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When US-made 'censorware' ends up in iron fists

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Repressive governments also turn to these American systems, not only to filter out porn and viruses, but also to block political, religious, and other websites.

ONI testing in 2005 indicated that Burma censored the Internet using software made by Fortinet, a Sunnyvale, Calif., company. The firm, says ONI, responded by saying it doesn't sell software directly to end-users. ONI challenges Fortinet's claim, pointing to a 2004 article, reachable online, by the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper. The story covers a ceremony bringing together Burma's prime minister and Benjamin Teh, described as "an official representative of Fortinet."

"Given Mr. Teh's participation, it seems unlikely that Fortinet did not know of the sale of its software to Burma," notes the ONI report.

Fortinet did not respond to two e-mail and at least five phone messages to three company officials over the course of last week.

Other ONI research revealed that Iranian Internet service providers (ISPs) have used filtering software of two other California firms: Websense Inc. and Secure Computing Corp.

A Websense spokeswoman denies the firm has sold software to Iran, which would be illegal. A published study by Nart Villeneuve at the University of Toronto found that from 2004 to 2005 the Iranian ISP ParsOnline used Websense's product. By 2006, the ISP had dropped Websense, he said in an e-mail.

The company's website advertises Websense's ability to categorize, and therefore filter, websites in categories such as "advocacy groups" and "religion" – specifying, among others, Christian Science. However, the Websense spokeswoman said, in an e-mail, its contracts forbid customers from using the technology to censor Internet content without permission from both the affected consumers and Websense's "express prior written approval."

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