Censorship in Dubai

I was in Dubai last weekend for the World Economic Forum Summit on the Global Agenda. (I was on the "Future of the Internet" council; fellow council members Ethan Zuckerman and Jeff Jarvis have written about the event.)

As part of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai censors the Internet:

The government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) pervasively filters Web sites that contain pornography or relate to alcohol and drug use, gay and lesbian issues, or online dating or gambling. Web-based applications and religious and political sites are also filtered, though less extensively. Additionally, legal controls limit free expression and behavior, restricting political discourse and dissent online.

More detail here.

What was interesting to me about how reasonable the execution of the policy was. Unlike some countries -- China for example -- that simply block objectionable content, the UAE displays a screen indicating that the URL has been blocked and offers information about its appeals process.

Posted on November 12, 2008 at 12:56 PM • 62 Comments

Comments

RHNovember 12, 2008 1:44 PM

I've always been amused at how utterly inhumanitarian one can be when it is justified as "for their own good." Here we treat free-speech as a terribly valuble thing. Not quite a right, but something which has to be guarded. Over there, they take it away from you. And yet, you don't mind, because you are convinced they are doing it for your own good.

I'd argue that we're in the right... but what inhumantarian things have we done to our own citizens? And more importantly, as citizens could we identify those inhumantarian acts?

kangarooNovember 12, 2008 1:52 PM

Well, if you're going to live in a totalitarian state, you might as well have a well-run one. There's really no excuse to be slipshod about controlling folks thoughts.

I'd rather Singapore than China, for example.

AnonymousNovember 12, 2008 2:04 PM

Dubai is the biggest bubble ever in that part of the world. Oil is down to $56 today. If it keeps going lower, the evil theocratic monstrosity that is Dubia will crumble sooner rather than later.

(I wonder if Bruce's blog will get censored for this post?)

IainNovember 12, 2008 2:11 PM

It's always interesting how westerners view democracy as almost a religious goal. We absolutely defend someones right to free speech, but not to polygamy. Yet both concepts are equally arbitrary.

We lock people up in mental hospitals "for their own good", and yet the thought of not letting certain people view certain information is abhorrant.
We accept that western governments view certain information as "State secrets" and are entitled to restrict access to this information, and yet are never prepared to accept that other states may have equally valid, if different views on what is a state secret, and what is an interest of national security.

We are so caught up in people taking away our 'rights' that we never bother to question whether in this specific instance we need those rights. Freedom of speech is a great issue for people wanting to claim "it is my right" without ever addressing the issue of whether there is really any good reason for excercising that right.

In the case of Dubai, censorship is not an issue. Every government in the world censors information - usually under the guise of "National Security" or "State Secrets". If we accept this, then really all we are quibbling over is exactly what information they censor - and assuming that our own moral compass of acceptably censorable material is more accurate than anyone elses.

HawkeNovember 12, 2008 2:15 PM

@Iain.

Is there not a difference between 'censoring' information that you own, vs. 'censoring' information that others own?

Or is your intention to say that all goverments suppress information that is public knowledge elsewhere?

Joe BuckNovember 12, 2008 2:21 PM

Dubai isn't a theocracy; it's where people who live in neigboring theocracies go to party. Rather, it's a private corporation that is also a government. They run the place like a business, and don't let you see anything that's NSFW. They're all about capitalism and profit.

askme233@yahoo.comNovember 12, 2008 2:22 PM

@Iain (and Hawke)

Iain, well put. the usual knee jerk reaction inthe US to this type of censorship is too bad. Our censorship (and moral base law system) are arbitrary as are theirs. This doesn't justify theirs any more than it damns ours, but does require us to at least get off out high horse every once in a while to get some perspective.

The least a gov can do is be up front and clear in their censorship/propaganda/control mechanisms.

JasonNovember 12, 2008 2:25 PM

I applaud the government for actively admitting they are censoring content.

Our (American) government would never stoop so low... low enough to come clean, that is; certainly we stoop low enough to censor and suppress and then lie about it.

Hopefully, with the recent election, the national character will shift away from shifty, back room deals, hidden prisons for "enemy combatants", and the erosion of our choice of rights.

I have little faith that we will recover. I just hope I'm wrong.

Timo KiravuoNovember 12, 2008 2:26 PM

Some details about Dubai: it is not a theocracy (if compared to Iran or even Saudi Arabia) and its wealth is no longer coming from oil, but commerce.

