It was a hot, late summer evening at Club Futura in Hollywood, Florida, 1990. The club was packed to the doors and beyond with people waiting to hear the new rap group 2 Live Crew. The house lights darkened, and the crowd quieted. Suddenly, colored light filled the club, and smoke began to pour from the backstage area. The low drum of bass filled the air and out walked the members of the group 2 Live Crew, microphones in hand. Luke Skyywalker (Luther Campbell) began to rap their hit “Me So Horny”. Those who knew the words began to rap along. Within minutes of the start of the show, Broward Sherriff’s officers came in and ordered the group to be removed from the stage, sighting sexually explicit lyrics in a public venue. They were arrested and charged. Their trial made international news and the “Censorship War” began.
I recall this incident as I was there so many moons ago. I jumped on the bandwagon of this crusade on that day and now, 24 years later, I’m still fighting for people’s freedom of speech. But now, instead of a piece of music or a book, I’m fighting for a cease of internet censorship.
What is Internet Censorship?
Censorship in any form is the actions or practices of persons or organizations, such as the government who “examines books, movies, letters, etc., and removes things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, harmful to society, etc.”(Merriam-Webster.com/dictionary/censorship)
There are many forms of censorship, but the censorship I’m talking about here is the government blocking and interference of websites to the public. Many parents (I’m one of them) have limited their children’s internet usage to allow age appropriate web viewing, and that’s fine. It’s your job as a parent to protect your children from what you feel will harm them, like sexually explicit and violent web content. I have also worked for companies that have restricted individual internet usage due to some people surfing pornography sites during work hours. Understandably, these measures must be taken as they not only protect the work environment, but also the network servers of the companies as many of these insidious sites contain viruses and malware that will wipe out an entire corporate network.
But let’s look at the censorship of private web sessions at home from either your ISP or by the governments themselves. There are several ways to bypass internet censorship. From a DNS server to VPNs to TOR, bypassing online censorship is a viable way to ensure your internet freedoms. Let’s look at a few one by one.
The Domain Name Server (DNS) works the least effectively. This method is recommended if all you want to do is access one blocked site and can be done by reconfiguring your ISPs DNS to that of another one from either OpenDNS or Google Public DNS. Word of caution here: this only works if the censorship filtering is only at the DNS level and the requests sent to other DNS servers aren’t being also blocked.
Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a private network of servers that anonymize your IP address, encrypting your data and trafficking through a secure tunnel. This works primarily as a redirection of your information to an uncensored region BEFORE it emerges as the anonymous you. Free VPN’s are available, but can be unstable.
Paying for a VPN service is minimal and offers the best connection as long as you are aware of whom you are dealing with. Many VPN service providers are unscrupulous. Companies like Hidemyass and OpenVPN have excellent, VPN service that is either free or have a minimal fee for their service. Businesses also use VPNs for secure connections for off-site employees to work in a safe environment.
There is a common form of censorship being used on the internet, and arguably the most talked about. Known as “traffic analysis”, this form of censorship is a surveillance method used to analyze not only who you are on the internet, but what you’re sending or trying to receive. This method is most commonly used by government and law enforcement agencies. TOR (arguably the safest and fastest way to bypass online censorship) works by establishing a service of encrypted pathways over a network of tunnels creating a relay circuit.
This does not protect your identity, mind you. It only makes your traffic harder to follow. Like hiding in a crowd, the more people who use a TOR network, the more anonymity your data is provided. TOR is free to download to the public. Word of caution here: TOR is not used by the public alone. Law enforcement agencies and some government agencies, as well as journalists, use a TOR network as well. Caution must be taken to protect your online identity as well as the information you’re are sending and receiving.
While VPN and TOR are excellent at thwarting censorship efforts across the globe, it should be noted that as of 2012, VPN connections have been successfully blocked. China is leading the censorship pack in this regard. They have successfully managed to monitor encrypted VPN connections and terminate them instantly. By far, the best way to bypass internet censorship is TOR. Even the NSA praises TOR’s ability to anonymize data packets to an untraceable level. As more and more people become aware of where and how they are being censored on the internet, the more efficient anonymity providers become. The war rages on.