Bahrain: New report confirms Canadian tech company's involvement in online censorship; Netsweeper did not respond

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Company non-response
3 October 2016

Netsweeper did not respond

Article
21 September 2016

Canadian tech company Netsweeper helped Bahrain censor websites, says report

Author: Laura Wright, CBS News (Canada)

Canadian technology company Netsweeper helped the Bahraini government block opposition party websites, various news websites and content critical of Islam, according to a new report by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs..."Bahrain is one of the world's most autocratic countries," said Deibert [Ron Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab]. "There are major human rights violations in the country that will be further aggravated by implementing national-level internet censorship of this sort." Deibert said his report also raises questions about corporate responsibility: Is Netsweeper benefiting financially by helping a country trample human rights?" The fact that the company is located in Canada obviously puts them at odds with our country's position on human rights internationally." 

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Report
21 September 2016

Tender Confirmed, Rights At Risk: Verifying Netsweeper in Bahrain

Author: The Citizen Lab (Canada)

We set out to investigate the presence of Netsweeper installations in Bahrain...Part 1 of this report describes prior research on the use of Netsweeper technology in countries with questionable human rights records, and describes the current political and legal context in Bahrain. Part 2 of this report describes the results of our technical research on the use of Netsweeper technology in Bahrain.

This report is part of our ongoing research to gather empirical evidence on the use of Internet filtering technology in national jurisdictions, like Bahrain, where human rights are routinely violated with impunity. On September 8, 2016, we sent a letter to Netsweeper, Inc. with questions regarding its provision of technology and services to Bahrain and its associated human rights due diligence. We committed to publishing the company’s response in full alongside this report. We have published a copy of the letter hereAs of September 20, 2016, we have not received a reply.

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Article
21 September 2016

What an “MRI of the Internet” Can Reveal: Netsweeper in Bahrain

Author: Ronald Deibert, The Citizen Lab (Canada)

Internet censorship is a major and growing human rights issue today. Access to content is restricted for users onsocial media, like Facebook, on mobile applications, and on search engines.  The most egregious form of censorship, however, is that which occurs at a national level for entire populations.  This type of censorship has been spreading for many years, and now has become normalized across numerous countries...

Bahrain is one of the world’s worst countries for respect for human rights, particularly press and Internet freedoms.  For many years, Bahrain has restricted access to Internet content having to do with independent media, websites critical of the Kingdom, and content related to the Shia faith, which is heavily persecuted in Bahrain.

[T]he case is significant because Netsweeper is a Canadian company, and the provision of Internet filtering services to a country like Bahrain— though not in violation of any Canadian law per se — is definitely being used to suppress content deemed legitimate expression under international human rights law, which Canada explicitly supports.  All the more troubling, then, is the fact that Netsweeper has benefited, and will benefit in the future, from tangible support provided by both the Canadian and the Ontario governments in trade shows held in the Gulf region. 

Should the government of Canada be promoting a company whose software is used to violate human rights and which offers services in direct contradiction to our stated foreign policy goals on cyberspace? ...to require companies like Netsweeper to have some explicit corporate social responsibility process in place.  Export controls could be established that restrict the sale of technology and services to countries that will use their product to infringe internationally-recognized human rights.  

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