Now censorship has two parts. Intent and implementation. The intent is usually related to values and many countries have some kind of censorship. E.g. child pornography is not accepted in the western world and some countries, like the Scandinavian countries, censor their Internet. The values and the political realities of the Middle Eastern countries are different, so they censor a whole lot of other stuff that western democracies consider an important part of their political structure.

Now on the implementation side it is interesting to notice that apparently Dubai, like Saudi Arabia, provides the censorship as a public service. They don't hide the fact that they censor content and they provide an contact address to the government department in charge. Thus I don't consider their situation totally hopeless, at least the government is taking responsibility of its actions and while they don't allow dissident speech, they are clear about what they are doing.

I think that predictability is often overlooked as an important feature in governments. If a government's policies are public, they are followed and you can rely on them, life is likely to be tolerable or even decent (like in Singapore) even if certain freedoms are lacking. I don't especially like what Dubai is doing, but I think it is better than what China is doing.

kiravuo

IainNovember 12, 2008 2:32 PM

@Hawke
Who 'owns' information? At least in the context we are talking as opposed to trademarks, copyright etc.

The fact that 'you' are the only one that knows a fact does not necessarily mean you own it. If that was the case, then every whistleblower in existance, and every peice of investigative journalism was stealing information from someone.

Obviously there is a difference between censoring information that is public knowledge elsewhere - but the point is the fact that it is public knowledge does not necessarily mean that it should be.

Why do we find it so hard to accept that the American ideal of free access to information, free information, and "democracy" is merely one of a large number of possible outlooks on life. It is not the best, but it works for America.

My individual rights are violated more by American Homeland Security than they are by the Chinese government when I travel. Does that not suggest that perhaps other ways of looking at the world may have merit?

Anon2November 12, 2008 2:46 PM

@Anonymous at November 12, 2008 2:04 PM

Dubai has very little oil and knows this. That's why it built up the reputation of being where the Arab world goes to party -- because it wants to be the Singapore of the Arab world. So far, it's working pretty well although the real estate crash will cramp their style a bit.

AdrianNovember 12, 2008 2:52 PM

This "displays a screen indicating that the URL has been blocked" is the same as is done here in Finland...

Michael AshNovember 12, 2008 3:07 PM

The moral relativism being put forth in the comments is terrible.

The fact that the US does bad things has nothing to do with the rightness of freedom of speech.

Censorship is morally wrong, period. Perhaps you disagree with this, but it is foolish to say that the US's hypocrisy when dealing with freedom means that nothing it espouses is valid.

Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental freedoms, because it is how you advocate for and obtain the others.

There is nothing arbitrary about the US's system of law. It was set up to maximize freedom. Maybe it doesn't achieve this goal, maybe it's being undermined, but that is not at all the same thing as saying that it is arbitrary.

TWNovember 12, 2008 3:09 PM

I'm a US citizen who lived in the UAE about 4 years back. Yes, they censor the Internet there. And just like China and every other country that censors, people who want forbidden content just use a proxy service. And the vast majority of people don't bother; they're happy with the filtered version or at least they accept it without complaining.

One thing I learned from living there and in Singapore where I also spent a bunch of time (at the height of the Bush era) is that Americans who preach things like anti-censorship are viewed as hypocrites, for the exact reasons that Iain cites above. If we want to change behavior that we don't like on the part of foreign governments, we're nonstarters when we trash them verbally (like some of the people who commented above) or when we try to force them to take up our ways (as in Iraq). We do a lot better when we just set the example and eat our own dogfood, and better still when we start the conversation by showing respect to the other party's point of view, even when we disagree with it.

Last thing, the UAE isn't a theocracy. You're probably thinking of Saudi Arabia and Iran. A handful of families control the UAE, and while they're Muslims and (nominally) practice Sharia law, they're more driven by money than religion. Go there and check it out sometime. Another thing that wipes out Americans' credibility with foreigners the way we mix up one country with another, like they're all the same. The Middle East is an extremely diverse region on every front: culture, religion, economics, you name it. Dubai and Tehran are as different as baseball and Swiss cheese. Take the time and effort to understand your adversary's culture, and gain their trust by practicing what you preach. Go ahead and carry a big stick too, I have nothing against that. Then you'll be in a position to influence.

JeanNovember 12, 2008 3:26 PM

Ian

The things that are censored include:
These include pornography, gambling, homosexuality, and other cultural issues.

"Cultural issues" means women are denied life-saving information about contraception, sexual assault, escaping spousal abuse, and termination of pregnancies. That Western policies are not perfect does not in any way validate your treatment of women's "health" (to quote the air quotes of McCain) as a negotiable cultural issue.

