As Internet access has spread globally, censorship efforts have grown more sophisticated and aggressive where governments oppose free speech. According to the OpenNet Initiative, "the number of states seeking to control the Internet has risen rapidly in the recent years."
Mustering powerful and at times compelling arguments -- "securing intellectual property rights," "protecting national security," "preserving cultural norms and religious values," and "shielding children from pornography and exploitation" -- extensive filtering and surveillance practices are being proposed and put in place to curb the perceived lawlessness of the medium. Although these practices occur mostly in non-democratic regimes, many democratic countries, led by the US, are also seeking to police the Internet. Some regulation is to be expected as the medium matures. However, filtering and surveillance can seriously erode civil liberties and privacy and stifle global communications.
The Initiative, which originally monitored only a handful of countries where aggressive censorship was the rule, is now monitoring more than 40 countries worldwide.
Now the Citizen Lab's CiviSec Project has developed psiphon, a censorship circumvention solution scheduled for release December 1st. Christopher Mason has written an overview of the project, published in the New York Times, explaining how the program works:
Psiphon is downloaded by a person in an uncensored country, turning that person's computer into an access point. Someone in a restricted-access country can then log into that computer through an encrypted connection and using it as a proxy, gain access to censored sites. The program's designers say there is no evidence on the user's computer of having viewed censored material once they erase their Internet history after each use. The software is part of a broader effort to live up to the initial hopes human rights activists had that the Internet would provide unprecedented freedom of expression for those living in restrictive countries.
Psiphon users will be able to update blogs and post to sites like Wikipedia. An advantage of the program is that it's much easier to use than other anticensorship programs, which according to the article "are too complicated for everyday computer users, leave evidence on the user's computer and lack security in part because they have to be advertised publicly, making it easy for censors to detect and block access to them." Because the software is designed to be circulated and used within trusted circles, censors will have a tough time blocking its use – though this unfortunately also means it will have a limited circulation.