back to article Using the internet in the People's Republic of China

China makes no secret of its desire, and ability, to control internet access, but even at a glance it's clear that the Great Firewall Of China leaks like the proverbial sieve. We had the chance to try our hand at breaching that wall on a recent trip to visit Huawei in Shenzhen. Our hosts kindly supplied us with China Mobile SIMs …

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Differences

The difference between the Chinese action on the likes of YouTube, Twitter, Google & Facebook and the US attempted action on Huawei and ZTE is that China treats all foreign web companies the same (i.e. making them sensor content to be able to operate in the country), whilst the US senators wanted to discriminate against Huawei and ZTE, just because they were Chinese (as I'm sure a European company would not have faced the same level of opposition).

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Big Brother

Devil's Advocate

"We block child pornography because of the harm its production does to children"

In your opinion. In their opinion, the stuff they block causes just as much harm, if not more so.

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dont be daft

you are comparing child pornography with a democracy movement. the two cannot be compared on any scale.

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Uh no.

There is a distinction, although I'm not sure exactly what the significance of it is. I'm not even sure it make sense, but it IS a difference. Child pornography's harm is supposed to be in the production, which--the argument goes--any viewing of it supports. Other types of content that are illegal in the UK ("obscenity", "hate speech", "dangerous pictures", etc) are considered harmful based on their message, i.e. the supposed effect on the viewer. The latter are suppressed in other ways, but not blocked.

Likewise one can argue with the claim the "all countries block certain content". The US does not have any national internet filter... Instead they go after websites they don't like and have the domain names revokes. Which is arguably worse, but again, not the same.

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Yes they can

They are both forms of censorship and neither should be allowed in a free society.

To really play the Devil's advocate hand here (distasteful though it is):Child pornography harms a few hundred kids. Social unrest can harm tens of thousands of people. Hundreds of thousands in the worst case. To take that argument to its extreme:

What does the most harm - child pornography in the UK or the collapse of the Chinese government?

As I stated at the top of this reply:All censorship is biased. It is driven by social and political bias and used to further one group's agenda above any other. Remove all censorship and let society decide for itself.

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Proxies

Try proxies like from http://proxy-zone.net or add https before the link.. :))

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Black Helicopters

Easy to Bypass

Proxies are one way, unless the IP address of the proxy is blocked. In my experience, terminal services, such as a remote desktop connection, can actually be faster than straight out-of-country surfing, since you're not surfing from China, and looking up all sorts of IPs. You're just connected to one machine (and one unblocked IP) outside of the "Firewall", and doing all your surfing from there. Similarly a VPN connection outside the "Firewall" works, and is arguably a better approach, since you also don't have to worry (much) about snooping.

Think what you will, however. As with ANY country, China does what its leaders feel is in its best interests -- and always will. When it becomes clear that its in the country's best interests to change something, it does. Intellectual property protections is a great example. Now that protection of IP produced in-country is an issue, laws are changing. But don't expect to impose your sensibilities on the Chinese. More likely, it will be the other way around.

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Black Helicopters

One word...

Proxy

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Boffin

Or you could simply just type the IP address in

and bypass the great proxywall of china altogether.

Just ping the URL you want - you'll get the IP address back. Worked for me when I was in China. The only sites I couldn't use were those who had set their firewalls to block all Chinese IP addresses.

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IT Angle

ah the Ping

I wondered if pinging the URL would work. We used to do it to get to blocked websites ( including the Reg) when I was doing a Cisco course courtesy of the jobcentre. It was a Tutor that showed us how actually. The BOFH who ran the training centre used to block everything, she even thought the Telegraph was unsuitable. You would think the chinese would be a bit more sophisticated.

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Boffin

DNS

I'm no expert but I'm pretty sure a ping wouldn't work. Essentially, what you're actually referring to is the DNS lookup that takes place when you ping a URL. I'd imagine that if you were connected directly to the Chinese ISP, the DNS lookup would fail since their nameservers will not have any entry for facebook.com and therefore will not return an IP address.

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Doesn't work for shared hosts

which use domain names to decide which actual site you're trying to get to.

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GMail

Funnily enough, GMail works really well for me in China, whereas my Western-hosted POP email doesn't connect.

