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Schneier (wrong) on censorship

Security guru (and potential CISO for the Obama Administration) Bruce Schneier recently blogged about his thoughts on the Internet censorship methods used in the United Arab Emirates:

The government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) pervasively filters Web sites that contain pornography or relate to alcohol and drug use, gay and lesbian issues, or online dating or gambling. Web-based applications and religious and political sites are also filtered, though less extensively. Additionally, legal controls limit free expression and behavior, restricting political discourse and dissent online.

What was interesting to me about how reasonable the execution of the policy was. Unlike some countries — China for example — that simply block objectionable content, the UAE displays a screen indicating that the URL has been blocked and offers information about its appeals process.

Have things gotten so bad that transparent censorship is something to be praised?

At the end of the day, is being forwarded to a page hosted by the Ministry of Information that much better than being silently redirected to an unoffensive website, a tactic the Chinese have adopted in their recent blocking of BitTorrent websites?

From the perspective of the end user, the information they want to receive is still beyond reach — and who in her right mind is going to risk drawing attention to herself by filing an appeal to request a manual review of the blocking information on the Falun Gong, homosexuality or another banned topic?

Internet censorship should not be praised — and to see Schneier, a top executive at a major International telecommunications company saying anything positive about the subject is alarming.

Schneier might be correct on most things security, but on this issue, he’s frighteningly wrong.