A woman searching for information on immigration information, for example, is not going to see information on the human slave trade of women for men. And Dubai has a very large immigrant labor population.

There is no hypocrisy in opposing the obscene infant mortality rate in the US and the deadly censorship of the UAE. These are not mutually exclusive, but deeply connected.

Censorship of "cultural" information nearly always entails censorship of women's health information.

scifiNovember 12, 2008 3:29 PM

I fail to see how offering an "appeals" process automatically qualifies as reasonable. Remember, China offered a protest permit "application" process during the Olympics as well. The goal, of course, was not to grant applications but to get the more foolish portion of the disgruntled to single themselves out for "correction". I would not be surprised if Dubai's process worked the same way.

partdavidNovember 12, 2008 3:30 PM

Freedom of speech is not absolute, but as a goal and ideal it is an important component that fathers and fosters all other freedoms as well. In particular, I find it reprehensible that someone could defend the actions of a government to try to construct a "gay-free" web so that its gay citizens cannot communicate or get information about a component of their own identity.

This is an example.

In the West, your "right to polygamy" may be restricted, but at least I can talk about it and express my view that it ought to be changed. I may have legal access to alcohol but not marijuana, but I can at least legally say that I find that silly. In this way freedom of speech supports many other freedoms and liberties.

Likewise, free speech is the most important and a necessary component of any kind of oversight of a government by its people. The government of the U.S. is guilty of intervening where it doesn't belong, of not supporting the spirit of its constitution and of establishing the foundations of a police state--but guess what, people have not exactly been silent about their complaints in this respect. Lots of *other things* are *also* necessary for the exercise of individual rights, but freedom of speech certainly is.

CmosNovember 12, 2008 3:33 PM

I guess a country that has so much wealth and so little poverty feels it can be more flexible with its Censorship.

Salman HaqNovember 12, 2008 3:54 PM

I used to live in Dubai and spent almost seventeen years there. When Etisalat first introduced the internet in the late 90s our family was among the first to sign-up. Since the beginning, all web requests hit their proxy server before fetching the actual content from the requested site. It was a routine to find cnn.com and disney.com blocked.

I still visit Dubai regularly and find flickr.com blocked, much to my amusement. We take these sites for granted in the US, but they are perceived as a national security threat by the UAE royal family.

Yes, a blocked site is replaced with a sham page explaining the appeals process. That process just does not work. Etisalat and the Telecom Regulations Authority enforce their draconian censorship in an desultory way at best.

Mike K.November 12, 2008 4:02 PM

Bruce,

Please don't cheapen the word "reasonable". Any censorship at all -- by a government, backed by force -- is, by its very nature, unreasonable.

The word you were looking for is "practical".

fuNovember 12, 2008 4:13 PM

@everyone-who-thinks-censorship-is-ok-if-the-U.S.-also-does-it

No.

Not everyone here is an American and not every American favours censorship in their homeland.

bettyNovember 12, 2008 4:43 PM

am in dubai as i type this. here on a 6 month job.

re: Jean at November 12, 2008 3:26 PM - i think you are confusing uae with other mideast countries. u dont need a rx to buy birth control pills here, and muslims do in fact use birth control. i have a woman friend who is an emiratii. where the fuck r u getting your information from? most emiratiis are educated in western universities. they're very american in their values - they speak perfect english, like to shop at malls, love to spend time w/ family more than anything else, have 9-5 jobs and drive nice cars. is that a shock to you? omg r u freaked out that they wear different clothes than you?

i can do a google search on any of the search terms you mention and get information on them. are you posting from the uae? have u ever been here?! you sound misinformed. cite your sources, missy.

if anyone wants me to try a site to see if its blocked here, let me know.

re: Posted by: Salman Haq at November 12, 2008 3:54 PM - i upload to flickr regularly (http://www.flickr.com/photos/bettyx1138/) from my apt here, but its blocked at work. the pattern seems that real estate development that are part of the privatized branches of the govt have much more blocked than others.

re: Posted by: TW at November 12, 2008 3:09 PM - smart post. cheers.

bettyNovember 12, 2008 4:50 PM

am in dubai as i type this. here on a 6 month job.

re: Jean at November 12, 2008 3:26 PM - i think you are confusing uae with other mideast countries. u dont need a rx to buy birth control pills here, and muslims do in fact use birth control. i have a woman friend who is an emiratii. where the fuck r u getting your information from? most emiratiis are educated in western universities. they're very american in their values - they speak perfect english, like to shop at malls, love to spend time w/ family more than anything else, have 9-5 jobs and drive nice cars. is that a shock to you? omg r u freaked out that they wear different clothes than you?

i can do a google search on any of the search terms you mention and get information on them. are you posting from the uae? have u ever been here?! you sound misinformed. cite your sources, missy.

if anyone wants me to try a site to see if its blocked here, let me know.

re: Posted by: Salman Haq at November 12, 2008 3:54 PM - i upload to flickr regularly (http://www.flickr.com/photos/bettyx1138/) from my apt here, but its blocked at work. the pattern seems that real estate development that are part of the privatized branches of the govt have much more blocked than others.

re: Posted by: TW at November 12, 2008 3:09 PM - smart post. cheers.

