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Tunisia: ”Do Not Censor Pornographic Content”

Once again, in the post Ben Ali era, censorship and freedom of speech, is at the centre of debate. The reason this time is a complaint lodged by three lawyers against the Tunisian Internet Agency (known as the ATI by its French acronym) calling upon it to filter pornographic websites.

Early next month, the ATI, will appeal to the Court of Cassation's (the highest court of appeal) verdict issued on May 26, 2011, by a court in Tunis ordering the agency to block access to pornographic content on the web.

The ATI, which lost appeal on August 15, 2011, claims that “the filtering of pornographic websites listed by Smart Filter could not be carried out for the five Internet service providers.” On the other hand, the lawyers who lodged the complaint claim that the filtering of pornographic content will protect children surfing the net.

Outside the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) in Tunis, Tunisia by Jillian C. York (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Outside the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) in Tunis, Tunisia by Jillian C. York (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The solution is not censorship

The Tunisian Internet Agency, so desperate to to put an end to its old image as an Internet censor during the rule of Ben Ali, prefers to raise the awareness of Internet users, and especially parents by giving them practical tips on the use of parental control software instead of blocking websites.

The agency tweeted on January 13 [fr]:

La #Censure d’ #Internet n'est pas la solution, informez-vous sur comment protéger vos enfants sur: http://www.ati.tn/fr/index.php?id=125

Internet Censorship is not the solution, learn how to protect your children using this link: http://www.ati.tn/fr/index.php?id=125 [Fr]

Mehdi Lamloum wrote on August 3, 2011 [fr]:

Les tunisiens ont depuis longtemps eu accès aux contenus pour adultes et ce à travers les récepteurs satellites(…)

Une solution simple : le contenu pour adulte était là, disponible mais non accessible sauf si on avait le mot de passe (…)

L'exposition à un contenu pour adulte n'est donc pas “un danger” nouveau pour la société tunisienne ou “une menace” inédite comme le laissait supposer la plainte mais bel et bien d'une situation “habituelle” depuis plus d'une dizaine d'années à laquelle nombre de foyers tunisiens avait trouvé une solution simple.

Il suffirait donc de demander aux FSI d'ajouter une case à leur formulaire d'adhésion à une ligne ADSL “Limiter l'accès au contenu pour adulte”.
On appelle cela le contrôle parental

For quite a long time, Tunisians have had access to adult content, via satellite receivers.
A simple solution: adult content is available but accessible in one case: when we have a password (…).
So, the exposure to adult content is not a new ”danger” or a ”threat” to Tunisian society, as stated in the complaint (against ATI). Instead, and for over a decade, this has been a ”usual” situation, to which Tunisian homes found a simple solution.
It would be enough to ask the ISPs to add to the application form for DSL ”Limit access to adult content.” This is called parental control.

Tunisian netizens and free speech advocates, who support an absolute net freedom, believe that filtering pornography online, can be used as a pretext to limit freedom of speech, and thus pave the ground for the return of censorship.

Dhouha Ben Youssef, blogger for the collective blog Nawaat, expresses her anxiety about the return of Ammar404 (the nickname used by Tunisian netizens to refer to censorship):

One year after the announcement of the death of Ammar404, there is now a risk of his irreversible comeback. If in February 2012, during the upcoming hearing opposing the Tunisian Internet Agency, and a group of citizens, the court of cassation will issue a verdict ordering the filtering of pornographic content online, censorship, stronger than before, will see the daylight again

Mr President changed his mind

Moncef Marzouki, the new Tunisian President, said in an interview published on YouTube [fr] with Taieb Moalla (@moalla:

There should be red lines limiting freedom of speech…these red lines should not be used as pretexts for censorship…the lines should be debated and accepted by all

In an another interview before his election, and during the electoral campaign, Marzouki expressed a totally different point of view, when he said:

I’m for freedom of speech with its negative aspects, and against censorship even when it has a positive aspect…Netizens should be left free, and should be educated and informed…I refuse that the government allocates a budget for the purchase of censorship equipment…

Dhouha Ben Youssef raises a major question [fr]:

Et si nous n’étions qu’une minorité à se soucier du retour de Ammar404 ?

What if we are only a minority worrying about the comeback of Ammar404?

She adds:

peut-être que le tunisien n’a pas en tête la « NetFreedom » comme priorité, mais nous sommes tout de même presque 3 millions d’internautes ! Qu’attendons-nous ? Alors que partout dans le monde les défenseurs de la liberté d’expression scandent leurs refus de différents projets de censure comme Hadopi en France ou SOPA aux états unis, nous autres Tunisiens avons « oublié » que le danger nous guettait encore, rappelez-vous de ce que vous avez vécu sous ZABA, du rôle qu’a joué Internet pour le dégager, du fabuleux sentiment de liberté retrouvée mais hélas qui pourrait disparaitre au mois de février.

Maybe Tunisians do not consider “Net Freedom” as a priority, but still we are 3 million Internet users! What are we waiting for? While all over the world freedom of speech advocates are campaigning against different censorship projects like Hadopi in France, and SOPA in the US, we Tunisians “forgot” that we are still at risk. Remember what you have experienced during the rule of Ben Ali, the role the Internet has played in toppling his regime, and the fabulous feeling of rediscovered freedom, which alas can disappear in February.

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