Wikipedia Switch to HTTPS A Big Win For Free Speech

no to censorship

The Turkish authorities bans anything relating to female genitals in Wikipedia articles, the Russians censors articles about marijuana; the UK, articles about the German band Scorpion’s album, “Virgin Killer,” have been blocked and China, well … the entire site banned on multiple occasions.

The non-profit Wikimedia Foundation has always made censorship a target to be eliminated and it seems they are closer to that goal thanks to new research from the Harvard Center for Internet and Society that made it clear that encryption was and still is the solution.

According to the report, “while China was/is likely censoring the Chinese language Wikipedia project, and Thailand and Uzbekistan likely interfering intermittently with specific language projects of Wikipedia as well, there was relatively little censorship of Wikipedia globally” as of June 2016,.

Wikipedia added support for HTTPS in 2011 so that all data sent between the browser and server are encrypted, but until early 2015, it was still serving the page in both HTTP and HTTPS.

This allowed Wikipedia to serve content using the HTTPS version even when countries like Pakistan or Iran blocked the certain articles on the HTTP version of Wikipedia, the full version would still be available using HTTPS. But in June 12th, 2015, Wikipedia made a conscious decision to remove HTTP completely and adopt HTTPS as default.

At that time, Wikimedia Foundation said:

We believe encryption makes the web stronger for everyone. In a world where mass surveillance has become a serious threat to intellectual freedom, secure connections are essential for protecting users around the world. Without encryption, governments can more easily surveil sensitive information, creating a chilling effect, and deterring participation, or in extreme cases they can isolate or discipline citizens. Accounts may also be hijacked, pages may be censored, other security flaws could expose sensitive user information and communications. Because of these circumstances, we believe that the time for HTTPS for all Wikimedia traffic is now. We encourage others to join us as we move forward with this commitment.

HTTPS (also called HTTP over Transport Layer Security (TLS), HTTP over SSL and HTTP Secure) is a communications protocol for secure communication over a computer network which is widely used on the Internet.

It consists of communication over Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) within a connection encrypted by Transport Layer Security, or its predecessor, Secure Sockets Layer. The main motivation for HTTPS is authentication of the visited website and protection of the privacy and integrity of the exchanged data.

The Harvard researchers deployed two complementary data collection and analysis strategies: a client-side system that collects data from the perspective of users around the globe and a server-side tool to analyze traffic coming in to Wikipedia servers. Both client- and server-side methods detected events that they considered likely related to censorship, in addition to a large number of suspicious events that remain unexplained.

At the end of their year-long data collection, the Harvard researchers also did a client-side analysis, where they would try to access various Wikipedia articles in a variety of languages as they would be seen by a resident in a particular country.

After a painstakingly long process of manual analysis of potential censorship events, the researchers found that, globally, Wikipedia’s switch to HTTPS had a positive effect on the number censorship events by comparing server traffic from before and after the switch in June of 2015.



The findings per targeted country:


The researchers described China’s Internet filtering apparatus is one of the most pervasive and complex in the world. They said that the country uses a wide variety of techniques—IP blocking, throttling, man-in-the-middle attacks, deep packet inspection, DNS poisoning, keyword filtering, content removal, SMS and instant message filtering, the blocking of VPNs, and full Internet shutdowns in some areas—to block political and sexually explicit content, globally popular social media and publishing platforms, and Google and many of its services.


While Internet penetration in Cuba have seen considerable growth in past three years, access is still limited and tightly controlled. The country has two ISPs, both of which are state-owned, and Cuba uses the Avila Link monitoring software to track Internet users and obtain usernames and passwords.


Despite offering comparatively free and open access to a wide spectrum of online content, Egypt’s Internet environment is still tightly controlled. Political, social, and religious websites are broadly available, but arrests, attacks, self-censorship, and full Internet shutdowns contribute to an atmosphere of repression.


Internet censorship in Indonesia is managed by the Ministry of Communication and Information, which has broad powers to block “negative” content, mostly granted through the Information and Electronic Transactions Law (ITE). The ministry maintains a system called Trust Positive which acts as a database cataloging content that should be censored, but the actual implementation of censorship is left up to the ISPs. As of June 2016, Trust Positive contained approximately 770,000 URLs, about 99.5% of which were categorized as pornographic.


