"The internet is freedom": Index speaks to Tunisian Internet Agency chief
03 Feb 2012

The regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was an enemy to internet freedom. Significant resources were spent on censorship of the web. The Tunisian Internet Agency (established in 1996, and known as the ATI by its French acronym), was the regime’s instrument to block access to online dissident voices and websites that criticised the regime. After the ousting of Ben Ali on 14 January 2011, Tunisian netizens have started to enjoy unprecedented, uncensored web access.

And as the ATI is trying to break all ties with its image as a web censor, questions are being raised about the role of the agency in post-revolution Tunisia, the destiny of censorship machinery, and the challenges to the internet in the country.

To answer these questions and more, Index on Censorship interviewed Moez Chakchouk, the ATI’s CEO.

There is a complaint lodged against ATI to filter pornographic content on the web. If ATI loses the case, how do you see the future of internet censorship in Tunisia? Will this case pave the way for other lawsuits asking the ATI to block other content?

Currently, there are other lawsuits against the ATI requiring it to filter other content.  There are lawsuits filed by investigating magistrates, similar to the complaint lodged by the military Tribunal in May. [In May, 2011, and following a verdict issued by the military tribunal, the ATI filtered five Facebook pages criticising the army]. We have received complaints to censor about 30 Facebook pages.

Who is lodging such complaints?

There are complaints lodged by one person against another one, for defamation, or for spreading false or unconfirmed information. In this case, an investigating magistrate has asked the agency to filter such content.

Under the former regime, ATI used to use censorship equipment. Questions are being raised about such equipment. Where is it now? What happened to it? Will it be ever used again?

The censorship equipment is still at the ATI headquarters. The machinery was bought by the government and installed at the ATI in 2006. In 2011, we did not buy anything new. The equipment requires an extension every year to face increase in Internet traffic. In 2011, we did not do anything; we could not buy more equipment because the government took back a subvention that was first allocated to the ATI.

What about the five Facebook pages that the Military tribunal asked you to filter in May?

We did filter those pages for some time but then we stopped for technical reasons.The global filters were not capable of covering all Internet traffic, which increased from 30 Gbits to 45 Gbits over last year. And for an increase of 15Gbits, we need two more filtering machines. When we tried to filter those pages with the available equipment, Internet service quality lowered. And we can’t allow this to happen because we have contracts with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) …We are somehow caught in between. Judicially, the agency is obliged to filter (…) but we could not do it. So we have decided not to filter until we could improve the equipment that we have.

Plus in August 2011 the agency faced another mechanical breakdown; the filtering machinery failed. And this is quite normal because over the past year no maintenance took place and we did not develop the equipment that we have.

Under the former regime, the ATI used to play the role of Internet censor. What is the role of the ATI in post-Ben Ali Tunisia? And how will it move from an agency that censors online dissident voices and content criticising the regime to an institution guaranteeing net freedom?

Right now there is no internet censorship. I’m against censorship. But in case there is a call for the comeback of censorship, it should be based on legal texts. And for the moment there are no such texts for the Internet in Tunisia.

The goal of the agency after the revolution is guaranteeing net neutrality. When we say net neutrality we should not care about the content.

Again we do not prefer Internet legislation because we are aware its risks.

If we want to develop the Internet in Tunisia we should not create obstacles. It is not urgent for Tunisia to draw red lines. This is my personal point of view independent of the agency, which has to remain neutral.

If there is to be Internet control in Tunisia, this control should be smart, transparent and for security reasons. The agency, used to carry out such control secretly. Today we are advocating absolute transparency. It would be better if a new public agency would be established and take charge of such a task. The ATI cannot guarantee internet neutrality and supervise the Internet at the same time. That is a conflict. This is my personal view as the legal representative of the ATI.

Do you know where the key technicians and officials who ran the old regime’s internet blocking and surveillance operation are? Are they still working?

The ATI is a technical agency where the censorship equipment was and is still installed. The agency has never been involved in deciding which websites should be censored. The employees of the agency know how to operate, and maintain the machinery; but they are not the ones who chose the websites to censor. They are only trained to maintain the equipment. Those who took such decisions were not ATI employees.

