Web-filtering software developed in Canada is being used in the Middle East to censor the Internet, according to the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.
Netsweeper Inc., a leading developer of content-filtering software based in Guelph, lists telecommunications companies in Yemen, Qatar and United Arab Emirates among its foreign clients.
According to the company’s promotional material, its software blocks websites using a “list of 90+ categories to meet government rules and regulations — based on social, religious or political ideals.”
“It’s no doubt a great market opportunity for them,” said Ronald Deibert, who heads the Citizen Lab, which examines human rights in the digital era, at the Munk School of Global Affairs.
The Citizen Lab, which is part of the OpenNet Initiative — a collaboration with Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Ottawa's SecDev Group — has conducted extensive research on Internet filtering and surveillance practices.
“There are a lot of governments out there interested in blocking access to all sorts of content from their citizens,” Deibert said. “And many of them do so with respect to human rights content, opposition, gay and lesbian content, all of which is being nicely categorized and blocked by Netsweeper.”
Web-filtering technology was developed in the 1990s as a way to restrict access to pornography, among other things. It is commonly used to block access to specified websites in many Canadian schools, libraries and businesses.
But beyond our borders that same technology is being used to quash social media-spurred uprisings in the Middle East — and the companies providing the software have come under fire for being the means through which foreign governments repress free speech online...Beware the tools you construct to "protect" yourselves from "dangerous" speech (be they web-filters, anti-hate laws or "human rights" commissions). At the end of the day, they will empower your enemies and bite you in the arse.