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Please take the time and read my post on Global Voices Advocacy on how far would go to defend the rights of your political enemies. Selected excepts:
What has this background to do with censorship though? When Rachad’s website was censored several blogs and websites carried the story including mine, with a petition to oppose all forms of censorship. Replies were extremely distrutful and vehement. Hchicha, a famous Algerian blogger who blogs in French, had a Youtube video that denounced censorship in all forms. He was attacked mercilessly and had multiple video replies. He says he was swamped with angry emails. I received emails to the tune that I am an islamist in disguise for starting the petition and had to alter the text to make it generic. “How dare you defend the rights of Islamists?” was their argument. These emails and Video replies were coming from people who, themselves, oppose the current regime to the core.
This brings me to the question: beyond the slogans and the principles, how far would you go in defending your political rival some fundamental human right, even if you know that the rival presents a substantial threat to your way of life? Upping the stakes once more, what if even the values that you’re defending for them may be substantially jeopardised in case they win power?
After the censorship case that was discovered last week, I went back to the text of the law 09-04 combating cybercrime. The law was made official on the 5th August 2009. The text of the law makes for some worrying reading and grants unprecedented powers to the state, unprecedented even in other countries. Multi national search engines providers such as Microsoft and Google may fall foul of the law if they operate in Algeria (MS does, Google owns the Google.dz domain but does not have a subsidiary there yet). Most worryingly, the law literally permits the state to spy and hack onto websites that it deems in breach of its vague cybercrime definitions without prior consent from a competent judge in some cases. However, the text of the law does not, to my knowledge, grant the state the power to censor any website that it wishes without permission from a judge.
Search engine providers and ISPs fall under the definition given in article 1 D: “Any entity that processes or stores computer data [that is in breach of the law]”. This applies to Microsoft, Google and other engines that store offending website caches and provide search engine results.
Articles 3, 4 and 7 give the state powers to eavesdrop and censor Internet content and detail cases when that is required, but the articles are explicit in that eavesdropping and censorship are only permissible with a renewable 6 month mandate by a competent judge. It is not clear how the Rachad website was censored. The Rachad movement is not very famous in Algeria, and some of its leaders are quite unpopular being former FIS members. Its mission is the “peaceful overthrow of this illegitimate government” but I have a hard time believing that Algerians will flock to them en masse. It is a pity how a group of activists in exile with a website and a YouTube channel can easily be regarded as a “threat to national security”. The state is effectively giving publicity and recognition to the movement by this act.
I could not find any judicial decision that declared the Rachad movement a threat. There was a case in April 2009 where a man was sentenced to 18 months in prison for writing “threatening content” on Rachad’s Internet Forums (The case was dealt with before the introduction of this law).
Article 5 is worrying. It grants the state the power to remotely hack and spy onto computer systems if required by a judge, but other websites and systems can be hacked into “quickly” if they are “connected” to the offending website. In effect, this grants the state the power to hack into any website in Algeria. The text of the law is explicit in that a judge should seek cooperation by other countries for websites that are hosted outside Algeria, but any website should remain vigilant just in case. I hope the irony of a law that forbids cybercrime for citizens and effectively legitimises it for the state is not lost here.
Articles 10 and 11 require “Internet providers” to store all communications and identifying information for a minimum of a year. The text of the law and the definitions given in article 2 give the impression that this applies to Internet café owners. Internet Cafés are the main venue for Internet users in Algeria, with some statistics putting the number of Internet cafés at 30000.
Article 13 and 14 introduce a new body for combating cybercrime, presumably this is the body that enforces censorship. The text of the law is not clear as to the nature of this body, what department it is under and what are its specific powers.
This whole law is in clear breach of several citizen rights as given in the constitution, including article 36 (explicit freedom of expression), article 39 (explicit right to privacy) and article 41 (freedom of assembly and speech). There is a state of emergency in force since 1992, so in practice the state can offend any of these rights willy-nilly with or without the new law.
Finally, please read and sign the Anti Censorship Petition if you are worried about these developments.
لا لحجب الإنترنت بالجزائر – Non à la censure de l’Internet en Algérie – No to Internet Censorship in Algeria
The Algerian authorities have started an Internet filter, and inaugurated the year 2010 by a first ban on an opposition website (More details in this post). Today it’s this opposition movement, tomorrow it can be your blog or website, and some day it may even be Youtube or Facebook.
Clearly it is time to actively fight against this blatant act of censorship. We call on all Algerian internet citizens around the globe to participate in the campaign for freedom of speech and against censorship in the country. Venues of action include:
Sign the Petition against Internet Censorship in Algeria. Email it around to your friends. The petition’s text is pasted below.
