ACLU and LGBT Organizations File Lawsuit to Stop School Filtering

The American Civil Liberties Union and several lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations have filed a lawsuit against the Camdenton R-III School District for configuring web filtering software to block hundreds of non-sexual LGBT-supportive websites while permitting access to anti-LGBT websites. For more info, see

Shutdown of Blogging Site Sparks Dispute


A free blogging site,, went dark less than two weeks ago, and its disappearance is stirring controversy about the obligations of Internet services and threats to free speech on the Web.

Visitors to Blogetery, which says it housed 73,000 blogs, now find a page that is blank except for a brief message saying “our server was terminated without any notification or explanation.” It directs browsers to a forum on another site, where a message posted on July 14 by “AffiliatePlex” described the abrupt termination by BurstNet Technologies, a Web hosting company in Scranton, Pa., saying it was done at the request of unnamed “law enforcement officials.”

BurstNet said in a statement on Monday that it had shut down Blogetery after the F.B.I informed it that the site included “a link to terrorist material,” including bomb-making instructions and an Al Qaeda list of Americans targeted for assassination. CNet News reported Monday that the material was connected to a new Al Qaeda recruitment magazine.

AffiliatePlex, the name on the forum posting, is also the name of an Internet marketing company in Toronto. It lists Blogetery as one of its services, along with marketing tools like a “Facebook cloaking script,” which its site describes as a way to sneak prohibited ads past Facebook’s human reviewers.

In an interview on Tuesday, Alexander Yusupov, who said he was the owner and sole employee of AffiliatePlex, said that he returned to Toronto from a weekend camping trip on July 12 and found BurstNet had pulled the plug on Blogetery.

Mr. Yusupov said the hosting company did not show him any law enforcement documentation or tell him where the terrorist material appeared on his site. “They just took it down,” he said.

BurstNet’s chief technology officer, Joe Marr, said in an interview on Tuesday that the Blogetery site had received five previous notifications in the last six months of improper material on its blogs. The previous ones were for links to copyrighted music, movies and software. Standard practice for BurstNet, he said, is to notify a site about illegal content, send a second warning after 24 hours, and disconnect the servers after 48 hours. Nearly all such issues are resolved within 24 hours, he said.

But not for Blogetery, Mr. Marr said. Last April, the blogging site was down for more than four days after it failed to address warnings.

The F.B.I., he said, did not order BurstNet to shut down the site. It did so, Mr. Marr said, because of this incident and Mr. Yusupov’s past troubles. “This isn’t the first time for him,” he said.

Mr. Yusupov said that he had responded to previous warnings from BurstNet “almost always within 24 hours.”

John Morris, general counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said that while he did not know the details of the case, the shutdown does “encapsulate the fragility of free speech on the Internet” and its dependence on the behavior of private companies.

And Kurt Opsahl, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, said the “tragedy is that thousands of blogs will be taken offline for no good reason.”

Mr. Yusupov said he had backed up some of the blogging site’s data, but not all. And he said he was trying to negotiate with BurstNet to get the data so he could restart the blogging site with another hosting service. “This has been a big hassle for me,” he said.

Mr. Marr of BurstNet said the Blogetery server did “not get a lot of use or traffic,” suggesting the number of active users of the free blogging site was probably a tiny fraction of the 73,000 Blogetery claimed.

BurstNet, Mr. Marr said, does not screen the material on the servers it leases to customers, so it was unaware that the shutdown might put some bloggers in the dark. “We extend our sympathies and apologies to them,” he said.

iBooks Naughty Word Filter Doesn’t Let You Say “Sperm”

iBooks naughty word filter doesn’t let you say “sperm”

Rob Beschizza at 1:16 PM April 4, 2010

iBooks Blocks Sperm

Dean spotted that bowdlerization is afoot in the iPad’s bookstore’s selection of classic literature! This includes obvious candidates such as a certain Joseph Conrad classic.

But … sperm?

Silicon Valley Man Infamous to Chinese Censors Comes Forward

Silicon Valley man infamous to Chinese censors comes forward

By Mike Swift
Posted: 03/26/2010 07:31:03 PM PDT
Updated: 03/29/2010 03:43:05 AM PDT

To Chinese Internet censors, he’s infamous. To the rest of the world, he’s unknown.

As he clicked through the Web in a Silicon Valley coffee shop Thursday, you’d never guess that a half-million people in China, Iran and other countries depend on his software to evade Internet blocking and government surveillance, that an estimated 50,000 government software engineers in China are trying to stop him and others; and that a congressional panel debated not only how to help mighty Google in its confrontation with Chinese censorship this week, but also the work of this software engineer.

He’s testified before a congressional panel — anonymously — and when he was interviewed on national television, he was shot from behind and his voice disguised. For fear of the Chinese government, the soft-spoken Silicon Valley software consultant has kept his identity concealed. Until now.

“I realized that if you’re scared,” Alan Huang told the Mercury News in an exclusive interview, “the government can take advantage of that.”

Huang’s local company, UltraReach Internet, is among a group of companies that make up the Global Internet Freedom Consortium. Through the consortium’s simple software, often downloaded through an e-mail, a person can step outside whatever blocking or surveillance their country imposes and freely access anyplace on the Web.

A follower of the government-banned spiritual group Falun Gong, Huang helped develop the technology in 2002 to help members of that movement communicate. But he soon realized that access to unfiltered information, free of government surveillance, was a fundamental need, not tied to any single group or country. Huang was active in the democracy movement in China in 1989 before moving to the Bay Area in 1992.