In many ways, the Great Firewall of China is less effective than other countries' blocking efforts - plain ssh tunnels work fine in China, whereas in other countries I had to run ssh over ssl, and in any case seems to vary in the sites blocked and the rigour with which they're blocked by location and ISP.

I don't think it's so much a Great Firewall as a series of small bush-fires: scary, but easily permeable.

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Bronze badge

Same with me

Never had any problems with Gmail, only the BBC, Youtube and (strangely), some dating sites wouldnt work. I even managed to get the "T" word search to work on Google.

If you have the ip address for a website, you can access it, my GF has no problems accessing the BBC's "Learning English" pages after I sent her the ip address.

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I was there for 3 weeks

"ssh -D 3128 my.box.in.london" was my way past the great wall.

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Anonymous Coward

Not exactly my experience

I was recently in China and didn't get exactly the same experience. I was using a mixture of hotel internet and 3G dongle. Google, GMail, Google Reader and Picasa were accessible - Google was redirecting to google.com.hk. However Google Sites and Google Docs were definately not available and you just got a 404 error in the browser.

HTTPS (SSL) VPN worked fine back to the UK, although once or twice after several hours of connection and significant downloads it did start to slow to a crawl. Disconnecting and reconnecting usually improved things.

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Alert

my experience there

I've been traveling between China and the UK and my experience is largely the same except that HTTPS is somehow affected too. My guess is the firewall senses that it's not possible to sniff through content covered by HTTPS but it would play tricks with the destination urls. If for example you're using ssl-encrypted version of Gmail, and the firewall clearly doesn't like that, it will drop the session, and even make your Internet connection unusable for, in my experience around 3-5 minutes as a small warning or penalty. The more you do the more you feel frustrated and eventually, as they would have hoped, you give up. Anything Google runs is a no-go, because of that infamous spy story between Google and Chinese government. As the author described, for some people they won't even feel any restriction but the funny thing is this firewall is over-sensitive in a way that it sometimes decides to block absolutely non-politically motivated articles from English-language tech websites, probably because it sees a suspicious pattern which spells trouble. Annoying!

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OpenDNS

Hi so what happens if you use OpenDNS, I am under the impression that your ISP cannot read the info as it is like a pipe, very much the same as using a system that allows you to use your home computer whilst away.

Again the ISP's do not have the ability to "read" your stuff as its is encrypted. Does China just shut that down?

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they would just block the IPs of the OpenDNS severs

just like they've already blocked all traffics to google's dns servers (8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4)

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"because of the harm it does children"?

I thought child porn was blocked because it was easier than dealing with the real problem.

And if child porn is blocked because of the harm it does children, what about blocking of websites in the Digital Economy Act? Do IPR infringements hurt cuddly bunnies?

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Grenade

PRC and common sense

Question: is it better to have:-

A) A non democratic but peaceful government in China working to increase their citizens quality of life peacefully by reducing their population size

or;

B) A democratic western style government only concerned with popularity ratings which would likely repeal undoubtedly unpopular laws like the one child law?

He who does not learn history is doomed to repeat it. Pretty much every country since the Romans with too large a population for too small an area and resources has eventually gone invading other countries to get the resources their populace would demand to feed themselves and get a better life.

Given we are increasingly competing with China for resources at the moment, that'd probably mean WW3. I'm happy with China as it is, thanks.

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Alert

Whatever happened to it's better to die free than live as a slave?

Did our ansestors give their lives for nothing? Are your freedoms and liberties worth that little to you?

Live in a land that treats it's citizens like it has ai weiwei?

The ends detonate don't justify the means, there must be another way.

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Pint

Your old mother

The Chinese are well wxperienced in what happens when the wheels fall off civilization. Generally, the government ideology (which is that stabilityis the paramount virtue) is shared by the people.

Or you could have a shining example of modern, democratic government like Strauss-Kahn run the place.

On the cemsorship issue., hard to say sometimes if you are being firewalled or if it is just a crap connection. Bit of both., I suspect.

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Anonymous Coward

Eh?

Stupid argument. Did our ancestors give their lives to bring democracy to China? Are my freedoms worth so much to me that I would die to bring comparable freedoms to someone else on the other side of the world? Are your freedoms worth that much to you?

