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Tech advice for dissident bloggers

Blog Wars: Hacking a totalitarian regime

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A few years ago, Shi Tao, a business reporter for the Hunan-based Contemporary Business News, forwarded an official press release from the Chinese government regarding the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests to an outside site.

He used his free Yahoo! account. China called Yahoo! and asked, "Who is this asshole?" The company revealed that it was Shi, who was then arrested and sent to prison for 10 years.

Iran arrested Kareem Amer for a sophomoric rant against his university and gave him a four-year prison sentence. His lawyers say since then, his teeth have been smashed and he's beaten regularly.

Blogging is free speech's last frontier against government suppression. It's cheap (free), accessible (easy), and worldwide in seconds (bitchin!). Governments in need of control over information know this — and they're pissed. So how do you get the word out?

First, try the creative approach.

During a recent media tour arranged by the Chinese government, 15 red-robed Buddhist monks ran up to the camera caravan waving Tibetan flags. The resulting international coverage obliterated any attempt at spinning Tibet's oppression by the People's Republic. The more you tighten your grip, Jintao, the more laughing monks will slip through your fingers.

If there's no media to hack, get tech.

Governments regularly block access to sites known to be subversive by using server-based filtering. That depends on two things: IP addresses and content. There are a number of ways around that. To view and post blogs within a restricted network, the most common method is anonymous surfing (handy for looking at porn from your company's internet connection).

Steganos uses Secure Socket Layer tunneling to connect to remote sites (via relay), then encrypts the data and sends it to your SSL-enabled browser. Most modern browsers are SSL-capable. But you have to cough up $14.95 a month.

Free services like Proxify and htmlblock.co.uk offer anonymous proxy-based surfing. They are a little slow, but the embedded frames delivery seems to be effective enough to bypass server-based filtering.

You can use these services to access free blog hosts like Wordpress, but you're better off installing it. To do that, you'll need a server environment like MAMP, XAMP, or LAMP for Mac, Windows, and Linux. Just Google them and follow the links.

To broadcast your blog to the world, use a service like no-ip.com. It lets you host your blog on your computer. When you're connected to the internet, a small background process connects with a central server and tells the world where to find your domain (which is your laptop while you sip a decaf-mint-double-frappacino).

You need an approach that keeps you under their radar. Automated government filtering depends heavily on the indexing of content for recurring "offending" phrases like "tiananmen square" and "mission accomplished." Spammers figured a way around this a long time ago. That's why you get e-mails with subject lines like "enlarg urself with new phun creem." Change your blog post titles using unconventional phonetics of "offending" keywords.

Also, you can skip text-filtering altogether by using images instead of words. Use a program like Photoshop or the excellent open-source alternative GIMP. Type your entry onto a jpeg and then post that by itself. Search engines are stupid, but the right people will find it if you're still on the grid.

Yahoo!, Microsoft, YouTube, and GoDaddy routinely shut down blogs China isn't cool with, because they're salivating for its meat count of 150 million internet users. But apart from the tech giants that acquiesce willfully, here's the precedent Wubya's administration fostered in the recently re-authorized U.S.A. Patriot Act.

Section 216 clarifies that wiretapping authority applies to the internet. It's just begun. We're doomed. Adapt or be silent.

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