According to the information that I have; the Tunisian Agency for External Communication [known by its French acronym as the ATCE] was involved in taking such decisions (…) the ATCE had important transactions with the ATI. But these transactions were not documented as practices of censorship, but as website surveillance. But there is nothing documented that proves there were censorship related transactions between the two agencies.

The former ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Party, (now dissolved, and known by its French acronym the as RCD) , the presidential palace and the security apparatus, might have been involved in such practices too. I don’t know exactly. There are no documents that reveal exact names and parties.

What about the foreign companies that the agency cooperated with under the former regime? Are you still cooperating with them?

We are no longer cooperating with the companies that the agency cooperated with in the past. Over the past year we put an end to the agency’s dealings with old markets, and we did not launch any new censorship-related projects.

Since the agency is filtering for public institutions, we have been trying to renew a maintenance contract with a filtering company. But we have faced enormous issues, and the contract has not been renewed yet. This company considered the Tunisian Internet agency a big partner … a technical partner that hosted equipment that does not belong to it, and that was used to undertake censorship and surveillance related tests. For these companies, Tunisia responded to their needs; a country close to Europe, and a place where everything was permitted, and no one dares to raise the question about the 404 error. But now, when a website hosted in Europe, or the USA does no longer exist, and 404 error appears on the computer screen, newspapers immediately report that “censorship is back” , and that “ATI is lying to us”. Truly, there is not a single functioning machine except the local filters, which are functioning for public institutions.

What is the name of this company?

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the names of the companies. I read the contracts of these companies with the agency, and they contain confidentiality clauses.

What are the upcoming challenges for the ATI and for the internet in Tunisia?

When we check the ICT development index, we notice that the problem of Tunisia is the content. We have an advanced infrastructure but the content and apps are not developing for simple reasons. Before, to create a website there were obstacles — namely waiting for the ATCE approval, and censorship. People did not feel comfortable and safe to create content. It was impossible to create websites in Tunisia; it was a dream.

Obtaining a domain name for a website was impossible too. But, now any Tunisian citizen can go ask for the name of the domain that he or she chooses. There are no more political constraints. And there is no more censorship. People used to be afraid from authorities tracking them and their families down. This is why Tunisia was behind.

Obstacles that were established during a specific period should be abolished now. We should try to ensure an adequate development without constraints, and barriers. The internet is freedom, the internet is openness. Of course it can be badly used, but we will go through this over time.

Now, people are lodging complaints against each other for defamation. We are overreacting and I have fears that if we over react we will receive censorship orders.

Another challenge for the internet in Tunisia is regulation. The government should not be involved in internet regulation. Instead, an independent authority should take in charge such task. But we don’t have such authorities for the internet in Tunisia, so we have to raise this issue realistically.

If the state wants to draw red lines for net freedom, it should first establish an independent authority to regulate the internet. Internet legislation should not be drafted without a regulation authority that creates balance, between public and individual interests. The state has the right to protect and eliminate defamation, but citizens have the right to freely express themselves. So we need balance, and if the government cannot create such balance, a conflict of interests will occur.


8 responses to ““The internet is freedom”: Index speaks to Tunisian Internet Agency chief”

