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Kevin Donovan

STIA-305 Term Paper

Freedom Fighters:
The Role of Internet Corporations in
Promoting Digital Freedoms

Abstract

Through its global nature, the Internet has challenged traditional concepts of national
sovereignty and legitimacy. Multinational corporations operating in various legal
jurisdictions face difficult questions of opposing laws and values. These firms state their
preference for American-style protection of speech and privacy, but are beholden to
conflicting laws abroad. The most notable example is China where Google, Microsoft
and Yahoo! operate in a jurisdiction which provides far less individual autonomy than
the United States. This paper examines the mechanisms, both political and
technological, through which these firms can further the values of free expression and
privacy.

Table of Contents

I. Introduction....................................2

II. A Libertarian Network?..................3

III. A Network of Control......................6

IV. Corporations on the Zoned Net......8

V. Towards a More Perfect Union.......12

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I. Introduction

In April 2007, Chinese journalist Shi Tao was sentenced to ten years in prison for

“leaking state secrets.” His trial, in its entirety only two hours long, hinged upon

information obtained by Chinese government prosecutors from the local subsidiary of

Silicon Valley giant Yahoo!. The multinational Internet company had provided to the

Chinese officials personally identifiable information about Shi Tao who used the Yahoo!

email service to distribute a summary of a meeting in which journalists were instructed

by government censors to downplay the anniversary of the June 4th, 1989 political

crackdown. 1 In what would become a widely condemned action, Yahoo! had directly

contributed to a severe punishment of a political dissident.

To many, the saga of Shi Tao was a shock. The Internet was supposed to liberate.

A global, interactive, open medium for communication was believed to advance freedom

of expression and provide checks upon government abuse of power. Many early

observers of the Internet saw cyberspace as beyond the control of government; the rules

and norms would develop independently of traditional institutions. The fundamental

architecture of the Internet allegedly supported the libertarian ethic which pervaded

Internet governance discussions throughout the 1990s.

The underlying reality of the Internet, however, is vastly different. Through

various means, both technical and political, governments can and do exert increasing

control over citizen behavior online. The same network which was supposed to herald a

new era of free expression has become a carefully manicured arena of regulated

1MacKinnon, Rebecca. "Shi Tao, Yahoo!, and the lessons for corporate social repsonsibility."
RConversations. Dec. 2007. University of Hong Kong. 4 Dec. 2008 <http://rconversation.blogs.com/
yahooshitaolessons.pdf>.

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discourse. Throughout the world, in countries both authoritarian and democratic, a

wide range of content is blocked. In this restrictive endeavor, governments have come to

rely on the cooperation of private entities. The practice and policy of Internet filtering

and surveillance requires the involvement of prominent technology firms, including

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!.

These companies, of course, are required to obey local regulations, but as the

backlash following the case of Shi Tao makes clear, in a global network, values and

norms can differ widely. American Internet companies have both a philosophical and

financial preference for freedom of expression and individual user privacy, but, given

their subservience to Chinese law, their ability to promote these is limited. Recent

efforts, such as the Global Network Initiative, “a collaborative approach to protect and

advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector,” are feasible options, but a

variety of other choices exist. 2

This paper seeks to explain the technical and legal basis for the conflict of values

and to critically assess the Global Network Initiative and other options to protect the

universal human rights of freedom of expression and privacy as they relate to the

expansion and use of the Internet.

II. A Libertarian Network?

Today, the Internet is so pervasive in the developed world that its origins are of

little concern to many; however, it is the birth of the Internet and its subsequent

formation that laid the foundation for many of today’s disputes concerning freedom of

2"Global Network Initiative." Global Network Initiative. 4 Dec. 2008 <http://


www.globalnetworkinitiative.org>.

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Kevin Donovan STIA-305 Term Paper

expression and privacy. Those origins are found in the era of government funded

advanced research of the Cold War.

