NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 24, 2008

In most countries with Internet censorship, it takes a massive government effort to block unwanted Web content. China, for example, employs a vast arsenal of technologies and thousands of human censors to maintain its Great Firewall.

Saudi Arabia is different, says BusinessWeek:

  • While the country blocks broad swaths of the Internet, from pornographic Web sites to calls for the overthrow of the government, Saudi Arabia has fewer than 25 people involved in the effort.
  • The country's Communications & Information Technology Commission (CITC) uses software to block clear-cut violations, such as Web sites for porn and gambling.
  • But for pretty much everything else it relies on citizens who send in roughly 1,200 requests a day to have sites blocked.

Khalid M. Baheyeldin, a Web consultant who lived in the country for 11 years and now works in Ontario, says students and religious figures tend to be most active in flagging offensive sites.  "There's a feeling of moral conviction that obliges people to have these sites blocked," he says.  CITC takes action on about half of those requests, says a source close to the effort who requested anonymity.

Still, Saudi censorship is considered among the most restrictive in the world.  One local blogger, Fouad al Farhan, was jailed earlier this year for advocating political reforms.  While Farhan wrote under his own name, most of the country's estimated 2,000 bloggers post anonymously.  "There are many red lines in the country -- religion, the royal family," says Hajar Smouni, head of the North Africa and Middle East desk for Reporters Without Borders, which monitors press freedom around the world.

Source: Peter Burrows, "Internet Censorship, Saudi Style," BusinessWeek, November 13, 2008.

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