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Censorship Government The Almighty Buck

Censorware Vendors Can Stop Mid-East Dealings 126

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the guess-who's-back dept.
Slashdot regular Bennett Haselton is back with a story about Internet censorship in the Middle East. Several blocking software companies claimed that they had no control over how various Middle Eastern governments used their software. Bennett says it's time to put this patently false claim to rest. American censorware companies could easily cut off Middle Eastern governments from using their software, and thus make their existing filtering systems far less effective; they just refuse to do it. Hit the link below to see what he has to say, and make up your own mind.

The Wall Street Journal published an article Monday listing the Western-made Internet censoring programs used by several Middle Eastern governments, in countries that filter what their citizens can access on the Web. Like a similar 2011 report from the OpenNet Initiative, hopefully this listing will shine a spotlight on the problem, and make it easier for human rights groups to call for these companies to stop aiding censorious governments.

However, I wish that the article had quoted someone giving a rebuttal to the several companies which claimed, "Once the customer buys the product, we have no control over it," as stated variously Netsweeper, Blue Coat, and McAfee (which makes Smartfilter). For a product that relies on continuous updates provided by the software company, this claim, of course, is nonsense. Unfortunately, the claim seems to go unchallenged so often, that there's a risk that it will start to affect policy -- people may believe that we can't regulate how American censorware is used by repressive countries, so we shouldn't even try.

Some background: When a customer buys a standard network filtering program like Websense, SmartFilter, or Blue Coat, the product comes with a built-in list of websites to be blocked by the software. (The customer can select or de-select categories of sites to be blocked, like "pornography" or "gambling".) The purchase of the software typically comes with a year or two of free updates to the blocked-site list. The software vendors employs a combination of human reviewers and (more often) automated crawlers to scour the Web looking for new sites that fall into their categories, and add these sites to their database. Customers who are within their subscription period can download periodic updates to this blocked-site list. After a customer's initial free subscription period runs out, they can opt to continue purchasing updates to the database. If they don't, then the product will continue to work, but the blocked-site list will be frozen (except for any new sites that the customer finds on their own and adds manually to their own blocked-site list).

Once the blocked-site list is frozen, the filtering product becomes ineffective against any user making a serious effort to get around it. This is because there are many mailing lists like mine that mail out new proxy sites every week (a proxy site is a site which contains a form that allows the user to access third-party Web sites indirectly, usually to circumvent Internet blocking). And as long as the user can access at least one unblocked proxy site, they can access any other blocked site by going through the proxy. So when a censorious regime stops updating their blocked-site list, the product becomes ineffective almost immediately. (For that, I suppose, the blocking companies should be grateful to us proxy site makers, since we make it necessary for their customers to keep renewing their blocked-site subscriptions year after year.)

So, even if one were to accept the (highly dubious) claim that the software vendors didn't realize what was going on when a foreign government approached them to buy their software, once they realize that their software is being used to violate the rights of the country's people, they can easily stop providing updates to that customer. This can be done by either (a) blocking the IP addresses that the customer uses to download the updates, or (b) blocking any further updates using that customer's license key. (Each installation of a blocking program like Websense comes with a license key unique to that customer, and the program has to submit the license key to the download server in order to download the latest update to the blocked-site list. If the customer's subscription runs out or gets cancelled, no more updates.)

This is roughly the situation that exists in Iran. The Iranian government claims to use McAfee's Smartfilter to filter Internet access for their citizens, despite McAfee's claim that they don't sell to Iran because of the embargo. But the evidence suggests that while Iran may have once acquired Smartfilter along with a copy of their filter list that was current at the time, they're not getting regular updates to the blocked-site list. From corresponding with Iranians and testing the filter through a server located inside Iran, I've found that most of the proxy sites we mail out never get blocked at all in Iran, even as they eventually get blocked in countries like Bahrain and Kuwait that are using Smartfilter with a subscription to the blocked-site database. The proxy sites we mail out that do get blocked in Iran are usually blocked a few days later than they are in Bahrain and Kuwait. This suggests that the Iranian censors are finding and blocking new proxy sites by ad hoc methods, and that they're not as effective at it as American censorware companies. So the Iranian situation proves two points: that Western blocking companies really can prevent a foreign government from using their products (well, duh), and that this restriction actually works, in the sense of making the country's filter less effective.