In the 1960s, with the specter of nuclear war on the minds of many in the

national security sector, a team of researchers began a project to develop a resilient

network to connect the various computers which were being used at government and

educational institutions. Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency,

ARPANet and the subsequent TCP/IP suite of protocols established the technical means

to “allow networked computers to communicate transparently across multiple, linked

packet networks.” 3 In order to create a network that would allow the US government to

communicate following an enemy attack on communication infrastructure, ARPANet

was designed to be a distributed network, unlike the centralized telephone system

operated by AT&T. 4 The key technological insight which allowed this to happen was

packet-switching. In a traditional, centralized system all information is passed through a

specific location, but packet-switching split individual messages (say, an email) into

smaller packets and sent it through the network. If the data couldn’t pass through a

certain router, or it occurred too slowly, the packet could be rerouted or simply resent. 5

The attraction to the Pentagon officials funding the research was that a destroyed node

on the network wouldn’t block traffic; the packets would just travel a different route,

instead.

3Cerf, Vint. "History of the Internet." All About the Interent. Internet Society. 4 Dec. 2008 <http://
www.isoc.org/internet/history/cerf.shtml>.
4 Hafner, Katie. Where Wizards Stay up Late : The Origins of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster,
Incorporated, 1998.
5Ruthfield, Scott. "The Internet's History and Development." Sept. 1995. Association of Computing
Machinery. 4 Dec. 2008 <http://www.acm.org/crossroads/xrds2-1/inet-history.html>.

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This open, distributed architecture was widely interpreted to have some

immutable values inherent in the design. Indeed, there was a uniqueness to the new

medium - as it became more widely deployed, one’s use of it was not constrained like the

AT&T network, nor was there much control of early users. As Jonathan Zittrain notes,

"The design of the Internet reflected not only the financial constraints of its creators, but

also their motives. They had little concern for controlling the network or its users’

behavior."6

Indeed, early observers of the Internet believed there was something uniquely

unregulable about the new medium. It was widely believed that digital content

appearing “simultaneously and equally in all jurisdictions” was radically undermining

traditional forms of sovereignty. 7 Legal scholars David Johnson and David Post wrote

that “The rise of the global computer network is destroying the link between

geographical location and... the power of local governments to assert control over online

behavior...” 8 In his famed “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” John Perry

Barlow wrote, "I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally

independent of the tyrannies [governments] seek to impose on us. You have no moral

right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to

fear."9 Yet, governments very early on attempted to exert control upon the Internet. For

example, in 1995 German authorities threatened to prosecute CompuServe, a popular

6 Zittrain, Jonathan. The Future of the Internet--and How to Stop It. New York: Yale UP, 2008.
7Post, David G., and David Johnson. "Borders, Spillovers, and Complexity: Rule- making Processes in
Cyberspace (and Elsewhere)." University of Chicago Law Review (1997).
8Post, David G., and David R. Johnson. "Law and Borders - The Rise of Law in Cyberspace." Stanford
Law Review 48 (1996).
9Barlow, John P. "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace." 8 Feb. 1997. Electronic Frontier
Foundation. 4 Dec. 2008 <http://homes.eff.org/~barlow/declaration-final.html>.

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ISP at the time, for hosting content in violation of their anti-pornography laws.

CompuServe reacted by blocking access to the material. 10

This filtering, it was believed, would be impossible on the Internet, but as will be

shown below, it is becoming increasingly popular. For example, recalling the built-in

resilience of packet-switching networks, John Gilmore said, “The Net interprets

censorship as damage and routes around it."11 To Gilmore, and many others, the

architecture of the Internet would treat censorship the same way as a Soviet bomb.

II. A Network of Control

The borderless world imagined by early cyber-libertarians is but a distant

memory. The nation state has, through both legal and technical means, reasserted itself

as the leading arbiter of online behavior. The CompuServe case mentioned above was an

early indicator of the supremacy of the state, but a far more influential case involved the

pioneering Internet firm Yahoo!.