We fight all over the world to give people the "freedom" to take what we want them to have. People all over the world (Iraquis, Afgans, soon to repeat the same in Iran) fight back to be free of us. They do not need, or want our "help". All they want is to be left alone. Why do you want to interfere in their internal affairs?

For once, I wish people would actually think through the consequences of their actions. If they were allowed, how long to you expect it would take for 1.3 Billion (!) Chinese to have enough children that they simply had to become expansionist?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: PRC and common sense

Was surprised and disappointed to see this post downvoted.

I have very mixed feelings about modern China. On one hand you have a country with some of the worst pollution on earth. On the other you have a country that actually undertook the ultimate environmental measure of limiting human population. Our so-called Green parties won't even talk about population growth and limits.

China has corruption and repression, but it is not unique in this. Its government has the advantage of being able to plan for years into the future, not merely the polls of the next few months. China has changed since the dark days of Emperor Mao, and it will continue to change. We should be thinking of how to change and improve our messed up systems, instead of feeling smug.

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Big Brother

Re: PRC and common sense

"A non democratic but peaceful government in China working to increase their citizens quality of life peacefully by reducing their population size"

It's not a peaceful government who kicks you out of your home and gives you practically nothing in compensation just because the Olympics are coming to town, the executive wants a new motorway, someone has bribed the authorities to get permission to build a megastore, or whatever. Sure, corruption happens everywhere, but any right of redress is sorely lacking in China, as almost every report of injustice coming out of the country would appear to communicate.

China's leaders managed to hang on in a way Gorbachev would surely have envied, but the "orderly" continuation of life in such a supposedly communist state doesn't make the corrupt and criminal underbelly any prettier.

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London Olympics

"It's not a peaceful government who kicks you out of your home and gives you practically nothing in compensation just because the Olympics are coming to town,"

Erm, this happened to Clays Lane residents in Stratford

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Big Brother

Re: London Olympics

"Erm, this happened to Clays Lane residents in Stratford"

Erm, keep reading. I said that this kind of corrupt activity happens all over the place, but that doesn't justify it, nor does it mean that people should emulate it. And such activity happens on a large scale in China, and not merely because of the larger population.

In many respects China is a lot like early Industrial Revolution Britain in terms of the rights afforded to the average person. Maybe those who defend the activities of the Chinese state will be regarded with the same disdain in 200 years as the most exploitative landowners, industrialists and politicians of late 18th and early 19th century Britain.

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Living as slaves?

Last I heard a lot of them had a better living standard than us. The rest don't but that's more to do with the size of the country and pace of economic roll-out.

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FAIL

"They'd send a limousine anyway" - The Clash

AC:

"I have very mixed feelings about modern China. On one hand you have a country with some of the worst pollution on earth. On the other you have a country that actually undertook the ultimate environmental measure of limiting human population. "

The ultimate measure sounds a lot like the "Final Solution". Which it is - the China you admire has a forced sterlization program and aborts foetuses at up to 8 months old. Couples live in constant fear.

And you're wrong. Greens can't stop talking about population control. Their true colours come out.

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Black Helicopters

well, hold on

An interesting article (particularly the suggestion that not only are super"dodgy" searches blocked but might also result in faked network difficulties/dropped calls) but one thing jumped out:

"moves are afoot to widen the UK's own firewall, and if that's allowed to happen then it becomes harder to attack China's on ideological grounds."

That's surely only true if one believes that a) expansion of the UK firewall approximates the nature and scope of Chinese firewalling and b) that one's ideology has to match that of the UK government. I'm not sure that either of those is necessarily true. If the UK widened ideological censorship I'd feel perfectly happy to add the UK to my criticism* list, not take the UK off it.

* from my couch, doing nothing about it, I admit.

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Alert

Varies.

Apps sometimes link and sometimes don't, I guess it depends on the app. Appbrain is blocked, as an example, and their app doesn't work either.

Also different cities tend to vary, and even at different times. Sometimes I get through to blogger for example (not often mind). (I'm in Beijing).

@Semihere: Many proxies are also blocked. Recently they had a big clampdown on VPNs as well which all but killed my service for a while.

More on life in China on my blog: Chinarensblog.com

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Big Brother

Huh...

>We block child pornography because of the harm its production does to children,

We also block dangerous cartoons; which is harmful to nobody.

