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Censorware Vendors Can Stop Mid-East Dealings

CmdrTaco posted about 3 years ago | from the guess-who's-back dept.

Censorship 126

Slashdot regular Bennett Haselton is back with a story about Internet censorship in the Middle East. Several blocking software companies claimed that they had no control over how various Middle Eastern governments used their software. Bennett says it's time to put this patently false claim to rest. American censorware companies could easily cut off Middle Eastern governments from using their software, and thus make their existing filtering systems far less effective; they just refuse to do it. Hit the link below to see what he has to say, and make up your own mind.

The Wall Street Journal published an article Monday listing the Western-made Internet censoring programs used by several Middle Eastern governments, in countries that filter what their citizens can access on the Web. Like a similar 2011 report from the OpenNet Initiative, hopefully this listing will shine a spotlight on the problem, and make it easier for human rights groups to call for these companies to stop aiding censorious governments.

However, I wish that the article had quoted someone giving a rebuttal to the several companies which claimed, "Once the customer buys the product, we have no control over it," as stated variously Netsweeper, Blue Coat, and McAfee (which makes Smartfilter). For a product that relies on continuous updates provided by the software company, this claim, of course, is nonsense. Unfortunately, the claim seems to go unchallenged so often, that there's a risk that it will start to affect policy -- people may believe that we can't regulate how American censorware is used by repressive countries, so we shouldn't even try.

Some background: When a customer buys a standard network filtering program like Websense, SmartFilter, or Blue Coat, the product comes with a built-in list of websites to be blocked by the software. (The customer can select or de-select categories of sites to be blocked, like "pornography" or "gambling".) The purchase of the software typically comes with a year or two of free updates to the blocked-site list. The software vendors employs a combination of human reviewers and (more often) automated crawlers to scour the Web looking for new sites that fall into their categories, and add these sites to their database. Customers who are within their subscription period can download periodic updates to this blocked-site list. After a customer's initial free subscription period runs out, they can opt to continue purchasing updates to the database. If they don't, then the product will continue to work, but the blocked-site list will be frozen (except for any new sites that the customer finds on their own and adds manually to their own blocked-site list).

Once the blocked-site list is frozen, the filtering product becomes ineffective against any user making a serious effort to get around it. This is because there are many mailing lists like mine that mail out new proxy sites every week (a proxy site is a site which contains a form that allows the user to access third-party Web sites indirectly, usually to circumvent Internet blocking). And as long as the user can access at least one unblocked proxy site, they can access any other blocked site by going through the proxy. So when a censorious regime stops updating their blocked-site list, the product becomes ineffective almost immediately. (For that, I suppose, the blocking companies should be grateful to us proxy site makers, since we make it necessary for their customers to keep renewing their blocked-site subscriptions year after year.)

So, even if one were to accept the (highly dubious) claim that the software vendors didn't realize what was going on when a foreign government approached them to buy their software, once they realize that their software is being used to violate the rights of the country's people, they can easily stop providing updates to that customer. This can be done by either (a) blocking the IP addresses that the customer uses to download the updates, or (b) blocking any further updates using that customer's license key. (Each installation of a blocking program like Websense comes with a license key unique to that customer, and the program has to submit the license key to the download server in order to download the latest update to the blocked-site list. If the customer's subscription runs out or gets cancelled, no more updates.)

This is roughly the situation that exists in Iran. The Iranian government claims to use McAfee's Smartfilter to filter Internet access for their citizens, despite McAfee's claim that they don't sell to Iran because of the embargo. But the evidence suggests that while Iran may have once acquired Smartfilter along with a copy of their filter list that was current at the time, they're not getting regular updates to the blocked-site list. From corresponding with Iranians and testing the filter through a server located inside Iran, I've found that most of the proxy sites we mail out never get blocked at all in Iran, even as they eventually get blocked in countries like Bahrain and Kuwait that are using Smartfilter with a subscription to the blocked-site database. The proxy sites we mail out that do get blocked in Iran are usually blocked a few days later than they are in Bahrain and Kuwait. This suggests that the Iranian censors are finding and blocking new proxy sites by ad hoc methods, and that they're not as effective at it as American censorware companies. So the Iranian situation proves two points: that Western blocking companies really can prevent a foreign government from using their products (well, duh), and that this restriction actually works, in the sense of making the country's filter less effective.

So when a McAfee spokesman told the WSJ reporters, "You can add additional websites to the block list; obviously what an individual customer would do with a product once they acquire it is beyond our control," that's true only in the most literal sense. Yes, Bahrain can add human rights web pages to their list of sites blocked by Smartfilter, and McAfee can't stop them, but the effectiveness of this block depends on the Bahrani censors using Smartfilter to block new proxy sites as well, which McAfee continues to aid them in doing, as a matter of choice.

Websense, incidentally, announced in 2009 -- in response to an earlier ONI report describing how their software was used to censor Internet access in Yemen -- that they would stop providing censoring software to the Yemeni government. But ONI's current report claims that the Yemeni government continued to use Websense into 2011, and Websense declined to comment. Maybe the Yemeni government was using Websense with a "frozen blocked-site list" -- but the ONI report includes at least one instance where a site that was un-blocked by Websense (the opennet.net domain itself!) became un-blocked in Yemen shortly afterwards. So maybe Websense just lied about canceling the Yemenis' license.

Could some censorious country like Yemen continue using the Websense filter -- with a continuously updated blocked-site list -- even after Websense truly tried to cut them off? Possibly, but it would probably be more trouble than it's worth. Yemen would have to set up a shell company outside of their own borders, with an overseas bank account, in order to purchase the software. Then after Yemen had installed Websense on their servers, they would have to download the updates indirectly by going through an anonymizing proxy set up in some other country as well. And if Websense ever found out which of their customers was a shell company used by the Yemeni government, they could cut off that customer's license, and the Yemeni censors would have to start all over again. It's probably safe to say that most Middle Eastern countries wouldn't find this worth the trouble. (After all, Iran could do everything I've just described, but apparently they haven't; they still seem to be using Smartfilter with an outdated copy of the blocked-site list, and adding new proxy sites to their blacklist manually.)

So far, proposals to ban American censorware companies from selling to foreign governments have not gotten off the ground -- and now with several Middle Eastern countries using or looking at Netsweeper, we'd have to get Canada on board as well. But at the very least, let's start calling out censorware companies on the canard that "We just sell the software and have no way of controlling who uses it." The companies know that foreign governments are using it to censor their own people, and they can cut them off as customers any time they want to; they just don't.

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Longwided comment ahoy! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35654342)

This guy is boring as fuck! Post pictures of Taco's micropeen! That'll be good for laughs!

Sure, but the American military has to agree first (3, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | about 3 years ago | (#35654348)

If the American military will agree to stop selling all these oppressive regimes jets, tanks, weapons, and training--all us software developers will agree to stop selling them software.