IainNovember 12, 2008 4:54 PM

@fu
No one is claiming that censorship is ok. What we are saying, is that it happens everywhere, to varying degrees, so to claim that one country is to some degree 'worse' than another because it censors is hypocritical. We should be arguing against what they censor, not the fact that they do it at all.

Censorship is a necessary evil. We accept that people should not be allowed to speak in a way that incites violence towards others. This is censorship, for a good reason. It is what we should censor that is the root of most debates.

@jean & @betty
I agree with Betty. My parents are currently living and working in Dubai. My mother currently holds a senior management position in a government organisation, and finds that men from Dubai are regularly appologising for the behaviour of other middle eastern men because she is a woman.

EyesWideOpenNovember 12, 2008 6:28 PM

@Jean

Your comments show the lack of understanding of other cultures and really what the UAE blocks.

Read this:
http://opennet.net/research/profiles/uae

Outside of blocking all Israel sites most of the material would be deemed obscene.

This is there cultural not American culture. When are we going to learn that our ideals and values are not those of everyones and most of those people do not want our values pushed on to them.

RHNovember 12, 2008 6:33 PM

Someone mentioned the "right to polygamy" as an example right that's not in the US. It was a great example to point out that the concept of "rights" is rather flawed.

For example, you can pretty reliably start an argument in the southwest by bringing together two random people and just saying "Water rights." Who has "rights" to water anyhow?

Most "inalienable" rights are, in fact, wishful thinking. Who honestly believes we have a right to life? Certainly not anyone who has died in 9/11, Katrina... or even an every day car accident. If you dig deeper, there's not even an "inalienable" right to die... which is why torture is such a terrifying concept.

RBNovember 12, 2008 7:08 PM

scifi is right. Bruce, next time you're in Dubai, I dare you to fill out the feedback form and not leave your apartment for 24 hours...

Actually quite a number of countries operate a filtering system. Australia, Canada and the UK use a system called cleanfeed which most readers probably know about. It is set up to filter images of child abuse (what some people call child pornography - which is a shame because in most countries pornography is legal so it makes it sound like child abuse is some kind of sub set of porn).

I work for an NGO which operates in the field of public education about online risk. We are very pro-technology and don't tell people to hide under a rock. But we often debate amongst ourselves about the cleanfeed system.

Is cleanfeed the thin end of the censorship wedge? But who'd argue that child abuse shouldn't be filtered? There's even a conspiracy theory that it's an experiment to see how effective national filtering can be, and if it proves successful (technically and politically) then other 'categories' will slowly get added to the blacklist.

Brad AckermanNovember 12, 2008 7:40 PM

The difference between what the UAE does and what Canada does is that the Canadians are allowed to vote the bums out. Dubai isn't Tunisia, but that doesn't mean it falls short of the standards set by Israel or the EU.

AFedchuckNovember 12, 2008 7:46 PM

Iain, the reason freedom of speech is important as speech (in the looser sense meant by freedom of speech) is the way that ideas are communicated. So stifling speech stifles the communication of ideas and so the progress of society. The ban on polygamy denies a particular form of contract, which can be drawn up anyway, but does not hinder the expression of ideas. To compare, if there is a ban on polygamy you can protest and argue against it. If there is a ban on free speech, you cannot argue for (or indeed) polygamy.
Free speech is essentially free thought.

Matt from CTNovember 12, 2008 8:45 PM

>There is no hypocrisy in opposing the
>obscene infant mortality rate in the US
>and the deadly censorship of the UAE.
>These are not mutually exclusive, but
>deeply connected.

What, exactly, is that obscene mortality rate?

That we have dropped in our global ranking while improving the actual survivability?

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/16/health/...

What's fascinating, in an article bemoaning the fall in rank despite the expenditure, is most other english speaking first world nations (Canada, Australia, UK, New Zealand) have fallen in rank similiar to the U.S. over the same period. From the limited data, there seems to be no correlation -- moderately strong religous tendencies, socialized medicine...while the "better" ranking countries tend to have lower birth rates, that's not always true as low birth rate countries like Canada & UK dropped as much as high birth rate countries like the U.S. and New Zealand.

