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Censorship Software Your Rights Online

US-Made Censorware Used To Oppress Burma 199

Posted by kdawson
from the doesn't-work-as-well-as-pulling-the-plug dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that US-made censorware is being used to oppress the people in many countries, including Burma. That in itself may not be surprising, but a more interesting point is that according to lawyers interviewed by the CS Monitor it appears to be legal — in spite of all the economic sanctions against the country, and even though people know it will be used to hush up any mention of things like attacks on peaceful protesters."
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US-Made Censorware Used To Oppress Burma

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  • This is news? (Score:5, Informative)

    by scgops (598104) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @02:32AM (#21096417)
    Seriously, why would this surprise anyone?

    This just in, companies are legally selling the same Internet filtering software used by companies, libraries, etc., to Burma, and the government is using the software for its own purposes.

    Websense, one of the Internet filtering "censorware" companies mentioned in the article, had a partnership in place with Cisco starting over a decade ago to integrate URL filtering into Cisco PIX firewalls. That's how far from new this concept is. Burma could have bought all the parts they need used on eBay.
    • by dr_d_19 (206418)
      That's how far from new this concept is. Burma could have bought all the parts they need used on eBay.

      The problem isn't the fact that this is new technology. The fact is that Websense or anyone else could have denied Burma the purchase. But they won't, because they don't care about anything else but profit. THAT is the problem.

      If I hadn't ratted on Anne Franke, my neighbour would have anyway, right?
      • by mi (197448)

        The problem isn't the fact that this is new technology. The fact is that Websense or anyone else could have denied Burma the purchase. But they won't, because they don't care about anything else but profit. THAT is the problem.

        Khmm, this reminds me of the arguments in the file-sharing debate... When content-owners were going after the makers of the software used primarily to exchange copyrighted media files (against the wishes of the copyright-holders), all of the freedom-loving Slashdotters were defendin

        • by dr_d_19 (206418)
          Now comes a story about a maker of the software, which is used legitimately world-wide, and we are bashing them to smithereens over a (perfectly legal) sale to a rogue customer -- which may still be using it. Says the article: "if a connection found to exist in 2005 still holds."

          Legal doesn't neccessary equal morally sound. Global corporations using child workers in vietnam doesn't neccessarily break the law.

          Censoring software is not killing anybody -- it prevents (or makes difficult) an activity, that did
          • by mi (197448)

            Legal doesn't neccessary equal morally sound.

            Uh-oh, "morally"... Morally the music-trading sites (like Napster) are indefensible too — except on Slashdot, which insists, the individual abusers should be targeted, not napsters themselves.

            Of course not. Neither was ratting on Anne Frank (if I am to continue my analogy). Someone else did the killing.

            Nobody "did the killing". Anne died of malnutrition at the camp. Her father survived, for example. But ratting the family out meant condemning them to gr

            • by rtb61 (674572)
              There is nothing 'morally' wrong with sharing ideas, in fact there is everything 'morally' wrong with attempting to block the sharing of ideas regardless of the media used. Censorship enables the worst abusers of humanity to hide, to stay out of the public light, to avoid prosecution and to continue their evil immoral practices.

              Infringing copyright does not deny anybody anything, all it does is break the artificial government enforced monopoly. You don't want people to use your ideas, then to be blunt, ke

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Translation: you can use photoshop to draw a black rectangle.
  • It's quite OK (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JonathanR (852748) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @02:37AM (#21096443)
    Governments are allowed to censor and suppress their populations. The thing that isn't allowed, is for general populations to have free access to encryption, anonymising and other clandestine enabling technologies that prevent governments from suppressing populations.

    I don't see what the legal or moral issue is here...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Camael (1048726)

      Governments are allowed to censor and suppress their populations.

      I quite disagree. More accurately, in a country that respects the rule of law, the general public may in certain limited circumstances allow their government to censor or suppress certain types of information, for example secrets which impact on national security, or financial information crucial to the nation's economy.

      Perhaps what you meant to say was governments which are not popularly elected and which are not accountable to their citizens can by rule of force censor and suppress their populations w

      • by mh1997 (1065630)
        Whether the GPs post was sarcastic or not, why was this modded offtopic? Perhaps the problem is that Carmael's answer was polite and rational - two traits that many on slashdot lack?
    • Re:It's quite OK (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mrjb (547783) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @06:16AM (#21097413)
      Governments are allowed to censor and suppress their populations. The thing that isn't allowed, is for general populations to have free access to encryption, anonymising and other clandestine enabling technologies that prevent governments from suppressing populations.
      You are being cynical, right? I hope that this is the case and it was recognized by those who modded you +4 insightful. Governments are supposed to rule country for the good of the people. This is where they derive their power from. If a government does not act in behalf of the people it rules, it has no right to be in that position of power, and should be brought down. Oh and by the way, 'for the good of the people' does not mean 'whatever the government decides is for the good of the people'. Let the people think for themselves.
      • by ultranova (717540)

        Oh and by the way, 'for the good of the people' does not mean 'whatever the government decides is for the good of the people'.

