x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Censors unblock 1,000 websites

Providers will be instructed to unblock sites that have removed content UAE censors deemed offensive, officials say.

TRA officials said the restricted websites which would be unblocked include some internet forums and social networking sites.
TRA officials said the restricted websites which would be unblocked include some internet forums and social networking sites.

Internet users will soon be able to access more than 1,000 websites that UAE censors had deemed offensive, according to officials from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA). The TRA will instruct web service providers to unblock the sites as part of its new "internet access management" policy, which was introduced today. The new policy will require the Government-controlled internet provider duopoly of Etisalat and du to unblock the sites before Aug 29. It would also formalise the UAE's internet censorship standards and dictate a clear framework to internet service providers concerning which sites should be restricted, the TRA announced. While TRA officials were unable to specify the websites that will be unblocked, they are likely to include internet forums and social networking sites whose administrators have removed material that TRA officials considered questionable or offensive. "We have always considered the interests and benefits of consumers throughout the formulation of this policy, which laws are directed to protect internet users, because we believe in the role of the internet as a primary means of acquiring knowledge," said Mohamed Nasser al Ghanim, a TRA board member and the organisation's director general. Such sites could carry images or text related to a variety of topics, from drugs and sexuality to regional politics and perceived attacks on Islam. According to a 2004-2005 study by the OpenNet Initiative, an internet freedom advocacy organisation, the UAE "prevents its citizens from accessing a significant amount of internet content on a variety of topics" compared with other countries. "In sum, UAE's broad filtering of internet sites appears to be primarily based on cultural and religious concerns," the report said. "Topics sensitive to or forbidden by the practice of Islam are generally inaccessible, while political and news sources remain largely unblocked." The study's authors said they visited a sample of 8,713 websites from UAE connections. Of those, they found 1,347 - or 15.4 per cent - had been restricted, the report stated. TRA officials have stated that while software automatically blocks websites based on a series of keywords, including terms such as sex, terrorism, dating, drugs, alcohol, pornography and gambling, the censorship policy is open to protest and negotiation. In the case of Facebook.com, the term "dating" triggered software that blocked the site. Users immediately petitioned the TRA by email, and the authority unblocked the site within an hour after having first restricted it.