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Silicon Valley Web Filtering Products Linked To Censorship In Middle East

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(CBS)

(CBS)

SAN JOSE (KCBS) – Much of the Internet censorship that has ramped up in the Middle East has been made possible, perhaps unintentionally, by Silicon Valley tech companies. Governments are said to be using web-filtering technology to block dissident websites.

According to published reports, software that can monitor and block content is currently being employed by Internet service providers in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The software is said to be a McAfee product often used in conjunction with hardware supplied by Blue Coat Systems of Sunnyvale.

KCBS’ Matt Bigler Reports:

The report came as little surprise to KCBS technology analyst Larry Magid, who pointed out that Middle East governments routinely blocked access to online content.

“I was in Bahrain last year and I tested it,” he explained. “I tried to get the Playboy (website) from my hotel room and as I expected I was blocked because the entire country uses an Internet filter to block porn.”

Magid reasoned that the practice may seem jarring by western standards, though it’s consistent with broader policies and practices in the Middle East.

“Even a parental control product could be used to block Facebook, or for that matter, block WhiteHouse.gov if that’s what the person in charge of administering it wanted to do,” added Magid.

Software companies point out they have no control over how any customer – whether it is a business, individual, or a foreign government – ultimately uses a product.

“I don’t think that Intel, which owns McAfee or any of these other companies ever intended their technology to be used to keep political dissidents in line or to keep people from sharing their ideas with folks in other countries but the technology that you can use to block the web can be used to block any type of site,” Magid theorized. “If there’s a legitimate market for their technology in these countries, to do what the countries say they’re going to do with it, such as perhaps block porn, then how can a company like McAfee be in charge of how their products are going to be used?”

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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