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To censor the internet, 10 countries use Netsweeper filtering technology (cbc.ca)
121 points by jonbaer on Apr 25, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments

I live in a small city on the west coast of Sweden and we basically have only one bigger IT company which offers jobs which I find interesting from a engineering point of view.

Sadly they produce hard- and software which is used by China for deep package inspection which is one part of their great firewall.

I morally can't bring myself to apply for a job there. Therefor I had to fird a job in Gothenburg to where I have to commute for 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening every day.

Good. Ethical standards are worthless unless they are practiced. The tech industry needs a shit-ton more people like you.

Thank you for standing up for moral principles. I applaud you.

What company? Name and shame.


Join them. Let everyone know how new things work so we can work together to defeat it.

Sounds good but prison time for breaching NDA isn't worth it

In what sane country would breaching a NDA with a private company or entity get you prison time?

IANAL, but criminal laws around trade secrets (e.g. in the US, the Economic Espionage Act of 1996), computer system misuse (like the US CFAA), criminal copyright infringement, etc., can be used to effectively criminalise NDA violations.

Breaking an NDA is not itself a crime but the act of breaking the NDA might violate criminal laws, and the existence of the NDA might even be used to establish certain elements of those criminal offences.

For various reasons I doubt that violating an NDA in Sweden with a non-governmental organization would every draw criminal prosecution.

From the article:

>The UAE allegedly uses a preset category called "alternative lifestyles" to block websites of LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, news, and educational resources, including Human Rights Campaign and The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. The category is described by Netsweeper as a filter for content relating to "the full range of non-traditional sexual practices, interests and orientations."

The preset in question is detailed on Netsweeper's site (ctrl+F for "alternative lifestyles"): https://helpdesk.netsweeper.com/docs/6.0/Policy_Management/0... Quote:

  This includes sites that reference topics on habits or
  behaviors related to social relations, dress,
  expressions, or recreation that are important enough 
  to significantly influence the lives of a sector of 
  the population. It can include the full range of non
  traditional sexual practices, interests and 
  orientations. Some sites may contain graphic images 
  or sexual material with no pornographic intent.

So beyond the question of "our customers may customize our product for this kind of filtering but that's not our responsibility", the company itself does also provide tools in the product to do things the researchers in the article are opposing as unethical.

Hey man i just produce the poison gas, what those dudes in the uniforms do with it has absolutely nothing to do with me.

"Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.

The V2 rocket program consumed a vast amount of Germany's resources, to pretty much zero military effect. If they'd expended those resources on things like jet aircraft, it might have made a difference. The V2 program helped lose the war for the Germans.

It isn't about the effect. It's about being responsible for the things you help build.

The effect was von Braun diverted a vast amount of Germany's military-industrial resources into a useless weapons program, thus shortening the war.

The things that make rockets effective, a nuclear warhead, and later precision guidance systems, he did not attempt to develop. Those were developed by the US and the Soviets.

In the meantime, von Braun's technology got us to the moon, communications satellites, the space station, SpaceX, etc.

There are many ways to look at von Braun's work. I suppose it hinges on what his intentions were - but we don't have any way to find that out. I don't think we know if he knew he was developing an ineffective weapon or not, though it seems obvious in hindsight.

When Tsarist big Russia lost the war against the small Japan, the losses of the war were very demoralizing, and the seeds for the Soviet revolution were planted. Afraid of revolution the Tsarist secret police concocted the false flag plot "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" to use the relatively affluent minority of jews as a scapegoat of all problems of the Tsarist regime. The fake news was not effective in convincing the local russian populace (who was best poised to understand the real source of their troubles) and the Soviets overthrew the Tsarists regime. However the fake news spread all over the world, and people started fearing jews, and their jewish plot. To the outside world, the fact that the Tsarist regime was overthrown may have seemed to confirm the plot...

Perhaps Hitler too, was against Nazism (after all he was no blonde). Perhaps as a geopolitical visionary he foresaw the future rise of China and allied with Japan to slow their future rise, perhaps he foresaw a twenty-year war, if he did not first slowly chase away jews like Einstein during the interbellum such that the latter would eventually be able to write an important letter to president Roosevelt. Perhaps he fully understood the "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" to be a fabrication, and intended for the jews to have their own state, which would only happen if they were internationally regarded as some predominant victim of huge proportions. Perhaps he evaluated all paths to defuse the clusterfuck, but decided that a shorter premature 5-year war, and the irreversible tarnishing of his name and image was the smallest cost to pay. Perhaps he was so selfless.

Except I dont buy any of this crap.

Did Von Braun really intend to shorten the war with his rocket programme?

If my aunt had balls, she would have been my uncle.

Did Braun really intend to quickly lose the war? I seriously doubt it.

Did you know that in 1944 von Braun was arrested by the Gestapo for sabotage for saying that his intention was never to create a war weapon, but to obtain money for experiments and confirmation of their theories? The Gestapo was going to shoot him, until Dornberger rescued him.

