Internet users in Uzbekistan have long circumnavigated draconian restrictions with the help of proxy servers – online pit stops that allow users to access blocked pages by concealing their IP addresses. But Tashkent has caught on.
Uznews reports that Uztelecom, the state telecommunications service, has started targeting proxy servers, too. Uztelecom, which controls access to all international phone and Internet connections, has begun denying access to websites with “proxy” in their URL addresses by blocking requests that use that word.
With one eye on the social media-led events in the Arab world, Tashkent has become increasingly wary of the Internet’s potential threats and has set its cyber police to work overtime. The cyber cops are, in turn, monitored by a secretive body -- the Expert Commission on Information and Mass Communications. This body was identified in Freedom House's Freedom of the Net 2012 report, in which the UzNet was described, unsurprisingly, as "not free."
The closing of the proxy route leaves Internet users depending on more technically advanced options to beat the blockers (or, for now, proxy servers that don't use the word "proxy" in their name). One option is Tor, free software that allows anonymous browsing. But Tor's site is also blocked in Uzbekistan.
While the general public will have to make do with limited access to the web, one well-to-do segment of Uzbek society continues to enjoy unrestricted surfing.
Citizen Lab, a team of online activists from the University of Toronto, worked with contacts inside Uzbekistan to monitor a selection of Internet service providers (ISPs). It found most of Uzbekistan’s 939 ISPs (that number is from Freedom House) to be tightly controlled by Uztelecom. But at least one, reportedly owned by a family friend of President Islam Karimov, was unrestricted and quietly being used by the country’s elite. The Walrus story about Citizen Lab calls this window to the world, “a discreet open portal for the country’s apparatchiks and oligarchs.”