Canadian Web Co. Helps Yemen Censor Net

A Canadian Internet filtering company is blocking Internet content in Yemen as part of an information blackout by rebel Houthis who have taken control of the country’s main Internet service provider, according to a new report from Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto. The company has also provided filtering services to Pakistan and Somalia, two countries that have also been accused of violating people's rights of access to information, the researchers found.

The information being blocked from Internet users in Yemen “includes a wide variety of political content, and blocking of the entire .il (Israel) domain,” the researchers discovered. The Houthis appear to be using Netsweeper’s services to block access to independent news publications covering Yemen’s civil war and a Saudi-led bombing campaign, including Mareb Press, Yemen Voice, Sahafa Net, Al-Sahwa Net, and Yemen Press, Citizen Lab found. The researchers said they found evidence that Netsweeper was recently provisioning more services to YemenNet, the service provider, and “is actively updating Netsweeper installations in the country, and thus knows or has reason to know of the recent expansion of the filtering regime to include political content linked to the conflict and the Houthi takeover.”

Citizen Lab tracks Internet censorship and spying around the world. The group is perhaps best known for uncovering a global spying organization that targeted, among others, the offices of the Dalai Lama. Citizen Lab sent a list of questions to Netsweeper that it said went unanswered.

“The company appears to have no policy or due diligence around human rights,” said Ron Deibert, the Citizen Lab director and a professor of political science at the University of Toronto. “Such an apparent lackadaisical attitude towards human rights and humanitarian law, and a motive entirely driven by shallow profit seeking, is unacceptable. Citizens worldwide expect more from companies.”

-- Shane Harris