December 19, 2011 | By Jillian York

This Week in Internet Censorship: DRC, Kazakhstan, and pro-SOPA 'research'

Democratic Republic of Congo bans texting

In the not-so-aptly-named Democratic Republic of Congo, SMS was banned by the government last week in an attempt to maintain public order in the wake of contested elections that have left Kinshasa at a standstill. The country joins a growing list of nations, including Syria, Egypt, and Libya, that have cut off communications this year in an attempt to prevent unrest.

Aside from the obvious implications on free speech, DRC's decision to shut off SMS functionality is having a serious impact on the country's deaf population, as BBC News points out.  In a country where Internet penetration hovers at less than one percent, SMS is a vital tool for the hearing impaired; in Kinshasa, community groups that support the deaf population say that text messages are an essential tool for security at a time when going out into the streets can be dangerous.

EFF condemns the DRC's ban on text messaging and urges the government to respect the inalienable rights of all its citizens.

Kazakhstan cuts communications in Zhanaozen

On Saturday, reports emerged that the government of Kazakhstan had shut off communications in the western city of Zhanaozen. The city is the site of an ongoing oil workers' strike that turned violent on Friday after a group of unidentified men destroyed equipment set up for Independence Day celebrations in the town center.

According to Human Rights Watch, the government has cut off access to "at least some mobile, voice, and text services in Zhanaozen" and "access to Twitter.com and other news sites reporting on the unrest had been blocked by the authorities."

EFF joins Human Rights Watch in calling for Kazakhstan to immediately restore access to communications networks.

Pro-SOPA study on DNS filtering cites censorship research

A recent paper written by Daniel Castro of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation and promoted by the MPAA on Capitol Hill argues in favor of DNS filtering to block access to copyright-infringing sites.  In an effort to argue the effectiveness of DNS filtering, Castro cites research from Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society that suggests that "no more than 3 percent of Internet users in countries that engage in substantial filtering use circumvention tools."

What is worth noting here is that the countries cited in the Berkman Center paper--China, Iran, the UAE, Armenia, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Burma, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam--are all countries that engage in pervasive censorship of the Internet.  Therefore, Castro is basically saying that since DNS filtering works for repressive regimes, it can work in the United States too!

It is also worth noting that the US Department of State has put significant resources into more than a dozen circumvention tools over the past few years.  In other words, those same tools that Castro hopes American citizens won't use to access pirated content are in fact funded by the US government.


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