Friday, March 16, 2012

Beyond PayPal, Censorship's Ugly Saga Continues

Over the last few weeks, the transaction process experienced intense scrutiny as a result of PayPal's misguided attempt to censor legal fiction. With the outcome favoring free speech and market economics, it's not a stretch to find other, and much greater, forces championing the implementation of stronger censorship controls. Sadly, US global market leaders are right in the thick of it.

The following post, from "Good Morning Silicon Valley," is reprinted in its entirety, with the exception of its closing statement about PayPal (which is reduntant at this point in time). The writer, , does a very good job of encapsulating the trending censorship problem.

Off the censor ship? Vows about Pakistan by Cisco, McAfee; PayPal revises e-books policy

"There are reports this week that a handful of tech companies, including Cisco and McAfee, have vowed not to heed Pakistan’s call for technology to censor the Internet in that country.
Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that Pakistan had solicited bids from tech companies for the “development, deployment and operation of a national-level URL filtering and blocking system.” The $10 million project seeks a system that would have the ability to block up to 50 million URLs.  The deadline for the bids was Friday. Some have urged Pakistan to put its plans on hold, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The New York Times wrote Thursday that a group in Pakistan had urged several companies not to provide filtering technology to the government, and that some of them — Verizon and Websense, as well as the two Silicon Valley companies mentioned above — had agreed. Would-be activists take note:

As the NYT says, we’re seeing the results of advocacy groups taking the offensive and identifying companies before they have a chance to make controversial deals. In this case, it would be bad PR for companies to be associated with such a high-profile censorship project.
Cisco’s vow is notable because it has been criticized about — and sued over — supplying technology to China, which censors the Internet. (See Quoted: Cisco in China, knowledge vs. intentions and China and censorship questions for Cisco, Microsoft and Facebook.) Likewise, Intel-owned McAfee was last year identified by the Wall Street Journal as a company that provides filtering software to ISPs in countries in the Middle East that block certain websites.

Meanwhile, Andy Greenberg of Forbes reports that Sunnyvale-based Blue Coat Systems is among the companies that have “conspicuously declined to comment” about whether they are bidding for Pakistan’s business."
With governments driving censorship controls, how can free speech and market economics survive? Many use proxy services to circumvent such restrictions. One company that I've used while traveling abroad is I don't endorse any particular company, but offer as an example only. This subscription-based service, through its processes and programming, protects the user's identity while allowing him/her access to otherwise restricted URLs and/or content. It's affordable and I've found it to be very reliable and effective. There are other proxy (and socks) services and although they offer similar functionality, not all protect a user's identity. So, buyer beware - do your homework and ensure the proxy service you select matches your needs. It only took me 15 minutes of Googling to narrow down my list to 

Although the horizon for those living in restrictive countries like the People's Republic of China, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan is ominous, I encourage you to spread the word of proxy and socks services to anyone facing censorship. Word of mouth will protect free speach, as was proved in the landmark descision of PayPal to loosen its policy and definition regarding objectionable content.

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