Cognizant of the hate-filled past, both French and German law prohibits

trafficking in Nazi-related goods. In other countries, notably America, this would seem

to be a violation of freedom of expression. It was this position that Yahoo! defended in a

seminal 2000 lawsuit which charged that Yahoo.com’s auction site, through which Nazi

goods were sold, violated French law. Although Yahoo! maintained a French version of

its service, Yahoo.fr, which complied with French law, the American version was still

available to French users.

10 Goldsmith, Jack. "Against Cyberanarchy." Berkeley Technology Law Journal 17 (2002).


11 Elmer-Dewitt, Philip. "First Nation in Cyberspace." Time Magazine 6 Dec. 1993.

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To Yahoo!, having French laws regulate its American site was both impossible

and wrongheaded. Founder Jerry Yang said, “Asking us to filter access to our sites

according to the nationality of web surfers is very naive.” 12 The reality, though, was that

simple technical measures could be used to “effectively screen out 90 percent of French

users.” 13 Although IP addresses, the unique records assigned to each networked

computer, do not contain geographic data, a number of firms had developed a

technology called “tracing” packets that determine the routers through which Internet

traffic has traveled. This information is cross-checked against databases that identify the

geographic location of the earliest computers in a packet’s journey. 14 In light of this

invention, the judge found against Yahoo and ordered it to start geo-targeting its users

so that French citizens could not access content illegal in France.

In essence, geo-identification and the Yahoo! case established the technical and

legal basis for a bordered Internet; states could now compel online firms to zone the

Internet and they quickly did so. Once a state could impose borders, it could impose its

rules. No development as clearly displays the rise of state-mandated Internet zoning as

that of online content censorship.

12
Wu, Tim, and Jack Goldsmith. Who Controls the Internet? : Illusions of a Borderless World. New York:
Oxford UP, Incorporated, 2006.
13Yahoo! v. LICRA (US District Court Northern California December 21, 2000). Electronic Frontier
Foundation. 4 Dec. 2008 <ttp://www.eff.org/legal/jurisdiction_and_sovereignty/licra_v_yahoo/
20001221_yahoo_us_complaint.pdf>.
14
Wu, Tim, and Jack Goldsmith. Who Controls the Internet? : Illusions of a Borderless World. New York:
Oxford UP, Incorporated, 2006.

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III. Corporations on a Zoned Internet

Due to its global economic influence, immense domestic market and reputation

for an antagonistic approach to free expression, the role that multinational corporations

take in China’s information economy has been the subject of much deserved attention.

According to the OpenNet Initiative, an independent partnership to study

Internet censorship, “China continues to expand the largest and most sophisticated

filtering system in the world, despite the government’s occasional denial that it restricts

any Internet content.” 15 The means through which this is accomplished are a maze of

regulatory agencies, legal requirements, informal norms and technical measures. 16 A key

component though, are the private firms which cooperate with the government: “The

job of online censorship and surveillance is difficult for the state to manage itself, if not

altogether impossible.” 17

The American firms most often cited as complicit in this effort are Google,

Microsoft and Yahoo!. These companies offer a variety of services in the Chinese market

and maintain offices and servers within the jurisdiction of the PRC, making them legally

bound to comply with its laws. Many of these laws have been heavily criticized by

human rights supporters who see them as unjust violations of both the Chinese

Constitution and international human rights law. 18 Still, Internet regulation in China

bans a wide range of content ranging from inciting hatred to “jeopardizing the integrity

15 Palfrey, John G., Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain, eds. Access Denied : The Practice and Policy
of Global Internet Filtering. New York: MIT P, 2007.
16 For an extended discussion of the technical means, please see Annex A.
17Zittrain, Jonathan, and John Palfrey. "Reluctant Gatekeepers: Corporate Ethics on a Filtered Internet."
Global Information Technology Report (2006).
18Deva, Surya. "Corporate Complicity in Internet Censorship in China: Who Cares for the Global
Compact or the Global Online Freedom Act?" George Washington International Law Review 39 (2007).

