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Venezuela ramps up censorship with Tor ban

The anonymous browsing network gets blocked in the government's latest threat to human rights.

Venezuelan citizens who relied on Tor to get hold of content online have to deal with yet another blow as the country's government blocked access to the anonymous browsing network.

According to NGO Access Now, the country's largest ISP, state-owned CANTV, banned the tool, which along with VPN networks was being used by Venezuelans to circumvent recent sanctions and get access to national and international news sites, for example.

The country's government has figured out how to create a very sophisticated method to block the tool, not only in terms of direct access channels but also the bridges Tor provides to bypass that block, Melanio Escobar, Venezuelan technologist and journalist, told Access Now.

However, The Tor Project said yesterday (26) the network can still be accessed in Venezuela by using bridges in Tor Browser, including meek-azure. The Tor Project has also advised users to get in contact with them to get additional bridges if meek-azure does not work.

As Venezuela descends into political and economic disarray, the government has ramped up censorship and surveillance of its critics - so tools like Tor have become critical for independent journalists, activists and members of the civil society to stay safe online.

On the graph below, it is possible to see the evolution of the uptake of Tor before and after the government ban:

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Access Now is calling for the government to review the decision, as well as refrain from further sanctions and "restore free and open communications that are vital to any healthy democracy".

As well as increasing censorship online, the Venezuelan government is suspected to be throttling Internet speeds as another way to prevent citizens from getting online access.

Since 2016, provision of communication services in the country has also been under threat as interconnection fees between local operators and foreign companies soared. Internet access then became a luxury that only a few final consumers can currently afford.