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The Internet Censorship

How Burmese Dissidents Crack Censorship 154

Posted by samzenpus
from the monks-and-the-net dept.
s-orbital writes "According to a BBC News article, "Images of saffron-robed monks leading throngs of people along the streets of Rangoon have been seeping out of a country famed for its totalitarian regime and repressive control of information. The pictures, sometimes grainy and the video footage shaky, are captured at great personal risk on mobile phones — but each represents a powerful statement of political dissent." The article goes on to tell the stories of how Burma's bloggers use proxy servers, free hosting services, and other technologies to overcome Burma's "pervasive" filtering of internet access and news."
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How Burmese Dissidents Crack Censorship

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  • In tomorrow's news (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @07:46PM (#20762119)
    How the Burmese military crack dissidents skulls
  • by gvc (167165) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @07:56PM (#20762191)

    Thanks in part to bloggers, this time the outside world is acutely aware of what is happening on the streets of Rangoon, Mandalay and Pakokku and is hungry for more information.


    Sure, and I'm sure that the Burmese authorities would sooner the word not get out. But the principal role of censorship -- and one for which it is effective notwithstanding a few workarounds -- is to control widespread dissemination of the information within the population.

    Consider China, for example. Sophisticated computer users can find foreign news and commentary. But the masses have successfully been kept in the dark about, say, Tiananmen Square. This ignorance helps shape public opinion and marginalize those few who have access to the information.
  • Who? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thatskinnyguy (1129515) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @07:59PM (#20762217)
    Who really is being subversive in totalitarian regimes? The people or the government? The people are practitioners of freedom whilst the government employed by these people are being dissident. I say put a rifle in the hands of every able-bodied man and woman in Myanmar and see how things change.
  • Misleading title (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SnoopJeDi (859765) <snoopjedi@gm a i l.com> on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @08:01PM (#20762237)
    From TFA:

    The regime stopped focusing on policing its virtual borders after a power struggle which resulted in the ousting of former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt in October 2004, explains Mr Brussels.
    This sounds more like a case of the system breaking down and allowing people to slip through, not really people cracking some sophisticated censorship system.
  • Re:Who? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by farkus888 (1103903) * on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @08:03PM (#20762253)
    a lot more people will get shot.

    I am all for freedom and a well armed public but a sudden change like that might get more people killed than deserve it.
  • Re:Who? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @08:05PM (#20762265)
    I say put a rifle in the hands of every able-bodied man and woman in Myanmar and see how things change.

    See...that's the problem. That would take years, and a lot of individual, personal, risk. This would have had to be done 50 years ago to be effective today.
  • Oddly enough... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @08:10PM (#20762307)
    The Economist [economist.com] and CNN [cnn.com] have crystal clear pictures of the protests and the crackdown. Maybe the Beeb needs to invest in better reporters? Or is this a story on how major outlets are using pictures taken by the public, because they are cheaper and more immediate? In either case, I think the story of the protest and the crackdown are bigger stories than the graininess of the pictures thereof.
  • by WED Fan (911325) <akahigeNO@SPAMtrashmail.net> on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @08:27PM (#20762403) Homepage Journal

    The radical Christian blows up others and buildings.

    The radical Muslim blows himself up with others.

    The radical Budhist sets himself on fire, after he makes sure that no living things are around him to get hurt.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @08:30PM (#20762427)
    "Consider USA, for example. Sophisticated citizens can find real news and commentary. But the masses have successfully been kept in the dark about, say, massive fraud during the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. This ignorance helps shape public opinion and marginalize those few who care enough to pursue information."

    Fixed.
  • by Conspicuous Coward (938979) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @09:08PM (#20762689)
    Go to Sri-Lanka sometime, or any other place with a majority Buddhist population. Some of the chief agitators in the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict are Buddhist monks, and the Buddhist clergy there have the same set of backwards social attitudes as clergy anywhere else. The Dali Lama ran close to a fascist regime in Nepal before the Chinese moved in, and instituted an almost fully fascist one.

    There's this this utterly blue-eyed view of Buddhists around that just doesn't tally with the facts.
    Sure Buddhism preaches non-violence and enlightenment, and that's a good thing, but it's followers are as violent and judgmental as anyone else. Christianity preaches love and forgiveness while practicing violence, repression and judgment. I don't know the details of what Islam preaches but I assume it's the same story.

