Sat, Aug 15, 2009 - Page 1 News List

US tests system to break down foreign Web censorship

TAKING AIM The e-mail system aims to create a means for information to pass the filters of countries such as Iran and China that censor Internet content

REUTERS AND AFP , BOSTON AND BEIJING

The US government is covertly testing technology in China and Iran that lets residents break through screens set up by their governments to limit access to news on the Internet.

The “feed over e-mail” (FOE) system delivers news, podcasts and data via technology that evades Web-screening protocols of restrictive regimes, said Ken Berman, head of IT at the US government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is testing the system.

The news feeds are sent through e-mail accounts, including those operated by Google Inc, Microsoft Corp’s Hotmail and Yahoo Inc.

“We have people testing it in China and Iran,” said Berman, whose agency runs Voice of America.

He provided few details on the new system, which is in the early stages of testing. He said some secrecy was important to avoid detection by the two governments.

The Internet has become a powerful tool for citizens in countries where governments regularly censor news media, enabling them to learn about and react to major social and political events.

Young Iranians used social networking services Facebook and Twitter as well as mobile phones to coordinate protests and report on demonstrations in the wake of the country’s disputed presidential election in June.

In May, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the Chinese government blocked access to Twitter and Hotmail.

Sho Ho, who helped develop FOE, said in an e-mail that the system could be tweaked easily to work on most types of mobile phone.

The US government also offers a free service that allows overseas users to access virtually any site on the Internet, including those opposing the US.

“We don’t make any political statement about what people visit,” Berman said. “We are trying to impart the value: ‘The more you know, the better.’ People can look for themselves.”

In addition to China and Iran, targets for the FOE technology include Myanmar, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, he said.

Berman, however, said there would be modest filtering of pornography on the system.

“There is a limit to how much [US] taxpayers should have to pay for,” he said.

Meanwhile, a top Beijing official said on Thursday that a controversial Internet filter software was optional for all users after plans to install it on computers sold in China triggered a storm of protest.

“After you install the software, you can use it or you can decide not to use it,” said Li Yizhong (李毅中), minister of industry and information technology.

“When you buy a computer, a floppy disk or CD [with the software] is included, and the right to choose resides with the parent, with society,” he told reporters in Beijing.

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