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Censorship Your Rights Online

Saudi Arabia's 'Great Firewall' 218

Posted by michael
from the these-are-the-good-guys dept.
securitas writes: "We've all heard about The Great Firewall of China (see this Wired feature) but many don't know about Saudi Arabia's version of the same. The New York Times reports on the challenges and problems of filtering the Internet for an entire nation. San Jose's Secure Computing has the contract but may lose it when it comes up for renewal next year."
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Saudi Arabia's 'Great Firewall'

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  • On the net there is just too much content, and too many ways of accessing it to just put one big filter on an entire nation. I say they should make the ISPs responsible for it.
    • The only way O could see it really working would be for the oil rich countries like the Saudies investing with an Arabic Only Internet - completely separate, designed to their specs. This allows them to have only a few easily controlled gateways where everything can be filtered or shut off.

      This also allows them to force content providers who want access to the arabic world to police the content.

      The only reason this is even vaguely possible is because of the Saudie tendency to solve problems by throwing lots of money at them. Long distance phone calls to europe for dialup access get to be a pain.

      But I do think they are fighting a loosing battle.

  • Should / Can (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JJ (29711) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @08:18AM (#2588629) Homepage Journal
    Should the Saudi government be allowed to do this? Absolutely, there is no inalienable right to Internet access. On the other hand, I think it about as dumb an idea as there is to do it. Denying anyone free access to other peoples ideas is not beneficial to your citizens. At least if you are hoping they develop into thinking people. Of course, both the Saudi and Chinese governments seem not to have that in mind.
    • Denying anyone free access to other peoples ideas is not beneficial to your citizens.

      Unless of course, control is your goal.

      Saudi Arabia has the same moral police, as well as the suppression of women and limitations on free speech, government, and education as the Taliban. Of course, we (the US) need them to keep oil prices down.

      Holding this type of environment, as the Soviets learned, requires suppressing the free flow of information. Beneficial to the citizens? No. Benefitial to those in power, certainly.
      • Re:Should / Can (Score:4, Interesting)

        by radja (58949) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @08:39AM (#2588681) Homepage
        Do you know what warcrimes were done in Afghanistan by US troops, if any? I don't, since this information is held from me. Number of innocent casualties? same. Proof of Bin Laden's guilt? withheld too. The US is just as guilty as China or Saudi-Arabia in this one.. all do censorship, all present their government's opinion as authoritive.

        //rdj
        • Re:Should / Can (Score:2, Insightful)

          by mi (197448)
          The US is just as guilty as China or Saudi-Arabia in this one.

          Wrong. Although the US has its shortcomings, the orders of magnitude of the "guilt" are drasticly different.

          In the times of its worst human rights violations, or information suppressing, the US never aproached those by China or USSR. Not sure about Saudi Arabia, though...

          The other poster complaining about the women's rights in SA is also wrong. Although they are far from being equal to men, they have access to education and health care -- unlike in the Taliban state (whatever is left of it).

        • Re:Should / Can (Score:2, Informative)

          by beebware (149208)
          [slightly OTT]
          A document illustrating that Al Qaida and Usama Bin Laden (surley Osama Bin Laden) was responsible for the 11/Sept incidents is available from the UK Prime Ministrial website http://www.number10.gov.uk/default.asp?PageID=5322 [number10.gov.uk] . I haven't bothered reading it myself so I can't comment about it - but 'remember the source'.
          • Re:Should / Can (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Ami Ganguli (921) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @09:22AM (#2588924) Homepage

            Wow, I've never seen that document before. It's quite interesting.

            One thing to notice is that the connection between Bin Laden and Sept. 11 is entirely by association. Some of the Sept. 11 hijackers are known to be associated with Al Qaida, and Bin Laden clearly shares the same beliefs as the hijackers. It doesn't follow that Bin Laden is responsible.

            Other commentary I've read (sorry, no link handy) indicates that Al Qaida, like a lot of other subversive organizations, isn't really very centralized. It's possible, and even probable, that a group of people with loose ties to a certain part of the network got some assistance from other people associated with Al Quaida. It's unlikely that Bin Laden or anybody else 'ordered' the attack.

            It's also equally possible that some other party with a beef against the U.S. set things in motion and some of the people recruited to do the dirty work also had ties with Al Qaida.

            The bottom line is that nobody really knows, and nobody will ever know unless somebody involved with the attack steps forward. On the other hand, it doesn't really matter. Bin Laden is known to support terrorism, even if his connection to this particular attack is unclear, so he's a useful target for Bush. Bin Laden might even help Bush get re-elected if this thing drags out long enough.

        • Re:Should / Can (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Zocalo (252965)
          Actually, since the Taliban is not allowing independent validation of casualties and atrocities (if any) due to US action, there is probably a reason for that. Here in the UK though we are getting to hear the Taliban's claims, with the rider "not independantly verified" which is as it should be, I feel. In situations like this it's best to take all data with a pinch of salt, but I don't feel the lack of statistics is down to the US; it's a bit difficult counting bodies in a cave you've just tossed a bomb into, unless you are on the ground.

          However, I understand that there *is* a very good reason for your "Proof of Bin Laden's guilt" point (IANAL). The US wants Bin Laden to stand trial for the events of Septemeber 11th, presumably at the Hague for crimes against humanity. If they release their evidence to the global population then there is a serious chance of a mistrial being declared on the grounds of a prejudiced jury (or what ever the correct term is). This is common practice in conventional legal cases, and I don't see why Bin Laden's is any different. Nor do I recollect much of the prosecution's evidence being made public prior to the trial of Slobodan Milosovich for that matter.

        • Re:Should / Can (Score:5, Insightful)

          by JWhitlock (201845) <John-Whitlock@@@ieee...org> on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @09:20AM (#2588910)
          Do you know what warcrimes were done in Afghanistan by US troops, if any? I don't, since this information is held from me. Number of innocent casualties? same. Proof of Bin Laden's guilt? withheld too. The US is just as guilty as China or Saudi-Arabia in this one.. all do censorship, all present their government's opinion as authoritive.

          Ah, but in the U.S., I can look at contraversial religious websites [clambake.org], websites that criticize Islam (and my own religion) [chick.com], porn [do you really need a link?], and pretty much anything I want. Even when someone says I can't look at some information, I can look at it, and they can take me to court, and see if a judge thinks their concerns are more important then free speech.

          I'm getting sick of these sophmoric statements of "the U.S. is just as bad as [x]", where x is the criminal of the day. Part of my discomfort is because I recently had the same frame of mind, and I hate seeing others make the same mistakes.

          Why would we know of U.S. warcrimes in Afghanistan? The Taliban kicked all the foriegn journalists out. Sure, we don't see all the evidence against Bin Laden, but few dispute that his organization trained Islamic radicals, and was probably behind other terrorist acts as well as Sep. 11. I would be angry if we were putting him on trial without enumerating evidence, but first we need to imprison him based on the evidence we have.

          Yeah, the U.S. government used propaganda and spin control and even lies, just like every other government on earth. But we also have a free and active press, which is always trying to catch the government lying. Sure, the big media is all corporate controlled and puts the rich white man spin on everything, but there's plenty of other news outlets, and almost every large city I've been in has a newspaper whose sole reason for existance seems to be to criticize the big media paper in town. Afghanistan? No free press. Saudi Arabia? No real free press.

          This is a country where three little letters seperate propaganda [whitehouse.gov] from porn [whitehouse.com] from anti-propaganda [whitehouse.org], and there's nothing George W., Time Warner/AOL, or Microsoft can do to stop it. And when they try, we can eventually beat 'em in court.

          • Re:Should / Can (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Ah, but in the U.S., I can look at contraversial religious websites [clambake.org], websites that criticize Islam (and my own religion) [chick.com], porn [do you really need a link?], and pretty much anything I want. Even when someone says I can't look at some information, I can look at it, and they can take me to court, and see if a judge thinks their concerns are more important then free speech.