    I have no problem with personal religion, but I don't have much time for churches of any ilk; giving any person the power to speak for God (or indeed the Buddha) is just foolish.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @09:17PM (#20762733)

    Consider China, for example. Sophisticated computer users can find foreign news and commentary. But the masses have successfully been kept in the dark about, say, Tiananmen Square. This ignorance helps shape public opinion and marginalize those few who have access to the information.
    While your general point is valid I do not believe your specific example is correct. As far as I am aware, the events in Tiananmen Square are common knowledge in China; certainly the Chinese people I've talked to know about it. What censorship has done in this case is prevented any great discussion about it, which helps prevent it from shaping opinions to the degree that it otherwise might. Suppressing knowledge of events is really hard, but suppressing their importance is considerably easier.
  • by WED Fan (911325) <akahigeNO@SPAMtrashmail.net> on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @09:57PM (#20762991) Homepage Journal
    If you look at American politics, once a person enters politics and gets power, they want to stay there. They don't want to lose the power. They fear losing the power. Then they start doing things to stay there. I think she got it right.
  • Re:Who? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DigiShaman (671371) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:49PM (#20763369) Homepage
    It worked for America and establishing independence from the British. However, given what has been going on in the Middle East, our success is an exception rather than the rule.

    The idea sounded great at the time. Why fight the Soviets directly when you can have these civilians do it for you, and re-gain their independence. Besides, fighting the Soviets directly *might* set off a nuclear war between us. The cold war was some scary shit back in the day!

    Giving weapons to these dissidents would be a coin toss. There's no way to know for sure what will/would happen from now. They're rational arguments to be made on both sides (for/against arming civilians). One thing we can (or I hope most of us at least) agree on however, is that the oppression must stop. It would be immoral to turn a blind eye when the world is able to do something about it. Question is, what should we do?
  • by MrSteveSD (801820) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @10:58PM (#20763435)
    In western countries self-censorship by the media is often just as effective as organised censorship by an oppressive regime. George Orwell wrote about this back in the 1940s in an unpublished preface [iprimus.com.au] to Animal Farm. There are plenty of modern analyses of this though including "Manufacturing Consent" by Chomsky and Herman.

    In some ways media self-censorship is worse than state censorship, since with state censorship the populations often know they are being routinely lied to and are not getting all the facts. In countries with a free media like the US or UK, people have the illusion that they are getting all the facts and are more likely to trust what they are told. It's not always total censorship either. Sometimes the media will give a tiny mention to something that deserves an enormous amount of attention. That way they can always say they covered it when challenged. An example of this is COINTELPRO [wikipedia.org]. You're likely to have to look that up, yet if I said Watergate, which is a story which broke around the same time, you are likely to know all about it.

    Language is important too. For example, if these protesters in Burma were to take up arms, they would be correctly described as insurgents, since the definition of insurgency (in all the major dictionaries) is about trying to overthrow your own government. Insurgency is completely the wrong term (again in all the major dictionaries) for armed groups attacking an occupying force, as in Iraq. With Iraq the media desperately tries to avoid using the term Resistance (despite it being the correct term) because it reminds people of the French resistance, who were clearly the good guys. Another example is the term "Private Security Contractor". Under the Geneva conventions there is no such thing as a Private Security Contractor. There are soldiers, civilians and mercenaries. The technically correct term for these "hired soldiers" is mercenaries, yet the media almost unanimously avoids the term. Talking about Private Security Contractors sounds ok, whereas if the media kept talking about mercenaries, people might not accept their deployment so readily.
  • by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Wednesday September 26, 2007 @11:24PM (#20763625)
    The difference is that most Americans are under the illusion that we still have a free press.
  • Re:no idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cassius Corodes (1084513) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @12:20AM (#20764005)
    The UN is not not a coherent entity. So the UN doesn't want anything - its member states do. In this case China is holding up proceedings for tougher action whereas the US is pushing for more action. However given that UN resolutions have no power to bind nations to do its will all that can happen is the issuing of a statement or sanctions (again only if all relevant states actively participate in them). When the UN was set up it was filled with idealistic people and if the UN had real power then something might have become of it - but by now most good people within the UN would have been dissolutioned by their impotence to actually make the world a better place.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 27, 2007 @02:40AM (#20764817)
    I couldnt agree more. Since Buddhism originated in India, there are innumerable factual and anecdotal accounts (not available in English), of Buddhism being evangelized on Hindus by the threat of the sword, by royal fiat. bribery etc. Emperor Ashoka, one of the key royal figures in Buddhist history, was an atavistic, sadistic, maniacal tyrant before embracing Buddhism in a fit of guilt. But right after doing this, he adopted the same martial tactics in evagelizing Buddhism across the Asian continent, turning his own sons and daughters into zealot missionaries, getting his vassal kings to accept Buddhism or else...

