On Monday, at the third Arab Bloggers Meeting, the new chairman and CEO of the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), Moez Chakchouk, said that, under now-deposed president Ben Ali’s regime, Tunisia tested censorship software for Western companies in exchange for “significant discounts.” Chakchouk said he could not name specific companies due to issues of confidentiality, but said that the ATI has removed itself from those partnerships and “thus can no longer afford to censor, even if they wished to (he says they don’t anymore).” In post-Ben Ali Tunisia, bloggers are now being encouraged, says Chakchouk, to call for better regulation and constitutional protections for online free speech.
Chakchouk’s statement does, though, make “a huge hole in tech companies’ claim that their equipment sale[s] to repressive regimes [are] in good faith.” As Jillian C. York writes on her liveblog of Day One of the Arab Bloggers Meeting, Tunisia has long used software owned by McAfee/Intel “to censor the Internet and continues to do so.”
York provides background about the ATI’s role in surveilling the activities of Tunisians:
The ATI was long an enemy of Tunisians; charged with censorship and surveillance under Ben Ali, it was a feared agency, its practices referred to widely as “Ammar 404,” in honor of the 404 error users received when trying to access a blocked site. Post-revolution, the options were to shut down Ammar 404 and the ATI, or leave the ATI open as a semi-government agency, charged with being Tunisia’s IXP [Internet Exchange Point]. Moez [Chakchouk] and others have faced several attempts to shut down the Internet, but continue their fight for an open and neutral Internet.
Chakchouk notes some considerations that would need to be made should censorship be called for, as has been the case for all pornographic sites under the order of a Tunisian court:
“Even if we wanted to censor, we’d have to consider the court decisions – there was a court decision in an appeals court without any prior references. We need to change ATI, make it an IXP, and provide more transparency.”
Ben Ali had promised to end filtering in his final speech on January 13, given shortly before he fled to Saudi Arabia. But Tunisians’ free access to the Internet was short-lived, writes York. By May, the interim government had sent the ATI an order to block the the Facebook account of democracy activist Jalel Brick. The ATI did so, while also publishing a list of sites it had been ordered to block.
Photo by cjb22
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