Global media watchdog unblocks banned websites in 11 Countries

Collateral Freedom: how we thwart censorship In an original initiative designed to circumvent website blocking by governments that violate human rights. Photo: RSFParis, France — To mark World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, the Paris-based global press freedom watchdog "Reporters Without Borders" Thursday has launched "Operation Collateral Freedom" to unblock nine censored websites in 11 countries that are on its list of "Enemies of the Internet."

 The Tibet Post International, which is blocked in China since its establishment, is one of the nine sites due to be restored by the media watchdog.

The "Enemies of the Internet" report that media watchdog publishes every year spotlights countries whose governments censor the Internet and deprive their inhabitants of online to access independently-reported news and information.

The Global Press freedom group said the campaign aimed at protecting a number of websites from censorship in China, Vietnam and other countries.

To combat online censorship, the group said it is "making the following 9 censored websites accessible in 11 countries where they are currently banned and blocked."

Two websites in China and one in Vietnam have had mirror sites set up, along with websites in Cuba, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kazakhstan, countries reckoned by Reporters without Borders to be "enemies of the internet".

Using the technique known as mirroring to duplicate a censored site and place a copy on the servers of the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and Google, nine websites that are currently blocked now have another publishing outlet.

The countries concerned could block these services but almost certainly will not. Blocking Amazon or Microsoft or any major cloud computing service provider would cripple the thousands of tech companies that use them every day. The economic and political cost of blocking the mirror sites would therefore be too high.

That is why this operation is called "Collateral Freedom." It exploits the collateral opportunities offered by the natural disinclination of governments to do themselves harm.

This operation, which will be maintained for several months, use the domain names and IP addresses of these cloud computing service providers.

The nine mirror sites are accessible only via https. Https is the secure version of http, the standard protocol for Internet browsing. All traffic between the user's browser and an https website is encrypted, so using https prevents others from seeing the content of the visited webpages and therefore prevents any attempt to filter out content by using keywords.

The Tibet Post International, which is blocked in China, is now available at another address. Mingjing News, which is censured in China, is now available. Dan Lam Bao, blocked in Vietnam, has been mirrored.

Reporters Without Borders is renting bandwidth for the initiative – dubbed Operation Collateral Freedom – and is asking internet users to help pay for any extra bandwidth needed to keep the mirror sites going.

While it would still be possible to block access to the mirrored sites, the fact that they are hosted on such popular servers means that there would be massive knock-on effects for other much-used services. Encryption is also in use to help prevent the risk of blocking by keyword. The full list of sites that make up Operation Collateral Freedom are:

Grani.ru, blocked in Russia
Fergananews.com blocked in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan
The Tibet Post International, blocked in China
Dan Lam Bao, blocked in Vietnam
Mingjing News, blocked in China
Hablemos Press, blocked in Cuba
Gooya News, blocked in Iran
Gulf Centre for Human Rights, blocked in United Arab Emirates
Bahrain Mirror, blocked in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia

To make freely-reported news and information available in these countries, all Internet users are invited to join in this operation by posting this list on social networks with the #CollateralFreedom hashtag.

Operation Collateral Freedom is the brainchild of GreatFire — RSF's partner organization — operated by Chinese activists that has already created unblockable mirror sites of Deutsche Welle, Google and China Digital Times. GreatFire's tools and technology are freely available online for anyone to use to combat online censorship.

The group said it is posting an opinion piece by GreatFire co-founder Charlie Smith, entitled "How to fight censorship with freedom of speech," on our 12 March website (12mars.rsf.org). GreatFire's tools and experience were our source of inspiration for this year's World Day Against Cyber-Censorship.

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