Four people were arrested between November 1 and November 18, 2009, in connection with rumors circulated the previous month about the king’s health, which caused a dramatic drop in the stock market. The last of the four, 42-year-old radiologist Tassaporn Ratawongsa, was charged under Article 14 of the CCA for distributing false computer data in a manner that is likely to damage national security or cause panic.
iLaw Project Report.
“Thai Blogger Who Received Pardon Speaks Out,” Asian Correspondent, July 1, 2010, http://asiancorrespondent.com/36769/thai-blogger-who-received-pardon-speaks-out/.
Reporters Without Borders, “Prachatai Editor Released on Bail,” September 24, 2010, http://en.rsf.org/thailand-newswebsite-editor-arrested-on-24-09-2010,38440.html.
THAILAND FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net Concerns about surveillance have led some political activists to use caution when communicating online and employ additional security and privacy tools. The CCA undermines user anonymity by requiring ISPs and webmasters to retain data logs for up to 90 days and turn it over to investigators upon request. Customers at cybercafes must present identification cards, though the smaller businesses do not always comply with this rule. Mobile-phone users are also required to register with their carriers. In practice, police reportedly need up to three days to trace the source of offensive online comments.51 The permanent secretary for the Ministry of Information and Communication Sue Loruthai warned in the spring of 2010 that social-networking websites such as Twitter, MySpace and hi5 would be under close surveillance.In addition to legal repercussions, internet users who post controversial content can face societal harassment, termed “online witch hunts” by local observers. In a case reported in May 2010, an 18-year-old high school graduate became the subject of an online hate campaign over her alleged insult of the monarchy. The woman claimed that she was refused a place at Silpakorn University because of her Facebook postings, and expressed fears of a physical attack after her name and address were posted on public websites. She said that she faced hostility in her neighborhood as well as threatening leaflets and phone calls, and that police had refused to accept her complaint.53 A network of users calling themselves the “Social Sanction” group has actively sought out individuals who have expressed views deemed to be disrespectful of the monarchy and launched online campaigns to vilify them.
In some cases, these campaigns have sparked official investigations of the targeted individual.There have been reports of hacking attacks on online news outlets. Prachatai faced denial-of-service attacks many times during periods of political turmoil in 2009 and before it was officially blocked by the authorities. The attacks forced the outlet to change servers and set aside large sums to pay for extra bandwidth.
Personal conversation with a senior police officer specializing in ICT crimes on March 27, 2009.
Jonathan Fox, “Silenced Smiles: Freedom of Expression in Thailand,” Prachatai, July 20, 2010, http://www.prachatai3.info/english/node/1946.
Pravit Rojanaphruk, “18-Year-Old’s Facebook Posting Spurs ‘Hate Campaign,’” Nation, May 28, 2010, available on Prachatai at http://prachatai3.info/english/node/1864. One of the pages condemning the young woman can be found at http://www.khanpak.com/front-variety/variety-view.phpid= iLaw Project Report pg 14.
THAILAND FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net TUNISIA 2009 POPULATION: 10.5 million INTERNET FREEDOM Not Not INTERNET PENETRATION: 34 percent STATUS Free Free WEB 2.0 APPLICATIONS BLOCKED: Yes Obstacles to Access 21 SUBSTANTIAL POLITICAL CENSORSHIP: Yes Limits on Content 25 BLOGGERS/ONLINE USERS ARRESTED: Yes Violations of User Rights 30 PRESS FREEDOM STATUS: Not Free Total 76 EDITOR’S NOTE:
The report covers developments in Tunisia up to December 31, 2010. However, events that have occurred since the end of the coverage period have significantly altered the country’s political and internet freedom landscape. In response to widespread protests against President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his government, the leader pledged in a speech to the nation on January 13, 2011 to, among other things, free access to the internet. Within a few hours, reports emerged that previously inaccessible websites such as the video-sharing services YouTube and Daily Motion, as well as the independent collective blog Nawaat.org, had been unblocked.
