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Censorship Science Your Rights Online

Is China's "Great Firewall" a Fraud? 185

An anonymous reader notes an article up on ScienceBlogs that calls into question the efficacy of the touted "Great Firewall of China" — a program by the government of the People's Republic of China to block users from reaching content it finds objectionable. Researchers at UC Davis and the University of New Mexico have performed experiments on the Great Firewall, sending test content to destinations inside China and observing what gets through. They conclude that the Great Firewall is more of a "panopticon" that encourages self-censorship through the perception that users may be being watched, rather than a true firewall.
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Is China's "Great Firewall" a Fraud?

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  • by squidinkcalligraphy ( 558677 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @02:54AM (#20568135)
    Actually a true filter would be way too costly and slow to work on this scale. Rather than blocking the actual connections, when a user tries to connect to a 'banned' website (or banned words/phrases are detected), the firewall sends a reset packet to both sides of the TCP connection, which effectively closes the channel. Unless of course both client and server know to ignore reset packets.
  • I live in China ... (Score:5, Informative)

    by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @03:00AM (#20568169)

    I live in China. I have always been amused reading about the "Great Firewall of China" in the Western media. It really isn't that big of a deal. Very little is blocked, other than porn. Websites advocating Tibetan/Mongolian*/Xinjiang separatism, or Taiwanese independence in Chinese are blocked, but similar sites in English rarely are. The BBC is blocked, not sure why. That is about it.

    Proxy lists are widely available. You can ask for one in almost any Internet cafe. So the Firewall is easy to bypass. 99.9% of people using the proxies are looking at porn.

    The "Great Firewall" is actually fairly popular in China, because it means people can let their kids browse without worrying about them seeing erect penises.

    * Yes, I know that Mongolia is already an independent country. But most Mongolians don't live there. 80% of them live in China.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @03:00AM (#20568171)
    Hi,I have been in China last fall. I was not able to access: wikipedia.*, italian online newspapers, beppegrillo.it blog and some other sites.... but I could use a vpn connection to redirect all ip traffic and verify that these sites were up and running. Even the Great Firewall was up and running. And it works quite well!
  • It's there (Score:2, Informative)

    by Cygnus78 ( 628037 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @03:05AM (#20568209)
    I have been to china several times and I can't recall having seen a case of "content filtering", but then again I have not looked for it. However sites are blocked, last time I could not reach bbc, flickr or wikipedia as a few examples.
  • Re:It's there (Score:3, Informative)

    by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @03:16AM (#20568289)

    last time I could not reach bbc, flickr or wikipedia as a few examples.

    Wikipedia is no longer blocked, but some specific pages (Tibet, Fulan Gong) are. I just tried accessing Flickr, and had no problem. The BBC is still blocked.

  • by wdr1 ( 31310 ) * <wdr1@pob[ ]com ['ox.' in gap]> on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @03:34AM (#20568415) Homepage Journal
    ... I can definitely tell you there is a firewall. Short of using a proxy (thank you ssh -D), no machine can access Wikipedia, Blogger, etc.

  • Re:Not surprising. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Belacgod ( 1103921 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @03:40AM (#20568437)
    Which is interesting, as it was invented by Jeremy Bentham as part of a prison reform scheme. (I may be wrong about him having originated the term, but he did use it as such).
  • by STDK ( 1084535 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @03:49AM (#20568471)
    My experience from having lived here in a year is something like this:

    It is actively censuring the most common adult *cough*Porn*cough* sites, many news sites, a lot of blogs are inaccessible etc. For about 1/5 of the links from /. I get 404 or something similar.

    Sometimes when I get too annoyed about this unreasonable amount of blockage and then cross-check with TOR running I get about 99% functional pages.

    It works in another way as well, the basic communication from China to abroad is VERY slow. Basically downloading anything, that be software, articles playing WOW in EU server and so on is excruciating, if at all possible. Downloading from Chinese sites I can max out my band width.

    Bigger hotels in international cities such as Shanghai and Beijing seems to by-pass the firewall, so for many visitors they will never notice this. On a related note, the big hotels also have permission to show international TV such as CNN, BBC, HBO, where local people can get StarMovie, TCM and the Hallmark.

    If the authorities are actively monitoring what we try to get hold of, I don't know, but the functional effects of 200.000 people actively banning the internet can not be denied.

    For anyone who doubt the existence of the firewall, I suggest trying to live in China.


