The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have joined national and international condemnation of the 30-day YouTube ban ordered last week by the Cairo Administrative Court.
The ban comes after YouTube refused to remove a short movie called “The Innocence of Muslims” which sparked global anger for its erroneous depiction of the prophet Mohamed. The court has since ordered that all websites displaying or promoting the video be blocked in Egypt.
The EIPR said the court’s ruling “may force the hand of the National Telecom Regulation Authority (NTRA) and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), which have refrained from pursuing such a ban themselves”.
The NTRA has been forced to censor internet content before, the EIPR explained. In November 2012, an administrative court ordered a ban on all websites containing pornographic material. The order declared that “freedom of expression and public rights should be restricted by maintaining the fundamentals of religion, morality and patriotism” and denounced pornographic content as “venomous and vile”.
The Prosecutor General ordered government ministries to enforce the ban and the NTRA responded by asking internet service providers to block such content, but added that it was virtually impossible to filter all pornographic material displayed on the internet. The EFF responded to the request with distress, saying that such a move could mark the beginning of a “centralised filtering regime”.
The EIPR said this time the NTRA may not be so lenient. It would be impossible to block all websites that link to, share, or promote the video “without an expensive centralised internet censorship apparatus, but the order to block YouTube is quite straightforward”.
The EIPR pointed at YouTube’s voluntary blocking of the video last September, speculating it may have been done under pressure from the United States government or in response to global outrage. It was critical of the company, saying “it appears that YouTube’s willingness to make an exception to Google’s policies and censor the video in Egypt did not go far enough for the Egyptian court. If YouTube was hoping that a little temporary censorship on a volunteer basis would save it from a nation-wide ban on their entire website, it has miscalculated badly”.
Acknowledging that YouTube should be criticised for its decision, the EIPR said that “the bulk of the blame should fall on the court, whose overbroad and potentially ineffective ruling demonstrates an alarming ignorance of how the internet functions”.
“By blocking YouTube,” the EIPR continued, “the Egyptian court blocks access to millions of videos besides ‘The Innocence of Muslims’, creating tremendous collateral damage to Egyptians’ access to knowledge and freedom of expression”.
Such a block could easily be circumnavigated using proxies or programs such as Tor.
“Censorship of popular widely-used websites such as YouTube makes everyone into a criminal and undermines respect for the law,” the EIPR and EFF concluded.