Quixotic Approaches To Circumventing Censorship, Using Books And Music

from the but-not-tilting-at-windmills dept

The topic of censorship crops up far too much here on Techdirt. Less common are stories about how to circumvent it. The two which follow are great examples of how human ingenuity is able to find unexpected ways to tackle this problem. The first story comes from Spain, and concerns a banned book. As the Guardian reports:

Nacho Carretero?s Fariña, an expose of drug trafficking in Galicia, was published in 2015, but publication and sales were halted last month after the former mayor of O Grove in Galicia, Jose Alfredo Bea Gondar, brought legal action against Carretero and his publisher, Libros del KO. Bea Gondar is suing over details in the book about his alleged involvement in drug shipping.

To get around that ban, a new Web site has been created, Finding Fariña, which explains:

A digital tool searches and finds the 80,000 thousand words that make up “Fari?a” within “Don Quijote”, the most universal classic of Spanish literature, and then extracts them, one by one, so that you can read the forbidden story.

Because what they will never be able to censor your rights as a reader. Nor words. And least of all, “Don Quijote”.

The site sifts through the classic Spanish text to find the words that are then recombined to form the forbidden book. You can click on any word in the book’s online text to find the corresponding section of Don Quijote. Since Fariña contains words that did not exist in the early 17th century, when Cervantes wrote his novel, the Web site recreates them from fragments of words that are found within the work. That’s quite important, since it means that Don Quijote can potentially be used to reconstitute any book, if necessary breaking down unusual words into fragments or even single letters. Equally, the same approach could be adopted for banned texts in other languages: all that is needed is some well-known public domain work that can be mined in the same way.

The other approach comes from Germany, but “The Uncensored Playlist,” is being used in China, Egypt, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Vietnam to circumvent censorship in those nations:

While press freedom is not available in the worlds most oppressed societies — global music streaming sites are.

Five acclaimed independent journalists from five countries suffering from strict government censorship teamed up with Musical Director Lucas Mayer to turn 10 articles that had previously been censored into 10 uncensored pop songs. These songs were then uploaded onto freely available music streaming sites. Allowing these stories to be slipped back into the countries where they had once been forbidden.

That is, censored information, written by local journalists, is set to music, and then added to playlists that are available on the main streaming platforms like Spotify, Deezer, and Apple Music. In addition, all the songs are freely available from the project’s Web site, in both the original languages and in English.

Although neither method represents a foolproof anti-circumvention technique, or a serious challenge to the authorities concerned, they do underline that however bad the censorship, there is always a way around it.

Update: The Finding Fariña site has now been censored. So far, there’s no sign of a mirror site being set up outside Spanish jurisdiction, which would seem the obvious response.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “Quixotic Approaches To Circumventing Censorship, Using Books And Music”

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33 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

"... censorship crops up far too much here on Techdirt."

Yeah, thousands of MY comments have been censored, though all well within common law and common decency (unlike fanboys). I’ve complained about the viewpoint discrimination hundreds of times without responsive reply from the site, just more pretending that it’s a magical “community system”, triggered by no stated number out of how many readers, and without Administrator okaying. The struggle keeps going on, especially when relevant to pieces like this with Techdirt tacitly pretending to be for free speech. — Techdirt asserts that Facebook should host videos of murders, but my little bits of text are too much!

“Less common are stories about how to circumvent it.”

TOR Browser (all you should use it on is to foil petty tyrants on tiny little sites like this, as NSA runs both in and out nodes). If not through first time, select “New Circuit for this site” and “Resend”, usually works of late, though didn’t use to: one epic struggle to get in on a Masnick topic went 25 times without success. You might also want to get Random Agent Spoofer, as Techdirt, like Facebook, believes it has a right to monetize your identity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "... censorship crops up far too much here on Techdirt."

why is it that you are the only one here that does not understand the word “censor”?

There is no better way to explain it than: https://xkcd.com/1357/

Can you at least look at that comic and state that you understand what is being conveyed in that message and why it directly relates to you complaining about being “censored”

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: "... censorship crops up far too much here on Techdirt."

Yeah, thousands of MY comments have been censored

Just out of curiosity: If silencing your voice is as easy as downvoting your comments on a blog you apparently despise, why would you continue to post comments on that blog? You know people here dislike you. You know that your comments will most likely receive a flagging. Why keep posting them here if they will only ever end up being “censored”?

I’ve complained about the viewpoint discrimination hundreds of times without responsive reply from the site

Allow me to give you one, then. Your comments get hidden not because of your viewpoint on a given topic, but because even when you do offer up a relevant opinion or view of that topic, you also trot out the SovCit lingo like it matters to anyone but you as well as insult the writers and regular commenters of this site. You come off as someone with a grudge, a lot of spare time, a tackboard that would put 9/11 truthers to shame, and absolutely no experience in putting together a coherent argument for or against a specific position on a given subject. Your attitude provokes people into flagging you. You hold the responsibility for your actions. Accept that and try to act better than you were yesterday.

The struggle keeps going on, especially when relevant to pieces like this with Techdirt tacitly pretending to be for free speech.

Free speech does not guarantee you forced hosting of your speech or a captive audience for that speech. Your implicit position on free speech would deny Techdirt admins both the right of association and the right to moderate the comments sections as they see fit. Techdirt writers can support both the principles of free speech and the moderation of comments on their articles—one does not preclude the other by any means.

