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Xeni's NYT op-ed: Exporting Censorship

Following up on previous coverage about SmartFilter's "nudity" block on BoingBoing -- which rendered this blog inaccessible to many regular readers around the world -- here's a snip from an op-ed I filed for today's New York Times:
Many of our locked-out readers were trying to view BoingBoing from libraries, schools and their workplaces. That is regrettable but not tragic, as American viewers generally have other options. But after regular visitors from Qatar and Saudi Arabia complained, we discovered a more worrisome problem: government-controlled Internet service providers were using SmartFilter to effectively block access for entire countries.

Secure Computing refused to provide me with a list of the governments that use its filters. However, the OpenNet Initiative, a partnership between the University of Toronto, Cambridge University and Harvard Law School, has compiled data on how such products are used in foreign nations where censorship is easy because the governments control all Internet service providers.

The initiative found that SmartFilter has been used by government-controlled monopoly providers in Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. It has also been used by state-controlled providers in Iran, even though American companies are banned from selling technology products there. (Secure Computing denies selling products or updates to Iran, which is probably using pirated versions.)

According to OpenNet, filtering products from another American company, Websense, have also been used by a state-controlled service provider in Iran, ParsOnline. Yemen uses Websense products to filter content on its two government-owned service providers. Websense software, the initiative says, filters out "sex education and provocative clothing sites, gay- and lesbian-related materials, gambling sites, dating sites, drug-related sites, sites enabling anonymous Web surfing, proxy servers that circumvent filtering, and sites with content related to converting Muslims to other religions."

The initiative also found that Myanmar, arguably the most repressive regime in the world, uses censorware from the American company Fortinet. And Singapore's government-controlled Singnet server uses filtering technology from SurfControl, a company formed from the merger of several censorware companies that is now technically British but has its filtering operations headquarters in California.

Reg-free link. Illustration by Luba Lukova for the New York Times.

See also:
- BB banned in UAE, Qatar, elsewhere. Response to net-censors: Get bent!
- PRI's "The World" on SmartFilter's BoingBoing "nudity" ban
- NY Times on SmartFilter's not-so-smart "nudity" block
- Saudi Arabia joins league of BoingBoing-deprived nations
- Previous BoingBoing posts on SmartFilter
- BoingBoing's guide to defeating Censorware

posted by Xeni Jardin