Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Blog Smog 

This has been a frustrating year for blogging. First, China blocked access to Blogspot (where my blog is hosted), then Facebook (where my pictures were hosted). I managed to get a proxy set up so that I could get into Blogspot, and found another place to put my pictures. Now that location has also been blocked, and the proxy is clogging up.

Recently, Eason found a pretty good VPN, so I am able to get in without too much trouble. But it is a bit of a hassle. The constant challenge to circumvent the GFW (Great Firewall of China), which the Chinese government refers to euphemistically as the "Golden Shield Project," has spawned a whole generation of network sleuths in this country. Necessity is the mother of invention. Without getting too technical, the GFW is used to block certain IP addresses or Internet domains from getting through. In the West, many have thought that China scrutinizes every web site and reads every email to search for terms that are considered objectionable. But most people don't stop to think about the logistics of actually doing that. Certainly the government does some of this, but what is far more common (and much easier to do) is the blocking of specific offending domains. Finding objectionable emails requires an army of snoops. But blocking a domain is as simple as a few mouse clicks--assuming, of course, that all Internet traffic is let into the country through routers controlled by the government. My problem is that I have never purchased my own domain. If I had, I may not have any trouble. The government probably doesn't even know who I am. I don't think I have ever said anything "bad" enough to be censored by the net nanny. But my blog is hosted on Blogspot, which hosts gazillions of blogs. If the government finds an offending blog post somewhere on Blogspot, they don't filter it out. They don't have the technology to do that. They just block the entire domain (blogspot.com), because, as I said, that is so easy to do. For the first few years I was in China, this never bothered me, because if you have a blog on Blogspot, you actually update your blog from a different site (blogger.com, which was never blocked before.

But since Obama was elected--or more specifically, since Hillary Clinton came to Beijing and told officials here that America would keep quiet about human rights if China would keep buying Treasury bills, the noose has been tightening. Now both Blogspot and Blogger are blocked.

Hillary Clinton has never said that the Americans do not care about human rights. But she said that America's concerns would be expressed privately, not publically. This was an invitation to Beijing to tighten the screws, and the change has been noticable.

So what to do? If you are located in the United States, and you have a server that can access a given domain (such as Blogspot), I can connect directly to your server, and access Blogspot through your server. How can I do this? Because Blogspot is blocked, but your server is not blocked. If I try to access Blogspot directly, I will be unable to reach it. But If I access Blogspot through your server, I can get right through, because the government knows about Blogspot, but it doesn't know about you. A server that serves as a proxy for someone who is trying to access the Internet is called a "proxy server."

I have access to a proxy server for my blog, and I have a virtual private network I use to upload jpegs, so I am more or less able to function, now, but I think you can understand that it is tentative. If the government discovers a proxy that is giving access to web sites the government wants to block, they can simply block the proxy. It takes them awhile to find these, but eventually they often do. Keep in mind that none of this is a legal issue. I suppose the government could have just passed a bunch of laws prohibiting access to certain sites, but they have not done that, perhaps because such a law would be hard to enforce. So it is not illegal to access blocked sites, just challenging.

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