While the largest share of the consortium’s traffic still comes from China, the service is seeing a surge from Iran — where the government cracked down last year on democracy activists using YouTube, Facebook and other social networking tools to communicate — and from Vietnam. The consortium also gets many users from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries — including the United States.

“If you don’t have privacy and security, you don’t have freedom,” Huang said.

Huang is cheering Google’s step this week of directing its Chinese search traffic to an unfiltered search service based in Hong Kong. He had, however, already decided that he no longer wanted to remain anonymous when a reporter tracked him down this week, saying the consortium’s circumvention software represents “the right side of technology, the right side of history.”

The consortium is one of many services that have become increasingly important tools for people within China to circumvent the “Great Firewall” over the past five years, said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the UC Berkeley and founder of the China Digital Times. He says the demand will only become greater.

“We haven’t even seen the full retaliation from the Chinese government” to Google’s move to stop censoring its Chinese search, Xiao said. “If Google is forced to withdraw from China, it will make this an even bigger market.”

The global attention Google generated when it stopped censoring search in China could also help the consortium make its services available to more people in all 180 countries it serves. On Wednesday, at a hearing in Washington before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China about Google, a debate over additional federal resources for the consortium and others offering circumvention technology became a central issue.

Mark Palmer, a former U.S. ambassador to Hungary and now of Freedom House, a human rights group, blasted the U.S. State Department for not distributing $30 million in already appropriated money to help the consortium buy more computer servers and hire paid staff. In January, a group of senators, led by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking that the money be released.

“It’s clear from talking to my friends, both in the State Department and the White House, that one of the concerns that has led to this (delay) is concern about the Chinese reaction,” Palmer told the group of senators and House members on the commission. The State Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Palmer told the congressional panel that if anti-censorship technology like the consortium’s could open up enough holes in the “Great Firewall” for enough people, the cyber-gymnastics Google did this week by moving its Chinese search to Hong Kong would be unnecessary, and people could go directly to Google’s main search engine. “Google’s in a fight and a martyred defeat will not help the cause,” he said.

The consortium provides free encryption software that also allows Internet users to switch IP addresses multiple times a second on a group of dedicated proxy servers scattered around the world, frustrating government blocking or surveillance in any country.

While it is a powerful technology because it is cheap compared with the expensive surveillance and blocking that the Chinese government does, the consortium is a shoestring operation, Huang says. After his daytime job as a software consultant, he works late into the night many evenings for the consortium, and spends his own money on hardware and services. Staffing is all volunteer. The consortium, which also includes Dynamic Internet Technology in North Carolina, has received government funding through the International Broadcasting Bureau, which funds ventures such as Voice of America.

Huang has become a U.S. citizen. But he says there are still reasons to fear the reach of the Chinese government, even here in the Bay Area, and he asked that where he lives and other personal details be kept private. While he applauded the step Google took this week, Huang said that he could not ignore that the company had agreed to Chinese censorship rules for four years.

“To me, I feel it’s kind of late,” he said, but added that he hoped the U.S. government would be tougher with China and that other companies would follow Google’s lead. “Microsoft should do the same thing; Yahoo should do the same thing; Cisco should do the same thing.”

Contact Mike Swift at 408-271-3648. Follow him at

Google to China: Your Move

Google to China: Your move

Posted by John Murrell on March 23rd, 2010 at 7:11 am

Well played, Google, or in pool table terms, nice leave. From the start, the Google-China stare-down held no hope of compromise (see “Outlook for Google’s China talks: nasty, brutish and short“), so the question became which side would succeed in framing the conflict and its consequences: Google, with its focus on censorship, or China, maintaining that all businesses are obliged to follow local laws.

Monday, by simply redirecting to its unfiltered Hong Kong servers, Google pulled off an elegant combination shot:

* It followed through on its pledge to stop delivering a censored search service to China.

* It made China’s local-laws argument moot by moving the service to a different jurisdiction.

* It left the Chinese government to take direct responsibility for further censorship.

* It provided an avenue to keep its traffic from within China flowing.

* It avoided the perception of having abandoned China by continuing to offer search and by retaining its other business operations in the country.

The people of China still won’t see the same Internet as the rest of us. The searches they run through will display uncensored results, but the Great Firewall will still block users from clicking through to sites the authorities don’t want them to see. But at least it will be clearer to Chinese users what is being kept from them and who is doing the censoring.

As Google co-founder Sergey Brin told the New York Times, however, “The story’s not over yet.” China may yet cut off or otherwise restrict access to the Hong Kong servers or take other steps that would interfere with Google’s businesses. In 2½ months of negotiations, Brin said, the company never could get a straight answer from China as to whether the Hong Kong redirection was an acceptable option. “There was a sense that Hong Kong was the right step,” he said. “There’s a lot of lack of clarity. Our hope is that the newly begun Hong Kong service will continue to be available in mainland China.” And just so the world can see what the Chinese authorities are up to, Google has posted a page with a daily scorecard showing which of its services are open, blocked or partially blocked for mainland users.

Meanwhile, China’s official reaction bounced between anger and efforts to downplay the significance of the dispute. “Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering its searching service and blaming China in insinuation for alleged hacker attacks,” said an official with the State Council Information Office. “This is totally wrong. We’re uncompromisingly opposed to the politicization of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts.” At the Foreign Ministry, spokesman Qin Gang said, “I cannot see an impact on China-US relations unless someone wants to politicize that. I cannot see any impact on China’s international image unless someone wants to make an issue of it. It is not China who has undermined its image, it is Google.”

That may be the party line, but the fact is that Google, with one simple and efficient stroke, has left China in a position where it has no legal argument to hide behind and, if it’s intent on keeping its citizens in the dark, no choice but to appear as the bad guy in front of one and all.