            The difference is that the U.S. lets you see stuff but punishes you if you act as a result of it, specifically if it's illegal. Other countries doesn't want you to act at all so restricts your access to the incindiary material. This is especially true under crime prevention, which the U.S. is also engaging in but using a slightly different approach. For example, I'm sure all countries would utilize any means possible to prevent a potential terrorist act on the population. In the U.S., recently the WhiteHouse told the media not to air the bin Laden interviews fearing they contain "key phrases". That's no different from Saudi Arabia banning pr0n because they "contain key phrases", which incidentally they believe causes moral corruption. Banning "democracy" in countries like China could also mean preventing mass rioting, which could lead to massive civilian casualties from the government's inability to contain public anger (LA riots). To them, "democracy" is a price of government stability in a time where there's already public unrest from unemployment and when other countries are determined to undermine order, regardless of how repressive that order is (the Taliban actually brought peace to Afghanistan because the Northern Alliance was only interested in making war). But, then again you probably don't know that the government shouldn't give everything the people want, because the people will likely want something for nothing.

            • The White House asked the media not to air the interviews. That's a very big difference, along with the fact that the request was very clearly made in the interest of increasing the likelihood of success in the 'war effort' against Afghanistan. However unpopular the war may be to some, the country as a whole views the effort as being in the national public interest, hence there was a general supportive response to the government's _request_. To say that this is in any real way similar to Saudi Arabia banning media at the national level on religious grounds is nonsense.

              The rest of your comment seems to be the classic Intellectual stance that "I have my foot on your throat because *I* know what's best for you. If you resist you will have to be eliminated because *we* know what we're doing and can't afford to let *you* get in our way".

              No thanks.
          • "Why would we know of U.S. warcrimes in Afghanistan? The Taliban kicked all the foriegn journalists out. Sure, we don't see all the evidence against Bin Laden, but few dispute that his organization trained Islamic radicals, and was probably behind other terrorist acts as well as Sep. 11. I would be angry if we were putting him on trial without enumerating evidence, but first we need to imprison him based on the evidence we have.



            Qoute Bin laden Sept. 9. "..and remember your oath and be ready for the big wedding." Senior Al Quada memebers on the same day" ...stay put for the big wedding on the 11nth ....". Not to mention the British ministry of intellegence just unclassified a whole bunch of documents proving 18 of the 19 hijackers recieved funding and support from Al Quada. Some of the documents had to remain classified so the terrorists would not know how intellegence receive there information. In my book if you fund an act, then you are liable from the consequences of it. Bin laden paid for it and he actually formed the group who did it himself. He is therefor guility if he personally knew about it or not.

            Also Saudi Arabia is an oppressive government. This is why Bin laden supports the things he does. He doesn't hate americans in general. He hates americans supporting oppressive powers like the saudi royal family, pre islamic Iran, and israel(controversal but bad in an arabs view). Sure there is some disgusting stuff out on the web there but to enjoy your religous freedom its important for the government to stay out of your bussiness. I am a christian and hate porn as well. But I do not want my government to become the catholic church. Remember what happened to christianity during the fall of the roman empire? Or another example is the anglican church in England. Same is true with countries who use Islam for there own political purposes wether they have anything to do with the official religion or not.

            • In my book if you fund an act, then you are liable from the consequences of it. Bin laden paid for it and he actually formed the group who did it himself. He is therefor guility if he personally knew about it or not.

              As in: the American taxpayers fund CIA, CIA funds the Pakistani ISI, ISI funds and trains "some" Afghan mujaheddins including Bin Laden?
          • Re:Should / Can (Score:2, Insightful)

            by rela (531062)
            And when they try, we can eventually beat 'em n court.

            I'm sorry, but you're making a critical error. People are ALWAYS trying to chip away at those rights. The excuses vary to whatever sounds good in the political climate of the time, but the fight is constant. We haven't got this far by waiting for the courts.

            • Re:Should / Can (Score:4, Insightful)

              by JWhitlock (201845) <John-Whitlock@@@ieee...org> on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @04:55PM (#2592467)
              I'm sorry, but you're making a critical error. People are ALWAYS trying to chip away at those rights. The excuses vary to whatever sounds good in the political climate of the time, but the fight is constant. We haven't got this far by waiting for the courts.

              If an individual is unjustly violating my rights, then I can either report him to the authorities, or sue him in court.

              If a corporation is violating my rights, I pretty much have to go to court.

              If a law is violating my constitional rights, then I get arrested or fined, and the higher courts eventually strike down the law

              If the government is violating my natural rights, then I have to change the government, or possibly take up arms and overthrow the government.

              I see all these as "fighting for my rights", in the context of our constitutional government. If AOL/Time Warner is threating to put me in jail for trying to tell someone else how a DVD is encoded, I don't call up the militia to march on the state capitol. I let them arrest me or fine me or whatever, then take the issue to court. And, if I can't really make that personal sacrifice, I support those who can [eff.org].

        • Your post is nonsensical. Proof of bin Laden's guilt has been broadcast on CNN from the mouth of the british prime minister. This information was enough proof for any rational thinking person, when combined with the words we heard coming out of bin Laden's own mouth. Oh yeah, and the plans for nuclear bombs we keep finding in Al Qaeda safehouses in Afganistan, I'm sure those were planted too. It's all a big conspiracy, of course.


          Number of innocent casualties: incalculatable. Many, many thousands based on what I've heard on CNN. But it's hard to add these things up in the thick of war. It'll become clear after the fact. But who killed whom is unlikely to ever be obvious. Certainly quite a few people have died from stray US bombs and I'd guess it is over a thousand. It's quite unfortunate, but that is an unavoidable side effect of war, especially when you purposefully park your tanks around houses and towns.


          As far as I know no war crimes have been committed by US troops. Hell, there aren't that many on the ground in Afganistan. I'm sure Northern Alliance troops have done bad things (looting, the occasional summary execution), as have the Taliban (well, the Taliban did the same about 10 fold over). The US troops are special ops and I really doubt they are going to do things that we would consider war crimes. Kill people? Yes, I'm sure they are doing that, but that's their job. If by war crimes you mean "war is a crime" then that's different - I hate war too, but the US didn't bring it on itself.


          In short, you are a troll, your post makes no sense, and no information is being kept from you. There is a free press in the US, and the only things kept from it are specific operational details of troop movements, etc. Hell, we have tons of reporters on the ground in Afganistan and there isn't much you could hide entirely from them.

      • Re:Should / Can (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Indeed, the hypocricy of the West (US-led, but most Western countries right behind) re. Saudi sickens me. We attack the Taliban's treatment of women (rightly so) yet suck up to the Saudis.

        We think the much publicised "burqa" is unique to the Taliban. Walk around a Saudi city and see if it's so unusual (sure, it's got a different name, and ain't blue). We think religious police with sticks hitting women is unique to the Taliban. Again, walk around in Saudi Arabia.

        In Saudi women can (and sometimes are) be stoned to death for adultery (and bear in mind that what is "adultery" to a Saudi court may actually be "rape").

        The Saudi's are actually no different from the Taliban, except they've got pots of money and hence a thin veneer of nicer behaviour.

        I've posted anonymously - but I know of what I speak.
        • Re:Should / Can (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Fnkmaster (89084) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @10:40AM (#2589431)
          See my other post. The US doesn't think the Saudis are nice. They are better than the Taliban but not by much. However, the regime does not support terrorism and is cooperative with the international community in general. Furthermore the regime is far more progressive than the regime that would result if the Al Saud family were thrown out of power. I would be terribly inclined to see a democracy in Saudi Arabia, but like many people whose education consists primarily of fundamentalist religious indoctrination, I don't know if the people would naturally form a democracy when the government fell. Much more likely an Islamic fundamentalist dictatorship like the Taliban. I.e. substantially worse than the current Saudi government, openly supportive of anti-western terrorist organizations, etc.
          • Re:Should / Can (Score:3, Interesting)

            by metis (181789)
            The US doesn't think the Saudis are nice. They are better than the Taliban but not by much. However, the regime does not support terrorism and is cooperative with the international community in general.

            How nice. The US supports with money and weapons a disgusting regime because it provides a steady supply of oil and generally cooperates with the US. Then you are surprised that people want to kill you? And now, in a nice revarsal, you justify supporting this ugly regime by the necessity of protecting yourself from those that want to kill you because you are fucking their lives. How about you stop fucking their lives?

