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Censorship and Free Speech03:32, March 12, 2011

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) just released an updated version of its publication The Enemies of the Internet (1.7 Mb PDF) today. The report, released annually, attempts to summarize the current situation and report on practices if censorship, arrests and other means to keep the Internet behind lock and key.

This years report has some interesting changes from previous years. Tunisia and Egypt have been removed from the list of enemies of the Internet following the fall of their governments. These countries nonetheless remain under surveillance, as does Libya. The gains of these revolutions must be consolidated and the new freedoms must be guaranteed.

RSF have also placed three democracies – Australia, South Korea and France – under surveillance because of various measures they have taken that could have negative consequences for online free expression and Internet access.

The introduction of the report is an excellent overview from the last year and should be required reading for anyone with and interest in the field.

(Disclosure: I’m a member of the board of the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders.)

Censorship and Free Speech17:44, January 28, 2011

The Tunisian manipulation of the login forms on some of the world’s biggest sites could be a much needed wakeup call for more a more security aware approach to internet-based communication. The hack, if that’s an appropriate word in this context, potentially allowed the Tunisian government to get access to the private communication of hundreds of thousands of users – in the midst of violent nationwide protests.

One of the worst things that can happen to people protesting against an oppressive regime is to have their adversaries spying on them. Some information is by nature public, such as twitter feeds – and nobody should be surprised that governments are monitoring that information. But, there’s also tons of private correspondence, where the sender might be less careful with keeping their identity hidden. Think email, Facebook messages and closed groups.

The Tunisian case is, as far as I know, the only example we have where we have actual code to analyze. But without doubt, the method has been used before by other entities: whoever has control over a network, can insert malicious scripts as easily as child’s play. If you target the attack to only affect a smaller number of people – or even one specific individual – the chances of getting caught are very, very slim.

Most seem to be agreeing that the government instigated the Tunisian hack. The timing would certainly suggest so. The code however, bears no mark of a bureaucratic pen. Quite the opposite, actually.

The script that was inserted has some interesting traits. For some reason, the developer chose to name the functions using Leetspeak. We can find hAAAQ3d (hacked), wo0dh3ad (woodhead), us3r (user), pa55 (pass), h6h (hash) and inv0k (invoke) in right there in the code.

Leetspeak, the habit of replacing some characters with a digit (or other symbol), is a cliché of the hacker community. One of the first things you do, if you want to be taken seriously in the hacker underground, is to not speak leet. Yet, for some reason, leet pops up in this of all places.

The only reason I find to explain it is if the Tunisian government was trying to conceal its involvement and overcompensated. Big time.

Censorship and Meta23:56, December 7, 2010

Today I was a guest at TV4 Nyhetsmorgon, the morning show of Sweden’s biggest tv-channel. On the agenda were the threats against the Internet, with a backdrop of the Wikileaks events. It even included a live-feed from Bahnhof, an ISP, said to house some of Wikileaks’ servers. (“Just how exiting can it be to look at servers?”, I can hear you ask. Well, take a look above!)

My role was to represent Reporters without borders and by my side was Joakim Jardenberg, an Internet aficionado and a very charismatic person at that. He’s also made a follow-up video (sorry folks, only Swedish) on his blog.

I won’t translate the whole discussion we had for you non-Swedish readers. I will, however, write a few things on the things I didn’t talk about. Time is always short in broadcast, and a few technical hiccups made our time in the limelight even shorter.

I would prefer not to get stuck on debating the pros or cons on Wikileaks and their editorial structures or procedures. At the same time the issue is unavoidable as a starting-point of any discussions around freedom on the Internet today.

On Wikileaks’ position and the general sentiment
The amount of pressure on Wikileaks right now is quite extraordinary, and — without sounding too dramatic — I believe the the world is truly at a pivotal moment: either the governments win and there will be a precedent set that publishing state secrets will get your media outlet shut down — just like in China or Iran. Print or broadcast news will succumb too. Or, we stand firm, shoulder to shoulder, and defend publishing such materials in the spirit of transparency.

Wikileaks is not a source. Wikileaks is a publisher. I simply fail to see the difference between Wikileaks, who published the information they got from a source, and the thousands of media outlets who re-published what they got from Wikileaks. If we allow Wikileaks to be identified as a legitimate target, then I can guarantee that the traditional media will be next. All in the name of national security.

