May 10, 2011 | By Jillian York

This Week in Internet Censorship

This past week has been trying in a number of countries, including China, where a new central agency has been established to oversee the Internet, in a move that some experts have said would allow for tighter regulations. At the same time, rumors of a possible Facebook deal in China have been cause for concern, as such a launch would likely mean Chinese users would have access only to a censored version of the platform.

Were Facebook to bring a censored version of its social networking service to China, it wouldn’t be the first instance of a US company engaging in censorship overseas: Google famously filtered its search results from 2006 to 2010 by order of the Chinese government, and search engines Yahoo! and Bing continue to filter results. The OpenNet Initiative considers China to be one of the most pervasive filterers of online content.

Though no deal has yet been struck, Facebook spokesperson Adam Conner was quoted as saying, “Maybe we will block content in some countries, but not others. We are occasionally held in uncomfortable positions because now we're allowing too much, maybe, free speech in countries that haven't experienced it before.”

Tunisia Reverts to Filtering

In Tunisia, where many of the Internet filters came down along with the Ben Ali government, new evidence suggests that sites are now being blocked based on military order. A blockpage posted by Nawaat’s Sami Ben Gharbia (who will be speaking at EFF’s upcoming Geek Reading at EFF on May 20) shows the Facebook page of democracy activist Jalel Brick “filtered under a requisition from the investigating judge at the Permanent Military Tribunal in Tunis.”

Prior to the uprising that led to the fall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January of 2011, Tunisia pervasively filtered political content, including websites of human rights organizations and political opposition.

This latest move is worrying to Tunisian activists, who say that the new Internet censorship law was quietly passed by the interim government.

A Facebook Ban in Pakistan?

On May 6, The Express Tribune reported that Pakistan’s Lahore High Court was reviewing previous petitions filed against Facebook for blasphemous content in consideration of a possible permanent ban of the social networking site.

In May 2010, after receiving a petition from the Islamic Lawyers’ Group, a high court in Pakistan ordered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to block Facebook temporarily following a “Draw Mohammed Day” competition hosted users of the site. The ban was lifted after two weeks, however, the court asked the government to take steps to prevent access to blasphemous and sacrilegious content online.

Though the case has reportedly been postponed for hearing, EFF will be tracking developments closely and will report back on any updates.


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