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  6. […] 敏感词库河蟹档案五毛大观有关部门防火长城科学上网草泥马语 Global Voices | 网民报导:该往何处去? 圖片由Broodcast提供本篇报导多由Weiping Li、Mera Szendro Bok撰写、研究,并由Sarah Myers编辑过去几个礼拜,我们看到了网络公司 — 又名“网际空间内的君王”,如何在全球扩张的市场需求,以及使用者对于网络言论自由的渴望之间,进退两难。随着推特(Twitter)在全球大受欢迎,该公司宣布将要屏蔽在某些国家的推特内容,以遵循当地法律。谷歌(Google)旗下的博客(Blogger)也说,要将读者导向个别国家的域名,以限制该服务在某些国家的内容。虽然两家业者宣称,他们将上述政策透明化,反而可以促进言论自由,以及确保在那些网络被控制的国家里,信息还能继续流通,这些作法还是激怒了网民,并且展开网络抗议行动。在抗议者中,中国艺术家艾未未说,若是推特开始审查,他就停止发送讯息。一篇在“科技闲话”网站(techdirt)的文章,则哀叹若是其他网络公司跟随推特以及博客的脚步,依照个别国家的规定审查网络,则信息流通全球的网络现状可能不保。然而,推特的举措还是赢得了掌声,不仅限制内容的国家给予讚美,连捍卫言论自由的活动人士也颇为认同。中国与泰国毫不意外地欢迎推特的决定。在言论自由光谱的另一端,吉利安‧约克(Jullian York)以及麦克‧麦思尼克(Mike Masnick)也赞同该公司对于政策透明的努力,以及提供渠道,让言论受限国家的居民得以绕开屏蔽的作法。推特以及博客并非第一个,也不会是最后一个实施区域性屏蔽网络内容的公司。就如伊娃‧盖普林(Eva Galperin)所说的,作为关心网络自由命运的网民,我们会密切注意这股趋势,并且确保这些公司守得住底线。以下是其他你可能会想知道的趋势以及报导:审查制度如上所述,网络公司服从某些国家的法律及要求,已经成为趋势。最新的案例就是脸书(Facebook)以及谷歌(Google)应印度法院命令的要求,移除被视为“令人不悦”的内容。在最近一场由媒体使用计划(Media Access Project)所举办的活动中,谷歌的包伯‧布尔思丁(Bob Boorstin)指出,印度、韩国以及巴西是在这场言论自由战役中,战情紧急的国家。突尼西亚网络局局长摩埃‧查楚克(Moez Chakchouk)在 与人权组织“审查指数”(Index of Censorship)访谈中,说明该局的角色已经从审查制度下的工具,转变成维持“网络中立”的单位。这位局长也谈及了他们如何处理旧政权遗留下来的审 查机器。此外,某些外国公司过去贩售设备,供旧政权实施审查制度。局长也畅谈了该局目前与这些公司之间的关系。BBC在夜间音乐节目过滤“巴勒斯坦”一词,此举饱受外界批评。但BBC仍坚称此为正确之举,而且坚持在音乐节目里表达偏颇一方的政治观点,并非适当行为。过去两个星期,在西藏人民以激烈行动抗议中国统治之时,有一些西藏部落格被强制关闭。根据英国卫报报导,在此同时,中国政府也切断了四川藏人抗议地区的网络及电话通讯。同样在中国,微博实名制也引起了网民抗争言论自由:好几位以勇于批评政府著称的知识分子,因为政府加紧控制,因而关闭了新浪微博帐号。“在媒体上”(On the Media)网站的一篇文章揭露了美国政府对于维基解密文件所做的删节。美国民权团体ACLU依据信息自由法案,申请美国政府公布之前遭维基解密所洩漏的文件,并将美国政府依申请所揭露的文件,与维基解密所洩漏的文件比对,找出政府删除了哪些段落。监控美国国会议员爱德华‧马凯(Edward Markey)针对手机监控的议题,提出法案。根据法案草稿,手机公司必须告知消费者,其所提供的设备装有类似CarrierIQ,用以追踪使用者手机活动的软件。业者也须在监控之前,先取得消费者的同意。马里莎‧洛格(malicia Rogue)在全球之声倡议部落格所 发表的文章,整理出美国联邦调查局(FBI)发布的线上恐怖主义指标。根据联邦调查局文件,“试图遮盖萤幕,以避开他人视线”或是“使用匿名代理软件 (anonymizers)、入口网站(portal),或其他可以掩饰网络位址的方法”,都是恐怖活动的证据,且会引起联邦调查局官员的疑心。夏威夷众议院的代表提出法案,要求网络供应商记录消费者以及其网络浏览历史的信息,例如网络位址以及域名。该信息必须保留两年。不意外地,该法案招致许多批评,一些议员也决定不予支持。迫害韩国活动人士朴正进(音译)被控“协助敌方”,违反韩国的国家安全法,理由是朴正进从朝鲜的官方推特帐号,转发“金正日万岁”讯息,其用意原本只是要嘲讽朝鲜领导人。伊朗的新闻记者遭遇了哪些困境?哪些记者目前人在狱中?伊朗一个全新的网站专门报导这些议题。虽然网站上大部分的文章是以波斯文书写,但有些已被翻译成英文,供外界从伊朗人民的观点,探索这些议题。网民运动线上社群Reddit 在反对SOPA及PIPA法案的运动里,扮演重要角色。现在该社群正一起试着创造法案,避免日后有人干涉网络自由。非洲历史最悠久的社区广播电台,在社交媒体的助益之下,不但拉近了与听众之间的距离,还以听众强大的支持力量,让金主找到持续让该电台经营下去的理由。再一次地,社交媒体将全世界的人联合一起,抗议叙利亚政府的屠杀行为。活动人士透过推特及脸书散布讯息,呼籲民众在叙利亚使馆外抗议。