A new article at the Jordanian news site 7iber.com by Reem Al-Masri tells the story of how the Archive was blocked in the country of Jordan last year and came to be unblocked. Al-Masri highlights many of the problems inherent in the general Jordanian legal approach to censoring sites. Indeed, government censorship is an extremely worrisome issue in and of itself. But, the specific instance of archive.org’s block is all the more extraordinary because it appears to have been enacted outside of the established Jordanian legal process.
Jordanian law currently empowers a single body to issue a block order, the Jordanian Media Commission. Based on evidence from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and various user reports, it’s clear that archive.org was blocked some time in 2016. However, the Media Commission denies ever issuing a block order for archive.org or knowing why it was blocked. Fortunately, the block was lifted not long after we contacted the Media Commission (again, we don’t know how or why as the Commission has not responded to our inquiries on these points).
But if the Commission didn’t block us, is there another entity in the Jordanian government that did so extralegally? And what was the reason for the block? Right now we are in the dark, but as Al-Masri sums up in her article: “what we know is that there is a parallel window for blocking websites, through which an ‘invisible hand’ practices its authority and draws for us the Internet that it wants us to use, without any accountability.”
We hope this incident will help increase awareness of online censorship in Jordan and everywhere it occurs and how it often leads to the blocking not only specific content, but entire websites (or in our case, an entire library) with no notification or explanation. It also serves as an example of how the practical limits of authority to block sites may not always end where we are told that they will by the law and politicians’ proposals.
We want to thank Reem Al-Masri, 7iber, Citizen Lab and everyone who helped us identify, investigate, and draw attention to the block.