Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Internet: USA Rules, UAE Rules

I don't generally get this serious on "Apathetic Lemming of the North," so feel free to skip this post.

My wife and I are in the process of raising four kids. Two of them are more-or-less grown, but the parenting role is still there: just changed.

I can understand why parents want to protect their children.

The reactions of a 12-year-old (not one of my kids), to a seemingly inexplicable interruption in service, brought the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and that country's interesting Internet policies to my attention.

Etisalat is the UAE's government-owned Internet provider. In fact, it's the UAE's only Internet provider.

Checking around, I found a GulfNews.com article, "Don't let your child roam the internet aimlessly" (July 27, 2007), quoting a parent with pre-teen children. "At the moment, the Internet connection we have is the Etisalat one and there are processes in place to stop some sites. They filter all the pornographic sites and the sites that could be harmful to children. I have peace of mind here [in the UAE]. In my home country we don't have this filter."

That sounds good, but the UAE's protectiveness goes further than that.

The U.S. Department of State's "United Arab Emirates / Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006," (released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor on March 6, 2007) gives a mildly uncomfortable look at how this country on the Persian Gulf manages human rights.

Here's an excerpt:

"Internet Freedom

"The [UAE] government restricted access to some Web sites on the Internet. Internet chat rooms, instant messaging services, and blogs were monitored. Individuals and groups engaged in peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by email, without reports of government prosecution or punishment, although there was self-censorship apparent in many chat rooms and blogs. (Emphasis mine.)

"According to the NGO The Initiative for an Open Arab Internet, Internet access was widely available. According to January 2005 press reports, 37 percent of the country's population was connected to the Internet provided through the state‑owned monopoly Etisalat. A proxy server blocked material deemed inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the country; information on how to circumvent the proxy server; dating and matrimonial sites; and gay and lesbian sites, as well as those concerning the Baha'i Faith and those originating in Israel. The proxy server occasionally blocked broad categories of sites including many that did not meet the intended criteria. Etisalat populated its proxy server list of blocked sites primarily from lists of Web sites purchased from commercial companies; though individuals could also report offensive sites. In July 2005 Etisalat blocked a blog from within the country for the first time, briefly blocking http://secretdubai.blogspot.com due to a compliant that it contained "nudity"-though the site contains no images. Etisalat removed the block after the site's owner requested that the block be reviewed. There were no other reports of local blogs, being blocked. The politically oriented - and often critical -sites Arabtimes.com and UAEprison.com remain blocked without explanation. (Emphasis mine.)

"Etisalat denied having the authority to block any site, and referred all complaints and suggestions to the Media Council. Internet filtering policy and appeals are regulated by the Telecom Regulatory Authority. Each blocked site provided an email address and Web site by which a user could notify Etisalat if the site should not be blocked. Some sites were unblocked following a review. Etisalat also blocked all "voice‑chat" and Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) Web sites and services. The proxy server did not generally affect Internet access in Dubai's Internet City and Media City. (Emphasis mine.)

"In January the government enacted the Information and Privacy "cyber crime" law which explicitly criminalizes the use of the Internet to commit a wide variety of crimes. The law provides fines and prison terms for Internet users who violate political, social and religious norms in the country. In addition to criminalizing acts commonly associated with "cyber crimes" such as hacking, phishing, various scams and other forms of financial fraud, the law also provides penalties for using the Internet to oppose Islam, proselytize Muslims to join other religions, "abuse" a holy shrine or ritual of any religion, insult any religion, or incite someone to commit sin. The law further criminalizes use of the internet in transcending "family values" by publishing either news or photos pertaining to a person's private life or that of his/her family, or by promoting a program in breach of public decency." (Emphasis mine.)

All in all, I think I'd rather live with USA rules than with UAE rules.

(If you read all my blogs, some of this should sound familiar. I used the same research in UAE, Censorship, Shari'a Law, Freedom: So What?.)

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