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Du CEO plays down net censorship

Osman Sultan says new restrictions will not impact social networking sites or business activities.

Du subscribers will not lose access to popular websites Skype or Facebook under the internet restrictions imposed by the UAE telecom, CEO Osman Sultan told ArabianBusiness.com on Monday.

Du on Monday blocked all websites deemed to offend the "moral, social and cultural values" of the UAE, bringing its internet content filtering in line with Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) guidelines.

The move means companies operating out of Dubai's free zones and residents in Nakheel or Emaar Properties freehold developments will come under the UAE proxy server for the first time.

It has sparked concerns that popular social networking websites and sites needed by businesses operating in freezones could fall under the ban.

Sultan tried to allay customer fears, stating that only websites with "offensive" content would be blocked under the new filtering policy.

The proxy server blocks websites that contain pornography, alcohol, gambling, hatred, child abuse or terrorism, according to the TRA.

However, many more sites than just those containing these subjects are covered by the proxy.

“These are not new regulations we are implementing, this is an initiative we have chosen to take to filter some content after receiving complaints from concerned customers,” he said.

Websites such as Skype and social networking sites such as Facebook would not be targeted since they come under a different regulatory category, Sultan said.

He said the TRA has yet to clarify rules for these sites.

“We are only blocking things for moral, social and cultural reasons. Skype comes under the TRA’s VoIP (voice over internet protocol) regulation which is a different story,” he said.

Sultan also said the new restrictions would not impact any of the telecom's business customers.

“People are worried about their businesses but these access restrictions could not be to websites necessary for business. [However] the TRA will listen to legitimate requests from businesses that need access to certain places, and can come to arrangements,” he said.

The TRA is currently considering new regulations regarding access to the internet, with its Internet Penetration Policy expected to be announced by the end of the year. The policy will clarify the internet content that will be blocked in the Emirates.

Censorship of the internet, common in much of the Arab world, has long been opposed by press freedom advocates and human rights groups that claim unrestricted access to information is integral to free expression.

Reporters Without Borders ranks the UAE 65th out of 169 countries in latest Press Freedom Index.