The internet is an important medium for sharing information, expressing opinion and imparting new ideologies. The speed at which this human knowledge is shared over the internet is not only fascinating but also has a long lasting impact on modern society. As a result, the internet has evolved to be the most powerful weapon against rogue governments and oppressive regimes as witnessed in the Arab Spring which was largely coordinated through the internet.
Consequently, authoritarian regimes threatened by the internet have devised underhand methods to filter content, block content or totally limit the freedom to access the internet freely. Surprising, even democratic states have found ways to manipulate the openness of the internet. In this case, it is difficult to differential genuine advocates of a free web and the real enemies of internet freedom.
What is Internet Freedom?
Internet freedom is the ability to access global internet as an open platform from anywhere in the world, coupled with the freedom to express oneself on the web without undue interference or censorship. On paper, internet freedom exempts one from unprecedented spying and encroachment of personal space, but in practice internet freedom doesn’t not exist thanks to surveillance programs and censorship tactics employed by enemies of internet freedom.
According to statistics from the US department of State, promoting web freedom is a top priority foreign policy of the US government. In collaboration with others, US have undertaken initiatives to promote a free web and worldwide deployment of Broadband through the World Telecommunication forum. US is also an active member of the Freedom Online Coalition– a conglomerate of governments advocating for a free web. Additionally, US funds web freedom initiations to the tune on $100 million through the State Department and US-AID.
Question is, who is the real Enemy of Internet Freedom?
Ironically, US advocates for internet freedom by day and might be real enemy of the internet by night, taking into consideration the actions of their intelligence community. In a report dubbed Enemies of the Internet 2014, reporters without borders identifies government agencies as the real enemies of Internet freedom rather than the entire governments. In this case, the top three enemies of internet freedom are Center for Development of Telematics in India, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the United Kingdom, and the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States. Other include Russia’s FSB, Sudan’s National Intelligence and Ethiopia’s Information Network Security Agency.
These actual opponents of internet freedom have gone to unimaginable levels to mount surveillance programs, and encroach on web privacy in the guise of National security. For instance, NSA and GHCQ show unprecedented levels of cooperation in eavesdropping on internet communication and censoring the Internet. In joint operations, these two adversaries of internet freedom have introduced security holes in networking software, and employed sophisticated programs such as NSA’s Quantum Insert and GCHQ’s Tempora to hack into private computer network – the curtail web privacy.
Leaked document by Edward Snowden to the Washington post unearthed a clandestine PRISM surveillance program used by NSA to wiretap all databases located in US soil. Furthermore, PRISM is used by enemies of internet freedom to wiretap on high capacity fiber optic cables that connect America to the worldwide grid. A similar surveillance project AUROROGOLD was used by NSA to wiretap foreign cellular network and emails of top CEOs in the world.
In yet another expose by the Intercept, NSA in cohort with the British Intelligence Agency developed a surveillance technology that infected millions of computers worldwide with malware implants. These internet freedom internal opponents used malware, distributed through email attachments and spoofed Facebook page, to collect private information of internet users. In one instance, the British Intelligence agency (GCHQ) employed a spoofed LinkedIn page to implant a malware in the computer network of a Belgian telecommunication company.
Private sectors as enemies of Internet Freedom
The success of internet censorship and massive surveillance programs deployed by internet freedom predators largely depend on help from private companies through surveillance dealership. Private companies are the major supplies of surveillance and censorship tools besides colluding with government agencies to create and exploit security holes in security products. For instance NSA contracted with Vupen, a French company in the business of identifying and exploiting security flaws.
Further collaboration can be seen in cases where private companies have willfully worked with government agencies to create back door access to their databases. In extreme cases, governments have manipulated communication and electronic laws to compel the private sector to bulge into their demand for customers’ private data. For an example (among many others), in 2014 Verizon Wireless was under intense criticism for spying on internet users and allegedly working with NSA while Microsoft is entangled in an endless court battle with US authorities for its reluctance to hand over their subscriber’s private emails to US prosecutors.
