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As more and more countries join the list of nations where the governments have started restricting certain websites and content, the cyber world is witnessing a rise in the number of users who have to resort to anonymous methods of surfing the World Wide Web.

One of the first countries in the world where websites were forbidden by the Government was China. Soon Iran and now, Russia joined in these ranks, and the authorities have implemented the censure of various websites from the net in Russia. Russian citizens, therefore, have shown, like their Chinese counterparts, an increased attraction towards the more anonymous and secure Virtual Private Networks, to keep potent their link to the world in the form of their favorite websites.

Livejournal versus Tor: Livejournal blocks Tor

However, this access to forbidden content online seems to have its own limitations in Russia. This is concerning the latest incident where Livejournal, the popular blogging platform in Russia, blocked Tor, an anonymous browsing tool from access to its online bloggers. Livejournal is owned by SUP, a Russian media company. Tor is supposed to be a free Open Network which allows its users to get access to forbidden websites, as a ‘defence against the network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy.’

Politics plays an important role here. Tor was a vital tool during the recent wave of protests in Iran in June 2009. It helped Iranian netizens with anonymous access to various prohibited websites.

Another side of the story

There is another side to the story. The problem of spammers was also a primary concern which led to the fight against anonymous web access. As the Tor system was one of the anonymizers, it was blocked along with several other such systems.

When looking at both ends, it is difficult to decide which is the lesser of the two evils: the curbing of personal freedom and freedom of choice of the netizens to decide which websites they can have access to seems like a form of tyranny, but on the other hand are genuine concerns of the government and anti-spamming organizations. Of course, criminal activity and cybercrime can breed freely in anonymity, but secure Virtual Private Networks also offer security and protection of identity.

World reaction to the Tor ban

Netizens all over the world are rising against the ban of systems like Tor. According to them, the banning of web content has left the netizens with no other choice than to resort to anonymity as a method of self-protection. By not going anonymous, they will risk being charged with breaking the rules, and by not surfing their preferred websites, they risk being stripped of their freedom of choice and personal freedom. It is a tough cookie, indeed.

Of course, officials at both ends of the line are insisting that there is no place or politics in the ban on Tor. ‘Technical Difficulties’ is the preferred term used to explain away these instances. This is a battle which seems to have only begun, albeit it does have global connotations.