I find the hyperbole funny -- the U.S. infant mortality rate is not obscene, nor is the UAE's censorship deadly.

The GenieNovember 12, 2008 9:34 PM

The appeals process does not work. I've tried to get stayfriends.de unlisted (the german equivalent of classmates.com) only to get a message 6 months later that it does not comply with the local traditions or something.
VoiP is also blocked, probably because of commercial reasons (competes with the two majorly state owned telecom companies) and security (encryption).

People do figure out ways to get around the filtering systems (cat and mouse game) but generally I don't really care. It's very rare that I try to access something and find it blocked.

At least it's publicised that "you are being watched" while in the US people believe in freedom etc. and forget that they are being watched too. But maybe with Bush gone they will gain back some of that freedom.

le cancerNovember 13, 2008 12:57 AM

Has the appeals process been successfully used thus far? Having one in place doesn't qualify.

Who's to blame them anyway, none of the western societies are much better off anyway, the censoring might be for different reasons. Free availability of porn hardly qualifies as 'no censoring'.

YellowSquidNovember 13, 2008 3:43 AM

In Germany the news agency Heise posted a link to a software program and was sued. Appeals were denied.

In the US a lot of content has been censored by the DMCA.

I don't approve of Dubai, or any other country, censoring anything.

But really, if you don't like it, don't live there.
Obviously the people in Dubai like it this way.

KristineNovember 13, 2008 4:47 AM

@RB: "But who'd argue that child abuse shouldn't be filtered?"

I do. Filtering just hides the symptom, it does not help the children being abused.

bobNovember 13, 2008 7:07 AM

@Kristine: I normally would agree that filtering isn't productive, however I believe a lot of porn (well, any type of) internet traffic is "for-profit" and would tend to extinction if it was not making money; so filtering would decrease it. OTOH I am sure that there is a core of "believers" who send each other kiddie porn that would not be deterred by filtering.

@Jean:

gregNovember 13, 2008 7:26 AM

There is a lot of people claiming that any censorship is bad.

So what about child porn? Or other extreme porn between consenting people? There is so much out there, stuff that would make a lot of people vomit even.

No censorship at all means this is all readily avalible right? Do you all think this should be the case?

If so why are you not protesting outside the last court case where people on trial for possession of these things? Perhaps you don't believe it as much as you claim.

And then there all the folk that claim even rating content (ie R18 on porn) is censoring.

Also why are other countries not allowed to censor if thats what the public want? Why can't different sovereign nations be different. Why can't they have a different political systems? Have you asked how the people in that system feel? After the USA system is not really working out that well (Telecoms immunity anyone?).

And I am sick of the freedom of speech crap the USA'n always pull. You can say what you want in any country. But you had better be prepared to take responsibility for it and accept the consequences. Try telling a bomb joke at a airport. Even better read what freedom of speech really mean as per the constitution.

Oh and when it comes to rights... The USA is one of the worst in the western world. Because you only get the rights you can afford. No money, No rights.

gregNovember 13, 2008 7:32 AM

@Kristine

You want to find movies of what happened to you on youtube? You want all the people you work with to watch too?

If you want to help try some of the victim support groups or other such organizations. You will find that victims don't agree with you.

Also you would be in a minority. So in a Democracy type system you will still need to put up with censoring.

KristineNovember 13, 2008 7:50 AM

@bob: Filtering might decrease it, but it would still be better to go after the people creating the child porn, since there will always be ways to bypass the filtering.

Also, I do not know if child porn is a byproduct of child abuse, or if children are abused specifically to create child porn. In the former case, filtering would not help children in any way.

KristineNovember 13, 2008 8:10 AM

@greg: "Or other extreme porn between consenting people? There is so much out there, stuff that would make a lot of people vomit even."

Well, I would say that they should not surf to www.x-treme-pron.com or whatever URL.

"No censorship at all means this is all readily avalible right? Do you all think this should be the case?"

As long as all participants consented to it, yes. So no for real child porn, yes for sex while barfing.

"If so why are you not protesting outside the last court case where people on trial for possession of these things? Perhaps you don't believe it as much as you claim."

Perhaps because I believe that protesting does not change anything, or because I do not live in the USA. Also, you do not know what I do and don't do, so please cut back on the strawmen.

"And then there all the folk that claim even rating content (ie R18 on porn) is censoring."

Which is stupid, since the content still exists and is freely available.

