Governments in 20 countries are trying to restrict their citizens' access to certain Internet web sites for political reasons. But a growing number of U.S. businesses are crashing through those government blockades.
These are businesses whose web sites enable you to travel the Internet invisibly. Once you go to "www.anonymizer.com" for example, you assume Anonymizer's identity, which enables you to get access to sites that might have been blocked by your government.
About 100,000 people around the world are doing just that. Anonymizer's founder, Lance Cotrell, says the web site has become so popular that some countries have started blocking access to Anonymizer. "A couple of countries have blocked us so far: China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain," he says. " However, we set up new domain names. For example, right now we have a domain [Web address] called "rrcnet.com" and that is an alternate route into the Anonymizer, which is not in any country's firewall [can not be blocked] at this time."
Physics Professor Stephen Hsu, is President of "SafeWeb.com," another web site that offers anonymous Internet access.
When the Saudi Arabian government blocked access to SafeWeb last November, Mr. Hsu says, the number of Saudi Arabian users dropped from 70,000 per day to zero.
So SafeWeb developed a new technology that could get users around the blockade and E-mailed the details to all subscribers. "We have software that we call 'Triangle Boy,' " Mr. Hsu explains. "We give it away to anyone around the world who wants to help Internet freedom. Once you deploy that program on the computer, anyone can use you as an entry point into the SafeWeb network to conduct their business. "
Mr. Hsu says human rights workers in Central America use the SafeWeb site to send coded reports back to their headquarters in the United States. "We have, for example, medical students in Arab countries who are suddenly able to visit medical sites that had been somehow misclassified as being pornographic and blocked. We have users in China who are able to view Taiwanese newspapers or The New York Times, which ordinarily is blocked in China," he says.
Stephen Hsu says the battle between government attempts at censorship and companies like SafeWeb, which are determined to punch holes in the censorship, is constant, but he feels his side will win. Technology, he says, has made it almost impossible to stop the spread of information.