Jim Landers: Snuffing out Net’s benefit to democracy

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The Voice of America and Radio Free Asia send “millions and millions” of e-mails into China and Iran telling Internet users how to get around the censors blocking access to their Web sites, said Ken Berman, the information technology director for the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB).

But almost as quickly as these tools are distributed, the censors – sometimes using U.S. technology – find them and block them.

Bill Xia, president of Dynamic Internet Technology Inc., sells software to the U.S. government to circumvent censorship in China. DynaWeb provides Internet users with an innocuous proxy address to get beyond the censors and surf whatever sites they want.

China’s information police were soon fighting back with countermeasures.

“We are fighting with technologies from Western countries, very likely from our own neighborhood,” said Mr. Xia. “It’s kind of ridiculous that the IBB, supported by U.S. taxpayers, pays us to fight against technology from the United States.”

Mr. Berman, Mr. Xia and others say Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., supplies China with the hardware it uses to stymie these surreptitious gateways to the Internet. Mr. Berman said he’s tried to talk with Cisco about the issue, but “they completely shut us out.”

Cisco says its products are neutral.

“The products that we sell in China are the same products that we sell worldwide. Our customers, not Cisco, determine the specific uses for the capabilities of these products,” said company spokesman John Earnhardt.

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