Mideast Regimes Use US Software to Censor Web

Firms cite lack of control over how products are used
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 28, 2011 1:19 PM CDT
Internet Censorship: Mideast Regimes Use US Software to Censor Web
This file photograph taken Oct. 30, 2007 shows the exterior of security software maker McAfee Inc. headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif.   (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)

Behind Middle Eastern governments' censorship of the Web, an uncomfortable reality—US products help do the dirty work. Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia use filtering programs by McAfee; other US and Canadian firms have sold Web-filtering technology to Yemen and Qatar, among other countries, the Wall Street Journal reports. The companies say they’re not to blame: How customers use products is a matter “beyond our control,” said a McAfee rep, and there are not any special export restrictions on such technology.

But the companies “could build into the software something that signals and, in fact, sends back to them exactly what kind of filtering is taking place,” said a researcher. “There's no rocket science there; it's just their customer wouldn't like it.” His team holds that Western software has helped block 20 million users from accessing "social and political content" in at least nine Middle East and North African countries. The State Department has tried to help users work around the filters. “American companies need to take a principled stand” against censorship, said Hillary Clinton. (More McAfee stories.)

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