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How to get around government imposed internet censorship

The ongoing looting and violence spreading throughout South Africa is concerning and reports that government is monitoring social media are equally unsettling.

“We also issue a stern warning to those circulating inflammatory messages on various social media platforms which are aimed at inciting violence and disregard of the law,” Minister of Police, Bheki Cele said on Tuesday morning. “Any crime committed in the social media sphere, where persons intentionally share and distribute inflammatory and information inciting violence messages anonymously is as good as a crime committed.”

“As the Cluster we are monitoring all social media platforms and we are tracking those who are sharing false information and calling for civil disobedience. We are engaging the different platforms to track and trace the origins of inflammatory posts and messages inciting violence and have requested that these be taken down with immediate effect,” Cele added.

While South Africa hasn’t experienced a shut down by government as regards access to online services, the act of shutting down the internet in parts or entirely as a form of censorship is rather common on the African continent.

According to a report from Access Now, in 2020 there were 155 documented internet shutdowns across the globe. One of the more severe shutdowns took place in Ethiopia in 2020 were for two weeks 100 million people could not get online.

Just recently, MTN Eswatini was ordered to cut off internet access in the region as a form of censorship, a move that drew it some unwelcome legal action.

But a shutdown can take many forms, as Mysterium (a peer-to-peer VPN) points out.

There are two ways a government can shut the internet down:

  • Partial shutdown – Government limits what websites or apps can be accessed often with a view to restricting communication.
  • Total shutdown – The pipes are turned off and no access is possible whether it be mobile or fixed-line internet.

So what can you do?

In the case of a partial shut down there are measures you can take to circumvent censorship or access to certain websites.

Unfortunately, many of these solutions will require a working internet connection to access and if government blocks access then it’s going to be harder to get a hold of certain solutions.

Having poured over several pieces of advice from experts, the first thing you should do is download and install TOR.

TOR or The Onion Router helps you evade censorship by encrypting your browsing traffic in such a way that it’s tough for authorities to track down what you are searching for or posting on the internet.

You can read more about TOR and download the official browser here.

It’s also worth checking out circumvention apps such as Lantern and Psiphon. Both of these applications differ from TOR in important ways and in the case of Psiphon it even recommends using TOR for specific reasons.

We should point out that simply using TOR on its own doesn’t guarantee anonymity. During the installation process you will be given a few tips about how to use TOR and we highly recommend following that advice. This includes things like not using the browser in full screen (this gives away your monitor’s resolution and could be used to trace traffic back to you) and avoiding habits you may have developed over the years.

Next, you should be using a VPN.

While there are free VPNs such as Kaspersky’s VPN Secure Connection, these free versions are often severely limited in the data allowance and the features they offer.

Recommending a VPN is tough because none are created equal. A few of us here at Hypertext make use of NordVPN because it’s fast, secure, features a kill-switch and it’s somewhat affordable.

This is, unfortunately, something you are going to have to do a bit of research on but we suggest starting with VPN providers such as:

 

We recommend finding a VPN that has a wide array of servers in a range of different regions and that also has a no-log policy.

Finally, we recommend switching from WhatsApp or Telegram to Signal.

We recommend Signal because it collects the least amount of data about you. The encryption is end-to-end by default and the only data the app actually collects is your phone number.

We are privileged enough to have not had to endure an internet shutdown here in South Africa so knowing what to expect if it ever comes to that is tough.

As we mentioned, these are things you should do before the internet is shutdown either partially or totally.

While the internet still appears to be working in South Africa, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]

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