Afghanistan begins Internet filtering with Gmail, Facebook

Afghanistan has followed up on its promise to begin filtering the Internet: the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports the country is now blocking Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, YouTube and a host of sites related to alcohol, gambling and sex.

In March, the government announced its intention to begin filtering the Afghan internet, admitting that it lacked the technology but was investigating ways to block sites related to violence, terrorism, pornography or gambling.

Under the Taliban, Afghan citizens were completely cut off from the Internet. The government banned the Internet in 2001 because it contained "obscene, immoral and anti-Islamic material." In 2006, fewer than just citizen per thousand had Internet access. The current government has made greater Internet access a priority, and in the past decade the number of Internet users in the country has grown from almost none to around 500,000.

While the proposed filtering plan was billed as part of the war against the Taliban, some worry that the government is reverting to Taliban-era control over online content. In an interview with Public Radio International, the BBC's Dawood Azami notes that the Afghan media are particularly concerned:

But now the government says that there are some websites which are "immoral" and against the traditions of the Afghan people so they are planning to not only block those websites that glorify violence, but they are also trying or planning to block those websites which the Taliban didn’t like.... [The Afghan press corps] are unhappy about this. They say that if these restrictions are imposed, it would mean that the government would be able to block any website they don’t like, or block those websites which are critical of the government. So there is this concern in the journalist community in Afghanistan.

While the desire to restrict access to pro-violence content is understandable, the government's decision to block such a wide swath of sites — including, the EFF says, Gmail — is harder to justify as part of an anti-terrorist plan.