"Also why are other countries not allowed to censor if thats what the public want?"

Does the public want it? All of them?

"Why can't different sovereign nations be different. Why can't they have a different political systems?"

Because this political system is used to oppress people.

"Have you asked how the people in that system feel? After the USA system is not really working out that well (Telecoms immunity anyone?)."

What about those people in "other countries" that do want free speech? The dissidents in China for example.

"And I am sick of the freedom of speech crap the USA'n always pull. You can say what you want in any country. But you had better be prepared to take responsibility for it and accept the consequences."

And in a free country you only face *any* consequences if your speech restricted the freedom of other people. Not because someone didn't like what you said.

Freedom of Speech is especially freedom *after* speech.

"Try telling a bomb joke at a airport."

See above.

"Even better read what freedom of speech really mean as per the constitution."

Then please enlighten us. Also, Freedom of Speech is not solely defined by the US constitution and the SCOTUS.

"Oh and when it comes to rights... The USA is one of the worst in the western world. Because you only get the rights you can afford. No money, No rights."

The ACLU exists.

"You want to find movies of what happened to you on youtube? You want all the people you work with to watch too?"

Depends on the movie. But in any case, I do not want someone to preemptively censor youtube videos.

"If you want to help try some of the victim support groups or other such organizations. You will find that victims don't agree with you."

Citation, please.

"Also you would be in a minority."

Sure. But that does not mean I'm wrong.

"So in a Democracy type system you will still need to put up with censoring."

Sure, I will. But that is because often, democracy is nothing more than the tyranny of the majority. Might doesn't make right.

EponymousNovember 13, 2008 8:27 AM

Strong apologists for friendly fascism in this thread. Look, I wasn't born to have my outlook on life governed by strangers. I believe this to be absolute for every man; that crimes against the self and crimes between consenting individuals which are adjudicated by self-important third parties are absolutely and objectively morally wrong. If it weren't, Americanism wouldn't be so damn popular in this world, now would it? I don't always agree with the actions of my government but the fact that our way of life is largely popular in the general sense, amongst those who are not highly superstitious speaks volume about basic human needs and the innate value of self-determination and real humanism.

KristineNovember 13, 2008 8:42 AM

@Eponymous: "If it weren't, Americanism wouldn't be so damn popular in this world, now would it?"

I agree with you on the general sentiment. Unfortunately, the USA is not really a bastion of freedom as demonstrated by its prohibition of many drugs, its criminalization of sex between consenting adolescents, the discrimination of homosexuals, the restrictions on "obscene speech", the censorship done by the FCC, "free speech zones" etc.

I do think that the USA is one of the freest countries around. But it still has a long way to go.

bobNovember 13, 2008 9:19 AM

@Kristine: True, if the porn was peripheral to the abuse filtering wouldn't affect it. But the people who implement filtering and the people who bust down doors and drag people off to jail aren't the same group so its not actually a dilemma.

Clive RobinsonNovember 13, 2008 9:22 AM

@ Kristine, Eponymous,

"If it weren't, Americanism wouldn't be so damn popular in this world, now would it?"

You have to remember two things about this,

1, Freedom has to be fought for to be valued.

2, With freedom comes responsability to ones self and others (morals).

Both of these appear to be being rapidly forgoton by the last couple of generations.

And as history shows without the first the second is never realy realised, which is why you can not force freedom onto people, they have to fight for it.

And why most religeons have the equivalent of the "Adam and Eve and the Apple" story saying, no matter how honey sweet forbiden fruit is, it is never the less poison.

It is an ages old problem and you have to learn this and thus know how to avoid the conciquences.

Not just as an individual but as a nation which is why it was once remarked,

"Every nation must have it's middle ages and all that goes with it to become in the end a true democracy"

I would argue that in the WASP nations our middle ages are not yet over.

So why oh why are we trying to inflict a broken model of democracy (ie representational) with all it's inherant failings (coruption, cronieisum, bigitory, etc) onto others. Who are arguably less able to deal with the failings than ourselves.

As for the nations that have "paternalistic dictatorships" they will find out, people who have no reason to value morals will resent them being foisted on them.

These nations will end up in a state of civil unrest of one form or another untill the lesson is learned and the morals and responsabilities that are a necasary part of freedom are learned.

Andre LePlumeNovember 13, 2008 9:26 AM

Amusing how Bruce's remarks about Dubai become, in large part, a referendum on how "free" the US is.

