Who among us would blog if at every other keystroke we expected the military to kick in the door? This, of course, is the unacceptable reality for bloggers and cultural producers worldwide who write and make art in oppressive and violent regimes. For example, Nay Phone Latt , a 28 year old Burmese blogger, was sentenced last November to 20 years in prison for defamation of the state and being in possession of a “subversive” film. Or the recent murder of journalist Anastasia Baburova (along with human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov) in Moscow. These writers take huge and sometimes tragic risks to speak truth to power.
In its ongoing efforts to help these citizen heroes, Reporters Without Borders reissued their Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-dissidents, a practical and accessible how-to guide for publishing online in dangerous circumstances. The update was release last Spring, but because these issues remain so vitally relevant, we thought we’d sing its praises once again. Whether you need to keep your emails private, cover your cyber tracks, or get around internet filtering systems, this handbook provides clear and detailed instructions. It covers basics like how to set up a blog at major blog sites, blogging ethics (accuracy, fairness, transparency, independence), and more advanced strategies like how to get your blog picked up by search engines and noticed.
Of particular interest for those who write under threat to their physical security are the chapters on how to use public computers and anonymous proxies to say your piece without leaving a trace. And if that’s not enough – say in a country with few people using proxies and a government that can demand ISP logs that would reveal who was using them – there’s the more sophisticated advantages of TOR (in the words of RSF):
“TOR is a very sophisticated network of proxy servers. Proxy servers request a web page on your behalf, which means that the web server doesn’t see the IP address of the computer requesting the webpage. When you access Tor, you’re using three different proxy servers to retrieve each webpage. The pages are encrypted in transit between servers, and even if one or two of the servers in the chain were compromised, it would be very difficult to see what webpage you were retrieving or posting to.”
And for those on the move, there’s TOR on a Stick (ToaSt), a portable application that facilitates similar kinds of precautious.
For bloggers and artists living in countries where the internet is not what it appears – say, behind China’s Golden Shield – the Handbook outlines strategies for getting around the filters (aka “circumvention technologies”). There are websites that retrieve any url on request to allow unrestricted browsing, applications that disguise where data flows to and from while encrypting it to keep it from prying eyes, proxy servers, tunneling strategies, and anoymous communication services all available for those who might need them. The Handbook weighs in with pros and cons and helpfully details the risks of using these technologies and how they can be detected and themselves circumvented by the footsoldiers of repression and tyranny.
Hats off to the folks at Reporters sans frontiers. This is work and support much needed and much appreciated. The book is available by download for free at RSF’s website.
PS. For more information or to get involved, Reporters sans frontieres have a campaign to get Nay Phone Latt and fellow Burmese blogger Zaganar (serving 59 years for criticizing the military government) released.