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[dewayne@warpspeed.com: [Dewayne-Net] Chinese Censors Of Internet Face 'Hacktivists' in U.S.]

----- Forwarded message from Dewayne Hendricks <dewayne@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> -----

From: Dewayne Hendricks <dewayne@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 13 Feb 2006 17:27:03 -0800
To: Dewayne-Net Technology List <dewayne-net@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: [Dewayne-Net] Chinese Censors Of Internet Face 'Hacktivists' in
X-Mailer: Apple Mail (2.746.2)
Reply-To: dewayne@xxxxxxxxxxxxx

[Note:  This item comes from friend John McMullen.  DLH]

>From: "John F. McMullen" <observer@xxxxxxxxxxx>
>Date: February 13, 2006 3:50:53 PM PST
>To: "johnmac's living room" <johnmacsgroup@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
>Cc: Dave Farber <farber@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>, Dewayne Hendricks  
>Subject: Chinese Censors Of Internet Face 'Hacktivists' in U.S.
>From the Wall Street Journal -- <http://online.wsj.com/article/ 
>Chinese Censors Of Internet Face 'Hacktivists' in U.S.
>Programs Like Freegate, Built By Expatriate Bill Xia,
>Keep the Web World-Wide Teenager Gets His Wikipedia
>Surfing the Web last fall, a Chinese high-school student who calls  
>himself Zivn noticed something missing. It was Wikipedia, an online  
>encyclopedia that accepts contributions or edits from users, and  
>that he himself had contributed to.
>The Chinese government, in October, had added Wikipedia to a list  
>of Web sites and phrases it blocks from Internet users. For Zivn,  
>trying to surf this and many other Web sites, including the BBC's  
>Chinese-language news service, brought just an error message. But  
>the 17-year-old had loved the way those sites helped him put  
>China's official pronouncements in perspective. "There were so many  
>lies among the facts, and I could not find where the truth is," he  
>writes in an instant-message interview.
>Then some friends told him where to find Freegate, a software  
>program that thwarts the Chinese government's vast system to limit  
>what its citizens see. Freegate -- by connecting computers inside  
>of China to servers in the U.S. -- enables Zivn and others to keep  
>reading and writing to Wikipedia and countless other Web sites.
>Behind Freegate is a North Carolina-based Chinese hacker named Bill  
>Xia. He calls it his red pill, a reference to the drug in the  
>"Matrix" movies that vaulted unconscious captives of a totalitarian  
>regime into the real world. Mr. Xia likes to refer to the  
>villainous Agent Smith from the Matrix films, noting that the  
>digital bad guy in sunglasses "guards the Matrix like China's  
>Public Security Bureau guards the Internet."
>Roughly a dozen Chinese government agencies employ thousands of Web  
>censors, Internet cafe police and computers that constantly screen  
>traffic for forbidden content and sources -- a barrier often called  
>the Great Firewall of China. Type, say, "media censorship by China"  
>into emails, chats or Web logs, and the messages never arrive.
>Even with this extensive censorship, Chinese are getting vast  
>amounts of information electronically that they never would have  
>found a decade ago. The growth of the Internet in China -- to an  
>estimated 111 million users -- was one reason the authorities,  
>after a week's silence, ultimately had to acknowledge a disastrous  
>toxic spill in a river late last year. But the government recently  
>has redoubled its efforts to narrow the Net's reach on sensitive  
>It has required all bloggers, or writers of Web logs, to register.  
>At the end of last year 15 Internet writers were in jail in China,  
>according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York  
>group. China also has gotten some U.S. Internet companies to limit  
>the search results they provide or the discussions they host on  
>their Chinese services. A tiny firm Mr. Xia set up to provide and  
>maintain Freegate had to lobby computer-security companies such as  
>Symantec Corp., of Cupertino, Calif., not to treat it as a virus.
>In response to China's crackdown, and to restrictions in many  
>Middle Eastern countries as well, a small army has been mustered to  
>defeat them. "Hacktivists," they call themselves.
>Bennett Haselton, a security consultant and former Microsoft  
>programmer, has developed a system called the Circumventor. It  
>connects volunteers around the world with Web users in China and  