- Internet Activism:
Post about the petition on your Blog. If you have graphics capabilities, you can create banners and graphics so that various websites and Blogs can use them.
- Social Networks:
Raise awarness about the issue. Post on Facebook, MySpace and any other social network or Internet forum. The more Algerians know about this, the better.
Use Twitter‘s power to spread the petition. Use “#Algeria” or “#Algerie” tags.
- Other banned websites:
Keep a watch on other opposition websites in case they get censored. Report all censorship cases to HerdictWeb. The more reports, the better. There may be cases where only a select of ISP’s censor a website.
- Working around the filter:
If you are inside Lebled (Algeria), use this feedburner link to read some of the banned website website’s entries. Spread the link around. The authorities need to realise that banning a website is counter productive and will actually make it more famous.
(Texte en français ci-dessous – English text below)
خلال سنة 2009 ذكرت الصحف المحلية الجزائرية أن السلطات الجزائرية تستعد لوضع برنامج حجب مواقع إنترنت لمكافحة “الجريمة الحاسوبية” و المواقع “الإرهابية” و “الإباحية”. ويجري حاليا إعداد القوانين لجعل التحايل على الحجب جريمة جنائية.
وقد تلقى مستخدمو الإنترنت الجزائريين مثل هذه الأخبار بقلق، خوفا من أن يستخدم الحجب لأغراض سياسية. وجاء الدليل الأول في الفاتح من يناير/جانفي 2010، إذ تم حجب مواقع لمنظمات معارضة سلمية لا تندرج تحت الفئات المذكورة أعلاه.
تحدد السلطات قائمة المواقع المحجوبة دون استشارة متصفحي الإنترنت. وتخضع لرقابة هيئة لم يفصح عنها بعد، وعملية الرقابة غير شفافة، إذ لا تُقدّم مبررات لحجب موقع، أو وسائل للاحتجاج عليها ومعارضتها.
مما يعني أن الحكومة ستستعمل الحجب لأغراض سياسية لمنع المواقع المعارضة لها، والتي تنشر أفكار مخالفة لها.
إننا ندين بشدة هذه الممارسة التعسفية التي تعتبر خرقا واضحا لمبادئ حرية التعبير وحرية المعلومات كما تحددها المادة 19 من ” اﻟﻌﻬﺪ الدولي الخاص بالحقوق المدنية والسياسية” ، الذي وقّعت عليه الجزائر يوم 10 ديسمبر 1968 وصدّقت عليه في 12 سبتمبر 1989.
إن الدولة الجزائرية و الشعب الجزائري يطمحان إلى المثل العليا “كالحرية” و ” الديمقراطية “، القيم التي ضحى من أجلها آباؤنا وأجدادنا منذ عقود، والرقابة على الإنترنت هو انتهاك صارخ لهذه القيم و يجب أن يتوقف.
Au cours de l’année 2009, la presse locale algérienne a rapporté que les autorités algériennes préparaient un filtre Internet afin de combatre le “cybercrime”, et les sites “terroristes” et “pornographiques”. Des lois sont actuellement à l’état de projets afin de classer comme crime le contournement du filtre.
Les internautes algériens ont reçu cette nouvelle avec inquiétude, craignant que le filtre ne soit utilisé à des fins politiques. La preuve est faite le 1er janvier 2010. En ce premier jour de l’année, on a découvert que des sites Internet d’une organisation d’opposition pacifique ont été bloqué en Algérie. Ces sites n’entrent dans aucune des catégories mentionnées ci-dessus.
Par sa nature, la liste du filtre des sites Internet bannnis sera établie par l’Etat sans consultation préalable des internautes. Les sites sont ainsi censurés par un corps de censeurs, non encore révélé. Le processus de censure n’est pas transparent. Il n’y a pas de justification donnée pour bannir les sites et il n’y a aucun moyen de contester la mise au ban.
Donc, il est évident que les sites bannis seront déterminés par le gouvernement pour des raisons politiques. Le gouvernement utilisera le filtre pour bannir les idées dissidentes et d’oppositions.
Nous condamnons fermement cette pratique car il est clair que cela est un manquement aux principes de libertés d’expression et d’information comme prescrit par l’article 19 du Pacte International relatif au Droits Civils et Politiques signé par l’Algérie le 10 décembre 1968 et ratifié le 12 septembre 1989.