On Wikileaks as an organization
As to the lack of transparency within Wikileaks, even though it might be a valid concern from a certain point-of-view, is not something we ask from other media outlets. We don’t advocate the free speech of, say, an Iranian newspaper only if they provide us with detailed financial information. We also don’t grant our support on the basis of whether or not the CEO has good management skills. Neither should this be the terms we impose on Wikileaks.

On the “theater of war”
It’s clear that publishing will change after Wikileaks. The emergence of the Internet over the last decade seems to have come to a crescendo. Journalism is evolving into a new paradigm. In the end, this is not only about Wikileaks. It’s about the future of publishing in a landscape where people have unprecedented access to technology. Where actors are small and mobile. And, where tech-savvy people will enjoy a higher degree of freedom than their neighbors — unless something is done.

We’re used to fighting for freedom of speech in other parts of the world than our own. Suddenly it’s on our turf: and the attacks on the Internet infrastructure are quite mind-boggling. The massive DDoS attacks on both servers and infrastructure are most likely done, at least in part, by a state actor. If that is not a direct attack on free speech, I don’t know what is?

The government’s are not shooting at journalists with bullets this time; but they are firing with other weapons. And these new guns might be just as deadly, and they’re aimed at the world-we-once-knew.

PS. As yet another bonus for you who understand Swedish, there’s a clip below where I speak about these things on the radio last Sunday. I know, this whole post is a shameless self-plug, but please bear with me.

Audio MP3


Censorship00:13, October 5, 2010

Twenty years ago, this week, East and West Germany was reunited. The Berlin wall had crumbled – and with it fell of one the most oppressive regimes that had ever existed in Europe. Today we look at Iran and Cuba to illustrate censorship, oppression and breeches of human rights, but we shouldn’t forget that evil could just as well happen closer to our own doorstep. And if it does, we won’t necessarily recognize it. Not until it’s too late.

The Deutsche Demokratische Republik was a notoriously paranoid state. Using technology, that at that time was cutting-edge, it spied profusely on its citizens. The fear of subversive elements made Stasi, the secret police, powerful and all knowing. There was no way of knowing if your neighbor was just an elderly lady or an informer for the state. Naturally, this lead to strategies of immense self-censorship that was, in a sense, even worse than the open oppression.

One should tread carefully into the domains of historical parallels. Often, comparing a society with another gets overly simplistic. However, at the same time, there are things we can learn from history as it tells us something about structure and human responses to issues at hand.

There’s a proverb that says that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I feel that there’s a lot too that.

The development in the western world today is very quickly going a direction of more and more surveillance, often with the quite rational argument to fight terrorism and/or child pornography. Suddenly we have filtering systems put in place. We have internet wiretapping listening to each bit we send through the pipes. We have data retention laws that make mobile operators save information about the conversations we’ve had. Let’s face it, mandatory DNA sampling is just around the corner.

And for what?

People will adapt; they will change their behavior and censor themselves. Suddenly, the mind is not as free anymore. In fact, this has already happened.

I would like us to, while marking the German anniversary, also be introspective and rethink our position on our own situation. We are not DDR – we will never be the DDR. That’s not the issue. But we risk becoming something else. Something we didn’t intend. Something just as bad.

Censorship14:02, December 4, 2006

In this short essay I summarize a not-so-positive view on ICT diffusion and the impact it might have on developing countries in non-western contexts. I also, briefly, discuss the situation in the Middle East.

The American president Ronald Reagan was, in the years following his presidency, convinced that the spread of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) were going to help bring down the Soviet Union, and prophesied “the Goliath of the totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip” (Kalathil and Boas 2003). Optimists take for granted that the introduction of communication technology leads to increased exchange of ideas and that mediation itself is constructive (Bohman 2004:47).

While the information revolution rapidly unfolds, governments around the world are affected by the profound changes that come with it. The advancement of technologies in general and of ICTs in particular, has been discussed in political circles for decades as a means to change the outset for political evolution. Often, a very optimistic view is heard from world-leaders and journalists, who believe that the internet will lead to salvation for the democracy-starved third world. Others mean that this view is simplistic, too positive and that there is no empirical evidence to support the claims.


Censorship and Iran03:26, October 24, 2006

Reports have been coming, in the recent days, that the Iranian regime has capped all privately owned Internet connections to the ridiculously slow 128 kbps. Most of the reports – at least the ones that I have read – focus entirely on the fact that it’s a virtual ban of broadband content such as videos from YouTube and music downloads. I agree that this is a problem, but I would also like to add another structural problem that I feel is potentially worse than missing out on the latest viral advertisements – however funny they may be. I do not believe the only reason for this ban is to stop the influx of western culture. I think it is also (another) way of shortening the leash for freedom of speech inside Iran.