"V-2" by Dornberger, pg 216

obviously I don't believe that Braun intentionally squandered Nazi resources to shorten the war, just like I don't believe Hitler was fighting Nazism from the inside out.

I a willing to believe of course that Braun's goal was scientific progress, irrespective of the role it played in the war: does/can it actually help the Nazis? or is he sabotaging the war effort? He doesn't care, he just wants scientific progress irregardless of the war, which liberates funds...

Von Braun certainly knew that human beings were enslaved and were being worked to death to build his rockets.

That's right. And the Gestapo arrested him at one point and were going to shoot him for not wholeheartedly working on the rockets, until he was rescued by Dornberger.

What would you do in such a situation? We all sit safely in front of our keyboards certain in our moral rectitude, but how many of us have been tested?

This isn't like rockets or poison gas. Poison gas is probably the most insulted.

Edit: And since you love hyperbole so much: Good engineers will want to work on this problem (both sides technically), just as Feynman worked on the atom bomb.

I mean, it's a US company helping dictatorships block access to stuff like The Human Rights Campaign.

Pretty close in my mind.

Netsweeper is not a US company.

Whatever, Canadian. My point still stands.

Its likely Canadian, the gov't up there offers massive tax and investment incentives if your small, and for slightly larger companies they still have a great tax situation compared to the US. Plus your products avoid US export controls and appeal to countries that would otherwise be off limits.

An interesting article on what Canada offers tech companies: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/business-technolo...

Yeah, they're from Ontario.

Sure. Because mass censorship tools designed to identify categories of undesirables has to many positive applications.

> Good engineers will want to work on this problem

So? A lot of "good engineers" are horrible people from an ethical perspective. Just like any other category of humanity.

Tell that to a homosexual in Saudi who gets sent to prison.

I’d argue that if totally effective limiting discourse, and limiting what it is acceptable to believe/think can be worse.

I don’t see that in the extreme case, denying a person of any human interaction for their lifetime is any better than killing them for example.

Veganism is now an "alternative lifestyle"? That's a bit extreme. Or is it a non-traditional sexual practice too?

It's a "non traditional interest". Like barefooters.org, which is just about hiking, running, and living with no shoes on.

In some sects of Christianity making the assertion that eating meat is unethical is a heretical statement. I think because it’s seen as the equivalent of elevating animals to the importance of humans.

Work that makes this sort of censorship harder, by forcing censors to knock out all access to big chunks of the Internet, or give up includes:

https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/rfc5246/ to be updated later this year with: https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/draft-ietf-tls-tls13/ and the future development of: https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/draft-ietf-tls-sni-encrypti...

On the other hand, we have ETSI's TS 103 523-2 "(Middlebox protocol") based on TLS 1.2 and still far from finished


The idea in the Middlebox protocol is that you agree (or more likely "agree") to have one or more middleboxes intercept everything on your encrypted connections. They can read it, modify it, censor pieces, and the protocol's authors have persuaded themselves that since this has your "consent" it's all fine and this is even an improvement in some sense. Of course their stated use cases say things like "Compliance with securities laws at Financial institution" or "Malware protection on home network" not "Bigotry against gay people by theocrats" or "Censorship of political opinions in a police state". Funny how that goes.

I have been wondering if it would be feasible to create a consortium of ethical technology companies, who would maintain a "blacklist" of corporations who behave unethically.

Every member of the consortium would then pledge to never hire anyone who has ever worked for a blacklisted company. That way, there would be an extra disincentive for people to take part in unethical business practices since that could harm their employment prospects irreparably.

That would be illegal almost everywhere in the US. Also on a practical level, I think that would backfire. Lower level employees with less leverage will take the best job they can get, and then find themselves on the blacklist, essentially forced to work for unethical companies for the rest of their careers. It might make more sense to encourage poaching from unethical companies, so that employees are encouraged to leave.


Could the answer be to disallow companies from selling products to these regimes? Or even just to make it mandatory for companies to consider human rights and laws in their country when operating abroad, so selling to a regime or individual who breaks them would be illegal?

Seems like that could stop stuff like this stone dead, and make it very hard for tyrannical regimes to get any good technology at all.

The researchers are hoping the government will add software like this to its list of "dual-use" goods (things which can be used both for civilian and military applications) in the Canadian export restrictions.

The entire West could do this, and in 10 years time either the Russians or the Chinese would have filled the gap.

So then you've got a bunch of authoritarian regimes that are censoring the Internet, and the stability (perceived or otherwise) they've got is dependent on countries who don't care about human rights.

Giving easy soft power to the Russians and Chinese isn't ideal.

Letting Russia and China fill that gap is in-line with the "good guy" position that The West likes to market itself as. It would also be much easier to draw the battle lines and get the population on board with a war when this distinction actually exists.

If The West continues to do the stuff that the bad guys do and use the reason "well, if we didn't do it they would" then what's the difference between The West and the bad guys?

That rationale you've proposed as akin to admitting that the Russians and Chinese are right.

