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U.S. Government Slips Through China Internet Censors With New Technology

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Reuters

The U.S. government has figured out how to bust through Internet censorship filters in order to deliver news and other vital information via e-mail to people in countries like China, according to a recent report. 

The official report from the Broadcasting Board of Governors detailed successful testing the agency conducted last year as it tried to slip data into inboxes in Hong Kong and China. The testing involved technology known as Feed Over e-mail, or FOE, to bypass traps the Chinese government has in place to screen out unwanted Internet content. 

According to the report, first obtained and published by the nonprofit GovernmentAttic through a Freedom of Information Act request, the technology "performed well in all tests." BBG confirmed the report's authenticity to FoxNews.com. 

Experts behind the testing said this information weapon probably could not have done much good in a situation like that unfolding in Egypt, where the government was flat-out blocking Internet access in response to the political unrest. 

"If there's a blackout ... nothing works," BBG Director of Information Security Ken Berman said. 

But the agency's testing demonstrated that, at least in China, it can be used effectively to transmit everything from RSS feeds to downloadable files to proxy web addresses which users can access to browse an uncensored version of the Internet. 

Sho Ho, the IT specialist who designed the technology over the past couple years, said the system, which is still undergoing testing, effectively compresses data so it can fly through undetected - then it decodes that information so the user on the other end can see it. 

"FOE messages are compressed and encoded so normal keyword-filtering technologies won't be able to censor," the BBG report said. 

Berman said the technology can eventually be used as part of BBG's Internet anti-censorship program, which tries to penetrate systems like China's "Great Firewall." 

"We're trying to foster that freedom of inquiry," he said. "Sho's tool is a different approach to helping solve the same problem." 

It's not the only step the U.S. government is taking to battle foreign censors. The global effort known as the Alliance of Youth Movements -- started under former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and continued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with the help of Google and others -- has been coaching democratic groups in advance on how to use social media to organize and circumvent governmental interference. Shortly after the Egyptian turmoil began, Google established a call-in line on which Egyptians could leave a voicemail, which could then be turned into messages distributed on Twitter

As for the FOE technology, one of the conditions is that it requires the user, say in a country like China or Iran, to have an e-mail account with a foreign provider like Google's Gmail. 

The government report on the testing said the technology can carry news feeds as well as vital software applications like Tor, which helps Internet users stay anonymous online, and Freegate, which can be used to access blocked Internet content. 

The testing was conducted between February and June 2010. After setting up a server in Washington, D.C., the testing moved to Shenzhen, China, Hong Kong and finally Beijing. The testers used different kinds of computers -- a Lenovo, a Dell and a Sony -- and in all cases reported "very good connection speed and no apparent defects." They used the connection to send over news feeds from Voice of America, CKXX and China Weekly. 

The report warned that "it is unclear how well the technology will work when it opens to the public." 

The Broadcasting Board of Governors oversees several civilian broadcasting networks, including Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks. 

Fox News' Jim Angle contributed to this report.