Fight internet censorship and IP address blockades

A security line outside Google’s Beijing office. (AP/Andy Wong)

Is Internet a neutral zone? Is it a network that runs freely in any place of the world? Or is it controlled and regulated by governments and companies?

Sadly, it is not a free space in which people is able of doing whatever they rationally please. Internet is to a large degree a networked controlled and its globalizing effects are constantly been limited by the regulations and institutions of the countries from which we access it.  Specially in countries that have had a long history of citizen’s censorship and IP address controls.  CPJ‘s list of these countries that have managed to control the most it’s citizens freedom is #1 Iran, #2 Belarus, #3 Cuba, #4 Ethiopia, #5 Burma, #6 China, #7 Tunisia under Ben Ali, #8 Egypt under Mubarak (still continues being so), #9 Syria and #10 Russia.

Also, as noted in Wikipedia in 2006, Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), a Paris-based international non-governmental organization that advocates freedom of the press, started publishing a list of “Enemies of the Internet”. The organization classifies a country as an enemy of the internet because “all of these countries mark themselves out not just for their capacity to censor news and information online but also for their almost systematic repression of Internet users.” In 2007 a second list of countries “Under Surveillance” (originally “Under Watch”) was added. Both lists are updated annually.

Enemies of the Internet:

Internet censorship by country

As mentioned by Danny O’Brien in CPJ, “The world’s worst online oppressors are using an array of tactics, some reflecting astonishing levels of sophistication, others reminiscent of old-school techniques. From China’s high-level malware attacks to Syria’s brute-force imprisonments, this may be only the dawn of online oppression.”

Now, the principle in discussion here is what can we do to act freely in the Web? First, there are some services that enable you to block the origin of your IP address (learn what an IP is at the end of the post) and to access many websites by hiding your country of origin; one private and free service is HMA! or How to Bypass Internet Censorship.  But the most important one’s are the following online agencies and organizations that are working to inform and educate internet users of their rights and obligations:

What is an IP address:

Every device connected to the public Internet is assigned a unique number known as an Internet Protocol (IP) address. IP addresses consist of four numbers separated by periods (also called a ‘dotted-quad’) and look something like 127.0.0.1.

Since these numbers are usually assigned to internet service providers within region-based blocks, an IP address can often be used to identify the region or country from which a computer is connecting to the Internet. An IP address can sometimes be used to show the user’s general location. vía: http://whatismyipaddress.com/

Syria on the road to chaos?

Last night I attended a lecture titled “Syria on the Road to Democracy or Chaos?” by Ph.D. Candidate Mohammad Maghout hosted by the Institute of Oriental Studies in Leipzig University.  The lecture was an overview of the last 20 years of political oppression and autocrat government in Syria.  The speaker emphasized how Bashar al-Asad was an exact continuation of the government his father, Hafiz al-Asad held in Syria from 1970 to 2001.

Maghout explained that in Syria the government was not only feared but that a cult of reverence toward the al-Asad regime had being built.  He explained that in the 40 years of autocratic regime the regime had amassed its power upon a pyramidal network of tribal, religious and economic leaders that belonged to different ethnic groups and tribes.  In Maghout’s reasoning, it was these ethnic and tribal differences one of the key elements that allowed for the Syrian government to control the population while confronting them every time political tensions appeared.  Indeed, these confrontations were evident after the the 2011 Syrian uprising (from January 26th to March 15th of 2011) and as Salman Shaikh wrote yesterday in the NYTimes (Preventing a Syrian Civil War. NYT. October 12th, 2011), it is these ethnic confrontations and sectarianism that could bring Syria into chaos.

One thing was left without a clear answer from Maghout’s lecture.  It was the question on “why didn’t Syrians react to all the lies, political oppression and corruption of the al-Asad regime previously”.  Maghout explained that Syrians were not only divided in ethnic groups that conflicted within their understanding on “Who Syrians really are”, but that it had passed already too many years of fear for government’s power that brought the population to fear political activity and the use of freedom of speech to protest against government.  While this is true, I consider it not to be sufficient reason.

It may be necessary to understand which was the role (or lack of it) of the economic leaders during the unrest.  I am sure that understanding how crony capitalism works could bring some interesting tools to understand what is the effect of privileges in a society. And as such, could be a valuable tool to understand how can the results of these social movements be differentiated.  The participation of crony capitalists protecting corrupt governments and the participation of entrepreneurs is psycho-epistemological different because of the goals they aim to achieve.  It is entrepreneurs who most often support (economically and logistically) social movements that demand freedom of speech, equality of rights, an end to corruption and the respect of private property.

Photograph: AFP/Getty Images