L’Etat Algérien et le peuple Algérien aspirent aux hautes valeurs que sont la liberté et la démocratie, valeurs qui ont été défendues par nos pères et nos grands-pères pendant des décennies. La censure d’Internet est un manquement clair à ces valeurs, qui doit cesser.
During the year 2009 the Algerian local press reported that the Algerian authorities are preparing an Internet filter to combat “Cybercrime” , “Terrorist” and “pornographic” websites. Laws are being prepared to make circumventing the filter a criminal offence.
Algerians Internet users have received such news with anxiety, fearing that the filter will be used for political purposes. The evidence came on the 1st January 1st 2010. On the first day of the year, it was discovered that websites of a peaceful opposition movement have been blocked in Algeria. These websites do not fall under the categories mentioned above.
By its nature, the filter’s list of banned websites will be determined by the state without consulting Internet users. Websites are censored by a yet unannounced censorship body. The censorship process is not transparent. There is no reason given for banning websites, and there is no way to contest a ban.
It is evident that banned websites will be determined by the government for political reasons. The government will use the filter to ban opposition and dissident views.
We strongly condemn this practice as it is a clear breach of the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of information as determined by article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by Algeria on 10 December 1968 and ratified on 12 September 1989.
The Algerian state and the Algerian people have strong aspirations for the values of freedom and democracy, values that have been fought for by our fathers and grand fathers for decades. Internet censorship is a clear breach of these values and should be stopped.
نحن الموقعون أدناه ، أفرادا ومنظمات نعارض محاولة الحكومة الجزائرية الرقابة على الإنترنت. ونطالب بأن لا يُمنع أي موقع لأسباب تعسفية أو سياسية.
ونحث السلطات الجزائرية على التركيز على تعزيز البنية التحتية الضعيفة للاتصالات و نشجع المواطنين على المشاركة بنشاط في النقاش العام باستخدام الإنترنت.
إنّ الشعب الجزائري يستحق إنترنت فعالة، حرة، وغير محجوبة.
Nous, les soussignés, tant à titre personnel, qu’en tant qu’organisations, nous nous opposons à la tentative de censure d’Internet par le gouvernement algérien. Nous demandons qu’aucun site ne soit interdit pour raisons arbitraires ou politiques.
Nous demandons instamment aux autorités de se concentrer sur le renforcement de la faible infrastructure de communication et nous encourageons les citoyens à participer au débat public en utilisant Internet.
Le peuple algérien mérite un réseau Internet fiable, libre et non-censuré.
We, the undersigned, individuals and organisations, oppose the Algerian government’s attempt at Internet censorship. We ask that no website should be banned for arbitrary or political reasons.
We urge the Algerian authorities to concentrate on strengthening the weak communications infrastructure and we encourage Algerians to actively participate in the civil discource using the Internet.
The Algerian people deserve a competent, free and uncensored Internet
With the start of the year 2010, there are reports that the first political Internet website to be censored in Algeria is rachad.org. Le Quotidien D’Algerie discovered this today. It was verified by this blog and others. The website appears in Google search results, but upon clicking it the web browser displays an innocent looking error. It is not clear when the website was censored, or if this is the only censored website so far or. It is also not clear how the filter is implemented.
The website in question is that of the Rachad Movement, a loose opposition organisation in exile formed by a mix of former diplomats, ex-civil servants, journalists and members of the now banned Islamist party FIS. The movement campaigns for a peaceful overthrow of the current regime. The movement’s figurehead is Mohamed Larbi Zitout, a former diplomat who fled after claiming that the Army has a hand in the massacres of the civil war. Zitout is a regular commentator in Arab and Western news stations and a staunch critic of the government. Last month he broke the rumour that Algeria has accepted temporary American military stations, a rumour vehemently denied by the Algerian state and AFRICOM – this is probably what annoyed the authorities enough.
This blog covered the legal framework that the authorities have been preparing to create an internet filter and to make circumventing it a crime in itself in a previous post. The filter has been presented as an effort to combat “cybercrime”, extremist and pornographic websites. But in keeping with their tradition, predictably the authorities started using its powers to crack down on political websites. In the same way, the authorities uses its control of the media sphere to forbid private stations and the state owned printing companies to intimidate private newspapers.
No political blogger or internet activist has been directly imprisoned or sued by the state so far. There was one civil case against Abdessalam Baroudi, the author of bilad 13, for a (brilliant) satirical post comparing the local religious affairs director with al-Sistani. The case was dismissed on grounds of freedom of expression.