            Yes, if the Saud fall the resulting regime will be very Anti American for a while, but the real cause for hatred will have disappeared, so that eventually , there will be possibility for real cooperation between the people. This is what happened in Iran. But people in the US still miss the Shah. which is really obscene because nobody in Iran misses the Shah.

            • I know lots of Iranians who hate the current regime. They are the ones who left. Naturally the ones who stayed were largely opposed to the Shah. Or too moderate to care either way. So that's a fucking truism and an imbecilic metric for anything.


              Your comment about how Americans fuck peoples lives and therefore we should just bend over and let people commit acts on terrorism for us for a while until they've finished with their revenge is borderline retarded. The collective "we" (the US which is supposedly one entity) is not running around fucking people's lives. Since you fail to define your terms or explain what the fuck your rant is talking about, I have no idea how you can expect me to take you seriously.


              You should understand that largely the people who want to kill us are the same people that make up the disgusting regimes. Fundamentalism in the Saudi regime is responsible for a lot of what some people find disgusting about them. Those SAME Wahabi fundamentalists have been starting Madrassah's and recruiting terrorists. Are these people opposed to the Al Saud family? Yes, very much so, but they are responsible for a large part of what Westerners find "disgusting" in the Saudi government these days. The things about the Saudi government that they are opposed to are more or less the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and the tendencies toward modernization and western appeasement that you mention. So it's not that they hate the west because the west supports the Saudis, it's that they hate the Saudi royal family because they are friendly with the west.


              You really need to do a teeny tiny bit of thinking for yourself about this problem rather than just spewing out Euro-commie rhetoric.

              • Re:Should / Can (Score:3, Insightful)

                by metis (181789)

                You really need to do a teeny tiny bit of thinking for yourself about this problem rather than just spewing out Euro-commie rhetoric.

                There is no discussion in the world that cannot be avoided by an honest-to-god mixture of obsceneties and name-calling.

                know lots of Iranians who hate the current regime. They are the ones who left. Naturally the ones who stayed were largely opposed to the Shah. Or too moderate to care either way. So that's a fucking truism and an imbecilic metric for anything.

                Ah logic!

                • Lots of Iranians inside Iran hate the current regime, including, BTW, the Iranian President.
                • Almost none of the Iranians who hate the current regime miss the Shah.
                • Even those Iranians who do find the current regime worse than the Shah will probably point out that the current regime is the grand-child of the US 1956 toppling of Iranian democracy and putting the Shah in power.

                Your comment about how Americans fuck peoples lives and therefore we should just bend over and let people commit acts on terrorism for us for a while until they've finished with their revenge is borderline retarded.

                • That American foreign policy fucks people life is an established fact. Your former posts suggest that you agree and think that this is justified. You wouldn't have justified a policy if you thought there was nothing to justify.
                • The therefore in the sentence above is your addition. I made no such implication. I only said that is in the long term interests of the US to stop fucking lives.
                I have no idea how you can expect me to take you seriously.

                I don't expect you to take me seriously. I am just pointing to you the uncomfortable fact that there are billions of people around the world who hate your guts with a blinding and consuming hatred. I am trying to tell you that it is in your best interest to take these billions seriously. Feel free to ignore this advice.

                Fundamentalism in the Saudi regime is responsible for a lot of what some people find disgusting about them.

                Very true, but fundamentalism is only dangerous when it enjoys popular support. And popular support of fundamentalism is a function of Western sponsored oppression. Compare Saudi Arabia and Egypt where fundamentalism is popular, to Iran, where fundamentalism is fighting a loosing war against the western friendly popular mood.

                So it's not that they hate the west because the west supports the Saudis, it's that they hate the Saudi royal family because they are friendly with the west.

                The objective truth is that the Arab world is in a mess. Islamic Fundamentalists believe that modernization is the source of this mess, and they are fifty percent right. From that perspective, the Saudi royal family and the Western support thereof is one and the same thing. Both stand in the way of saving the Arab world by turning the wheel back. Regular people, there as everywhere, are not really interested in theories of history. Once the fundamentalists take control, as they did in Iran, the people will judge them by their ability to show results. At that moment, the connection betwwen Western interference and oppression will have disappeared (as it had in Iran). The goverment may still be regressive, but recruiting suicide terrorist against America will be almost impossible.

              • I know lots of Iranians who hate the current regime. They are the ones who left. Naturally the ones who stayed were largely opposed to the Shah.

                What do they think of the Shah? Hating the Islamic republic doesn't mean longing for the Empire in every case. What would your Iranian acquaintances like for a government?
          • the regime does not support terrorism

            Well, maybe the Israelis don't agree. Anyway, if the government doesn't support terrorism, an important part of the population does.

            I would be terribly inclined to see a democracy in Saudi Arabia, but like many people whose education consists primarily of fundamentalist religious indoctrination, I don't know if the people would naturally form a democracy when the government fell.

            Fundamentalist religious indoctrination is supported by the Saudi government in and out of Arabia.

            like the Taliban. I.e. substantially worse than the current Saudi government

            It's very difficult to be worse that Taliban.
            Saudi Arabia tries by death penalty, supression of free speech, unfair trials, torture, discrimination against women, mistreatment of refugees and inmigrants.
    • Re:Should / Can (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Moridineas (213502)
      Hah, what a question. You take SO much for granted in your question, it's not even funny.

      You have a very Western viewpoint for one. "Should the government be allowed to do this?" That in itself is radical thinking in many areas--questioning the role of the government.

      This isn't just a karma whore question is it?? because it doesn't particularly make sense. Questioning filtering the internet in Saudi Arabia as a "right" of the government? Why not question the economic apartheid, or the strict entry rules, or judicial system...it just seems ludicrous that you raise a totally western style question about the purpose of government in Saudi Arabia.

      Scott
      • "Insightful?" Why is it that only-semi-coherent rants about "Western Bias" seem to be so frequently modded up?

        Sure, the idea that "the people are the government" hasn't caught on in some backwards parts of the world (Washington D.C., for example). Perhaps that is a Western way of thinking about the world, but it's also a good idea. Government, by necessity, is the few making rules for the many, and the only way to keep a measure of balance is to let people elect those rulemakers.

        Otherwise you end up with a system like Saudi Arabia, which is effectively an oligarchy for the super-rich. The Saudi government has been censoring print and broadcast media for ages, and now they're bringing censorship to the 'Net. From the article, "SmartFilter came with ready-made categories like pornography and gambling and was customized to include specific sites the Saudis perceived as defaming Islam or the royal family." This is just another example of people in power trying to maintain that power at the expense of freedom to others.

        I'm not in favor of cultural imperialism, but the idea that people should be allowed to elect the people who govern them is an idea that should be exported.
      • "Supreme executive power arises from a mandate of the masses . . ." I agree that questioning the government is itself a "Western" notion. If by "Western" we mean 'a nation-state with frequent, meaningful plebiscites of an educated population.' I have lived in countries with other viewpoints and find them considerably less-productive economies and certainly less-conducive to free thought.
    • Re:Should / Can (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Zocalo (252965)
      Actually, I'd say that the approach taken by the Chinese, Saudi's and even the Taliban is more Internet friendly than the path taken by more industrialised nations to deal with their differences of opinion with the Internet. These countries' governments are basically accepting that the Internet is a global thing and are choosing to opt out on their own instead of, say, trying to get a foreign company to stop selling Nazi memorabilia to your citizens via the courts because it's against your local laws. The Internet is a global thing, and very few governments seem prepared to deal with this fact on a local level.

      Of course, the big problem with the countries above is that their respective populaces have absolutely no say in the matter, for which they do deserve the derision of rest of the world. It's not so much an issue "what is being done", as "who decided it was a good thing".

    • So Saudis and Chinese are not "thinking" people yet?

      Speaking of "thinking people", it sounds like you have a lot to learn.
    • Re:Should / Can (Score:2, Insightful)

      by titaniafq (204582)
      Should the SA government be allowed to do this? No! There may be no inalienable rights to internet access everybody should have the rights to free speech. Now if a country allows the Internet *at all* then they should not censor it, otherwise it just becomes a tool for the government.

      I do fear that the more the 21st century rockets towards the 22nd the more we are going to be fighting to keep our civil liberties.