(I'm not saying I codone the abuse of _real_ children, I just don't condone victimless thoughtcrime. Especially since I'm a lolicon and an otaku.)

Some ISPs block filesharing sites also...

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Anonymous Coward

You sure?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding was that despite the recent "dangerous cartoons" law, IWF never got involved in blacklisting it, and appears uninterested in doing so.

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Pint

Meh

Do what every tech-savvy Chinese kid does and route your traffic through a Hong Kong server.

I found the restrictions initially frustrating but childishly easy to get round if you apply a bit of brain power.

Nobody I know in China is particularly fussed about the restrictions, because they apply to content they're not interested in anyway - apart from hardcore democracy protestors, who are actually few and far between. No matter how much we cry foul over Chinese censorship, the vast majority are quite happy with the way the government handles it.

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Unhappy

Yes,

The only hard-democracy types I ever met in my several years working in zh were only interested in democrasy as a catch phrase to weild in their quest to replace the present status quo with an almost identical one - only difference being that they were at the top of the pyramid instead of the current mob.

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Same ol'

Sounds like just about every revolution ever. Replace an experienced bunch of bastards with an inexperienced bunch of bastards. You've got to be a bit naive to assume the result will be an improvement or that it won't revert back after a while.

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China firewall shenanigans...

Having lived in Shanghai for the last year, I have found through research and experimentation that there's always a way around it. Much of the blocking is done randomly so that it looks like heavy traffic. The socket connections are randomly reset, though seems to happen more often with Google.

The local DNS is all poisoned so you have to use a reliable 3rd party DNS server, though many of the VPN service providers offer them. I heard about the recent VPN crackdown, bub it didn't affect me as I use a lesser known provider. Still, everyone's up and running again when the VPN companies figure a way around in this game of cat and mouse.

Kind of ridiculous, really since according to most educated locals I've spoken with, there is always access to outside material if you want it badly enough.

Lest any of you think that this sort of thing is in any way benign or for the good of the people, or any of that crap, let me tell you that it is certainly not. People are jailed, beaten up or even killed by corrupt officials who remain unrepentent and offend repeatedly because few people know about it. At least where I come from when those things happen the offender is carted off to jail.

Sure, most people might not care, but that's because they get all their information from state-controlled media, which issues weekly directives on what to publish, where and the angle of the propaganda. Who knows what China would be like if people could read and say what they liked...?

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Pint

Mmmm... dessert....

"People are jailed, beaten up or even killed by corrupt officials who remain unrepentant and offend repeatedly because few people know about it."

Well, people who use HTTP for things like email -- which has perfectly good protocols for it already -- get their just desserts.

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FAIL

The speed of the net in china

When I was in ZhengZhou China the speed over cable was like how Comcast was back in 1999-2002.

Searching was easy using search engines and I was even able to post messages on a WOW message board but was blocked from posting there a while later.

Common CHina! blocking me from a game site?!?!?!?!

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Dead Vulture

The question is;

Really ,Are superinjunctions banned on the chinese web Or r me N

You even less informed about this than behind the great firewall?

And really should we be?

Not in my opinion!

Good job there are people out there with a bit of backbone, Trafigura the gag:

incident covered up was dumping pollution not a cheating footballer AFAIK.

Google things... doesnt everyone?

google is the sh*t, even autocorrects your suspicions, are they next to be sued?

Some major publicity about twitter at the mo, hope they reply with big fat no.

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Unhappy

Hotel InterNet access may seem lax but almost every room connection ...

in the country has activity recorders attached to record and transmit back each individual rooms 'net activity. They were installed in preparation for the Olympics.

Our company uses a small hotel in NanNing when attending a work site. We hook a TP-Link WiFi up to a directional antennae, and crank the power up with a software patch, and use the connection at the work site.

At least we have access to more web sites than the locals do from their broadband connections.

In the more remote hotels in YunNan Province, which borders VietNam, Laos and Burma/Myanmar, the hotels have no room activity recorder as you can see the broadband connection coming through the wall and connecting to the modem and the hub for the rooms.

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FAIL

Use Freegate or Ultrasurf

This article explains why have been unable to access The Reg through my China Mobile SIM then !