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of national unity,” so that the outcome is to “provide the government with almost

endless authority to control and censor content while discouraging citizens from testing

the boundaries of these areas.” 19

The effect on foreign corporations is not small. Given a fiduciary responsibility to

create shareholder wealth, these firms have compelling reasons to enter the enormous

Chinese Internet market. 20 However, the requirements of companies in China are

qualitatively less liberal than those in the rest of the world. ISPs in China are required to

retain personally identifiable information about users for at least sixty days and to

ensure that no illegal content is being hosted on their servers. 21 While such regulation is

not unique to China, the outcomes - jailed political dissidents due to Yahoo’s data and

censored search results on Google.cn - offend the sensibilities of many Westerners who

value privacy and free expression. Those outcomes have also deeply challenged the

executives who facilitated them.

The experience of Google within China is a telling one. Prior to 2006, Google did

not operate a Chinese search engine. While its primary service aimed at the USA,

Google.com, could search the Chinese language web, it had failed to gain much traction

within China. Google executives felt that this was “due in large measure to the extensive

filtering performed by Chinese Internet service providers.” 22 According to their

measurements, Google.com was entirely blocked in China around 10 percent of the time

19 Palfrey, John G., Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain, eds. Access Denied : The Practice and Policy
of Global Internet Filtering. New York: MIT P, 2007.
20 Barboza, David. "China Surpasses U.S. in Number of Internet Users." New York Times 26 July 2008.
21 Palfrey, John G., Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain, eds. Access Denied : The Practice and Policy
of Global Internet Filtering. New York: MIT P, 2007.
22McLaughlin, Andrew. "Human Rights and the Internet – The Peopleʼs Republic of China."
Congressional Human Rights Caucus Membersʼ Briefing. US Congress, Washington, DC. 1 Feb. 2006.

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and operated sluggishly when available. Even further, it seemed Chinese ISPs were

blocking certain queries or redirecting some requests for Google.com to Chinese

competitors who censored their results. 23 So, in early 2006 Google decided to comply

with Chinese self-censorship laws and deploy Google.cn which would remove search

results for politically sensitive results. Determining that limited access was better than

none, Google’s Andrew McLaughlin said, “Filtering our search results clearly

compromises our mission. Failing to offer Google search at all to a fifth of the world's

population, however, does so far more severely.” 24

As Google’s experience makes clear, Internet censorship in China is a

multilayered endeavor which includes, among other aspects, both ISP filtering and

online service provider censorship. When Google’s service could not be reached, the

Internet backbone providers were using a variety of methods to interrupt packets on

their way to servers around the world. 25 On the other hand, when search results on

Google.cn omit, say, the official website of Students for a Free Tibet, the Google

programmers have written the code to omit individual results based on a list of sensitive

topics. 26 These so-called block-lists are often generated individually by companies due

23 Schrage, Elliot. "Testimony of Google Inc. before the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and the
Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights, and International Operations." Hearing of Committee on
International Relations. United States House of Representatives, Washington, DC. 4 Dec. 2008.
24McLaughlin, Andrew. "Google in China." Weblog post. Official Google Blog. 27 Jan. 2006. 4 Dec. 2008
<http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/01/google-in-china.html>.
25 See Annex A for an extended description.
26Zittrain, Jonathan, and Benjamin Edelman. "Localized Google search result exclusions." 22 Oct. 2006.
Berkman Center for Internet and Society. 4 Dec. 2008 <http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/filtering/google/>.

