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    Several popular websites temporarily blocked in Qatar

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    Photo for illustrative purposes only.
    Photo for illustrative purposes only.

    Ooredoo Qatar has said “technical issues” resulted in some customers waking up this morning to find several popular internet sites, including Hotels.com and Blogspot.com, blocked.

    Attempts to access the sites resulted is some internet users – which appeared to be limited to Ooredoo fixed-line customers – seeing the country’s standard “Oops – This site has been blocked” message on their screens:

    In a written statement to Doha News, an Ooredoo spokesperson provided few details about what happened and did not address questions about the tools and policies it uses to block online content:

    “This morning, Ooredoo became aware of a technical issue affecting a limited number of fixed line internet users, who had difficulty accessing some websites that were being blocked by security software. (No mobile internet users were affected).

    Ooredoo worked with the vendor to resolve this issue, and the problem was corrected within one hour. Ooredoo is sorry for any inconvenience caused, but is pleased that its rapid response approach was able to deal with the problem quickly and effectively.”

    The issue appeared to be resolved by mid-morning, but has served to highlight the opaque tools and triggers that block digital content in Qatar.

    What’s censored

    The country’s morality filters primarily block material that could be considered pornographic or critical of Islam. Reports of controversial political sites being censored in recent years have been few and far between.

    For illustrative purposes only.
    For illustrative purposes only.

    Still, innocuous material such as psychology magazines and the blogging site Tumblr have previously triggered flags that prompted the sites to be blocked.

    Qatar’s telecom watchdogs – ictQatar and the recently formed Communications Regulatory Authority – have said they are not involved in censoring online content.

    Instead, officials said law enforcement authorities set rules on what is permissible and leave it up to telecom service providers to comply.

    “We don’t get involved in (advising service providers on blocking internet sites),” an unnamed ictQatar spokesperson told the Gulf Times in 2007, continuing:

    “Qtel (which has now been renamed to Ooredoo) does it in accordance with the guidelines issued by the law-enforcing authorities in Qatar … Qtel can decide which sites need to be blocked. It is fully within its prerogative.”

    After Tumblr was briefly blocked in 2011, a researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society who works on the OpenNet Initiative looked into the issue.

    Helmi Noman said the decision to block the popular site was made in Canada by a company that provides filtering technology to internet service providers in Qatar, the UAE, Yemen and Kuwait.

    Netsweeper categorizes Tumblr under “Journal and Blogs” but also under “Pornography,” which resulted in all blogs hosted by the service inaccessible in the countries that use Netsweeper.

    It’s not clear if either internet service provider in Qatar still uses the services of Netsweeper, which does not publicize its client list.

    Easing restrictions?

    Based on older reports on internet censorship in Qatar, it appears regulators may be using a lighter touch than in years past.

    A 2009 report by the OpenNet Initiative included the results of a “test” that attempted to access more than a dozen websites containing sensitive material.

    Many of the sites that OpenNet reported being blocked at the time could be accessed today, including pages dealing with sexual and reproductive health as well as content that is critical of Islam.

    Photo for illustrative purposes only.
    Photo for illustrative purposes only.

    Nevertheless, research in recent years has suggested that many residents support government controls on digital content.

    A 2013 survey Northwestern University in Qatar of more than 1,250 nationals and expats in the country found that 57 percent agreed with the statement, “The internet in my country should be more tightly regulated than it is now,” one of the report’s authors told Doha News.

    That’s slightly higher than the 50 percent of respondents from across the Middle East and North Africa who agreed with the same statement.

    Meanwhile, last year, the government passed a new cybercrime law that, among other measures, contained a raft of so-called “content crimes.”

    Along with covering material that was already illegal in Qatar, such as child pornography, the new law also made it illegal to “violate any social values or principles” over the internet.

    There have not yet been any published reports of individuals being charged under the new measures.

    Thoughts?

    Peter Kovessy
    Peter Kovessy is a reporter with Doha News. Prior to moving to Qatar in 2013, he was the editor of the Ottawa Business Journal in Canada. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from Carleton University.

    45 COMMENTS

    1. I know if Netsweeper is used or not .. or if its in replacement state or not .. confidential . also ict’s statement might not be entirely correct

      • Haha are you a spy or what? And why are you revealing your spying capabilities here? 😀
        I do agree though that ICT’s statement is not correct. I have seen a document circulating online that contradicts what they say 🙂

    2. The bottom line with any internet censorship is that it’s basically useless. It will deter the mildly curious from proceeding further, but anyone determined enough will soon learn how to use VPN’s etc and bypass censorship. It’s not difficult, and we all know it’s very commonplace in Qatar.

      Whether that’s a good thing or not is debatable, but ultimately thats the way things are.

      • I believe it’s useful when it blocks sensitive images to children, especially when they search random stuffs on a search engine.

        • That can be achieved with user installed firewalls and other software that can be installed to regulate and monitor child Internet access, without blocking chunks of the net for everyone. And it’s not an excuse not knowing how to do it, if you give a child a connected device you need to understand it. And images are mostly not blocked with the kind of censorship currently in place, just go to Google images, search for any “naughty” word and see what comes up

    3. “Morality filters” haha, that is the last thing I want a government for me to do. When Qatar funds groups in various Middle Eastern countries who are currently waging war and killing fellow humans and houses various members of terrorists groups who have commited appalling atrocities, I don’t want them to decide what is moral for me or not.

      • “houses various members of terrorists groups who have committed appalling atrocities” Are you talking about the Americans in the Udaid base here? Yes I agree Qatar should not host them.

