A Hole in the Great Firewall

Posted August 24th, 2011 at 4:00 pm (UTC-4)

…And Working to Close the Digital Divide

It’s no surprise that as the Internet spreads, and mobile phones become more necessity rather than luxury, that coverage of these real life/digital world issues has been growing.  And why not?  Frankly, the stories have just been getting juicier – happily, for my colleagues just as elsewhere.

While I work as part of the VOA team, we and our sister broadcasters – Radio Free Asia and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – have among us thousands of journalists, writers, reporters and producers.  All of them curious; all producing top-notch stuff.

So we’re taking a quick review here of just a few of the most recently published stories – but it goes without saying that this is only a sampling.  Still, we’ll say it: for much more, come explore our websites for VOA, RFA and RFE/RL.

#1: New Holes in the ‘Great Firewall’: You may have heard about the new-new Internet – the one that’s exponentially larger than earlier versions.  For years now, web architects like ICANN have been warning that the world will soon run out of Internet addresses – those multi-digit codes that essentially identify your node on the web as unique, allowing traffic to be accurately routed across the net.

This overall Internet design is referred to as IPv4 – “Internet Protocol version 4” – and it’s the most current design in full use.  However there’s a new ‘net’ on the way, and this one is filled with a near-infinite number of Internet addresses.  It’s called “IPv6”, and address-hungry nations like China are strongly advocating for its adoption.

But IPv6 comes with an interesting complication: with it, users in China are, for the moment, able to circumvent the “Great Firewall” of China – the web barrier China uses to filter out anything it doesn’t like.  VOA’s Matt Hilburn takes and in-depth exploration of how IPv6 is being used in China, and also explores how the ways that governments respond may have profound impacts on all of our online privacy and security concerns.

Want to know more about IPv6?  You can listen to a chat I had with Matt Hilburn here:

and check out William Ide’s recent report on the first tests of IPv6 he filed for us here.

#2: Closing the ‘Digital Divide’: Just as in real-life, there are big divisions in the online world between the haves and have-nots.  That gap has often been called the “Digital Divide” – and it’s a serious matter between nations, or within them.

Take, for example, the area around the great American city Philadelphia.  As VOA stringer Matthew Petrillo notes, the U.N. may have declared unfettered access to the web to be a human right, but millions in the poorest parts of this city – notably children – enjoy no such benefit.

But that’s not stopping advocates for the poor who are working to expand all Philadelphian’s – rich, poor or anywhere in between – access to the World Wide Web.  Petrillo takes us on a tour of several hot-spots, if you will, in Philadelphia’s battle to expand web access.

#3: Monitoring the Iraqi Monitors: RFE/RL’s “Radio Free Iraq” service has an interesting item – largely overlooked in a lot of other media – on the recent agreement by U.S. officials to transfer web and phone monitoring equipment to the government of Iraq.  The equipment is said to be needed in the fight against terror cells and other insurgents.  But, as the story notes, there are concerns among those inside and outside of the Iraqi government that the equipment may be used for other purposes:

“Although the technology is important in fighting against frequent terror attacks in Iraq, several politicians are concerned the equipment could be used to monitor the phone calls and messages of Iraqi politicians for political reasons.  They are also worried by the fact that the technology will be controlled by the Interior Ministry.  Suhair al-Juburi, head of the Transport and Communications Committee of the supervisory entity Council of Baghdad, has warned against such practices.”

Of course, such equipment was no doubt employed for all sorts of purposes – legally and otherwise – in the days of the Saddam Hussein regime.  Still, it’s interesting to see how the government and civil organizations will adapt to these technologies in their new era of relative openness and sunshine.

3 responses to “A Hole in the Great Firewall”

  1. David Martinez C. says:

    It is very interesting to learn about the efforts that have been made to develop the new-new Internet, the IPv4 and the new net on the way IPv6 which will allow more people to get email addresses and to maintain traffic accurately routed accross the net. This will facilitate around the world the communication between people that need to help each other to get or keep democracy and liberty in their countries. This is a very important contribution of the Information Technology and from the people that works in its development for the benefit of all human beings.

  2. Ciaran Mulcahy says:

    Many peole ‘could’ find these items interesting!.

  3. nico says:

    Real fancy all this compy gazmos with ‘Technology for the benefit of all human beings’
    As a Cape Townian my keyboard enjoy your ‘new-new’ ideas into reality for a brighter age.

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What’s Digital Frontiers?

The Internet, mobile phones, tablet computers and other digital devices are transforming our lives in fundamental and often unpredictable ways. “Digital Frontiers” investigates how real world concepts like privacy, identity, security and freedom are evolving in the virtual world.

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