Should I tell locals how to break through the [not so] Great Firewall?

A few of my students (some high-school age, some college age) are really interested in current events, local & international politics, and environmental issues. They are aware that the government here* heavily censors information, and don’t really know how to get at that restricted information. I’m not an expert by any means, but I know that the firewall can be bypassed using proxy servers; some of my friends here (including a few locals) have done just that.

Should I inform these students how it’s done? The chances of them getting in trouble are probably miniscule; they’d probably have to start being really vocal or distributing stuff in order to get in serious doo-doo. They don’t strike me as the type. Still, it does worry me a little, as even though it’s their choice to do with the info what they will, I’d feel horrible if someone did end up in the inquisitor’s hungry sights.


*Even though it’s obvious, I’ll be paranoid and not mention the country by name, in case ‘they’ are watching :slight_smile:

I remember a website which demonstrated how to bypass filters like NetNanny and other parental controls. The motto of the website was “because ignorance shouldn’t be hereditary.” This struck a chord with me and I’ve essentially decided there is no such thing as “bad knowledge.” There can be useless knowledge, and trivia, but there is no reason to filter the world. Individuals need to be able to make up their own minds.

That all having been said, you know all they’ll do with the ability to bypass the firewall is look at porn, dumb youtube videos, and lolcatz, right?


Sounds like there’s a fair chance the trail might lead back to you if and when someone does get found breaking through, so even leaving aside the plain ethics of the situation, it sounds risky for you. Only you can decide whether that risk is worth it.

Heh, I would agree with you, except for the fact that porn and youtube are both perfectly accessible here. Firewall ain’t afraid of no hooties! I have no idea what lolcatz is.

One of my students is definitely genuine about wanting more news. She knows far more about American politics than I do, which is extraordinarily rare in a student body that seems to spend more hours playing World of Warcraft than sleeping.

I don’t really think anyone will get caught, since there are a lot of people circumventing the firewall and the authorities aren’t exactly tracing IP addresses and showing up at people’s doorsteps. I think it would only be dangerous if someone started distributing pamphlets or organizing protests or something along those lines. Of course, I could be wrong, and an ambitious classmate in the Party might rat him out for gain, but that seems farfetched to me these days. The young’ins in the Party that I’ve met don’t really seem to believe in the old ideals, joining up mostly to make good contacts and gain valuable business opportunities. Being seen as a backstabber probably won’t do you a lot of good there.

Then again, I only see a very narrow slice of what’s going on, which is why I am a bit concerned about this.

From a moral perspective, yes. From a practical perspective, you’d know better than I.


On the one hand, freedom to access all the internet has to offer (good and bad) is something I advocate.

On the other hand, if your students are in their 'teens and twenties…sometimes people who are young and idealistic start stuff. And that’s not a bad thing…unless nobody supports them and/or they die from it. And of course, there could be hardcore Party members among them - maybe even among the students you think would be good candidates to teach this particular skill to. How does this one student know so much about American politics, without internet access?

You live there, you know how politics work on the ground.

Isn’t circumventing China’s firewall one of the things Vidalia and Tor were made for?

Another option would be to see if there’s a practical way to let the necessary information on how to do this “accidentally” available.

“Remember, if you want to stay on the good side of the authorities, absolutely do not establish a connection to a proxy server, go to this administrative settings panel, check these boxes, enter your alternate IP in this field, click Apply… Don’t do any of that or you’ll get in trouble. Everything I just told you, write it down and make sure you don’t ever do it. Okay? Okay. Good, now let’s return to our history lesson, ‘Correct ways to condemn that political devil Chiang Kai-Shek.’”

Ah, the old wine brick approach.

“After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn into wine”

In my opinion, no you should not give the information.

Before I go into why, let me explain that your little footnote aside, it’s not too hard to guess where you are. (What difference could it possibly make if you leave out the name of the country, btw?). I have no love for your host country’s politics, and the more I learn about the repressiveness of its government, the more I hate it, which is exactly why you shouldn’t give this information to your students.

You should understand that prisons all over the world are filled with people who thought that their chances of getting caught were “miniscule”. Even if they are actually miniscule today, it doesn’t mean that they will be miniscule tomorrow. Your host country has some true Jedi masters in the field of technology, and sooner or later, even the slickest Internet “outlaws” are going to stand a better than even chance of getting caught, especially if it’s in the vested interest of the repressive regime to catch them.

And your students aren’t the slickest. High school students are vocal. They like to show off, and part of proving that they can do stuff is by distributing. College students? I seem to remember an uprising in your host country that was started by college students. The art of keeping your mouth shut is learned through hard experience, not in school.

Again, I’m not saying that your students would be morally wrong by bypassing the firewall. I’m against censorship in most cases. Then again, as Ray Liotta put it in Copland, being right is not a bulletproof vest. Are you willing to take that responsibility? Are you willing to deal with the worst case outcome of your decision, see your students arrested, their families disgraced and perhaps even imprisoned in a work camp? It could happen, and if you showed them how to do it, then it would be at least partially your fault.

One of the lessons I learned the hard way in life is that just because something is the right thing to do, doesn’t mean that you should be the one to do it.

im in yur tiananmen, stoping yur tankz!

The question is whether you should, or should not, and the answer seems clear: No. It is againt the law to circumvent the firewall, and one would imagine giving instructions would be as well.

Of course, speeding is against the law as well, and I do that every day.

I would say it would be a very bad idea to give them the information. If you did give it to them, it will surely spread around, meaning you would have no control over who got the information. Once it falls into the wrong hands, guess who is going to get fingered when everything falls apart? And this will be in China, no less. Not a healthy decision.

The major difference being, of course, that if you get zapped for speeding you pay a fine, and if you keep doing it you lose your license. Counter-revolutionary activity in China (which is what could be charged if the kids start trading political content) can have rather more adverse consequences.

We on the SDMB do not encourage discussion of ways to break the law as a general rule (and also with a number of particular rules). So I have a couple of questions:

Does China impose some sort of nationwide firewall?
Is the firewall only an issue regarding computers operated through the school?
Is there an actual law in the PRC that insists that all internet access go through a specific firewall?

Since this thread appears to be directed toward the ethics or morality of a particular violation of a(n unclear) law and is not actually discussing strategies to defeat the law, (something you appear to already possess), it will remain open for a bit.
However, I would like to know the specific situation regarding the Law, per se.

[ /Moderating ]

Sorry, I wasn’t trying to start a thread about how to break the law, but about the morally correct action (weighing obeying the law vs. freedom of information vs. leading others to potential danger).


No. The firewall is in place for all authorized ISPs, though I think there are some loopholes. Some cell phones can access blocked sites (without use of a proxy), for some reason.

This I have no idea about. I’m not exactly sure how the censorship laws work, to be honest. There are banned books and periodicals which can clearly bring about penalties, but I’ve never heard of anyone getting in trouble for simply reading a web site, and I have never heard of a law on the books that makes it a crime to simply surf to the wrong URL. Of course, printing and distribution of the wrong information would count as seditious activity, which is quite famously a punishable offense here. I wish the one local lawyer I knew had not moved away!

I guess I haven’t see it as such a big deal because I know several locals who bypass the firewalls all the time-- it’s not difficult at all. They don’t seem concerned one bit, but when I’ve asked them about the law, no one seems to know the specifics. Despite their casual attitude, I am still quite hesitant to share with my students, hence this thread.

Chiang Kai-Shek is so passé. It’s all about Chen Shui-Bian hate now!

Has Chen actually been raised to the status of official devil, or is he still considered just a garden-variety pain in the ass? Got to keep up with the intricacies of middle-kingdom politics, don’tcha know.