Censorship and Enemies of the Internet

Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are listed as Enemies of the Internet in a recent report published by Reporters Without Borders. UAE on the other hand is listed as a country worthy of being under surveillance due to the deteriorating conditions of freedom on the Internet in the country. Oman is not mentioned at all in this report, but does this mean that our Internet is truly free and open?
The Enemies of the Internet report provides a scary overview of how censorship on the Internet was a major issue over the past year. It talks about how Egypt decided to shut off the whole Internet in an attempt to control the riots, Iran’s grand plan for its national ‘Halal’ Internet, China’s use of 50 cents bloggers to spread propaganda on the web, and the US attempt to censor the Internet on grounds of copyright infringement.

International summits now talk about the ‘right to be connected’ as a fundamental right for survival in today’s world, especially as communication blackouts are now commonly used by oppressive regimes to cripple dissenting movements.

Learning about the extreme incidents taking place around the world, especially in countries as close as UAE and Bahrain, makes Oman seem as a relatively more lenient and open environment.
The keyword here is of course ‘relatively’, because the Internet still remains very much censored here as well. Fortunately though, censorship on the Omani Internet is primarily done to block pornographic and similar websites with the aim of protecting society values and preventing minors from being exposed to such offensive content. The process by which websites are filtered is carried out by an automation software that blocks content categorically. Websites can also be blocked on the basis of individual decisions made by authorities. An example of this is the decision to block the blog of Ammar al Maamari, a Omani blogger living abroad who regularly leaks highly confidential information in violation of the law and criticises His Majesty the Sultan and the government in an offensive manner.

Using the method of censorship to ‘protect’ society values might have worked in the early days of the Internet when there was a limited and manageable number of websites online, but there is no practical way of selectively censoring the Internet today when an unquantifiable amount of content is uploaded to the web by the minute.

With all the censorship made by Omantel and Nawras, any person in Oman can still easily do a quick Google image search to be entertained with unlimited amounts of pornographic content. As long as you can connect to the World Wide Web, there will always be a method to access blocked content. Subscribers to RSS feeds of Ammar’s blog did not even realise that the website got blocked because the content of the blog is routed to them through their RSS readers which are not affected by the local censorship. Ammar also created a private mirror of his blog for anyone in Oman to access upon sending him an access request. It is clear that censorship has totally failed from stopping the Omani public from reading Ammar’s blog.

Censorship of the Internet is not a major problem in Oman at the moment, but Oman should be careful not to take the approach taken by some of our neighbours, because it is really necessary for the public to have uncensored access to the Internet for their right to freedom of expression to have any value in today’s world.