Thursday, May 31, 2012

how to get past the LA Times paywall, and why you shouldn't

About two months ago, the LA Weekly published a fairly comprehensive report on how to avoid the dreaded non-porous Los Angeles Times paywall. There was one glaring omission in the LA Weekly story, and I hope to correct the oversight here: anonymous browsing through the Tor web browser bundle. The Tor browser bundle (henceforth TBB) is based on Firefox 17, and once downloaded and installed, it will allow you to surf the LA Times, or the New York Times, or any other metered news media site. When you see the LA Times paywall, go to your Vidalia Control Panel, and click "Exit". Then restart your Tor browser. The steps you have to take to avoid the paywall are a bit of an annoyance, but I use Tor whenever I want to read the LA Times.

One caveat: for security reasons, the Adobe Flash Player plugin is not included in TBB. Adobe Flash is used to transmit much of the web video on the LA Times, and on many other news sites. Besides being resource hungry, and prone to crashes, Adobe Flash also has a hidden way of handling cookies that could pose a threat to your anonymity by storing and revealing your IP address. If and when I want to see a video when reading the LATimes, I copy the URL and switch over to a browser like Firefox, Google Chrome or Internet Explorer.

What is tor and why should you browse anonymously? Because you may not want the government, corporations or even the people around you, close to you in your life, to know what you've been doing online. I am far from a conspiracy theorist, but if your parents, siblings, teachers and legal guardians can snoop into your life as a juvenile, the government and corporations certainly can do the same to you as an adult, and with much more profound consequences, including jail or harsh media scrutiny. Tor stands for The Onion Router, and was originally created by the US Navy to help web browsers maintain their anonymity. According to Wikipedia, since 2002, a diverse base of organizations have financially contributed to the development of Tor, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the US State Department. Because TBB users can maintain their privacy, dissidents living under repressive governments in Iran, Egypt and China can be online and essentially invisible from the prying eyes of those who would want to arrest and jail them for simply voicing disagreement with government policy. But just as agents of the government can use their position to abuse their power, so can journalists, and recent investigations by the UK government into the dealings of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation show that Mr. Murdoch's News of the World hired private investigators to follow newsmakers, such as politicians and celebrities but also everyday people caught up in the media glare, and News of the World journalists routinely hacked into the telephone voice mail boxes of people who appeared in popular news stories and listened to their voicemail messages. Full disclosure: you're obviously reading my blog, which makes me, in a sense, a member of the press, and I firmly believe that the news media serves as the fourth estate, and a vital check to the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. One recent LA Times exclusive that springs to mind is the case of Bruce Lisker; the Los Angeles Times was the last hope for this teenager who had spent 26 years in California state prison, and who was finally released in 2009, when he was 44. Mr. Lisker had been convicted of the murder of Dorka Lisker, his adoptive mother, but a private investigator hired by Mr. Lisker, in conjunction with a Los Angeles police detective, Sergeant Jim Gavin, in LAPD Internal Affairs, uncovered evidence of malfeasance and wrongdoing by the original investigating officer on the case, who may have manufactured evidence (and concealed exculpatory evidence) in order to obtain, and maintain, a guilty verdict. The paper trail that the P.I. and Internal Affairs officer uncovered could have granted Mr. Lisker at least a new trial, but Sergeant Gavin was told by his superiors to prematurely end his probe and inquiry, and all would have been lost for Mr. Lisker were it not for an idea that the two men had to go to the press, which resulted in an LA Times report.

If the price of being human is we have to live in human society, then we have to come to terms with the idea that the government and media can hurt you, as well as help you. That said, journalists are people too, prone to the same failings that all of us are, especially the temptation to abuse your position to carry out and maintain an injustice. As a defensive measure, we the news consumer must be very cautious of being the targets of overreach by government and media corporations trying to find out too much about us. Enter Tor. Tor obscures your IP address, and doesn't save cookies, or keep any trace of your history, or the links you visited, past you closing your current browser session. This can be wonderful when the LA Times has a very strict limit of 15 pageviews per month, or when visiting another news site like the nytimes with its porous paywall.

If death and taxes are something all of us have to face, then those of us who consume the products of the media might also want to give to the media. You should feel good about supporting an organization like the LA Times that not only pays its journalists to do the hard work of watching The Gangbang Girl 32, its reporters also uncovered the Bell, California story of the city manager who paid himself an annual salary of $787,637. Los Angeles Times journalists sometimes take great risks to give us profound stories that change our lives, but a journalist needs to eat. If you believe that a vibrant and free press serves as a check to government, then it's important that you give of yourself to an organization that's asking you for some change.

1 comment:

  1. I browse the LA Times nearly everyday, when I see an article I want to read I just cut the headline, go to an open tab, paste the headline into Google, click on the LA Times article in the Google search results, the article is displayed, no paywall! Works every time for me!

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