MONTRÉAL - American software mogul John McAfee appears relaxed at a downtown restaurant as he digs into a bowl of poutine, but says even the safe haven of Canada isn't immune from government spying.
"Your Canadian government has all of the facilities that the American government has, no more, no less," he says, in light of recent leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
"If you think that the Canadian government is somehow morally or ethically or in any other way superior, you're wrong."
Ten months ago McAfee, 67, was a fugitive from the Belize government, wanted for questioning in the mysterious death of his neighbour Gregory Viant Faull, 52.
After a failed political-asylum claim, two faked heart attacks and a criminal charge for illegally entering Guatemala by speed boat, he was deported to the U.S., ending what became a network television spectacle.
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Internet use is extremely restricted with many of North Korea's 24 million people unable to get online. Some North Koreans can access an internal Intranet that connects to state media. Members of the elite, resident foreigners and visitors in certain hotels are allowed full access to the Internet.
Most Western social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked in Iran, as well as political opposition and sexually explicit websites. But proxy server sites and other methods are widely used to get around the official restrictions. Iran has announced plans to create its own domestic Internet with fully monitored content, but international experts question whether such a complete break from the worldwide Net is possible. Earlier this week, Iran accounted it had developed its own YouTube-style video sharing site.
There are more than 500 million Chinese online but they contend with an extensive Internet filtering and censorship system popularly known as the "Great Fire Wall." Censors police blogs and domestic social media for content deemed pornographic or politically subversive and delete it. Many foreign websites, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and the New York Times are blocked. Searches for controversial topics such as corruption scandals or jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo return error messages. Users evade controls using proxy servers.
Tight control, slow connections and high costs mean only around 5 percent of Cubans have access to the global Internet, with another 23 percent relying instead on a government intranet with very limited content. Web access is mainly via public facilities where people must first register with identification.
Gulf Arab States
Political sites deemed threats to the state are often blocked. Since the Arab Spring, authorities across the Gulf have stepped up arrests of bloggers and others for posted considered offensive to rulers or advocating political reforms.
Internet censorship is prevalent across former Soviet Central Asian republics, but the strongest restrictions have been recorded in Iran's authoritarian neighbors to the north, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Controls are strictest in Turkmenistan, where social networking sites Facebook and Twitter are out-of-bounds, as is video-sharing site YouTube and numerous news websites. Uzbekistan has taken a less extreme approach, but sites critical of the government are blocked as a matter of course. Tajikistan, which is like those countries also ruled by an unchallenged strong-man ruler, has twice this year barred access to Facebook after web-surfers used the site to post material critical of government officials.
The government restricts access to the Internet and closely monitors online communications. The U.S. State Department's latest human rights report said the Eritrean government monitored email without obtaining warrants as required by law, and that all Internet service users were required to use one of the three service providers owned directly by the government or controlled through high-ranking members of the country's sole party. But the vast majority people do not have Internet access.
Now he's sitting on a picturesque patio, drinking a bright green tropical cocktail.
McAfee is in town to work on a forthcoming biographical documentary, produced by a Montreal-based company, Impact Future Media.
"I love Canada, especially Montreal," says McAfee.
"The food is spectacular, the diversity, the people are extremely friendly."
With frosted brown hair and a bushy goatee, he looks part tech-wiz, part punk-rocker. He says his mistrust of the government was hard-earned at the namesake company he founded and later sold for millions.
"From my experience at McAfee, I know for a fact the government knows almost everything about the average citizen."
As an anti-virus software tycoon at the head of McAfee Security, he says his early clients ranged from the CIA to the American navy and air force.
"The first six years of McAfee, 90 per cent of our income came from the government. The First Gulf War I donated $40 million worth of software to the U.S. Army," he says.
"Obviously, I know a great deal about the internal machinations of power structures."
Revelations from the leaks by Snowden show major American technology companies like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook turning over the personal transmissions of their users to the intelligence service.
McAfee says he received similar pressures from the government when he wanted to add encryption technology to his software.
"I talked to the people that I knew within the government: the CIA, the FBI, and everybody else. They all go: 'No, no. We'll shut you down if you do that.'"
McAfee said intelligence officials were worried that encryption technology would get out of the U.S. and into the wrong hands.
"And you think Yahoo and Google and others don't have (pressure) to a much greater degree than me? With me it was just some encryption software."
Contact with the mysterious intelligence apparatus protecting and surveying Americans has prompted McAfee to take precautions.
"I don't buy my own computers; I don't buy my own telephones. I live in Portland, Oregon and my telephone number is in Tennessee."
McAfee also says the growth of electronic currencies like Bitcoin is unstoppable, despite efforts by governments to curb their use.
"Things like Bitcoin are completely outside the control and the knowledge of anyone."
To his mind, anyone who does not seriously consider electronic currency as a mode of currency exchange is "doing themselves a misservice," given its encrypted and algorithmic protection from thievery.
"It will be everywhere and the world will have to readjust. World governments will have to readjust."
McAfee says he never enters his name into his personal computers and often uses software techniques to hide his IP address on the Internet.
"Is that paranoia? I don't think so given the fact that we know the government is spying. It's not that I'm doing anything I don't want the government to know about," he says.
"Why should they be looking at me?"