IN the bizarre world of Saudi Arabia, we bloggers woke up on Saturday to find that the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology had decided to block access to all blogs hosted by Blogspot.com. This wasn't the first time that this happened, but it was extremely frustrating to say the least. In May 2004, according to Saudi Jeans the same thing happened.Blogs were again blocked in Saudi Arabia earlier this year for a few days, but after protests by the press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders they were unblocked.I filled out the Unblock request form twice , yesterday and today, and sent it off the KACST. And kaboom! the blogs were unblocked. No, I don't credit myself for achieving it, but it sure as hell makes me want to throttle whoever decided to block us!
For those of you innocent folks out there who have never had the pleasure of visiting the Magic Kingdom, here's what RSF had to say about the censorship of the Net in Saudi Arabia:
"Saudi Arabia has created one of the world’s biggest Internet filtering systems. The authorities have officially announced that they block access to nearly 400,000 webpages, with the aim of "protecting citizens from offensive content and content the violates the principles of Islam and the social norms."The Internet blacklist in Saudi Arabia covers some very broad fields, including the websites of political organisations and Islamist movements that are not recognised, and any publication dealing directly or even very indirectly with sexuality. Saudi women, who represent nearly two thirds of the country’s Internet users, can only access online content that has been expunged of any reference to their rights, their health or their intimate lives."Saudi Arabia has no law dealing specifically with the Internet. So, in practice, it is covered by the press law, which requires all media to obtain official permission. Furthermore, the royal family has the power to dismiss journalists and appoint news media executives and editors. Free expression does not exist in Saudi Arabia, whether in the press or on the Internet."The Internet Services Unit (ISU) is in charge of maintaining the Saudi Internet censorship system. It manages the gateway used by all the local Internet Service Providers (ISPs). As a result, it can monitor all online data exchanges taking place in Saudi Arabia. The ISU is also the agency that is in charge of the country domain name (.sa) and it manages the technical aspects of the Saudi Internet. But it just carries out the instructions it receives from the Saudi security services and does not decide what must be censored.The ISU offers an online form and e-mail address (email@example.com) for Internet users who want to report sites they think should be blocked. Hundreds of requests of this kind are received every day. They are handled by a team assigned full-time to this task."
Is it surprising that only China is more active in policing the Internet, and that it is a host of American companies that are providing the technology and information to block sites both in Saudi Arabia and China? NO!