Internet filtering in Iran is implemented by the Commission to Determine the Instances of Criminal Content (CDICC) and broadly overseen by the Supreme Council of Cyberspace; both groups are primarily composed of members appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Content related to the political opposition, human rights (particularly women’s rights), minorities, religion, and sex is heavily filtered, as are independent and international media, many major social media platforms, and circumvention tools.


The most heavily censored content in Kazakhstan is that related to religious extremism. Most blocking happens by court order, and throughout all of 2014, the Prosecutor General’s Office asked courts to block 703 websites and 198 specific URLs related to the topic. The most significant recent cases of such censorship were related to domestic and international coverage of Kazakhstan’s association with ISIS.


Generally targets topic areas that threaten national security or are religiously blasphemous. Access to international news organizations and independent media is generally open, as is access to the websites of human rights organizations, local civil society groups, and Pakistani political parties. Online pornography is banned, a block that has also affected some sex education and health websites.


That the Russian government has systematically moved to increase its control over the online information environment over the past few years, passing new legislation that expands authorities’ power to access user data, monitor online activity, and block and take down websites including those with “extremist” content, information about drugs and suicide.

Saudi Arabia

Reporters without Borders ranked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 164th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom, emphasizing that the Kingdom is “relentless in its censorship of the Saudi media and the Internet” and uses commercially available software (SmartFilter96) to locate URLs related to pornography, gambling and drugs, which it then blocks.

Block contents are broader including content related to violent extremism, criticism of Gulf royal families, political opposition, censorship circumvention tools, P2P file sharing tools, LGBT issues, human rights organizations, religious scholars (especially those related to the minority Shi’a faith), mirror sites, and unlicensed online publications.

South Korea

South Korea’s Internet filtering regime is largely focused on its relations with North Korea and on sexually explicit content. The majority of banned websites are North Korean news organizations or sites run by North Korean “sympathizers,” but pornography and LGBT websites are also widely banned.


Syrian netizens experiences censorship online around politics, minorities, human rights, foreign affairs and censorship also extends to mobile communication.


Censored content in Thailand is similar to that of other countries: pornography, gambling, and censorship circumvention tools are all extensively blocked but the censorship extends to content that is specifically sensitive in the context of Thailand.

Lèse-majesté, the insult or defamation of royalty, is a serious crime in Thailand, and has lead to a number of censorship incidents. The law against lèse-majesté has been used to prosecute those who have posted social media updates, news articles, audio and video content, and poetry deemed offensive, as well as at least one Internet user who sent an email containing links to lèse-majesté content.


There are now nine legal categories of criminal content (e.g. content relating to child pornography, obscenity, or gambling), censorship is not limited to these categories. Sites relating to pornography, intellectual property infringement, ethnic minorities, LGBT issues, political movements and news outlets have all been censored.

Content unrelated to any of these categories often sees censorship due to the common practice of blocking entire sites for single pieces of infringing content. YouTube, Twitter, Blogger and WordPress have all been
the subject of such blocks.


Uzbekistan is said to have one of the most intensely controlled online and media environments in the world. Internet censorship has been present in Uzbekistan since about 2002, and has been steadily increasing. Uzbek law prohibits Internet operators from disseminating information that calls for violent overthrow of the government, instigates other forms of violence, is pornographic, relates to religious extremism, or “degrades and defames human dignity.”


Online activity in Vietnam is tightly restricted through content filtering, fines, website licensing, targeted cyber attacks, and arrests and detentions. The vast majority of content censored in Vietnam is content that could conceivably challenge the power of the ruling political class.


Every nation on earth runs a certain level of censorship.
When they are not doing that, they saturate and inundate people with much information while burying the things that matter beneath the noise.
It would be great if this research can be granted enough funds to do this on massive scale to cover every single nation on earth.

The great soul, Mahatma Gandhi once said that “there is no god higher than truth.” Mankind will be better serve when we have learned humility, learned to seek truth, to reveal it and publish it as Walter Lippmann said in 1917,

In a decade where truth is now been jettisoned for make-up lies that are dressed as “truth” and efforts been made to grant a chosen few access to the Internet Net Neutrality, it seems we have forgotten the horrors of the 20th century.

Secrets kills especially when aided by ignorance and fear.

The Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. is a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual, educational content, and to providing the full content of these wiki-based projects to the public free of charge. It operates some of the largest collaboratively edited reference projects in the world, including Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


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