So when a McAfee spokesman told the WSJ reporters, "You can add additional websites to the block list; obviously what an individual customer would do with a product once they acquire it is beyond our control," that's true only in the most literal sense. Yes, Bahrain can add human rights web pages to their list of sites blocked by Smartfilter, and McAfee can't stop them, but the effectiveness of this block depends on the Bahrani censors using Smartfilter to block new proxy sites as well, which McAfee continues to aid them in doing, as a matter of choice.

Websense, incidentally, announced in 2009 -- in response to an earlier ONI report describing how their software was used to censor Internet access in Yemen -- that they would stop providing censoring software to the Yemeni government. But ONI's current report claims that the Yemeni government continued to use Websense into 2011, and Websense declined to comment. Maybe the Yemeni government was using Websense with a "frozen blocked-site list" -- but the ONI report includes at least one instance where a site that was un-blocked by Websense (the opennet.net domain itself!) became un-blocked in Yemen shortly afterwards. So maybe Websense just lied about canceling the Yemenis' license.

Could some censorious country like Yemen continue using the Websense filter -- with a continuously updated blocked-site list -- even after Websense truly tried to cut them off? Possibly, but it would probably be more trouble than it's worth. Yemen would have to set up a shell company outside of their own borders, with an overseas bank account, in order to purchase the software. Then after Yemen had installed Websense on their servers, they would have to download the updates indirectly by going through an anonymizing proxy set up in some other country as well. And if Websense ever found out which of their customers was a shell company used by the Yemeni government, they could cut off that customer's license, and the Yemeni censors would have to start all over again. It's probably safe to say that most Middle Eastern countries wouldn't find this worth the trouble. (After all, Iran could do everything I've just described, but apparently they haven't; they still seem to be using Smartfilter with an outdated copy of the blocked-site list, and adding new proxy sites to their blacklist manually.)

So far, proposals to ban American censorware companies from selling to foreign governments have not gotten off the ground -- and now with several Middle Eastern countries using or looking at Netsweeper, we'd have to get Canada on board as well. But at the very least, let's start calling out censorware companies on the canard that "We just sell the software and have no way of controlling who uses it." The companies know that foreign governments are using it to censor their own people, and they can cut them off as customers any time they want to; they just don't.

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Censorware Vendors Can Stop Mid-East Dealings

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @12:30PM (#35654348)

    If the American military will agree to stop selling all these oppressive regimes jets, tanks, weapons, and training--all us software developers will agree to stop selling them software.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "If Congress and the President will agree to stop selling all these oppressive regimes jets, tanks, weapons, and training--all us software developers will agree to stop selling them software."

      Fixed.

      Either way, saying I'll stop being bad if you stop first is simply childish shit.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by GooberToo (74388)

        I agree your fix is more accurate.

        Either way, saying I'll stop being bad if you stop first is simply childish shit.

        Not really. And in fact, US weapons sales have saved many a life. One of things people seem to be in a hurry to ignore is that, if the US didn't make those sales, they very likely would be made by our enemies, or at least rivals. Which likely means France, Russia (both of which had military such exports to Iraq - even after the ban and no fly zone), China, North Korea, so on and so on.

        Furthermore, many complex weapon systems can be disabled after the fact. For example, the

        • by Sigma 7 (266129)

          Had it not been for US sales, they would have been in control of fully operational Su27s or Mig29s.

          Which reminds me - is there actual information about "export-grade" weapons used by Russia? Specifically, any weapons or equipment sold to other countries was enough to keep the foreign countries happy, but not powerful enough to be a long-term threat to Russia (e.g. armor-piercing ammo was used with sub-par charging powder, and thus bounces off Main Battle Tanks.)

          • by GooberToo (74388)

            is there actual information about "export-grade" weapons

            I don't know of any reference.

            It is important to keep in mind "export-grade" does not mean inferior. For example, the Apaches which the US has exported to Israel are actually superior to what the US flies in many ways. While they don't get the same software load, different doesn't mean inferior. My understanding is, the "quality" of the export has more to do with who is receiving the goods rather than the mere fact its being exported.

        • There's another side, a bit more onerous than "well, everyone else is doing it, why shouldn't they buy from US??".