  • Re:It's there (Score:2, Informative)

    by Cygnus78 ( 628037 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @03:59AM (#20568517)
    Wikipedia is no longer blocked, but some specific pages (Tibet, Fulan Gong) are. I just tried accessing Flickr, and had no problem. The BBC is still blocked.

    Actually it seemed to be different in different places. BBC and Flickr was blocked everywhere I tried but Wikipedia was blocked only at the office but not in my apartment.
  • Re:Not surprising. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Capsaicin ( 412918 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @04:48AM (#20568797)

    I find that "panopticon" is something unfamiliar to many western readers. This concept, however was evident in many places where totalitarian authoritarian states were to be found.

    That's kind of odd really given that the concept was invented and advocated by that great champion of individual liberty Jeremy Bentham, and given that the concept has been influential in western prison design. I guess it just goes to show that not enough people read Foucault ;).

    For those unfamiliar with the concept, the Panopticon [wikipedia.org] was a prison design in which prisoners could at any time be under surveillance, without any way of telling whether they in fact were.

  • I also live in China (Score:4, Informative)

    by RobertinXinyang ( 1001181 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @05:10AM (#20568955)
    A tremendous amount of sites are blocked. Many of them are barely political at all. I can not even get to my own blog. I can post but not view. Of course, there is wikipedia; but then, there is also VOA. It is incredible, the students are tested on a standardized test using material from VOA; however, they can not go to the site. To download the mp3s of the VOA broadcasts there are back door ways of doing it; but, it is just plain stupid. It is part of the TEM4 exam.

    I am not going to bother listing the NON-PORN sites that I can not access. Rest assured that I hit one of these sites almost daily. Most Chinese are not aware of the firewall, this is true, they just think that this is the way the Internet works.
  • Wikipedia? (Score:3, Informative)

    by fliptout ( 9217 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @06:38AM (#20569501) Homepage
    It was not blocked when I was in Shanghai three weeks ago..
    Though Wikipedia was blocked for most of my year in china from August 2005 to August 2006. So annoying...
  • Re:Wikipedia? (Score:2, Informative)

    by jamar0303 ( 896820 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @07:13AM (#20569709)
    Yep- Wikipedia was unblocked earlier. It just got blocked again.
  • by RazzleDazzle ( 442937 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @07:22AM (#20569767) Journal
    They also appear to be blocking protocols other than HTTP. I was troubleshooting SMTP connection problems with a company in China. During the transmission of the body of email from an SMTP server in China to an SMTP server in the US we were getting RSTs, this was completely reproducible. The company in China had a private link to a carrier outside of China and when they routed their outbound SMTP traffic across this link they did not have any problems delivering the mail. Switched back to their regular chinese connection and they were getting RSTs again. We never spent the time trying to narrow it down to specific content within the message body, but that might have been interesting to see what it was as the content seemed to be rather innocuous.
  • by sjb2016 ( 514986 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @08:01AM (#20570045)
    I'm living in China currently, have been since March 2006. I also lived here in early 2001 for 4 months. From my average user standpoint, back then many sites seemed to be blacklisted, the NYTimes, CNN, BBC, and pretty much anything where you might get some real news. Needless to say, I was able to access USA Today. Now, the list is much shorter. Wikipedia can be hit or miss, but has been on for the last 3 or 4 months without interruption. The only thing that I might try to access is anything at news.bbc.co.uk. Oddly enough, I have no problem getting to anything on the BBC that isn't under that domain.

    Long story short, things seem to be more lax now, and it's my understanding that hotels and apartment complexes with high foreigner densities (mine is not one of them, we're the only foreigners in our complex), have even fewer restrictions. Skype is fine (although PSTN connections can suck) and China Telecom blocks any thing like Gizmo Project that use whatever port SIP phone uses (evidently Skype has a VOIP license, but none of the others do, although the government is set to approve more I think). Just my two jiao
  • Re:Not surprising. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardpriceNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @09:20AM (#20570923)
    There are over 30 recognised countries on the North American continent.
  • pan-op-ti-con (Score:4, Informative)

    by mkiwi ( 585287 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2007 @09:30AM (#20571119)
    I had no idea what the heck this was so I looked it up. Here's the definition:

    panopticon (pan opti con)
    noun historical
    a circular prison with cells arranged around a central well, from which prisoners could at all times be observed.
    ORIGIN mid 18th cent.: from pan- [all] + Greek optikon, neuter of optikos 'optic.'

    Hope this helps some one :-)

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