      Seeing as the UK has just passed draconian antiterrorism laws (detention without trial) how long is it before we get a "big firewall in the sky"

      1984 anyone?
      • Actually, I don't think those laws have been passed yet. Atleast, they were being debated in the commons yesterday, which would be slightly redundant if they already were law.
        Also, I have heard mentioned that the House of Lords is very unlikely to let the bill pass in its current state. As the Lords are not elected and subsequently don't have to jump on bandwagons to rally public support they are often the voice of reason that stops knee jerk bills becoming law.
        --
        Andy
        • I thought I heard on the radio this morning that the laws on in effect as an "emergency measure" - guess because it's not peace time anymore they can do what they want.

          Me, I'm just paranoid.
      • Seeing as the UK has just passed draconian antiterrorism laws (detention without trial) how long is it before we get a "big firewall in the sky"
        Actually you are wrong. The antiterarism bill has just had its first reading in the house of commens. It now has to go to the Lords, then to the comitty stage, back to the commons for its second reading and then back to the Lords for their second reading.
        This of course dosn't take an account of any ammendments that my be tabled.
      • Seeing as the UK has just passed draconian antiterrorism laws (detention without trial) how long is it before we get a "big firewall in the sky"
        You know, it hasn't been passed yet. It got past the "first reading", which I believe is usually fairly lightweight. All that means is it gets a "second reading". You can bet it will get debated more then.

        Finally, to become law I think it has to go to a committee for legal scrutiny and amendments, before a final vote. It's even possible the House of Lords might knock it back for a year - some of them have longer memories than the current crop of rent-a-suit MPs. We had it before in Northern Ireland and it was plainly counter-productive.

        That being said, we already have draconian anti-terrorism laws. I am just about to break the Terrorism Act:

        I hereby support the right of the PKK to protest against the treatment of Kurds by the Turkish government, and to do so by organising and fundraising in the UK. I urge others to support such protests and openly debate the status of the PKK as a "banned organisation".

        I think technically, I could get 6 months in jail for that. However, I don't think the Home Secretary will be reading Slashdot.

        Mind you, if I was posting from most countries of the world, I wouldn't be half as cocky. (And if any of youse bastards grass me up at least I'd get a trial.)

        • But you won't get a trial if the law passes...

          Me, I'm just paranoid.
          (By the way, I have protested against Capitalism, so I am a terrorist too)
    • Denying anyone free access to other peoples ideas is not beneficial to your citizens

      Is it the reason why CNN and other news channel refused to show on TV the messages from Bin Laden?
      Maybe he is a terrorist, but I want to hear want he have to say anyway!
    • Every society draws limits for itself and develops mechanisms to enforce them. Usually these mechanisms start with social constraints backed up by law for more egregious cases.

      Take public nudity for example. If I would walk downtown nude, I'd expect to be shunned/ostracized by most and helped "Here, wrap this around you!" by a few. I probably wouldn't be arrested unless I was being lewd or threatening. However, if I did it repeatedly I'd be explaining it to a judge pretty quickly. My freedom of expression would be curtailed by both social constraints and the law.

      Should my town's government be allowed to do this? Absolutely! But thats not really the point.

      The point is that we as a society have the right to agree to the standards that we want to live by. And its not really a matter of whether we should or can do restrict ourselves, its that we do, for the sake of society.

      The problem with the Saudi Internet policy, IMHO, is that they haven't arrived at it through a democratic process. They are a repressive government which stays in power, in part, through the restriction of information.
  • watch and watch closely. if we don't learn how to circumvent any and every restriction placed upon us, we'll have a hell of a time doing it when the restrictions are placed.

    America is not there yet -- not by a long shot. but i think most of us here see the writing on the wall: the US may not stay the greatest country on earth for long, if the corps have their way.

    fight back!
    • P2P Internet Access (Score:2, Interesting)

      by titaniafq (204582)
      Now if the whole countries Internet access is coming down on pipe that passes via this "great firewall" then why not set up some kind of peer-to-peer network that attaches itself to the Internet in a different country.

      Having paid no attention when I was at school to geography I don't know if any "friendly" countries are near SA, but this must be possible.

      I am thinking along the lines of a scheme I heard about to provide broadband access to rural areas via a series of aerials and RF.

      Just thinking
    • Don't worry -- if you're posting to slashdot you'll be able to circumvent the thing.

      Here's a couple of ways (provided you know someone outside the country on a server the gov't doesn't mind you viewing):

      httptunnel [freshmeat.net]
      corkscrew [freshmeat.net]
      NSTX [freshmeat.net]

      Fortunately, I've already had experience with this. I went to school in the WCBE of Ontario, Canada, where it's against the rules to view nintendo.com when you're doing an essay on which console is the best (this was in high school too...). IIRC, I used a different solution then though (can't remember what now).

      Goodie.
  • Why don't they just use AOL?
    </joke>
  • I hear that, as a way of dodging spam and other salacious web-based material, this firewall will operate from a "dark class" IP range. The IP class will "appear and disappear" under the control of some fancy router that will make the whole country appear momentarily to send/receive from the Internet, but then hide them again so that the outside world can't "see" them. Sounds weird, maybe just a bad story, but maybe some truth if you also read the story about the way spammers hide, from www.securityfocus.com.

    • The IP class will "appear and disappear" under the control of some fancy router that will make the whole country appear momentarily to send/receive from the Internet, but then hide them again so that the outside world can't "see" them.

      "Captain, Saudi Arabia is decloaking off the starboard router!"

  • by trilucid (515316) <pparadis@havensystems.net> on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @08:24AM (#2588646) Homepage Journal

    the folks over at Secure Computing aren't really offering anything truly novel. Maybe I just skimmed their site too quickly, but what exactly do they do that couldn't be implemented via open source software?

    *NIX operating systems have always been designed from the ground up to have fine grained access control features. This has been extended to all sorts of network environments spawned from that model. Perhaps they're playing up the "one box total solution" angle, but if that's the case they're on shaky ground.

    Of course, I don't support government use of any sort of access controls to limit citizens' access to information, with the exception of info that is *truly* sensitive with respect to national security (sorry, info on water treatment plants found in libraries doesn't count IMO).

    Then again, it's not my country. I don't agree with the extremist policies with respect to global data access enforced by many nations, but I also don't believe those policies can last forever. Sooner or later, the people will get fed up. This might mean rapid revolution, or gradual internal change, who knows?

    Besides, recently (here in the U.S.) the apple hasn't fallen too far from the proverbial world tree in this respect. We're creeping toward a similar government view on what we can and can't access on the net. To all U.S. citizens: don't waste too many mental cycles worrying about the problems of other nations right now. The most pressing concerns and threats to our freedoms are right here at home.

    Web hosting by geeks, for geeks. Now starting at $4/month (USD)! [trilucid.com]
    Yes, this is my protest to the sig char limit :).

  • by 1alpha7 (192745)

    God, I hate that registration crap.

    November 19, 2001
    Companies Compete to Provide Saudi Internet Veil
    By JENNIFER 8. LEE

    Saudi men chat and browse a censored Internet in a hotel in Riyadh. Other Muslim nations, including Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, are considering adding software filters on domestic Web use, and Western companies are eager to provide them.

    Nearly a dozen software companies, most of them American, are competing for a contract to help Saudi Arabia block access to Web sites the Saudi government deems inappropriate for that nation's half- million Internet users.

    For the companies, the Saudi account would be important not only for the direct revenue -- which analysts say could be worth several million dollars -- but also for its value as a flagship that could help win similar contracts from other governments.

    Pornographic sites, the biggest Internet business in other countries, make up the overwhelming majority of the sites blocked in Saudi Arabia, distantly followed by sites that may be sensitive for political or religious reasons.

    To critics of the sale of content filters, software company executives say that they are only providing politically neutral tools. "Once we sell them the product, we can't enforce how they use it," said Matthew Holt, a sales executive for Secure Computing (news/quote ), of San Jose, Calif., that currently provides Internet-filtering software to the Saudi government under a contract that expires in 2003.

    Secure Computing hopes to renew that contract but has competition from at least 10 other companies from the United States, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands.

