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


Authored by Helmi Noman and Jillian C. York.


The OpenNet Initiative has documented network filtering of the Internet by national governments in over forty countries worldwide. Countries use this network filtering as one of many methods to control the flow of online content that is objectionable to the filtering governments for social, political, and security reasons. Filtering is particularly appealing to governments as it allows them to control content not published within their national borders.

National governments use a variety of technical means to filter the Internet; 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.

In this report, 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.1 The authors analyze as well the increasing opacity of the usage of Western-made tools for filtering at the national level.

Helmi Noman and Jillian C. York authored this report. ONI principal investigators Ronald Deibert, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain authored the foreword.

Noman is a Senior Research Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, and is a Berkman Center Research Affiliate. York is the coordinator for the OpenNet Initiative at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

The authors would like to thank James Tay of Citizen Lab for technical support and test data analysis.

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