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to the lack of clear guidance from the government and can include obviously sensitive

topics like “Dalai Lama” but also more curious phrases like “cat abuse.” 27

The experience of Google is not unique. Yahoo! and Microsoft have had to make

similarly difficult decisions concerning free expression and privacy while operating in

China. For example, while Google.cn’s censorship represents a limit to information

access, Microsoft’s Chinese blogging platform has come under fire for limits on

information expression by automatically banning the use of words like “democracy.” 28

Indeed, Microsoft once blocked access to a popular but controversial Chinese blog

around the world, instead of just in China proper. 29 Finally, the experience of Yahoo!

provides insight into the implications for privacy when Internet companies are forced to

comply with Chinese law. Shi Tao, the aforementioned jailed reporter, became a cause

célèbre due to the role Yahoo’s information played in his trial. Following a request by

Chinese authorities, Yahoo! presented the unique IP address for the time at which Tao’s

fateful email was sent, along with the address and phone number of the user. 30 Given

this personally identifiable information, Chinese prosecutors were able to easily identify

27Pan, Philip. "What do cat abuse, mascot and cashfiesta have in common?" Washington Post 19 Feb.
2006.
28Race to the Bottom: Corporate Complicity in Chinese Internet Censorship. PublicationNo. 8. Human
Rights Watch. 2006.
29MacKinnon, Rebecca. "Microsoft takes down Chinese blogger." Weblog post. RConversations. 4 Jan.
2006. 4 Dec. 2008 <http://rconversation.blogs.com/rconversation/2006/01/microsoft_takes.html>.
30MacKinnon, Rebecca. "Shi Tao, Yahoo!, and the lessons for corporate social repsonsibility."
RConversations. Dec. 2007. University of Hong Kong. 4 Dec. 2008 <http://rconversation.blogs.com/
yahooshitaolessons.pdf>.

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Shi Tao and proceed with his trial. Shi Tao is joined in the ranks of prosecuted cyber-

dissidents by at least two others where Yahoo! cooperated with authorities. 31

The future of freedom of expression and privacy on the Internet need not be as

dreary as these cases would suggest. In fact, there are a variety of mechanisms, both

technological and political, that Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! can pursue to promote

online freedom in China.

IV. Towards a More Perfect Network

The roles American Internet companies play in enforcing controversial Chinese

domestic laws are not without critique. Some of the earliest came from prominent

human rights organizations, but the concerns have resulted in lawsuits, shareholder

advocacy, front page headlines and Congressional hearings. The case of Shi Tao even

brought Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang to publicly apologize to his mother, saying “I want to

say we are committed to doing what we can to secure [the dissidents’] freedom.” 32

Google and Microsoft, too, have had to reverse positions and admit to compromising

their values as they operate in China.

These are not just ethical concerns; there are very serious financial

considerations at play. In 2006, the total revenue from Chinese Internet users was 186

billion Yuan and growing at more than 50 percent a year. 33 American firms are under

31Race to the Bottom: Corporate Complicity in Chinese Internet Censorship. PublicationNo. 8. Human
Rights Watch. 2006.
32MacKinnon, Rebecca. "Shi Tao, Yahoo!, and the lessons for corporate social repsonsibility."
RConversations. Dec. 2007. University of Hong Kong. 4 Dec. 2008 <http://rconversation.blogs.com/
yahooshitaolessons.pdf>.
33Deva, Surya. "Corporate Complicity in Internet Censorship in China: Who Cares for the Global
Compact or the Global Online Freedom Act?" George Washington International Law Review 39 (2007).

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pressure to capture some of this market, but doing so effectively seems to come at a cost.

While it was initially thought that Google would be able to make more money by

maintaining Google.cn, according to Google’s founder Sergey Brin, "On a business level,

that decision to censor... was a net negative."34 Because these companies make money

from selling advertising around online content, they have a financial interest in an

Internet accepting of all content. Also, because the switching cost between services is so

low online, a public relations blunder can result in users simply moving to another

search engine or blogging platform.

In response to internal anxieties and outside pressure, Google, Microsoft and

Yahoo! recently joined leading human rights organizations, academics, and socially

responsible businesses in the Global Network Initiative, a multi-stakeholder effort to

protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy. The Global Network Initiative

(GNI) includes a set of principles affirming the importance of freedom of expression and

privacy as fundamental human rights, guidelines on how best to implement these within

multinational corporations, and a framework for enforcing the commitments of

members.