    "This would be a terrific deal to win -- an important deal to win," said Geoff Haggart, a vice president at Websense (news/quote ), a San Diego company that has begun a software trial with the Saudi government and is considered a top contender for its contact.

    Websense's current clients include more than half of the Fortune 500 companies, the United States Army and Saudi Aramco, the large Saudi oil company. Other software that Saudi Arabia has considered includes products from Surf Control, a London company; N2H2, of Seattle; and Symantec, a Cupertino, Calif., company.

    Within the Islamic world, religious sensitivities and security-conscious regimes can combine to create a technophobic atmosphere. Governments in Muslim nations, among them Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, have made overtures to Internet filtering companies. But no Muslim nation has been as active a user of the software as has Saudi Arabia. By royal decree, virtually all public Internet traffic to and from Saudi Arabia has been funneled through a single control center outside Riyadh since the Internet was introduced in the kingdom nearly three years ago.

    If the Riyadh center blocks a site, a warning screen pops up warning the user, in English and Arabic, "Access to the requested URL is not allowed!"

    "The Internet is a frightening place to some people," said Mr. Holt, who oversees sales operations in the Middle East for Secure Computing. "The government feels the need to intervene."

    In Saudi Arabia, the government spent two years designing a centralized control system before gingerly opening the spigot to the Internet in February 1999. At the time, the government selected Secure Computing's SmartFilter software from four competing products from the United States, in part because the company offered a discount. The company and Saudi officials declined to disclose the contract terms.

    SmartFilter came with ready-made categories like pornography and gambling and was customized to include specific sites the Saudis perceived as defaming Islam or the royal family.

    With the Secure Computing contract set to expire in little more than a year, rivals are actively courting Saudi technology officials. The companies are promoting their expanded Arabic-language capabilities. They are selling their ease of customization for sites considered anti-Islam or anti-royal family. They are donating engineers to support trials, while steeply discounting their list prices. One German company even offered the service for free, according to an executive involved in the competition.

    Corporate customers and the United States Army generally use filtering software to prevent their users from viewing pornography, gambling or otherwise frittering away time on the job. But Saudi Arabia is one of the countries with the most centralized control of Internet content of various types, according to a report by the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.

    Another country highlighted in the report is China, whose government blocks various foreign media and human rights Web sites by using domestic software. The United States government recently introduced a plan to establish a computer network to help Chinese residents circumvent their government's fire wall. But so far, Washington has not taken similar steps in Saudi Arabia, which brooks little political dissent but is one of the United States' closest allies among Middle Eastern Muslim nations.

    "We have a really serious problem in terms of the American free speech idea," said Jack Balkin, a professor at the Yale Law School who studies the politics of Internet filtering. "But it is very American to make money. Between anticensorship and the desire to make money, the desire to make money will win out."

    Saudi security agencies identify the political Web sites that are considered for inclusion on the blacklist. Among the banned sites are the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in the Arabian Peninsula (www.cdrhap.com) and the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (www.islah.org). Even some less politically charged sites, including ones that recount the history of Saudi Arabia, are blocked.

    In response to Internet filtering, many Saudis either dial up foreign Internet service providers, use Web sites that protect the user's identity or engage in a cat-and-mouse game with Web sites that frequently change their addresses to elude filters. (For such sites, like the one operated by Islah.org, would-be visitors send e-mail to a fixed address and receive the new Web address.)

    It is because filtering for an entire country is a logistically tricky task that the Saudi government is looking for new software. "It's not that we are unhappy with the product, we're just looking for a better solution," said Eyas S. al-Hajery, who plays a major role in the selection process and has evaluated various software filters.

    The competition is up in the air, said Dr. Hajery, who directs the Information Security Center at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, the institution that serves as Saudi Arabia's Internet control valve. "We are very open to try other choices," he said.

    The marketing pitches pour in weekly through e-mails, phone calls and in-person presentations. But the decision will have less to do with marketing than customer service after the sale, Dr. Hajery said.

    Customer service is important because Saudi Arabia's filtering effort is so large in scope and so highly customized. The Saudi Internet staff says it tries to be reasonable within the guidelines, and it provides Web forms for users to request additions or removals from the blacklists.

    Dr. Hajery says his staff of a dozen employees receives more than 500 suggestions a day from the public to block sites that the authorities have missed. The requests are reviewed by the staff and about half of them are ultimately added to the blacklist -- up to 7,000 URL's monthly. Many of the sites forbidden on religious grounds are gleaned through this process, since the staff members are primarily focused on ferreting out pornography sites, Dr. Hajery said. The center also receives more than 100 requests a day to remove specific sites from the blacklist -- many because they have been wrongfully characterized by the SmartFilter software, he said.

    Secure Computing disputes this, saying that all of its sites are reviewed by people after being screened by the software.

    Some sites become incidental victims to the government's broad snare. In August 2000, the Saudi government decided to block access to all Yahoo (news/quote ) online clubs because many clubs were popular for pornography. After the move elicited protest from people who use various Yahoo clubs to communicate about everything from engineering to cooking, the center began selectively unblocking nonpornographic Yahoo sites at users' requests.

    Many Saudis support the government's ban on pornography. But sites banned for political reasons incite protests. A 28-year- old claims assistant at Royal and SunAlliance Insurance, who is a member of the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia, where the majority of Muslims are Sunni, said in an e- mail interview that a Web site containing basic information about his village near the town of Qatif had been blocked.

    He compared Internet filtering to the Saudi national emblem, two crossed swords below a date palm.

    "You can look straight and eat from that palm tree as much as you want," he said, "but if you ever try to look to your right or left side, there'll be a sword waiting to chop off your head."

  • IN THE UAE too (Score:3, Informative)

    by vikool (523319) <vikas&purdue,edu> on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @08:25AM (#2588651)
    Hey..this is not the only country where the net in blocked, in the UAE, the internet is completely blocked, ( or proxied is the term that is used) bcos, we have to go through a proxy server of the isp and the isp employs several people full time, just for blocking sites. and of course, there is a government monoipoly which means the isp is government owned, and there can be nothing done about it.
    • Re:IN THE UAE too (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ethereal (13958)

      Of course something can be done about it. Unless you've let the government take away your guns. In that case, you may have some problems pulling off your revolution without a lot of civilian deaths. But that's the price of freedom, I guess.

  • "Between anticensorship and the desire to make money, the desire to make money will win out."

    There seems to be some sort of shock factor the NYT is trying to get across. Personally I'm not surprised at all: I'd have assumed that *any* word could be substituted for "anticensorship" and it would still be true in the US, possibly several other countries too.

    (NB: Not a troll, cf tobacco companies investing in companies that R&D cancer cures...)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    For this to occur in a country where civil rights are minimal is expected. This is not the case with the new laws in the US.

    In Saudi Arabia, the system is monarchy. If you think of it, it is not any worse from the UK where you are not allowed to have high grade crypto without giving a copy of your private key to the Gov.

    I am not saying that they are doing the right thing, but at least they don't lie about it and they don't claim to be the fathers of democracy!
    • If you think of it, it is not any worse from the UK where you are not allowed to have high grade crypto without giving a copy of your private key to the Gov.
      Firstly, it is utterly different. From a civil rights point of view, such a firewall would block information that the government did not want you to see. This censorship is used (amongst more innocuous tasks) to block access to impartial information. This is far more damaging to a populace than insisting that the government can eavesdrop on otherwise secure transmission.

      Sedcondly, in the UK we are allowed to have strong encryption without giving our private key to the government. I assume you are referring to the RIP act - this states that you must give up your private key if served with an appropriate notice from the courts. Now not being much of a conspiracy theorist, I imagine that these powers will be used appropriately (after much evidence has already been mounted against an individual, for example) but even if not, can you imagine what would happen the first time this was used against Joe Public and he refused to hand over his key? According to the act, he is automatically imprisoned for 5 years (IIRC - it may be a different length of time) Lawyers would be queueing up to defend him. I would put money on the conviction being overturned by the European Court of Human Rights (apologies if I have got the name slightly wrong)

      Call me naive, but I really don't go for the black-helicopter-and-black-suits stereotype of government.
  • Enduring Freedom (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jdfox (74524) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @08:38AM (#2588680)
    To critics of the sale of content filters, software company executives say that they are only providing politically neutral tools. "Once we sell them the product, we can't enforce how they use it," said Matthew Holt, a sales executive for Secure Computing (news/quote), of San Jose, Calif., that currently provides Internet-filtering software to the Saudi government under a contract that expires in 2003.

