Reporters Without Borders unblocks access to censored websites

Reporters Without Borders unblocks access to censored websites

Online censorship is rife. In many countries, notably China, citizens are prevented from accessing certain websites at the behest of their government. To help provide access to information and unbiased news, freedom of information organization Reporters Without Borders has set up mirrors to nine censored websites so they can be accessed from 11 countries that blocked them.

As part of Operation Collateral Freedom, Reporters Without Borders is mirroring the likes of The Tibet Post International which is blocked in China, and Gooya News which is blocked in Iran. Mirrored sites are hosted on Amazon, Microsoft and Google servers which are unlikely to be blocked by a censoring country.

While it would still be possible to block access to the mirrored sites, the fact that they are hosted on such popular servers means that there would be massive knock-on effects for other much-used services. Encryption is also in use to help prevent the risk of blocking by keyword.

Reporters Without Borders is waging war on the "Enemies of the Internet" which includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, China, Cuba, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The full list of sites that make up Operation Collateral Freedom are:

  •, blocked in Russia
  • blocked in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan
  • The Tibet Post, blocked in China
  • Dan Lam Bao, blocked in Vietnam
  • Mingjing News, blocked in China
  • Hablemos Press, blocked in Cuba
  • Gooya News, blocked in Iran
  • Gulf Centre for Human Rights, blocked in United Arab Emirates
  • Bahrain Mirror, blocked in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia

Explaining how access has been opened up, Reporters Without Borders says:

To prevent this blocking, Operation Collateral Freedom is using techniques similar to those developed by GreatFire, an NGO that has carried out several operations of this kind designed to circumvent Chinese censorship.

Access to blocked sites can be restored by using a "website copier" (which copies the content of the censored site to an uncensored server and then keeps updating this "mirror") or by using a proxy.

In Operation Collateral Freedom, we are using both methods, with the mirror site being placed on a strategic server run by a major service provider such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google. The censoring country would be unlikely to block one of these servers because the collateral disruption and damage would outweigh the benefits to be gained from restoring censorship.

The organization is currently renting bandwidth to host the mirrored sites, and is calling for people to spread the word through social media using the hashtag #CollateralFreedom. Donations are being sought to keep the operation running for as long as possible.

Photo credit: alexskopje / Shutterstock

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