Re:Sure, but the American military has to agree fi (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35654428)

"If Congress and the President will agree to stop selling all these oppressive regimes jets, tanks, weapons, and training--all us software developers will agree to stop selling them software."


Either way, saying I'll stop being bad if you stop first is simply childish shit.

Re:Sure, but the American military has to agree fi (1, Insightful)

GooberToo (74388) | about 3 years ago | (#35655282)

I agree your fix is more accurate.

Either way, saying I'll stop being bad if you stop first is simply childish shit.

Not really. And in fact, US weapons sales have saved many a life. One of things people seem to be in a hurry to ignore is that, if the US didn't make those sales, they very likely would be made by our enemies, or at least rivals. Which likely means France, Russia (both of which had military such exports to Iraq - even after the ban and no fly zone), China, North Korea, so on and so on.

Furthermore, many complex weapon systems can be disabled after the fact. For example, the US sold numerous F-14s and associated weapon packages to Iran before their revolution. Before US contractors left the country, all planes and weapon systems were inert. Had it not been for US sales, they would have been in control of fully operational Su27s or Mig29s.

Yes, it would be nice if these weapon sales didn't occur. But its simply not realistic. This is especially true after the fall of the iron curtain. Literally, almost everything Russia developed is currently available on the market. That's one of the reasons why reports of missing warheads were so alarming.

Ultimately, it means if the US doesn't make these sales, others, who will do who knows what with the money, will. And even beyond that, even sales of weapons such as the M16 is beneficial because while AK and ammo are a dime a dozen, M16's and ammo are not. While there is cheap ammo available for M16s, they function very well on cheap ammo - see M16's record at introduction in Vietnam for more information.

So contrary to the childish and nieve world view of weapon sales, realistically, having the US (or at least a friendly Western power) make these sales is frequently to everyone's advantage.

Re:Sure, but the American military has to agree fi (1)

Sigma 7 (266129) | about 3 years ago | (#35656118)

Had it not been for US sales, they would have been in control of fully operational Su27s or Mig29s.

Which reminds me - is there actual information about "export-grade" weapons used by Russia? Specifically, any weapons or equipment sold to other countries was enough to keep the foreign countries happy, but not powerful enough to be a long-term threat to Russia (e.g. armor-piercing ammo was used with sub-par charging powder, and thus bounces off Main Battle Tanks.)

Re:Sure, but the American military has to agree fi (1)

GooberToo (74388) | about 3 years ago | (#35658164)

is there actual information about "export-grade" weapons

I don't know of any reference.

It is important to keep in mind "export-grade" does not mean inferior. For example, the Apaches which the US has exported to Israel are actually superior to what the US flies in many ways. While they don't get the same software load, different doesn't mean inferior. My understanding is, the "quality" of the export has more to do with who is receiving the goods rather than the mere fact its being exported.

Re:Sure, but the American military has to agree fi (2)

postbigbang (761081) | about 3 years ago | (#35656154)

There's another side, a bit more onerous than "well, everyone else is doing it, why shouldn't they buy from US??".

That side is that these are international contracts, that when breached, have lots of implications for other contracts/contractors in that country. Arbitrarily killing someone's important software (to them) is as good as aiding the enemy in their minds. The paradox is that you can't censor this software, and no guidelines or international law covers what to do when something you've sold is abused by a foreign government to the perceived problem of the US government or its people.

Do you believe that oil drilling is bad? Should we censor software and equipment that does that? Should we stop searches that produce results that we don't like?

Can you sell to GB, whose human rights record is occasionally dubious? Or can you say no to South Africa, whose record until a couple of decades ago was abysmal? Should Israel get it, but not Egypt?

You open a can of worms if you start turning off or refusing to ratioanally update software to various regimes. If they should be quaratined, as I believe the McAfee-Iran citation is claimed, the McAfee has a clear 'out' by government fiat. If not, who's to say that Jordan is worse than Syria or Bahrain?

Re:Sure, but the American military has to agree fi (2)

countertrolling (1585477) | about 3 years ago | (#35656292)

An offer from Israel is an offer no company can refuse [doc.gov]. It is illegal to say no. Howdya like that??

Re:Sure, but the American military has to agree fi (1)

bigstrat2003 (1058574) | about 3 years ago | (#35658314)

Holy shit. That's the most disturbing thing I've read in a long time. What the hell happened to liberty of conscience in this country?

Re:Sure, but the American military has to agree fi (1)

i (8254) | about 3 years ago | (#35656162)

"If the American citizens will agree to stop selling all these oppressive regimes jets, tanks, weapons, and training--all us software developers will agree to stop selling them software."

Fixed again.

Re:Sure, but the American military has to agree fi (3, Interesting)

Jahava (946858) | about 3 years ago | (#35654540)

If the American military will agree to stop selling all these oppressive regimes jets, tanks, weapons, and training--all us software developers will agree to stop selling them software.

The American military is often ridiculed for their role in strengthening oppressive regimes. These companies, on the other hand, actively deny their role in suppressing the free speech rights of other countries' citizenry. Whether or not they are legally permitted to supply that software is not the point; they should be held publicly accountable for their actions, and rightfully face any resulting backlash.

Re:Sure, but the American military has to agree fi (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35654834)

If the American military will agree to stop selling all these oppressive regimes jets, tanks, weapons, and training--all us software developers will agree to stop selling them software.

We at Umit Project are trying to at least arm people with real time notifications on world wide connectivity. During the blackouts in egypt, the best weapon to get internet back was having the whole world to know what they did, how they did and when they did. International pressure forced them to withdraw this attempt, and it worked. More about this project here: http://www.umitproject.org/?active=gsoc&mode=ideas#1

Re:Sure, but the American military has to agree fi (1)

kdsible (2019794) | about 3 years ago | (#35656196)

The ONLY statement that clearly says it all on multiple levels. Thank you!! Everything else BS.

I seem to recall the US government... (1)

John Hasler (414242) | about 3 years ago | (#35654482)

...being ridiculed for attempting the impossible task of preventing the export of encryption software. How is this different?

Re:I seem to recall the US government... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35654700)

Encryption software doesn't need regular updates to a black list.

Re:I seem to recall the US government... (2)

sjames (1099) | about 3 years ago | (#35655236)

Encryption software keeps working just fine when it's not allowed to phone home. In fact, it could be said to be a failure if it DOES phone home. Nobody expects anyone to keep the actual software under control, just direct access to the updates.

Re:I seem to recall the US government... (1)

Weezul (52464) | about 3 years ago | (#35657152)

The US government couldn't stop small open source venders from printing the source code to scan and OCR abroad. Yet, they are fairly successful at minimizing the amount and type of direct business American companies do with Cuba, Iran, and North Korea. I'm sure they'd just acquire the filtering software form China anyways, but I'd rather their software didn't say "Made in the USA" myself.

