In March 2009, the TRA issued a new regulation that would force telecommunications companies to keep records of customers’ phone calls, e-mails, and website visits in Bahrain for up to three years; the companies would also be obliged to grant the security services access to the data.48 Media reports have quoted an official source as saying that some websites are monitored on a daily basis.49 In the case of Hasan Salman, who was jailed for publishing names of national security employees,50 his online activities were monitored without a Bahrain Center for Human Rights, “Authorities Ban Blackberry Users from Sending News Bulletins.” “MP Al-Dossari calls for hanging journalists of the associations’ newsletter,” [In Arabic] Manama Voice, February 23, 2010, http://www.manamavoice.com/index.phpplugin=news&act=news_read&id=2574.
Bahrain Center for Human Rights, "Prominent Bahraini Blogger and Online Activist Under Arrest," September 6, http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/3300.
Bahrain Center for Human Rights, "“Terrorist Network’s First Hearing – Trial Testimonies," October 28, http://www.bahrainrights.org/en/node/3540.
Reporters Without Borders, “Countries Under Surveillance: Bahrain.” Geoffrey Bew, “Technology Bill Rapped,” Gulf Daily News, July 20, 2006, http://www.gulf-dailynews.com/NewsDetails.aspxstoryid=149891.
Bew, “‘Big Brother’ Move Rapped.” Bahrain Center for Human Rights, “Several Websites Blocked by Information Ministry on Pretext of Crisis Involving Sectarian Religious Tensions,” IFEX, July 2, 2008, http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/95015/.
“Arbitrary Detention of a Citizen for Disseminating Information,” Free Hasan Salman, June 21, 2009, http://freehasan.com/p=107.
BAHRAIN FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net judicial order.51 The country’s cybercafes are subject to increasing surveillance. Oversight of their operations is coordinated by a commission consisting of members from four ministries, which ensures strict compliance with rules prohibiting access for minors and requiring full visibility of computer terminals.Cyberattacks against human rights and other websites are common in Bahrain. It is believed that hackers associated with the government crash sites at sensitive times when there is a need to stop the spread of information. The website Aafaq, which covers human rights and democracy issues in the Arab world, has been hacked by technicians from the Bahrain General Intelligence Bureau, who have added offensive comments against human rights activists.53 The websites of Shiite and opposition groups, and even of public entities like the University of Bahrain and the Department of Legal Affairs, have suffered from attacks.54 Cyber attacks against independent forums, opposition websites, and online news sources reportedly intensified in advance of the most recent elections.
“Case Regarding Publication of Names of National Security Employees Postponed to May” [in Arabic] Alwasat,, April 19, 2010, http://www.alwasatnews.com/2782/news/read/404013/1.html.
Reporters Without Borders, “Countries Under Surveillance: Bahrain.” Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, “Bahraini Authorities Block Websites that Criticize Government Policies,” news release, August 08, 2007, http://bahrainrights.hopto.org/en/node/1373.
“Lawsuit on Hacking of the University of Bahrain Website Rejected by Court,” [in Arabic] Alwasat, March 18, 2010, http://www.alwasatnews.com/2750/news/read/382665/1.html; See also “Website of the Department of Legal Affairs is Hacked” [in Arabic] Albilad, November 21, 2009 http://www.albiladpress.com/news_inner.phpnid=27387&cat=1.
BAHRAIN FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net BELARUS 2009 POPULATION: 9.5 million INTERNET FREEDOM n/a Not INTERNET PENETRATION: 27 percent STATUS Free WEB 2.0 APPLICATIONS BLOCKED: Yes Obstacles to Access n/a SUBSTANTIAL POLITICAL CENSORSHIP: Yes Limits on Content n/a BLOGGERS/ONLINE USERS ARRESTED: Yes Violations of User Rights n/a PRESS FREEDOM STATUS: Not Free Total n/a INTRODUCTION While the Belarusian government has promoted the use of the internet for economic purposes, the impact of the new medium in the political sphere remains limited. The authorities impose severe restrictions on all news outlets, and the security services have increasingly attempted to introduce various internet surveillance technologies. A presidential decree signed in February 2010 and subsequent regulations provide a legal basis for extensive censorship and monitoring of the internet. The government’s desire to suppress the free flow of information became even more evident during, and immediately following, the December 2010 presidential election. The authorities blocked international connections to the SMPT port 465 and HTTPS port 443, preventing users from securely posting content on social media sites like Facebook, and sending secure messages through Gmail. In addition, the government created fake mirror websites to divert users from accessing independent news sources, and launched distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against the opposition sites.
