Russian government backs down on Wikipedia censorship

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"Because the Wikimedia Foundation uses HTTPS-encrypted connections for all of its sites," reports Parker Higgins, "the government was left with only the option of ordering the entire site blocked, or leaving the offending page accessible."

Given the option, the censors backed down, allowing Russians to freely access the online encyclopedia, for now.

A Russian court had ordered the block to prevent locals viewing an article about charas, a form of hashish, that somehow vexed officials.

But the encryption system made it impractical to pick and choose which articles to block.

This isn't the first time censorship efforts have been dialed back in the face of HTTPS leading to governments conspicuously overblocking. The government of China briefly suspended access to Github over a handful of software repositories, but relented in the face of public pushback. Similarly, the government of Iran has only occasionally blocked Google services, despite its now-discontinued Reader serving as a proxy for unfiltered news from the open web.

The case for news sites to adopt this kind of encryption, then, is obvious. Unfortunately, for a handful of reasons, the major outlets have been slow to do so. Independent publications like Techdirt and The Intercept were early adopters; The Washington Post became the first major general news organization to do so earlier this summer.

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