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Lantern lights the way to web freedom for Great Firewall prisoners

Washington-backed P2P project sets sight on government censorship

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A Washington-backed peer-to-peer site designed to push holes through China’s Great Firewall has managed to accrue nearly 10,000 followers in the past fortnight.

Lantern was not built specifically for China, but such is the appetite for unfettered internet access in the People’s Republic that around three-quarters of its users come from the Middle Kingdom.

The new service, which promises access to sites like Facebook and Twitter which bring “light to corruption and justice”, works like a P2P network, relying on some of its users offer the chance for others to jump onto their virtual private network connection to the open internet.

A video explaining the service had the following:

Lantern is a safe and secure free software that gives people internet access in places where access is denied. It’s software that circumvents government censorship. When you install Lantern on your computer you provide a new escape route for getting information in and out of censored countries. You’re giving people a way out; a way to communicate, a way to mobilise.

Although most of Tor’s public access points and an increasing number of VPN services are banned in China, Global Voices gives the distributed P2P-style Lantern a greater chance of success.

However, one user @zuihulu cautioned that its “stability and speed” are still not as good as commercial VPNs, while another, @YaxueCao, reminded followers that it “only offers you an open door, it won't protect you from surveillance”.

The threat of China's shadowy internet police infiltrating the network grows greater the more popular it gets, although they will be powerless to stop it spreading outside the Great Firewall.

The service itself has seen a huge spike in traffic over the past couple of weeks, jumping from the low hundreds to around 10,000 users, according to the South China Morning Post, which spoke to one of the developers behind the project.

Adam Fisk, president of Brave New Software, the non-profit that developed Lantern, was apparently one of the men behind popular P2P platform LimeWire.

His new project has been given US$2.2 million (£1.3m) in seed funding by the US State Department, according to the paper.

Confounding optimism that president Xi Jinping would usher in a new era of more relaxed attitudes to online censorship, Beijing has been taking an increasingly hard line on web freedoms.

Despite Google exec president Eric Schmidt's prediction that global censorship could end in a decade, China's Supreme Court recently clarified that popular tweets spreading "online rumours" could land the sender with up to three years in jail. ®

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