Overblocking in Oman

The OpenNet Initiative recently released new profiles for a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including updates of previously researched countries.

In one such country, Oman, our research found there to be significant social filtering, as well as filtering of Internet tools, but little in the way of political filtering.

A recent article by Riyadh Al Balushi on Global Voices suggests that Omantel, Oman's main ISP, tends toward overblocking - filtering sites that are not actually in conflict with the ISP's policies. Al Balushi offers examples, including his own blog.

Omantel uses American-made commercial filtering software SmartFilter, and offers transparency with a blockpage that explains that "the blocking of banned sites is not a unilateral decision taken by the ISP, but rather that '[a]n overwhelming number of requests from the subscribers made [Omantel] rethink [its] strategy and conform to the popular demand to block pornographic and certain hacking sites that encourage hacking.'"

The blockpage further states:

OMANTEL is not unique in this industry to take such an action. Many ISPs in several different countries are taking steps to block such sites.

For those small number of subscribers who may differ in their opinions with OMANTEL, we hope that they will find Internet interesting in many other areas.

If you feel this message is in error, and the site you are visiting has been miss categorized, please e-mail admin@omantel.net.om with the appropriate link. Accordingly and based on the content the page may be categorized. Such event takes approx.72 hours.

Al Balushi himself was able to convince Omantel to overturn their decision to filter his blog, however, he disputes the ISP's claim that it takes 72 hours, stating:

It took me a whole month to get it unblocked where I had to make an official complaint to the Telecommunication Regulation Authority to have my website unblocked.