Internet Filtering in Algeria in 2006-2007
Although Internet access in Algeria is not restricted by filtering, the state controls the Internet infrastructure and regulates content by other means. Internet users and Internet service providers (ISPs) can face criminal penalties for posting or allowing the posting of material deemed contrary to public order or morality, for example, and journalists report being subjected to government surveillance.
Despite democratic advances made since Algeria held its first contested elections in 2004,1 the government continues to invite criticism from human rights organizations for repressing dissent. In February 2006, Algeria’s cabinet passed the so-called emergency law, which restricts freedom of assembly and threatens imprisonment for those who speak out on atrocities that occurred during the country’s civil war.2 Algerian officials frequently harass journalists and human rights advocates under the guise of security through defamation laws or dubious criminal prosecutions.3 Religious freedom has declined in recent years as President Bouteflika has pushed through legislation greatly restricting non-Muslim worship.4 The government has telecommunications regulations in place that require Internet providers to undertake surveillance of Internet content, but watchdog organizations report that there have been no cases of censorship under the regulations thus far.5
Internet in Algeria
Algeria first gained Internet connectivity in 1994 under the auspices of the Center for Research on Scientific and Technical Information (CERIST),6 which by law remained the country’s sole ISP until 1998.7 On August 5, 1998, decree no. 98-257 opened Internet service provision to other providers, but private entry into the market proceeded slowly.8 Two years later, law no. 2000-03 created the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (MoPT), which included the Internet regulatory agency Algérie Télécom.9 Algérie Télécom launched the ISP Djaweb in 200110 to extend service beyond universities and research centers.11 Today, Algérie Télécom lists twenty-six ISP partners operating in the country, including CERIST.12 CERIST continues to develop the academic, noncommercial Internet13 under the influence of the state14 and has created nodes in Algiers, Oran, Constantine, and Ourgla.15
The MoPT—the government agency responsible for the Internet in Algeria—has expressed its desire to promote the Internet as a source of investment and job creation.16 Though Internet penetration has increased dramatically over the past few years, jumping from approximately 1,500 in 199917 to nearly 850,000 in 2006,18 this still represents only 2.6 percent of the population. The government has supported programs that allow users to access the Internet on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, without requiring a monthly subscription.19 Although most ISPs offer broadband, ADSL, or satellite plans, the prices of these services remain prohibitively high for many Algerians.20 Consequently, most Algerian Internet users rely on dialup connections and cybercafés for access.
Legal and regulatory frameworks
The establishment of the MoPT in 2000 signaled the government’s desire to catch up to some of its neighbors and develop the economic potential of the Internet.21 At the same time, the government has moved to modernize information-control infrastructure and legislation, including extending criminal penalties for publishing material “contrary to public order” to Internet publications.22 All connections between the Algerian network and the Internet at large pass through government-controlled content caching servers, an arrangement that reduces bandwidth costs but could also facilitate filtering.23
In January 2004 Algeria Telecom announced a deal with Daewoo to introduce high-speed connections. MoPT acts as an independent regulator and is not legally obligated to consult with or inform any other organizations before making decisions.24 Algeria’s network topology is highly centralized,25 and all Internet connections pass through state-controlled content caching servers before reaching the global Internet.26 ISPs are privately owned, but must obtain a license from the MoPT.27 Approximately fifty companies have obtained licenses.28
Article 144(b) of the criminal code criminalizes “insulting or defaming” the president, parliament, armed forces, or any other public body, in writing, drawings or speech, through radio, television, electronic, or computer means.29 Article 14 of a 1998 telecommunications decree makes ISPs responsible for the sites they host, and requires them to take “all necessary steps to ensure constant surveillance” of content to prevent access to “material contrary to public order and morality.”30 Journalists report that it can take up to two days to receive their e-mails, and consequently suspect the government is spying on them.31 The regulatory framework is under review and MoPT had targeted 2005 as the year for liberalization of various sectors of the telecommunications market.32
ONI testing results
Among the most sensitive topics in Algeria are criticism of President Bouteflika and the military,33 same-sex relationships,34 and non-Islamic religious worship.35 Algerians who engage in any of these activities face serious sanctions, including stiff fines and imprisonment. Nonetheless, ONI testing found no evidence that the government filters Internet sites or activity associated with these, or any other, sensitive topics. The government’s primary forms of control thus appear to be the access controls and content monitoring regulations noted above.
Although Algeria does not at present filter Internet content, legislation that criminalizes peaceful criticism of the government and requires ISPs to police online content, together with a highly centralized network, could facilitate the filtering of online content in the future.
- 1. U.S. Department of State, Algeria: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2005, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2005/61685.htm.
- 2. Human Rights Watch, Algeria’s Amnesty Decree, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/04/12/algeri13169.htm.