The Internet is a wonderful medium, and one I personally believe is excellent for the promotion of democracy, simply because it is inherently symmetrical. What I mean by that is that those who can receive can also transmit. This argument is well known though the debate of Net Neutrality in the United States (not so much in Europe). Anyone can set up a server and make just about anything available to a global audience. The Iranian imposed limit, however, effectively removes the opportunity to do so. You cannot run much of a web server on 128 kbps ADSL. Not if your intention is to get read. Also, you can’t set up TOR-nodes to hide behind with only that amount of bandwidth to spend.

The regime probably knows that this ban force people to use one of its authorized servers if they want to publish a blog or a forum. And these servers are so much easier to control.

My point is that democracy builds on participation. If you can’t, for example, organize a strike or discuss political issues with your extended network, there will be no democracy. Regardless whether or not you can download the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in less than a minute. And I think it is imperative that the decentralized structure of the Internet is allowed to shape the future too. Even in Iran.

Censorship02:50, October 12, 2006

One thing that I was asked about in Iran a few times was how to blog anonymously. And about better ways to get around the filter. I tried my best to explain what I knew about the subject, but I think I lost most people pretty quickly. And besides, it can be somewhat complicated and these things are so much easier to understand when they’re written down. Now Ethan Zucherman, of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, has compiled a step-by-step guide to explain the necessary procedures in great detail.

The guide is in only English as of now, and it would be so much more useful if it was available in other languages as well, I think. It would be great to have it in Persian to send to my friends. Is there anyone out there who would be willing to do the world a huge favor and translate it? If the author permits it, that is?

Censorship and Iran14:03, September 12, 2006

I brought some magazines with me when I went back to Sweden from Iran. The thing was that I was very surprised to begin with when I found copies of The Economist in the window of a newsstand near the Tehran University in Enqelab Square.

censored magazine coverSince hotel rooms are boring, I picked up a couple of magazines – they even carried older issues. Went back and started reading. It was not until the second time I saw one of the black slabs of ink that I realized that the magazines were indeed censored! This sparked my interest, and I went back several times in the following days, and basically cleared out the store of foreign magazines. (It turned out that the shop owner had some uncensored issues of fashion magazines under the counter – which he very subtly offered me to purchase – and when I said that I’d rather buy the censored ones his jaw fell to the floor.)

I bought three different magazines, just one of some and many of others: The Economist, National Geographic and Wallpaper. I guess they were chosen primarily since I normally buy them.

Anyway, I posted one of the pictures here a couple of month ago, and I’ve finally found time (ehh, not really, but I did it anyway) to do it right. One thing I can’t do, it to provide you with the originals for comparison, and some things – particularly the cartoons – are hard to say anything about. If you have the uncensored issues of the magazines below, and feel like helping out, take a picture of them (or scan them) and mail them to me and I?ll post them.

Please note that the images can be clicked if you want a higher res image. (To get a copy of the original images: mail me.)

Magazine cover
The Economist, May 13 2006, pp6-7. This is a cartoon of George Bush and some unmentionable person. My guess is Ahmadinejad or Khamenei, since it apparently was so important to cover it up. They used both ink and a white sticker.

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The Economist, Apr 23 2005, pp30-31. Advertisement for Portugal. Apparently featuring a woman in swimwear.

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The Economist, Jul 16 2005, Survey of America pp8-9. This girl shows too much skin, and her shoulders were covered.

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The Economist, May 6 2006, pp62-63. The Economist reports that Indonesia is creating new laws to get tough on pornography. Here, the word Playboy has been censored, as well as the backs of the magazine read by the people in the background.

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The Economist, May 6 2006, Cover. The cover of the magazine that also had the previous picture in it. This cover is not censored, but included here to point out that the entire magazine is full of articles that are extremely critical to the regime. Leaders and op-ed’s that say that the Iranian regime is outright dangerous. Yet, that is not censored. Not one word of it. It’s all there. But the word “Playboy” is a no-go.

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The Economist, Apr 16 2005, pp24-25. “Damn those Portuguese! They should know how to cover themselves up. Let’s do it for them!”

