Government Censorship of the Internet - public interest or interference?
This Site Has Been Blocked
This Site Has Not Been Blocked...
...because this is Hubpages, a thoroughly respectable Internet domain. But the message above is what you see if you try to access any prohibited site in the State of Qatar. It is not just protecting minors; it is preventing everyone in the country from viewing prohibited sites. I'm not singling out Qatar for special mention. Many countries have similar policies. I just happen to live in Qatar so I have easy access to their prohibition notice. Most Americans and Europeans have never seen such a thing.
In a previous hub on Freedom of Speech, I asked whether such freedom was an absolute or relative 'right'. The comments were lively and varied, as clearly people feel passionately about such matters. Some of the comments touched on Internet censorship. Before going any further, I'd like to invite your vote on the issue:
Oops! New for 2010
What is State censorship all about?
Qatar is a strongly Islamic country, though 80% of the populace are immigrant workforce who may or may not be Muslim. The government takes the view that pornography is anti-Islamic and should not be allowed in the country. Possession of pornographic material can result in severe penalties, including imprisonment and deportation. Pornography is treated in much the same way as illegal drugs, with similar consequences if caught. Viewed in that light, State censorship could be seen as protecting people from criminal activity, not just looking after their morals.
The problem comes, of course, with the definition of pornography. In Saudi Arabia a visitor can get into trouble for carrying beach photos of his wife and kids in swimsuits. Qatar is less strict. In the West, almost anything goes, (except child porn which is punishable by law). In other words, there is a continuum of acceptibility; there is no absolute standard.
It's not all about tits and bums
If State censorship were concerned only with 'cleaning up' the Internet, it would be no big deal. When all's said and done, it's hard to make a convincing case that free access to pornography is of any great benefit to humankind. There are bigger things to worry about. But if the censorship mechanism is put in place, one can't help asking - what else are they blocking?
If you were the Government Censor-in-Chief (in the UK it used to be the Lord Chamberlain, but that was before the Internet) what would you conceal behind your shiny new Prohibited banner? You might consider:
- pornography involving minors
- sado-masochistic and other 'fringe interest' pornography
- 'normal' hard-core pornography
- soft porn
- incitement to racial hatred
- opposing political opinion
- opposing religious or philosophical opinion
- art you consider degenerate
- competitors' promotional materials
and so forth. And this is the danger of calling for censorship. You may start out with the noblest intentions, but censorship itself is highly corruptible. It might seem best to proceed on a case by case basis, not by censorship but by prosecution of genuine offenders, on the grounds that if something is not illegal then it is legal and you have to live with it or change the law. But that doesn't work on the Internet where material sourced in a liberal country can be viewed in a strict country.
Then there is the Big Brother angle: is there a logging software triggered by every instance of someone trying to access a blocked site, perhaps registering the user IP address and the requested URL? You bet your life there is! Having opened my can of worms, let's close it with a revised poll:
Is this legal in Qatar?
I couldn't resist adding this picture. The Qatar censors would have a field day with it. Yes, she's covered, but with bacon strips, another banned product here. You can't buy or import any pork products...
Thank you for reading! Your comments are welcome.
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