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Censorship Government Politics Your Rights Online

Cubans Evade Censorship By Exchanging Flash Drives 171

Posted by Soulskill
from the sneakernet-or-sneakynet dept.
concealment sends this quote from an article about evading internet censorship with the sneakernet: "Dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez on Saturday told newspaper publishers from around the Western Hemisphere that 'nothing is changing' in Cuba’s ossified political system and that 'the situation of press freedom in my country is calamitous.' But Sanchez said underground blogs, digital portals and illicit e-magazines proliferate, passed around on removable computer drives known as memory sticks. The small computer memories, also known as flash drives or thumb drives, are dropped into friendly hands on buses and along street corners, offering a surprising number of Cubans access to information. 'Information circulates hand to hand through this wonderful gadget known as the memory stick,' Sanchez said, 'and it is difficult for the government to intercept them. I can't imagine that they can put a police officer on every corner to see who has a flash drive and who doesn't.'"
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Cubans Evade Censorship By Exchanging Flash Drives

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  • by pollarda (632730) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @11:21PM (#43220773)
    The delivery speed of these underground blogs is actually not bad. A memory stick with 64GB of material -- a whole library that would take a lifetime to read -- can be walked across town in less time than it would take to beam it across Cuba's slow Internet. What's more, it can be read at one's convenience is virtually impossible for someone to snoop and see what they are reading (ala Facebook / Google / Feds). It is amazing at how fast data is moved around nowadays compared to the last few thousand years For example, the KJV Bible is 4.35MB in size and it used to take the scribes a year to make a single copy. It would also cost a centurion's annual salary. (I studied Near Eastern Archeology in school.) Now, many times that amount of data can be copied in mere moments. An entire "subversive" library in Cuba can spread like wildfire even at walking speeds.
  • Spreading situation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by alantus (882150) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @11:28PM (#43220803)

    With Venezuela's only remaining independent tv station stated to be sold to a government sympathizer next month, the country is going in the same direction as Cuba.

  • QOTD (Score:5, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday March 19, 2013 @11:41PM (#43220863)

    I can't imagine that they can put a police officer on every corner to see who has a flash drive and who doesn't.'"

    Why not? The United States does [aclu.org]. We already have given the police broad authority to stop and search people for flash drives, mobile phones, or other electronic gear without warrant or cause. If a "free" country like the United States can do this, what makes people think Cuba can't (or won't)?

  • by dido (9125) <dido@@@imperium...ph> on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @12:04AM (#43220955)

    Similar techniques were used in the old Soviet Union and former eastern bloc countries, called samizdat [wikipedia.org], except that with today's technology it's even easier. A US$40 64 GB flash drive can hold a lot of data, more text than a person could read in their lifetime, and to copy data from one to another would take only minutes. With a program like Truecrypt it even becomes possible to hide such incriminating data on it without anyone being the wiser. The only way to restrict this practice would be to ban or regulate all computers and computer equipment the way printers were, and I doubt that this is in any way feasible for Cuba.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @12:22AM (#43221011)

    But, seriously, with freedom of expression being attacked or chilled to silence, and government and corporate snooping on who says what and who looks at what, and insane laws for information sharing and consumption crimes...

    INFORMATION IS THE NEW ILLICIT DRUGS!

    We will need "mules" to carry information that should be legal across borders.

    I forecast that porn will be the new marijuana -- where a few over-enthusiastic politicians might manage to make it illegal to possess or distribute, and a society convinced that's the right course, until decades pass, and new generations reverse the gross injustice.

  • Re:Not comparable (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @07:59AM (#43222765) Homepage

    I am sorry, but having to swap forbidden books using flash drives dwarfs whatever first-world problem crawled up your posterior and made you feel like you could ever possibly understand what it is like to live in a mind-controlling, life-or-death, blighted country like Cuba.

    So, you're an expert on Cuba and have been there? Or are you mostly extrapolating on what you've been told like most people here?

    I've been to Cuba, several times in fact -- for the most part, the people are awesome, friendly people, who are in the economic state they're in because of the US embargo. A people who don't want Guantanamo base on their soil, but the US injected an amendment [wikipedia.org] to the Cuban constitution unilaterally guaranteeing them that right. So a little left over colonialism for you.

    Cuba isn't perfect, not by a long shot. But they do educate their citizens, and give them health care, and do they best they can manage. In parts of the US, the life and death is just as bad, because the poor are mostly left to fend for themselves and the state has no interest in looking out for them.

    Yes, Cuba is a military dictatorship -- but you know what, they were before Castro when it was Batista [wikipedia.org], it's just that the previous dictatorship was friendly to the US.

    Back in power, Batista suspended the 1940 Constitution and revoked most political liberties, including the right to strike. He then aligned with the wealthiest landowners who owned the largest sugar plantations, and presided over a stagnating economy that widened the gap between rich and poor Cubans

    He mostly got rich while the rest of the country starved and were treated like slave labor.

