Before I say anything more, I would like to clarify some issues that have been raised in recent debates regarding the Censorship Research Center.
- The CRC has always been a small, volunteer based operation. Dan Colascione and I started the organization, and we were its primary drivers. We have not received income from the CRC and worked on a pure volunteer basis. Everyone else involved with the CRC operated on a part-time, volunteer basis.
- The CRC has never received a donation greater than 15k, and the vast majority of its donations have been much smaller than that. These were used primarily to buy our servers and pay for the bandwidth bills.
- Unlike other anti-censorship programs used in Iran, the CRC has never received funding from the United States government. Nor did the CRC, to my knowledge, receive special treatment from United States licensing agencies. We believe the United States and the European Community should continue to support anti-censorship efforts, and that restrictions on the distribution of anti-censorship software to countries like Iran should be loosened or eliminated.
- A diagnostic version of Haystack was distributed to a small number of users in Iran. The CRC took steps to inform users they had a test version of the program, a fact which was also displayed on the Haystack website. The CRC is not currently testing Haystack in Iran, and has committed to receive third party vetting of Haystack’s security before proceeding.
Dan Colascione and I started the CRC because we were moved by the Iranian peoples’ courage in the face of the government repression following the Iranian elections. In the Iranian peoples’ struggle we saw a chance to help the silenced voices of the world through technology.
My initial efforts involved providing instructions so people could set up proxies for Iranian people — thousands of people around the world helped out. It was after we saw that these proxies were repeatedly blocked by the Iranian government that we started working on Haystack. Dan developed the program’s core functionalities. I was charged with developing the user interface and the organization. Our goal was to provide the Iranian people with a tool to definitively circumvent the government’s increasingly sophisticated filters.
This goal soon turned into an enormously complex project whose scope exceeded anything we had been involved with before. After a few successful tests, we naively believed we were going to finish and launch Haystack within months. Instead, we soon found that we had to build an organization, obtain a license, engage in fundraising, and obtain the help of developers, accountants, consultants, and lawyers before we could even get off the ground.
The last year, in my mind, has been characterized by a constant drive to do more than we could with the resources we had. We were sometimes overly ambitious; we believed we could change the world, and I spoke with that belief in mind. And there was a constant, draining race to meet expectations — expectations that, in retrospect, I created, sometimes without meaning to; expectations that the press made into national stories, when really the story was a couple of kids, working for nothing, trying to bring the tools of communications to others.
To those we may have disappointed — those who supported us, those who worked with us, and those who have waited too long for us to deliver them from the Iranian firewalls — I apologize.
Meanwhile, over 30% of the world is still affected by censorship and monitoring. Western corporations still sell the tools of censorship to oppressive governments around the world, with no repercussions. Worse, the Iranian people still lack a reliable tool to access information and each other.
What I regret most is that the debate surrounding me has distracted from these issues. The only issues that matter are being ignored and for that I feel horrible.
This has become a burden and a distraction to the organization’s mission.
That is why I intend to step down as executive director of the CRC and take on a different role. I’m still very much committed to the CRC’s mission of empowering people to speak freely and safely around the world, that’s not up for discussion.
To those who still live under censorship and monitoring, and all of those who have supported us along the way and who continue to send letters of love and support to this very day, you will remain in my thoughts.
All the best,
Unfiltered and open internet access is a right that all people around the world are intended to have as embodied in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. – Austin Heap
SAN FRANCISCO, CA (April 14th, 2010): Today, the Censorship Research Center (“CRC”) announced that it has received critical United States Government authorizations required to export anti-filtering technology to Iran.
In response to widespread crackdown by the Iranian government following the June 2009 elections, the CRC developed a program that provides unfiltered, anonymous Internet access. The program, called Haystack, uses a sophisticated mathematical formula to hide the users’ real Internet identity while allowing them to access websites blocked by Iran’s government, such as YouTube, Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter, which have served as important mediums of communication for Iranians. As noted by CRC Executive Director, Austin Heap, “Now we can launch our efforts to help those in Iran access the Internet as if there were no Iranian government filters.”
Exports of U.S. goods and services to Iran are prohibited unless authorized by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). OFAC’s decision to approve the CRC’s license application comes in light of recent statements by the Obama administration recognizing the importance of Internet access to democratic movements around the world. U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, highlighted this matter in recent remarks about Internet freedom on January 21, 2010, “[D]espite an intense campaign of government intimidation, brave citizen journalists in Iran continue using technology to show the world and their fellow citizens what is happening inside their country,” she said. “In speaking out on behalf of their own human rights, the Iranian people have inspired the world. And their courage is redefining how technology is used to spread truth and expose injustice.”
“Unfiltered and open internet access is a right that all people around the world are intended to have as embodied in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Obama administration has recognized that the right to information should not be denied and is finally taking decisive action to back their stated objectives to see that these rights are realized.” concluded Mr. Heap.
About the Censorship Research Center
The Censorship Research Center (“CRC”), is a San Francisco-based non-profit organization, was founded by Austin Heap and Daniel Colascione in 2009 to provide anti-censorship education, outreach, and technologies. The CRC’s first major project is Haystack, which provides access to information and communications to the Iranian people in the wake of recent restrictions imposed by the government of Iran.
Haystack is the first anti-censorship tool developed specifically for Iran and built to target the methods that Iran uses to filter the Internet. The CRC is the only organization licensed to export such software to Iran.