Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat- There are between 700 and 1000 requests from internet users to block websites in Saudi Arabia per day, a source at the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) told Asharq Al-Awsat. An average of 850 requests per day means that there are 300,000 requests annually. The same source confirmed that over 93 percent of blocked websites are pornographic.
Sultan al Malik, Public Relations and International Affairs Manager at the CITC stated that there are approximately 200 requests per day to unblock websites, meaning that for every four requests to block a certain website there is only one request to unblock websites.
“The CITC happily looks into every request it receives from the public (whether it is to block or unblock a site) in no longer than 48 hours before making the appropriate decision that is in line with applied regulations,” explained al Malik.
Al Malik further stated that “the majority of blocked websites in the kingdom are pornographic. They make up over 93 percent of the overall blocked sites, whereas five percent [of blocked websites are those that help] evade the filtering system. The remainder of blocked websites are classified as being inconsistent with the applied regulations in Saudi Arabia, some of which promote the use of drugs, gambling etc.”
Asked about the mechanism that is used to block websites, al Malik said, “Blocking or filtering websites on the internet has been enacted due to the emergence of websites that substantially harm the accepted set of values and morals in many societies and they are also a security hazard. One of the aims of blocking websites in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is to protect internet users against the harm caused by some pornographic sites that promote vice, sites that affect national security or mock religion.”
Al Malik added, “The CITC is authorized to deal directly with pornographic websites which promote vice and promote gambling, as well as websites that work on penetrating the filter system. The other sites are the responsibility of a committee made up of a number of other government bodies. The CITC receives the [domain] names of sites that are to be blocked by this committee before adding them to the filtering lists. Operators update those filtering lists on a daily basis and the CITC follows up on the process.”
Regarding the nature of blocked sites, al Malik explained that they fall under two categories, the first of which is commercial sites: “The CITC gets them from a specialist international company with which a contract is signed to provide the CITC with updated lists on a daily basis. The list comprises of more than 50 website categories and so the CITC assumes the task of blocking sites that go against our faith and traditions, including pornographic, drug-related and gambling websites.”
As for the second category, al Malik stated that it includes “a local list prepared by the CITC. The majority of sites on this list are mainly received from internet users via online forms available on the following site: internet.gov.sa”
However, despite the efforts exerted by the CITC in countering sites that are harmful to religion and morality, some Saudis have attempted to break “the proxy” to gain access to blocked sites by using foreign programs and websites. Meanwhile, a considerable number of internet users in Saudi Arabia have criticized the absence of set standards for the policy of blocking websites, particularly when cultural, intellectual or discussion forums are being blocked, as some of them do not contain any content that contradicts Saudi values and morals.
Results of a recent study conducted by the CITC have shown that the filtering of information is a concern for 33 percent of internet users in Saudi Arabia. Males form the larger portion of this percentage. Around 31 percent of the study sample argued that the main reason for this concern is because of the blocked sites, whereas 75 percent of the sample believes that the current filtering system is beyond reasonable limits, according to the study results.
It is worth mentioning that the rate of internet users among the Saudi population increased at the end of 2008 to approximately 36 percent compared to only 30.5 percent in 2007. These figures were posted nearly two weeks ago on the online CITC bulletin. The Eastern Province had the highest level of internet usage out of Saudi Arabia’s administrative regions, followed by Riyadh with 37 percent.