We face a similar but much bigger moral issues with the more directed tools supplied to these countries. In an ideal words, there would be several CEOs from the US, UK, and Germany standing trial in the Hague for aiding and abetting crimes against humanity committed by Egypt's secret police.

duh (5, Insightful)

bhcompy (1877290) | about 3 years ago | (#35654496)

As long as investors care more about quarterly profits than corporate ethics, this type of shit will never stop

Re:duh (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 3 years ago | (#35654556)

Exactly. I don't see how companies are going to be motivated to stop selling to these countries, or cut off existing ones.

They might even be contractually obligated, at which point they can't easily just walk away.

Personally, I think a company selling such software to an "oppressive regime" shouldn't have done it in the first place, but companies aren't going to start ignoring potential markets for ethical reasons in most cases.

As you say, it's all about quarterly profits.

Re:duh (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 3 years ago | (#35655220)

Exactly. I don't see how companies are going to be motivated to stop selling to these countries, or cut off existing ones.

How does one prevent someone from using software that they have purchased? Does Apple or Microsoft have that right?

The summary seems to think that all it takes is to stop sending updates, but then it tells us that ending the updates won't stop the use. The user can MANUALLY enter sites to block. Even though the database can be edited by the user, the summary calls this "frozen". An odd definition of frozen, I'd say.

Do we not imagine that someone who is applying network blocking software on a country-wide basis might have a team of people on staff who are constantly updating the "frozen" database? I would hazard to guess that the number of people updating the commercial database is fewer than what a tyrant would employ to do it for his regiem. They also probably subscribe to this guy's newletter to get the latest info on proxies. Or they will now, since this guy has bragged about his important he is in the process of freedom fighting.

Let's get a grip. Ending updates for a commercial product doesn't mean the product is suddenly useless. That is PHB thinking. In reality, ending updates often makes the product more usable because the author no longer can slip in changes to limit use. Compare this to Microsoft automatic updates which, too often, cripple the system that it is inteded to support.

Re:duh (1)

sjames (1099) | about 3 years ago | (#35655252)

They would have to be sued in the U.S. I doubt very much that a judge anywhere would touch that with a 10 foot pole.

Re:duh (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 3 years ago | (#35655448)

They would have to be sued in the U.S. I doubt very much that a judge anywhere would touch that with a 10 foot pole.

Unless, they have offices in the country in question like Google used to have in China.

If they have any presence there, then the local people get hauled before whatever passes for a judicial system, and held responsible for this. Bad form for the parent company to piss off the country, and leave people stranded locally to be the scapegoats.

If all they've done it simply sold the software, thrown it over the border, and left ... what you say is likely true. But, I'm imagining a branch office with a bunch of people ... at which point it's much more complicated to walk away from this.

Re:duh (1)

sjames (1099) | about 3 years ago | (#35656146)

If they actually have a local office in any of the companies in question, they have lost all moral high ground. They did, after all, claim they don't support this use, but can't stop it.

At that point, their options are to close the local offices in question or just admit they are a tool for oppressors and take their lumps.

Re:duh (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 3 years ago | (#35656308)

If they actually have a local office in any of the companies in question, they have lost all moral high ground.

Oh, I figure by the time you're selling this kind of software to these kinds of governments you've long since decided that the money was far more important than having any form of "moral high-ground".

I mean, it's not like companies like Siemens etc haven't been more than happy to help Iran with its nuclear program or whatever.

I've largely given up any expectations that corporations will even care about moral high ground. It's not in their interest to do so, so why should they?

Re:duh (1)

sjames (1099) | about 3 years ago | (#35656758)

Sure, that just leaves them with taking their lumps. They're trying hard to dodge that one.

Re:duh (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about 3 years ago | (#35657140)

Sure, that just leaves them with taking their lumps. They're trying hard to dodge that one.

What lumps? This is someone else saying these companies could/should stop selling to/updating these countries.

At the end of the day, unless countries pass laws saying companies need to be nice global citizens and not do anything which undermines freedom or some other value, nothing will happen.

To these companies ... quarterly revenue stays up, shareholder value is maximized, executive bonuses are paid ... and all is right with the world. The way they see it, if a couple of people get dragged off in the night, that's not their fault. They merely provided a service to bad people. They're not responsible for anything.

I just don't see any repercussions coming to them. There's certainly nothing in it for them to ignore potential markets. In fact, they have a bigger incentive to sell to them since a competitor would if they didn't.

Re:duh (3, Insightful)

mlts (1038732) | about 3 years ago | (#35654634)

You just summed up 95% of everything that gets on yro.slashdot.org with that single sentence.

Re:duh (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 3 years ago | (#35654876)

If these companies were in the business of acting ethically, they wouldn't be in the censorware business at all. Once they start screening their clients for acceptable use of their product, where do they stop? Should censorware companies be restricted from dealing with foreign governments? Or just totalitarian foreign governments? What if the totalitarian government in question is a US ally? What if France or Germany wants a censorship application to block Nazi stuff? Is that so different from Iran wanting to block other content for political reasons?

The only consistent position is that all censorware is unethical and should not be sold at all.

Re:duh (1)

he-sk (103163) | about 3 years ago | (#35655492)

What if France or Germany wants a censorship application to block Nazi stuff? Is that so different from Iran wanting to block other content for political reasons?

Speaking for Germany, there is at least one difference: The vast majority of Germans agrees with the policy of censoring some Nazi symbols in a very limited context. Given their history, I assume that the French think similarly. Whether this view makes the policy legitimate is up to you to decide.

As for censoring Nazi symbols online I believe most Germans would favor a policy similar to child pornography: take it down completely and root out the networks behind it, don't just prevent access to it.

Re:duh (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 3 years ago | (#35657390)

Unlike child porn, Nazi symbols are not globally banned. Hosting them in a country where the display of such symbols is allowed would essentially mean that you can't get them to take it down, for the simple reason that German laws don't apply in countries ending in -stan (well, pretty much ANY attempt to get anything taken down in countries ending in -stan is futile, but I ramble).

And who knows, it might even be that most Iranians think that the Sharia is a good idea and that they want that law, ever thought of that? It's not so far fetched, if you grow up indoctrinated, you start to think that way. You even don't have to look that far, take a poll in the US how many people would like to have Communist content blocked.

Waaaaayyyyy tl;dr (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35654510)


Smart folks will get around any dumb-ass web filtering. Fuck in a- this weeks Economist has several in its issue.


American Censorware companies are lamoes.

We'll be getting news form the Arabian Peninsula regardless.

Suck it: McAfee, Norton, ...oh fuck it, everyone else!

Why not? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35654534)

Isn't it what captialism is all about?

