Internet censorship halts in Tunisia

So much has happened in Tunisia since I last blogged on the large-scale phishing attacks against activists and journalists in the country. With the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and a new interim government in place, online censorship seems to be ending. Opposition media and human rights sites are viewable, and CPJ’s Tunisia reports are now available in the country (although it was always possible to access them through our https service). Social networking sites such as Facebook are available without the password-stealing code of the previous cybersecurity regime. I’ve yet to hear of any site that remains blocked, although Tunisia’s filtering system was so byzantine, it’s hard to conclusively tell whether it has been completely shut down.

One of the most dedicated technical analysts of Ben Ali’s attacks on Internet freedom was blogger Slim Amamou. Shortly after documenting the hacking attacks on his own account and the phishing techniques used by the regime, he was detained by Tunisian security forces at the Ministry of the Interior in Tunis. He was released a week later on January 13, shortly before the fall of the regime.

Amamou described the conditions of his detention to the French TV news service Public Senat:

“It was psychologically very hard, we were deprived of sleep we were handcuffed seated on a chair for five days… They make you believe lots of things: that they’re torturing your friends and family. You hear voices, people being tortured in the next room and you think it’s your family. But it wasn’t true.”

(Translation courtesy of the Guardian)

By January 17, he had been offered, and accepted, a junior position in the new provisional government’s cabinet as State Secretary for Youth and Sports.

One of Amamou’s old publishers, Global Voices, has documented the mixed emotions of others as they watch him move from public critic to politician. But his story gives some indication of the rapid transformation of the Internet in Tunisia. It has gone from being one of the most dangerous places to be a blogger to what is, for now, one of the most free in the Middle East.