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Web blocking reaches into Dubai free zones

Offices workers in free zones, and residents in freehold developments will now be protected.

Etisalat's proxy server software, which is used to block Web sites that are not deemed appropriate in the UAE, will no longer stop short of Dubai's Free Zones.

Until now, offices in zones such as Dubai Media City and Dubai Internet City - as well as residents in Nakheel or Emaar freehold developments - were exempt from the blocking software.

That will change this year as the Federal Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) imposes a nationwide policy.

The filter will block out all material deemed offensive to the cultural and religious morals of the country, shutting out adult content and sites which promote vices and ills such as drug and alcohol use, violence, terrorism and racism.

Speaking to UAE daily, Gulf News, about the decision, Mohammad Al Ghanem, director general of the TRA, said the TRA was not out to "police" the citizenry of the UAE.

"We are not inventing a procedure or a process," he said. "This is implemented in every single country but with different limits and different categorisations."

Al Ghanem said the TRA desired to avoid any negative impacts on businesses residing within the free zones, and promised exemptions for companies with a legitimate interest in keeping unfettered internet access.

Such companies could include media organisations, fashion companies and even pharmaceutical firms, said Mohammad Al Gaith, the TRA's manager for technical affairs.

Al Gaith also told Gulf News that free zones had always been covered by the same telecommunications laws as the rest of the country, and that only technical barriers had until now prevented them being shut within the proxy servers' protection.

Full details of the policy, including how companies may apply to be exempted, will be issued in the next few weeks.