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The Economist, Apr 16 2005, pp78-79. Two censored images in the Books and Arts section. One of Billie Holiday’s shoulders and the other is some kind of drawing. I’m very curious as to what lies beneath here. It must be of considerable danger, considering the dual use of ink and sticker.

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The Economist, Apr 29 2006, pp42-43. Article about the shopping mall Debenhams, illustrated with a scantly clad woman.

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The Economist, Apr 15 2006, Cover. This is an issue focusing on the conflict in Israel. Nothing censored on the cover – I just wanted to frame the coming three spreads.

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The Economist, Apr 15 2006, pp8-9. A cartoon again: probably Ahmadinejad.

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The Economist, Apr 15 2006, pp26-27. Advertisement for LG. The woman is wearing a jogging dress.

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The Economist, Apr 15 2006, pp40-41. Cartoon of Uncle Sam with a sword. My best guess is that his opponent in this picture is Khamenei – probably also equipped with a sword.

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The Economist, Jan 15 2005, pp94-95. Samsung advertisement, with the woman wearing a tank top.

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The Economist, Oct 9 2004, pp88-89. Marilyn Monroe is in the photo behind Richard Avedon. The article is an obituary for the famous portrait photographer.

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The Economist, Apr 22 2006, pp44-45. Advertisement for LG. The woman is wearing a jogging dress running clothes.

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National Geographic, Feb 2006, Cover. This issue of NG is about this phenomenon called love. The cover is a photo of a couple in embrace, not really kissing, but almost. On the uncensored cover, that is.

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National Geographic, Feb 2006, Editor’s section. Under the image, the text says “Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable on the set of The Misfits.” Apparently they were up to no good.

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National Geographic, Feb 2006, pp32-33. The same picture that was on the cover – only slightly larger.

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National Geographic, Feb 2006, pp36-37. Another spread in the feature article about love. The woman – probably wearing a bikini – is censored, but the guys are not.

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National Geographic, Feb 2006, pp108-109. These images are part of a story on life in the Alps, where the NG photographers attend a teen charity fashion show.

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National Geographic, Feb 2006, pp120-121. A girl in Florida wearing too little. Tank top? Bikini?

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National Geographic, Feb 2006, pp122-123. Continuing the love-story, a knee is casually exposed. And swiftly removed.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Louis Vitton advertisement. They redesigned the dress. The black is not supposed to be there.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Dior advertisement.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Tretorn advertisement.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Versace advertisement.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Tod’s advertisement. Mind the knee.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. René Lezard advertisement.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. This one is interesting, because it seems to be a slipup. This bathing suit should have been censored, I would think?

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Technogym advertisement.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Fashion piece. Considering the publication, the woman in the tub, might be naked. Ironically, the setting is the Middle-East, thus the women in chador in the background.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Fashion piece cont’d. Look at the women on the right.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Another fashion piece.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Another fashion piece cont’d.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. This girl had a tank top that was too revealing it seems.

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Wallpaper, Sept 2005. Hospes Hotels advertisement.

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This is part of the wrapping that the magazines came in. Nashravaran Journalistic Institute is the organization (agency?) that handles that censorship. They also stamp all magazines with a stamp upon inspection. It’s mind-boggling to think of the people whose work it is to sit there with a giant felt-tip pen and cover up skin all day long.

* * *

Practices of Iranian Censorship
One of the more interesting things with all this, I think, is how words are left uncensored, but images are not. The only word that was explicitly censored was “Playboy”, in spite of the articles being full of things that must be considered western propaganda.

From a westerner’s point-of-view, the censorship can be described in terms of political and/or sexual. The political censorship is the cartoons of the religious and worldly leaders, and the sexual being primarily the female body and some of its attributes. It’s important, however, to remember that women are not censored to the standard that is expected in the real world: in the Iranian society the hair is supposed to be veiled from a strangers gaze – in these images its left untouched and visible. Thus, it can be argued that there is a degree of tolerance that goes beyond what is normally considered acceptable and that censors target the Iranian equivalent of hard-core pornography.

The Iranian censorship is better than other forms of censorship, in that it’s done in the open. The black ink is there for all to see. No pages that “disappeared”, but the evidence of interference is there. That way, Iranians at least know that they’re missing out and can act accordingly.

Iranian Censorship in Relation to the West
The images of censorship above should be considered both in relation to other repressive regimes, but also on the practices in western newspapers. It’s tempting to just come to the conclusion that they are not free – while “we” are.

