Home People LibTech: Walid Al-Saqaf on Circumvention

Disclaimer: I have done my best to transcribe the comments of these speakers at the conference on Liberation Technology in Authoritarian Regimes, and I apologize for any errors. [UPDATED]

Walid Al-Saqaf, is the founder of the news aggregator YemenPortal.net, which was blocked in Yemen on January 19th, 2008, following his coverage of a major protest in southern Yemen. As a censored online media producer her was left with three choices:

  1. Self-censorship through filtering his own content
  2. Shut down the site
  3. Resist the censorship by helping visitors get to his site


He chose the third choice. He created his own proxy server to assist with circumvention and moved his content from one URL to another, using mirroring. He realized this cat-and-mouse game was unsustainable. He then created a Firefox plugin and this made it easier to visitors to his site than by using a block-able proxy server. This was successful, and traffic from Yemen returned to his site.

His newest project is called Al Kasir (alkasir.com), which means “circumventor” in Arabic. The browser-style software first checks queries against a list of censored sites, only accepting queries for censored content that is not related to pornography or hacking. Other queries are sent directly to the open web. This allows the software to function while using minimum bandwidth. He is able to track blocked sites through a system of automated tests of listed sites, which are verified by moderators. Though he focused his service on Middle East users, the service now has many Chinese users. The Al Kasir site also has an interactive map that shows which sites are blocked in which country.

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