However, protests continued, and on January 14, 2011, Ben Ali fled the country. The new transitional government has generally eased restrictions on internet access. Nevertheless, the mechanism that enabled the government to block websites remains in existence. The Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) has insisted it will only be used to block websites that “are against decency, contain violent elements, or incite hate”. The ATI has also pledged to include judicial oversight in filtering decisions, though it is too early to judge whether this has been implemented.
INTRODUCTION The internet was first launched for public use in Tunisia in 1996, and the first broadband connections were made available in 2005. Since traditional media are censored and tightly controlled by the government, the internet has been used as a comparatively open forum for airing political and social opinions, and as an alternative field for public debates on serious political issues. As the internet penetration continued to grow, the regime responded by creating an extensive online censorship and filtering system. In 2009 and especially in 2010, censorship expanded and became increasingly arbitrary. Even websites with no political or pornographic content have been censored. About 100 blogs as well as several online TUNISIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net applications like the photo-sharing site Flickr were blocked at least temporarily in 2010.
In an extraordinary series of events that started unfolding on December 17, 2010, an unemployed fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire to protest joblessness, which sparked country-wide protests and calls for political reform and greater employment opportunities. Social media sites such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, as well as various blogs, have played an important role in providing independent information and analysis, spreading the protesters’ demands, and showing videos of demonstrations in cities across the country. This, in turn, has resulted in the government’s increased efforts to dismantle networks of online activists, hack into their social networking and blogging accounts, conduct extensive online surveillance, and disable activists’ online profiles and blogs.
OBSTACLES TO ACCESS Internet usage in Tunisia has grown rapidly in recent years, even as access remains restricted. According to the International Telecommunications Union, there were 3.million internet users in the country at the end of 2009, for a penetration rate of 34 percent, and reported 414,000 broadband subscriptions.1 Although the government has actively sought to improve the country’s information and communication technologies (ICTs), access is still difficult for most Tunisians due to high prices and underdeveloped infrastructure.
Tunisia has only one landline telephone provider, the state-controlled Tunisie Tlcom, and every internet subscriber has to buy a landline package before choosing an internet-service provider (ISP). Tunisie Tlcom’s internet subscription prices range from 20 dinars (US$15) a month for a connection speed of 1 Mbps, to 50 dinars (US$38) for a connection speed of 4 megabits per second. The prices offered by other ISPs for the same speeds range from 15 to 25 dinars. Although there are no legal limits on the data capacity that ISPs supply, the bandwidth remains very low, and connectivity is highly dependent on physical proximity to the existing infrastructure.
The popularity of mobile phones is on the rise: there were over 10.7 million mobilephone subscriptions as of June 2010, nearly double the figure from 2005.2 Nonetheless, mobile internet connections are rarely used, since mobile-phone companies purchase internet access from existing ISPs and the cost remains beyond the reach of most Tunisians.
International Telecommunications Union (ITU), “ICT Statistics 2009—Intenret,” http://www.itu.int/ITUD/ICTEYE/Indicators/Indicators.aspx. More recent statistics were provided by the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), “Statistiques du mois de Mars 2010 sur l’Internet en Tunisie” [Statistics of March 2010 on the Internet in Tunisia], http://www.ati.tn/fr/index.phpid=90&rub=27, accessed August 2010.
Ministry of Communication Technologies (Mincom), “Indicateurs et donnes statistiques TIC—Accs et infrastructure TIC:
Nombre d’abonnements aux rseaux tlphoniques fixe et mobiles” [ICT Indicators and Statistical Data—ICT Access and Infrastructure: Number of Subscriptions to Fixed and Mobile Telephone Networks], http://www.mincom.tn/index.phpid=295&L=3, accessed August 2010.
TUNISIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net The country’s third mobile-phone company, which launched in May 2010, provides internet service through a plug-in device that enables laptops to connect to the mobile network. The device, in the form of a USB key, costs 129 dinars, and the service costs 30 dinars per month.