As someone already said, it's a slippery slope to evil.

The answer is to do nothing. You want to make our country as bad as the countries that use these filters in the first place -- tyrannies.

Oh come on, plenty of goods already have their sale restricted without any effect on the "freedom" of the people.

Restricting internet filtering technology, just like military hardware and encryption technology, simply imposes higher costs on regimes which might not be able to afford them. It's not perfect, but a viable option if promoting freedom of expression is a policy the West wants to pursue.

Bluntly, I can't sufficiently disagree with your assertion about not impacting the "freedom" of people, and in being somehow worth it.

The fact that you seem aware of/to be hinting at the pre-1996 Encryption Export Restrictions makes this even more confusing, since the fallout from that is well-described and broadly negative. (e.g. netscape having to ship a purposefully weaker RSA implementation, which given the difficulty of obtaining the US implementation, ended up with even _domestic_ users being compromised).

No, not only do I think it's "not perfect" I think it's overtly worse than doing nothing, given the increased legislative burdeon/pitfalls, reduced trust in US and bad optics as far as being consistent in what we stand for. Many of the nations we might most worry about have already shown that complexity is no barrier towards implementation, or else we wouldn't be having such a "fun time" with nuclear nonproliferation, something far more locked down _and_ far more difficult to implement compared to internet filtering.

I'm not going to say there shouldn't be a line, I'm generally not a fan of how much in the manner of military arms we spread around the globe, but my principle is always to err on the side of less restrictions rather than more, especially when it doesn't seem to accomplish the stated goal and in many cases will amount to cutting off your nose to spite your face, and _especially_ when it sets a precedent/lowers the bar for govt intervention.

Restrictions on the export of cryptographic technology is definitely something that can be argued makes us less free. Fortunately many die hards have put massive effort into exporting cryptography and have effectively won at this point.

But this is the other way around. Weaker encryption hurts people, but people in other countries are more free if their governments are restricted from getting this censorship technology.

Unfortunately then they will simply move abroad to somewhere they can operate, assuming the employees want to live in those locations - and assuming the employees can't work offset in Canada.

That's alright. "But somebody's going to do it, why not me" is a slippery slope to evil.

I agree.

Let them move abroad then. If they want to work on the tools to prop up a dictatorship, they can go live in one.

That's what the guys at the Nuremberg trials said too.

The burden is on tech-workers. They should make sure for which company they are selling their talents.

It's on more than just them.

Sounds like a burden for the salespeople.

There are already plenty of companies outside of Canada selling backbone-scale monitoring and intervention. The price of such solutions might not even go up very much if Canada decided to make it illegal for their own companies to sell such products.

It would not be a good move for the Canadian government.

It's just a few customers that they'd have to prevent, not the products.

Interesting that Turkey uses a very primitive blocking system, without relying on such software. (tested it when I was there for vacation)

Crude is more reliable against technological changes, and from my point of view I'd rather a government is obliged to make the network just not work, instead of being able to tamper with things. This ensures the populace know exactly what's up, even if they daren't say anything.

Nobody in East Germany thought that wall was for their protection, that the snipers, the barbed wire, the car searches, were to keep out subversives, they knew exactly who was a prisoner. If people in Turkey know "Yeah, the Internet is censored here, some sites you just can't visit", it likewise doesn't take a genius to figure out what's up with that.

The first time I went to Turkey, I was surprised how many of the web sites I visited regularly were blocked.

I guess watching 8-Bit Guy on YouTube makes me subversive.

Their filter seems to be a bit amateur-ish, not what I expected first-hand at all.


It looks like Waterloo Ontario has its own little cluster of surveillance tech with Sandvine and Netsweeper leading the way.

taking 100,000 years to emerge from a primal society of upright hominids to a diffuse and varied clanish tribes, each with its own tailored behavior constraints, is not easily disrupted. expecting another, violently defended region, to accept at face value what another region of peoples deems 'acceptable' is quite naive, humans dont like to change if it means relearning a completely different way of life. pecking orders remain intact, even as 'ownership' of areas passes on from one generation to the next. in addition to the logarythmic increase in populations demanding the same priviledge of what was once plentiful and abundant resources, and theres no end to squabbling and elbowing amongst the hordes for the 'leaders' to settle. its only going to get worse, even as the communication networks increase the melting together.

Hopefully the Canadian government will reclassify their software as "dual use" (technology that can be used for perfectly benign purposes, but also abused) and regulate its exportation.

That kind of software shouldn't be used as a tool of censorship.

Vietnam was relatively unfiltered when I was there this year. Will be interesting to see how long before it has a comprehensive firewall like China.

the morality of business is hard to define sometimes, that's what I saw for those violent game makers too, yes they make lots of money, but are those right things to do?

there are better and right-er way to make a living

Shooting non existent virtual enemies and pixels affects no one vs blocking millions of people access to information.

some students are impacted by those games and could not focus and think deeply. While violent games do not produce killers in real life, many if not all young killers are heavy violent game players.

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