        Of course not. It means "what is good for the bottom lines of large corporations."

      • "Oh and by the way, 'for the good of the people' does not mean 'whatever the government decides is for the good of the people'. Let the people think for themselves."

        "The government" is people. There is no such entity that is "the government" - it is just people making decisions about (and often for) other people.
  • Disgraceful (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Camael (1048726) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @02:42AM (#21096475)
    It would be a massive disgrace if this news was true.

    An excerpt from the source article:

    It's hard to know exactly what happened on a technical level, but politically, it seems pretty clear at this point. The monks and other activists began their protests. The military did not crack down right away, I believe because they feared the impact of citizen journalists posting images and videos of brutality to the Web. The military decided that they were going to take more-severe steps, so they cut access to the Internet through the ISPs, particularly in cities like Yangon and Mandalay. They also cut off access to cell service and otherwise.

    This is what's going on in Burma http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/2007/09/28/myanmar-internet-blocked/ [globalvoicesonline.org]

    Internet cafes were closed down. Both MPT ISP and Myanmar Teleport ISP cut down internet access in Yangon and Mandalay since this morning. The Junta try to prevent more videos, photographs and information about their violent crackdown getting out. I got a news from my friends that last night some militray guys searched office computers from Traders and Sakura Tower building. Most of the downtown movement photos were took from office rooms of those high buildings. GSM phone lines and some land lines were also cut out and very diffficult to contact even in local. GSM short message sending service is not working also. Burma is blacked out now!


    How can any company with a shred of ethics or morality excuse the sale of their filtering product?
    • by scgops (598104)
      How can any company with a shred of ethics or morality excuse the sale of their filtering product?

      I'll assume you meant in general, not just the sale to Burma.

      Filtering software continues to sell because companies don't want to risk sexual harassment lawsuits from people who've accidentally seen someone else surfing porn. Or from someone who has seen one jpeg spam too many and decides to try to hit the lawsuit jackpot. If you want to get rid of filtering software, you'll need to get rid of the lawsui
    • by Asic Eng (193332)
      How can any company with a shred of ethics or morality excuse the sale of their filtering product?

      Oh that's easy:

      1 - the market must be free, the business man's only obligation is to grow the wealth of the shareholders. If it's immoral, then society should take care of making it illegal.

      2 - the free market will solve all the world's problems, so we can not legislate anything.

      3 - if the market does demonstratably not solve a problem, well then it's because people didn't sufficiently care about it.

      N

    • How can any company with a shred of ethics or morality excuse the sale of their filtering product?
      Yes, ethical companies would be making cigarettes or providing "security" service in Iraq.
  • by iamacat (583406) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @02:43AM (#21096481)
    US, Russia and France, among other countries, export massive amount of munitions to rather flakey "allies" willing to pay good money. It's a certainly that some american guns made it to burmese military through secondary market. Shouldn't we clear this up first, before going after software that can not be used by people to kill people quite as directly as guns?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aadvancedGIR (959466)
      As a sanction to the Burma junta, french compagnies are frobidden to deal with burman small businesses, but Total has a few large oil drilling contracts there, and some even say that the money from these contracts saved the junta at least once.

      I bet this is a general trend (we all remember the iraki embargo in the 90's that resulted in tens of thousands children death by lack of food and medecine and the continuation of Sadam reign), the public intention of the west is to fight against dictatorships, but th
    • It's a certainly that some american guns made it to burmese military through secondary market.


      Why would they bother? You can get ten soviet guns that are just as good (or arguably better) for the price of one American gun, secondhand or not.

      Hell I just want an M1911, and I've paid less for cars than what some people are asking...
    • by Erris (531066)

      Shouldn't we clear this up first, before going after software that can not be used by people to kill people quite as directly as guns?

      No, the software is more important. You may recall the 1994 Rwandan Genocide [wikipedia.org] where the primary weapon was machetes, an intentionally cruel method of murder. What's being demonstrated in Burma is that a non free network can be used to target and eliminate unarmed dissidents. The guns are secondary.

    • by Asic Eng (193332)
      Shouldn't we clear this up first, before going after software that can not be used by people to kill people quite as directly as guns?

      That's a false dichotomy - there is no reason you can't do both, outlawing the software sales doesn't hinder your efforts to prevent them from getting weapons.

  • I guess the Burmese government hasn't heard of open source software. [freshmeat.net]
    • by LingNoi (1066278)
      Interesting point.

      How would the GPL deal with this? The GPL says you can not limit the use of the software from a specific group. So you wouldn't be able to say "The military can't use this software" because it limits who uses the software... is this an issue for anyone else?
    • by Bert64 (520050)
      They used to use dansguardian a few years ago...
  • Nevermind Burma (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Our own phones are all tapped, and we the "free" people of the US can't do squat. Burmese are "oppressed?" Nevermind them, sort out our house before worrying about internet access of a people on the other end of the globe.
  • So what? Let me guess, we're supposed to get all hauty over this "criminal injustice" of a piece of software being used by an enemy state in a way we wouldn't like. Yet we'll cry "let the information/code/whatever be free" when it comes to encryption software, despite the fact that it is used by criminals, enemy states, and even terrorist groups. Hell, we'll tie ourselves in knots trying to make sure our criminal and military intelligence services can't overcome those encryption tools despite their use b
    • by Tim C (15259) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @04:20AM (#21096905)
      Just to play Devil's Advocate for a moment, there is a moral difference. Encryption software can be used by the bad guys, but it can also be used by the oppressed to get their message out. Content filtering/blocking software can only be used to restrict access to information - there's no way to use it to spread information.

      So, it's perfectly possible to preach that information "wants" to be free* and be for software that can help that in difficult situations, while still being against software that can only be used to restrict information.

      (* Although dropping the advocacy for a moment, I've always hated that phrase)

      At least not unless you're willing to split the moral/ethical hairs for all the "good" software too.

      Again playing Devil's Advocate, we do that already with all sorts of objects and services; why should software be any different?
    • ...of a piece of software being used by an enemy state...


      Are we at war with Myanmar or something? What makes them an "enemy state"?
    • Software that allows me to dictate what happens to my data == Good
      Software that allows you to dictate what happens to your data == Good
      Software that allows me to dictate what happens to your data == Bad
      Software that allows you to dictate what happens to my data == Bad

      See the difference?
  • by Askmum (1038780) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @03:40AM (#21096749)
    How is this different from countries oppressing people using US-made and -funded guns?
    • This is Slashdot, not the NRA.
    • How is this different from countries oppressing people using US-made and -funded guns?

      US guns have also liberated people.

      Or do you blame the Soviets every time someone is killed with an AK?

      If that's the way you think of it I'd say you're likely an American. It's popular in America today to blame the producer of a tool instead of the user who uses it for destruction and corruption.

      Frankly, it's a sickening trend since it diverts attention from the real issue.
  • US made spam blasting software and MS Windows Vista is also used world-wide to oppress people.
  • Censorware tyranny (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dgun (1056422)
    They should release it under the GPL. Then it will be free, as in freedom.
  • so the US should, because otherwise US companies will loose. We have seen this with Iran and their nuclear power program. Because of stupid restrictions Pakistan and Russia now supply the Iranians. No more boundaries for US companies for those only hurt the US economy.
    • so the US should, because otherwise US companies will loose. We have seen this with Iran and their nuclear power program. Because of stupid restrictions Pakistan and Russia now supply the Iranians.
      Yeah, we can only sell it to countries that aren't members of the non-proliferation treaty.
  • OFAC (US Office of Foreign Asset Control) has a guide on the US laws relating to trade with Burma. (link [treas.gov]):

    There is no prohibition on the exportation of goods and services other than financial services to Burma.

    Note: there are restrictions on imports from Burma. Perhaps the law should be changed (to prohibit certain or all exports).
  • by rlp (11898) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @08:36AM (#21098227)
    1) China is one of the largest trading partners with Burma
    2) Burma has lots of oil reserves, China does not.

    Next time you see some proposed UN sanctions against Burma vetoed by China - you'll know why.
    • 1) China is one of the largest trading partners with Burma
      2) Burma has lots of oil reserves, China does not.
      3) China pwns the US economy.

      Next time you see some proposed UN sanctions against Burma vetoed by China - you'll know why.
      And the US government will, at most, cry crocodile tears.
      • If this really is about oil. I think is time we innovate cars that use real alternate fuel. Iraq was bad enough.
    • by freeweed (309734)
      3) China likes having more repressive regimes around that make them look not quite so bad.
  • pointless (Score:3, Insightful)

    by m2943 (1140797) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @09:01AM (#21098473)
    Trying to stop censorship by pointing fingers at the manufacturers of filtering software is pointless. You can put together an Internet censorship platform out of open source components: no sales, no "made in USA". And it would be really bad if you couldn't: an evolving, open Internet requires being able to manipulate traffic at the packet level.

    If the US wants to stop censorship and human rights abuses in Burma, it needs to do it the traditional way: persuasion, politics, trade, and/or military.
  • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Wednesday October 24, 2007 @10:17AM (#21099429) Journal
    If the Civilization games have taught us anything, one thing is that you can still keep trading with hostile governments and frequently at a bigger profit. The other is keep your triremes near the shore.
  • Other newsflashes:

    1) European union using American made operating systems! Stay tuned for more!
    2) Chinese web filters running on US made systems! End the oppression!
    3) North Korean propaganda machines run on US made computers! Film at 11!

    Those Americans sure are some 3v33l d00dz!
  • Seriously, does every possible excuse for bashing the US need to be taken these days? I mean really, not ALL of the worlds problems are directly because of the United States being a big bad meanie. Okay, so the computers used US made software? Great. I bet a lot ran windows too. And the soldiers who enforced this.. I hear that they were wearing Nike-Made socks. And a few were seen drinking Coca-Cola. If there's anyone who is to blame it could be the company for continuing to do buisiness with them,

Too much of everything is just enough. -- Bob Wier

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