Amongst the many things I learned during my latest stay in Ethiopia was that censorship is a real and present danger. The Ethiopian government has, despite its denials, enforced a draconian web censoring policy. Web sites that provide uncensored news and information, that could in any way be deemed regime critical or defend the "unacceptable" are routinely blocked in a growing number of countries.
Quite a few of these countries (here is one list, see CitizenLab for more, or view the updated list of arrested cyber dissidents from Reporters without Borders) receive aid in different forms. Donor nations and organizations need to apply pressure on these countries to ensure the free flow of information to their citizens.
We know this. They know this. Not a lot happens.
Donor countries say that they are talking to officials in each of these countries. Donor organizations say that they are talking to officials in these countries. The mill of diplomacy grinds slowly. The mill of oppression grinds frighteningly fast and is increasingly effective. When a proxy server ( a server at an unblocked URL that allows access through it to blocked sites: eg anonymouse.org) pops up it does not take a lot of time before it too joins the banned sites list.
There is however something that could be done immediately. By organizations that perceive themselves as standing for freedom of thought, exchange of ideas and unfettered curiosity. Universities.
If every university had a freely available proxy server (particularly universities that have a development or exchange program with countries like China, Vietnam, Syria, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe etc.) it would make it close to impossible to block them all. Students could not access course material, teaching resources or professors web pages at the partner university. Not blocking the Universities web site could (and should) be a prerequisite for signing a contract.
We know that commercial companies have no morals other than those dictated by the bottom line.
Google, Skype, Murdoch, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Cisco Systems- they all have agreements with China to censor their search-engines to filter out websites overcritical of the authorities.
Donor organizations like UNICEF talk the talk but lack the political will/muscle to implement.
But Universities - dependent as they are on their reputation as bastions of free and independent thought as well as excellence in teaching - could be in the forefront of a global campaign to free speech.
Teacher and student unions - got to it.
Journalists with Universities in your area, ask them why not.
Alumni -put the pressure on. Start campaigns. Do it now.