          That side is that these are international contracts, that when breached, have lots of implications for other contracts/contractors in that country. Arbitrarily killing someone's important software (to them) is as good as aiding the enemy in their minds. The paradox is that you can't censor this software, and no guidelines or international law covers what to do when something you've sold is abuse

          • An offer from Israel is an offer no company can refuse [doc.gov]. It is illegal to say no. Howdya like that??

            • Egads.

            • Holy shit. That's the most disturbing thing I've read in a long time. What the hell happened to liberty of conscience in this country?
            • by Obfuscant (592200)

              An offer from Israel is an offer no company can refuse. It is illegal to say no. Howdya like that??

              Citation required. I see no part of that law which prohibits a company in the US from saying "no" to any offer of purchase or sale from Israel. The prohibition is that the reason must not be based on a boycott requirement from an outside company.

              Do you have a specific citation within 760 that supports your claim?

              • Oh come now. You should know how they do it [justia.com]

                15 C.F.R. 760.2 Prohibitions
                (a) Refusals to do business
                (3) Refusals to do business which are prohibited by this section include not only specific refusals, but also refusals implied by a course or pattern of conduct. There need not be a specific offer and refusal to constitute a refusal to do business...
                emphasis mine

                Pretty slick, huh?

                You think these people don't have it all covered? When does the charade end?

                • by Obfuscant (592200)

                  Pretty slick, huh?

                  When you leave out the part about refusals being based on a boycott requirement, yes. The section you picked from has context, which you clearly have ignored for some reason.

                  If the law said what you think it does, then nothing would stop an Israeli firm from offering to buy gold bullion from a gold dealer in the US for $1/oz. He can't say no, according to you.

                  Further, according to you, any company that does NO overseas business would be violating this law through a pattern of refusal, but unfortunately,

                  • Don't be absurd. Nothing about says you have give anything away. Anyway, I thought you read the thing. There are other sections* of the statue that I didn't post, that validate even more my original premise. And... it's not just companies. Read the definitions, specifically "person".

                    The 'examples'..."They are illustrative, not comprehensive." nuff said there

                    Regardless of what section 10 says, it just means enforcement will not be equitable and politically motivated. In other words, they can just make shit u

                    • by Obfuscant (592200)

                      Don't be absurd. Nothing about says you have give anything away.

                      Nor does anything say anything about having to do business with an Israeli company. But that hasn't stopped you.

                      By the way, buying something for $1/oz isn't "giving it away", it is a sale just as valid as any other. If this law really says what you pretend, they why isn't all our gold over in Israel already?

                      There are other sections* of the statue that I didn't post, that validate even more my original premise.

                      So cite them. I cannot read your mind as to what you think says what you think it says. If you can cite them, that is.

                      The 'examples'..."They are illustrative, not comprehensive." nuff said there

                      I didn't say they were comprehensive, and you know it. I said none of the exampl

                    • I cited sections 3 and 9...

                      ...It can be one like "vessels used to carry goods must be certified to enter Bahrain docks" (as one example used). Israeli vessels, specifically, don't meet that requirement, so that's an indirect boycott request.

                      It doesn't have to be any of that... As I illustrated previously...

                      Every person that engages in any export business is covered by the law. The state department dictates how you will do business overseas. One of those dictates is that you cannot refuse to do business wit

      • by i (8254)

        "If the American citizens will agree to stop selling all these oppressive regimes jets, tanks, weapons, and training--all us software developers will agree to stop selling them software."

        Fixed again.

    • by Jahava (946858) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @12:44PM (#35654540)

      If the American military will agree to stop selling all these oppressive regimes jets, tanks, weapons, and training--all us software developers will agree to stop selling them software.

      The American military is often ridiculed for their role in strengthening oppressive regimes. These companies, on the other hand, actively deny their role in suppressing the free speech rights of other countries' citizenry. Whether or not they are legally permitted to supply that software is not the point; they should be held publicly accountable for their actions, and rightfully face any resulting backlash.

  • ...being ridiculed for attempting the impossible task of preventing the export of encryption software. How is this different?

    • by sjames (1099)

      Encryption software keeps working just fine when it's not allowed to phone home. In fact, it could be said to be a failure if it DOES phone home. Nobody expects anyone to keep the actual software under control, just direct access to the updates.

    • by Weezul (52464)

      The US government couldn't stop small open source venders from printing the source code to scan and OCR abroad. Yet, they are fairly successful at minimizing the amount and type of direct business American companies do with Cuba, Iran, and North Korea. I'm sure they'd just acquire the filtering software form China anyways, but I'd rather their software didn't say "Made in the USA" myself.

