Q and A with An East African Human Rights Activist
Can you tell us about your work?
I'm from East Africa. My background is in political science and I focus on the idea that consent in political systems helps build stability. I've been thinking about how to help communities circumvent or push back against information controls. When whistleblowers talk about corruption, there should be safe avenues of sharing that information without threatening their lives or their families.
How did you learn about Tor?
I didn't know that a web site could be blocked--I thought it was a problem with my computer--but then I saw in the comments section of a subreddit on Africa--it's mostly political--that some people could access a political web site. You want to know how they do it--you don't want to ask right there on reddit--so you research "access" "blocked" "website" as the key words.
This took me to Wikipedia and the article about circumvention tools. Then I learned about the routing through different servers to hide the source of a request.
I downloaded and installed Tor and it is slow--I thought it was a problem with my connection. But it worked! I could access websites that I could not access otherwise. Ethsat was blocked--a political and alternative media site that critiques the Ethiopian government and publishes info that is critical of government corruption.
[Ethsat is now blocked by CloudFlare and the site prohibits Firefox, which also means that it prohibits Tor. To circumvent this: Using the Tor browser, go to StartPage.com. Search for http://ethsat.com/, and click on the “proxy” link next to the search result. The disadvantage of this approach is that StartPage can see that a Tor IP address is visiting the website--but they won't know it's you. If you were to write your name on that website, you would de-anonymize yourself both to the website--and to StartPage. Thanks to Samdney for sharing this hack! ]
What was your reaction to CloudFlare CAPTCHAs when you first saw them?
You think the government is interfering or someone is playing around with it. You can't keep doing CAPTCHAs and they aren't working--you think something is broken here.
Doing one CAPTCHA is enough to identify if I'm human or not. [With repeated CAPTCHAs] I will run away from Tor. I won't use it. If CloudFlare really cares for security, then they should let people use Tor. Treat Tor like any other browser traffic.
What is your advice to other people in your country?
Use Tor -- For hundreds of thousands of people, it's the only way to access critical news.
Advice to other people like yourself?
You cannot purport to be fighting for society if you yourself are not secure. If you are not secure, you cannot secure others. The cobbler has no shoes. You are only as secure as your weakest browser. I most definitely would recommend Tor to frontline human rights defenders and journalists.
Any final thoughts?
Some people take it for granted that you can access any web site on the open Internet, but an Internet in which some web sites are blocked is not complete.
Other people are not as privileged--and Tor is giving them a fighting chance.