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Wednesday, 10 May, 2000, 00:24 GMT 01:24 UK
Saudis 'defeating' internet porn
Saudi Internet graphic
All internet access in Saudi Arabia is controlled by a node
By Frank Gardner in Riyadh

The authorities in Saudi Arabia say they are winning the war against pornography on the internet.

The director of the government organisation that monitors all Saudi internet traffic, Dr Fahad al-Hoymany, says he believes his unit is succeeding in blocking all the major pornographic sites.

But he admits that it is hard to keep up when new sites are appearing almost every hour.

The country's 30 ISPs, or Internet Service Providers, are all linked into a central node in the capital.

For the estimated 130,000 users, access to the Saudi internet is controlled by this node.

No censorship experts

It is housed in a secure ground-floor room in the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology (KACST).

There are no teams of censorship experts, just technicians.

Some of them are from Finland, who operate filter programmes bought in from abroad.

Dr Hoymany says the conservative and religious culture of the Saudi people means they want to be sure that if they log onto the net they will not be offended.

As well as porn, the Saudi authorities block access to any sites they believe could stir up religious hatred.

Websites giving advice on how to make your own bomb are also off-limits.

International calls

But for those who can afford the international phone bills, a simple dial up call to an internet server outside the Saudi kingdom will easily outmanoeuvre the system.

Dr Hoymany knows this and he takes a philosophical attitude.

He says the internet in Saudi Arabia is still in its infancy, having been formally launched less than 18 months ago.

He says the authorities are now focusing their attentions on e-commerce, for which there is no legal framework in Saudi Arabia.

While neighbouring Gulf states like Bahrain and the UAE are busy promoting online business, Dr Hoymany says Saudi banks are not yet ready to process transactions made over the internet.

Saudi Arabia may be in the midst of sweeping economic reforms but it now risks being left behind in this fast expanding global market.

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See also:

17 Apr 00 | Middle East
Internet clampdown in Mecca
19 Jul 98 | Middle East
Saudis surrender to cyber reality
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