Can Internet censorship of any particular content be justified under certain circumstances? Explain.
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How did your journey in resisting censorship begin?
I come from Yemen, and in 2007 I developed a website called YemenPortal.net. This website is a news aggregator similar to, but of course much smaller in scale than, Google News. It handles several news websites on Yemen, bringing in content from government, opposition, independent news websites, blogs, videos, you name it — all having to do with Yemen.
I come from a journalistic background, and I also hold a degree in computer engineering, so I thought maybe I could merge the two together, and build a website that dynamically collects, aggregates and sorts information on Yemen. I thought of it as a contribution to my own country, and as a means to get my Master’s degree. Within a short time, the website had thousands of readers because it was something that no one had done before for Yemen.
I had ambitions that YemenPortal.net would be something of importance in the future. Unfortunately, in 2008 the Yemeni government became disgruntled because I did not filter out strongly worded opposition articles from certain websites. These websites were mostly hosted abroad, so the owners weren’t really persecuted — their websites were just blocked inside Yemen.
If you go to my website, you can see summaries of articles from other websites. People would click on the article links from my website, and go nowhere, because the articles are blocked. However, I still thought it was important for everyone to know what other websites are talking about. My idea was to ensure that everyone is represented. I didn’t want to act like the government does, filtering some viewpoints, while allowing others to be read.
Eventually my website itself got banned by the government. In trying to help others’ voices be heard, my own site was silenced. I realized I needed to investigate circumventing censorship, because if I couldn’t help myself, no one would help me.
That was when my journey in resisting censorship started. I fell first as a victim, but then I became an advocate for freedom of expression online.
That led to you developing alkasir, your software to circumvent censorship. How does it work?
Alkasir, which is an Arabic word meaning “the circumventor,” is a series of applications to help people access censored websites in their country. Alkasir started as a plugin for Firefox and Mozilla, developed into a web-based proxy on my own website, and then developed into another application as a pilot version, alkasir 1.1. I later developed 1.2 which is a much more advanced version of it. I have about 30,000 users worldwide — compared to many circumvention solutions, it’s not many — but it’s pretty substantial number. I have users in over 70 countries.