You sell your product, you get profit, you don't give a fsck.

list of proxy sites blocked by Websense .. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35654542)

"there are many mailing lists like mine that mail out new proxy sites every week"

Websense Category is Filtered [tinypic.com]

Re:list of proxy sites blocked by Websense .. (2)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 3 years ago | (#35654668)

I have a question. How do people who maintain proxy lists determine who to send the list out to? Basically, what stops the Iranian gov't from signing up to receive the weekly list and then quickly blocking the entries on the list?

Money over morals (2)

metlin (258108) | about 3 years ago | (#35654558)

Hasn't this always been the case?

At the end of the day, the fact remains that if they do not do it, someone else will. Yes, that sounds like a bad and facetious argument, but unfortunately, it is a true one.

Now, one could argue that there is no need for the bigger companies to do this (e.g. McAfee), but the smaller ones will take whatever they can to survive (an unfortunate reality of capitalism). And if the bigger ones don't, then they could stifle the smaller ones (i.e. we are not doing this, you shouldn't, so where do you draw the line?).

At the end of the day, it is up to each individual country to determine, and the people to seek such rights from the government. Liberty should be earned -- and unless a civilization is mature enough to realize this, and fight for it, they will be stuck in a rut.

And unfortunately, once-enlightened societies such as the US are quickly giving up their liberty because newer generations have a fundamental lack of understanding of liberty, and what it takes to keep it.

Re:Money over morals (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35654868)

Shut up, commie!

This just in... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 3 years ago | (#35654576)

"Free as in markets" often has comparatively little to do with "free as in freedom", and most corporations don't even care about "free as in markets"; because that implies low barriers to entry for their competitors...

Re:This just in... (1)

SteveFoerster (136027) | about 3 years ago | (#35654850)

That's exactly right, which is why those of us who like the idea of actual free markets get so annoyed when people erroneously use that term to refer to state-protected corporatism.

I live in Tunisia (5, Interesting)

Nrrqshrr (1879148) | about 3 years ago | (#35654600)

And a couple of days before he left, the old president dropped his censorship all-together, trying to calm things down.
A couple of weeks after he left, the new gouvernment back then tried to restore the censorship again, just porn sites and the likes of 4chan. They were met with a new angry mob though, and now they dropped it alltogether.
Point is, I don't think that the people's mob will accept censorship again... For now....

Re:I live in Tunisia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35656466)

I live in Saudi and all kinds of sites are blocked. Not only porn and 4chan. Of course, there's not much of a people's mob where I live.

Re:I live in Tunisia (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35657400)

Islamists, who are trying to take controle of the population, are very opposed to the abscence of censorchip because god doesn't like porn. Yesterday, a hurd of extremisits tried to cut the hand of a man who stole something in Jarzouna's market in the region of Bizerte. In Mle.Bourguiba some extremisits tried to force the owner of cafe to remove a statue.

culture difference (1)

Hany Almansour (2029200) | about 3 years ago | (#35654636)

Dears, I am one of the guys who have been phoned by Paul (writter of WSJ article), it was like an interrogation which i really didn't like at all. he didn't take my opinion at the end. My friend Mishary Alfaris (his name in the report) told me that Kuwait was having an unfiltered internet and the ISP voluntarily implements filtering to attract customers then it was adopted by the government. the cultures different between US and Middle East, in my country (Saudi Arabia) we want the filtering and to prove this the regulator put a site for requesting blocking or unblocking a site. 90% of the requests ask for blocking sites. yes there is some political site that are blocked but i think it represent 1% of the whole internet and i would accept it. for me I would thank U.S. products for providing us with clean internet.

Re:culture difference (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 3 years ago | (#35654796)

Do Saudi's want a filtered internet, or are they just scared to publicly ask for an unfiltered internet?

Re:culture difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35654910)

Bah, you never meet the locals. Understand, Saudi had a liberal pro Western government but *protested* for conservative government! That's how the religious police became powerful: because of the popular support. If the government could, it would probably dismiss it. Entirely unlike, but remember that the Iranian revolutation also had a great deal of popular support.

Go talk to a local in the UAE. They are happy, well fed and with high standards of living. They don't care about or active support their government.

The Gulf is completly different than northen Africa or Yemem.

Re:culture difference (1)

nyctopterus (717502) | about 3 years ago | (#35654944)

You are making a fundamental mistake in your assumptions about the arguments of liberalism here. It doesn't matter if 99% of people support something, that doesn't trump the rights of the 1%. This stems from the insight that individuals are the entities that possess rights, not groups. This is a fundamental part of enlightenment thinking, and one of the cornerstones of liberal democracies.

The cultural difference is an argument from group rights, which shouldn't be accepted by any liberal thinker (I will admit that this point isn't grasped by a lot of people). Therefore, you have to establish that groups have rights before we'll take any sort of majority trumping of individual rights.

This is why cultural difference arguments will not be heeded by liberal thinkers. We will continue to stand up for individual rights of people in counties that oppress them, no matter how big the majority is against them.

Re:culture difference (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 3 years ago | (#35655546)

This is a fundamental part of enlightenment thinking, and one of the cornerstones of liberal democracies.

Another fundamental part of enlightened thinking is that there is a balance: if 1% complain their rights are being trampled (and they're right), but in order to ensure their human rights (in whole or in part) we have to trample the rights of the other 99%, then too fucking bad. This argument is often lost in various terms of wealth redistribution, where people are all-for or all-against; both sides are wrong. Yes, poor people inherently have a right to life and comfort, food and shelter, cleanliness, etc; unfortunately, we can't save everyone, and we can't give them everything, and we shouldn't say "well anything above X is too much so we'll take 100%--sorry, let's be fair then--95% of your money above there."

For this discussion I'm going to avoid arguing semantics and citations on whether a position is "correct" or not. If you think my assessment of what's feasible is wrong, good for you; I don't, and I don't care to argue it. There is a more subtle point here, so try to get it.

My current stock example is healthcare. In a nutshell, insurance is an exclusive voluntary wealth redistribution scheme: you pay into it for benefit, but we can kick you out. There are rules that give you rights (can't just say oh you're expensive, bye now), but also rules that you must follow (if you defraud the system, you're gone). Unfortunately supporting EVERYONE is expensive, and anyone with pre-existing conditions is stuck with them lest they game the system (and besides, it's a fast way to relieve a load). This is why you try to stay continuously insured throughout your life. A system that attempts to provide 100% healthcare for everyone in all situations will necessarily collapse, and all systems that purport to are imperfect due to costs (hell, even free-market systems are imperfect due to costs and practicality).