Recent years have seen an increase in internet use and mobile-telephone penetration in Belarus. Some 27 percent of the population uses the internet and 93 percent of the population uses mobile phones. However, state-imposed and other infrastructural restrictions significantly constrain Belarusians’ ability to fully access these technologies and related applications. Internet costs in Belarus are higher than in all neighboring countries.
BELARUS FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net OBSTACLES TO ACCESS Access to digital media has grown significantly since it was first made available to the public in 1993, but widespread poverty and poor infrastructure, particularly in rural and peripheral areas, remain barriers to access. According to the 2009 figures by the International Telecommunications Unions, there were 2.6 million internet users in Belarus, for a penetration rate of 27 percent,1 although some local sources put that number at 3.7 million as of May 2010.2 The majority of users are young people, with those aged 15–24 making up 37.2 percent and those aged 25–34 accounting for 28 percent. Just 3.5 percent of Belarusian users are aged 55 and over.3 In December 2010, more than 49 percent of users reported having broadband access, while 18.7 percent reported using dial-up and 5.6 percent used mobile-phone connections.4 The key divide in levels of access is not so much between rural and urban populations—since some 70 percent of Belarusians live in urban areas—as between Minsk and other parts of the country. In Minsk there are 62 computers per households,5 compared with 40 per 100 households in the country as a whole.The cost of broadband access via DSL and cable is generally tied to volume, reflecting the pricing structure that Beltelecom, the state-owned telecommunications monopoly, uses when selling bandwidth to downstream internet-service providers (ISPs). This makes it expensive to download large items like music or movies, but for common activities like email and web browsing, the volume surcharges do not form a barrier for most users.
Though unlimited internet access service was launched by Beltelecom in 2007, it is still rather expensive and is not widely available.
Over 90 percent of users regularly access the internet at home, and 28 percent do so at work; only 4.5 percent regularly use the internet at school. Cybercafes are the least popular point of access, with just 3.66 percent using them often.7 There are currently 1,public internet-access points in Belarus, all of which are provided by Beltelecom.8 As of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), “ICT Statistics 2009— Internet,”http://www.itu.int/ITUD/icteye/Indicators/Indicators.aspx#, accessed February 23, 2011.
“В Беларуси более 470 тыс. пользователей широкополосного интернет-доступа” [There are more than 470 thousand broadband internet users in Belarus], It.tut.by, April 22, 2009, http://it.tut.by/news/94161.html.
Mikhail Doroshevich,“Internet in Belarus, December 2010,” E-Belarus.org, February 4, 2011, http://www.e-belarus.org/news/201102041.html.
M. Doroshevich,.“Internet in Belarus, February 2010,” E-Belarus.org, April 5, 2010,, http://www.e-belarus.org/news/201004051.html ; “Цифры ИТ – статистика в Беларуси” [IT figures - statistics for Belarus], IT.tut.by, http://it.tut.by/numbers.html, accessed February 25, 2011.
“На 100 столичных семей приходится 62 персональных компьютера” [62 personal computers for 100 households in the capital city], It.tut.by,October 30, 2009, http://it.tut.by/news/92302.html.
“На 100 домашних хозяйств в Беларуси приходится 40 компьютеров” [40 personal computers for 100 households in Belarus], It.tut.by, March 25, 2010, http://it.tut.by/news/90590.html.
Doroshevich, “Internet in Belarus, December 2010.” “Цифры ИТ – статистика в Беларуси” [IT figures–statistics for Belarus] BELARUS FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net end of 2010, the country’s four mobile phone service providers had approximately nine million subscribers combined, for the total penetration rate of 93 percent.
