Tunisian Internet Agency Admits to Testing Western Companies' Censorship Software

By: Qichen Zhang on 4 October 2011

At the third annual Arab Bloggers Meeting this week, it was revealed that Tunisia has been secretly testing western companies' censorship software. AB11's website recently reported that software companies offered discounts to the Tunisian government in order to test and track bugs on their products. Moez Chakchouk, the president of the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), noted that the organization has "extracted itself from these partnerships" and claims that they do not practice censorship anymore.

This comes as somewhat of a shock to those closely following the leadership transition in Tunisia. Previously charged with heavy Internet filtering, the ATI has seen changes in overseeing officials that have also corresponded with its increased encouragement for online free speech. At the meeting, Jillian C. York reported in her live blog that Chakchouk intends the ATI to serve as an Internet Exchange Point (IXP) and not as "an enemy of Tunisians" as it was under Ben Ali's rule. He stated:

Even if we wanted to censor, we'd have to consider the court decisions—there was a court decision in an appeals court without any prior references. We need to change ATI, make it an IXP, and provide more transparency.

The news was released at the Arab Bloggers Meeting held in Tunis, which began in 2009 in Beirut. According to its website, the conference allows activists to learn from each other and serves as a venue for Arab bloggers to meet face to face and to allow them to "come to the realization that they are all in the same boat" to meet future challenges. Malek Khadraoui, the organizer of the event, told the AFP that he hopes bloggers will develop "solidarity networks" at the meeting.