Internet Filtering in Bahrain in 2004-2005
February 1, 2005
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.
For the full text of this report, please visit http://opennet.net/studies/bahrain/