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VOA-funded Circumventor software allows Chinese an endrun around censors

NPR features an interview today with Bennett Haselton, programmer of Circumventor software, which allows users in China to access blocked sites via a compliant machine based outside of China.

NPR features an interview today with Bennett Haselton, programmer of Circumventor software, which allows users in China to access blocked sites via a compliant machine based outside of China. When you install the software it generates a URL Chinese users can use to use your machine as a proxy for uncensored Web surfing, Haselton explained to NPR's Steve Inskeep.

Since the software is free, Inskeep wondered how Haselton makes money. The answer, Haselton said, is that Voice of America partially underwrote development, and that his other software projects do pay him. A look at the Circumventor page makes it fairly obvious that supporting Chinese users was a secondary concern in the development.

[I]f you want to get around Web blocking at work, don't install the Circumventor on your work computer. Install the Circumventor on your home computer. When the installer is done, it will give you the URL for your new Circumventor, and then you write that URL down and take it in with you to work, where you can use that URL to bypass the Web blocking there. Similarly, if you're in China and blocked from accessing certain sites, don't install the Circumventor on a machine in China; instead, get a friend to install it outside China, and then they can send you the URL that you can use to access banned sites.

In 2004, though, he added an option that communicates Circumventor URLs to users in censored countries.  So Circumventor is evolving into a sort of anti-censorship P2P network. In fact Haselton, through his Peacefire.org, is a software activist against all manner of censoring and web blocking software. It's somewhat interesting, then that the US government is not only supporting his Circumventor software but also subpoened Google in an effort to show that web filtering software is insufficient to block children from viewing net porn.