Governments around the world block access to online content for a variety of reasons: to shield children from obscene content, to prevent access to copyright-infringing material or confusingly named domains, or to protect national security. From democratic nations such as India, Turkey, and South Korea to states with authoritarian regimes, governments are implementing extensive filtering regimes with varying degrees of transparency and consistency.
How Countries Block Content
There are various methods used to block content online. Government actors can block or tamper with domain names, filter and block specific keywords, block a particular IP address, or urge online content providers to remove content or search results.
Often, governments rely upon commercial software to do the job for them. Products readily available on the market for use in homes, schools, and libraries have been used in several countries. Though the export and sale of these tools is generally legal, it often raises questions of human rights and corporate social responsibility.
Some countries, such as China, use a combination of the aforementioned techniques, by pervasively blocking keywords, foreign websites, and urging companies such as Google to remove certain content. Others, such as Morocco, take a minimalist approach to content blocking, by filtering a certain selection of URLs. The level of transparency in content blocking also differs from country to country. Some offer block pages that explain to users that a site is blocked (as well as, sometimes, why it is blocked) and/or means of challenging a specific site block, while others re-direct the user to an error page; before the fall of the Ben Ali regime, for example, Tunisia famously redirected users to an HTTP 404 error page.
Why Countries Block Content
Countries block online content for a variety of reasons, often based on national cultural norms or political considerations. India for example, uses the pretext of public safety to enact laws allowing certain websites to be blocked, while other countries, such as Qatar, primarily block websites for containing pornography or other content that they claim offends the sensibilities of their citizens. Still others block websites or domains under the pretence of preventing copyright or trademark infringement, as documented in our Global Chokepoints project. An increasing number of governments also block websites belonging to their political opposition, human rights organizations, and independent media.
What EFF is Doing
Whenever possible, EFF engages with policymakers to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for free expression. We also support the efforts of organizations like Tor to empower Internet users residing in censored countries to circumvent firewalls and access blocked content.
EFF seeks to amplify the voices of local grassroots organizations opposing censorship all over the world, and educate our members about those groups’ concerns. To that end, we provide regular updates on content blocking and other forms of censorship in every corner of the globe through our weekly This Week In Internet Censorship blogpost series.
Content blocking occurs in both autocratic and democratic countries. EFF regularly tracks and reports on new cases of filtering, often relying upon information from organizations such as the OpenNet Initiative, which documents content filtering in more than fifty countries.