Photo: Gabi Menashe
Gal Mor
Photo: Gabi Menashe

Just like the Saudis

Internet censorship bill places Israel in same league as Iran, Saudi Arabia

Take a moment to look at the list of Knesset members who supported the bill introduced by MK Amnon Cohen from Shas and passed the preliminary reading without objections. These people are responsible for the fact that in the coming days, Israel will be mentioned across the globe as a member of the conspicuous club of Internet enemies, along with other dubious states.


According to the bill, Internet providers will have to block minors from accessing websites that are intended for adults and whose essence is sex, violence, and gambling.


All these websites will be blocked and access to them would only be made possible through physical or biometric identification of the surfer as well as a password, in order to confirm that the surfer is an adult. The bill includes a NIS 20,000 (roughly $4,500) fine and a one-year prison term for Internet provider managers who fail to comply with the law.


Undermining freedom of expression

One does not need to support the exposure of minors to sex, violence and gambling websites to realize that we are talking about crude interference in individual freedoms and the freedom of all of us to surf the Internet. The bill does not define what is considered a porn, sex, or violent website, and for good reason. Only totalitarian countries aim to rule which websites are unbecoming. At such locations, the government can characterize any website as harmful and blacklist it.


Who exactly will decide which websites should be blocked? Knesset members have the answers. With a quick gesture they are attempting to turn Internet provides into digital guardians of modesty. The bill obligates them to serve as censors, prevent their customers from freely accessing websites, and it tasks them with ruling whether each website is Kosher or tainted so that they do not break the law. This type of censorship only exists in countries such as Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia.


We can assume that Internet providers will prefer to make strict judgments in order to avoid getting entangled in legal problems and will proceed to block as many websites as possible. We can conclude that any website that is blocked will in fact be paralyzed both economically and publicly.


Such terrible bills not only fail to offer benefits but also make the situation worse. Knesset members can make use of a research and information center that assists the legislation process, and therefore it is unfortunate to discover that there are 25 Knesset members who are willing to raise their hand in favor of such careless and dangerous proposal.


This legislative work ignores a process of self-regulation that has already been launched in the framework of a forum that deals with protecting minors on the Internet. The forum, which was established by the Israeli Internet Association, is working in a bid to formulate agreed-upon norms of conduct to protect minors online without the legislator's interference.


This type of formula, where the codes of online conduct are determined by the involved parties, is already working in various countries that have set guidelines for protecting minors online in conjunction with the Internet industry, child welfare organizations, and other elements. There are several steps that can be adopted in order to dramatically boost the safety of minors on the Internet without laws that would greatly harm most surfers.


Delegation to China

Knesset Member Amnon Cohen from Shas is not alone. MK Avraham Ravitz from United Torah Judaism recently submitted a bill that calls for a six-month prison term for an owner or sales agent that sells Internet services to youths under 18 years of age.


Meanwhile, Communication Minister Ariel Atias from Shas is looking into the possibility of obligating Internet providers to install software that would screen websites and prevent children from accessing harmful sites.


Should those bills be approved, Internet providers would be forced to manage a black list of thousands of websites, and employees would be sent to jail for each violation.


It would be no surprise if soon we see a wise Knesset member proposing that any website owner be obligated to secure a government permit. Despite the fact we are talking about bills that were approved, at most, in a preliminary reading only, if we do not see public resistance it might be worthwhile to consider sending a delegation of experts to China.


There they can learn the secrets of the "Chinese firewall," which prevents about 137 million people from visiting websites that the government views as endangering the public's morality.


פרסום ראשון: 03.01.07, 20:54
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