    One favorite tactic of Buddhist evangelists was to convert famous but insecure, guilt-ridden cultural creatives like artistes, musicians, courtesan women, theater actors etc, then egg them on to use their powers of public adulation and oratory, to convert sheeple into Buddhism.

    Another was to exploit the fuzzy and thin boundary between the core principles of Buddhism and Hinduism. Buddhists would embrace and extend Hindu iconography, mythology etc, then subvert, corrupt or bastardize them (like re-spin Hindu mythical good guys into bad guys etc), and then present them as original Buddhist tenets to illiterate sheeple.

    Of course the Buddhist philosophy of nihilist inaction simply hasnt stood the test of time. If Buddhism had not been thrown out by the Indian equivalents of Charlemagne, 100% of India would have been Buddhist, and like the rest of Central Asia (which did become antirely Buddhist), been overrun by Islam.

    A lot of early history of Buddhist missionary zeal and violence has been totally whitewashed by royalty as well as the slavishly secular/PC post-indepence governments of India.

    In general, IMHO, any so called "religion" founded or evangelized by a human figurehead is just a cult with a strongman followed by mindless sheeple. Such an outfit can never be a true religion that can guide its believers into true spiritual solace and freedom. As history has borne out countless times, such human-founded cults soon end up being no different than the crassest of banana republic, fascist dictatorships.

    IMHO the only true religions would be those that dont have a single human founder, have no central axiomatic truths except certain basic epistemological principles which are themselves open to questioning and change. True religion would be one that spontaneously originates and takes hold in the collective subconsiousness of a group of autonous human beings, inspired by and mediated by the forces of nature. In this sence, the only true religions are some forms of Hinduism, Shintoism, Native animistic religions, mystical forms of Islam like Sufism, those of Christianity like Gnosticism, and to an extent, Western Science.
  • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @03:00AM (#20764925) Homepage Journal
    ``The difference is that most Americans are under the illusion that we still have a free press.''

    Well, I believe so, too. It's just that the news outlets are run by people who often have their own agendas. It is not hard to imagine that, in a political system where everything is either Republican or Democrat, and the Republican policies tend to coincide with the interests of the wealthy and the corporations, the news outlets the masses get their news from (large corprorations run by wealthy people) would be biased in the Republicans' favor. Just one line of thought.
  • Remember (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @03:09AM (#20764987) Homepage Journal
    ``The article goes on to tell the stories of how Burma's bloggers use proxy servers, free hosting services, and other technologies''

    Remember this next time someone proposes to take this or some other security/anonimity technology (e.g. cryptography) away from you. These are important instruments of freedom!
  • Re:Who? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by plover (150551) * on Thursday September 27, 2007 @03:09AM (#20764989) Homepage Journal
    A couple of points about that. Those 14,030 weapons are among those intentionally delivered to the Iraqi police by the U.S; they do not represent the number of U.S. Army weapons that have gone "missing" or that we would "leave behind" after fighting the war (apart from arming the locals.) 14,030 may sound like a lot of weapons to people like us, (and would be enough to make Nicholas Cage rich), it's probably less than one percent of the weapons the U.S. brought into Iraq for themselves. And while that's enough to arm a fraction of a national police force or a small insurgency, it's not nearly enough to equip a standing army or fight an ongoing large-scale war.

    For contrast, compare that number to how many Reagan was selling to Iran to fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. Just a single figure from page 50 of the "Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran/Contra Affair" by Lee H. Hamilton and Daniel K. Inouye (the count is from Oliver North's personal notebook) shows that on May 8, 1985, North confirmed delivery of 40,000 working M-79 grenade launchers. (Many other weapons were delivered on many other days including notes about 10,000 AK-47 rifles, plus other unspecified quantities of RPG-7 rocket launchers, light machine guns, and SA-7 surface to air missiles; I wasn't able to identify exact numbers directly from that report without the references.)