In the GNI, both freedom of expression and privacy are recognized as “human

right[s] and guarantor[s] of human dignity.” Participating companies pledge to protect

and promote these rights by seriously considering the relevant implications for business

decisions, requiring governments to follow formal legal processes and interpreting

government requests narrowly to avoid unnecessary harm to freedom of expression and

34Martinson, Jane. "China censorship damaged us, Google founders admit." The Guardian 27 June
2007.

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privacy. 35 The effect, according to one of its key creators, Leslie Harris of the Center for

Democracy and Technology, is that companies operating in conflicting legal

jurisdictions will be forced to consider the best way forward, hopefully to minimize the

negative effects on users’ rights. 36 Some influential groups, such as Reporters without

Borders have critiqued the effort, but it provides a firm foundation from which to

continue in this regard. 37

While an important and influential step, the Global Network Initiative does not

comprehensively solve the problems facing Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!. How can they

further improve freedom of expression and privacy in China in order to reap the benefits

of a flourishing online environment and avoid participating in potential violations of

human rights? Although their ability is not as broad as governments who could use

trade relations to pressure China, there are a number of independent steps companies

could take.

To avoid complicity in identifying online dissidents, companies’ data retention

policies should be tailored to protect users. Although information about users can be

used for a variety of reasons, such as improving advertising revenue and detecting

abuse, “purging data is the best way of protecting privacy and free expression in the

Internet age: it’s the only way of guaranteeing that government officials can’t force

companies like Google and Yahoo to turn over information that allows individuals to be

35
"Global Network Initiative." Global Network Initiative. 4 Dec. 2008 <http://
www.globalnetworkinitiative.org>.
36Jesdanun, Anick. "Internet companies embrace human rights guidelines." Associated Press 27 Oct.
2008.
37"Reporters without Borders is not endorsing the GNI." 28 Oct. 2008. Reporters without Borders. 4 Dec.
2008 <http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=29117>.

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identified.” 38 Google recently halved the time they maintained personally identifiable IP

addresses to nine months, but Yahoo! and Microsoft lag behind this decision by four and

nine months, respectively. 39 All companies should make a concerted effort to continue

innovating and maintaining security while working to keep data for the minimal time

allowed under law.

Alternatively, the American firms could choose to locate data in areas more

respectful of individual freedoms. A Chinese court order is only effective within its

jurisdiction and if firms store personally identifiable information abroad it severely

limits the ability of government to demand compliance. Companies are obviously not

unaware of this option, but choose to not do so due to a preference for speed. 40

“Bandwidth limitations illustrate an important but poorly understood fact:


the efficacy of Internet communications depends on the real-space
location of both data and the underlying Internet hardware through which
the data travel (routers and exchange points, and the fiber-optic cables,
phone lines, cable lines, and microwave and satellites transmitters and
receptors that interconnect them.” 41

This trade-off between privacy and the speed of a service is manifest in another design

choice made by Internet corporations. The Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is a protocol used

in online transactions to cryptographically transfer data securely between distant

entities. This technology is widely used in online commerce where personal information,

such as credit cards numbers, are sent to vendors. However, the downside of this

38 Rosen, Jeffrey. "Google's Gatekeepers." New York Times Magazine 28 Nov. 2008.
39Meller, Paul. "Google cuts time it retains IP address logs to 9 months." IT World. 9 Sept. 2008. 4 Dec.
2008 <http://www.itworld.com/internet/54788/google-cuts-time-it-retains-ip-address-logs-9-months>.
40Kovacevich, Adam. "Eric Schmidt on what's ahead in 2008." Weblog post. Google Public Policy Blog.
18 Nov. 2008. 4 Dec. 2008 <http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.com/2008/11/eric-schmidt-on-whats-
ahead-in-2009.html>.
41 Wu,Tim, and Jack Goldsmith. Who Controls the Internet? : Illusions of a Borderless World. New York:
Oxford UP, Incorporated, 2006.

