Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or "inconvenient" as determined by government authorities or by community consensus.
Constraining the free flow of information between people is a direct threat to our freedom and censorship of communications on-line is growing world-wide.
On-line communications are censored at the point of entrance by Internet Service Providers (ISP). They act as gateways to the internet providing governments control over speech by having the ability to restrict usage and track people's usage via their leased IP addresses.
In order to make tracking usage much more difficult, tools have come out that provide techniques called onion-/garlic-routing where the source and destinations of internet routes can not be determined without breaking encryption, a very expensive feat, sometimes impossible today when considering the encryption algorithms used.
Many governments are using IP (Internet Protocol) geo-fencing (e.g. China’s Great Firewall) to isolate people from global information and mass surveillance (e.g. US’ NSA Prism and China’s Social Credit System) to increase self-censorship. These systems are now being replicated by many other governments world-wide and governments are working together to oppress the masses globally (e.g. Five/Fourteen Eyes).
In addition, centralized organizations are major targets for theft as we have witnessed repeatedly. Closed source software can easily contain hidden back doors for thieves to access our information without our knowledge and many open source applications have closed source libraries embedded in them.
Privacy, the bedrock of freedom, is being lost at an alarming rate and few know how to maintain it today. Most large organizations (e.g. tech giants, the banking industry, governments) track, persist, and use our behavior for their profit not ours. Whistleblowers, the abused, visible minorities, and a myriad of other people could be emboldened by anonymity to speak out in a manner that would otherwise be unavailable if they were forced to identify themselves.
Decentralized applications like Bitcoin are helping to wrestle some control from centralized organizations although they are difficult to maintain anonymity at the network layer. Smartphones, our primary means of global communication and collaboration, are weak in maintaining our anonymity and privacy - critical to ensuring individual freedom.
Two primary tools today that support this are Tor and I2P. Tor provides a browser that makes it easier to use while I2P is much less known. Both are complementary in that Tor was designed for browsing today's current web sites anonymously. I2P was designed for peer-to-peer communications within I2P. Neither have good APIs for developers to embed in their products making uptake slow for many applications.
A third tool on the horizon is one that completely circumvents ISPs by not using them. They're called direct wireless mesh networks and they can communicate directly phone-to-phone using technologies such as WiFi Direct. Firechat is an example used during the 2014 Hong Kong protests after the Chinese government threatened to shutdown the internet in that area.
New mesh solutions are popping up that seek to improve on earlier designs. But the technology is still in its infancy and needs to be pulled into ever day applications more easily once they've matured.
Even getting these technologies in wide use doesn't solve the problem of online censorship. People in governments, corporations, and other thieves are constantly finding ways to circumvent these technologies to censor and steal information. Tech-savvy people can always find a way to bypass censorship and maintain privacy, but the overwhelming majority can not thus preventing a critical mass to make positive change on a political level globally.
What’s needed is to bring censorship resistance and data privacy to this overwhelming majority so that all people are not only able to become free, but that they can remain so.