The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted at the UN General Assembly in December 1948, opened up a new era. Scientist Charles Habib Malik, of Lebanon, took the floor and spoke to delegation members the following:
“Every member of the United Nations has solemnly pledged itself to achieve respect for and observance of human rights. But, precisely what these rights are we were never told before, either in the Charter or in any other national instrument. This is the first time the principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms are spelled out authoritatively and in precise detail. I now Know what my government pledged itself to promote, achieve and observe. I can agitate against my government, and if she does not fulfil her pledge, I shall have and feel the moral support of the entire world.”
An inherent human right to freedom of opinion and expression is envisaged in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Sixty years ago, when those words were written, no one in his wildest dreams could imagine how the phenomenon of the global network called the Internet would expand people’s opportunities to “seek, receive and impart information”. Not only it is possible within a country, but all over the globe. Information can be transferred with an incredible speed and in a format that can be copied, edited, faked, redo and distribute among any quantity of people, in a way that was unknown back in 1948.
Any information in any place
The growth of various information available to Internet users, and the growth of accessibility of the Web for the last years, caused the creation of an immense data and human knowledge base contributed from countries all over the glove. Today, you can access the Internet from everywhere - from a town hospital, a remote cottage or a conference hall.
An easy access to any information and events opens up breathtaking opportunities for a qualitative improvement of lives of many people. For example, if you have a serious disease, you can send your medical results to a doctor of any other city or country. Your kid can study and conduct researches, develop and seek friends in other countries by aid of the Internet. You can execute beneficial contracts all over the globe by presenting your products to foreign companies. Mother can email you a cranberry pie recipe, and your wife will be impressed with your culinary abilities.
But every coin has two sides. Internet is also accesible for evil, angry, rude and greedy people who make use of the Web to cheat others.
Not everyone wants to let the entire world come in
Everything pertinent to the human nature, both the good and the bad, mirrors on the Internet. So, it is quite natural that the growth and development of the Global Network is accompanied by attempts to control its use pursuing the following objectives:
- protection of kids and teenagers from graphic and harmful information, and restriction of communications with people who can inflict harm;
- fighting with spam and other electronic garbage circulating in the virtual space, including email bombing and spamming;
- control over the intensity of an informational flow that any given person can receive in any given time span;
- prevention of the disclosure and distribution of confidential information, commercial secrets, etc.;
- restriction of access to entertaining and other content at working hours;
- ban or restriction of access to materials, information or activities online that are expressly prohibited by applicable law of specific jurisdictions (pornography, violent media, materials that form poor habits, etc.).
Some points specified above refer to a personal control over surfing on the Internet. Others are related to banning or restricting access for family members, employees or strangers. In this regard, many descrepancies and conflicts arise, since people whose access is blocked or filtered voice a complaint and disagreement.
Who restricts access or blocks the Internet?
Types of people, companies and institutions that intentionally restrict the use of the Internet by other people vary depending on their goals. Content can be filtered by parents, schools, Internet cafes, commercial companies and organizations, Internet providers, and bodies of state government.
State-driven attempts to restrict access to the Global Network and exclude an opportunity for a nation to freely distribute information all over the world are an ultimate control over the Internet practiced by some governments. The OpenNet Initiative conducted a research and used its findings to formulate a set of methods of how governments can filter content and block access to the Internet for their citizens. Many countries implement an expanding filtration policy regularly restricting or blocking access to news portals, blogs, websites of human rights organizations and other resources and media assessed as undesirable and threatening to upset the status quo.
Other countries censor or restrict access to information on specific topics, or block specific online resources and portals from time to time, with a purpose of highlighting beneficially some strategic landmark events (elections, riots, etc.).
Moreover, even the countries where the freedom of speech is not an empty phrase and is protected by law, sometimes try to restrict or track how citizens use the Internet. A need for irregular restrictions is grounded on banning of pornography, keeping track of hate speeches, terrorism and other criminal activities, preventing leaks of diplomatic communications and copyright violations.
Filtration causes eavesdropping
A public organization or individual can apply a variety of techniques to track activities of people with a view to assure itself of an efficiency of blocks or to restrict access. These can be parents who want to monitor which sites their kid visits, or companies checking employees’ email, or the polcie entitled to retrieve information from your provider and forfeit your computer to find evidence that would prove your illegal activities.
What about censorship?
All methods restricting/banning Internet access or tracing online activities can fall under legal (commonly necessary) and illegal (unacceptable censorship and a clear violation of human rights and freedoms). But a teenager facing a restriction of access to an online game (though a legal and useful restriction) feels his freedom is prejudiced, just like a man whose government protects him from news about a political opposition.
Who exactly blocks access to the Internet?
Limitations of Internet access from any device in any country depends on the entities (corporations) that control a technical infrastructure. This control can be based on legally adopted directives or government acts. But oftentimes, this control originates from the fact that some state-governed agencies or commercial organizations are able to put pressure on the entities (corporations) that exercise legal control over a technical infrastructure. Because the infrastructure obeys instructions on information collection, filtration and censorship. A share of international infrastructure is under control of state agencies setting their own rules that sometimes infringe the law.
Blocking and censorship can be light and obscure or clearly manifested and visible. Today, some countries expressly declare that they restrict access and even publish criteria for the blocking of websites. Other countries have not adopted restriction legislations yet, and just exert pressure on Internet providers making them filter online content.
Sometimes, filtration is disguised as connection failures or errors, and governments disclaim facts of blocking. Providers, even located in the same country and abiding by the same laws, can filter different content. This is due to many factors, such as incompetence, commercial or political considerations, etc.
How to bypass filtration?
From the one hand, some people and organizations consider the Internet to be a source of harmful and even dangerous information, the access to which must be controlled. From the other hand, some individuals, groups and organizations are working hard to make the Internet space free of control. All of them can have various reasons for doing that.
Enthusiasts struggling for a universally free access to the Internet created some methods for bypassing censorship with the aid of some tools and apps. The operating principle of all the tools is about the same. They connect a client’s browser to the Internet via a proxy that:
- is physically located in a country with no Internet censorship;
- is not blocked in the country where you are located;
- is configured to receive and forward information requested by common users.
Hazards of using anti-block tools
There is no law envisaging serious responsibility for obtaining of needed information and for the actions you have taken to obtain it. But this is only you who can evaluate any risks in a specific situation. It may turn out that the risks would overweigh prospective benefits that you might derive.
From the other hand, your unblocking of access without any acceptable ground can cause bad consequences, such as firing, family scandal, etc.