“This simply looks at the domain name”, says Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard Law School, a coauthor of the report, and filters out any that contain words on a banned list.
One banned word is “ass”, which blocks some pornography sites but also blocks the sites “usembassy.state.gov” and “www.grass-roots.org”, says the report. Other words include “breast”, “bush”, “gay”, “hot”, “my”, “old”, “pic”, “soft”, “teen”, “trans” and “tv”. “They might as well filter every fifth website,” says Zittrain.
In Iran, internet service providers are configured to prevent traffic between computer IP (internet protocol) addresses registered in Iran and websites with keywords in the domain name that the Iranian censor has banned.
To get around this, the free IBB Anonymizer service allows a computer with an Iranian IP address to adopt a ghost IP address that can be used to connect to banned sites from Iran.
Ken Berman, of the IBB in Washington DC, says he is responding to the report and will discuss improving and publicising the Anonymizer’s filtering techniques with the company on Tuesday. He says the original motivation for some kind of filtering was to avoid spending US taxpayers money allowing people to surf porn. [New Scientist]
They need to tweak the old filters a bit, I’d say. Not wanting to fund the porn surfing of Iranians is understandable, but the results are clearly contrary to the purpose: winning hearts and minds and promoting freedom of speech and whatnot.