C is for censorship and circumvention

The recent military crackdown in Burma got me thinking about access to information around the world. The media also commented on the role that the internet played in getting uncensored information out about the monk’s protests against the military dictatorship as well as how the internet was essentially shut off to stop the flow of information.

Everyone’s Guide to By-passing Internet Censorship (31 page PDF), is a practical document that can be understood by people who aren’t so techie. It outlines various circumvention techniques and outlines various options including web-based circumvention systems, tunneling software, and anonymous communication systems. There is information for both the potential circumvention user and provider.

This guide was put put out by Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory at U of T’s Munk Centre for International Studies. They state that more than 25 countries censor the Internet, including Burma, Tunisia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, China, Iran and the United States.

Although some states enact Internet filtering legislation, most do so with little or no transparency and public accountability. Most states do not reveal what information is being blocked, and rarely are there review or grievance mechanisms for affected citizens or content publishers. Compounding the problem is the increasing use of commercial filtering software, which is prone to over-blocking due to faulty categorization. Commercial filters block access to categorized lists of websites that are kept secret for proprietary reasons, even for customers. As a consequence, unaccountable private companies determine censorship rules in political environments where there is little public accountability or oversight. (p. 5)

Reporters Without Boarders also includes information on filters and circumvention technologies in their Handbook for Cyber-Dissidents and Bloggers.

(thanks Susie for including this in your Bits and Bytes)

interview with an intellectual freedom activist

Hopefully this week I’ll be able to complete my first interview with an intellectual freedom activist and writer who I admire a whole lot.A   I sorta pinched the idea from Jerimiah’s idea to do oral histories of folks who are/have been active with the Information Policy committee and my friend Krisztina, who did a bunch of interviews during the Vancouver International Film Fest.

I have made my own list of folks who I would like to talk to, but who would you like me to interview?A   The sky is the limit, though I will be limiting the list to those who are alive.

folks from word on the street

Heather noticed that perhaps because of the rain there were less people, but the people who did come by our booth wanted to talk a little more. Here are some of them.

First, there was Robert Chaplin. I bought two copies of his independently published book Ten Counting Cat. I love picture books that look like they are kids books, but really aren’t. Here’ s a video of the same book.

One of my favourite publishers, Simply Read, was vending beside us. I got a copy of A Growling Place for only $10. A friend recently reviewed it, and we agreed that the art was beautiful, dark, Sendakian and not really a little kids book.


Another children’s author came by and told us that her publisher told her she can’t use the words gold medal, Olympics and downhill skiing in her upcoming book. Apparently they’ve been trademarked by the 2010 folks. We agreed that this was completely absurd. Robert Chaplin encouraged her to publish independently and then disappeared into the rain.

We also met a retired school librarian who was frustrated that American schools have educational exemption and can show Hollywood movies in their classrooms, but Canadian schools have to pay a lisencing fee to show the same films in classrooms.

Lots of the CUPE 391 library workers, who organized a parallel event, Word on the Strike, also came by.

Word on the Street


Yesterday 11 members of the Intellectual Freedom and Information Policy Committees braved the cold, wet, windy weather to entertain and educate at the Word on the Street literacy and book festival.

Everyone had their own unique way of drawing people in.A   Sylvia was like a carnival barker, or the guy who demonstrates super absorbent towels at the Richmond Night Market as she drew people in with “Spin the wheel!A   Answer a question!A   Win a candy!A   There are no wrong answers!” She was unstoppable.

We invited people to spin the wheel and answer a question on an information policy or intellectual freedom issue.A   Contestants got a candy if they got the question right or wrong.A   This year we revised the questions to have kid friendly options.A   My favourite kid questions were the ones Devon revised on pay equity, net neutrality and whistleblower protection. A   Check out the questions (.doc).


I was surprised at how many people were out enjoying the festival despite the nasty Vancouver weather.A   I was also a bit surprised at how interested people (kids and adults) were to learn more about DRM.A   I also enjoyed catching up with other library folks, meeting authors and random people who had been active in IF and IP issues.A   More about them soon.

word on the street


Look for our booth (with the Information Policy Committee) at Word on the Street. Spin the wheel, answer an information policy or intellectual freedom question and get some candy.

Get there early to buy a treasure hunt book bag for $18 at the information tent. We are one of the booths that is giving away something to folks with these bags.