Moving forward, to unsettle VPN users and tighten their grip on internet censorship, China recently upgraded its Electronic Firewall and is currently helping Iran to develop a Halal Internet – a national internet that’s (and going to be) purely under control of the Iranian government. China’s opposition to web freedom has increased over the years, in the guise of technology sovereignty. Recently China blocked access to Gmail, in a bid to reduce Chinese reliance on foreign companies. Worse still China is fast spreading it censorship tentacles in other countries such as North Korea. For instance, the Zambian government has been working with China to deploy surveillance programs in the country.
Draconian Laws as opponents of Internet Freedom
The Future of internet freedom now hangs on the balance as actual enemies of internet freedom continue to enact censorship and other laws on a daily basis. An amendment to Vietnam penal codes now prohibits the use of blogs or social networking sites to share, or disseminate personal information or content of interest on the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In Turkey the national assembly amended surveillance laws in 2014 to compel internet service providers to surrender users’ internet connection data on demand. Such data may include, user’s search logs, IP addresses and emails.
In yet another stab on internet freedom, Russia enacted a law prohibiting foreign companies such as Google and Apple from storing its citizens’ data in oversee databases. This is meant to give Moscow a greater hold on its citizens’ connection data, a move that may have forced Google to shut down its engineering plans in Moscow. Apart from that, other enemies of internet freedom including Syria, Bahrain, Tunisia and Pakistan have reviewed their internet laws to exert more control on online content.
How can I grab Internet Freedom?
Amidst all this censorship and spying, internet freedom may seem like a far-fetched idea, but it is practically possible to curve out a free browsing space for yourself using one on the following methods.
- Using a Virtual Private Network. – is by the far the most secure way to claim your internet freedom in highly censured web. A VPN establishes a secure private tunnel over the internet that allows to surf the web anonymously and keep off eavesdroppers such as NSA. A VPN such as HideMyAss or ExpressVPN scrambles your internet traffic making it useless (as it becomes not identifiable and undetectable) to internet police and cyber criminals alike. Like we had discussed in our previous article on bypassing internet restrictions in Europe, connecting to VPN will help you circumvent web censorship in other countries like China, Iran and Syria.
- Using a non-Censoring DNS server. – DNS servers match domain names to correct IP addresses. However, a censoring DNS blocks access to restricted websites. In this case, all you need to beat the censoring trap is change your DNS server, subscribe to a reliable premium DNS service such Unblock-US or set up your own DNS server using BIND.
- Using non-censoring Proxy servers. – A proxy server acts as an intermediary between your PC and the web, accessing restricted content on your behalf. To those monitoring your internet traffic your device will only be seen accessing the proxy server and not the restricted sites. Unfortunately, internet freedom opponents are able to block proxy servers listening on common ports such 8080. In this case, use a proxy server listening on non-common port such as 8000 and 6588 for Junkbuster and AnalogX respectively. Click here for a list of more proxy servers listening on non-common ports.
- Using The Onion Router (TOR) – Tor is most powerful weapon against enemies of internet freedom. TOR helps bypass internet restriction by bouncing around internet traffic through several TOR servers before getting it to intended recipient. To the censoring authorities, communication are seen to emanate from several Tor nodes rather than your PC. More importantly, communications on the TOR network are highly encrypted to keep off eavesdroppers such as NSA and GCHQ. There already have been some attempts being made to take down the TOR network, but were unsuccessful. To connect to the Tor network, download Tor Browser Bundle from here.
Now that we’ve ended our debate as to who the real enemy of Internet Freedom is, and what are some quick ways to grab it for yourself. So, please add if you’ve anything to add on the topic via comment section below. Also, all of the methods being mentioned above are only good for unblocking Geo-restricted sites, hiding your real identity (IP) online, being anonymous while on web and securing your Internet traffic.
Whereas, it goes without questioning that you need to take care of other important things such as keeping your antivirus and anti-spyware software upto date, taking good care of your passwords and tweaking your browser settings for maximum possible security online so that you could protect yourself from cyber attacks, NSA or any other government’s spying acts and from all other potential dangers lurking online.
Top/Featured Image: By The unnamed / Flickr