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Saudis Censor Western Websites

Over 2,000 U.S. websites are blocked by the SaudiGovernment, and not just pornography, either. Many of themare cultural information or woman's sites. "We foundblockage of quite a bit of content beyond political contentand pornography," says Ben Edelman of Harvard University."We found the blocking of content about women's history orsites about bathing suits. So if you want to buy somethingto swim in, they seem to treat that as it were pornographicin Saudi Arabia." Some of the blocked sites are: The ArabAmerican Roman Catholic Community, The Islamic CulturalLibrary, iVillage.com, Beach Queen swimwear, Warner BrothersRecords and Rolling Stone.com.

The Saudis are open about web censorship. If a site isblacklisted, the user is directed to a page that informs himthat access has been denied. In China, a surfer simply getsan error message, so they don?t know if the site is offlimits or not. Saudi Arabia filters all internet trafficthrough servers maintained by the Internet Services Unit(ISU). "Our internet service is unique in the way itpreserves our Islamic values, filtering the internet contentto prevent the materials that contradict with our beliefs ormay influence our culture is one of ISU tasks," says the ISU.

Edelman was surprised to find sites about religion, humorand music blocked. Also blocked were major homepage domains,such as geocities.com and members.aol.com.About the Warner Brothers blackout, he says, "We weren'texpecting them to block big California media companies. It'spossible there is something particularly offensive to theSaudi Government about a singer's lyrics or a musicianhostile to their politics."

Saudis also block proxy servers that would allow users a wayaround the filtering restrictions. "Even if you manage tofind a proxy server that works on one day, you never reallyknow if its going to be there the next day," says Edelman."Perhaps more seriously, since all accesses are logged, itsquite possible that the Saudi Government could be watchingwhat you are doing."

Saudi Arabia isn?t the only government engaged in internetcensorship -- dozens of governments around the world controlwhat their citizens see online. But only a few others, suchas Vietnam, China and the United Arab Emirates, try tofilter their entire national internet traffic. "There was aninstance when it looked like the internet would be a freesource of information," says Edelman. "At the present time,there are plenty of forces trying to constrain who does whaton the internet. It is looking like the internet of tomorrowmight be very different from the internet of today."

Would it surprise you to know that our news is censored too?Read all about it in ?Into the Buzzsaw? by KristinaBorjesson,clickhere.

NOTE: This news story, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.


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