Leading Edge / Summer 2006
Freedom to Surf

The Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre takes on growing worldwide Internet censorship and surveillance


Researchers at the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Relations have developed new software that helps Web users skirt Internet censorship and surveillance by connecting to the computers of family or friends in such countries as the U.S. and Canada.

Unlike other censorship-beating software, Psiphon relies on people in uncensored countries to install the software on their computers. By connecting to a Psiphon computer through the Internet, friends and family in such places as China or Iran can surf the Web as though they were in Canada. Citizen Lab director Ronald Deibert says this direct person-to-person contact makes Psiphon difficult for government censors to find and block. He adds that Psiphon capitalizes on regions with large multicultural populations, such as North America and the European Union. “We know this tool will be very popular among Chinese Canadians and Iranian Canadians,” he says.

Deibert says the idea to develop Psiphon emerged from the lab’s day-to-day work documenting how governments around the world deny their citizens free access to the Web and monitor the Web pages they visit. Although Canadian Web surfers might not notice, Deibert says Internet censorship and surveillance are growing worldwide and stand in the way of democratic change. “All of the work we do follows, at a most basic level, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19, which talks about access to information and freedom of speech. We’re very interested in human rights and exploring ways in which technology can help shore up those human rights at a time when they’re under threat around the world.”

Psiphon is available for free download at psiphon.civisec.org.


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