Jordanian Activists Blast Government's Anti-porn Measures

Aug 1, 2012 10:00 AM PST

AMMAM, Jordan — A call to ISPs from Jordan’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology to block online porn has fired up Internet freedom activists.

Just this week, the government provided citizens with software that enables users to block adult content, claiming it was responding to pleas from the population to stem online porn penetration.

The Ministry also directed ISPs to joint the ban and said it was working with an international company to help in the anti-porn battle.

But the move has fired up activists who said censoring adult sites would set a bad precedent in the country and violate individual freedoms. The protestors cited a recent U.N. Human Rights Council resolution that said freedom of expression on the Internet is a universal right and urged governments to promote free access.

"It's a dangerous call that puts Jordan on the list of countries that are enemies of the Internet," Nadine Toukan, an Internet freedom organizer told The Jordan Times.

"This not only threatens individual freedoms at a crucial time in the country's transformation, but it also threatens an industry that has been incredibly progressive in Jordan over the last two decades" and has had an outstanding economic as well as socio-cultural impact on the country through both local and foreign investment in the sector."

The activist also pointed out that trying to censor the Internet would be futile because of the numerous available technical workarounds.

"Curtailing freedom with a moralistic agenda is a convenient way to start cracking down on the Internet in general. Today the government wants control over immoral and ideological content, which gives them the power over a switch that will inevitably be used wrongly to censor a wide range of content at the whim of public servants," Toukan said.

Other freedom supporters said they prefer parental control rather than having the government be their watchdog.

"This is just the beginning. I am afraid that the ministry will not only urge ISPs to block these sites, but will force them to do so and that will be the prelude for more censorship on other sites," said Mais Abu Ali.

"Parents and families can protect their children by asking the ISPs they use to block these sites. It should be optional, because if the government interferes with this issue, it will interfere and block more sites in the future," she added.

Although the government was prompted in part by a Facebook ant-porn campaign launched in February that has amassed 34,000 supporters, a backlash rival movement emerged in April that reportedly now boasts 10,500 sympathizers.

One pro-freedom Facebook comment noted that filtering the web would expose Jordan to the same web restrictions facing Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran.

"It will start by blocking porn sites, then news sites and maybe later some free communications sites such as Skype."

But government advocate Mohammad Roud said on the anti-porn page, "The problem is that there are people who are after their lusts and do not care about others... Yes for blocking these sites... and yes for a safe Internet.”

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