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This is how a government-filtered internet looks

Quite dull really

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There been alot of argument in Tunis during the World Summit over the fact that the government filters internet access to remove websites it doesn't like.

We thought we'd show you what it looks like if you're on the end of it. As such, here is a screengrab of the Swissinfo.org site as seen from the Tunisian perspective. It is a fake 404 page, implying that the site doesn't exist.

SwissInfo.org blocked

It does of course, except by using a piece of software from US company Secure Computing, called SmartFilter, the Tunisian internet agency ATI can click it out of existence - at least for its own citizens.

The Saudi Arabian version of this internet filtering, which uses the same software, is more honest about its approach and replaces the 404 message with a "Forbidden Content" page.

All ISPs in Tunisia are forced to run their traffic through ATI, which then watches where its citizens go and checks out what is on the other end. If it doesn't like what it sees - usually criticism of the government - it simply blocks the site altogether.

There are a large number of sites it does this to, including Reporters Sans Frontieres (www.rsf.fr), Tunisian opposition political party CPR (www.cprtunisie.com), and Tunisian human rights organisation LTDH (www.ltdh.org), but the one that caused the biggest ruckus this week was Swiss news website Swissinfo.org, which was added to the list while the summit was still going on because it printed details of its president's speech. The speech was very critical of the Tunisian's government censoring and, ironically and inevitably, was itself was censored across Tunisia.

This whole process, incidentally, is extra-legal. That is, there is nothing in Tunisian law that allows the government to do this, and it continues to pretend that it offers a "free and open internet" to its citizens.

But, it would seem from having toured around the Tunisian version of the Internet for a few hours that you need only worry about being effectively wiped off the map if you are writing in French (and possibly Arabic).

There are al ot of Tunisians, especially among the young, that speak enough English to broadly understand what is being said, but it seems that the censors at the ATI haven't benefited from the same education and English websites have so far escaped the Net (pun intended). And so the Internet finds another way around efforts to control it. ®

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