On September 27, Reporters Without Borders issued a report on the threat to Internet freedom that focused on the relationships of Google and YouTube in the Middle East and beyond.
The call for censorship comes in response to the National Islamic Union’s complaint that Google has violated the “constitutional right to freedom of religion.” A number of countries have demanded that Google Inc. e-block any and all links to the controversial anti-Islamic video, Innocence of Muslims.
Since the release of the film and the attacks in Benghazi, more than 10 countries have adopted the crusade against YouTube. The petitions have been justified on the pretense that the video will inevitably spark violence. Some countries have gone so far as banning entire websites and rendering Google’s search engines inaccessible for periods of time:
- In Sudan, the National Communications Corp. has blocked YouTube access since September 15. Reports indicate that the government is capitalizing on the video to block a website popular with many Sudanese whistle-blowing dissidents.
- In India, the Jammu and Kashmir regional governments have suspended access to the Internet since September 20 in anticipation of impending protests. The government allowed any measures to be taken that would ensure customers could not access the video.
- In Brazil, a court ordered Google to withdraw a YouTube video containing scenes from the film and threatening a fine of 10,000 reals ($4,950) each day after if it failed to comply.
- In Russia, a new Internet law coming into effect on November 1 will block the entire YouTube website if the company does not block the video by then. The law is intended to “protect minors against dangerous content.”
As it has been well-stated, the Internet is not to blame for the protests and violence in the region, and government censorship is always an inappropriate and immoral way to address the problem. Allowing governments to censor the Internet is a dangerous precedent to set.
Censorship of an offending website is directly linked to the suppression of dissenting speech. If left unchallenged, expect to see greater censorship of both the Internet and regular speech in the name of whatever excuse other nations find convenient.
Caitlin Duvall is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.