How a Hacker Launched a Decentralized Network to Track Internet Censorship

How a Hacker Launched a Decentralized Network to Track Internet Censorship

The Takeaway

Political and social upheaval around the world can lead to internet censorship and interference by powerful actors. The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) is allowing people around the world to monitor internet censorship and interference in their countries in a decentralized manner for free. It has created the world’s largest open dataset on internet censorship, with millions of measurements collected from more than 200 countries since 2012.

Belarus residents are fighting back against the alleged illegitimate re-election of leader Alexander Lukashenko, otherwise known as the “last dictator of Europe,” since the election occurred Aug. 9. Lukashenko’s contested victory has led to widespread protests and violence against protestors by the military, and caused Lukashenko’s opponent to flee the country.

Amid the protests, which have been ongoing, various parts of the internet were also shut down across the country including social networks and message sites such as Telegram and Facebook, as well as some news outlets. Lukashenko has denied shutting down the internet, blaming foreign interference, but further reporting suggests the government is, in fact, responsible. 

In a new report shared exclusively with CoinDesk, the decentralized internet censorship testing network Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), found 86 websites were blocked in Belarus in August, including 19 communications platforms such as Telegram and encrypted email services. 

“These include news media, political opposition, pro-democracy, and election related websites, as well as communication and circumvention tool sites,” the report found. 

The origins of OONI

OONI has been working as a global community to document internet censorship and interference since 2012. Using a free and open source software it developed called OONI Probe, the organization has built a “decentralized, citizen-led, Internet censorship observatory.” It publishes measurements in order to develop a public archive on network interference and increase transparency about censorship. The data for the Belarus report, for example, was gathered from OONI probe users on the ground in the country. 

With rising authoritarianism around the world, information crackdowns due to COVID-19 and states constantly developing more advanced methods of suppressing information and engaging in censorship, the work OONI and the network using its software are doing has a renewed sense of urgency. 

Read more: Social Media Bans ‘Highlight the Profound Censorship on Web 2.0’

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