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U.S. Develops Web Censorship Buster

The Feed Over Email system, which has been tested in China, delivers banned content through email.

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The U.S. government has developed technology that can cut through Web censorship barriers in countries like China and deliver news and information to people who don't have currently have access to it.

The Feed Over Email (FOE) system -- outlined in a recent report by the Broadcasting Board of Governors -- uses email to transport censored data to end users. However, instead of sending text-only emails, the FOE client program decompresses and decodes messages and presents the data in the form of RSS feeds, downloaded files, and applications, or in the form of a proxy server address, according to the report.

The report about the technology was released on the Governmentattic.org Web site, which obtains documents from the U.S. government through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and then publishes them online.

The government hopes that FOE will allow people to receive the latest news from censored Web sites and also complement existing anti-censorship tools, according to the report. People also can use the tool to download other anti-censorship software, such Tor, Freegate, or Ultrasurf.

The technology was tested between February and June 2010 in the Chinese cities of Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shenzhen and "performed well in all tests," according to the report.

In the tests, FOE was able to transmit RSS feeds from Voice of America, China Weekly, and other outlets that are currently censored by the Chinese government. However, the agency said it's "unclear" how it will work when publicly available.

Pros of the technology the report cites are that it worked without user intervention and that no installation was required. On the downside, it limits system functionality and requires some configuration during initial use, according to the report. A user also must have an email address outside of the country for the technology to work.

FOE also would not be helpful in a situation like people have been experiencing in Egypt, where access to the Internet was completely cut off, because it needs Internet access to work.

The U.S. has undertaken previous efforts to help bypass government Internet censorship, but the report marks the first public disclosure of technological efforts to do so. A nonprofit group called the Alliance of Youth Movements -- co-founded by an advisor to former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice -- helps digital activists around the world organize and use social media to bypass government interference with the Internet.

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