How to Avoid Internet censorship in Saudi Arabia

Internet censorship in Saudi Arabia is one of the most severe in the world. Internet limits appear in KSA at the same time with Internet. The filtering system started after the resolution of Council of Ministers in 2001 (24.10.1417). Internet services are provided to the to Kingdom to King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, represented by Internet Services Unit.

After that the Internet filtering service was transferred to the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC). Since that , the CITC is responsible for developing Internet Filtering measures and requirements. A database of blocked websites in provided daily to data service providers, who work on the filtering technical solutions, in accordance with CITC requirements and policies.

Types of filtered sites in Saudi Arabia

Citing to the Qur'an as a basis, the government describes the task of filtering system as "preserving our Islamic values, filtering the Internet content to prevent the materials that contradict with our beliefs or may influence our culture." According to Council of Ministers Resolution filtering system should block the websites and materials that are incompatible with Islamic religion and sites which are in compliance with the permanent security committee guidelines. Websites that promote pornography and provides a means of circumvention without having to refer to the Committee are restricted in Saudi Arabia. Sensitive subjects are political reform and womens rights.

A wide range of media, including books and films, are censored or banned. And Internet is not an exception. Besides religion and political blocks Saudi Arabia filters a great number of health, education, reference, humor, and entertainment websites.

Sites are pages related to drugs, bombs, alcohol, gambling and pages insulting the Islamic religion or the Saudi laws and regulations are also blocked.

We gathered some type of web content which is blocked in KSA:

  • Religion. A total of 246 pages were blocked from Yahoo Religion categories, including Christianity (67 pages blocked), Islam (45), Paganism (22), Judaism (20), and Hinduism (12).
  • Health. Health pages about specific diseases, treatments, and prevention methods are restricted in KSA. Mental health specifically, abortion, other aspects of women's health. drugs, the war on drugs, and their effects and risks.
  • Education and reference. Lots if educational resources are blocked in KSA, such as the Women in American History section of Encyclopedia Britannica Online, Ilamic Cultural Library, and the Anne Frank House.
  • Sites providing information specifically to and about women. Blocked pages The Women's Network - Busy women sharing solutions and advice, Skirt Magazine for Women Online", Sexuality and relationship info you can trust from Planned Parenthood Federation of America and others.
  • Humor sites. Lots of humor sites are blocked.
  • Entertainment, music, and movies. Fox Searchlight Pictures, the Rolling Stone magazine, Warner Brothers Records are inaccessible in KSA.
  • Sites providing information to the gay community.
  • Pages perceived to be hostile to Saudi Arabia. Among the specific pages blocked were numerous Amnesty International pages about Saudi Arabia and the saudiinstitute.org reports on Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.
  • Pages about Middle Eastern politics, organizations, or groups. Various blocked pages provided content likely to be controversial in the context of modern Middle Eastern politics. Example sites include hizbollah.org and idf.il (the Israel Defense Force).
  • Services allowing circumvention of filtering restrictions. Certain web sites allow a user to view other web sites; such sites include translation services, proxies, and archives. Numerous such pages were blocked, including translators provided by systransoft.com, Altavista/Babelfish, and dictionary.com, as well as the anonymizer.com and megaproxy.com proxy servers.
  • Swimsuits, lingerie, modeling, and other non-pornographic human images. Pages were blocked from Yahoo categories that suggest the display of images of people wearing less clothes than is typical in Saudi Arabia. For example, 28 pages were blocked from Yahoo's Swimming & Diving category.
  • Pornography. The majority of the Google "free adult sex" pages were blocked by Saudi Arabia's filtering system. It is likely that blocking of all 795 Google "free adult sex" pages would be consistent with Saudi Arabia's desire to block pornography.
Accordingly, the 110 such pages that were not blocked were likely examples of underblocking; within this sample of relatively well-known sexually-explicit pages, Saudi Arabia's correct blocking rate is about 86% and its underblocking rate is about 14%. In addition, Saudi Arabia was found to block sites recently reregistered after prior domain registrants allowed their domain registrations to lapse; many such sites come to provide sexually-explicit content, as documented in one author's.

Among blocked sites are social networking sites, Google and Yahoo services, On-line magazines and many others resources which are high demanded in the whole world.

How Internet censorship in KSA works?

All International Internet traffic pass through special proxy farm. All the connections to the Internet pass through the servers of the Internet Services Unit.

Internet censorship in Saudi Arabia The process of filtering is conducted through 2 lists: commercial and local.

Commercial List

CITC has contracted with an International Company specialized in sites classification, to provide the commercial list, which includes more than 90 different classifications/categories. The blocking is made for the for pornography, gambling and drugs ratings. The list is updated by the company on a daily basis. In addition there is a continuous communication between CITC and the company to avoid any error in rating classification.

Local List

The local list is prepared by CITC through the addition of sites that are recommended by public users, after reviewing and ensuring, that such sites contains illegal material. The URLs added to local list rated sites can be classified according to the content as following:

  • Pornographic sites, which represent 92.80% of the local list.
  • Sites that used to bypass filtering systems, which represent 4.43% of the local list.
  • Other sites (such as: gambling, drugs, magic...) which represents 2.77% of the local list.

All requests are received from public users through the blocking/unblocking special forms. A ticket is opened for each request. URLs will be added only after being reviewed by CITC . The sites that fall under the CITC responsibilities (pornographic sites, sites that provide the means to bypass the filtration systems) are added directly to local list, all other requests are submitted to the committee for study and decision.

Now you can see how serious is Internet censorship in Saudi Arabia.

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