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Google encrypting Chinese web searches, plans to do so globally to thwart NSA

Photo: Li Xin for AFP/Getty Images

Photo: Li Xin for AFP/Getty Images

The Washington Post reports that Google has begun automatically encrypting web searches carried out in China to defeat government monitoring and censorship, and plans to continue rolling out the program globally to prevent monitoring by the NSA.

China’s Great Firewall, as its censorship system is known, has long intercepted searches for information it deemed politically sensitive. Google’s growing use of encryption there means that government monitors are unable to detect when users search for sensitive terms, such as “Dalai Lama” or “Tiananmen Square,” because the encryption makes them appear as indecipherable strings of numbers and letters … 

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said in November that “we can end government censorship in a decade.” The company has been rolling out automatic encryption of searches for some time.

Google began offering encrypted search as an option for some users in 2010 and made the protection automatic for many users in the United States in 2012. The company began encrypting traffic between its data centers after The Washington Post and the Guardian, relying on documents provided by Snowden, reported last year on the massive extent of Internet spying by the National Security Agency and its allies. Microsoft and Yahoo soon followed with similar initiatives.

You can check whether you have it by going to Google search and checking whether you see the https and padlock icon in the address bar of your browser. If not, you can simply change http:// to https:// and bookmark that link.

Google’s commitment to freedom from government censorship does, however, appear to waver when it comes to YouTube. The Irish Times reports that Google has given British security officials special fast-track access to tools that allow it to flag multiple videos for immediate review by the company.

Google has given British security officials special access to its YouTube video site, allowing them to have content instantly reviewed if they think that it threatens national security […]

The YouTube permissions that Google has given the Home Office in recent weeks include the power to flag swaths of content “at scale” instead of only picking out individual videos.

While decisions on whether or not to remove material are made by Google, the British government has been making worrying noises about censorship plans.

The UK’s security and immigration minister, James Brokenshire, said that the British government has to do more to deal with some material “that may not be illegal, but certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that people would want to see or receive”.

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