If you don’t know who Austin Heap is, then you’re going to want to. He recently appeared on the cover of Newsweek Magazine, where his work in bringing uncensored Internet to the people of Iran was featured. Austin believes in fighting censorship in all forms and works tirelessly around the world to foster change in the way governments, leaders and citizens think about the free exchange of information. He is someone to be admired for the things he’s done, but he’s also one of the nicest and most genuine people you will ever meet.
Austin is the Executive Director of the Censorship Research Center, which works to provide anti-censorship education, outreach, and technologies for free to those who need it most. Their first major project was discussed during this presentation. Haystack seeks to provide access to information and communications to the Iranian people following the restrictions imposed by the Iran government.
The work Austin and his team are doing is nothing short of amazing. Watching this video will open your eyes to the strides being made each and every day against censorship… and will show you how far we still have to go.
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Google is a strong advocate to have on your side when it comes to being able to access as much data as possible. They don’t much care for censorship, and have taken yet another stand on the subject. Today they launched a new tool to help people track what information their countries are asking Google to get rid of.
The Government Request Tool will give you information about the requests for user data or content removal Google receives from government agencies around the world. In many cases, these requests may be legitimate. Google complies with requests to hand over information for a criminal case. They immediately remove any type of child pornography that is brought to their attention. However, Google steadfastly refuses to remove content simply because some government doesn’t feel that their citizens should see it.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Written in 1948, the principle applies aptly to today’s Internet — one of the most important means of free expression in the world. Yet government censorship of the web is growing rapidly: from the outright blocking and filtering of sites, to court orders limiting access to information and legislation forcing companies to self-censor content.
This tool will not show you what countries are blocking services or sites from their citizens. That is something that Google is working on creating, though. They firmly believe in an open exchange of information, and are not happy that so many countries are attempting to control what their people are allowed to read and learn. They are banging on the doors of the closed world and changing the way things are “done.”
China has finally broken its silence regarding Google’s threats to leave the country. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu has indirectly responded to the search giant’s warning that they will stop censoring results in China, and may close down its Google.cn site altogether. Google is blaming recent security attacks as the main culprit for their decision.
Speaking in Beijing at a ministry meeting, Jiang claimed China believes in an “Open Internet” and that the country welcomes international Internet enterprises to conduct business in China according to the law.
While not mentioning Google by name, its clear this has been a huge story all over the world. There has been no indication so far as to whether the Chinese government has been in talks with Google as of yet, but the search engine is keen to speak with Beijing’s authorities in coming weeks. The company hopes to look at operating an unfiltered search engine within the law in the country, though no changes to filtering have yet been made.
China does encourage the use of online services in both education and business. However, current law means a national firewall will filter all web content. It remains to be seen if Google alone can change how business is done in China, but if one company is big enough to do it, my money is on them.