Until recently, Jordan had been a great example of how an Arab country can have a liberal approach for regulating the Internet in a manner that aims at promoting innovation and the development of web culture. This might soon change if Jordan decides to pass the new amendment to its publication law that will treat websites like traditional paper publications.
Jordan had taken a progressive approach in regulating the Internet as the Internet has remained unfiltered for a long period of time and individuals have been free to start any website they wish without the need to satisfy any formalities. This has enabled the web in Jordan to mature quicker than in other countries in the region and foreign tech companies such as Google and Yahoo established offices there.
This situation might change as some Jordanian activists started rallying the government to censor pornographic websites on the Internet as they believed that it is the governmentâ€™s duty to do so. Surprisingly for a country in this region, the government of Jordan was hesitant to impose any technical censorship filters, and instead responded to the demands of the public by offering a free filtering software that families can install on their own personal computers to limit the access their children had to websites on the Internet. The Telecom Regulation Commission of Jordan eventually gave in to the demands made by the protesters and issued orders to local ISPs to figure out mechanisms to start censoring websites.
The Jordanian Cabinet has also recently approved a draft proposal for amending the Jordanian Publication Law that will subject news websites to the same rules that apply to regular paper publications in Jordan. This amendment will require any website that publishes news and articles about Jordanian foreign or internal affairs to register with the government and acquire a licence before it can legally operate, and the website must also employ an editor who is a member of the Jordanian Press Association.
The new amendment will also have additional provisions that address websites specifically such as a new provision that explicitly makes the website admin liable for all content on his website and that the website admin must maintain a record of all comments made on the website for a period not less than six months. The Cabinet approved amendment will still need to be approved by the Jordanian Parliament before it will officially be passed as law.
These new developments in Jordan surely cannot have a positive impact on the development of the Internet in Jordan. The Internet is censored in a majority of other Arab countries and this censorship surely does not work because you can still have access to pornography even without the need to use any circumvention method such as a VPN.
It is not logical to apply the same formalities that apply to the traditional press. It will be impossible to enforce these rules, especially as the difference in the impact made by a proper news website and that of a personal blog of an individual is getting extremely nominal.
The future is still not totally bleak for Jordan, as opposing activists are trying to raise awareness in Jordan about the benefits of keeping the Internet free from censorship and the fact that the new law proposal will still have to go through the Parliament before it gets officially passed.
It is unfortunate that the Internet in Jordan is facing all these challenges. Let’s hope that this does not set an example of other countries in the region to impose further restrictions on the Internet in their own jurisdictions.