Censors of the Net

Censors of the Net



Web filtering is most often indicated by the “Page Not Found” message familiar to all Internet users, free or monitored. In computer lingo, it’s called a “404 error.” The 404 page has always been a problem. According to a charming tech legend, in the early days of the Web, at CERN in Switzerland, researchers who were sick of continually having to restart a failing server located in office number 404 named the failure-to-connect error after this unlucky office. Whether the story is true or not, this error page really does have bad karma.

In Oman, in Bahrain, in Dubai, the 404 page works overtime: you are redirected to a message informing you, in English and Arabic, that the site you are looking for is not authorized in the kingdom. In China, the 404 page doesn’t come with an explanation. There’s no point; the sites are censored. American soldiers in Iraq see it when they try to access YouTube while on base, which is prohibited by the US Army. They don’t have that problem in cybercafés in Baghdad. In Algeria and Egypt, it indicates an actual technical problem. The Web isn’t filtered there, though it is closely monitored. You get it in Syria if you try to go to a site that ends in .il, the top-level domain for Israel. But you’ll have no trouble getting to a porn site. And in Tunisia, the 404 page is just fake. You’ll get an Internet Explorer or Firefox page informing you that your connection failed. The only problem is that the Firefox logo displayed when you’re using Internet Explorer (or vice versa) makes it clear that you’ve landed on a phony page. In Tunisia, this gave birth to the expression a “404 bâchee” (canvas-covered) for the censored pages, a reference to the little canvas-back Peugot pickup truck so popular in Africa. Tunisian Internet users exclaim in unison, “And the driver’s name is Ammar!” Ammar, for the first letter of the ATI (Tunisian Internet Agency), an arm of the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior.


On our cruise through Censorland, we must stop over in Tunisia, the first African country to have access to the Internet, that shining gateway to a computerized citizenry and new technologies. Praised by Bill Gates (”I am amazed by Tunisia”), this country is at the forefront of cybercensorship.


Based on an article published at Le Monde. The biggest surprised remains that ID checks are required by law in Italian internet cafés.

(Via Oneiros)


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