      We face a similar but much bigger moral issues with the more directed tools supplied to these countries. In an ideal w

  • duh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bhcompy (1877290) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @12:41PM (#35654496)
    As long as investors care more about quarterly profits than corporate ethics, this type of shit will never stop
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Exactly. I don't see how companies are going to be motivated to stop selling to these countries, or cut off existing ones.

      They might even be contractually obligated, at which point they can't easily just walk away.

      Personally, I think a company selling such software to an "oppressive regime" shouldn't have done it in the first place, but companies aren't going to start ignoring potential markets for ethical reasons in most cases.

      As you say, it's all about quarterly profits.

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        Exactly. I don't see how companies are going to be motivated to stop selling to these countries, or cut off existing ones.

        How does one prevent someone from using software that they have purchased? Does Apple or Microsoft have that right?

        The summary seems to think that all it takes is to stop sending updates, but then it tells us that ending the updates won't stop the use. The user can MANUALLY enter sites to block. Even though the database can be edited by the user, the summary calls this "frozen". An odd definition of frozen, I'd say.

        Do we not imagine that someone who is applying network blocking software on a country-wide

      • by sjames (1099)

        They would have to be sued in the U.S. I doubt very much that a judge anywhere would touch that with a 10 foot pole.

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          They would have to be sued in the U.S. I doubt very much that a judge anywhere would touch that with a 10 foot pole.

          Unless, they have offices in the country in question like Google used to have in China.

          If they have any presence there, then the local people get hauled before whatever passes for a judicial system, and held responsible for this. Bad form for the parent company to piss off the country, and leave people stranded locally to be the scapegoats.

          If all they've done it simply sold the software, thro

          • by sjames (1099)

            If they actually have a local office in any of the companies in question, they have lost all moral high ground. They did, after all, claim they don't support this use, but can't stop it.

            At that point, their options are to close the local offices in question or just admit they are a tool for oppressors and take their lumps.

            • by gstoddart (321705)

              If they actually have a local office in any of the companies in question, they have lost all moral high ground.

              Oh, I figure by the time you're selling this kind of software to these kinds of governments you've long since decided that the money was far more important than having any form of "moral high-ground".

              I mean, it's not like companies like Siemens etc haven't been more than happy to help Iran with its nuclear program or whatever.

              I've largely given up any expectations that corporations will even care a

              • by sjames (1099)

                Sure, that just leaves them with taking their lumps. They're trying hard to dodge that one.

                • by gstoddart (321705)

                  Sure, that just leaves them with taking their lumps. They're trying hard to dodge that one.

                  What lumps? This is someone else saying these companies could/should stop selling to/updating these countries.

                  At the end of the day, unless countries pass laws saying companies need to be nice global citizens and not do anything which undermines freedom or some other value, nothing will happen.

                  To these companies ... quarterly revenue stays up, shareholder value is maximized, executive bonuses are paid ... and all is

    • Re:duh (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mlts (1038732) * on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @12:50PM (#35654634)

      You just summed up 95% of everything that gets on yro.slashdot.org with that single sentence.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      If these companies were in the business of acting ethically, they wouldn't be in the censorware business at all. Once they start screening their clients for acceptable use of their product, where do they stop? Should censorware companies be restricted from dealing with foreign governments? Or just totalitarian foreign governments? What if the totalitarian government in question is a US ally? What if France or Germany wants a censorship application to block Nazi stuff? Is that so different from Iran

      • by he-sk (103163)

        What if France or Germany wants a censorship application to block Nazi stuff? Is that so different from Iran wanting to block other content for political reasons?

        Speaking for Germany, there is at least one difference: The vast majority of Germans agrees with the policy of censoring some Nazi symbols in a very limited context. Given their history, I assume that the French think similarly. Whether this view makes the policy legitimate is up to you to decide.

        As for censoring Nazi symbols online I believe most Germans would favor a policy similar to child pornography: take it down completely and root out the networks behind it, don't just prevent access to it.

        • Unlike child porn, Nazi symbols are not globally banned. Hosting them in a country where the display of such symbols is allowed would essentially mean that you can't get them to take it down, for the simple reason that German laws don't apply in countries ending in -stan (well, pretty much ANY attempt to get anything taken down in countries ending in -stan is futile, but I ramble).

