November 7, 2012 | By Eva Galperin

Egyptian Prosecutor Orders a Ban on Internet Porn

Censorship circumvention software is about to become very popular in Egypt. On Wednesday, the country’s Prosecutor General, Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, ordered government ministries to enforce a ban on pornographic websites, based on a three-year old ruling by Egypt’s administrative court, which declared that “freedom of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism” and denounced pornographic content as “venomous and vile.”

An anonymous government official claims that the order was a response to the ultraconservative Salafi “Pure Net” campaign, which staged a demonstration in front of the Cairo’s High Court on Wednesday, calling for an enforcement of the ban on Internet pornography on the grounds that such sites “violate Egyptian customs and values.”

Mohamed Nour, spokesman for the Salafist Nour Party, welcomed the decision, adding that the ban would not impact personal and public freedoms because “Egyptian society is conservative by nature and rejects these websites.” More liberal voices have denounced the ban as unworkable, expressed concerns over the danger to free expression, and worried that this might be the beginning of a broader crackdown on dissent.

As Mohammed Hendawy succinctly points out:

It starts with porn. Then everything else.

Just how the Prosecutor General intends to implement the ban on pornographic content on the Internet remains unclear. They may take a hint from Pakistan, which periodically bans hundreds of thousands of porn sites, but has stopped short of implementing a national blocking and filtering system this Spring. Maintaining a list of all of the porn on the Internet is a non-trivial task—even Pakistan’s list of blocked sites amounts to a drop in the ocean—while implementing a nationwide filtering scheme is potentially expensive and likely to result in the collateral blocking of unrelated websites, such sites that discuss breast cancer or gay rights.

Or they may follow Tunisia's lead, where a high court threw out a ruling banning pornographic websites in February. The Tunisian Internet Agency's (ATI) chief executive, Moez ChakChouk, opposed filtering on idealogical grounds, but added that there were significant technical hurdles as well. He claimed that filtering would compromise the quality and speed of data transfers, and that his agency did not have sufficient funds to carry out such censorship in any case.

Whichever way the Egyptian government decides to go, Egyptians are not about to let the morality police decide what they can and cannot see online. Even under the Mubarak regime, where Internet surveillance was rampant and writers and bloggers were harassed and detained for their activities online, Internet censorship was rare. A 2009 Open Net Initiative report found “no evidence of Internet filtering in Egypt.” Censorship will be met with censorship circumvention tools, such as VPNs and Tor.

EFF will continue to keep a close eye on this story as it develops.


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