Jordanian internet users have reacted angrily to government encroachment on the freedom of the internet. Flying in the face of the reputation of Jordan as a Middle East haven for technology and relative liberalism, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology has stated its support for a blanket ban on online pornographic material, an easy jumping-off point for wider controls.
The Ministry was responding to a petition set up through the social-networking site Facebook to censor x-rated material in order to “bring an end to sexual crimes such as incest, rape and adultery”. Leaving aside the dangers of writing policy based on Facebook petitions, the majority state-owned Jordan Times named the petition, which garnered 29,459 “likes”, as the main driver behind government support.
The petition is at the very least convenient for the government: the article, extolling this movement of “people power” glossed over the use of actual sources, hinting at the possibility that the petition could originate from within the government itself. The same article also quotes Alexa, “an Internet metrics company”, as providing the figure that “between 77 per cent and 80 per cent of Internet users in Jordan access pornographic sites”.
The Ministry of ICT will now begin consulting with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as to how to filter and block the sites, although the obliging “anonymous source” at the Jordan Times told the paper that “at this stage, there are no financial allocations for a project to block these sites.”
Jordanian bloggers have responded furiously to the implication that the government will now either use part of its’ taxpayer-funded research and development budget to pay for this move, or that the cost of censoring will be built into ISP costs. Blogger Roba Abassi cited the eventual aim of having “Internet Service Providers…provide a restricted Internet ‘by default’ and for those who want an unrestricted internet to ask for that and pay extra.”
Jordan was recently ranked at 128 out of 179 countries in Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) annual ranking of freedom of expression. A previous attempt to sanction and “regulate” online content was eventually quashed in 2010 after a widespread outcry: potential penalties ranged from fines to forced labour for posting material online that violated vaguely defined rules of “public decency” or “national security”. It seems that with the first attempt to control the internet directly by state having failed, the Jordanian government is now finding more insidious ways to pressure private companies to do their dirty work for them, citing “public interest” as their motivation.