          And who knows, it might even be that most Iranians think that the Sharia is a good idea and that they want that law, ever though

          • by he-sk (103163)

            The German state can still apply his laws if web sites outside its jurisdiction e.g. engage in mail-order services of propaganda to German citizens. Other than that, Germany realizes the limited global reach of these laws.

      • by Obfuscant (592200)

        The only consistent position is that all censorware is unethical and should not be sold at all.

        I am a private citizen who is open-minded enough to want to share my wireless access point with those who cannot afford it. I do not want to have my bandwidth hogged by people playing videos of whatever, or visiting goatse. I have every right, and every ethical justification, to buy "censorware" to limit what the people I am giving free network connectivity to can use it for. If you don't like my free network access, don't use it.

        I run a company and need to keep my people from wasting my money and their t

    • by Duradin (1261418)

      And make baby Invisible Hand cry by refusing to exploit a market? You're a horrible person.

    • As long as investors care more about quarterly profits than corporate ethics, this type of shit will never stop

      Used to work for a former major US OEM company doing phone support about 12 years ago before the bottom fell out of the IT market. I still have nightmares of shipping parts out to addresses on the State Department's Embargo List. You could've lost your job doing it...but it didn't stop other companies from setting up shell companies in other countries and doing business with companies on the list. If I remember right...GE and many other companies were selling Iran and others on the list anything they wante

  • by metlin (258108) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @12:46PM (#35654558) Journal

    Hasn't this always been the case?

    At the end of the day, the fact remains that if they do not do it, someone else will. Yes, that sounds like a bad and facetious argument, but unfortunately, it is a true one.

    Now, one could argue that there is no need for the bigger companies to do this (e.g. McAfee), but the smaller ones will take whatever they can to survive (an unfortunate reality of capitalism). And if the bigger ones don't, then they could stifle the smaller ones (i.e. we are not doing this, you shouldn't, so where do you draw the line?).

    At the end of the day, it is up to each individual country to determine, and the people to seek such rights from the government. Liberty should be earned -- and unless a civilization is mature enough to realize this, and fight for it, they will be stuck in a rut.

    And unfortunately, once-enlightened societies such as the US are quickly giving up their liberty because newer generations have a fundamental lack of understanding of liberty, and what it takes to keep it.

    • No, that's an invalid argument. Morality does not necessarily get overridden by a desire to make money, it is a choice to allow that to happen. Furthermore, the morality of an action does not in any way hinge upon whether the action will be carried out by someone else in the event of one's refusal. It is either moral or immoral (as the case may be) regardless.
  • "Free as in markets" often has comparatively little to do with "free as in freedom", and most corporations don't even care about "free as in markets"; because that implies low barriers to entry for their competitors...
    • That's exactly right, which is why those of us who like the idea of actual free markets get so annoyed when people erroneously use that term to refer to state-protected corporatism.

  • I live in Tunisia (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nrrqshrr (1879148) on Tuesday March 29, 2011 @12:48PM (#35654600)
    And a couple of days before he left, the old president dropped his censorship all-together, trying to calm things down.
    A couple of weeks after he left, the new gouvernment back then tried to restore the censorship again, just porn sites and the likes of 4chan. They were met with a new angry mob though, and now they dropped it alltogether.
    Point is, I don't think that the people's mob will accept censorship again... For now....
  • Dears, I am one of the guys who have been phoned by Paul (writter of WSJ article), it was like an interrogation which i really didn't like at all. he didn't take my opinion at the end. My friend Mishary Alfaris (his name in the report) told me that Kuwait was having an unfiltered internet and the ISP voluntarily implements filtering to attract customers then it was adopted by the government. the cultures different between US and Middle East, in my country (Saudi Arabia) we want the filtering and to prove th
    • by Hatta (162192)

      Do Saudi's want a filtered internet, or are they just scared to publicly ask for an unfiltered internet?

    • You are making a fundamental mistake in your assumptions about the arguments of liberalism here. It doesn't matter if 99% of people support something, that doesn't trump the rights of the 1%. This stems from the insight that individuals are the entities that possess rights, not groups. This is a fundamental part of enlightenment thinking, and one of the cornerstones of liberal democracies.

