Group offers tools to evade China's Web censorship

By Sumner Lemon, IDG News Service |  Internet, Olympics, regulation

Reporters covering the Beijing Olympics who are frustrated by Chinese Internet censorship can use free software tools developed to help Chinese users circumvent these controls, according to a representative of a group that develops such software.

"It's a very good time to remind Western reporters that there are such tools," said Tao Wang, director of operations for the Global Internet Freedom Consortium (GIFC), adding that some Western reporters based in China routinely use the group's tools.

The group claims approximately 1 million people in China use its tools to access the Internet.

Internet censorship has dominated recent coverage of the Beijing Olympics, which get underway this weekend. Many reporters were surprised to find that Chinese censors were blocking access to sites deemed undesirable by the government, despite promises of unfettered access for reporters covering the Games.

GIFC members have developed a range of tools that can be used to circumvent Chinese censorship efforts. The group's aim is to allow Chinese Internet users to visit any site they like, without government interference. But their efforts have turned into a technical game of cat and mouse, with Chinese censors working to block tools created by GIFC members.

When that happens, the group typically release updates that once again allow its software to evade these controls and the game continues

"We want to tear down the Great Firewall," Wang said, referring to the elaborate technical systems the Chinese government has put in place to monitor and control information access.

GIFC is an association of nonprofit organizations and companies based in North America. Many of its members are Chinese and include practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual sect that was banned in China following a government crackdown that saw some members jailed, while others fled overseas,

"You've got to have some reason to do work like this for free," Wang said, adding that he and others involved with GIFC are unpaid volunteers. Support for the group's efforts come mainly from donations, he said.

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