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Anonymous Proxies - SafeWeb financed by CIA
The Guardian (London) Saturday September 1, 2001
Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles
The United States has opened a new front in its information war with the
Chinese authorities by financing the development of a computer system
designed to thwart Beijing's attempts to censor the internet.
The CIA, through its Washington technology company In-Q-Tel, is investing
in SafeWeb, a computer company which specialises in technology to help
internet users cover up their tracks.
SafeWeb says its mission is to "develop solutions that protect the flow of
digital information on the internet" - in other words, to enable people to
use the web without leaving traces of which sites they have visited.
SafeWeb, based in northern California, has acquired many customers in
China who do not want the government to know what they are accessing. Its
service lets them turn their PCs into gateways into the SafeWeb network,
thus foiling attempts of the Chinese and many other governments to censor
The scheme is likely to be seen as provocative in Beijing at a time when
several prolonged spy rows with Washington have stretched the tolerance of
The CIA will fund the project from its $5m allowance from Congress for
"internet and multimedia enhancement". The CIA and In-Q-Tel confirmed
yesterday that they had a contract with SafeWeb and were discussing
There are 30m internet users in China, three times as many as two years
This attempt to give them access to banned sites, mainly those providing
news or human rights information, or concerning the Falun Gong movement,
is given an extra dimension by the fact the SaveWeb's chief executive,
Stephen Hsu, is a Chinese American.
Dr Hsu, currently on leave from his position as professor of theoretical
physics at the University of Oregon, said it became clear that the Chinese
government was acting energetically to restrict the internet access of its
Some western sites, he said, were already practising self-censorship by
not putting articles that might offend Beijing on their sites.
Sandra Song, communications director of SafeWeb, said other governments
tried to prevent their citizens accessing the internet. One of the worst
was Saudi Arabia. Others were Singapore, Vietnam, Iran, Algeria, Yemen,
Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
"China is not the only offender, but it is the largest," she said.
"Not only are they the biggest challenge, they are quite active. They have
been shutting down internet cafes. It wouldn't be safe for us to set foot
in China. It definitely is a battle."
SafeWeb, which was set up in February last year and employs only 20
people, believes it has a big part to play in the debate on internet
In evidence to the House of Representatives' sub-committee on commerce,
trade and consumer protection in June, Dr Hsu said: "Approximately 327m
people worldwide use the internet today, and an estimated 502m will be
online by 2003.
"We can expect privacy concerns to escalate and grow increasingly
volatile. The public has only just begun to realise the extent of the
problem, and has only just begun to explore the possible privacy
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