Bringing Down The Virtual Wall In China

National Journal
Bringing Down The Virtual Wall In China

Issue Of The Week: Tuesday, May 30, 2006
by Danielle Belopotosky

[Rutgers' University computer science professor Shiyu Zhou] is a member of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, which consists of Dynamic Internet Technology, Ultrareach and other Internet companies spread across the United States that have been leading efforts to break through China's firewall over the past six years. They have developed anti-jamming technologies enabling Internet users from the inside reach the uncensored outside world.

"The main purpose" for the government's censorship of information is to cover up corruption and social problems, asserts Zhou. In 2005, Chinese officials reported there were more than 87,000 riots in China -- or one every six minutes, he said.

Since the end of 1999, when the CCP banned the Falun Gong practice, this small group of IT experts has dedicated their spare time and dollars to create counter-firewall technology. For every $1 they spend to develop their technologies, the Chinese government spends about $10 million to censor the Web, Zhou estimates.

DIT has developed software called Freegate, which lets users surf the Web and view sites banned by the Chinese government. Today, the network is capable of receiving more than 30,000 hits from inside China, according to Zhou. He estimates it would take 20 million users to crash the firewall.

DIT reaches out to people via online chat rooms, instant messaging, mass e-mailing technologies and Web site postings, according to company President Bill Xia. Volunteers try to reach 10 million Internet users in bimonthly large-scale mailings.

At the grassroots level, there is a "people's war" in China to get the message out that users can circumvent the firewall, Xia said. Meanwhile, outside of China "we can attack the technical issues" to make it more difficult for the human censors, he added.

Their methods have proved successful. "I got to know you through the fax you send to our company regularly," one person wrote of the secret portal Web users reach through the use DIT's Freegate technology. "I log onto this site everyday now. It tells me the truth."

Once on the other side of China's unrestricted Web, users find a portal with links to banned Western media Web sites, including BBC and The Wall Street Journal. But for many, gaining access to the outside world is about political freedom; more than 10 million have renounced their membership to the Chinese Communist Party online.

Since they have successfully created software to secure virtual passage beyond China, these IT experts are taking their initiative a step further…

"We've created a secure online virtual environment" for people in China, Zhou said. The Internet is a two-way communications tool, and this tool has created something "that does not exist in reality in China." He calls this new environment a "marriage of platforms." Not only can they bring in "factual" information into China, but now individuals can get "truthful information outside of China."

The technology is universal. Zhou said this platform can be applied to other societies where the Internet is censored. "This can advance Internet freedom all over the world," Zhou said.