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Activists Put a Hole in the Great Firewall of China

BY Rebecca Chao | Monday, November 18 2013

The man with the golden cam/flickr

When the Chinese versions of Reuters and the Wall Street Journal were censored on Friday, the team at GreatFire.org quickly got to work in restoring them by creating what they call “mirror sites.” Much like a reflection, they are essentially impossible to eliminate without causing significant economic damage to China, according to Great Fire co-founder Charlie Smith.

A mirror site is accessible in China without the use of any circumvention tools like a virtual private network, or VPN. The Reuters mirror site was quickly cobbled together in a day or so by the Great Fire team and so has a few bugs, inaccuracies and is also not an official Reuters site. It is available at this URL: https://s3.amazonaws.com/cn.reuters/index.html.

As the URL indicates, the mirror site uses the Amazon domain. Great Fire creates its mirror sites by using HTTPS-supported subpaths from the domains of larger sites like Amazon and Google. Therefore, since the mirror site does not have its own domain, it can only be blocked if the Chinese government chooses to shut down Amazon and Google sites entirely; this would undoubtedly cause a severe economic backlash given the number of businesses in China that rely on these sites.

Smith wrote in a blog post that previous attempts to block popular sites also resulted in a severe social backlash. In January 2013, China censored Github but it resulted in an outcry among Chinese developers who rely on the site for their work. Kai Fu Lee, the former president of Google in China, condemned the blockage on China’s microblogging site Sina Weibo and his post quickly garnered tens of thousands of reposts and comments within a few days. Authorities eventually conceded and reopened the site.

TechPresident previously wrote about methods that Chinese netizens use to circumvent the Great Firewall. A report written by Open ITP, an organization that supports developers of anti-surveillance and anti-censorship tools, revealed that Internet freedom in China is “collateral freedom, built on technologies and platforms that the regime finds economically or politically indispensable.”

Smith explained that with the Reuters mirror sites, Chinese authorities do not necessarily have to block the sites, however, but can pressure Amazon and Google to remove the mirror sites. While these companies have not had a history of complying with Chinese censorship laws, Apple has been broken in, removing anti-censorship tools like Open Door and Free Weibo from its app store.

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