Porn ban unrealistic and worrying, experts say

Porn ban unrealistic and worrying, experts say

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Fri, 09/11/2012 - 22:11

 

On Wednesday, the general prosecutor ordered the relevant authorities to enforce a court ruling banning pornographic websites that was issued in 2009.

Many experts predict that it is unlikely the government has the technological capabilities to carry this out, but they warn that the prosecutors’ move is a dangerous step towards increasing government censorship.

The prosecutor’s move is based on a verdict issued by the administrative court in 2009 that obliges the minister of telecommunication and the head of the National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) to ban pornographic websites on the Internet for Egyptian users.

“The problem is that the philosophy of those holding posts in the state hasn’t changed since before the revolution, they see the state as a parent and a guardian for society that can monitor and decide for the people, as if the people were minors unable to make their own decisions,” said Ramy Raouf, a human rights activist who specializes in information and communication technology.

The verdict was based on articles in the constitution saying that the state is responsible for upholding the character of the Egyptian family and to protect the traditions of society, and to encourage observation of religious, moral and national values.

The reasoning for the 2009 verdict, which is a result of a case filed against the minister of telecommunication and the head of the NTRA for not blocking pornographic sites states:

“It was proven that there are pornographic websites on the internet that secrete their poison and propagate vice within the Egyptian society which destroys all the well-founded religious beliefs and moral values in society," the verdict read.  

"Refraining from blocking these sites destroys these values and can not be considered within the barriers of freedom of expression because what's shown on these sites is the boldest type of breaching of the higher interests of the state, and the social national security, that's why the administrative body had to take all necessary measures to block these sites from the Egyptian citizen.”

The new ban has raised concerns regarding similar articles in the draft constitution, which has been criticized for being too vague and allowing for the violation of freedom of expression under the pretext of protecting social values.

 “The whole policy needs to be reformed, the state should provide service and not choose for the people,” said Raouf.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) also issued a statement criticizing the law.

In order to block the websites, the NTRA would first have to distinguish the pornographic websites, and then demand Internet providers, who are forced by law to abide, to block them.

EIPR says that by issuing a verdict to ban all pornographic sites, the court ruling gives the executive bodies the authority to decide what constitutes pornographic sites, a power that only the judicial body should hold, the statement says.

“Courts shouldn’t issue a mass verdict, they should look into the details of every case on its own,” the statement said, adding that the court should issue separate verdicts for every website after viewing its content and forming an opinion on it.

The decision has also provoked a series of sarcastic comments on social media mocking the government’s priorities and criticizing it for focusing on banning porn instead of offering sustainable solutions for poverty, illiteracy and other more urgent problems.

One page on Facebook titled “the pornographic pictures forum” posts a picture of a citizen picking food from the trash with the caption: they’re banning pornographic websites and leaving us in the pornographic reality.

Freedom of information aside, experts argue that the move will be costly and ineffective.

In a television appearance following the prosecutor’s decision, the head of the NTRC Amr Badawy said that the court order is technically difficult to carry out.

Badawy said that the NTRA has already instructed internet providers to block the sites but that the process is difficult because the names of the pornographic websites change constantly. He added that the process would cost tens of millions of pounds and that other countries have tried and failed to do it.

Raouf agrees that creating a virtual pornography-free environment in Egypt would be nearly impossible.

It would require constant government monitoring of an endless number of websites, an operation needing massive human resources and a huge budget.

Even then, Raouf said, the blocking could be easily reversed in court.

“Just like there are tools for censorship, there are also tools to reverse it,” said Raouf.

Raouf also believes that the ban would be a breach of the privacy of Internet users because of the constant monitoring. He said it would also damage the prospects of e-commerce in Egypt.

Hafez Abou Saeda, head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, said that if the verdict proves to be harmful to the internet services in Egypt or if the companies argue that they’re unable to execute it, there’s a chance that it will not be carried out.

In its press release, EIPR said that while sexual content online is a problem, parental rather than governmental monitoring should be exercised to confront it.

EIPR suggests that Internet providers should offer software to block pornographic sites and offer the users the option to use it or not.