CS858 - Internet Censorship and Surveillance - Winter 2022

Instructor Diogo Barradas
E-mail diogo.barradas@uwaterloo.ca
Seminar times DC 2568 - 10:00-11:20TTh
Office Hours 13:00-14:00W on Zoom (link on LEARN) or by appointment

Note that all times for this course are specified in Eastern Time (the timezone of Waterloo and Toronto).

Course Description

The Internet has become a primary medium through which individuals around the world can share information and communicate. However, it is known that repressive governments and a few corporate players possess the technical capabilities to monitor and manipulate most citizens’ electronic communications, e.g., suppressing the access to (or the publication of) selected contents. This graduate seminar delves into the current state of nation-wide Internet surveillance and censorship apparatus, and explores cutting-edge technologies that allow Internet users to retain the security and privacy of their communications in face of such threats.

The seminar will primarily consist of reading, reviewing, and presenting research papers. There will be two papers assigned to each class period, selected from the following topics:

  • Motivations for Censorship and Surveillance
  • Censorship Circumvention
  • Internet Blackouts
  • Censorship Measurements
  • Censored Topics

During the effect of preventive measures to tackle Covid-19, in-person classes will be replaced by online seminars.
The online seminars will be held on Zoom, and you may get the link to join the classes in the course LEARN page.

Course Requirements

Paper Presentations and Discussion:

Each paper will be presented to the class by one student, in a 20-minute conference-style presentation. The student presenting the paper will then lead the class in a discussion of the paper, taking 40 minutes for the presentation and discussion in total for each paper. Students are encouraged to follow these presentation tips when creating their presentations.

All students must also submit presentation feedback forms (one for each of the two presentations per class period) by 2:30 pm of the day following the class period.
These forms will be made available (anonymously) to the presenter.

Paper Reviews:

All students are required to read both of the papers before the class, and to have submitted a review for one of them (of the student's choice) by 10:00 am on the day of the lecture.
You are not required to submit reviews for classes where you are presenting a paper.

Your review should aim for ~500 words and contain:
A concise summary of the paper (1-2 paragraphs);
Main strengths of the paper (at least 2 bullet points);
Main weaknesses of the paper (at least 2 bullet points);
Critical analysis and comments (justifying the two above bullets);


Students will work in pairs on an original research project on a topic related to Internet surveillance and censorship. Project topics should be discussed outside of class with the instructor within the first 3 weeks of class.

Project proposal (due 4 Fev at noon):
Each group will submit a 2-page project proposal to the instructor. The proposal document must describe: a) the motivation and description of the problem to be tackled in the project, b) the approach to solve the problem, i.e., the solution, c) related work, d) how will the solution be evaluated.

Project progress report (due 4 Mar at noon):
Each group will produce a 2-page report describing the progress on the proposed solution's development. The report should also expose any difficulties being faced, and showcase eventual preliminary results.

Project presentation (end of term):
Near the end of term, groups will present their work to the class in a 20-minute (including five minutes for questions) conference-style presentation.

Final project report (due 8 Apr at 11:59pm):
Students will produce a workshop-quality paper, 10–15 pages in length (approximately 8,000–12,000 words), describing their artifact and project*. Remember that papers must include a related work section and properly-formatted references. The conference papers in the readings provide good examples of what a conference paper looks like and the style in which they are written. Students should use USENIX's LaTeX template when preparing their paper and are encouraged to check the following paper writing tips.

*Students are encouraged to submit their manuscript for publication at a conference or workshop. A paper submission will likely require additional work after the end of the term.


Grades for this seminar will be calculated as follows:

25%Paper presentations
15%Reviews of papers
10%Class participation
50%Project (10% progress report + 15% presentation + 25% final report)

Grades will be available after the end of term through LEARN.

Academic Integrity

Note that students are not generally permitted to submit the same work for credit in multiple classes. For example, if students have reviewed or presented one of the papers in another seminar class, they should avoid reviewing or presenting it again for this class.

General University Policy

  • Academic Integrity: In order to maintain a culture of academic integrity, members of the University of Waterloo community are expected to promote honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility. Check the Office of Academic Integrity's website for more information.

    All members of the UW community are expected to hold to the highest standard of academic integrity in their studies, teaching, and research. This site explains why academic integrity is important and how students can avoid academic misconduct. It also identifies resources available on campus for students and faculty to help achieve academic integrity in — and out — of the classroom.

  • Grievance: A student who believes that a decision affecting some aspect of his/her university life has been unfair or unreasonable may have grounds for initiating a grievance. Read Policy 70 — Student Petitions and Grievances, Section 4. When in doubt please be certain to contact the department's administrative assistant who will provide further assistance.

  • Discipline: A student is expected to know what constitutes academic integrity, to avoid committing academic offenses, and to take responsibility for his/her actions. Check the Office of Academic Integrity for more information. A student who is unsure whether an action constitutes an offense, or who needs help in learning how to avoid offenses (e.g., plagiarism, cheating) or about "rules" for group work/collaboration should seek guidance from the course professor, academic advisor, or the Undergraduate Associate Dean. For information on categories of offenses and types of penalties, students should refer to Policy 71 — Student Discipline. For typical penalties, check Guidelines for the Assessment of Penalties.

  • Avoiding Academic Offenses: Most students are unaware of the line between acceptable and unacceptable academic behaviour, especially when discussing assignments with classmates and using the work of other students. For information on commonly misunderstood academic offenses and how to avoid them, students should refer to the Office of Academic Integrity's site on Academic Misconduct and the Faculty of Mathematics Cheating and Student Academic Discipline Policy.

  • Appeals: A decision made or penalty imposed under Policy 70, Student Petitions and Grievances (other than a petition) or Policy 71, Student Discipline may be appealed if there is a ground. A student who believes he/she has a ground for an appeal should refer to Policy 72, Student Appeals.

Note for Students with Disabilities

AccessAbility Services, located in Needles Hall, Room 1401, collaborates with all academic departments to arrange appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities without compromising the academic integrity of the curriculum. If you require academic accommodations to lessen the impact of your disability, please register with AccessAbility at the beginning of each academic term.

Coronavirus Information and Resources

Mental Health Support

All of us need a support system. We encourage you to seek out mental health supports when they are needed. Please reach out to Campus Wellness and Counselling Services.
We understand that these circumstances can be troubling, and you may need to speak with someone for emotional support. Good2Talk is a post-secondary student helpline based in Ontario, Canada that is available to all students.

Territorial Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that we live and work on the traditional territory of the Attawandaron (Neutral), Anishinaabeg, and Haudenosaunee peoples. The University of Waterloo is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land promised to the Six Nations that includes ten kilometres on each side of the Grand River.