许多叙利亚民众响应号召,并在科威特、伦敦、柏林以及华盛顿特区的使馆外表达他们的愤怒。国家政策根据Akamai网络现状报告,2011年第三季,韩国、香港以及日本在宽频普及率上领先各国,中国与印度则落后他国。英国媒体报导,在金正日去世一百日内的国丧期中,朝鲜政府禁止人民使用手机,因为担心会引发民众对于政府的不满。网络空间的君主脸书申请上市的消息,在二月一日成为新闻头条。其上市不仅是全球市场上的大事,就全球社交网络来说,也有重要的人权与隐私方面的影响。人权组织“人权第一”(Human Right First)的总裁爱丽莎‧马西米诺(Elisa Massimino)从人权观点,解释脸书大规模上市的重要性。一篇在科技网站Ars Technica的文章则指出,脸书上市也意味着,过去美国联邦交易委员会对于脸书的调查以及询问资料,原本不对外公开,现在都得摊在世人眼前。从三月一日起,谷歌的新隐私政策将会整合使用者在其不同服务上的个人信息。该政策已经引起外界对于客户隐私的严重关切。对于使用者而言,谷歌可以借此猜测你的年龄以及喜好,再将这些资料提供给广告商。过去两个礼拜以来,谷歌忙着澄清新隐私政策的“迷思”。该公司也以一份长达十三页的信件,回应国会的质疑,并且保证“新的隐私政策不会改变谷歌把用户信息存档、删除的作法”。“人权第一”的企业及人权资深顾问梅葛‧洛根沙克(Meg Roggensack)的文章,检视了集权政体下私营电信企业的责任。谷歌针对除传输控制协议(TCP),提出一些改变网络标准的建议。传输控制协议是一种传输协定,应用程序借着TCP才得以可靠地传递资料。著作权在欧洲二十二国签署了“反假冒贸易协定”(Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, ACTA))后,反对ACTA的抗议行动蔓延全欧。一月的最后一个星期里,捷克、比利时、爱尔兰、英国以及法国的抗议者走上街头反对此协定。骇客则在网上战斗,表达不满 — 不过,无论是赞成及反对此协定的两方,提出的论述或有正确,也有谬误。提摩西‧李(Timothy B. Lee)在科技网站ars technica发表的文章中,检视了这些论述。这些网上抗议行动,的确在欧洲达到成效:欧洲议会专责ACTA的书记辞去职务,并且批评ACTA协商的过程,波兰国会议员则戴上V怪客的面具,以示抗议。斯洛伐尼亚大使因为签署ACTA协定而公开道歉,波兰总理也已暂停该协定的批准程序。最新的消息是,捷克政府也跟进暂停批准协定。欧洲议会成员玛利亚‧沙克(Marietje Schaake)为想要抗议此协定的民众,列出了可以采取的行动。泛太平洋伙伴关系协定(Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement)亦会冲击网络言论自由。拉西米‧任纳(Rashimi Rangnath)写了一篇与此有关的文章,请见“公共知识”(Public Knowledge)网站。根据报导,储存在Megaupload网站上的档案将会被删除。此一档案储存服务被控以非法分享档案,且美国政府以调查为由,也已扣押其资产。电子前锋基金会(The Electronic Frontier Foundation)已经寄信给东维吉尼亚检察官办公室以及Megaupload的律师,要求他们考虑无辜的使用者,保存网站上的资料。西班牙加泰隆尼亚的盗版党也已替合法使用者,在西班牙法院控告美国联邦调查局。美国政府决定,不在新闻稿以及公共文件内发布负责Megaupload一案的官员及检察官姓名,以保护他们及其家人的人身安全。政府官员说,骇客极有可能对负责此案的相关人等展开攻击。网民在反SOPA运动中展现“有效的政治力量”几天之后,美国司法部即针对Megaupload展开行动。尤凯‧班克勒(Yochai Benkler)在最近一场访谈中提及此案。他说,司法部未经审判,就扣押该公司的资产以及人员,是一个“相当挑衅且大张旗鼓”的举措。英国法官针对一项照片著作权侵权的案件做出审判,该判决可能进一步模糊著作权法里“想法/表达”的界线,并且箝制创造空间。网络安全一群支持叙利亚总统阿萨德(Bashar al-Assad)的骇客攻击半岛电视台英语部落格“叙利亚现场”(Syria Live Blog),并在网站上张贴支持阿萨德的讯息。该部落格是用以报导叙利亚的抗议事件。根据世界经济论坛(World Economic Forum, WEF)的2012年全球风险报告,在可能实现的全球风险中,针对政府以及私部门的网络攻击排名第四。该报导也呼籲改善网络风险的“信息不对称”,以改善全球网络安全。政府、恐怖分子以及犯罪组织,越来越懂得利用网络技术,监控目标 — 大多数的目标是新闻记者。不过,许多记者并未具备网络安全的相关技能。一篇哥伦比亚新闻评论部落格里的文章,检视美国新闻学院里的网络安全教育。校對:Sonya Yan Song作者 Rebecca MacKinnon · 译者 Weiping Li · 阅读原文 en · 则留言 (0) 分享: HEMiDEMi · MyShare · Shouker · facebook · twitter · reddit · StumbleUpon · delicious · Instapaper本文由自动聚合程序取自网络,内容和观点不代表数字时代立场 定期获得翻墙信息?请电邮订阅数字时代 […]

