New service could de-censor the entire Internet

Freedom of Internet access is slowly but surely becoming a right that's up there with freedom of speech, and the reason we know this is because governments are clamping down on uncensored internet use. Some new software called Telex could change all that by using the Internet as a proxy for itself.

The most common way to avoid Internet censorship nowadays is to use a proxy server. If YouTube is blocked in your country, instead of asking YouTube to send you a video directly (which wouldn't work), you just ask some other server that isn't YouTube (the proxy) to go get the video for you. The proxy acts as a middleman to keep the censors from knowing that you're watching that incredibly subversive nyan cat video.

Problem is, if the censors catch on to your proxy server, you just lost your singing rainbow fireworks poptart cat video, and that's no way to live. The concept behind Telex is to take the idea of a proxy server and expand it to cover every server, by putting the "proxy" bit at the level of the internet service provider itself. Essentially, the entire Internet becomes a proxy to itself.

Telex comes in two parts: one is a piece of software that lives on your computer, and the other is a station that ISPs wire up to the backbone tubes of the Internet. When you want to visit a banned website, the Telex software on your computer makes a show of asking a foreign ISP for a website that isn't banned, while encrypting your actual request and sending it along for the ride. As soon as your request gets out to a foreign ISP, the Telex station recognizes the encrypted request, goes and gets the page you actually wanted, and then encrypts that data and hides it inside the data from a non-banned site to send back to you. As a user, you won't notice any of this going on, you'll just see the web pages you want to see, whether or not they've been censored.

The Telex system depends on several things to work effectively. One is getting cooperation from ISPs to start using Telex stations, but its creators suggest that governments interested in free-speech could incentivise their deployment. Then, the people who need the Telex software itself have to get their hands on it somehow, which creates a sort of dinosaur-in-egg problem. There are lots of security issues as well, most of which are answered in this helpful Telex Q&A (for those of you who want to get technical), but the upshot is that they've been able to stream HD YouTube vids through China with no trouble at all.

Telex, via NPR and BBC

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