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Web Tools Help Protect Human Rights Activists


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A new generation of Internet privacy tools is being developed to prevent governments from gathering data, such as where users access the Internet from. One tool, called Tor, scrambles information before sending it over the Web, hiding the user's location.

Tor can bypass firewalls, which makes it a popular tool among activists in countries such as China and Iran. Tor connects users to a second PC that links to a third computer, which does not know the location of the first machine, making it impossible to trace the identity of the person accessing the Web.

"Tor is a tunnel," says Tor Foundation executive director Andrew Lewman. "What you send into it comes out the other end, untouched." The U.S. government has contributed $250,000 of the $343,000 in income the foundation reported in 2007. Tor enables surfers to bypass Internet censorship software, whether it is implemented by a government or a company aiming to keep workers off of sites such as Facebook while at work. It also can protect against identity theft and deletes all Web session information after closing a browser.

Tor was used to coordinate demonstrations following the disputed presidential election in Iran, and has been used in China and Iran to enable citizens to access Gmail, Twitter, and other communication sites when blocked by their governments. The adoption of Tor has been hurt by its speed, as not all users allow traffic to flow through their computers, which makes the service slower than regular Web browsing. A similar technology is Freegate, which was developed by the banned Falun Gong movement in China.

From Reuters
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