Due to the library workers strike the booths will be moved onto the street, so you can come to the event and not worry about crossing the picket line. CUPE 391, the union representing Vancouver library workers, will also have a booth.

See you there!

media concentration sucks

This past summer, according to the BCLA site:

BCLA has written to the Secretary General of the CRTC (the regulator of Canada’s broadcasting and telecommunications), in response to a call for submissions on the diversity of voices in the Canadian media. BCLA’s contribution asks the CRTC to establish a market domination cap and break up concentration and cross-ownership of media where it is already too high; to maintain Canadian ownership regulations; to enhance support for public broadcasting; and to enhance support for community-based, independent media particularly in areas that are underserved by existing media.

The CRTC does not regulate newspaper ownership. In Vancouver, CanWest owns most of the newspapers: The Vancouver Sun, The Province, as well as the freebie Metro and The Courier.

The issue of media concentration is something that was completely overlooked in the collection development class in library school. Sure, we spent 5 minutes on libraries outsourcing selection to jobbers, but we didn’t discuss the larger issue. If independent and alternative publishers are squeezed out of the market it homogenizes the pool of what we are selecting from.

Clamour magazine went under December 2006. Vancouver’s feminist bookstore Women in Print closed in September 2005. There was another women’s bookstore that I can’t remember the name of that also closed before that. Press Gang Publishers, a feminist printing collective, declared bankrupcy in 2002. Lee Maracle‘s Ravensong, Boys Like Her: Transfictions by Taste This (Ivan E. Coyote, Anna Camalleri, Lyndell Montgomery, Zoe Eakle) were published by Press Gang and are now out of print.

In Vancouver, the notable exception for bookstores is Spartacus Books. A   Well, there’s also the People’s Co-op Bookstore.A   And Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium.A   Okay, so it all doesn’t suck.

10 Most Challenged Books of 2006

Phew.A   I finally finished the last Harry Potter book, which got me thinking…I wonder what the most challenged books will be for 2007?A   It’s more of a small curiosity rather than wondering who is going to win the next Eurovision Song Contest or the Stanley Cup.

Last year And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell topped ALA’s list because of the gay co-parenting penguins in a New York zoo.A   Here are the other nine:

  • Gossip Girls series by Cecily Von Ziegesar for homosexuality, sexual content, drugs, unsuited to age group, and offensive language;
  • Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor for sexual content and offensive language;
  • The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler for sexual content, anti-family, offensive language, and unsuited to age group;
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison for sexual content, offensive language, and unsuited to age group;
  • Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz for occult/Satanism, unsuited to age group, violence, and insensitivity;
  • Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher for homosexuality and offensive language.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky for homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language, and unsuited to age group
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison for offensive language, sexual content, and unsuited to age group;
  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier for sexual content, offensive language, and violence.

open medicine

One of my favourite sessions at the PKP Scholarly Publishing Conference was Dr. Anita Palepu speaking about the history of Open Medicine. This is a prime example where intellectual freedom and information policy issues (like open access) connect. The abstract says the session:

Presents the experience of founding a new independent open access medical journal in the wake of a controversial instance of editorial interference and suspension of academic freedom that had resulted in the firing of the Canadian Medical Association Journals editors, followed by the resigning of the remaining editors and board.

She was a really engaging speaker, but her energy doesn’t come across very well on the mp3 recording. You can view her slides and listen to her presentation here.

geoff berner


when i was in library school we did an exercise on what to do when an item is challenged. the role play was based on items that had been challenged in lower mainland libraries. we were given an item along with the reasons that the patron gave for wanting the item banned or reclassified. the item that my group got was geoff berner‘s CD whiskey rabbi because of the song lucky god damn jew. someone thought the song was antisemitic and should be banned from the library. his bio states that he is Jewish and sometimes sings about how “suffering has not ennobled the Jewish people above the rest of humanity”:

Ià ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢m a lucky God damn Jew, Lucky God damn Jew,
Ià ¢Ã¢”š ¬Ã¢”ž ¢m a lucky God damn Jew, Lucky God damn Jew.
Lucky! Lucky! All the time! Now I’ve got my own country,
Where I am free to persecute People with less luck than me.

you can listen to this song for yourself. another timely favourite of mine is the rich are going to move to the high ground.

according to his bio he wants “to drag klezmer music kicking and screaming back into the bars”. a folk fest favourite of mine, he’s playing this saturday night at the railway club. wanna go?