Harvard student finds China blocks hundreds of websites


NEW YORK, Fri, 6 Sep 2002 (AFP) -

A Harvard University student whose computer program had detected China's blocking of Internet access to search engines Google and AltaVista said Friday that hundreds more websites had been cut off.

Ben Edelman, a first year law student at Harvard, told AFX Global Ethics Monitor, an AFP subsidiary, that he had engineered a system that anyone could use to find out if a particular website is blocked in China.

"In China, the contents of the block list to date remains more or less secret," Edelman said. "With this project, we hope to list a substantial portion of sites blocked, allowing interested Internet users to discuss and analyze China's filtering policies."

His program has been searching for sites blocked in China since Monday, and has already detected hundreds, Edelman said. As well as Google and Altavista, other sites cut off include Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as media websites like the New York Times, BBC News, CBS News and the British newspaper The Guardian.

The US federal court system, the Hong Kong Voice of Democracy, www.freechina.net, www.tibet.com, www.falungong.com, and even www.marxism.com have all been found by Edelman's program to be inaccessible in Beijing.

The censorship of all these sites has not been independently confirmed by Internet users in China, but Edelman said the results that could be independently confirmed showed the program was providing accurate information. Edelman developed the program in coordination with Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain and Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a study center associated with the law school that studies and promotes openness and freedom on the Internet.

The project on censorship in China is intended to shed light on exactly what the Chinese government is doing in order to stimulate debate on the issue. Using a public website Edelman has set up, anyone can put a domain name like www.yahoo.com in a search field, and the website tells the visitor within seconds if a particular Internet address has been blocked in Beijing.

The program sends a message to a computer in Beijing, which then tries to access a website via a local Internet connection. The program has generated a list of hundreds of blocked websites, and more are added every day. Based on initial results, Edelman said the Chinese filtering system is crude, blocking out entire domains rather than individual webpages. Instead of censoring one story on BBC, for example, access to all BBC content is denied.

"When Chinese network operators seek to restrict access to a given piece of content, their technology seems to allow them only to block the entire server hosting that content, even if that server hosts thousands of other web pages," Edelman said. "This constraint is certain to lead to a large amount of unintended overblocking."

In July, Edelman and Zittrain published a list of over 2,000 websites blocked by the government in Saudi Arabia. They plan to publish a study of their findings on Internet censorship in China within the next few months, Edelman said.

Edelman's program is at: