A new report released today by global watchdog Freedom House details the most popular and effective tools for bypassing online censorship in Burma and China.
Ahead of the report, entitled “Leaping Over the Firewall,” Freedom House surveyed a number of Chinese and Burmese Internet users based on the circumvention tools they use and how they generally access the Internet. The report also rated tools in Iran and Azerbaijan.
“As repressive governments become increasingly savvy in their ability to filter and censor online content, these tools, which allow users to exercise their fundamental rights to free expression and privacy online, have become essential,” said Robert Guerra, project director for Freedom House’s Internet Freedom program. “But the risks are very real and on their own, these tools cannot always provide sufficient security to prevent users from landing on the radar screen of repressive regimes. In order to stay safe online, these tools should be just one of a number of steps taken by users.”
The global watchdog said that the best tool for circumventing censorship in both countries largely depends on how netizens plan to use the Internet and how much risk they are willing to put themselves at to do so. For example, netizens planning only to access blocked sites require a less comprehensive tool than those who plan to send sensitive information outside of the country.
According to the survey, Chinese netizens said they mostly accessed the Internet from a home broadband connection, have an average need for secure communications, and prefer tools that operate at fast speeds. Freedom House recommended UltraSurf, Gpass, and Psiphon for users with similar needs.
“China has a well-developed Internet infrastructure and comprehensive filtering continues to be present. A peer-to-peer anonymizing network was the preferred tool here,” Freedom House said in a statement.
“Despite a complex, highly resourced blocking system, the results indicate that Chinese users are quite skilled in accessing blocked sites.”
In Burma, netizens said they mostly accessed the Internet through a dial-up connection and required a high degree of secure communications. Freedom House recommended Psiphon or Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections for users with similar needs.
Among Burmese netizens surveyed, the most popular circumvention tools include Google, Psiphon, and Your Freedom.
“Burma has a high incidence of blocked content, and strictly limits free speech, which explains the almost equal appreciation for ease of use, performance, and security,” Freedom House said.
“The highest ranking tool (a web-based proxy system) for Burma does not provide a high level of security, however, probably due to the high use of Internet cafes. Installing circumvention tools is rarely easy in such locations.”
The report noted that tools that perform very quickly often provide a limited amount of protection, including Google, which Freedom House said does not use encryption to secure a user’s connection.
The report also ranked a variety of other circumvention tools for both countries based on their usability, their safety and security, and performance.