          • We’ve seen them in action in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. I am glad they are sitting quiet in Qatar. If they are allowed to start their actions, we are all doomed.

            • We could have asked two Muslim women in Chapel Hill where they’d rather live, but they were shot in the head..
              America is a great place to live. If you’re white and wealthy.

            • Well playing devils advocate, as in the Charlie Hebdo murders, we deplor violence and don’t agree with it but they had it coming to them.

              Why were they killed? It was the family not just the women. Were they killed for being muslim? If so that is terrible. The same as the people in Paris, killed by muslim terrorists just because they were jews.

            • Of course America. At least there I know Pakistan and Iraq will not bomb me during my wedding with their drones.

        • I was thinking Hamas and the Taliban members rolling about Qatar. Would you invite these people for dinner? The Taliban members killed thousands of Shias but I guess that doesn’t count

        • I’m no fan of American policy in the last ten years but they stop the Saudis and Iranians waking in and taking over Qatar and thats a good thing. Who wants a religious dictatorship

          • There was a time on this discussion board when comments were deleted rarely, and only when they were offensive. These days, developing a subject beyond the initial topic and sarcasm are taboo.

            Here’s an idea: close down the website and the ability to comment on anything, and instead pitch ‘The Shabina Show’ to Sky. That way you can control topics and comments 100% 😉

            • There was a time on this discussion board when comments in the majority, made sense, were not personal attacks, racially tainted or outright offensive to one social group or another. It made it easier to reply, It’s even easier to be sarcastic. If you want random blah then go to another site. At least DN are trying to focus on the thread in question, rather than open 40 different agendas. From blocked websites, we end up with Hamas and Global Morality. Start your own threads on a chat forum if you feel that restricted. Shabina as a representative of DN, has some right to structure their own site, according to the general wishes of most readers who are getting bored of the same daily diatribe between the usual faces.

            • The stuff on Hamas and other merchants of peace is off topic and I understand why it was deleted, however this is all about morality or more accuratley what some stupid bueracrat in Qatar thinks is morally acceptable for adults to view.

              Jesuischarlie

            • Sabina does indeed have right to structure her own site. This, however, isn’t her site. It’s a platform to discuss content on her site, hosted by DISQUS.

              I object to any form of censorship. Any. I refuse to be censored, and will fight tooth and nail anyone who thinks they have the right to censor me. So should you.

              Also, whilst I may frequently be sarcastic or irreverent, I am in no way racist, I never attack people personally and I don’t think I’ve ever posted anything that may be construed as being hostile to ANY social group.

              Apart from idiots…

            • It’s also worth noting here…. despite this thread being deleted as being ‘off topic’, the thread has eventually, naturally and perhaps inevitably turned back to…. censorship. taa-daah !

            • When a content creator chooses to integrate disqus into their website so that their content can be discussed, they automatically have moderator privileges. Anyone that doesn’t like that, can’t do much about it, except complain, or seek content elsewhere

            • I know what you’re saying, but simply having the Editor in Chief saying ‘My ball, my rules’ doesn’t really lead towards frank and forthright discussion.

      • I understand your stand but the perception of ‘morality’ varies around the globe, so does the definition of crime. Being tolerant is hard under such circumstances, but the one who does, represents a higher level of civilization.

      • while i agree governments shouldn’t filter stuff generally. sadly most qatari’s do want censorship, in fact i would bet most want more censorship.

        “I don’t want them to decide what is moral for me or not.”

        is there anyone you would want to decide whats moral for you or not?

        • Yes, it’s interesting that Qataris are in favour if more censorship. I personally find that a strange position to take and why you wouldn’t trust yourself to decide.

          I certainly would not want anyone deciding morality for me. What would give them the so called moral high ground to be able to do that? Certainly not politicians and not religious figures either

          • Because of the way that religion controls peoples lives with very limited means of ‘personal expression’ perhaps some Qataris are either a) afraid of what people would do if their lives weren’t tightly controlled or b) simply don’t understand what it means to have that level of freedom available to them.
            Personally I agree with you that, with the very few exceptions of acts which are abhorrent to all civilized societies . I should be in control of my own morality..

            • That is very true, people that spend a long time in prison can become institutionalised and find it very difficult to adjust being back in normal society where you can make decisions for yourself. Some even reoffend so they can go back to jail and back to where everything is a routine and controlled for them. Not far off what religion does in indoctrinating children.

          • Such an attitude was common in the United States not all that long ago. People oversimplify the idea of free speech way too easily and are happy to censor stuff they assume everyone thinks is “bad” or “indecent.”

            Qataris, having no real political freedom, don’t have much incentive to demand free speech that might offend them. Why put up with the nasty stuff if you can’t get any of the useful bits?

    4. Oooooredoesn’t has some inaccuracies in their statement (surprise!). This morning I got the crazy pink guy when trying to access DN on my phone, so not just a fixed line problem.

      Kind of shows how vulnerable the country really is when it comes to data and networks though…..

    5. A great article from Doha News again. Only criticism would be that more political & religious + political content is censored than one might think. All Muslim Brotherhood type stuff is fine, but Al Mannar’s site is blocked by Ooredoo, as is other content related to Hezbollah. But not Hamas. If that’s not political I don’t know what is!

    6. Guys to be honest , Netsweeper is the last thing you should worry about. Deep packet inspection which is used by ooredoo is much more concerning.basically every connection out of your pc is and can be monitored easily without you even knowing.

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