Regardless of whether the US is a shining beacon of all that is True and Beautiful, the fact is that Dubai is a nation which quashes individual liberty. Liberty to do things all "westerners" (to use a shorthand I hope I won't be taken to task for) take for granted. It's Bruce's blog, but I find it amusing that censorship is sufficiently pervasive (and clumsy?) that he chose to write about how "transparent" it was, rather than how evil it is. In my country, a Belkin access point rewrites a destination IP address and people scream fascism, but in Dubai it's OK for a sheikdom to allow access to information sources at its sole discretion and people say with a straight face "if you don't like it, don't move there".

KristineNovember 13, 2008 9:48 AM

@bob: But filtering takes money which could better be used to go after the one abusing children. Also, once filtering has been implemented, non-child porn sites can be censored as well. And since the list of filtered sites is most likely secret, oversight is difficult, if not impossible.

RBNovember 13, 2008 1:38 PM

@ Kristine: "Filtering just hides the symptom, it does not help the children being abused."

When an image of child abuse continues to circulate years after the abuse took place, this can have a chronic and devastating effect on the victim. Filtering may not stop the distribution of such images through encrypted networks, but it reduces the availability to all but the most determined perpetrator. Hence filtering can be part of the solution for the victim. It is of course however only part of the solution.

JimNovember 13, 2008 5:51 PM

I think it's really up to the individual user to manage their own information and meet their own information needs.

Example: On Wednesday, the project announced http:BL, a DNS-based blacklist of IP addresses which have been seen harvesting email addresses and sending email and comment spam. This is just about exactly what I had in mind when I announced the Bad Behavior Blackhole almost two years ago; Project Honey Pot has actually built something better.
http://www.bad-behavior.ioerror.us/category/...

The Blackhole idea is good
http://dnsbl.ioerror.us/2005/05/16/...

Test everything. Keep what is good. Governments tend to test and keep what is bad. Look at the financial mess. Lose billions and government hands out billions more. Now they are going to control information. Get hacked, lose millions of records and government will give you a contract and millions of dollars to secure information. It's the nature of the beast.

JeanNovember 13, 2008 7:32 PM

Every "porn" filtering system filters out content critical to women's health. Face it, the enslavement and rape of women is obscene. This is a GLOBAL PROBLEM. Do you filter only stop prison rape? On sexual slavery? Or do you filter information on how to use a condom properly if a banana is used?

Filtering harms women because women’s bodies are defined as more sexual than men’s and because hate crimes against women are obscene by definition. The filtering for COPA, for example, blocks women’s health information. Women and girls in US may be able to leave the library and get content elsewhere but it is still worth opposing filtering.

If you read the COPA testimony you will find that filtering blocks women’s health information IN THE US. So your projections that this is somehow Islamic (or geographical? or related to oil production?) or whatever it is you think I said is from your own ignorance.

NO ONE has determined how to block content that is “culturally inappropriate” and “porn” without blocking women’s health information and information about a healthy self-accepting life as a gay person. And if the block is national, then there is not a way around it for the technologically naive.

Start here: http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/

Or take a class.

proud westernerNovember 13, 2008 9:01 PM

@Iain

"No one is claiming that censorship is ok. What we are saying, is that it happens everywhere, to varying degrees, so to claim that one country is to some degree 'worse' than another because it censors is hypocritical. We should be arguing against what they censor, not the fact that they do it at all."

No one is claiming that beating women is ok. What we are saying, is that it happens everywhere, to varying degrees, so to claim that one man is to some degree 'worse' than another because he beats women is hypocritical. We should be arguing against who they beat, not the fact that they do it at all.


Well done, lad.

LoverNovember 14, 2008 4:59 PM

@proud westerner

"No one is claiming that beating women is ok. What we are saying, is that it happens everywhere, to varying degrees, so to claim that one man is to some degree 'worse' than another because he beats women is hypocritical. We should be arguing against who they beat, not the fact that they do it at all."

Good job agreeing with him. To extend your analogy, are you saying that one man CAN claim to be better than another, simply because he beats his wife by hand instead of with a lead pipe? I think perhaps Iain is merely pointing out who is throwing stones at whose glass houses.

StephenNovember 14, 2008 6:17 PM

A lot of folks here don't understand what "censorship" means. Criminalizing certain types of speech is _not_ censorship, but yes, it is practiced in every country on the planet AFAIK. OTOH, most democracies do not criminalize or actively prevent the _reading_ of criminal speech. What the UAE does to the Internet is little different than the USSR requiring journalists to submit articles to a censor for approval before allowing them to be published. _That_ is censorship.

John WatersNovember 15, 2008 1:58 AM

I have been living and working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for the past nine months. It became rapidly apparent to me how absurd web filtering here, and nationwide web filtering in general, is in practice.

