Sunday, December 03, 2006

International Centre Develops Software to Access Blocked Websites

Citizens of countries such as China and Iran are about to be handed a powerful Canadian-made tool designed to undermine authoritarian efforts at stifling the free flow of information.

Called Psiphon, it's a small computer program that allows people in non-democratic places to beat the local thought police and access forbidden websites at minimal personal risk.

People in uncensored locations such as Canada install Psiphon on their home computers. The program is free, easy to set up, and small at about 1.5 megabytes.

They then send connection information by e-mail or phone, along with a user name and password, to people they trust in the countries subject to censorship.

The person in the foreign country connects through a secure, encrypted connection to the uncensored computer and surfs the web without hindrance.

Security depends on trusting the people involved in setting up the connection.

"You really have to break the social networks to discover Psiphon, (because) it's very difficult for authorities to technically discover Psiphon traffic, if not impossible," Deibert said.

More than 40 countries are now engaged in Internet censorship, where only a few did just a few years ago.

Countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Myanmar, China, Thailand and Sudan routinely block Internet content.

Until now, so-called censorship busters such as the Voice of America have resorted to broadcasting information on how to access uncensored computers. Authorities are usually quick to block those.

In addition, people often don't trust the sites because they can be set up by their own government as a sting.

The program was the brainchild of Nart Villeneuve and Michelle Levesque from the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies.

  • CITIZEN LAB: A research lab that brings together social scientists, filmmakers, computer scientists, activists, and artists. It sponsors projects that explore the cutting-edge of hypermedia technologies and grassroots social movements, civic activism, and democratic change within an emerging planetary polity.

They developed a prototype three years ago, but it essentially languished until January, when funding from the Open Source Institute allowed its development. Eight people worked on the project full-time since then.

Many people in internet-censored countries, have been testing the software. One of them will be participating in a live demonstration at psiphon's launch and the researchers will also show recorded video of psiphonites in Iran using the system.

It can be downloaded at


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