Vietnam’s dissidents turn to VoIP to escape government censorship

Fascinating article last week in Canada’s Globe and Mail titled “Cyberdissidents weaving along new path” that discussed how dissidents in Vietnam are turning to VoIP:

Just last month, Vietnam’s supreme court sentenced two so-called cyberdissidents to terms of three and four years in jail for distributing “anti-government propaganda” on the Internet and in print. But Mr. Quan and others like him have found a way to dodge the government snoops: VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is harder to monitor than other means of communication. Using VoIP services such as Skype or Paltalk that let users make phone calls over the Internet, dissidents can discuss plans, organize meetings or circulate petitions out of the hearing of government agents – or so they hope.

Now I’m not going to turn this into a “poli-blog” and weigh in on the pros or cons of Vietnam’s government. But it is to me an interesting illustration of the potential usage of VoIP by those people concerned about being monitored by their government. There is a natural tension between those wanting privacy from government monitoring and the government’s desire to listen in on those it views as threats. (And the similar example could be made in other countries for criminals (or terrorists) seeking to hide their conversations from government agencies set on finding them.)

It was also intriguing to see how the dissidents made use of the “multi-modal” communication available in Skype and other clients:

Just to be sure the authorities aren’t listening, Mr. Quan often uses a VoIP feature that lets users type messages as they talk. By typing half of what he wants to say and speaking the rest, he hopes to throw off police who may have tapped into one or the other. Mr. Quan gives an example: “[Speaking:] I will meet you [typed:] at the Hanoi club [spoken:] at 2 p.m.”

Also interesting to see that the aging dissidents see VoIP as a way to connect with the younger generation of Vietnamese.

Anyway, I found the article an interesting view into how VoIP is entering into the age-old battle between governments and those who want to escape government scrutiny.