Workshop on Free and Open Communications on the Internet (FOCI’12)

Following on from the fantastically interesting FOCI workshop last year, I am co-chairing this year’s FOCI workshop along with Roger Dingledine of the Tor Project. The workshop will again be co-located with USENIX Security, which is being held this year in Bellevue, Washington in August.

Although FOCI revolves around USENIX Security, and therefore by default falls on the more technical side of research, we are actively encouraging submissions from any field with something interesting to say on internet censorship. Social science, political science, law, economics, ethics, psychology — if you have something to say then send us your work!

The call for papers is here: https://www.usenix.org/conference/foci12

I hope to see you there!… Read full post

Freedom of Communication on the Internet Workshop (FOCI): Fine-Grained Censorship Mapping — Information Sources, Legality and Ethics

This year saw the first workshop on Freedom of Communications on the Internet, co-located with USENIX Security in San Francisco. My contribution, co-authored with Ian Brown and Tulio de Souza, focused both on the means for mapping censorship in greater detail as well its legal and ethical implications.

The paper was inspired by the realization that censorship at the national level need not, and clearly often is not, applied equally across a country. The riots in Ürümqi, in Xinjiang, resulted in a blanket internet ban for that region that was not extended to the rest of China. The widely-reported shutdown of Egyptian internet service for several days during the 2011 Egyption revolution was not experienced, at least at first, on the ISP that provided service for important financial services. The ability to filter selectively is clearly, in the view of a censor, very useful.

Even when censorship is intended to apply equally, practical considerations can cause localized discrepancies. In large-scale or complex censorship regimes total centralization may be infeasible, resulting in censorship being delegated to local authorities or organizations. These may, in turn, make different choices in how to implement filtering at the local level, with varying results.

All previous major studies of internet censorship have considered filtering at the national level, without investigating the potential for local variation.… Read full post

Freedom of Communications on the Internet (FOCI) Workshop

I’m on my way back from the Workshop on Free and Open Communication on the Internet (FOCI) that was held in the last few days at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Hosted by Nick Feamster, FOCI brought together a number of computer scientists, activists, lawyers and policy makers to discuss the impact of anti-censorship technologies and to think about future directions from a number of angles.

It’s always interesting to see experts on the same topic from different fields together, and FOCI was no exception. Despite occasional diversions into policy-speak or tech-talk that left half the room baffled, I came away more impressed with how often we had managed to cross that barrier.

The technical side of the crowd seemed to have the benefit of more time to present, and so there were thorough discussions on the nature of filtering mechanisms and their technical capabilities as well as details of anti-censorship technologies, particularly Tor. Roger Dingledine gave some interesting, if slightly statistically questionable, numbers regarding Tor usage in various countries during the recent events in the Middle East.

An estimate from Hal Roberts, based on surveys of activist bloggers, was that 3% of worldwide internet users employed some form of anti-censorship tool, including web-based proxies.… Read full post