- 3. U.S. Department of State, Algeria: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2005, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2005/61685.htm ; Human Rights Watch, “Algeria: Press freedom at risk despite release of editor,” http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/06/13/algeri13543.htm ; Human Rights Watch, “Algeria: Human rights lawyers tried on dubious charges,” http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/02/20/algeri15360.htm.
- 4. U.S. Department of State, Algeria: International Religious Freedom Report 2006, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2006/71418.htm.
- 5. Reporters Sans Frontières “Internet under surveillance 2004: Obstacles to the free flow of information online,” June 22, 2004, http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=10730.
- 6. Economic Commission for Africa. Algeria: Internet Connectivity, http://www.uneca.org/aisi/nici/country_profiles/Algeria/algerinter.htm.
- 7. Economic Commission for Africa. Algeria: NICI Policy, http://www.uneca.org/aisi/nici/country_profiles/Algeria/algerpol.htm.
- 8. Ibid.
- 9. Ibid.
- 10. Djaweb, “Presentation,” http://www.djaweb.dz/presentation.htm.
- 11. The Economist Intelligence Unit. “Algeria: Telecoms and technology background,”
- 12. Algérie Télécom, “Les partenaires,” http://www.algerietelecom.dz/?p=partenaire .
- 13. Academic Research Network, “Portail ARN,” http://www.arn.dz/index.php?file=infrastructure.
- 14. GÉANT2, “Academic Research Network & what it gives,”
- 15. Economic Commission for Africa, Algeria: Internet Connectivity, http://www.uneca.org/aisi/nici/country_profiles/Algeria/algerinter.htm.
- 16. Ministre des postes et télécommunications, “Editorial,” http://www.postelecom.dz/secteur1.htm.
- 17. Economic Commission for Africa, Algeria: Internet Connectivity, http://www.uneca.org/aisi/nici/country_profiles/Algeria/algerinter.htm.
- 18. Internet World Stats, “Africa Internet usage and population statistics,” http://www.internetworldstats.com/africa.htm#dz.
- 19. Le 1516, “Comment se connecter,” http://www.le1516.com/index.html.
- 20. Djaweb offers 2-megabyte connections for approximately USD1,500 per month. See Djaweb, “Tarifs,”
- 21. The Economist Intelligence Unit, “Algeria: Telecoms and technology background,”
- 22. Reporters Sans Frontières, “Internet under surveillance 2004: Obstacles to the free flow of information online,” June 22, 2004, http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=10730.
- 23. Ministre des postes et télécommunications, “Configuration des services de la plate-forme Internet des P&T,” http://www.postelecom.dz/service.htm.
- 24. VSAT Case Studies: Nigeria and Algeria, Research Report prepared by Steve Esselaar and Aki Stavrou on behalf of the LINK Centre for the IDRC, CATIA and GVF, December 2, 2003.
- 25. Ministre des postes et télécommunications, “Plate forme d’accès à l’Internet,” http://www.postelecom.dz/plate.htm.
- 26. Ministre des postes et télécommunications, “Configuration des services de la plate-forme Internet des P&T,” http://www.postelecom.dz/service.htm.
- 27. Ministre des postes et télécommunications, “Dispositions generales,” http://www.postelecom.dz/titre1.htm.
- 28. Ministre des postes et télécommunications, “Les providers Algeriens,” http://www.postelecom.dz/provider.htm.
- 29. Reporters Sans Frontières, “Internet under surveillance 2004: Obstacles to the free flow of information online,” June 22, 2004, http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=10730.
- 30. Ibid.
- 31. Ibid.
- 32. VSAT Case Studies: Nigeria and Algeria, Research Report prepared by Steve Esselaar and Aki Stavrou on behalf of the LINK Centre for the IDRC, CATIA and GVF, December 2, 2003.
- 33. United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 2006, The right to freedom of expression: Report of the Special
Rapporteur, Ambehi Ligado, E/CN.4/2006/55/Add.1, March 27.
- 34. The International Lesbian and Gay Association, World Legal Survey: Algeria, last updated July 31, 2000, http://www.ilga.info/Information/Legal_survey/africa/algeria.htm.
- 35. Liberté, “Les nouvelles sanctions concernant l’exercice illegal du culte: Les évangélistes sous haute surveillance,” March 14, 2006, http://www.africatime.com/algerie/nouvelle.asp?no_nouvelle=244719&no_cat... ; Moharram 1427, Official Journal of the Algerian Republic, “Fixing the conditions and rules for the exercise of religious worship other than Muslim,” Ruling no. 06-03 of 29, #12, February 28, 2006, http://www.hrwf.net/religiousfreedom/news/2006PDF/Algeria%202006.doc.