So now that the stage is set, I'll take the obvious stance opposite yours first; there's a follow-up later, so try to absorb this. You've probably heard it before. Supplying socialized healthcare is a failed plan: it's expensive, it forces everyone to pay for everyone else, the homeless on the street with no job (lazy or unfortunate, it is indifferentiable) are simply too much of a drain on the rest of society to do this. We can't care for them like puppies while they rack up tons and tons of healthcare costs and time, clogging the system and preventing healthier people from maintaining their health (no, the stance "this person is worse off, so it's okay that you should be dragged into a pit of eternal suffering so that they can be raised up to parity with that level of suffering as well" is not "enlightened": now you have two people in a shit situation, one who is in a less-shit situation and one who was just fine that is now miserable).

The stock argument I've been making lately, however, is based around a simple observation: The middle and upper class are effectively all cared for, and the system doesn't collapse. Why? Doesn't that invalidate my above argument? It's not an "exclusive" system so much as it's "anyone who has the money can get in."

Actually, no, not entirely.

Homeless people, poor people, people who can't afford health insurance, they are all in essence dirty street rats. They live on the streets, don't eat well, eat garbage, don't shower, they lead stressful lives, expose themselves to constant health hazards, etc. Insuring these people is infeasible because they are so god damn unhealthy--and insuring the entire middle class is feasible exactly because wealth translates to health indirectly, due to access to better food and cleaner facilities and shelter and clothes and lower stress. The poor are often substance abusers for reasons I don't entirely understand--they smoke and they drink a lot, and cigarette and alcohol taxes are really taxes on poor people more than anything.

So what if we implemented free clinics? No OR, no ER; I'm sorry but if you get cancer or your heart is going out and you need a valve you die, or whatever. (Oddly, anyone who collapses winds up in an ER, and we ask about money after we're done saving your life; this is not a bad thing, and I am specifically saying here to NOT mess with that system by "helping" it.) You get doctor's check-ups, say once every 3 months and endless follow-ups as prescript by doctor (if your doctor says you need to come back in a week to get rechecked, that is covered; it's not one of your 4 check-ups, it's prescribed care). Dental cleaning once every six months, and fillings (they're cheap, like $75-$150). If you break an arm, they'll set it non-surgically and cast it. All this for free, but we are not providing you with fucking chemo or putting you under the knife, that shit costs too damn much.

If you have insurance, great, insurance can pay--and these doctors are your vanilla GP types, in or out of network, and bill exactly the same (regulation check against the free market prices) in or out of network--meaning they have to negotiate with the patient (even indirectly, as market forces dictate by non-free GPs), the insurance companies, and the government. What your insurance doesn't pay is covered, "free" clinic still. If you don't have insurance, it's still covered. Using your insurance is mandatory if you have it, though, to take pressure off the system. Also, a free clinic shop can't be a dual-shop: it has to be free or market, so your vanilla doctors/dentists who want to market themselves as being at a (false) "Premium" can't game the system....(okay this system is somewhat open to abuse and needs attention there, but they all are.)

What we have here is a system that says, "Hey, we can't do it. But we tried. At least you can get scheduled check-ups." It still costs us money in taxes, of course; but not as much as full-blown healthcare. It gives the poor a way to stay middle-class healthy (that along with, say, public use housing where you're supplied a shower and laundry services, but nowhere to sleep--the shelters are full, you're sleeping on the street, but we've setup an overflow that at least gets you a shower and clean clothes). This is MAJOR compared to just letting them die with the rats. They still have to find food, they're still living on the street, but they're getting at least minimal medical care. And it's cheap: again, it costs everyone, but it only costs us a little, so addresses their rights without trampling too hard on everyone else's.

My point, of course, is that you shouldn't think that something is so horrible to one person, so we should demand a pound of blood every day from one million people to ease that one person's suffering. At a point this is just ridiculous, and you should just let that person die, or do the best you can without painfully draining the life out of everyone else. Everything is at such a balance: what is the least we can do, and what is the most we can't do? Normalize between these. The least we can do is just leave them all in the streets; but that's also something we've decide we can't do. Start adjusting up until we feel this is just fair, then figure out how much more we'd still think a fair burden and what the maximum benefit we can get for that trade-off is and work that in as an improvement.

Think on this.

Re:culture difference (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35656222)

Except for one major problem.

The US pays the most in the world for health care, and has some of the worst statistical performance. It's nice to wax philosophical on an issue but at some point you need the data to back up your beliefs otherwise you're just Fox News.

Re:culture difference (1)

supermariosd (1854156) | about 3 years ago | (#35657072)

right to consume healthcare resources =/= right to freedom of speech. One involves a question of scarcity and property rights whereas the other doesn't. Me writing this post does not prevent you from writing another post, but me taking your money for healthcare prevents you from using that money for other purposes. I personally believe in a right to healthcare, but I believe it's on a different level of debate than freedom of speech.

I think nycto's point was that "cultural differences" should not be held above universal human rights. Saying "this oppression is just our culture" is bad because it essentializes culture to a particular ethnic/national identity and demeans the very people denoted as "part of the culture" because it posits them as unable to embrace liberty. Universal rights > "particularist" multiculturalism. For more info on universalism, see Slavoj Zizek's writings. He probably answers your calculative ethic at some point in his writings, too.

Re:culture difference (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about 3 years ago | (#35657826)

I was particularly attacking the "enlightened thinker" argument because it left a bad taste in my mouth. Base ethics are non-relative because they have to do with a feeling of personal security in society in general; finer details are extremely relative, and in fact the mode of economic and political function that is best for a society will change over time (although leaders will consistently ignore that and do what's best for THEM at the expense of society).

A lot of people think they're right and everyone else is wrong. If you actually read my argument, you'll have trouble finding a solid point: there isn't one. I made a pretty good recommendation for a general healthcare system that makes a "best effort" or whatever, but in the end it's still "we don't know how to handle this really" "needs to be adjusted up or down based on cost-benefit" etc. In the end you need to say, "In what way is society as a whole better off; by how much; and what was the cost to get there?" If the cost is huge and the benefit is small overall and only isolated to a small part of society (note it may be huge to that segment--i.e. life-saving for 5 people a year--but small to society as a whole--5 lives per year is really nothing, and sufficient economic cost will significantly impact more than 5 lives in a significant negative way), then tough shit for that part of society. It is uncomfortable when said out loud, ne? But when you force yourself to look at the numbers, you start to twitch and stutter trying to argue, because both arguments become uncomfortable moral dilemma.

And that is my point: "civilized" societies are like children. They want to save everyone; they want to save the butterfly from the spider, but the spider starves to death. They want to take the teeth and claws away from the rabbit and tell it to play nice with the fox, but the fox is going to eat it (i.e. non-violence zero-tolerance bullshit; you might be able to win a fight, but you won't want to mug someone that is going to send you off with their purse and a broken arm). They want to run away from uncomfortable truths and instead look at other uncomfortable truths and say, "We should fix this!"

