There are many ways to counteract tyranny. The American Colonies attacked it with flowery prose, Gandhi proposed a starve-off, and the French – being the French – invented a machine to cut its head off in the first (and last) disassembly line. A group in America known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors has unveiled a way to help the Chinese combat their vicious overlords that combines the beautiful world of technology with an infectious taste of humankind’s favorite drug: freedom (read FOIA request here). This marvelous innovation is called FOE (Feed Over E-mail), and whether you dig on innovations in information technology, or the first amendment, this little acronym is sexy as hell.
It was formerly a huge debate in the United States as to whether or not we should continue to grant China Most Favored Nation Status with regard to trade, considering their bloody-minded disdain for the rights of their citizens. Naturally, our reliance on China’s thriving economy, and the increasing desire for China to take the mantle of Great Red Hope and salvage the money woes of the world has prevented any capitalist nation from turning their back on China. The only thing that has not made its way over the boundaries has been information. FOE is seeking to change that.
The internet in China would be unrecognizable from the one that proliferates throughout most of the world. It is a highly restricted, censored, truncated, obfuscated, ugly little bastard where nearly everything is run through a mass of filters and is spewed forth as little more than propaganda. Where American’s read Orwell’s 1984 and shudder at a world where information is controlled by Big Brother, China reads it and dreams of the day that they have as much glorious freedom as depicted in those pages. It is very difficult to pound information through the Great Firewall of China. Many efforts have been met with frustrated impotence at overcoming the blockade of any unfiltered thought.
Enter Feed Over E-mail.
The biggest problem is not getting information to individuals, but rather disseminating thoughts throughout the populace at large. Effectively, the goal was to give the average Chinese citizen access to the same internet that is shared by the rest of the civilized world.
Feed Over E-mail accomplishes this purpose by compressing and encoding information in such a way as to bypass the typical keyword filtering systems employed by the Chinese government. This information is then decoded by the same thing that compressed it so that once delivered to the end-user, it is then readable.
The information that is being moved into China (beside Měiguórén Girls Gone Wild) are things like RSS Feeds, downloadable files, and proxy website redirects, that allow the user to access websites in their unplugged form. They are also attempting to move through programs that will assist in maintaining the anonymity of the user, and masking their activities from the prying eyes of the People’s Republic so that citizens may browse both freely, and without fear of criminal prosecution.
The software was developed by an IT specialist named Sho Ho and has been undergoing rigorous testing. The idea is not only to combat censorship in China, but any nation that seeks to stop the signal and hack apart the information its citizens receive. The one stumbling block is the requirement that individuals that wish to obtain these e-mail feeds need an e-mail account by a foreign distributor like gmail or hotmail.
The testing has shown great success with the original setup in Washington D.C. It was then moved to Shenzhen, followed by Hong Kong, and ended in Beijing. Testers used a variety of computers and a variety of connections and saw outstanding connection speeds as well as no apparent problems.
China is not known for its love of freedom or human rights. Its most notable attributes are religious repression, MSG, and leaving female children on hillsides to die of exposure. While many of us in the industrialized world view China as a necessary evil, if not an outright menace, there is little that can reasonably be done to combat the repressive regime that dwells in the inaptly named People’s Republic. However, overt courses are not the only method of usurpation when it comes to undermining the forces of oppression. FOE is a backdoor trick that empowers the people that suffer every day, and those that hunger most desperately for liberty.
I cannot speak for anyone else, but for the first time in my life, I wanted to give a quick chant of “U – S – A, U – S – A.”