      The cultural difference is an argument from group rights, which shouldn't be accepted by any liberal thinker (I will adm

      • This is a fundamental part of enlightenment thinking, and one of the cornerstones of liberal democracies.

        Another fundamental part of enlightened thinking is that there is a balance: if 1% complain their rights are being trampled (and they're right), but in order to ensure their human rights (in whole or in part) we have to trample the rights of the other 99%, then too fucking bad. This argument is often lost in various terms of wealth redistribution, where people are all-for or all-against; both sides are wrong. Yes, poor people inherently have a right to life and comfort, food and shelter, cleanliness, et

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Except for one major problem.

          The US pays the most in the world for health care, and has some of the worst statistical performance. It's nice to wax philosophical on an issue but at some point you need the data to back up your beliefs otherwise you're just Fox News.

        • right to consume healthcare resources =/= right to freedom of speech. One involves a question of scarcity and property rights whereas the other doesn't. Me writing this post does not prevent you from writing another post, but me taking your money for healthcare prevents you from using that money for other purposes. I personally believe in a right to healthcare, but I believe it's on a different level of debate than freedom of speech.

          I think nycto's point was that "cultural differences" should not be held
          • I was particularly attacking the "enlightened thinker" argument because it left a bad taste in my mouth. Base ethics are non-relative because they have to do with a feeling of personal security in society in general; finer details are extremely relative, and in fact the mode of economic and political function that is best for a society will change over time (although leaders will consistently ignore that and do what's best for THEM at the expense of society).

            A lot of people think they're right and everyon

            • Yeah, you need to find a different example, because the healthcare one is political dynamite (in America anyway), and doesn't speak to the issue of basic rights very well in any case.

        • I don't know what gave you idea that I think healthcare is a right. I think it's a good thing to provide to everyone, so I support it politically, but it's not a human right like basic freedoms are.

          To be honest, I'm not sure what you're arguing.

      • the fundmentals that you have is totally different than what is in the middle east. i will give you a simple example known in the middle east which describe the fundementals of freedom there "if we where in ship in middle of the sea and one of the people wants to dig in his room which located at the bottom of the ship should we say he has the freedom to do it or stop him from the sinking the ship" you can build on this fundemental concept for any case. usually each case is reviewed for its effect on other p
        • Yes the fundamentals are different--that's what I'm saying. You can't take away a basic right just because you think it might be better for everyone. To counter your example, it simply isn't a basic right to dig your room in the bottom of a ship. I see no reason why it should be.

          You have to convince me that your fundamentals are better than mine, not just say "this is a cultural difference". I won't accept that, because I see it as immoral to turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses in the Middle East (a

    • by Terrasque (796014)

      But, but, but.... You hate us for our freedom! And will stop at nothing to steal that freedom for yourselves! That's what [silly media person] told me, and he wouldn't lie!

    • by MattJD (1020453)

      While such software in of itself is not evil, and having an opt-in system to allow people to use such software to block out parts of the Internet they either do not want to see or are trying to protect someone else (think of the children!), I personally start having issues when its government mandated and no way to get around in a simple manner.

      If my ISP (if it doesn't already) offered a mechanism to filter the Internet for me with a account specific password to get around it, I would not complain. However

    • The claim that you don't like being interrogated has nothing to do with the fact that you should be interrogated. Ethically challenged people usually think that they are, for some reason, deserving of special treatment and that we should all look the other way. If the people of your country actually want to be kept in the dark then they can hide themselves in the dark. Self important people like you and your friend do not have the right to determine what adults can and cannot view. (and pushing it on the
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      We are quite aware of the cultural difference, women in the west drive cars and in general are not kept as property. If you want clean Internet good for you, but this is about want we want our companies to be allowed to sell not want you want to buy. You could always develop such technology yourself if western companies refused to sell it. When South Africa had racial apartheid many in the west called for business not to sell to them, some here also would like the same position due to your nation's sex apar

    • by s73v3r (963317)

      Couldn't you just, I dunno, not go to those sites? Instead of forcing the entire country to go along with a ban?

  • There are enough free and/or open-source censorware packages out there that banning companies from selling their own solutions isn't going to do very much. At best, it stands to induce the makers of these open-source packages to close up their licenses. Somewhat worse on the scale would be if these countries started writing their own filters. Worst of all would be if they start buying things like Green Dam from countries where suppression of information is not just accepted but outright valued.

