The United States, Russia, and Malaysia have all recently protested proposed Internet censorship laws by having websites “go dark,” to demonstrate what the web would look like without them. Today Jordanian netizens have launched their own Internet blackout. In addition to the blackout, thousands have signed a petition addressed to Jordanian MPs, and participants are tweeting using the hashtag #BlackOutJO.
Jordan is one of a handful of countries in the Middle East that does not censor access to websites. Instead, the government has taken a more liberal approach to Internet regulation, and as a result has attracted companies like Google and Yahoo, both of which have offices in the capital city of Amman. But recent calls for legislation to block Internet pornography in Jordan have put this legacy of tech-friendly tolerance, not to mention the free expression rights of millions of Jordanian Internet users, at risk.
More than a hundred and fifty websites have gone dark to protest a draft bill to amend the Press and Publications Law, framed by the government as anti-pornography legislation, but which activists say will restrict Internet freedom and negatively affect the rights of Jordanian citizens. The first draft was sent to Parliament and discussed in a session last week. It will be discussed a second time in a hearing on Thursday, August 30th—which prompted the protest on the 29th.
If passed in its current form, the bill will allow the head of Press and Publication to block any international website that is in violation of the law. Critics say that this will allow for non-Jordanian websites to be blocked for any reason. The law also threatens intermediary liability, holding website owners responsible for the content of the comments posted by third parties on their sites and requiring them to store all comments for at least six months. Stripping away intermediary liability turns ISPs, online services, and website administrators into monitors and censors, policing comments out of fear that they may be held responsible for them.
The protest has gained some high-profile supporters, including Queen Noor Al Hussein, widow of the late King Hussein, who tweeted:
Hypocrisy,lies,intolerance,hate,violence-all unhealthy evils. Where does it start and end. #censorship #BlackOutJO
Traffic to the page hosting the letter to Jordanian MPs was so popular that the site hosting the petition, 7oryanet.com, went down for several hours. The effect on tomorrow’s Parliamentary discussion remains to be seen, but EFF urges the Jordanian government to heed the call of its citizens to keep the Internet open and uncensored.