    What a fine way to salve the conscience: "Once we sell them the product, we can't enforce how they use it." They're happy enough to take the money, just as IBM was happy to take the money from the Nazis for Jew-tracking systems, since no IBMers were actually involved in killing anyone.

    US corporate and government support for this brutal dicatorship [guardian.co.uk] is a disgrace. Both GOP and Dem administrations are happy to allow trade with this vile regime to thrive as long as it pays, just as they were happy to arm and support Iraq as long as it paid, and just as they continue to profit handsomely from deals with China.

    It still amazes me how Bush and pals can talk without a trace of irony about how they are fighting one gov't or another in defense of Freedom and Justice, then turn around and support the Saudis. Will Laura Bush be arguing passionately for the rights of Saudi women [cornell.edu] anytime soon? Of course she will, as soon as the pro-Western govt gets thrown out, and they transform overnight into America's Eternal Foe.
    • by Fnkmaster (89084) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @10:34AM (#2589391)
      If you could operate a nation under purely idealist moral principles, then you would be right. We shouldn't deal with the Saudis because they don't adhere to our code of moral conduct. The going theory for a long time is that we HAVE to support the Saudis because all of the alternatives possible in Saudi Arabia are so much worse than the Al Saud family that it would be a terrible event for 1) America 2) Western Civilization as a whole if they were to fall from power.


      While I'd like to see a nice democratic government in Saudi Arabia too, the reality is that a large minority in their country is made up of radical Wahabi muslims who are fomenting rebellion in Saudi Arabia (and it's not a nice democratic government they want to form, I assure you). These people are partially responsible for the spread of fundamentalist Wahabi-style Islam around the Islamic world. Watch the PBS Frontline documentary that aired on Friday if you can find it showing again - it gave some fabulous insights into this process.


      The moral is that it's not just black and white. It's hard to run around playing favorites in the world and figuring out who is good and who is bad for their own people. It's substantially easier to figure out who is good and bad for your own nation-state, and that's how most countries conduct foreign policy. Honestly, in a lot of ways, I feel bad for the Al Saud family. They can't really modernize the country any more which needs to be done before democratization is an option, because so many of the people seem to be rabidly against modernization. On the other hand, they have fundamentalist clerics and radicals who desperately oppose all attempts at modernization. They have handed greater power to these groups as part of their attempt to broker a peaceful "middle-ground". They have in turn alienated all the liberal academics and others. They look at what happened to Iran under the Shah, and I don't think they want to be the Shah.


      Just my 2 cents. I have no good solution to the Saudi problem, it's actually substantially harder to solve than the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, which in the end is motivated mostly by economic concerns and nationalism and can be easily solved via some redistricting, establishment of a Palestinian nation, and economic aid to the Palestinians (well, it can be easily solved if you get the two sides to stop shooting for long enough, and you throw out the radicals on both sides who oppose any middle ground solutions).


      You can't really do much to fight fundamentalism other than start with young children and make sure they get a proper secular education. This doesn't eliminate fundamentalism, but it greatly reduces its hold. We should make be funding public education programs in Pakistan and other countries dominated by fundamentalist madrassahs as the only option for education, not to mention food and clothing for young children whose parent can't afford to raise them. And as for the Saudis themselves, maybe we should let the Al Saud family fall, but there better be contingency plans and a UN peacekeeping force ready to go in and force democracy at gunpoint because it won't just happen magically.

      • if you could operate a nation under purely idealist moral principles, then you would be right

        Somehow, this maxim of realpolitics is used in the US to explain why foreign policy should have all moral considerations excluded. cf. Condolezza Rice.

        The opposite is true. Foreign policy should have as much moral consideration as possible given our current resources. We have an interest in a secure and open world in which a general sense of trust in the beneveolence and decency of others encourages interactions, exchange, and trade, and promotes non zero-sum solutions to world problems. Every time foreign policy offends moral sensibility we undermine this vision to the detriment of all humanity including Americans ( though sometimes that is exectly what some in the ruling class wants ).

        The going theory for a long time is that we HAVE to support the Saudis because all of the alternatives possible in Saudi Arabia are so much worse.

        Been there, done that. Vietnam, Chille, Guatemala, Iran, Nicaragua, et al. The result, even when we suffer a mayhem, people around the globe say America had it coming. Does being a member of the most hated nation on earth enhance your feeling of security?

        You can't really do much to fight fundamentalism other than start with young children and make sure they get a proper secular education.

        Essentially, you justify the continuation of colonial policies by a variation on the old colonial theme of the "white man burden". We can't let them rule themselves until we instill in them our values through gradual education. It doesn't work that way, because people are not that dumb. The value most Saudis associate with the West is not democracy and pluralism but cynicism and hypocracy. And they are right because they judge the West by its actions and not by its words. You cannot educate without moral authority, and you cannot have moral authority when the example you set belies everything you say.

        There is no painless solution to the Saudi problem. But if the US force the Sauds to democratize, or let them fall if they don't, it will have sown the seeds for future friendship with the Saudi people.

        The reason we don't do that is not because of some tough logic of national self-interest. We don't do it because our foreign policy is contolled by special interests, especially oil.

        In other words, our failure to support democracy abroad is an extension of the failure of our democracy at home.

      • which in the end is motivated mostly by economic concerns and nationalism and can be easily solved via some redistricting, establishment of a Palestinian nation, and economic aid to the Palestinians (well, it can be easily solved if you get the two sides to stop shooting for long enough, and you throw out the radicals on both sides who oppose any middle ground solutions).

        More easily said than done. For peace, the majority has to support peace. After the Palestinian violence of the last year, there is no majority for peace. Even before so, there was no middle ground of agreement about the refugee problem.
        The Israeli/Palestinian conflict cannot be easily solved.
      • The going theory for a long time is that we HAVE to support the Saudis because all of the alternatives possible in Saudi Arabia are so much worse than the Al Saud family that it would be a terrible event for 1) America 2) Western Civilization as a whole if they were to fall from power.

        What is wrong with "Western Civilization" that makes its well-being dependent on who is in charge of a non-Western nation?
      • While I'd like to see a nice democratic government in Saudi Arabia too, the reality is that a large minority in their country is made up of radical Wahabi muslims who are fomenting rebellion in Saudi Arabia
        The ruling family of Saudia Arabia (House of Saud) is not only adherents to this radical form of Islam, but also active in supporting its spread in other countries, violantly if necessary. These bastards have been pretending to be our friends for years, but aren't. Immediately after Sept 11th, a private aircraft belonging to one of the prince's was used to transport people from the U.S. to Saudia Arabia. People the F.B.I. wanted to question.
    • Or, as it has been expressed by another:

      "Vonce ze rockets go up, who cares vere ze come down. Zat's not my department," Says Werner Von Braun. - Tom Lehrer

      I hereby propose an " Anti-Nobel" prize, to be given to those who most egregiously espouse ideals contrary to those that motivated the foundation of Nobel prizes.

      KFG
  • for more logical TLD's. Although they wouldn't be able to filter out all of .relig(ion), as this would block out sites that Saudis would want available, but it sure would cut down on the manual entries (7000 URLs/month, is that all!?!) if they could just block .xxx

    What a gargantuan effort! And it would never end. All it takes is for me to decide one day that instead of running a radio station, I'm going to peddle porn, or document human rights abuses, or the snakey Saudi relations with the Bush government [salon.com]. How long would it take for them to notice? The length of time it takes for them to spider me?

    Really, proper TLD's would help along censorship, but everything has a double-edge anyways. At least .xxx and .kids would help organise content according to purpose, which is what it's all about anyway. You certainly wouldn't have to worry about Disney and MS squatting on .xxx domains.
  • This can only work if you can guarantee that you have a filter on all of the telco's in your country. This is simple if the govt. happens to own the telco in question. However it only takes 1 person with a satalite phone or an ISP outside the country to break this.

    Of cause the country in question can counter this by making external calls prohibativly expencive or by prossicuting any one with a sat phone.