It's nice that you want to help people--and you should! But you also need to understand that there is a balance to the world, and that you need to tip it gently to maximize the benefit. I want homeless people to be miserable and hungry on the street covering their face with a newspaper to keep from getting sunburned; I don't want them to be miserable and starving on the street covering their face to hide the rotting flesh from the infections and sores they have because they can't find even the smallest bits of food or the most basic of medical care or even clean their body and their clothes. I know it's harsh, but I can probably reach that goal with 1% of my taxes; giving them all apartments, food, and world-class medical care would take like a third of everyone's paycheck in taxes. Living on the street sucks, but I don't want it to suck that fucking bad; if I could magic up a perfect world I would, but I can't, so we must find the balance.

That is enlightenment. Or at least a step along the path; just as you will never reach true enlightenment, you will never reach the perfect world, even one where we haven't saved everyone but we've done the absolute best we can. The economic climate, the cultural climate, the political climate changes; what we can and can't do changes; we have to ease up or we can put more in, sometimes it becomes cheaper because technology makes things better and we can supply things that would cost 10 times more before for only 1% additional cost (say non-invasive surgery that corrects a chronic condition and costs about 20 minutes of time, nearly no materials, using a $10,000 machine with $2000/year maintenance cycle-- where before it was a $250,000 operation. Well, now we can supply that to everyone for damn near nothing, and the cost to society is near nothing, so do so). This is not just with healthcare--I happen to have a pretty well constructed fantasy argument for healthcare at the moment, so I use it--but with everything. School, work, play, money, relationships, all works exactly the same way.

There are no simple answers, and all answers are simple.

Re:culture difference (1)

Hany Almansour (2029200) | about 3 years ago | (#35656314)

the fundmentals that you have is totally different than what is in the middle east. i will give you a simple example known in the middle east which describe the fundementals of freedom there "if we where in ship in middle of the sea and one of the people wants to dig in his room which located at the bottom of the ship should we say he has the freedom to do it or stop him from the sinking the ship" you can build on this fundemental concept for any case. usually each case is reviewed for its effect on other people. for the filtering issue, you are looking at it from your side and try to impose your fundemetals only without giving them their freedom to choose. In Saudi arabia almost more than 50% of the population is under 18 (accrding to US fundementals they don't have freedom) and based on the above concept the filetring is done for nationwide to save the childrens because most of the parents doesn't know anything about the internet. and for your information bypassing the filter in saudi arabia is simple for adults, and if an adult wants a totally unfiltered internet he can simply do it using VPN. i hope that i cleared the concept for you and the others who comments

Re:culture difference (1)

Terrasque (796014) | about 3 years ago | (#35654948)

But, but, but.... You hate us for our freedom! And will stop at nothing to steal that freedom for yourselves! That's what [silly media person] told me, and he wouldn't lie!

Re:culture difference (2)

MattJD (1020453) | about 3 years ago | (#35654958)

While such software in of itself is not evil, and having an opt-in system to allow people to use such software to block out parts of the Internet they either do not want to see or are trying to protect someone else (think of the children!), I personally start having issues when its government mandated and no way to get around in a simple manner.

If my ISP (if it doesn't already) offered a mechanism to filter the Internet for me with a account specific password to get around it, I would not complain. However if tomorrow they put in a forced filter that I had no way to opt-out of, especially on a per-site basis, then I would have a problem with them.

To keep this on track, remember the article is talking about situations where governments force people to accept this, thus controlling what people can see and thus trying to think. Just using filtering software is not evil, and you are not forced to visit the whole Internet without it. Its forced censorship that is evil.

So what (1)

publiclurker (952615) | about 3 years ago | (#35654964)

The claim that you don't like being interrogated has nothing to do with the fact that you should be interrogated. Ethically challenged people usually think that they are, for some reason, deserving of special treatment and that we should all look the other way. If the people of your country actually want to be kept in the dark then they can hide themselves in the dark. Self important people like you and your friend do not have the right to determine what adults can and cannot view. (and pushing it on the ISP does not count as we all know how "voluntary" that actually is in backwater countries.) fortunately, as the news is constantly showing, the people of the middle east are getting tired of being held back by the ignorance and intolerance of people like yourself.

Re:culture difference (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 3 years ago | (#35655254)

We are quite aware of the cultural difference, women in the west drive cars and in general are not kept as property. If you want clean Internet good for you, but this is about want we want our companies to be allowed to sell not want you want to buy. You could always develop such technology yourself if western companies refused to sell it. When South Africa had racial apartheid many in the west called for business not to sell to them, some here also would like the same position due to your nation's sex apartheid.

Re:culture difference (1)

s73v3r (963317) | about 3 years ago | (#35655986)

Couldn't you just, I dunno, not go to those sites? Instead of forcing the entire country to go along with a ban?

Honestly, this won't solve very much. (1)

Millennium (2451) | about 3 years ago | (#35654644)

There are enough free and/or open-source censorware packages out there that banning companies from selling their own solutions isn't going to do very much. At best, it stands to induce the makers of these open-source packages to close up their licenses. Somewhat worse on the scale would be if these countries started writing their own filters. Worst of all would be if they start buying things like Green Dam from countries where suppression of information is not just accepted but outright valued.

In other words, the current situation sucks, but it sucks less than most of the alternatives, and the only truly better alternative -where censorware is banned worldwide for all purposes- is never going to happen. At least transactions which take place in the open are known quantities.

Re:Honestly, this won't solve very much. (1)

Compholio (770966) | about 3 years ago | (#35655052)

In other words, the current situation sucks, but it sucks less than most of the alternatives, and the only truly better alternative -where censorware is banned worldwide for all purposes- is never going to happen. At least transactions which take place in the open are known quantities.

That's not necessary, all you'd really have to do is ban country-wide censoring. If you passed an international law that essentially said "anyone may offer optional crippled versions of the Internet, but no country may cripple the Internet outright" then you'd be golden. At that point all you have to do is make the punishment "we all agree worldwide to cut you off" and you're done, all this stupid crap is over.

Um... (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35654718)

It is NOT the job of a software vendor to control foreign governments. Nor is it their job to decide if its product is being used in an "approved" manner.

If the government wants to try to control this, I think that a law would have to be passed. I guess that such a law would introduce all manner of additional powers and controls that the gov't could then use to curtail the rights of its citizens.

Also, this:
"It's probably safe to say that most Middle Eastern countries wouldn't find this worth the trouble."
LOL really? It's probably safe to say that the author can't back up that opinion.

Re:Um... (1)

MetalliQaZ (539913) | about 3 years ago | (#35655062)

It is NOT the job of a software vendor to control foreign governments. Nor is it their job to decide if its product is being used in an "approved" manner.

