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[liberationtech] Narus- american company helped Egyptian goevernment to spy on its citizens?

Gregory Maxwell gmaxwell at
Thu Feb 10 09:13:52 PST 2011

On Thu, Feb 10, 2011 at 11:15 AM, John Graham-Cumming <jgc at> wrote:
> Yes.  I've been following that closely.  It appears that they want to
> filter out pornographic web sites (amongst other things) primarily.
> But, of course, it does leave the door open to other material to be
> censored.

I'm sure you meant no harm but I think it's important to always be
aware of the nuance on this point. The idea that "its _just_ porn" is
an attractive thought to many people (myself included) who are willing
to agree that not all free expression is of completely equal value,
but the conclusions and compromises resulting from this idea are often

It doesn't just "leave the door open".  I am aware of _no_ remotely
effective pornographic filter which does not also block things which
are not porn. For example, a couple weeks ago Websense listed the
popular news and link aggregation site reddit as pornography.  (There
are some sections of the site dedicated to sexually explicit material,
but the site is broadly not.)

These actions also always carry the indirect pressure of
self-censorship: if you want to make sure your website remains
available in such places then you must steer broadly clear of anything
that might get you listed, including omitting many things which the
target regime would probably not consider problematic if considered on
a case-by-case basis. Once omitted, the information is usually
unavailable to everyone and not just one geography and because this
'editorial censorship' is silent it is very hard to find and oppose.

And furthermore, the technology of compulsory internet censorship
developed to achieve these ends doesn't merely carry the risk of
expanded use in the regime in question— it results in an industry of
censorship. Tens of thousands of equipment vendor salespeople going in
and having meetings with decisionmakers in places where the internet
is not censored, trying to convince them to censor it—not because they
like censorship, but because the censor-box is an already developed
product and they have a quota to meet.

So while the _intention_ of a population to selectively exclude a
narrow set of, arguably, limited value material may sometimes seem
relatively harmless—the practical effect of this kind of policy is
inevitably a worldwide pressure against a far broader class of
material. There is one Internet and these policies break it.

This potentially raises an interesting conflict of interests: the
freedom of expression for the people of Tunisia is obviously enhanced
greatly by Internet access, even heavily censored internet access. But
the freedom of expression for people in largely uncensored parts of
the internet might arguably be maximized by completely cutting off
Internet access to network regions which censor. Though it's a bit
academic, since no one really gets to make that call, but still
interesting to note that the compromises we might tolerate in order to
help the people of one political unit may carry a net harm.

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