The easiest way to beat the GFW on a Windows PC is to just use FREEGATE or ULTRASURF - both funded by the US Government, and are FREE, portable and do not require an install (although I haven't managed to make the Android versions of these work because they are in Alpha release form and in Chinese).

Companies like Opera (and soon to be Facebook) that actively collaborate with the Chinese Government make me sick.

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Happy

Travelling to Beijing soon ...

Was looking forward to a censorship-induced break from regular Internet access in favour of spending the evenings filling up on Tsingtao in random bars then trying to find my way back to the hotel ... But if beating the firewall is *the* game tourists play when in China, well, guess my liver gets a (temporary) lucky break ...

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If you get the chance

Go for Tsingtao black, I could only get that in Jiangguomenwai but it's a bloody lovely beer.

Bah, I miss China.

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Shenanigans part 2

Following on from my earlier comment and to clarify some of the other speculations, I can tell you that full-on censorship is alive and well here in China, where I live. The gov't cunningly go out of their way to make the censorship look like a bad connection or heavy traffic to the technically uninitiated. Typical strategies include random socket resets, messing with VPN protocols, possibly throttling traffic (I can't confirm that) and if they see you (and they do watch) searching for naughty things like the Dalai Lama or Ai Weiwei, they might even shut off your connection.

However, with a VPN, you can see anything you want through your home connection, cafe wifi or out and about with either of the 3G services (China Mobile, China Unicom) - I've tried all that. They can interrupt the connection, but not read your traffic, apparently.

While many of us may look at modern China and see a relatively content populace not bothered about the censorship or heavy hand of the government, I don't buy it.

Given the ridiculous scale of resource mis-allocation in China's recent history - that cost 10s of millions of lives during the Mao era - and continues today (albeit at a lesser rate) it's not surprising that people are pleased that their standard of living increases faster than at any time in history. Congratulations - pull your finger out of the dam and the water flows out. What would it have been like if people had been allowed to develop their own society? Almost certainly orders of magnitude wealthier and healthier.

One reason it appears that people in China don't care about these restrictions is because a) you don't hear about it and b) neither do they. They don't know about anything that reflects badly on China, because it's censored. Ask most Chinese about Liu Xioabao or Tiananhmen and you'll likely get a blank stare.

The other reason is that dissent is crushed mercilessly and they know it. The fellow who complained about the *first* incident (this is on-going, years later) of milk powder contamination that killed 6 babies and injured 300,000 got a 2 year jail sentence for disturbing public order. They'll make sure *that* story gets around, you can bet.

Wilful and deadly contamination of food and medicine, violent appropriation of houses and land by corrupt officials, near-disasters in domestic airline incidents (reported to me by a senior pilot at one of the airlines) - those are just a couple of incidents that spring to mind.

An educated Chinese friend who has lived in the West says she doesn't think about these problems. "At least you have a foreign passport and can leave any time," she says to me.

Finally, there *is* a lively discussion amongst younger Chinese that use very clever and indirect references to these problems. They play an even livelier game of cat and mouse with the authorities. There's a phrase for "f*** your mother" that they used in reference to the authorities that sounds like "grass mud horse"; Ai Weiwei got jailed because, among other things, he made a sculpture of a horse from grass and mud. Very wry, and admirable, but look where that got him.

China is ostensibly freer than it has been, but the heavy and repressive hand of the communist government is still there, even if it isn't as visible.

Sorry for the lengthy post. Full disclosure: my handle is Chinese, but I am from the West.

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i am english and in China

I (would dare say) I'm a competant computer user. 9 months ago, I moved to China in order to become a teacher which was quite a career change from being a web developer (not designer).

Before leaving the country, I set up a box that could be remotely woken from China for the purpose of VPN. In all sincerity, I've used it twice, there is really nothing to complain about with the Great Firewall of China.

As many have said (and I hope more will say) all it really does is block extremist views and sites which are utter b******s such as facebook. If you want to keep in contact with people, do just that! I can still access 95% of the sites I would expect to with the rare exception being things like blogspot for some web news. However, this is news mirrored by the dozen on many other sites so, it simply saves me re-reading things.

I would just like to say, thank you China!

From a British National living in Fujian province

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Black Helicopters

@AC The question is; 21st May 2011 13:43...

Sometimes when dealing with censorship you dont need to read Between the lines or even full ones. Only the pertinent parts of them.

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