Last week, in its latest report on Internet censorship the Cairo based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) has rated Algeria as one of the “best countries dealing with the internet”, together with Lebanon. Apparently the praise has unsettled some backwards thinking bureaucrats. As suspected, the absence of censorship up to now is not evidence of love for freedom of expression, it is the sad product of incompetence mixed with the embarrassingly low Internet penetration in Algeria by the region’s standards.
So this is the first banned website so far, I suspect that Algérie-politique and the other popular opposition websites will soon follow. Rachad has not reached critical mass in Algeria yet, but the state might be shooting itself in the foot here and spreading the word. So pass this news on, more Algerians should be aware of what they are not allowed to read!
For some time the Algerian authorities have been thinking about putting an Internet filtering service in place. Algeria is one of the few middle eastern countries that escaped the wrath of such a system so far.
The government cooked together a law throughout the last year to combat cybercrime, terrorism websites and internet pornography. cybercrime has been an evident problem of late. The lack of successful role models and a market where IT specialists could fuel their energy encouraged the youth to view hacking as a desirable, heroic, patriotic or even religious activity. The recent Algeria Egypt football match saw some literally fierce website hacking battles, facilitated by the laughable security in government IT systems in both countries. On the other hand, indecency laws have been used rigorously to put people who distribute obscene pictures to trial. Some cases were featured at large as the subjects (mostly women) were threatened and sentences ended up being harsh, enrolling charges of extortion.
So the law resonates very well with a local population that is increasingly conservative and hostile to a pornographic industry seen as a product of broken Western morals, while at the same time very frustrated at the sporadic yet continuous terrorist attacks. The government was largely successful in introducing the laws without much resistance or proper discussion from the local press, non governmental organisations or Internet café owners (Internet cafés are main venues for connectivity).
Now the government is turning towards implementing a publicly funded national filtering system to filter and monitor web usage. I could stomach that a large portion of the population might find such a system desirable. I could also accept that it gets enabled it by default for new customers. What I just can’t pass up are the plans to make circumvention of such filters illegal and punishable. Such a system would be too easy to abuse to crack down on dissident voices and cause the abortion of the infantile Algerian blogosphere.
Given the Algerian authorities’ track record against the printed press, I am not at all delighted with this move. The authorities have repeatedly used its monopoly of the printing and advertising businesses in the country to reign in on independent newspapers. The same treatment will surely be unveiled on undesirable websites with the click of a button.
Aggravating the threat is the judicial system’s extreme technophobia, as in literal hostility towards technology. The judges often give the impression that they do not understand technology and lay down sentences on the whim of suspicion, sometimes in an effort to inflate the number of “caught” terrorists and terrorist “sympathisers” or to exaggerate the severity of web terrorist activity inside the country. This blogger knows several people who have been locked up because their computer equipment contained pictures of terrorist attacks that were saved from local press websites, and were publicly available in printed form in the hundreds of thousands.
Circumventing the filtering system in and of itself should not be banned and there should be no legal repercussions whatsoever for doing so. It is up to the prosecutor to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the crime as dictated by the law has been comitted with no remorse to the filtering system. In this age of the 21st century and its technologies, it is trivial for a moderately savvy user to circumvent almost any filtering mechanism.
The country should instead concentrate on improving internet facilities for its citizens and should implement policies that encourage the use of the Web to diffuse information and empower civil discourse. The fact that the country has no filtering system yet is, sadly, not a reflection of liberal tendencies or love for freedom of speech. It is a reflection of the fact of that Internet penetration is very low even by the region’s standards. A just released market research report forecasts it to grow to 3.2% by 2013 – a deplorable figure. The cause is not lack of resources or of IT brainpower, it is pure business mismanagement. The network is managed by the state owned bureaucratic Algérie Télécom, a monolithic archaic entity that, despite having more than 3 million lines, was valued by potential investors at the paltry sum of $200 million for the whole internet/fixed telephony business last year. An embarrassingly low figure for a usually investor safe lone communication market player. In contrast, the mobile market is estimated to be worth a figure in the double digits of billions of dollars. On the incompetence of Internet providers, I recount my experience: I lodged an application for a DSL line and paid 6 months of subscription upfront only to be figuratively tortured with endless promises and delays, not to speak of regular downtime and aweful peak time speeds once service started. Issam Hamoud, an Algerian blogger in the capital no less recalls a similar experience.
My only condolence were such a system implemented and abused is the possibility that it will backfire, knowing the netizens’ tendency to quickly reassemble and follow what they’ve been banned with vengeance. The low penetration numbers can suggest more malice than failure, as the authorities may not want to get bothered with a problem of internet political activity in the first place.