Late last year, Syrian activists found their Internet connections blocked. In need of a way to communicate, they turned to a Canadian technology company to deliver the networking system.

“The request was channelled through a number of different sources. They wanted a way of getting around Internet censorship,” says Rafal Rohozinski, CEO of the Psiphon Inc.

In December, the company distributed Psiphon 3 to the activists. From his Ottawa headquarters, Rohozinski watched the number of online connections in Syria grow — to 30,000. The software enabled them to tunnel past Internet filters and barriers to websites, social media and other online communications technologies.

“The act of communicating, of empowering yourself through knowledge, is an essential component of democratization,” says Rohozinksi.

Psiphon grew out of an experiment at the Citizen Lab, a research and development program focused on the intersection of global security, human rights and cyberspace and based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

In 2003, the OpenNet Initiative, a group that tracks Internet censorship, found only a few countries filtered content. Today, it counts more than 40 countries controlling the online content that is accessed within their borders.

“When you’re engaged in analyzing and tracking Internet censorship worldwide, you find out a lot about how Internet content is blocked on the web,” says Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab and an investigator at the OpenNet Initiative.

Deibert says people would contact the group to find out how to bypass the censors. Though circumvention technologies existed, they lacked security or required an almost hacker-like level of knowledge to operate, he says.

The Citizen Lab set out to create software that lacked an Achilles heel.

Keep reading this story in the Toronto Star.

Written by Hannah

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