I’d like to question this, just for the fun of it. For example, National Geographic often shows dual standards in the way it portrays women from different cultures. While they would never print a full-page picture of a topless 19 year-old Californian girl, they have no problems doing to with a native African woman. This practice has been called colonial and is, in a way, also censorship – although not made with black ink.

My point is not to defend Iranian censorship in any way. But we, as westerners, should also be aware that to some extent all societies censor to defend what they consider being the outer limits of decency. Another example is my own country. Sweden is no different – here politicians are often arguing that measures should be taken to “reduce the sexualization of the public sphere”, meaning that laws should be passed to put clothes on women in advertisements. I ask myself, how is that different?

* * *

On a Brazilian site someone has been so helpful as to find the originals for some of the advertisements and present them side-by-side in a nice flip-book kind of way.

Censorship23:52, August 31, 2006

In an effort to start blogging again, after a summer’s absence while concentrating on completing my thesis, I would like to follow up on my previous post about internet censorship in Sweden.

Bosse Ringholm, deputy prime minister of Sweden, was reported in the media to threaten online gambling sites (link in Swedish – sorry!) with being filtered and banned from the Swedish internet. The background to this debacle is that gambling in Sweden is only legal through the state monopoly Svenska Spel, and that their income have decreased steadily in the last years as gamblers have turned to other companies operating outside the boundaries of Swedish law through placing the servers in another countries. The banks would also be prohibited to process creditcard transactions from such sites.

The rationale for the government?s crackdown on such companies is to take precautions against gambling addicts. (Exactly why it would be less addictive to purchase a raffle ticket from a state-owned company than with a private one remains unclear.) To come to terms with this competition and perceived threat to the Swedish model, the government now draws inspiration from other regimes that are much more efficient in upholding their national laws, despite issues with this new thing called the internet.

So, what where the odds misusing a filtering system once it?s in place? Probably not a bet that even Svenska Spel would gamble on.

Censorship17:23, June 19, 2006

The other day I came across an interactive flash-map, made by OpenNet Initiative (ONI), that show the status and levels of internet-related censorship in the world. One thing that struck me was that my neighboring country of Norway is on the watchlist. It turns out that Norway along with Great Britain operates a filter for child pornography.

A similar filter is in service in Sweden – but Sweden is not listed on the ONI map.

Rikskriminalpolisen (National Criminal Investigation Department) supplies the ISP?s with a list that they are ?recommended? to block. Minister of Justice Thomas Bodstr?m have put pressure on the providers by saying that a law might be passed to force them to filter, if they did not comply voluntarily.

From what I have come to understand the blocks are done on IP-number level, effectively blocking other sites that happen to share physical server with an offending site.

As usual, censorship starts small and then expands as new challenges present themselves and the temptation to ?just push that button? gets impossible to resist. Currently the Swedish government is on a quest to stop human trafficking (and prostitution – since in their eyes, the words are synononymous) and Bodstr?m have said that the list of blocked sites also might include prostitution sites sometime in the future.

Censorship and Iran21:59, May 30, 2006

One thing that surprised me with Iran was that it was not particularly hard to get over foreign magazines. Just visit a specialized newsagent, and the stacks were pretty much the same as anywhere; Times, Newsweek and the ubiquitous The Economist.

censored magazine coverYou have to remember that I brought very little ? if any ? literature with me, in order to travel light, so the first time I saw English-language magazines I bought pretty much everything I could get my hands on. (Hotel rooms are boring at night, you know.) All was fine, until I came back and started reading them.

They were all censored. And not in any subtle way ? but with black felt-tip pens and white stickers! The interesting thing is that an article can be very critical towards Iranian policies in writing, but pictures are apperently much more sensitive. An issue of the The Economist, for example, featured an extremely opinionated leader on Iran?s nuclear policies. It was not touched. The caricature cartoon of Khamenei, however, was a big black hole.

As was all images of women with a little less clothes than prescribed.

This sparked my interest, and the next day I went on a quest to find more magazines. I bought a whole bunch, from newspapers and viewspapers to Wallpaper and National Geographic.

The latter also had the most prominent censorship of them all ? as shown in the image in this post (the untouched cover in the lower right corner).

I will make a more methodical study of the 30-or-so magazines I brought back to Sweden, and return with more scientific results on the censorship.

Censorship04:27, January 24, 2006

In the spirit of defying those who attempt to limit free speech, the radio show On Point broadcasted a special hour-long segment about Internet Censorship and Surveillance last Friday. Featured guests include Ron Deibert of the Open Net Initiative, Tim Wu of Columbia Law School, Julien Pain of Reporters Without Borders and Declan McCullah of CNet.

