Jordan is one of a handful of countries in the Middle East that does not censor access to websites.1 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.
Though in nearly every country there exists a contingent of people that wish for a censored Internet, the Jordanian government has not heeded their calls—that is, until recently, when the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology stated publicly that they were working with an unnamed Australian company to develop a system for filtering pornographic websites. Furthermore, several Jordanian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have received letters from the Telecommunication Regulation Commission (TRC)—which oversees telecommunications in Jordan—directing them to block pornographic websites.
Though, to their credit, the Ministry responded to calls for censorship by offering free filtering software on its website—an excellent alternative to mandating national filtering—the action undertaken by the TRC is cause for alarm.
The first concern is the issuing of a filtering directive without due process. Jordan is a Constitutional Monarchy with an elected Chamber of Deputies/House of Representatives, and its Constitution guarantees the right to free expression. The country is also a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and while Article 19 of the Covenant allows for restrictions of free expression for the protection of morals, among other things, such restrictions may only be imposed by law and must be justified as necessary [Paragraph 3]. So while lawmakers may find it justifiable to censor pornography, no such law currently exists in Jordan.
In addition, as UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion Frank LaRue wrote in his 2011 report, "Permissible restrictions generally should be content-specific; generic bans on the operation of certain sites and systems are not compatible with paragraph 3."
Second, the directives issued to ISPs by the TRC place responsibility for filtering on intermediaries. As we’ve stated before, EFF believes that it is not the role of intermediaries to serve as gatekeepers for law enforcement (or, in this case, enforcement of a non-law). ISPs are not best-placed to determine what constitutes pornography or where the line ought to be drawn. Furthermore, there appears to be no transparency in the selection of URLs or keywords to be blocked, leaving ample room for error. Back in 2009, when Australia tested a similar scheme, it was discovered that the list of sites to be blocked contained, among other things, the website of a dentist.
Ultimately, the entire endeavor is problematic. Whether enacted through proper legislative measures or through extralegal means, large-scale filtering systems can be all too easily misused and abused. EFF calls on Jordan’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology to keep the country’s Internet open and uncensored.