Technology

Access to blocked sites restored by Reporters Without Borders

Tibet Post Image copyright The Tibet Post
Image caption The Tibet Post, which is blocked in China, is one of the sites due to be restored by Reporters Without Borders

Websites banned in China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and other countries, are being made available to their citizens.

Reporters Without Borders has set up mirrors, or copies, of nine websites that are banned in 11 countries, allowing people there to see them.

They include the Tibet Post, which is blocked in China, and Grani.ru, which is blocked in Russia.

The group said it would maintain the sites for several months as part of Operation Collateral Freedom.

It stated that the intention was to provide citizens with access to independently-reported news and information.

A spokesman for the campaign group explained that it had set up "proxy/mirrors" - essentially replica websites updated in real-time - on Amazon Web Services, a division of the online retailer that sells cloud-based computing services to third parties.

'Political cost'

In addition, mirror copies have also been placed on similar cloud platforms run by Microsoft and Google.

This means the news websites can now be accessed via the tech giants' internet protocol (IP) addresses rather than their own, and the hope is that the authorities will be discouraged from trying to block these new links at their source.

"The countries concerned could block these services but almost certainly will not," explained Reporters Without Borders.

"Blocking Amazon, Microsoft or any major cloud computing service provider would cripple the thousands of tech companies that use them every day.

"The economic and political cost of blocking the mirror sites would therefore be too high."

A spokesman added that because the mirror sites were only accessible via the secure https protocol, the data transmissions would be encrypted.

This, he explained, would prevent the authorities using keyword searches to censor specific content.

Initiative

However, Prof Alan Woodward - a cybersecurity expert at the University of Surrey - was not convinced that the mirror sites would remain effective over the several months that Reporters Without Borders intends to run the initiative.

"It is an interesting principle because it shows people are aware of censorship and want to do something about it," he said.

Image copyright Gooya
Image caption Gooya News - which bills its coverage as "unbiased Iran news" - is one of the selected sources

"How much impact it will have, I wonder?"

The problem, he explained, was that once the authorities had found the mirrored webpages they could simply block the relevant URLs, or web addresses.

"The key will be how often Reporters Without Borders are changing them," said Prof Woodward.

"Switching them rapidly is good, but then how are people going to find them?" he asked.

The professor drew an analogy between the Reporters Without Borders initiative and the news that websites listing proxies for the file-sharing site Pirate Bay had been blocked in the UK.


The unblocked sites in full

  • Grani.ru, blocked in Russia
  • Fergananews.com blocked in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan
  • The Tibet Post, blocked in China
  • Dan Lam Bao, blocked in Vietnam
  • Mingjing News, blocked in China
  • Hablemos Press, blocked in Cuba
  • Gooya News, blocked in Iran
  • Gulf Centre for Human Rights, blocked in United Arab Emirates
  • Bahrain Mirror, blocked in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia

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