You can search for whatever you like, but type in “democracy” in China’s blogosphere, or “human rights” or “women” in Iran, and you’re getting nothing. E-mail trails are sending dissidents to jail. Whole realms of thought are being filtered right off the web — and American companies are helping.

The whole show can be found online in RealAudio and Windows Media format. No MP3, it seems, so you can’t listen to it on the subway home, unfortunately.

Censorship and Iran03:38, January 14, 2006

Laura Secor, reporter with The New Yorker, has written a lengthy piece about the situation in Iran. It attempts to explain the current political developments in the country, and should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the recent chicken-race when it comes to Iran’s atom program.

It’s a really nice read, and she interviews both public and not-so-public people, in her – seemingly genuine – quest to explain the apparent quirkiness of another culture. The result is an honest account, if maybe somewhat normative at the egdes. Hossein Derakhshan, aka Hoder – exile Iranian ?berblogger, gives the article his blessing and calls it the deepest and most insightful piece by an American he’s ever read. That I cannot judge, I’ll just have to take his word for it.

The article describes the political and public sphere, and how participation sometimes is frowned upon – to say the least. She quotes: “We have freedom of expression – just not freedom after expression”. Particularly interesting was the section about blogger Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, who was jailed last fall for writing material on his blog that stirred up emotions among the rulers. The story has been told before, from another perspective, but the account is more detailed.

Censorship and Digital Culture16:17, January 13, 2006

Yesterday Wikipedia was not true enough for some. Today, it is too true for others.

Via: Information Policy

Censorship15:22, December 20, 2005

The Swedish Court of Appeals decided today that a satellite dish mounted on the facade of an apartment building is un-lawful, because it can hurt somebody if it fell down on the street below. One of the defendants, Mr Adnan, will be evicted on April 1st, following the courts verdict, together with his own and two other families.

Mr Adnan need the dishes to watch television from their home countries, but apparently the freedom to access information was considered less important than the landlords wish to keep the neighborhood stylishly neat, tidy and consistent. This caused Mr Adnan – a trained architect – to construct a mobile rig so that the dish would not be a permanent mount, but this solution was also deemed to be non satisfactory by the court – although they agree that it is safe.

The verdict will be a mandatory precedent, which in practice means that landlords across Sweden can force their tenants to remove satellite dishes without any chance of appeal.

Besides being extremely discriminating – since ethic Swedes are unlikely to want any other channels than those that are being provided by the terrestrial or cable broadcasts – isn’t the individuals freedom to access information much more important than anything else. I agree that satellite dishes may not be the most beautiful things in their own right, but it is neutralized in any urban environment. And, if safety cannot be guaranteed when tenants mount the dishes themselves, why oblige the landlords to help them?

Hopefully, Mr Adnan can find another apartment soon – and get access to the channels he wants through any other mean.

Google Earth placemark to the apartment buildings in Rinkeby
More on the event from Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish)

Censorship and Free Speech00:58, December 5, 2005

I don’t want to be overly dystrophic, but these are dark days for free speech. Internet filtering is becoming increasingly common in the world, the regimes are getting better at it and the schemes harder to circumvent.

This is where Tor, an EFF supported project, comes in. It is what’s called an onion router that obscures communication by letting the data pass through several nodes in encrypted form. Using the Tor network, a user in, say, China, can access sites without ever getting caught by the government. People can blog and participate in the public sphere without leaving much trace.

Reporters sans fronti?res have a handy chapter in their publication Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents, which explain the end-user benefits and the technical background using simple, pain English.

Not only people living in countries we westerners normally consider repressive, can benefit from this technology. Even in countries like my native Sweden, the police are maintaining a list of sites that ISP’s are “recommended” to block (link in Swedish). Today, the blocks are used only to fight child pornography – a noble cause indeed – but even the existence of such a system and the power of whatever outbreak of moral panic we might come across in the future is a recipe for disaster. History has numerous examples of when free speech gets threatened by short-term public opinion.

Another threat is the new data retention initiative from the European Union, already ratified in Sweden, also threatens the access to information and the right to free speech by keeping record for several years of all calls made, e-mail’s and internet sites visited.

A solution to all these problems is to hide – and hide well. To help facilitate this I set up a Tor-server today, and donate a chunk of my available bandwidth to those in need.