    America has only ever disliked dictators who dislike them, but they've been happy to put in a few over the years. If you really think Castro overthrew a benign, democratic government, you're wrong by a long shot.

    Unfortunately, 50 odd years on, and people still think "ZOMG, teh Communists" instead of having any actual historical context for how Cuba got where she is now.

  • Re:Not comparable (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 0111 1110 (518466) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @08:58AM (#43223277)

    Cuba isn't perfect, not by a long shot. But they do educate their citizens, and give them health care

    You obviously didn't spend much time there. The education is mediocre at best. My girlfriend spent 4 years studying to be a waitress. She wasn't exactly what I would consider a walking encyclopedia. Of course it's difficult when you don't have the money to buy real textbooks. As a general rule I'd say Americans and Europeans and most Asians and the countries in South America where I have spent time are all far better educated then Cubans. Laos is probably comparable though.

    As for the Cubans themselves, they are nice on the surface, but once you spend more time there you realize they are not as nice as you thought. A great many of the ones that a tourist would ever meet are only acting nice to get something from you. To them you are a walking, talking ATM machine and they are looking to make a withdrawal. But as long as you don't trust them too much they are laid back and easy to like.

    In parts of the US, the life and death is just as bad, because the poor are mostly left to fend for themselves and the state has no interest in looking out for them.

    Hmm. It depends what you mean by 'bad'. The problem is that Cuban poor is really poor. I mean, how do you live on $8 a month even with your pathetic ration book and nearly free rent and electricity? It's a very, very tough life. That's why so many are desperate to escape. Desperate in a way which I have never seen anywhere else. It's more than just the poverty, although they are the poorest people I've ever known.

  • Re:TrueCrypt? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by isilrion (814117) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @09:47AM (#43223827)

    Cuban here (though I'm no longer in Cuba).

    Be aware that Yoani is not real. Yes, the person exists, but her "opinions" are all paid for (or at least seeking a reward). She does not represent the views or the reality of the Cubans. She is not interested in giving Cubans access to information, she - just like the Cuban government - is at most interested in giving them access to propaganda. It is very hard to get access to information, because everyone wants to pick and chose what to give you. If you read her blog, you will probably notice this... almost poetic posts full of half truths in which any "good" thing is left unsaid.

    This is one of the examples. It is true that sneakernet is a major way of exchanging data. It is even encouraged. One time, a government official, in a sickening display of ignorance, stated something along the lines of "everyone can access the internet, they just have to go to a library, ask what they want to know, and the librarian will download the webpage to a floppy". I used to carry not only usb drives, sometimes even up to 3 hard disks, in my pockets. Bringing a hard disk to a university, looking for an IT person and getting him to open one of the computers to insert the hard disk and copy everything they had was a regular occurrence. I was one of those IT persons... my desktop computer was permanently open, until we got an external enclosure just for that purpose. I tried once to set up a couple of "sneakernet stations" so people could come in, explore the ftp servers and download everything they wanted. You don't need encryption, unless what you are transporting is really illegal (a foreign news article is not illegal, child porn is) and you are high profile enough that the police may want to go through the effort of checking your data (unlikely, most don't even know what "data" is).

    That said, encryption is illegal[1]. So one could argue that using encryption is more risky than not using it: a news article critical of the government is not illegal, the same news article encrypted is. This is moot, however... it is very unlikely that your data will be checked either way. I carried some data encrypted, mostly password lists or ssh private keys - it would have been highly irresponsible to carry my employer's data in plaintext. Of course, if you are carrying around your accounting book detailing how the CIA is paying you... you probably want to encrypt that, or even better, don't carry it around.

    Regarding the export controls: probably the only area in which they are completely ineffective is in software and data. No one in Cuba cares about that. Copyright is ignored to the point that movies and TV shows shown in national television were torrented + "sneakerneted" to the TV station[2]. Same happens with software (to the despair of f/oss advocates). This is the main content of the underground networks: software, music, music videos, movies and tv shows. My hard disks used to contain a mirror of Debian and Ubuntu... and a copy of 1984 and Animal Farm that I was reading at the time, downloaded from the university's ftp server.

    (I'm not defending the illegality of encryption, or the export controls, or that the police and the prosecution have too much power and that they can use their ignorance against you... Nor am I saying that it is ok because some of it is also a problem in the US. I am also not defending censorship. I'm just pointing out how deceitful Yoani is, and using the post to explain that the reasons encryption is not wildly used have nothing to do with the US export ban.)

    [1] In very silly ways. For instance, to renew the "networking license" for the university, I had to state that no encryption was used, even though using https and ssh instead of telnet was mandatory to get that license. I know, I once stated "Yes, we use encryption, e.g: ssh, https,..." and the license was denied until I submitted the same form without that sentence.

    [2] Funny anecdote, when The Fellowship of the Ring first arrived at the university network about 2 weeks after the release, I added a tiny mark during the opening credits, just to check how far it would spread... When it was shown on TV, I looked for that mark... and there it was.

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