    However if speed isn't a question then you could allways use an e-mail to HTML gateway.

    I have just spent 10 minits trying to find one. Their used to be lots but I can't fine one now. Perhaps someone could post a list of addresses.
  • The 'bad site' is always one step ahead of you.
    They can hide content in so many ways or find other ways to get it to you. If people want to see 'bad sites' it's always possible. Think about anonymizers and ssl. You wouldn't know whish site is visited.

    Ofcourse you could turn around the whole process and ALLOW sites you trust and block everything else. It would make internet very small. But it should work.

    And IF someone comes up with a good filter, PLEASE use it for anti-spam aswell :)
    (which is also practically impossible to block)

    The only way to block 'bad sites' is to have no internet.
  • by Jormundgard (260749) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @08:56AM (#2588733)
    Saudi Arabia is a pretty nasty country in general, so this isn't a surprise. One only need read the articles that appear at the BBC's website. They're probably more oppressive than China, but since they're strong allies with the U.S., this is not a message you hear often. Also, U.S. magazines sell significantly less when they focus on world issues (if the talking heads on TV are to be believed).

    An interesting problem with Saudi Arabia is that they hear of Western media trashing their country, so they make the "logical" conclusion that this is how the governments feel about them. Why? Because the press is 100% controlled by the Saudi Goverment, so this is what they expect.
  • China... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Did you know that Geocities, Tripod, Angelfire, and many other free hosting sites are blocked in China (at least with China Telecom).

    Thankfully, the amount of interesting/usefull information on most pages hosted on those sites is uhhhh... minimal.

    Real.com == blocked.
    Real.com.au not blocked.

    cbc.ca and cnn.com blocked sometimes.

    reuters blocked.
  • Whether "right" or "wrong", the Saudi government is free to do what it likes to it's citizens, no matter what we think.

    On the other hand, contracting a publically-quoted American company to engineer the repression of a people could have some interesting consequences.

    How about everyone buy a share in them, go to the next AGM and demand a vote of "no confidence" in the board for bidding for the contract?
  • From the article: "We are very open to try other choices," he said.

    Well, at least someone is.

  • by iworm (132527) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @09:04AM (#2588786)
    I was the Engineering Manager of the third (two others beat us by a few days!) ISP to operate in the Kingdom.

    Yes, the filtering is more or less as described. They used to have, maybe still do, an option on the "blocking" page where you could ask that a blocked URL be unblocked, since it was actually something innocuous (of course whether your view that Cindy's Sin Palace etc was innocuous might be disputed by those in charge... :-))

    The article also points out that Saudi's can (and do) simply dial up ISPs in neighboring countries to get the access they desire. Equally, rich individuals (they've got a few...) and companies can also make use of satellite access (illegal, but very common).

    So, if a Saudi really wants to access porn or political stuff he/she can do so very easily. And therein lies the key to much about Saudi laws: it's not the reality that matters, but appearances.

    The Saudi government plays a precarious balancing act, and needs to keep the religious extremists content ("Look we've blocked all the porn") while trying to drag their society into the modern world (where, so I'm told, the Internet is mandatory). Of course balancing acts never work for ever, and one day you fall off, but that's going offtopic.
  • hmmmmm..... any saudis there? is slashdot blocked? just wondering.... :P
  • Do THEY care? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Slayback (12197) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @09:13AM (#2588860)
    We're forgetting one thing here when we make a big deal about this. Do they care that much? Saudi Arabia is a religious country, and this firewall is to filter out things that go against their religious views. While this may be just unthinkable for us, they may have little or no problem with this.

    I've talked to my suitemate that is from Saudi Arabia and he's told me some things about it. It seems that it there are people that watch the sites go through. They go to each site manually and check it out. This means that you may get through once, but after then, don't count on it being there. Also, they aren't dumb. They have filtered out sites like Yahoo! groups, anonymizer, and Safeweb (RIP) because they were used in large for pornography. Another interesting tidbit was that the first thing he did when he got on the net in the US was go to www.sex.com and was blown away. He knew it existed, but has never been able to go there.

    I know there is other material that is being filtered besides pornography, but porn makes up the majority. Is that SO bad? Think about how any religion may feel about pornography, and if they were running the government, wouldn't censorship be expected? I'm not talking about religious people running the government, I'm talking about the government and the religion being one.
  • by NineNine (235196) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @09:14AM (#2588865)
    ... because Saudi Arabia is #5 in countries with the most number of visitors that visit NineNine [ninenine.com]. It's not a lot, but there definately is traffic from Saudi Arabia (surfers using .sa).
  • by dopevector (242506) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @09:28AM (#2588970)
    Now, I admit I'm not nearly as much of a networking geek as most of you /.'ers, so maybe I'm totaly off base here, but how would you freedom fighting, long haired hippies feel about the Saudi Govn't using free software to make this firewall?

    I think the benefits would be enough to make them switch. They could drop their dependence on non-Saudi organizations (like American businesses) and depend only on technically minded Saudi nationals. I could here the Microsoft commercials now, trying to show how bad Linux or *BSD is for making oil prices go up.

    When you get right down to it, setting up a firewall in Linux or OpenBSD is very easy. I've done it and I have only a basic knowledge of networking and by reading the documentation. Would you guys be able to sleep at night if Linux was used to keep the common man down?
  • by kptBlaha (522498) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @09:31AM (#2588985)
    In this country (Czech Republic), communists censored everything. Many books were banned, all photocopiers were registered, Radio Free Europe was jammed etc. It did not work. People who wanted to get the books got the books. People who wanted to listen to RFE hacked sophisticated antenas and filters. We copied books using typewritters and Sinclair computers. During the WWII this country was occupied by Nazi Germany. Germans removed SW band from all receivers. People who were caught listening BBC or radio Moscow were executed. Nevertheless many people listened. You cannot stop one's desire of freedom.
  • A large German educational ISP offers SmatFilter filters, a product from a cooperation between Siemens and Secure Computing (although Siemens claim they can only change the site list, and not categories and the general modus operandi). Schools routinely activate the filters because in Souther Germany, the secretary responsible for education and schools decided that if a commercial filter system is active, teachers are not sued by the state if something goes wrong.

    SmartFilter adds blocking recommendations to their database without notifying the site owners. Our site was blocked in the Criminal Skills category for quite some time, and we still don't know why. Perhaps there is some need for such databases, but at least you have to tell people that you'll block their site at thousands of computers, with the next database update.

    Unfortunately, in Germany, a number of elected politicians try to force providers to block Internet access to certain sites. However, nobody has any idea how this is going to work and how the blacklist is distributed (after all, it's an impressive bookmark list).
    • Our site was blocked in the Criminal Skills category for quite some time, and we still don't know why.
      It's very likely because your site deals with security alerts. SmartFilter tends to stupidly consider that as "hacking" and thus criminal. Take a look at all the security groups which are also blacklisted as "Criminal Skills", in my report

      SmartFilter - I've Got A Little List [sethf.com]

      I actually have more material on this topic which I haven't put together, because the politics are publicizing it were daunting. The key is to understand that computers have no intelligence, and are making determinations based on simple keyword matching.

      Sig: What Happened To The Censorware Project (censorware.org) [sethf.com]

      • Well, the definition of the "Criminal Skills" category is quite clear, and it does include sites providing information relating to computing security (even sites which try to deal with these issues in the most responsible way, such as CERT/CC). In the beginning, SmartFilter Germany argued along these lines (which is almost reasonable, although the category title "criminal skills" is grossly misleading). However, later on, they retracted their claim and removed the categorization, possibly after internal protests.

        Since this experience, we have a few emergency domain names in reserve, so we can give them to people phoning us and asking why they can't access their usual security advisories.
  • I thought Saudi Arabia were our friends, so what are they doing with a regime run by an hereditary leasder and a largely incumbent political class, monitoring their citizens and trying to route and filter all information through a few central sources?

    What's that you say? No, I'm talking about Saudi Arabia, not the USA. Why would you think I was talking about... Huh? What? You say I could have been describing the USA? Now I'm really confused!

