Everyone loves the Internet, even governments. It’s good for communications, trade and peaceful cooperation. But some of the more autocratic governments seem not to enjoy criticism, and that’s where a lot of the censorship issues arise. Even more ‘liberal’ governments such as those in the US and UK have made it clear that they’re keen to clamp down on content they deem unsuitable, even if those sites are perfectly respectable and legal.
The result is a constant battle for access to the web, with rebels using proxies and other technical tools to overcome government blocks, counter attacks by the authorities and so on. An escalating battle of wits and code. The stakes in this war have just been elevated with the launch of the PirateBrowser, which is a bundle of the Firefox web browser, the Tor anonymous surfing network and default proxy configurations.
The result is an out of the box, one click anonymous web browser which automatically circumvents repressive government blocks and controls, and allows users to access global websites without hindrance. Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on where you live, what your political leanings are and who’s been hindered of course. North Koreans for instance may well be very pleased to have a way to access the outside world, as will those living under other less than liberal regimes.
In operation there’s very little to indicate that there’s a bunch of very clever technology humming along in the background as you browse. You fire up the browser with a single click, which then automagically starts up the Tor network, sets up the proxies (internet waypoints) you need and off you go. Surfing is crisp with no lag, and there’s full access to everything that your government will have been trying to stop you seeing.
The developers of the bundle are quick to state that the product does not provide full anonymity, and they recommend that you use a virtual private network (VPN) such as Privacy.io if you need to cover your identity as well as circumvent access controls. However for most people, the basic bundle should be enough to ensure they can access the information they want quickly and easily.
Whatever your views on the legitimacy or otherwise of Internet controls and censorship, it’s clear that a blunt force approach to solving the problems will only encourage more technology like this to appear, which means an unwinnable arms race. The Internet was designed from the start to be a self-healing entity, and nowhere is this clearer than in these tussles. In the meantime it’s Rebels – 1 Authorities – 0.