May 16, 2011 | By Jillian York

This Week in Internet Censorship

A Wave of Anti-Censorship Protests in Turkey

In towns across Turkey this Sunday, thousands of citizens took to the streets to protest proposed new Internet filters. Beginning in August, Turkey’s Information and Communication Technologies Authority, or BTK, has proposed a selection of opt-in filters that Internet subscribers could choose from. Additionally, BTK has proposed a list of banned words for use in domain names.

This isn’t Turkey’s first foray into online censorship: the Law on the Internet (or the Regulation of Broadcasts via Internet and Prevention of Crimes Committed Through such Broadcasts) No. 5651, enacted in 2007, allows a large variety of actors, including the government, to petition the court or the Telecommunications Authority to filter certain online content (for more details, see Access Controlled, Turkey Country Profile, 2009).

As a result of the law, popular video-sharing site YouTube has been blocked on and off since 2007 in response to complaints about specific videos (most of which were deemed to "insult Turkishness," a criminal offense), while blogging platforms WordPress and Blogspot have also experienced bans at times. The law has also resulted in the blocking of a number of sites on the grounds of defamation, including the site of famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

Current law provides the opportunity for site owners to exercise their right of reply against a content ban; however, this right is usually given after a site has already been blocked.

Tunisia: More Filtering, More Transparency

Prior to the January 2011 uprising that led to the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia maintained one of the most extensive Internet filters in the world, blocking opposition websites, video-sharing sites, proxies, and nearly any human rights organization that criticized the Tunisian regime.

With the fall of Ben Ali came the fall of the country’s web censors, nicknamed "Ammar 404." In a concessions speech given on January 13--just one day before fleeing the country--Ben Ali promised the removal of Internet censorship. That promise became reality almost immediately, with an official decision allowing the blocking of sites only by court order.

The Agence Tunisienne d'Internet (Tunisian Agency for the Internet or ATI) is the body in charge of implementing filtering; last week, it was reported that the agency had publicized the list of currently banned sites in an effort toward further transparency. The current list of blocked sites includes just four individual Facebook pages, all ordered blocked by the Military Tribunal of Tunis. At least one of the pages belongs to a known Tunisian activist.

Moez Chakchouk, CEO of the ATI, stated during a May 11 Q&A that "this is a filter and not censorship," noting that there are "a thousand and one ways to access, especially by proxy or by typing a different URL syntax."

It is worth noting that blocking an individual Facebook page (or an individual page on any site) is ineffective when users utilize HTTPS to visit a site, because network operators usually cannot determine which page a user is attempting to access. Facebook users can enable HTTPS by going to their account settings, or to enable HTTPS on all sites using Firefox, download EFF and Tor’s HTTPS Everywhere add-on.

Pakistan: No Facebook Ban (Yet)

Last week, we reported on a proposition in Pakistan to permanently ban social networking site Facebook. On May 16, a judgment made on February 28, 2011 was released to the public.

The initial petition, filed in May 2010, was in response to an "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" competition created as a Facebook page. Section 2 of the judgment explains:

The said move on the website in question sent a wave of resentment amongst the Muslims of the world in general and that of Pakistan in particular. As a result people from different walks of life protested against the act at different levels. Being Muslims by faith and having anguish pain in their heart due to said grisly act of the management of the said despicable website, the petitioners have filed these petitions seeking permanent ban on the said website

The judgment, made by the Lahore High Court in response to Writ Petition No. 10392 of 2010 (Islamic Lawyers Movement vs. Federation of Pakistan and three others), notes similar bans of Facebook in Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, and China as a means of justifying a ban on the site (note that Facebook is not currently blocked in Saudi Arabia or the UAE), but does not ban Facebook outright, instead making several provisions for dealing in the future with websites that contain insults to Islam, including encouragement for the government to strive for legislation such as that "adopted by other Islamic countries in addition to China."

A new petition against Facebook will be heard on May 19, just one day before the anniversary of the "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" competition.


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