  7. Redwan says:

    Society as with any system, needs limits and rules in order to maintain order and not fall into chaos, immorality and obcenities, anarchy, and disorder like weve been witnessing here in the West. All those who call for free speech, do not want freedom, they want society to follow its whims and desires, and not be bound by rules, which in essence, is a evil call. There is no Freedom, man must follow either that which is True or False, no one can escape that. That which is True benefits the individual and society in itself and that which is false corrupts the individual and society as well, kind of like the lies we’ve been fed about how looking at pornography and masturbation is good for you. Few short years later after the advent of the internet, we now see porn addiction as an epidemic, and women in the West degraged and stripped of their clothing and dignigty as a commodity with young girls parading in skimpy outifits at beauty pagents. If you look back 150 years up until now you would see the major degradation of values here in the West, in comparison to earlier times. False calls brings corruption, just like the false call for Freedom, don’t believe me? ask the one who is calling for freedom of speech what he means by that. If he says to allow any and all types speech ask him, should we then allow child pornography to be set lose on society as well? If he says yes, then his deviation is made clear, and if he says no, then he has contridicted himself. The West always try to make themselves feel as if they are upon the right way, and any other who doesnt follow there way of liberalism, democracy, and freedom, ect, is an oppressor, yet they themselves push their corrupt ideology on the masses as well under the guise of freedom. If democracy is majority rules, then what if the majority wants something that is corrupt? The Truth should be the rule and not majority as mankind in general commits alot of evil i.e. genocides, riots ect. So my advice to people is to look for the Truth, and do not blindly follow what your society tells you is the Truth, because then you yourselves will be blameworthy in supporting what may be a very evil and false cause, corrupting yourself and those upon the earth. Question for non-muslims, do you believe everything you hear on the media about Islam, is this the correct information? Question for Muslims, are you sure you are following the Islam as practiced by the Prophet Muhammad may peace be with him, and as understood by his Companions and not a deviated way?

  8. […] an Index on Censorship interview, Moez Chakchouk, the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI) chief, discussed how the agency’s role has been transformed […]