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The Analyzer
acmeeoy
ontd_political

Yemeni Software Developer Awarded TED Fellowship for anti-Censorship Activism

A Yemeni software developer and activist was among this year’s batch of new TED fellows, according to a press statement by TED. Walid al-Saqaf, the founder of Yemen Portal (https://yemenportal.net) and alkasir circumvention software (https://alkasir.com), along with 22 other persons from several countries around the world have been selected from over 800 candidates to take part in the renowned TEDGlobal 2010, TED’s annual conference to be held in Oxford, UK during July 12-16, 2010. Al-Saqaf is the only Arab selected this year and is the first Yemeni and among a handful of Arabs to have ever been awarded this prestigious fellowship since its inception.

Al-Saqaf developed alkasir (Arabic for ‘the circumventor’), a software solution that allows users around the world to circumvent website or URL filtering through ’split-tunneling’, which diverts traffic to a secure tunnel only if the accessed website is found to be among those verified to be blocked by the specific user’s Internet Service Provider. If a website is not blocked, alkasir allows traffic to flow directly and without tunneling. This mechanism makes circumvention more efficient and less resource-hungry. It also creates the possibility of dynamically tracking and studying filtering patterns around the world. Al-Saqaf is currently using alkasir as a research tool in a study about Internet censorship for his PhD degree in media and communication at Orebro University in Sweden.

Al-Saqaf said he considered the TED fellowship an honor and a recognition of “the talents and abilities of Yemenis and Arabs, of whom many had contributed various inventions and innovations which are not less important.” Al-Saqaf said he would like to dedicate this fellowship to “those yearning and acting for freedom, particularly Yemeni and Arab journalists and activists, who risk their lives every day for the pursuit of justice and to end of tyranny committed against the people in their respective countries.”

Furthermore, and to mark the first anniversary of the public release of alkasir, al-Saqaf announced the soon-to-be-released alkasir version 1.2.0, which includes a built-in browser with a dual Arabic/English interface. He noted that users currently using the old version will soon need to upgrade to the new one, which will be available soon. However, al-Saqaf also added that the new version will remain under development after its release and users’ feedback will be helpful to improve it further. “Members of Yemen Portal and alkasir websites will be informed immediately when and how they could get the new version, which has a host of new and exciting features,” he said.

Al-Saqaf also thanked MidEast Youth, a network of young activists dedicated to enhancing democracy and freedom in the Middle East, for supporting alkasir’s project from its outset and expressed hope that other Arab organizations would follow its example, particularly in its ability to use technology in new and innovative ways.

The fellowship comes on the heels of the Democracy Prize 2010 that was awarded to al-Saqaf by Orebro University in Sweden for his contribution to the advancement of democracy through Yemen Portal and alkasir. It also comes after an official invitation was sent to him to take part in the upcoming High Level Democracy Meeting to be held in Krakow, Poland in early July 2010. Al-Saqaf will be a panelist in a session on New Technologies for Democracy in the three-day event, which will be attended by foreign ministers from across the world to mark the 10th anniversary of the Community of Democracies.

Source

Tags: censorship, internet/net neutrality/piracy, middle east
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