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Fighting censorship…with toothpaste? August 5, 2009

Posted by Farzana Rasool in Uncategorized.

In my usual online meanderings I recently came across something that made me give a smug little snort of contention.

I found a guide to staying safe online by the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation). It’s described as a practical guide to using the internet safely under a repressive regime.

I immediately thought: “How spy movie,” and immediately set it aside as ridiculous but decided to do a little research on online censorship anyway. I took back my smug little snort so fast…

In the past month alone there have been many acts of censorship, mostly by arresting digital activists or restricting their actions in some way.


The Egyptian government is already censoring every other media platform but now decided that that isn’t enough. They didn’t expect the rise in the use of online media and tools by citizens to speak out against abuses, repressions and detentions. So now instead of just cracking down on offline activists they have reached online activists as well.

They haven’t actually defaced or censored any blogs or websites yet but have arrested several activist bloggers.

A report on the situation says that the Egyptian government has detained about 43 internet activists during the course of 2008.


Azerbaijan has contributed to the censorship phenomenon by arresting a political satirist who dressed in a donkey suit in an online video to mock the government’s forking out of ridiculous amounts for donkeys.

The donkey man and a fellow activist were arrested on fabricated charges according to amnesty international in a public statement.

Both activists are said tobe well known for using social networks, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter to comment and provide information on the political situation of their country.


Evgeny Morozov relates an anecdote where a colleague’s friend was asked by airport immigration control officers if she had a Facebook account, when flying to Iran.

Although she said no, they searched her name anyway and then noted down the names of all her friends.
This means that the Iranian government is paying close attention to Facebook and Twitter which they now use as tools for intelligence gathering and this is possibly the only reasons why the networks have not been blocked.

Very soon Iranians will be required to give their user-names for Facebook and Twitter when filling out official forms and no doubt will have to explain how they came to have certain friends.


Members of the US House Committee have rejected amendments to the Financial Services Appropriation Bill that would have protected free speech. It would have prevented the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) from restoring the so-called Fairness Doctrine regulations to US airwaves.

This is in blatant disregard of the Constitution which clearly highlights the freedom of speech. Independant newssite,WND (WorldNetDaily) also reported on the alarm that occurred due to the nomination of Julius Genachowski to head the FCC.

It is expected that with Genachowski’s nomination comes censorship and regulation of internet speech and ‘net neutrality’ regulations that will allow the FCC to dictate what communications internet providers should allow.

Iran, US, Europe

The power of the 3 most popular social networks flows both ways. Twitter, Facebook and Youtube are used to connect and empower people but can also be used against them.

Timothy Karr specifically looks at the abuse of DPI (Deep Packet Inspection), which is a content-filtering technology. It “allows network managers to inspect, track and target content from users of the Internet and mobile phones,” says Karr.

European and North American companies sell DPI to enable their business customers “to see, manage and monetize individual flows to individual subscribers.”

It gets worse when this technology is now sought out by regimes in China, Iran and Burma, for more negative purposes.

It has been used in Tehran to hinder free speech, pinpoint the location of digital activists and hunt them down.

So why toothpaste? Look out for the next post. All will be explained.



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