    I'll say it again: delivering weapons to other countries may be a good short-to-medium term tactic, but in the last 50 years it has proven time and again to be counterproductive to our strategic interests. If we want U.S. weapons delivered and used anywhere else, it should be American soldiers wielding them, keeping them out of the hands of the locals. That way when we want to pick up our ball and go home, all that's left is for the locals to throw rocks and insults at each other. I can live with that.

  • Re:Who? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by heinzkunz (1002570) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @04:41AM (#20765419)
    I say put a rifle in the hands of every able-bodied man and woman in Myanmar and see how things change.

    Your ignorance is staggering. Those people are Buddhist, they won't touch your weapons. I really hope the US stay out of this.
  • by Spasemunki (63473) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @05:09AM (#20765539) Homepage

    The Dali Lama ran close to a fascist regime in Nepal before the Chinese moved in, and instituted an almost fully fascist one.


    Actually, the Dalai Lama was the nominal head of a medieval regime in Tibet. Though regents ruled in his place for most of his life prior to exile.

    Critics are right to point out that Tibet was no land of milk and honey before the Chinese invasion. It also wasn't nearly as brutal and repressive as the Chinese would have you believe- for one thing, there wasn't enough centralization or technology in pre-invasion Tibet to have anything approaching a fascist state. There's also no compelling reason to believe that the "backwards-ness" of Tibet had much at all to do with its religious leadership; it's a resource-poor region (in terms of providing farming subsistence and a food surplus, necessary for a more complex society), land-locked, and communications with potential trade partners are disrupted by the ruggedness of the terrain and climate. For that matter, many more repressive religiously-backed regimes in the West made it out of the middle ages just fine- they just didn't do so at the point of a Chinese bayonet, and at the cost of 15% of their population.

    Buddhism has its warts, as does any world-wide religion. Racist/chauvinists in Sri Lanka, war crime apologists in Japan, crooked monastic landlords in Tibet... What it also has is a strong history of non-violent resistance. The same technique employed by the monks in Burma- refusing to accept alms from government officials- is recorded in Buddhist scriptures that date back to the 3rd century AD. While acts of violence are certainly identifiable within Buddhist history and are sometimes condoned by local Buddhist leaders (there's never been any period of violence given universal sanction by international Buddhist leadership, Buddhism at the supra-national level being an entirely ad-hoc, voluntary arrangement), there is also an undeniable trend in the 20th Century of Buddhists- lay and monastic- acting as leaders in non-violent struggles for independence. Thich Nhat Hanh and Thich Quang Duc in Vietnam, the Dalai Lama and others in the Tibetan movement, the Burmese monks, the early Sri Lankan monks who opposed Western evangelism through writing and debate, the peace and reconciliation marches lead by Maha Goshananda in Cambodia...

    If Buddhism is lately more associated with peace than other religions in the West, there is certainly a certain amount of starry-eyed idealism in that assessment. But, on balance, there's a grain of truth to it as well.
  • Usenet (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SgtChaireBourne (457691) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @05:36AM (#20765651) Homepage

    I suppose this is why the ISPs in the US and Europe have been pressured into shutting off their Usenet access. Of course systems that ship without Usenet are an active part of the problem.

    With all that is happening in the world, I see a greater need for a distributed, decentralized, asynchronous message service, not less. Of course centralized systems like myspace and facebook are the antithesis and a boon to surveilance and restriction, as are DRM'd communication and broadcasting.

    Control the flow of information and you control the population.

  • by Sloppy (14984) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @12:43PM (#20770335) Homepage Journal

    It's not an illusion. America does have a free press. There are a few corner cases where weird laws like DMCA do chill a bit, but there's really no speech about politics that you can't get into or that you'll be punished for. (Ok, here come the replies with counter-examples.. ;-)

    Our biggest problem is just that most of the press just doesn't bother to exercise its freedom, because entertainment is more profitable than news or political discussion. And when some of the press does take advantage of its freedom, most of the people just don't give a shit about the news. (Or they pretend to be outraged, without actually acting on it.)

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