Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

Web blackout

The prosecutor-general’s decision to ban pornographic websites is being debated among rights activists, telecommunication experts and the general public, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Al-Ahram Weekly

In a statement issued last Thursday, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) said that banning online pornography is “completely unrealistic”, adding it lacks the necessary tools to implement the ban. The statement was issued after the prosecutor-general ordered the government to enforce a ban on pornographic sites on the Internet.
“Blocking pornography is a global problem and is very complicated. We need a complete list of names of pornographic websites which could be in the millions,” the MCIT statement said.
The statement added that in 2009 the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA) addressed Internet service provider companies in Egypt to block such websites. However, the companies said they would be unable to block online porn sites, stating it was impossible to produce a comprehensive list of all porn sites, produced and broadcast in the millions daily.
Prosecutor-General Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud ordered government authorities on 7 November “to take the necessary measures to block any corrupt or corrupting pornographic pictures or scenes inconsistent with the values and traditions of the Egyptian people and the higher interests of the state.”
Mahmoud said the decree came in response to a 2009 court ruling issued by the Administrative Court ordering that such sites be blocked.
The ministry said a committee tasked with exploring ways of blocking pornographic websites was formed by parliament in 2009. The committee travelled to a few Arab countries that applied certain regulations for blocking porn sites.
“Many countries have spent millions of dollars to impose censorship on the Internet to ban pornographic websites but failed because users developed access to blocked websites,” said the MCIT.
A few years ago, Internet providers started to provide their users with “family software” which they can install in their computers to block offensive material they might want to keep away from children in their households.
The MCIT said it is committed to educating Egyptian society and taking part in awareness programmes, warning of the danger of pornographic sites, and saying it was willing to cooperate with the government, media, civil society and private sector institutions.
Telecommunication experts said there are major technical and technological difficulties in achieving a complete blockage of these sites since it could, at the same time, affect the easy access to useful business and information sites. It may also reduce Internet quality and speed significantly.
Communications expert Nagui Anis warned that blocking pornographic sites would cause “a slow service that could hamper Egypt’s future attempts to develop electronic commerce and to attract investment in the telecommunication sector.”
He added that some studies estimated that implementing the ban would cost the government between LE70 million and LE100 million ($11.6-16.5million).
Islamists hailed the prosecutor-general’s decision, including the Muslim Brotherhood, whose spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan described the decision as “a first step towards establishing a society based on ethics.”
“The prosecutor-general’s decision will serve to preserve Egypt’s social norms and values,” Ghozlan added.
Mohamed Nour, spokesman for the Salafist Nour Party, also said that the Administrative Court ruling represents a “step towards preserving traditional Egyptian values and ethics”. He expressed hope that the ruling would be applied by the government.
Nour said he believed there was no need to fear the decision’s potential impact on personal and public freedoms. “Egyptian society is conservative by nature and rejects these websites,” he said.
Human rights groups voiced concern over the effect of the decision on personal freedoms and freedom of information. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said in a statement last week that banning the pornography gives the executive bodies the authority to decide what constitutes pornographic sites, a power that only the judicial body should hold.
“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.
EIPR said that while sexual content online is a problem, parental rather than governmental monitoring should be exercised to deal with it.

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