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Software for Human Rights

It’s a good week for launches, evidently. Psiphon, a clever anticensorship tool developed by the folks at Citizen Lab in Toronto, with sponsorship from OSI’s Information Program (disclosure – I’m on the sub-board that funded this project) launched today. It’s been much discussed in the anti-censorship community and recently featured in an article in the NY Times.

Psiphon uses a “peer to peer” model to give unfettered net access to people in countries where the Internet is widely censored. If a friend in China wants to read about Falun Gong, I can give her an IP address and password which lets her access the Internet freely from my proxy server, running Psiphon at home. It’s going to be difficult for a government like China to block these Psiphon proxies, because they’re not going to be widely used, and because users are asked to communicate their availability through existing social relationships, not by posting them on websites.

On the other hand, it’s hard to use Psiphon unless you have a contact outside of your country who’s willing to set up a server. It will be very interesting to see how Psiphon deals with this problem, post launch – the system includes some ways for users to set up social networks to disseminate access to Psiphon nodes… Needless to say, Psiphon is not the only option for avoiding network censorship – Tor has proved extremely useful to users in China as well, and it’s likely that future versions of Tor will use some of the P2P ideas Psiphon is pioneering in this release.

I need to set up a cheap Windows box to try Psiphon out – I hope to have a review sometime soon…

Janet pointed me to another cool new tool, Hurisearch, a search engine dedicated to human rights documents. As she points out, it works best with documents in a specific format, adhering to the Dublin Core metadata standards… but it certainly shows the power of a topic-focused search engine. And if you’re excited about human rights-focused writing on the web, check out this useful page listing some human-rights focused bloggers