The OpenNet Initiative has been documenting Internet censorship worldwide since 2002, including the growing use of commercial filtering products by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in non-democratic regimes.

The ONI recently published a report authored by Helmi Noman and Jillian York that documented the use of western-made filtering products and services being used by governments in the Middle East and North Africa. Among their findings was that a Canadian company, Netsweeper, was being used to censor political, religious, and social web sites in Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar.

A follow on mini-report, titled “When a Canadian company decides what citizens in the Middle East can access online,” was also published that showed how the website was inaccessible for citizens in each of the four countries because Netsweeper had mistakenly categorized the website as “Pornography.”

The ONI’s report on the Canadian company was covered by the Toronto Star on June 12, 2011: Guelph-based software censors the Internet in the Middle East.

On June 21st 2011, the Middle East news portal Al Bawaba published a story about an award that was given to “du” – one of two Internet Service Providers in the United Arab Emirates — by the Ontario Centres of Excellence:

The story describes how the ceremony for the Ontario Centres of Excellence’s International Business Green IT award given to the UAE ISP was attended by Eleonore Rupprecht, Trade Commissioner, Government of Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, as well as representatives from the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC). Although the ONI could find no other press releases or news items about the award ceremony local to Canada, the Ontario Centres of Excellence tweeted about the award:

@OCEInnovation du receives the International Business Green IT award presented by Hindal Mirza of OCE #dubai #innovation #ontario

In light of the controversy around the use of Canadian-made software being used in the Middle East and North Africa, it is remarkable that the Ontario Centres of Excellence, the Information Technology Association of Canada, and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs would choose to honour an Internet Service Provider that pervasively filters access to information using Canadian made software. Access to Information is considered a human right according to Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (a document that Canada has signed and pledged to uphold).

The ONI’s latest report on the UAE (2009 latest) is here: United Arab Emirates

The government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) censors political and religious content and pervasively filters Web sites that contain pornography or content relating to alcohol and drug use, gay and lesbian issues, or online dating or gambling. Online privacy and circumvention tools, as well as some sites belonging to Nazis or historical revisionists, are blocked. Additionally, legal controls limit free expression and behavior, restricting political discourse and dissent online.

du is one of the two main ISPs in the country and uses Netsweeper to carry out the filtering, which is mandated by the government.