Nearly 70% of young Iranians use tools to bypass Internet censorship. Throughout the world censorship is characterized by a systematic attack on freedom of expression, and this is a main motivation of those who fight against it on the internet.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has published a list of ten countries that censor the press worldwide. Among them two Middle Eastern countries Syria and Iran are in the top three. In these countries vast restrictions on information have enormous implications for geopolitical stability and nuclear issues.
In a report commissioned by the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Iran, the Iranian government announced that 23.5 million young people use the Internet, 69.3 percent of them use technical means to bypass Middle East internet censorship such as proxies or VPNs (Virtual Private Networks).
The characteristics of censorship in the Middle East
The ten countries that impose more restrictions to the World Press employ a wide range of censorship techniques. From sophisticated blocking websites and satellite broadcasts by Iran to oppressive systems of regulation in Saudi Arabia. The control of the state media in North Korea and Cuba to raw imprisonment tactics and violence in Syria.
These countries have a common trait: some form of authoritarian regimes. Their leaders are in power by monarchy, coups, rigged elections or a combination of these. Indeed, the challenge to the legitimacy of power is at the heart of the censorship and repression of the media in many countries. Syria has long been a country where the press is tightly controlled, restrictions have been imposed on foreign correspondents and local journalists who reports on the uprisings.
Iran is more repressive; Tehran refuses to provide pardons and issues short prison sentences to silence independent journalists. Saudi authorities, which are becoming more and more suspicious since the uprisings in the region since 2011, have added additional restrictions on the Law on Press. Saudi Arabia imposed new regulations on Internet publications and banned at least three chronicles that wrote on political events in the region.
Censorship has intensified significantly in Syria and Iran. These governments prohibit international media from entering their borders and attack their own citizens and journalists. Syria has sought to impose a media blackout on the military crackdown. Iran has combined high-tech techniques such as the blocking of websites. Iran also uses brute force tactics or mass imprisonment of journalists to control the flow of information and hide the details of its nuclear program.
Technics to Bypass Middle East Internet Censorship
– Filtering of Internet content
An Internet content filtering technology aims to control access to data posted on the Web by the governments. Although this technology was initially aimed at the individual level, allowing parents to limit their children’s access to inappropriate content, it is now widely deployed at institutional and national levels.
– Bypass technologies
In response to the methods of monitoring and filtering information implemented by the States, many “circumvention technologies” have emerged to allow users to override restrictions. In general, this technique works by transmitting the request of a user through an intermediary device that is not blocked. This device retrieves the content requested by the user, which filters and retransmits it.
Some of these technologies are developed by private companies, others by groups of hackers and activists. These tools range from small, simple scripts and programs to point to point network protocols (peer-to-peer) well developed. Given the variety of technologies, users must be able to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of each to choose the one that best meets their needs.
Too often users are encouraged to use circumvention technologies without knowing the risks and weaknesses in terms of security. These risks can be reduced by deploying the right technology at the right place, and using it correctly.
Online bypass systems
Online circumvention systems are web pages that display a form that allows users to simply enter a URL and the system retrieves and display the content of the requested page. There is no connection between the user and the requested website. This allows the user to navigate smoothly into blocked sites. One can re-write the links in the requested web page so that the user can continue to browse normally. The end user does not need to install software or change the settings of your browser. All he has to do is go to the URL of the system, enter the URL they wish to visit in the online form and click the “Submit” button.
- Online circumvention systems are easy to use; there is no software to install at the user.
- When public, these systems are accessible to users who do not have a reliable contact in an unfiltered country.
- When they are private, they can be customized to meet the specific needs of each user and they are less likely to be discovered by the authorities.
- Web-based circumvention systems are often restricted to web traffic (HTTP) and may not accept an encrypted connection (SSL). Web services (such as email) that require authentication may not be fully functional.
- Where there are public access to a website, they are generally known to the authorities and are blocked. Most of these websites are already blocked by filtering commercial software.
- In the case of private websites, they require the user to have a contact in an unfiltered location. Ideally, both parties must be able to communicate them confidentially.
The future of censorship circumvention
Complex tools to circumvent censorship are more numerous and are often more difficult to choose. Behind this lies a complex reality, this race between authoritarian states and supporters of freedom.
– Encryption: Encrypt (or encrypt) its content is an art that goes back to antiquity. This is an essential practice to escape surveillance and minimize the risk of seeing activism operations foiled.
– Tor is a circumvention tool of censorship and keeps you anonymous. It is however not necessarily suitable for all uses, and this technological principle is complex.