There is a high level of government involvement in the electronic communications sector, and there is no independent regulator, as the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology handles regulatory functions. Beltelecom maintains a monopoly on international data transfers, and the fees it charges local ISPs for bandwidth exceed by a factor of three the cost at which operators in neighboring Baltic countries can buy bandwidth; the ISPs must recoup this cost from customers, who resort to sharing connections through the creation of neighborhood-level local area networks (LANs).
The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has issued 180 licenses for secondary internet providers. However, only 35 active secondary ISPs currently operate in Belarus, and Beltelecom’s subsidiary Belpak remains the largest ISP. There are also four mobile-phone operators offering internet access.9 In 2009, ISPs were allowed to provide wireless broadband access; before that, only Beltelecom provided WiFi internet access. The company had already installed by that time over 210 access points. More than 130 of them were situated in Minsk, while others were in regional centers, and some were in district centers.Various Web 2.0 applications such as the social networking site Facebook, videosharing site YouTube, and microblogging service Twitter are slowly gaining in popularity.
However, as of the end of 2010, less than five percent of internet users accessed Facebook regularly. Significantly more popular is the Russian social networking utility VKontakte, which is the third most accessed site in Belarus.11 During the December 2010 elections, the government temporarily disrupted access to social-networking applications and services such as Facebook, YouTube, and Gmail, in efforts to prevent citizens from sharing videos of protests, hinder their capacity to connect and organize, and impede the political opposition from sending secure emails to their supporters.
The State Center for Information Security, under the supervision of the president and initially a unit of the special security service (KGB), is a specialized body responsible for protecting state secrets. The center also manages the administration of the country’s toplevel domain (.by). For much of 2009, there were 20,000 domains in the.by zone. The price for an initial year’s registration is 130,000 Belarusian rubles (US$43), and continuation costs 95,000 rubles (US$32).According to regulations that followed Presidential Decree No. 60 of February 1, 2010, all legal persons’ sites in the.by domain are now obliged to use Belarusian hosting “Цифры ИТ – статистика в Беларуси” [IT figures–statistics for Belarus] Doroshevich, “Internet in Belarus, February 2010.” Alexa, “Top Sites in Belarus,” http://www.alexa.com/topsites/countries/BY, accessed February 22, 2011.
“Цифры ИТ – статистика в Беларуси” [IT figures-statistics for Belarus.].
BELARUS FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net services.13 This rule does not apply to sites belonging to physical persons. However, a physical person’s site that is hosted on a national hosting provider, including internet resources providing free hosting, is subject to compulsory registration carried out by the ISP. Moreover, government officials have announced that submission of false registration information will bring legal repercussions.
LIMITS ON CONTENT Presidential Decree No. 60 of 2010 introduced for the first time mechanisms by which ISPs are required to block access to restricted information, such as pornography or material that incites violence, when it is sought by users. Enforcement of the decree is overseen by the presidential administration’s Operational and Analytical Center (OAC).14 The presidential decrees on the internet and the OAC gave rise to debates on filtering and freedom of speech on the internet,15 but they also threatened to increase costs for ISPs, which must install filtering equipment and software. In June 2010, the Ministry of Telecommunications and the OAC issued a regulation that calls for the creation of two lists cataloging URLs of all websites that should be blocked; one list is open to the public, whereas the other list is accessible only by ISPs.16 As of the end of the year, the publicly accessible list did not contain any URLs.Presidential Decree No. 60 was only a prelude to suspected blocking and technical hijacking of independent and opposition websites that occurred on December 19, 2010 the date of presidential elections, and the following day. For example, the sites of the news outlets Charter97 and Belarus Partisan were temporarily inaccessible during the two day period. Internet users were also sporadically unable to access a host of international websites such as Facebook, LiveJournal, and YouTube. Deep-packet inspection, used in some countries such as China and Iran to monitor and filter unwanted content, has not been used so far. However, a capability for deep-packet inspection was included in Beltelecom’s tender call for broadband remote-access servers.
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