>the Middle East so they can use their hosts' personal computers to  
>read forbidden sites.
>Susan Stevens, a Las Vegas graphic designer, belongs to an "adopt a  
>blog" program. She has adopted a Chinese blogger by using her own  
>server in the U.S. to broadcast his very personal musings on  
>religion to the world. She has never left the U.S., but "this is  
>where technology excels," she says. "We don't have to have anything  
>in common. We barely have to speak the same language."
>In Boston, computer scientist Roger Dingledine tends to Tor, a  
>modified version of a U.S. Naval Research Laboratory project, which  
>disguises the identities of Chinese Web surfers by sending messages  
>through several layers of hosts to obscure their path. In addition  
>to the Department of Defense, Mr. Dingledine had also received  
>funding from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group  
>that supports free speech online.
>Freegate has advantages over some of its peers. As the product of  
>ethnically Chinese programmers, it uses the language and fits the  
>culture. It is a simple and small program, whose file size of just  
>137 kilobytes helps make it easy to store in an email program and  
>pass along on a portable memory drive.
>Mr. Xia says about 100,000 users a day use Freegate or two other  
>censorship-defeating systems he helped to create. It is impossible  
>to confirm that claim, but Freegate and similar programs from  
>others, called UltraReach and Garden Networks, are becoming a part  
>of the surfing habits of China's Internet elite in universities,  
>cafes and newsrooms.
>A Big Booster
>Freegate has a big booster in Falun Gong, the spiritual group China  
>banned in 1999 as subversive. It is a practice of meditations and  
>breathing exercises based on moralistic teachings by its founder,  
>Li Hongzhi. Chinese expatriates -- marrying U.S. free-speech  
>politics with protests over persecution of Falun Gong practitioners  
>in China -- have focused their energy on breaking China's  
>censorship systems. They have nurtured the work of Mr. Xia, himself  
>a Falun Gong follower, and several other programmers
>Freegate also gets a financial boost from the U.S. government.  
>Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, part of the federal  
>government's Broadcasting Board of Governors, pay Mr. Xia and  
>others to send out emails featuring links to their stories.
>Kenneth Berman, manager of the anticensorship office of the board's  
>International Broadcasting Bureau, declines to say how much it  
>compensates Mr. Xia's company. He says the bureau pays less than $5  
>million a year to companies to help combat Internet censorship  
>abroad, especially in China and Iran.
>"Our policy is to allow individuals to get anything they want, when  
>they want," Mr. Berman says. "Bill and his techniques help us do  
>Human Rights in China, a New York nonprofit group funded by  
>individuals and charities founded by Chinese scientists and  
>scholars in 1989, also helps fund Mr. Xia's enterprise, which runs  
>on a budget of about $1 million a year, and pays it to send out  
>The resources behind Freegate and others hacktivists could increase  
>if Congress revives a bill to create an Office of Global Internet  
>Freedom. U.S. Internet companies have drawn strong criticism in  
>Congress for compliance with Chinese Web restriction, and hearings  
>on their activities are set for Wednesday. Microsoft Corp.,  
>Redmond, Wash., Google Inc., Mountain View, Calif., and Yahoo Inc.,  
>Sunnyvale, Calif., all say that they abide by local laws.  
>Microsoft's general counsel said this month that the software giant  
>shuts down personal blogs only if it receives a "legally binding  
>notice from a government."
>Several Chinese agencies with jurisdiction over the Internet,  
>including the ministries of Public Security, State Security, and  
>Information Industry, didn't respond to faxed questions about  
>Internet filtering. The State Council Information Office said the  
>government would hold a news conference to address "Internet  
>security" issues early this week. It didn't respond to specific  
>questions. A position paper issued in 2000 by the National People's  
>Congress said it is a criminal offense to use the Internet to  
>"incite subversion," to "divulge state secrets" or to "organize  
>cults." The paper said the laws were needed "to promote the good  
>and eliminate the bad, encourage the healthy development of the  
>Internet [and] safeguard the security of the State and the public  
