How Internet Censorship Works

Opponents of Internet Censorship

In addition to the thousands of people who combat censorship through blogs every day, there are several organizations that raise awareness about Internet censorship. Some are formal organizations with prestigious memberships, while others are looser groups that aren't above advocating a guerilla approach to getting around strict policies.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is an adamant opponent of Internet censorship. The ACLU has filed numerous lawsuits in order to overturn censorship laws. In 2007, the ACLU convinced a federal court that the Children's Online Protection Act (COPA) was unconstitutional. COPA was a law that made it illegal to present material online that was deemed harmful to minors, even if it included information valuable to adults [source: ACLU].

The OpenNet Initiative is a group that strives to provide information to the world about the ways countries allow or deny citizens access to information. The initiative includes departments at the University of Toronto, the Harvard Law School, Oxford University and the University of Cambridge. On ONI's Web page you can find an interactive map that shows which countries censor the Internet.

Reporters Without Borders also concerns itself with Internet censorship, although the group's scope extends beyond Internet practices. The group maintains a list of "Internet enemies," countries that have the most severe Internet restrictions and policies in place [source: Reporters Without Borders].

The Censorware Project has been around since 1997. Its mission is to educate people about Web filtering software and practices. At its Web site, you can find investigative reports about all the major Web filter programs available on the market as well as essays and news reports about censorship. A similar site is, which began as a site dedicated to protecting free speech on the Internet for young people.

Other groups offer advice on how to disable or circumvent censorware. Some advocate using proxy sites. A proxy site is a Web page that allows you to browse the Web without using your own Internet protocol (IP) address. You visit the proxy site, which includes a form into which you type the URL of the restricted sites you want to visit. The proxy site retrieves the information and displays it. Outsiders can only see that you've visited the proxy site, not the sites you've pulled up.

It may be decades before the Internet reaches its full potential as a conduit for ideas. Ironically, it isn't going to get there through technological breakthroughs, but through changes in national and corporate policies.

To learn more about Internet censorship and related topics, check out the links below.

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More Great Links


  • Anderson, Mark. "Internet Censorship: As Bad As You Thought It Was." IEEE Spectrum. November 2007.
  • Children's Internet Protection Act. Federal Communications Commission.
  • Cohn, William A. "Yahoo's China Defense." The New Presence. Autumn 2007. Page 30.
  • Cook, Steven and Levi, Michael. "Tangled Web." Wall Street Journal. March 22, 2007.
  • Dobija, Jane. "The First Amendment Needs New Clothes." American Librarians. September 2007. pp. 50-53.
  • Finkelstein, Seth. "CIPA ruling as censoreware argument handbook." June 6, 2002.
  • Finkelstein, Seth. "An anticensorware investigation by Seth Finkelstein." November 16, 2000.
  • "Google censors self for China." BBC News. January 25, 2006.
  • Hogge, Becky. "Think of the children." New Statesman. October 22, 2007. Page 50.
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  • OpenNet Initiative.
  • Quirk, Matthew. "The Web Police." The Atlantic Monthly. May, 2006. pp. 50-51.
  • Reporters Without Borders.
  • Sarrel, Matthew D. "Web Content Filtering." PC Magazine. August 1, 2007.,1759,2164497,00.asp
  • The Censorware Project.