Websense Bars Yemen's Government from Further Software Updates

When ONI released its Middle East and North Africa reports, an avid reader quickly submitted an article to Slashdot noting the government of Yemen's use of Websense filtering software, as reported in our 2009 Yemen country profile.

Websense, a U.S.-based company, makes filtering software intended for use by private companies and organizations, and states on its Web site a policy against use of its software for government-imposed censorship. The policy reads:

Websense does not sell to governments or Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that are engaged in any sort of government-imposed censorship. Any government-mandated censorship projects will not be engaged by Websense. If Websense does win a business and later discovers that the government is requiring all of its national ISPs to engage in censorship of the Web and Web content, we will remove our technology and capabilities from the project. Websense does however, provide filtering services in response to "global filtering" projects where the government mandated policy (1) prohibits minors from accessing pornography and/or (2) prohibits child pornography. With the above guidelines in place an example scenario would be if a government wants to prevent minors from seeing pornography at the ISP level. If that government then requires all ISPs to block adult content from all users, but permits an adult user to gain access to that content after providing proof of age, then this is a project that Websense can participate in. Websense, however, does not engage in any arrangements with foreign governments (or government-imposed arrangements) that could be viewed as oppressive of rights.

ONI was able to contact Websense for the following statement:

Since we were informed about the potential use of our products by Yemeni ISPs based on government-imposed Internet restrictions in Yemen, we have investigated this potential non-compliance with our anti-censorship policy. Because our product operates based on a database system, we are able to block updated database downloads to locations and to end users where the use of our product would violate law or our corporate policies. We believe that we have identified the specific product subscriptions that are being used for Web filtering by ISPs in Yemen, and in accordance with our policy against government-imposed censorship http://www.websense.com/content/censorship-policy.aspx, we have taken action to discontinue the database downloads to the Yemeni ISPs.

It is notable that ONI has confirmed that other U.S.-based products such as SmartFilter, a filtering software previously owned by Secure Computing and acquired by McAfee in 2008, are being used for government filtering in the Middle East and North Africa and beyond.