Bahrain filters a very small number of Internet sites to prevent its citizens from accessing them. The OpenNet Initiative's (ONI) testing of more than 6,000 targeted sites revealed
only eight sites blocked from those seeking access from within Bahrain.
Three of the blocked sites were pornographic. The other filtered sites
covered political and religious topics. When a site is blocked in
Bahrain, the person seeking to access it is served one of two "block
pages" - Web pages with text indicating that the requested content
cannot be accessed. This modest filtering regime is supported by both a
legal context and a technical infrastructure. The legal context
includes extensive potential controls of media, telecommunications, and
the Internet, while the technical infrastructure includes a single
primary Internet Service Provider (ISP) and a state-mandated Internet
exchange point (IXP); the combination of both the legal context and the
technical infrastructure makes filtering relatively easy to implement.
In each case of a blocked site, however, the
Bahrain filtering regime leaves accessible to Bahrain's citizens many
sites with content similar to those that were blocked. In addition, a
simple change in the way the URL is entered in the Web browser (e.g., playboy.com rather than www.playboy.com) can render the otherwise blocked site accessible.
Our testing suggests that Bahrain's filtering
efforts have eased recently. Sites that were previously blocked, such
as Voice of Bahrain (www.vob.org),
are now available. We also documented a change, during the period when
our testing was occurring, in the way that block pages are served to
those seeking to access filtered content. It is possible that changes
may be underway in Bahrain's technical filtering regime, suggesting the
need for ongoing testing.
Overall, while Bahrain does implement Internet
filtering through its primary ISP, Batelco, the level of blocking is
extremely low, indicating that this effort is likely symbolic in nature
and does not present a serious challenge for its citizens in finding
Internet content. (See Appendixes 3 and 4.)
However, the regulatory and technical infrastructure in Bahrain is such
that more extensive filtering could be swiftly introduced, should the
government choose to do so. In addition, recent arrests of the editors
of a Web site, and the blocking of the site, indicate that Bahrain
continues to combine technical and legal controls for on-line content.