In 2004, the government set up an initiative to encourage widespread computer use by removing customs fees and creating the Family PC concept, according to which each family should own a personal computer. Authorities set a price ceiling for computer hardware and arranged loans at low interest rates for families to purchase the necessary equipment. The program also provided an internet subscription with every computer sold.
Unfortunately, the project did not achieve the intended results, and computer prices remained prohibitively high—about 700 dinars, or three times the minimum monthly salary—even with the government incentives. Still, the number of computers per inhabitants rose from 9.6 in 2008 to 12.3 in 2010, and more banks are granting Tunisians special loans to buy computers.3 The government has also attempted to increase access to ICTs by rebuilding infrastructure to improve connectivity, and promoting competition among ISPs to lower prices.
Although many people are unable to connect at home, the government claims that universities, research centers, laboratories, and high schools have a 100 percent connectivity rate, and that 70 percent of primary schools are connected.4 Most Tunisian users access the internet at privately owned cybercafes known as publinets.5 According to government statistics, the number of publinets across the country reached 248 in 2009, and fell slightly to 240 in 2010. This method of access is also quite expensive for most residents, as one hour of connection may cost up to 1.50 dinars.
Tunisian users enjoy access to various internet services and applications, including free blog-hosting websites. However, a growing number of applications like the videosharing sites Dailymotion and YouTube, and more recently Flickr and Wat TV,6 have been systematically blocked by the government. Systems that allow voice calls over the internet are prohibited, but web-based applications like Skype and Google Talk, which provide voice and other such services, are nevertheless accessible. The social-networking site Facebook was temporarily blocked in 2008, and some groups, profiles, and video links within the application remain inaccessible. The private internet connections of some journalists, Mincom, “Indicateurs et donnes statistiques TIC—Accs et infrastructure TIC: Le nombre d’ordinateurs pour 100 habitants” [ICT Indicators and Statistical Data—ICT Access and Infrastructure: Number of Computers per 100 Inhabitants], http://www.mincom.tn/index.phpid=315, accessed September 22, 2010.
ATI, “Statistiques du mois de Mars 2010 sur l’Internet en Tunisie.” Mincom, “Indicateurs et donnes statistiques TIC—Accs et infrastructure TIC: Nombre de publinets” [ICT Indicators and Statistical Data—ICT Access and Infrastructure: Number of Publinets], http://www.mincom.tn/index.phpid=1062&L=3, accessed September 12, 2010.
Sami Ben Gharbia, “Tunisia: Flickr, Video-Sharing Websites, Blog Aggregators and Critical Blogs Are Not Welcome,” Global Voices Advocacy, April 28, 2010, http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2010/04/28/tunisia-flickr-video-sharing-websitesblogs-aggregators-and-critial-blogs-are-not-welcome/.
TUNISIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net activists, and political bloggers are often cut, ostensibly due to “technical problems,” or the speed is reduced to hamper their ability to view sites and post information. In addition, certain accounts on the Twitter microblogging service are blocked.Tunisia has 13 ISPs. Planet Tunisie, 3S Globalnet, Hexabyte, Topnet, Orange, and Tunet are privately owned, while the remaining seven are wholly or partially owned by the government and tasked with providing internet service to public institutions. The Ministry of Communication Technologies is the main government body responsible for ICTs, and its Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) is the regulator for all internet-related activities. The law requires ISPs to obtain a license from the ministry and purchase their bandwidth from the ATI.
LIMITS ON CONTENT Tunisia’s multilayered internet censorship apparatus is one of the world’s most repressive.
The government employs three main techniques as part of its internet control strategy:
technical filtering, postpublication censorship, and proactive manipulation. Users have increasingly complained about the expansion of this system, and the year 2010 featured an unprecedented wave of censorship that affected general blogs, photo-sharing sites, and other applications.