If the government wants to try to control this, I think that a law would have to be passed. I guess that such a law would introduce all manner of additional powers and controls that the gov't could then use to curtail the rights of its citizens.

It IS the responsibility of a company to avoid dealing with countries that are on the US's embargo list (NK, Cuba, Ivory Coast, Iran, etc) It is also their responsibility to control how their products are used to avoid those countries.

Outside of export laws, American companies can still be attacked for human rights abuses regardless of where the abuses took place.

Still, I agree that there is nothing that prevents companies from blocking websites. I don't think the OP wanted to prosecute these companies, only call them out for being "evil" by our values.


Re:Um... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35656010)

Unfortunately, a free internet is not a human right (I wish it was but it is NOT), so censorship of the internet can not be a human rights abuse. Censorware can AID the abuse of human rights, but so can a myriad of other things. If human rights ARE being abused, then it is more appropriate to enact a full embargo.

"Hello, Yemen? We dislike the way you treat your citizens, so we won't sell you censoring software. However, you are invited to continue to trade with us." Sounds to me like crooked politics: you look good by not selling the "hot" item, but you still prop up the abusive government by engaging in normal trade.

Re:Um... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35655090)

Or, put another way:

When they tell us how to use the software we purchased, that's "repressive".
When we get to use the software we purchased the way we want, that's "freedom".

When they tell them how to use the software they purchased, that's "freedom".
When they get to use the software they purchased the way they want, that's "repressive".

So to sum up, Slashdot: Hypocrite much?

Always America's fault (0)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about 3 years ago | (#35654816)

No matter what the social ill, it's always America's fault. Those evil foreigners are never responsible for their own actions. It's always, all about America. Middle east problems would go away if America would just fall in line.

Let's imagine the opposite situation: what if Websense refused to sell to Arabs? Would this headline be plausible? United Nations Human Rights Council condemns American companies after refusing to sell software on basis of race. Don't believe me? There is always a way...remember, it's all about America. Try another ripped-from-the-headlines sample: The U.S. intervention in Libya has nothing to do with meeting humanitarian goals, and everything to do with reasserting Western domination in a region that has long suffered the effects of colonialism and imperialism. [socialistworker.org]

Re:Always America's fault (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35654978)

Let's imagine the opposite situation: the world accepts US foreign policy as altruistic.

Hahahaha... Sorry that was a good one.

Blame whitey (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35655086)

Here I always thought that is was whitey's fault no matter what or whose problem it was...

Re:Always America's fault (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 3 years ago | (#35656056)

Would this headline be plausible? United Nations Human Rights Council condemns American companies after refusing to sell software on basis of race.

No that's totally insane. If it weren't insane, then why hasn't the same been said about weapons that can't be exported, military surplus, and region-locked goods like video game systems etc?

Try another ripped-from-the-headlines sample: The U.S. intervention in Libya has nothing to do with meeting humanitarian goals, and everything to do with reasserting Western domination in a region that has long suffered the effects of colonialism and imperialism. [socialistworker.org]

I don't think it counts as a headline if it only appears on a fringe nutjob site.

Re:Always America's fault (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 3 years ago | (#35657546)

Ya know, it's like a crook donating to charity. Yes, he's doing something nice for a change, but you still question his motivation. It's just so not like him.

Oh, Please...! (1, Interesting)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | about 3 years ago | (#35654818)

Somebody's worried about US companies selling censor software to countries to whom we also sell bombs and warplanes. Talk about the Skewed Geek Perspective!

Free Speech is not a global " human right." If you live in a country where it is respected, be thankful. If you live in a country where it is not, and it is meaningful to you, move.

Why not stop textile manufacturers from selling cloth to Sharia-governed countries? We all know that they'll just use it to make those evil burqhas...

Re:Oh, Please...! (2)

publiclurker (952615) | about 3 years ago | (#35655030)

Free speech is a human right. The fact that some people are not allowed to exercise this right is a problem. After all, slavery is practiced in some countries and I doubt even the most morally challenged would claim that that this is not a human right issue.

So censoring what you see (1)

Shivetya (243324) | about 3 years ago | (#35655818)

infringes on your free speech? Well you can't have kiddy porn so are people infringing on your rights?

No? Or is it based on what you consider right and wrong? Can we apply all our ideas of right and wrong on another society? Oh sure I agree there are some things that should not be tolerated that we might get 90% of the world to agree on, however the big problems are

1) we don't all have the same values
2) we are asking corporations to do something our own government won't do

I understand #2, it is far easier to go after someone who can't jail you, activist tend to take the path of least resistance these days which is to attack big corporations instead of the governments which enabled them

Re:So censoring what you see (1)

Hatta (162192) | about 3 years ago | (#35657508)

No, we don't all have the same values. The people who want censorware are attempting to push their values on others. They have no non-hypocritical recourse if the freer among us attempt to push our values on them.

If you really accept the fact that different people have different values, then you can't support censorship at all as you'd have to choose one value system as privileged.

Re:Oh, Please...! (1)

mpp (18866) | about 3 years ago | (#35655192)

Bennett Haselton is an expert in this kind of stuff, so he's sharing his expertise. Let the weapons experts share their expertise in that area. Nothing skewed about this.

Why not help people in other countries who are trying to get free speech? Would you have told those uppity American colonialists "This land is ruled by Great Britain. If you don't like it, move."?

Re:Oh, Please...! (1)

Co0Ps (1539395) | about 3 years ago | (#35655338)

"If you live in a country where it is not, and it is meaningful to you, move." That is probably the single most ignorant sentence I've read, ever. Since when does people decide in what country they want to live? I understand it's hard for you (probably American) to understand the POV of refugees and civilians being oppressed by a dictators - but can you please fucking try? Also free speech is a human right and that fact is not correlated with the fact that most countries don't respect it. Your argument makes no sense and is invalid. If I punch you in the face, does that mean you doesn't have the right to get punched in the face anymore? Lastly your main argument is basically about priorities - you're saying that as long as someone try to debate or stop [companies that piss on ethics by exporting censorship equipment to oppressive governments], that person believes that anything worse isn't worse (in this case - weapon exports). Classic mutual exclusion fallacy ("if you debate one issue you automatically declare that any other issues are not important").

Re:Oh, Please...! (1)

Co0Ps (1539395) | about 3 years ago | (#35655374)

EDIT/TYPO: "the right to NOT get punched in the face anymore" ... damn tripple negatives

Re:Oh, Please...! (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | about 3 years ago | (#35655474)

Somebody's worried about US companies selling censor software to countries to whom we also sell bombs and warplanes. Talk about the Skewed Geek Perspective!

I'm all for applying that label where it makes sense; but this is very similar to those who post "is THIS the best thing our legislators can do with their time?" Legislators -- and the rest of us -- are able to maintain awareness of and yea, even concern for multiple problems at the same time. I would wager a guess that the author of TFA is qualified to speak on this particular topic; whereas he probably is not on the subject of government-supplied weapons. This does not mean that he holds no concern for it - only that he knows better than to make a fool of himself for speaking authoritatively on subjects for which he is no authority.

