Some previously blocked web sites now accessible
By Asma Ali Zain KHALEEJ TIMES 21 August 2008
DUBAI - As the deadline to unblock 1,000 Internet sites in the country nears, some previously blocked medical sites are now accessible.
However, industry sources say that a majority of the popular social networking sites are likely to remain blocked. Earlier this month, the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) announced that web service providers, Etisalat and du, would be asked to unblock 1,000 sites by August 29 under its new 'Internet Access Management Policy'. The service providers, on the other hand, claimed they had not been officially notified by the TRA in the matter.
A TRA official said the authority was unable to provide the list, but an investigation carried out by Khaleej Times showed that certain networking and medical sites that were previously blocked, were now accessible.
Industry insiders said that, in fact, there was no particular list of the 1,000 web sites to be unblocked, but categories to be opened up include some social networking sites, Internet forums and medical sites.
"Even after the decision is implemented, not much is expected to change because the initial Internet policy is not changing. Web sites that are against the UAE's Internet censorship policy will remain blocked and they may include social networking channels," said the official.
The decision means that 25 per cent of the currently blocked sites would, henceforth, be accessible, the official pointed out. He, however, was unable to clarify how many sites were currently blocked by the TRA.
Networking sites such as Orkut and Flickr are considered 'dating' sites, and therefore, fall under the TRA's Internet censorship policy. Certain sites are blocked because they are against the country's religious, social and moral values. But some medical and religious sites were previously blocked in error by a filtering software triggered due to a series of keywords such as sex, terrorism etc.
The sites currently accessible are: Hi5, StumbleUpon, MySpace. Friendster.
The temporary blockage of FaceBook and YouTube last year had sparked an outrage among the Internet community.
The previously banned medical sites such as sexualhealth.com and circumcision.com too, are now accessible.
The news that sites such as Orkut will continue to be blocked, has dashed hopes of majority of youngsters for whom socializing through the electronic network is the 'coolest' way.