Censorship15:47, October 13, 2005

The OpenNet Initiative (ONI) just released a report on the Internet filtering regimes in Myanmar (Burma). Not surprisingly, their findings are pretty dismal. The state is one of the most repressive on earth, and even though its filtering system is not as sophisticated as China’s, Burma is getting more tightly controlled by the day.

As usual, a western company is behind the filtering system. This time it’s the American company Fortinet, who in a response to ONI’s allegations, claims to know nothing about selling equipment to Burma.

On the global list, we found nearly 11% of pages tested blocked, with a high level of filtering of e-mail service provider sites (85%). […] On our high impact list of sites with content known to be sensitive to the Burmese state, we found 84% of sites blocked, including nearly all political opposition and pro-democracy pages tested.

Access for citizens who cannot afford expensive dial-up connections, can go to licensed Internet caf?s, where they – after having produced an ID-card – can get online. However, the caf?s are by law required to capture screenshots every five minutes of their clients’ activities, and send to the Myanmar Information Communications Technology Development Corporation (MICTDC),

Censorship and Free Speech03:34, September 15, 2005

Reporters sans frontiéres (RSF), or Reporters Without Borders, have released a publication they call a Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents. No less than 88 pages thick, the report offer an excellent introduction to blogging, personal accounts from people all over the world and a guide to be anonymous on the internet.

It’s most definitely an interesting read, and probably something I would recommend to anyone who wants to know more about grassroot journalism and internet in countries where speech is not quite-so-free.

However, I ask myself whom RSF identify as their proposed readers: while it is indeed an interesting read for me, will it ever get in the hands of those who really need it? If someone were clever enough to outsmart the Great Firewall of China and access the PDF – would you really need the step-by-step guides on setting up a blog? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Even if it’s just about raising awareness in the western world, it’s justified I my book.

Censorship and Free Speech00:11, May 3, 2005

Today, the 3rd of May, Internews celebrates the World Press Freedom Day with a photo essay.

Some truly extraordinary photos – and stories – of people who appreciate even the simplest of media technologies. In the future, when I get upset about something silly, like non-conforming RSS-implementations or whatever, I think I’ll just have a look at these pictures and try to appreciate the freedom and the things I take for granted.

Censorship and Free Speech and Iran23:57, February 22, 2005

Arash Sigarchi, 28, was earlier today sentenced to 14 years of prison, according to The Committee to Protect Bloggers. His crime? Well, apparently he updated a blog with information about more than 20 Internet journalists who had been jailed by the Iranian government.

BBC quotes a spokesperson for Amnesty International commented: “Just as the internet is a tool for freedom, so it is being used as an excuse for repression. […] It is also shocking to realise that in the communications age just expressing support for an internet activist is enough to land people in jail.”

My question: Where does this fit in? Propaganda?

Censorship and Free Speech18:09, November 5, 2004

OpenNet Initiative provide a great starting point for anyone who’s interested in the legal implications for Internet filtering.

[…] While filtering regimes have a tremendous effect on issues such as civil liberties, international jurisdictional matters, and Internet governance, there are few established mechanisms for review and reform of Internet censorship. The paper highlights the importance of transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness in order to maintain a reliable, efficient, and global medium for communication. (PDF)

Censorship22:39, November 1, 2004

Sometimes only the threat of legal action can cause site owners and/or ISP’s to remove material from the web without much thought. The result is, according to a Dutch study, that a site can basically be “hacked” and brought to its knees with one simple email. The public sphere is in danger – again.

Article by the Free Expression Policy Project

Reasearch Paper from Dutch Multatuli Project (PDF)

Censorship22:38, October 31, 2004

I’m sure everybody’s heard about the seizure of Indymedia server equipment my now, and EFF offer a superb collection of material relating to the case. It seem to me that the law-makers still have a long way to go before an internet site is regarded with the same respect as a real-world newspaper would be, in the eyes of the law.

“Silencing Indymedia with a secret order is no different than censoring any other news website, whether it’s USA Today or your local paper,” said Kevin Bankston, EFF attorney and Equal Justice Works/Bruce J. Ennis Fellow. “If the government is allowed to ignore the Constitution in this case, then every news publisher should be wondering, ‘Will I be silenced next?'”

