Add Houthi-controlled Yemen to the list of places currently subject to government-sponsored Internet censorship. With the help of a Canadian company, Houthi rebels in Yemen’s civil war are blocking online content.
The Houthis are an ethnic group that effectively seized control of Yemen over the last year. They weren’t the first to introduce Internet censorship to the country — it has been in place for years — but they extended it when they took the reins of government, Al Jazeera reports.
The censorship blocks content that is critical of the Houthis, as well as independent news outlets and sites associated with Israel. Attempts to reach a censored site result in “network error” pages rather than explicit notices that the site has been blocked.
Censorship services in Yemen are being provided by Netsweeper, a Canadian company. Netsweeper has blocked content for Yemeni authorities since 2009 and began working with the Houthi regime when it seized power.
In the context of the Yemeni civil war, online censorship can have especially dire consequences. According to Citizen Lab, an anti-censorship organization, blocked sites prevent civilians from accessing information that could be crucial, such as information about which areas to avoid during fighting.
Ron Deibert of Citizen Lab said, “In denying citizens access to information in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, you’re putting people’s lives at risk. In an armed conflict situation, you want people getting more information for humanitarian reasons, not less.”
Yemen may be an extreme case, but it currently highlights perhaps better than any other country how crucial online privacy tools can be in the face of censorship.