Tool to circumvent internet censorship set to launch

University of Toronto researchers plan to introduce a software tool on Friday that they hope will help people in countries that censor the World Wide Web.

Researchers at University of Torontoplan to introducea software tool on Friday that aims tohelp people in countries that censor the World Wide Web.

Psiphon (pronounced sigh-fawn), a web-based utility, lets individuals in a country that censors the internet sign on to a server that gives them secure access to web pages anywhere, bypassing government restrictions.

Its creators plan to launch the software at the Protect The Net conference at the university's Munk Centre for International Studies, where psiphon emerged as a project of Citizenlab. Researchers at the facility examine the relationship between digital media and politics around the world.

"We're aiming at giving people access to sites like Wikipedia," a free, user-maintained online encyclopedia, and other information and news sources, Michael Hull, psiphon's lead engineer, told CBC News Online.

Citing countries such as China and Iran among some 40 countries that censor the internet, Hull said that the way in which access to information is cut off is troubling.

"My problem with it is that there's no transparency. Someone is making an arbitrary decision and there is no way to appeal it, even if you feel like you're doing nothing wrong," he said.

Psiphon works by letting people in uncensored countries download the free software to run a secure, encrypted server or node in the private network. The server administrator would pass the connection information to friends and family in censored countries - psiphonites - who could then log in through a web browser and navigate sites without restrictions.

Lot of 'fear mongering'

The system was designed sousers don't have to download or install any software, Hull said.

However, the administrator can see what sites usersare visiting, which can help prevent abuse of trust, Hull suggested.

"There's a lot of fear mongering that goes on, but people have been living for thousands of years based on the fact that people trust each other," he said. "That's all we're asking people to do."

Hull said about 60 people, many in internet-censored countries, have been testing the software and the feedback has been positive.

One of them will be participating in a live demonstration at psiphon's launch at the Friday conference, and the researchers will also show recorded video of psiphonites in Iran using the system.