TOR Browser (all you should use it on is to foil petty tyrants on tiny little sites like this

You refer to the Techdirt administration as “petty tyrants” even though you have either implied or explicitly expressed a desire to force Techdirt into hosting your speech without restriction or moderation. Projection like yours should come with a free small popcorn.

Techdirt, like Facebook, believes it has a right to monetize your identity

[citation needed]

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "... censorship crops up far too much here on Techdirt."

When will you learn that when an audience tells you to shut up, you free speech rights are not being infringed. Free speech does not mean you can demand that people listen to you, or that you can insist that other people bear the cost of publishing your speech.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: censorship

Techdirt is extremely tolerant of diverse and controversial comments, but certainly does have a full right to control the content of its private website.

However, would somebody here briefly explain how the Techdirt: “This comment has been flagged by the community” process works?

How many “votes” from the “community” are required to “flag” a comment?

Do some community members have a greater voting authority than other members?

Can any lone Techdirt staff member/administrator “Flag” a comment?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Flagging system in a nutshell

To the best of my knowledge, this is how it works.

After a set amount of people click the ‘Flag this comment’ button the comment in question is hidden behind the ‘This comment has been flagged’ feature.

How many exactly isn’t something that TD makes known to keep people from gaming the system(like say, an admitted user of Tor from simply flagging, swapping IP address, flagging…).

‘Votes’ are counted the same, whether from someone with an account or someone without.

And lastly not as far as I know, and given someone with that level of control could simply delete a comment or leave it in spam-filter limbo(something which, ironically enough, the many posts whining about being ‘censored’ demonstrates doesn’t happen outside of actual spam), I don’t see why they would even if they could.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Site gone mute

I’m not surprised – it was obviously more of a publicity stunt through the novelty of its approach than a workable solution to anything. It can be very easily argued the “forbidden” text is still at the basis of its algorithm, regardless of where it takes its words and letters from – or authorities can just shut it down without any justification. Law being written in broad language is not an accident – it’s deliberately meant to be a blunt tool.

Authoritarian regimes (which these days seems to be all of them) don’t care about exactly zero people being able to access whatever it is they want off the net – they just want it obscured enough to be visible only to those “in the know” of where to look for it, relegating the internet from the platform of free exchange of ideas it was supposed to be to a mere aid to traditional peer-to-peer conspiracy. They know that one. They know how to deal with it.

Unfortunately, it’s perfectly feasible for them to do so (and it will only become easier as more loopholes are plugged and more regulations bolted on) and they know it full well. The boot is already in the air, the face is already on the ground. They’re not in any hurry…

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Awwwwwkward!

I brought that up with Mike once. He replied saying that all kinds of people we consider controversial support the site for one reason or another, usually on a single issue. In the Koch’s case it’s freedom of speech.

Just out of interest, if right wing boogeyman George Soros contributed, would you freak out about it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Music has been used to convey thoughts/ideas for a long time.

A reason for this longevity may be that some folk do not understand the lyrics and therefore do not attempt to censor.

Proof of this can found in many places, for example – music chosen for political conventions. Born In The USA was used at one of these boondoggles, they did/do not know it is a protest song because they never heard anything other than USA USA USA!!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Likewise with a number of popular songs which are actually snarky criticism of the music industry.

Most blatantly, of course, is probably “I’m Not Going To Write You a Love Song” by Sara Bareilles, but even golden oldies like “Hotel California” and “The Sound of Silence” — which, ironically, only became popular after the record company remixed and re-released it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Music works great for coded messages and has for centuries at very least, and likely to the dawn of humanity. From the “Follow the Drinking Gord” among slaves to what are now nursery rhymes to “Sing a Song of Six Pence” to covertly recruit for pirate crews. It allows for common innocent usage and cracking down on it draws backlash. The underclasses already grumble about their toil, taking away singing could be the type of thing to push it over the edge. Besides that any overseers would feel being asked to crack down on it is a complete waste of their time and would likely ignore it.

Authorities across the globe have been aware of this for generations as well and not had much luck with it either and need a pretext to get anywhere close. The most ‘success’ were religious authorities railing against musicians and actors and even that was highly untenable even in actual repressive theocracies. Church authorities that denied sacraments to musicians couldn’t even keep music out of the church! They were well aware of the threat of subversion and tried to keep them to it.

It is similar to the ‘cute cat theory of digital activism’ for communication platforms. Innocuous content that makes crack downs look both draconian and highly silly.

This sort of ‘bible cryptography’ works great for being hard to crack down upon. The famous AACS decryption string “09F911029D74E35BD84156C5635688C0” is nerdy and arcane by common parlance but already demonstrates the absurdity of censoring a short length of characters. Cracking down on classical literature and bunch of numbers under 80,000 looks even worse.

Anonymous Coward says:

OT: The Lost Art of MP3 Steganography

There was a similar situation in the 1990s for sharing music MP3s. This was the era of the “personal website” when GeoCities and other free web hosts were popular. As they disallowed file hosting but allowed large images, we’d hide MP3s inside JPGs and post them on free sites. Another benefit was that the record companies, who were back then very active getting illicit MP3s taken down off websites, tended to miss these hidden files entirely.

Eventually Napster came out and made all that effort superfluous, of course.

Anonymous Coward says:

>thousands of MY comments have been censored

Wow! You’ve got enough material to start your own blog. And you can censor the various ignoramuses, jerks, and alt-wrong nutjobs that will come to it.

Or you can even censor the occasional sane voice, should one ever visit.

Leaving you no time to waste trying to bother people who don’t want to be bothered, and have ways of keeping from being bothered.

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