Free Speech, Anonymity, and Technology
(Source: Technology Review May/June 2009 — sign up for a free account to access)
“Sokwanele” means “enough is enough” in a certain Bantu dialect. It is also the name of a Zimbabwean pro-democracy website whose bloggers last year published accounts of atrocities by Robert Mugabe’s regime and posted Election Day updates describing voter intimidation and apparent ballot stuffing. You can visit Sokwanele’s “terror album” and see photographs: of a hospitalized 70-year-old woman who’d been beaten and thrown on her cooking fire (she later died, the site says); of firebombed homes; of people with deep wounds carved into their backs. You can find detailed, frequently updated maps describing regional violence and other incidents. You will be confronted with gruesome news, starkly captioned: “Joshua Bakacheza’s Body Found.” …
Tor is an open-source Internet anonymity system–one of several systems that encrypt data or hide the accompanying Internet address, and route the data to its final destination through intermediate computers called proxies. This combination of routing and encryption can mask a computer’s actual location and circumvent government filters; to prying eyes, the Internet traffic seems to be coming from the proxies. At a time when global Internet access and social-networking technologies are surging, such tools are increasingly important to bloggers and other Web users living under repressive regimes. Without them, people in these countries might be unable to speak or read freely online (see “Beating Surveillance and Censorship”).