    In other word

    • by Compholio (770966)

      In other words, the current situation sucks, but it sucks less than most of the alternatives, and the only truly better alternative -where censorware is banned worldwide for all purposes- is never going to happen. At least transactions which take place in the open are known quantities.

      That's not necessary, all you'd really have to do is ban country-wide censoring. If you passed an international law that essentially said "anyone may offer optional crippled versions of the Internet, but no country may cripp

  • The Censorware vendors shall stop dealings whatsoever.  Censorship is lame.
  • No matter what the social ill, it's always America's fault. Those evil foreigners are never responsible for their own actions. It's always, all about America. Middle east problems would go away if America would just fall in line.

    Let's imagine the opposite situation: what if Websense refused to sell to Arabs? Would this headline be plausible? United Nations Human Rights Council condemns American companies after refusing to sell software on basis of race. Don't believe me? There is always a way...rem

    • Would this headline be plausible? United Nations Human Rights Council condemns American companies after refusing to sell software on basis of race.

      No that's totally insane. If it weren't insane, then why hasn't the same been said about weapons that can't be exported, military surplus, and region-locked goods like video game systems etc?

      Try another ripped-from-the-headlines sample: The U.S. intervention in Libya has nothing to do with meeting humanitarian goals, and everything to do with reasserting Western domination in a region that has long suffered the effects of colonialism and imperialism. [socialistworker.org]

      I don't think it counts as a headline if it only appears on a fringe nutjob site.

    • Ya know, it's like a crook donating to charity. Yes, he's doing something nice for a change, but you still question his motivation. It's just so not like him.

    • You are right. No matter what the US does it ends up getting hammered. This has gone on for so long that people all around the world never take a minute to really look at the situation in question to actually determine the US position with facts. Any country on the on the planet, big or small, has an immediate excuse for their own problems because everyone all ready knows it's always the US who is responsible for their troubles. The good thing about this behavior is that the US population is finally startin
  • Oh, Please...! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RobotRunAmok (595286)

    Somebody's worried about US companies selling censor software to countries to whom we also sell bombs and warplanes. Talk about the Skewed Geek Perspective!

    Free Speech is not a global " human right." If you live in a country where it is respected, be thankful. If you live in a country where it is not, and it is meaningful to you, move.

    Why not stop textile manufacturers from selling cloth to Sharia-governed countries? We all know that they'll just use it to make those evil burqhas...

    • Free speech is a human right. The fact that some people are not allowed to exercise this right is a problem. After all, slavery is practiced in some countries and I doubt even the most morally challenged would claim that that this is not a human right issue.
      • infringes on your free speech? Well you can't have kiddy porn so are people infringing on your rights?

        No? Or is it based on what you consider right and wrong? Can we apply all our ideas of right and wrong on another society? Oh sure I agree there are some things that should not be tolerated that we might get 90% of the world to agree on, however the big problems are

        1) we don't all have the same values
        2) we are asking corporations to do something our own government won't do

        I understand #2, it is far easier

        • by Hatta (162192)

          No, we don't all have the same values. The people who want censorware are attempting to push their values on others. They have no non-hypocritical recourse if the freer among us attempt to push our values on them.

          If you really accept the fact that different people have different values, then you can't support censorship at all as you'd have to choose one value system as privileged.

    • by mpp (18866)

      Bennett Haselton is an expert in this kind of stuff, so he's sharing his expertise. Let the weapons experts share their expertise in that area. Nothing skewed about this.

      Why not help people in other countries who are trying to get free speech? Would you have told those uppity American colonialists "This land is ruled by Great Britain. If you don't like it, move."?

    • by Co0Ps (1539395)
      "If you live in a country where it is not, and it is meaningful to you, move." That is probably the single most ignorant sentence I've read, ever. Since when does people decide in what country they want to live? I understand it's hard for you (probably American) to understand the POV of refugees and civilians being oppressed by a dictators - but can you please fucking try? Also free speech is a human right and that fact is not correlated with the fact that most countries don't respect it. Your argument ma
      • by Co0Ps (1539395)
        EDIT/TYPO: "the right to NOT get punched in the face anymore" ... damn tripple negatives
    • Somebody's worried about US companies selling censor software to countries to whom we also sell bombs and warplanes. Talk about the Skewed Geek Perspective!

