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Bypassing Internet Blocks

Voice of America's parent organization, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), is currently testing a new program in China and Iran that would be able to bypass these countries’ Internet blockades. FOE (Feed over E-mail) is a new kind of bypassing technology that uses e-mail to transmit information between the user and the server.

Sho Ho, who helped develop FOE, explained that "Traditionally, people in censored countries need to use proxy server or software to gain access to websites such as Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, and CNN. The main problem with these proxy servers is that the censors can block the IP addresses of the proxy servers, which will make them inaccessible. Internet users need to somehow obtain new IP addresses from the proxy providers, but keeping in touch with the users is not always easy."

FOE does just that, allowing its users to obtain news feeds as well as download files, receive new proxy addresses and obtain other types of data through e-mail accounts including those operated by Google Inc., Microsoft Corporation’s Hotmail, and Yahoo Inc. - all without the use of a proxy. Because of this, it is almost impossible for government censors to block the FOE network. Once it becomes available, FOE will even be accessible by phone through downloading and installing a mobile version.

As for as the danger of bypassing government Internet censorship, FOE users may have slightly less risk of detection than users of some other censorship tools. This is because the FOE data packets that travel through the censor's firewall are encrypted and the connection looks just like any other e-mail connection.

Needless to say, not everyone is pleased with the creation of FOE. Some view it as the latest way of exporting "western porno-culture" abroad in order to corrupt the youth and that the United States should stop meddling in other countries' business. However, Ken Berman, head of Information Technology at BBG, said "We don't make any political statement about what people visit. We are trying to impart the value 'The more you know, the better.' People can look for themselves."

"People can choose to use FOE or not, and they can criticize FOE in any way if they want to,” Sho Ho said. "After all, it is freedom that we are promoting (freedom to know and freedom to speak.)"

FOE is planned to be ready for implementation in early 2010.

by Sarah Schulz