Re:Oh, Please...! (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about 3 years ago | (#35655628)

Free speech is indeed a global human right.

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.

Source: United Nations Declaration of Human Rights [un.org]

Re:Oh, Please...! (1)

klingens (147173) | about 3 years ago | (#35656558)

All the bombs the US sold to Egypt didn't prevent the democratic uprising helped greatly by free flow of information.
Remember: the pen (or in this case the pixel) is mightier than the sword.

As for your "Free speech is not a human right" you are mistaken:
Article 12.
        No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 19.
        Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

From: http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml [un.org]

Re:Oh, Please...! (1)

Chelloveck (14643) | about 3 years ago | (#35657324)

I place blame squarely where it belongs -- with 3M. Any regime, oppressive or otherwise, would fall apart within hours if it were denied Post-It notes and Scotch tape. When will 3M learn that by selling to the Middle East they're directly responsible for the violation of basic human rights!

This article is ridiculous. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35654936)

Do you honestly think that Websense could "cut off" Yemen or anyone else from using their service? The article author claims that although Yemen has set up a country-wide censorship system, that they would just give up if Websense stopped sending them updates because it is too much trouble to continue. Really? It would only take a credit card and an IP address in another country to get around this. In fact, this has probably already happened, since Websense has already claimed to have tried to cut them off.

It's not as easy as you make it sound (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35654990)

Never assume malice.

Doing a "special update" for selected client software is not as simple as it sounds, and unless it's already incorporated into the product such a release would require significant development efforts. Simply cutting them off, effectively terminating their user license, would probably require legal action. It COULD be done, but who is expected to pay for it?

As a foreigner living in China... (1)

Rincewind42 (973462) | about 3 years ago | (#35655058)

...it feels like I've just found out that the police man investigating a burglary at my house is really in the pay of the thief.

Of course, as a foreigner living in China, I'm all to aware of the reality and hypocrisy of police corruption. It is as rife here in China as corporate corruption is in the US. The key difference is that the Chinese people know their system is corrupt where as the US populace seems blinkered. Not that it makes any difference as both groups, Chinese and US, advocate the continuation of their own systems to the damnation of all others. Neither facing the truth that both systems are two sides of one coin, abet a fake coin that looks like gold but is filled with tin, lead, false dreams and lost hope.

Re:As a foreigner living in China... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 3 years ago | (#35657640)

People in dictatorships have always been a lot more interested in politics than people in democracies. Usually it changes after a period of dictatorship, it seems to refresh the interest.

Well, I guess we'll soon see a lot of interest in politics reemerge over here, too, don't worry.

Counties are not regular clients (1)

tehrustine (2020446) | about 3 years ago | (#35655068)

I think there is a fundamental problem equating countries to enterprise level clients. While they do share similarities, I don't see any reason why a country such as Iran couldn't develop their own web crawler to add sites to their blocked list. Yes, they currently have the support of US companies, but I'm dubious as to the necessity. Should the companies refuse to provide updates, innovative countries will not hesitate to circumvent that minor difficulty.

Paranoia: the best filter (1)

stubob (204064) | about 3 years ago | (#35655174)

I think I'll start marketing a web content filter called "Paranoia." It won't actually do anything, but by telling your users/citizens that you are, and can monitor everything they do, they would be more worried about it than getting a blocked-site message. It would be like one big TOS that said "Feel free to do whatever you like, as long as that is within the bounds of whatever we feel is appropriate/acceptable. We reserve the right to redefine appropriate and acceptable as appropriate and without additional warning."

Re:Paranoia: the best filter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35656846)

I don't like the name, maybe you could call it ECHELON or TIA.

But if they have valid, paid-for subscriptions... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35655370)

I don't understand how a company that sold the software has any choice but to supply the updates. It is their legally-binding obligation to do so unless specific terms of the agreement under which the goods were sold are violated. I don't think a single one of these agreements mentions government usage to stifle freedom.
Funny really, we can give them 'financial aid', which they are then 'encouraged' to spend on guns and tear-gas (mostly from US vendors as the 'aid' packages require) to use on their own populations, but if they begin to act all sovereign, we can shut down their other purchases like software?

Oh, my...talk about hypocritical....

Re:But if they have valid, paid-for subscriptions. (1)

number11 (129686) | about 3 years ago | (#35656428)

I don't understand how a company that sold the software has any choice but to supply the updates. It is their legally-binding obligation to do so unless specific terms of the agreement under which the goods were sold are violated.

Most of the software TOS I see say something like "we don't warrant this software to do anything, and have the right to change these terms whenever it strikes our fancy". So much for "legally-binding obligation".

But even leaving that aside, companies are under no obligation to accept a renewal order. "Sorry, sir, that serial number does not qualify for an update subscription."

posting AC because I've moderated

So what would stop... (1)

Skidborg (1585365) | about 3 years ago | (#35655420)

...the countries from pirating the censorship software and carrying on with their nefarious deeds?

Re:So what would stop... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35655842)

DRM obviously.....

Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#35655908)

You're telling me a government can't use another outside copy of the filtering software, update and get the new filtering list from McAfee, and then apply it to their "blocked" copy?

The stupid, it burns (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | about 3 years ago | (#35656100)

The proposal above will do nothing to stop oppressive governments from taking advantage of blacklists created by western companies. These adversaries can simply request updates from fully-supported jurisdictions and forward them privately to filters running on their gateway routers. The filters are made up of bytes. Bytes can be copied. If adversaries are already pirating the software itself, they can certainly pirate updates to the software.

Yes, yes, you can try using some kind of traitor tracing [wikimedia.org] technique to figure out who might be leaking blocking lists --- but it's a cat and mouse game, and these regimes have more resources than you do.

Look: in a larger sense, antipathy toward western hardware and software companies is misplaced. To internet censors, filtering is an existential imperative, especially in light of the recent unrest in the middle east. No cost is too great. If our adversaries need to sign up with multiple expensive dummy accounts in order to receive filter lists, they will. If they need to break DRM, they'll do it. And if all that becomes too expensive, they'll just switch to open source and home-grown [wikimedia.org] filtering solutions. Currently, they use these filtering products because they're cheap, not because they're essential.

We all want to stop internet censorship, but haranguing individual companies over the misuse of their software won't do it. Circumvention works. [torproject.org]Alternative routing [theindependentbd.com] works. Political pressure [wikimedia.org] works.

Internet censorship is a real problem. While it may feel good, hysterically screaming at corporations does nothing to solve it. Let's talk about thing we can to actually help.

(Note: I have a bit of experience in this area.)

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