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Firms including Intel's McAfee, Blue Coat, Palo Alto Networks, Websense provide software used for censorship to Middle East govts.

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28 March 2011

Meet the U.S. Companies Helping Censor the Arab Web

Author: John Hudson, Atlantic Wire [USA]

While the U.S. State Department spends millions of dollars helping people in the Middle East circumvent Web censorship, a handful of California companies are providing autocratic Middle East regimes with the technology to censor the Web, reports The Wall Street Journal...U.S. companies are competing abroad to deliver web-blocking technologies to, in some cases, stridently repressive regime... McAfee...[part of Intel] has sold content-filtering software to Internet-service providers in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, reports the Journal. The company['s]...SmartFilter...can block a range of web content deemed politically or "religiously offensive."... Blue Coat Systems...has provided web-blocking technology and hardware in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar says the Journal... Palo Alto Networks...provides even more comprehensive web blocking technology than McAfee... Websense...first discovered that Yemen was using its technology to dismantle privacy tools of web surfers two years ago. Publicly, the company said those companies violated its anticensorship policy and it would stop giving the offenders its "website-block lists." However, those Websense tools were still being used in Yemen as recently as August. In their defense, the companies say they can't be held responsible for how customers use their product. "Obviously what an individual customer would do with a product once they acquire it is beyond our control," said a Blue Coat spokesperson.

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28 March 2011

U.S. Products Help Block Mideast Web

Author: Paul Sonne & Steve Stecklow, Wall Street Journal

McAfee [part of Intel]...has provided content-filtering software used by Internet-service providers in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, according to interviews with buyers and a regional reseller. Blue Coat Systems…has sold hardware and technology in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar that has been used...to block websites...A regulator in Bahrain, which uses McAfee's SmartFilter product, says the government is planning to switch soon to…Palo Alto Networks… Netsweeper…has landed deals in the UAE, Qatar and Yemen, according to a company document. Websense...has a policy that states it "does not sell to governments or Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that are engaged in government-imposed censorship." But it has sold its Web-filtering technology in Yemen, where it has been used to block online tools that let people disguise their identities from government monitors… Websense's general counsel said in a 2009 statement about the incident: "On rare occasion things can slip through the cracks."... Joris Evers, a McAfee spokesman [said,] "Obviously what an individual customer would do with a product once they acquire it is beyond our control." A spokesman for Blue Coat made similar points..."They could build into the software something that signals and, in fact, sends back to them exactly what kind of filtering is taking place," says Jonathan Zittrain, a professor…at Harvard Law School. "...it's just their customer wouldn't like it."...Two years ago, OpenNet Initiative researchers found that Yemen was using filtering software from Websense to block privacy tools. In response, the company said it stopped providing the ISPs involved with its latest website-block lists since the ISPs violated its anticensorship policy. The new OpenNet report says Websense tools and services appeared to still be used in Yemen as recently as August. The company declined to comment. The report also found that in January, new filtering software was being used in Yemen from…Netsweeper. "Filtering decisions are made by the entity that decides to filter," says Scott O'Neill, Netsweeper's director of sales and marketing. "Much as Ford Motor Co. can't decide how [its customers] are going to drive their cars." [also refers to Qualitynet, Batelco, Du (Emirates Integrated Telecommunications)]

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28 March 2011

West Censoring East: The Use of Western Technologies by Middle East Censors, 2010-2011

Author: Helmi Noman & Jillian York, OpenNet Initiative; foreword by Ronald Deibert, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, Jonathan Zittrain

...[In] this paper, we analyze the use of American- and Canadian-made software for the purpose of government-level filtering in the Middle East and North Africa...[The] authors find that nine countries in the region utilize Western-made tools for the purpose of blocking social and political content, effectively blocking a total of over 20 million Internet users from accessing such websites. The authors analyze as well the increasing opacity of the usage of Western-made tools for filtering at the national level...
[Foreword:] This is not simply a case of a general purpose, neutral tool being used for an end not contemplated by its maker. The filtering products of today engage in regular communications with their makers, updating lists of millions of websites to block across dozens of content categories, including political opposition and human rights. When McAfee Smartfilter [part of Intel] or Websense do their utmost to maintain lists of non-profit and advocacy groups their efforts directly affect what citizens in some authoritarian regimes can and cannot access online...
That Netsweeper publically declares that it offers its software for use to implement government censorship on political and religious grounds highlights the fact that there is currently no effective accountability system on the practices of the commercial software companies vis-à-vis human rights.
[Includes Websense response. Also refers to Secure Computing, Tata Indicom (part of Tata Teleservices), Videsh Sanchar Nigam (now Tata Communications, part of Tata Group), BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.), Qtel, YemenNet, du (part of Emirates Integrated Telecommunications), Etisalat, Saudi Telecom, Inet, Teranet, Zad]

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