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Circumventing the Great Firewall of China

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By Michelle Malkin  •  March 17, 2008 12:51 PM

Via Dan Nystedt at PC World, the Great Firewall of China is trying to block out news of the Tibet riots:

China has blocked access to Google News and YouTube in an apparent attempt to stop the spread of video footage related the rioting going on in several cities in Tibet, including the capital Lhasa. Demonstrations in the city started on March 10, a day commemorating the anniversary of a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule after which the spiritual leader of the country, theDalai Lama, fled to India.

China has said the Dalai Lama is to blame for rioting in the country, and puts the civilian death toll at 13, while adding that police and security forces have also suffered casualties.

The Dalai Lama has denied involvement in the rioting, and said he has “no such power to stop it,” in a video of a recentnews conferenceposted on his Web site.

“Whether the Chinese government admits it or not, there is a problem,” he said “The Tibetan nation, an ancient nation with an ancient cultural heritage, is actually dying.”

China’s decision to block access to the sites follows similar government censorship of protests by Myanmar. Last September, Myanmar cut off Internet access entirely to block people from viewing pictures and videos or sending them out of the country. Some analysts at the time said the protests likely spread through the help of the Web, in addition to winning global condemnation of the violent crackdown on protesters there.

Two videos about the situations in Tibet posted on YouTube by the user Amdo2007 both appear to show peaceful demonstrations. Thefirstshows a public gathering, including Tibetan monks in their distinctive saffron robes, while the secondvideoshows what appears to be peaceful marching.

Some videos, includingonefrom Amdo2007, have been “flagged by YouTube’s user community” so that users have to verify they are 18 or older by logging in or signing up. The video shows bodies on the streets, protesters throwing rocks at Chinese army vehicles and other images. It may have the most hits, over 80,000 so far, on the subject.

Here is Amdo2007’s YouTube channel.

And the video of the protest in Lhasa:

Jacqui Cheng at Ars Technica reports on China Internet users’ savvy:

Our own tests this morning with WebSitePulse’s China firewall tester have only yielded a block on youtube.com thus far—the other sites’ home pages (and some specific articles about Tibet) appear to be going through. As we know, though, China’s firewall doesn’t always filter everything all the time, and may be implemented differently in different areas of the country. Sites that appear accessible in Shanghai right now might not be accessible in Beijing, and something that’s accessible in China’s capital may mysteriously “disappear” later on. Researchers at UC Davis’ department of Computer Science found that the firewall would accidentally allow banned terms through about 28 percent of the time, particularly during high-traffic times.

The problem with these arbitrary blocks is that users are increasingly aware of them. Posts made to Danwei.org, a site about Chinese media, show that Chinese Internet users not only know which sites are being blocked at which times, but why. “Youtube is blocked in China as of 22:45, Beijing time. See no evil, hear no evil…” wrote one poster, with others confirming the disconnect and pointing out that it “has a lot to do with Tibet.” Another poster noted in a thread about YouTube and other news sources being blocked, “This govt officials should get a life and deal with reality!”

Given the Chinese government’s fickle attitude towards the filtering the websites of international media, we’ll venture a guess that the block on YouTube will eventually be lifted once the Tibetan dust begins to clear online. But each bit of additional filtering only raises the profile of China’s filtering activities in the eyes of its Internet users. Maintaining the Great Firewall of China will become increasingly challenging as more of China’s massive population gets online.

Information just wants to be free.

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