Censorship22:32, October 29, 2004

In a lecture hosted by JMK/Stockholm University, Gideon Meir the Deputy Director of Public Relations at the Israeli Department for Foreign Affairs, tried to provide the listeners with an another version of recent events in Israel. But, the view was a one-handed one, and instead of adding nuance to the conflict, a yet more contrasted picture emerged.

It’s not often that one sees bodyguards in Sweden. Not if you’re a student, mostly diving your time between seminars, secluded libraries and busy pubs with cheap beer. Hey, we’re all friends, right? Wednesday morning was another story: men dressed in black scrutinized me as I entered my oh-so-familiar lecture hall. At the podium was Gideon Meir, and on the first row Israel’s ambassador to Sweden, Eviatar Manor, and a few aids. All dressed in powersuites. All looking very out of place among the students and professors present.

The title of the seminar was The Media as a Third Party to the Conflict, and the moderator from JMK introduced the speaker. Mr. Meir started the lecture by explaining that what we were about to hear was a 40-minutes version of a 1 1/2 hour lecture, and fired up PowerPoint. As if to show how pressed for time we were, he skipped a handful of slides.

He started with saying that he thought Sweden was one of the most Palestine-biased countries in the world, when it came to the media. Not without indignation in his voice he added that during his Stockholm visit, it appeared no journalists were even interested in talking to him. He’d only done one interview; for the Swedish public service radio channel SR/P1. This, he thought, was because Swedes have already made up their minds and was not open for the other side.

Mr. Meir admitted that not letting the media into Jenin was indeed a mistake that was not to be repeated, since it was the root of all the “myths and misconceptions” about what actually took place. However, it was in the journalists’ interest to keep out of Jenin, he argued, since it was extremely dangerous to roam around in a war zone. So, it was out of Israeli consideration for the journalists that they were banned. At least, he said, there should have been embedded reporters – something he clearly was positive to since out of experience, he knew that embedding gave more favorable and positive articles. At the same time he admitted that embedded journalists were not good for public discourse and for producing fair news. I was quite interesting, I thought, to hear a senior official admit to this reason for embedding.

The Israeli position on democratic openness is a guarantee for good reporting, Mr. Meir maintained, and said that the practice of censorship is very limited, and applied only to issues of national security etcetera. 99% of Israel is completely transparent for journalists, he said. Why, he asked, do the conflict attract so much interest compared to other wars or international issues? He stressed that Israel is a big country, and that very little is shown from the other, calmer parts of Israel. His PR-department, he say, receive around $8.5 million a year in funding, and such a tight budget does not allow him to focus on such things.

He continued by showing how media portrayed the conflict throughout the world (interestingly enough he skipped most of the Swedish examples one could see when looking at the distributed seminar notes, I wonder why…). From an academic standpoint his methods of picture analysis was hardly great, however in all fairness this could also depend on cultural context; the decoding of signs, signifiers and myths are not an exact science. More disturbingly, I found that few of the (arbitrary) examples he’d included were such that they could not be verified independently and/or systematically. Also his way of presenting “evidence” that Sharon was portrayed like Il Duce by European media for example was less than satisfying – given enough time I bet you I could find a picture of the Dalai Lama looking pissed off, without that really proving a thing per se.

It’s quite obvious from looking at the state of the region, that both sides use the media for its purposes – some with more success than others – but I really had no idea that the versions were so far apart. Personally, I have to say that I’m very much sceptic to a lot of what he said, partly because of the lacking methodology in his research, but also because I obviously do not share the same basic contexts. I can for example, at least on some level, see suicide bombers as victims – murderers yes, criminals yes – but also victims of an increasingly desperate society. This cultural divide between myself and Mr. Meir makes it near impossible for the two of us to agree on issues of cause and consequence.

So, after the quite heated debate, where the occasional professor did a bad job of hiding his contempt against the Israeli policies, I was indeed somewhat disappointed. Sure, it was interesting to hear the official Israeli version of certain events, and I’m sure that some of them are true, but it did not cast any light on the more delicate questions.

I could not help to feel the bodyguards eyeballing me on my way out, and I imagined what information was being fed to them through the not-so-discrete earpiece they were wearing.

Censorship22:19, October 25, 2004

Jon Stewart, host of The Daily show, was invited to CNN’s Crossfire and accepted. Now, Jon had been bashing Crossfire on his show, and must have figured it to be hypocritical to make a good face on live television. The result? Well at first, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson are amused, but minutes later it becomes quite clear that this comedian is not joking around. Serious fun at its best.

Download (35 Mb, WMV-clip)
Watch on iFilm