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security is latency due to the additional processing needed to encrypt and decrypt

packets. Although it would technically be feasible to use SSL in all services, it requires

companies to implement this technology through its properties. Because speed does

matter online, SSL need not be the default setting, but companies cognizant of the

importance of privacy in China should allow users to choose their preferred setting,

much as Google’s American email service now does.42

However, because SSL only protects a user’s privacy once he has connected to the

third party, sophisticated network surveillance efforts, like those in China, could still

detect from where controversial computing took place by reading the routing

information on the packets. A number of technical solutions exist to confound network

surveillance, but the most promising is The Onion Router (Tor). 43 Tor is a distributed,

anonymous network of volunteered routers through which packets can pass randomly

“so no observer at any single point can tell where the data came from or where it's

going.” 44 Tor is widely used by journalists, dissidents, governments and the intelligence

community; in fact, according to its creator, tens of thousands of Chinese seem to be

using Tor on a weekly basis. 45 As an open source project supported by users, its

existence is the product of volunteers, and American Internet companies could establish

42Rideout, Ariel. "Making security easier." Weblog post. GMail Blog. 24 July 2008. 4 Dec. 2008 <http://
gmailblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/making-security-easier.html>.
43 For an extended discussion of Tor, please see Annex B.
44 "Tor: The Onion Router." The Tor Project. 4 Dec. 2008 <http://www.torproject.org/overview.html.en>.
45Race to the Bottom: Corporate Complicity in Chinese Internet Censorship. PublicationNo. 8. Human
Rights Watch. 2006.

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their commitment to freedom of expression and privacy by supporting Tor and similar

projects like Psiphon financially or through coding expertise. 46

Less obviously, but perhaps even more importantly, these companies which are

offering censored versions of their search engines should limit the effect of this legal

requirement. This can be done through transparency, openness, narrowness and

accountability. In 2006, when Google introduced its censored Chinese search engine, it

included a notice to users whenever a search result had been omitted. This had

previously not been done, but within months competitors, including domestic giant

Baidu, had begun to inform users that their searches had been censored. 47 This

commitment to openness and transparency could be taken a step further - by publishing

the list of censored words and phrases. These secretive indexes serve as red flags to

search algorithms which omit pages including that content. Leaked lists show that

phrases as varied as “human rights” and “mascot” can result in censorship, but publicly

maintaining constantly updated block-lists would allow Chinese Internet users to better

grasp acceptable behavior and remain free from legal troubles. 48

Finally, and as a result of this previous action, companies should use their

leverage with the government to advocate on behalf of their users. If it is clear what

content is illegal and what is not, a more informed national dialogue about the role of

political speech may occur. Indeed, users should be given the opportunity to challenge

certain blockages through a process similar to the American Digital Millennium

46
Google has provided some support to Tor, but its peer corporations have not. https://
www.torproject.org/sponsors
47 Bambauer, Derek. "Guiding Censor's Scissors: Assessing Online Censorship." (2008).
48Villeneuve, Nart. "Keyword Lists." Weblog post. Internet Censorship Explorer. 25 Nov. 2008. 4 Dec.
2008 <http://www.nartv.org/2008/11/25/keyword-lists/>.

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Copyright Act’s “notice-and-takedown” requirement. 49 Google already utilizes the

independent ChillingEffects.org website to make clear the material it is forced to remove

in the United States. A Chinese version of this might allow citizens to request the

legitimization of certain censored phrases, following which Google could enter a

dialogue with its Chinese handlers to encourage free expression.

In reality, it is this dialogue that will yield the most change. As the early history

and current standing of political power on the Internet shows, it can quickly result in a

game of cat and mouse between those desirous of more individual freedom and

governments seeking to exert control. Multinational corporations are potent players in

this high-stakes game. American companies operating in China, such as Google,

Microsoft and Yahoo! are placed in a conflict between an interest, both financial and

ethical, in unfettered Internet access versus legally binding requirements to partake in

online censorship and surveillance. They are not powerless, though. As their

commitment to the Global Network Initiative demonstrates, freedom of expression and

privacy are important concepts that they voluntarily deem worth protecting and

promoting. Given this decision, these companies should implement the technical and

policy choices outlined above to better facilitate online freedoms in China.