      I'm all for applying that label where it makes sense; but this is very similar to those who post "is THIS the best thing our legislators can do with their time?" Legislators -- and the rest of us -- are able to maintain awareness of and yea, even concern for multiple problems at the same time. I would wager a guess that the author of TFA is qualified to speak on this particular topic; whereas he probably is not on the subject of government-supplied weapons. This does not mean that he holds no concern for

    • Free speech is indeed a global human right.

      Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.

      Source: United Nations Declaration of Human Rights [un.org]

    • by klingens (147173)

      All the bombs the US sold to Egypt didn't prevent the democratic uprising helped greatly by free flow of information.
      Remember: the pen (or in this case the pixel) is mightier than the sword.

      As for your "Free speech is not a human right" you are mistaken:
      Article 12.
      No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such inte

    • by Chelloveck (14643)

      I place blame squarely where it belongs -- with 3M. Any regime, oppressive or otherwise, would fall apart within hours if it were denied Post-It notes and Scotch tape. When will 3M learn that by selling to the Middle East they're directly responsible for the violation of basic human rights!

  • Sounds like software just went to war with politics!
  • ...it feels like I've just found out that the police man investigating a burglary at my house is really in the pay of the thief.

    Of course, as a foreigner living in China, I'm all to aware of the reality and hypocrisy of police corruption. It is as rife here in China as corporate corruption is in the US. The key difference is that the Chinese people know their system is corrupt where as the US populace seems blinkered. Not that it makes any difference as both groups, Chinese and US, advocate the continuation

    • People in dictatorships have always been a lot more interested in politics than people in democracies. Usually it changes after a period of dictatorship, it seems to refresh the interest.

      Well, I guess we'll soon see a lot of interest in politics reemerge over here, too, don't worry.

  • I think there is a fundamental problem equating countries to enterprise level clients. While they do share similarities, I don't see any reason why a country such as Iran couldn't develop their own web crawler to add sites to their blocked list. Yes, they currently have the support of US companies, but I'm dubious as to the necessity. Should the companies refuse to provide updates, innovative countries will not hesitate to circumvent that minor difficulty.
  • ... before the Iranian government finds http://www.peacefire.org/circumventor/ [peacefire.org] and starts adding those proxy servers to their blocked sites list?

  • I think I'll start marketing a web content filter called "Paranoia." It won't actually do anything, but by telling your users/citizens that you are, and can monitor everything they do, they would be more worried about it than getting a blocked-site message. It would be like one big TOS that said "Feel free to do whatever you like, as long as that is within the bounds of whatever we feel is appropriate/acceptable. We reserve the right to redefine appropriate and acceptable as appropriate and without addition
  • ...the countries from pirating the censorship software and carrying on with their nefarious deeds?
  • The proposal above will do nothing to stop oppressive governments from taking advantage of blacklists created by western companies. These adversaries can simply request updates from fully-supported jurisdictions and forward them privately to filters running on their gateway routers. The filters are made up of bytes. Bytes can be copied. If adversaries are already pirating the software itself, they can certainly pirate updates to the software.

    Yes, yes, you can try using some kind of traitor tracing [wikimedia.org] techn

    • by Hartree (191324)

      Oh, but implicit in this whole article is the idea that only US software companies make such things, or even can make such things.

      Seems a touch US-centric to me given the large amounts of software developed overseas.

      Even a good bit of ostensibly US software was written in Bangalore, or the like.

      Or has everyone conveniently forgotten the amazingly racially biased flame fests here on slashdot about outsourcing to India? India had a rocket failure and it turned into a bashing of Indians about outsourcing.

      Or ma

  • I'm in the market for web-blocking software. I have X choices and one has recently decided upon complaints from organization B that organization A's block list is inhumane and they prematurely end their support contract with organization A. Guess which one is not going to be the top of my list. Censorship is bad, but if I buy software to support a business decision and I have reason to believe the software vendor will break that specific functionality because I may run afoul of their undocumented rules t
  • Last I checked "the west" is not the only player in the game. The "Great firewall of China" seems to be enough proof of that (scarily enough it's feature list probably puts any other similar piece of software to shame).

    Creating scarcity will only lead to a black market for the stuff.

    I have seen quite a few pieces of web filtering software and most have a user controlled list to compliment the automatic list. The simple reason is that a single list cannot work for everyone, even categories can be too broad.

COBOL is for morons. -- E.W. Dijkstra

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