On February 15, a verdict will be handed down that determines whether or not the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) will need to censor pornography on the Internet. Last May, after receiving--and unsuccessfully attempting to block--an order to censor such websites, the ATI appealed the decision citing, among other things, a lack of financial resources. As a result, the case was sent to the Court of Cassation, Tunisia’s highest court
All Tunisians have a reason to be concerned: Under the rule of Ben Ali, it wasn’t just obscene content that was unavailable to citizens, but political opposition websites, information on human rights, even YouTube.
As a result, Tunisian digital rights activists are wary of letting the government force the ATI to re-install the tools that allowed such overreaching censorship (which in the Ben Ali era were made by American company SmartFilter, owned by Intel). For others--such as the activist community that was active in fighting censorship during the Ben Ali era--it’s a matter of principle. Or as Moez Chakchouk, CEO of the ATI, has argued: “It's not a matter of pornography or not, it's a matter of whether we have censorship or not in Tunisia.”
Indeed, though the current target may be pornography, installing a tool like SmartFilter would enable the ATI to block other categories of websites. And while Chakchouk has spoken out against the idea of any government-mandated censorship outside of the legal process, he is also concerned that putting the tools of censorship in place could easily allow the government to expand its reach.
EFF reiterates our support for Chakchouk and the Tunisian Internet Agency. Tomorrow's decision will not only affect the free speech of Tunisians, but could have broader implications for the region as well. We call on the Court of Cassation to uphold the right of free expression in their decision.