49"FAQ About DMCA Safe Harbor Provisions." Chilling Effects. Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
4 Dec. 2008 <http://www.chillingeffects.org/dmca512/faq.cgi#qid130>.

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Annex A
Internet Filtering Tools

As previously discussed, Internet filtering is a multilayered endeavor in which


ISPs, online service providers, media outlets, cyber cafes and more exercise government
mandated control over online content. Although the focus of this paper is online service
providers, ISP filtering plays a substantial part and deserves special recognition.
Connection to the world wide web in China comes from seven state-licensed ISPs
who maintain the “backbone” fiber optic cables which connect to international
networks. Although the Internet is widely considered too large to regulate, all online
content flowing in or out of China must pass through these routers maintained by the
ISPs. Because the ISP is the conduit to the Internet at large, they assert near total
control over the packets passing through their networks.
As shown in Figure 1, unencumbered Internet browsing can be distilled to six
steps. ISP filtering occurs in three primary forms:

Figure 1:
The process for
accessing a
website under
normal
conditions

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Kevin Donovan STIA-305 Term Paper

TCP/IP Header Filtering vs. TCP/IP Content Filtering


As explained in the body of this paper, the protocols which define the Internet,
TCP/IP, split content into small pieces of data called packets. Packets consist of both a
header and a payload. Packets can be thought of as envelopes where the address and
return address (IP addresses) are located in the header while the substantive content is
in the payload. The simplest form of Internet filtering instructs the ISP’s routers to not
pass on packets addressed to suspect IP address. This simple method is also relatively
crude: an entire domain will be blocked instead of only suspect pages.
Slightly more advanced, content filtering takes a look inside the analogous
envelope. Inspecting the additional content requires more computing power and specific
software which will unite the content split among packets into their contextual meaning.
This allows individual keywords to be targeted and individual pages to be blocked. For
example, in my testing through a
Chinese proxy server, my Google
search queries for “Tiananmen
Square” returned reset requests
suggesting that the Chinese ISP I
was using conducted content
filtering and detected the
controversial keyword.
DNS Tampering
A user requesting a URL
has the request sent to a DNS
server which matches mnemonic Figure 2: Reset requests

names (georgetown.edu) with the appropriate IP address (67.192.112.187). DNS


tampering, another popular form of filtering, utilizes a list of banned domains to
identify which user requests to ignore or change. Without further means, a user is stuck
with an error page instead of the legitimate request.

Source: Murdoch, Steven J., and Ross Anderson. "Tools and Technology of Internet Filtering." Access
Denied : The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering. Ed. John G. Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski and
Jonathan Zittrain. New York: MIT P, 2007.

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Kevin Donovan STIA-305 Term Paper

Annex B
The Onion Router (Tor)

Tor grew out of government research into anonymity online but quickly gained
traction from a variety of interested parties including civil liberties advocates, human
rights organizations and individuals invested in digital privacy.
It seeks to close the gap between widely available encryption tools and advancing
Internet surveillance. Encryption provides a secure way to communicate privately, but
because routers along the Internet need to know where to send packets, the header data
must remain unencrypted. As such, intermediaries can analyze header data and learn a
surprising amount about a user’s actions.
Tor consists of a distributed network of routers through which users of Tor can
send their TCP/IP packets. All traffic is securely encrypted except the last leg where the
Tor network sends the packets to the intended recipient. The individual routers on the
network have no way of determining anymore than the directly previous and succeeding
routers. So even if a government surveilled the network, they would come up short.

Figure 3: The Tor network


Source: http://www.torproject.org/overview.html.en

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Kevin Donovan STIA-305 Term Paper

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