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Corporate-aided government surveillance up, but so are thwarting strategies, say new reports

Governments, with the help of major communications corporations, are stepping up their Internet and phone censorship and surveillance, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). But developing technologies and strategies that circumvent government tactics give reason for hope for freer online media, according to a new report from the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies and Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, Canada.

In a dismaying move, Blackberry-maker Research in Motion (RIM) has agreed to give governments access to encrypted data sent over its smartphones, according to RSF. Recently, secret agreements were signed between RIM in several countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, after threats to suspend service were made. India and Russia are working to intercept BlackBerry emails and crack smart phone passwords, RSF says.

"Pressure on RIM has been growing since it providing information to the British authorities during the rioting in London in August, when claims that rioters were using the BlackBerry messaging service to communicate with each other caused a stir," comments RSF.

On a more optimistic note, however, the University of Toronto report examines major efforts to thwart censorship, including web proxy service implementation by the BBC in China and Iran.

The University of Toronto report offers broadcasters guidelines on how to detect and circumvent Internet blocking. Among its recommendations, the report suggests news broadcasters educate their audiences on how to access their content safely, implement software and traffic monitoring strategies that can detect censoring in real time, and collaborate with other companies and academic stakeholders to deliver news in restricted environments.

Having a clear strategy to reach Internet-controlled audiences is becoming more important than ever, the University of Toronto report notes. It cites data from the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) that over 40 countries currently implement content control over the Internet, up from only a handful in 2003.

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