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<nettime> Fighting the war on censorship
Michael Gurstein on Tue, 29 Oct 2002 10:45:05 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Fighting the war on censorship


Guerrillas in the Midst
Fighting the war on censorship
By Art Jahnke

October 16, 2002 Oxblood Ruffin is nom de guerre of the founder and
executive director of Hacktivismo, a fairly loose organization of a few
dozen programmers and human rights advocates who think that censorship of
the Internet is a very bad idea. Hacktivismo's members, such as they are,
are scattered around the world, as are the countries that Hacktivismo has
targeted in its campaign to undo what Internet censors have done.
According to Ruffin, there are 35 countries that sponsor, as he puts it,
Internet censorship. Ruffin would like it there to be none.

So far, Hacktivismo's greatest contribution to freedom of expression has
been the release of Camera/Shy, an application that uses Web pages to
conceal secret messages and can foster communication environments that are
digitally oppressed. Naturally, Hacktivismo intended Camera/Shy to be used
by people in censoring countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, Laos and the
United Arab Emirates. So it was disappointing, when, shortly after the
application's release last summer, several stories appeared in the media
likening the application to the software used by Bin Laden type

"It was quite an annoying situation," Ruffin says today. "Like any
developer of new technology, once it goes out to the public we have no
control over it."

No one does, of course, but that practical fact is not sto pping Congress
from consideration of bill to create the Office of Global Internet
Freedom, a new government agency that would, among other things, help
deploy anti-censorship software in countries where the Internet is
censored. The bill, written by Representative Christopher Cox, a
California Republican who is chairman of the House Policy Committee, would
create an agency that would function like a technological version of the
Voice of America, and would be funded with $50 million. Some of that money
would go to technology companies, and some, ostensibly, would go to
guerilla groups like Hacktivismo—if, of course, those groups would take
it. Taking the money is something that Oxblood Ruffin would have to think

"I like the idea of the government getting involved," says Ruffin. "And I
would certainly like to have a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year
to hire programmers, but it would have to come with certain conditions,
and I worry that the government doesn't really have the competence to
manage this kind of work."

Ruffin admits that he is a bit perplexed by the irony he finds in a
situation that has the U.S. government fighting censorship in distant
lands by paying programmers at home to develop software to counter the
effects of software developed by U.S. companies. "It's sort of the West
fighting the West to get the East," he says. "All of the companies
supplying the censoring software come from the West. You could almost cut
the irony with a guillotine."

If such skepticism afflicts a potential beneficiary of the legislation,
perhaps Congress should think carefully about this one. Granted, $50
million is not a lot of money for the government to spend on irony, but
one has to ask, wouldn't it be cheaper simply to ban the export of
Internet blocking technologies? What do you think? Should the government
fund a guerrilla war to set all information free? Should the guerrillas
take the money?

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