>It is this attitude that drives Mr. Xia's counterattack. Moving to  
>the U.S. a decade ago to begin graduate studies in physics, he  
>says, he never imagined becoming either a dissident or a  
>programmer. Slowly, he became more uncomfortable with China's  
>restriction of public discourse. In the U.S., he watched taped  
>footage of the 1989 Tiananmen Square assault on protesters.
>Mr. Xia says he taught himself computer science out of textbooks  
>and in 2002 set up a small company called Dynamic Internet  
>Technology Inc., hiring 10 people to help send out emails for such  
>clients as Voice of America. He says he takes no salary, living a  
>modest life off his savings and his wife's earnings.
>Often working alone at his computer until 3 a.m., Mr. Xia lives  
>like a secret agent, communicating with a small team of volunteer  
>programmers across North America over secure email or coded phone  
>calls. He combs his house with a device to detect the loose radio  
>waves of bugging devices. In his 30s, Mr. Xia asked that the city  
>in which he lives and works not be disclosed so he can maintain a  
>low profile.
>The programmer says he dashes to his computer as soon as he wakes  
>up each morning, to make sure his system is still intact. He keeps  
>a raft of programs running on his oversize flat-screen monitor,  
>testing Freegate through a dozen different Web browsers and instant- 
>message and chat programs.
>Freegate works by constantly changing the address of its U.S.  
>servers so that China can't block the connection, and users like  
>Zivn, the 17-year-old, can read and write at will. Zivn says he  
>uses Freegate three to four times a week to read domestic and  
>international news. Besides the BBC site he frequents Radio Free  
>Asia and the Epoch Times, a newspaper that champions Falun Gong.  
>All have Chinese-language news services normally blocked by China's  
>Zivn says he isn't a member of Falun Gong and describes his  
>political slant as "neutral." He says he has read about North  
>Korean leader Kim Jong Il's recent secret visit to China and the  
>closure of a liberal Chinese magazine called Freezing Point. He  
>says he has copied some foreign news reports onto his personal  
>blog, which is available inside China and periodically gets blocked  
>One user, who describes himself online as a 22-year-old who works  
>in Chinese media, praises the software but adds that its use is  
>"limited to a small group of people who are knowledgeable about  
>computers and the Internet." Most Chinese, he says, "have not  
>realized the harmful effects from network blocking." China's  
>Internet control system, called Golden Shield, doesn't aim for  
>complete control over information but rather to discover and plug  
>major breaches in the firewall.
>Nor can Freegate prevent self-censorship. Many Chinese surfers and  
>bloggers, having a sense of the forbidden words and topics, check  
>themselves before they cross the line.
>Then, too, many Chinese are as frivolous in their Internet use as  
>anyone else. Most of China's estimated 33 million bloggers write  
>about entertainment, fashion and such, not the free-speech or  
>police crackdowns. Still, Mr. Xia says he sees a rise in Freegate  
>traffic after events such as democracy protests or corruption  
>scandals, which the state-controlled press doesn't cover.
>Freegate's Web site supports an effort by Falun Gong's Epoch Times  
>to get Chinese citizens who belong to the Communist Party to  
>renounce their membership, and the paper claims nearly eight  
>million have signed a petition doing so. Many did so through  
>Freegate, Mr. Xia says.
>Mr. Xia says he gets a mountain of feedback. He convinced Symantec  
>not to treat Freegate as a virus. "The users are not technical.  
>They just say, 'It doesn't work!' and we have to ask them a lot of  
>questions" to resolve problems, Mr. Xia says. He politely declines  
>the help of volunteers inside China, fearing that they might be  
>government spies or that they would be punished if discovered.
>Getting Tips
>Occasionally, he says, he gets tips from Chinese who say they have  
>been given the job of maintaining the Internet restrictions. "One  
>guy told us, 'Sorry, I participated in some efforts to block your  
>software. I think it is not going to work in a few days,' " Mr. Xia  
>says. "China may have many people working on the firewall, but for  
>them it is just a job."
>Write to Geoffrey A. Fowler at geoffrey.fowler@xxxxxxx

Weblog at: <http://weblog.warpspeed.com>

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