    Oh, wait, I think that I see. It's OK to have a benevolent dictatorship, right, one that's enacting extreme measures in the short term for the good of its citizens? It is? I'm glad to hear that. Wait, is it OK for me to say that? It is? Phew! But hang on, don't all dictators view themselves as benevolent and as acting for the greater good of their peo- (ack, gaa)

  • Censorware authors (Score:3, Insightful)

    by alkali (28338) on Tuesday November 20, 2001 @10:41AM (#2589442)
    One can bitch and moan all one likes about how nasty Repressive Regime X is, and how we should write sternly-worded letters to the embassy, yada, yada, yada. If this makes a difference, great, but in my view it's unlikely.

    The fact of the matter, however, is that the people who write censorware(*) -- the software itself, the software used to develop the "blacklist," and so on -- are generally members of the Western computing community. Some of them, and their friends, are Slashdot readers. They are members of user groups. They can be identified. They should be made persona non grata.

    One might say that if person Z didn't work for the censorware companies, another would, so we can hardly fault person Z. Ridiculous. One might as well say that since there will always be people who write viruses, there is no fault in writing and distributing your own. Censorware aimed at choking off the free speech of an entire people is a damned sight more noxious than a virus. (I am reminded of Jack London's description of "scabs" [nucleus.com] (strikebreakers), which is perhaps extreme in the labor context in our day but may find some analogy here.)

    (* Excepting people who write genuinely multipurpose software tools. And I'd except people who write software which is by its nature limited to filtering for a not-large number of machines -- i.e., for home or business use -- though perhaps not everyone would.)

    • But you can't! (Score:2, Informative)

      I mean, caching proxies are easily turned into filtering ones, and mail filters into censorship tools restricting the free exchange of mail. This will be a tricky one to nail!

      The ones who oughta feel ashamed of themselves, I feel, are the system administrators working for these regimes. They really should commit little acts of sabotage from their positions of power and help smash the control apparatus.

      Of course it's risky business, but it's the freedom of humanity we're talking about here. Speaking as someone who lives in Singapore, I have suffered from the effects of intense censorship and the one-party rule that has persisted for decades.

      p.s. Oh yeah, you Internal Security Department creeps can kiss my ass. Come get me!
    • by stantron77 (466575)
      While I do agree that censorship is not good, this is a situation we really have no say in. Saudi Arabia is not the US. Our people and our leaders can't make calls for other countries. We have done that type of thing in the past, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not. The bottom line is that blocking porn, and maybe some controversial sites is not as bad as killing someone. Do I think that they should be able to look at porn? Yes I do, however as many people noted previously there are several ways to get around this filter (other countries ISP and such). Now back to the comment I am replying too. Although I think it would be a bad thing for people to not write this type of software. What about places this has very legitimate uses. In elementary schools where kids have access to the net. Do we want those kids going to . I certainly wouldn't want my kids at that age to do that, so the software has a purpose. Also, the US is a capitalist economy, based on supply and demand. Even though I agree that you shouldn't work at something you don't believe in, saying that if person Z doesn't do it someone else will is a very accurate statement. If there is money to be had someone will do it bottom line.
  • A few weeks ago I submitted an article about this (with links to good sources of info, too bad you can pull up what you have submitted to repost)... Anyway, enough bitching.

    It would seem that the Saudi's have found relatively easy work arounds for their 'great firewall'. In most cases, Saudi's have been making phone calls to the US to connect to AOL or other ISP's to surf/chat/email without censorship. They even have cyber cafe's that have "Hacker's" on hand (at USD $50-150/hr) to help their fellow Saudi's get access to all the pr0n they want. Additionally, with a US ip address they can access sites that bypass US crypto restrictions and download all the software they like. They then encrypt it and store their data locally decrypting it when needed and then encrypting again when finished(seems the average Saudi understands how to use these apps better than the average USian). The hackers make house calls and sell cdroms full of pr0n.

    The filtering software mentioned in the article is basically moot as long as a Saudi citizen can make a call outside of Saudi.

    Satellite internet access is popular over there as well.

    My guess is the same work arounds hold true for a lot of other countries where information is illegal. The big difference is that the Saudi's have soooo much money that is makes it all a non issue.

    A good example of 'the golden rule'; He who has the gold shall make his own rules.
  • challenges and problems of filtering the Internet for an entire nation.

    Don't you love it when objective journalism means interviewing the naked king and pretending he wears a three piece suit?

    what the hell does filtering the internet for the nation means? Isn't it more like filtering the internet against the nation?


    • Don't be a twit. I posted the links because they are interesting challenges both socially and technically. Instead of attacking my 4:00 AM grammar, do something useful. (By the way, it's 'hypocrites'.)

      While I am generally opposed to Net censorship, the rationale for filtering due to religious senstivities is a legitimate one, however we may see it. Nobody ever died from a lack or porn. However, I suspect that that is not the primary concern.

      The political situation where an elite of 5000 royals enforces its will on a discontented underclass of millions with US backing is the real story. I would think that the royals are most interested in filtering dissident content that could threaten their regime than anything else. How nice that freedom of speech is fine for Americans (we'll see how this one develops with the latest Big Brother legislation [eff.org]) but it's not OK for our favorite friends and allies in Saudi Arabia. Except the Arabian people aren't our friends and allies. The Saudi royals who guarantee the flow of cheap oil to us are.

  • I lived in Saudi Arabia for three years in the early 90s'. Satellite dishes were illegal even then but so many were springing up illegally that eventually the government started turning a blind eye to them. Living there, I used to buy my of the Sunday Times from london. Any dodgy articles were removed completely and sometimes the whole issue didnt arrive because of some large article about the Royal Family or similar. They used to put black marker pens through boozer adverts (someone had to do this by hand for every copy) but for some reason they always missed the really cryptic adverts for Guiness. You could buy videos, but they were heavily edited (no sex, violence or Christian content) although if you knew who to ask, you could get 1st generation laser disk copies that were un-censored. Even then, with the strong repression of political rights, religious rights (preaching of christianity was punishable by death) and strong racism against filipinos, pakistanis etc., you could feel that people were very eager to have some more freedom of choice and action. All they are doing is trying to control that freedom. The Government cannot stop the internet as people will just dial abroad, so they are trying to control it bit by bit. As a last comment, I felt a lot of antipathy and even hostility from young saudis (the older generation were the most hospitable people I have ever met) and I am told its a lot worse now, but it doesn't get reported.
  • Ever wonder how Bin Ladens mind works?

    Well here is the answer. Most people do not know this but Saudi arabia is one of the world most oppressive governments. This firewalling technique just comes to prove it. Since they are rich and own computers they can not block it. They instead have to interact with the world so they attempt to filter things the government doesn't like. ITs not as bad as China or Afganistan but its right up there in the worlds most oppressive governments. Most of AL queada(I think thats how its spelled) is actually not really a fanatic terrorist organization per say more then its a freedom fighting political movement. Bin laden views the royal family as oppressors and he hoped iraq would liberate his country from the royal family. The king can't have a big army because they would rebel agaisnt him. So what does he do? He just pays for American soldiers to protect him for the price of oil. During pre-islamic revolution Iran, the government there was also very oppressive. Of all places they killed women and children in ancient and holy mosques. Guess who supported them? You guessed it. The good old freedom fighting USA. The arabs really want to join the rest of the world with freedom but Americans just keep gettng in there way. Yemen is also really bad as well. I would like to see more people educated in this and I hope this article helps. Arabs don't hate america but rather hate that an american company is firewalling there nation and our military is defending an oppressive power in the most holiest country in the arab world.

  • the challenges and problems of filtering for an entire nation...

    Yeah, like sleeping at night.

    Anyone who can work on such a system should go join their brethren in the taliban. Self-respecting (not to mention Constitution-respecting) Americans who don't feel quesy about such things are clearly lacking a moral compass.


  • This story has been mentioned on one of my favorite websites, Glenn Reynolds' InstaPundit.com [blogspot.com].

    Glenn is a professor [utk.edu] at the University of Tennessee College of Law [utk.edu]. The majority of his writing is on the intersection between advanced technologies and individual liberty. One example is Environmental Regulation of Nanotechnology: Some Preliminary Observations [foresight.org], from the April, 2001 Environmental Law Reporter.

An authority is a person who can tell you more about something than you really care to know.

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