The new chairman and CEO of the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), Moez Chakchouk, told participants at the Arab Bloggers Meeting today that western companies offered significant discounts on use of censorship software to the Tunisian government in exchange for testing and bug-tracking. He said confidentiality contracts preclude him from naming the companies, but said the Internet Agency has extracted itself from these partnerships and thus can no longer afford to censor, even if they wished to (he says they don’t anymore).
Thanks to the change in leadership of the government agency previously charged with censorship and surveillance, Chakchouk is now encouraging bloggers and activists to push for better regulation and constitutional protections for online free speech.
From Jillian C. York’s liveblog of Day One:
“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.” — Moez Chakchouk, President and CEO, ATI
Moez Chakchouk is the president of the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI). I recently interviewed him for a forthcoming piece, and his talk today was within the same framework: how to build up the ATI as an Internet Exchange Point (IXP) whilst ensuring that the ATI is neutral and free of censorship. He offered considerable detail on the goals and accomplishments of the ATI thus far (which I’ll spare you here, as it’s included in my upcoming piece – well, and because I couldn’t see the slides well enough from my position in the back row!)
Moez also, as Nasser Weddady put it, “[blew] a huge hole in tech companies’ claim that their equipment sale to repressive regimes [are] in good faith.” Tunisia long used SmartFilter (owned by McAfee/Intel) to censor the Internet and continues to do so (though at a very different level: see my post here). Slim Amamou (@slim404) commented afterward on the sale of surveillance and censorship equipment by American and European companies to foreign regimes, particularly Tunisia.
A little background: The ATI was long an enemy of Tunisians; charged with censorship and surveillance under Ben Ali, it was a feared agency, its practices referred to widely as “Ammar 404,” in honor of the 404 error users received when trying to access a blocked site. Post-revolution, the options were to shut down Ammar 404 and the ATI, or leave the ATI open as a semi-government agency, charged with being Tunisia’s IXP. Moez and others have faced several attempts to shut down the Internet, but continue their fight for an open and neutral Internet.