The types of sites blocked seem to be:
1) Weapons related sites.
2) Porn
3) Sites critical of the ruling family
4) Sites critical of their particular brand of Islam
5) Some Israeli or "jewish" stuff.


All of this is easily gotten around with an ssh tunnel or vpn. What's more, the actual site blocking is all over the place. Its trivial to find a site that should be banned, but is not. The saudi proxy also regularly breaks with sites that pass tokens in URLS, causes all kinds of problems with forms (including commenting to your blog), and strips out formatting on some sites some of the time.

Its absurd, and it causes several problems while solving none. The thing that really frustrates me the most is that, like everything else in this country related to technology or communications, its obviously done poorly and without any evidence of planning.

The upside, of course, is that if I don't like it, I don't have to live here. The same goes for all of the other expatriates here in "The Kingdom".

For the record, I don't like it, so I am leaving after my contract is up. Web filtering is the least of my complaints about life in the gulf, too. If only I could wash away the persistent, gnawing, specter of bad techno and rampant dumb consumerism with an ssh tunnel.

jcw

Michael AshNovember 15, 2008 10:02 AM

@Stephen

"OTOH, most democracies do not criminalize or actively prevent the _reading_ of criminal speech."

Actually, many if not all democracies criminalize merely accessing child pornography. Certainly the speech which is criminalized in this way is very limited, but it does happen.

flashNovember 26, 2008 7:33 AM

Since globalization is around us, there must be an international laws that will protect the common people of every nation regardless of race, belief and religion in the protection human dignity in particular. What is allowed in the US for instance is not acceptable in other countries. Let that respective nations protect their citizens in their own ways for never in history that various beliefs can come into one when it comes to that issue. Should big businesses in pornography on the internet be shut down or eliminated totally on the internet and strict laws be implemented globally, most likely every nation would smile and say next to other global laws!

jsNovember 27, 2008 8:58 AM

I suppose you've all heard of the Finnish censorship debacle. The good thing about it was that it sparked a lively discussion about freedom of speech as opposed to other human rights, possibly raising general awareness of Internet security topics a few millimeters in the process...

The Finnish censorship discussion turned up three basic arguments: 1) child pornography is a problem because it's a product of child abuse and children have to suffer because of it; 2) it's a problem because it leads to child abuse (by creating a supply-and-demand cycle); 3) it's a problem because children (and to some extent adults) will run across child porn by accident and get traumatized for life. Everybody does agree that child pornography is a problem, the argument is about why it is a problem and whether censorship is the right solution.

It seems most technically inclined people have been promoting #1 and arguing that instead of censorship, the offenders should be prosecuted and the offending material taken offline, because censorship won't help the actual children one bit, as the abuse will still take place. The "think of the children" people promote view #3 and argue for censorship. Somehow they never mention the children that have necessarily been abused to create child porn... View #2 is somewhat popular, and some of its promoters have been defending censorship, saying that the business will die down if the channels will be closed. Others have, however, pointed out that censorship is still pointless, because will never shut down all the channels; better to prosecute the offenders and take their material offline.

Of course, there's your standard demonization of the opponent, ignoring half of the other side's argument, attacking strawmen etc.

The popular opinion, however, seems to be that child porn is obviousl sick and doesn't belong in the realm of free speech. The reasons people were against censorship were a) it's against the Finnish Constitution; b) it's ineffective because the offending material will circumvent it (e.g. changing servers, password protection, encryption, non-HTTP protocols); c) it has a 95% false positive ratio (i.e. 95% of sites censored don't match the censorship criteria).

The general population seems to be divided in two: those who understand the issue and oppose censorship, and those who go along with the "think of the children" people, defending censorship.

Elisabet KvalleSeptember 10, 2009 7:46 AM


OK....this is all getting very redundant. I am very interested in world topics. Therefore I'd like to pose a question, rather than make a statement: is not the treatment of slave laborers and the squalor of these labor camps profoundly more an issue of civil rights than censorship in this UAE State?

Am I wrong? I have only seen tapes that were somehow exported to other Western countries, but I am not sure if they were real. It was mind-blowing to say the least. Heart-breaking. Sickening.

Can someone who actually lives in Dubai tell me the TRUTH about this scary forced labor epidemic? Primarily Indian men? Or can you answer this question without being thrown into jail? I suppose next time I log in, I will have some sort of message like: this site has been disabled. I deserve to know as a WORLD citizen. Not from any particular viewpoint than that of human decency.

Thank you. Peace.

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