Until just recently, the Syrian government was easily able to limit Internet use within the country, depriving Syrians of their right to unrestricted Internet access. In order to restrict access to the large majority of websites, bans were imposed on many pages and e-mail service providers. Violation of these bans resulted in the arrest and conviction of anyone breaking government restrictions. The high cost of Internet access, which was $1 per hour until 2003, was imposed where the average per capita income is only $110 per month.
The absence of computers is what holds Syria back from the rest of the world, so problems occur when introducing the Internet into a simple society. Only 23% of the Syrian population, which totals over 19 million people, are even computer literate. There are only around 300,000 PCs in the entire country of Syria, with the majority being owned by governmental institutions.
Syria has only two ISPs: the General Telecommunications Establishment and the Syrian Information Society. Both control Internet subscriptions through a local proxy servers that filters the internet activity
The Black List
When the Syrians finally gained access to the Internet, the government immediately placed bans on web pages. The citizens were outraged, believing the bans clearly contraindicated what the Internet was created for. With the vast majority of free Internet information outlawed, they felt they were done an injustice. The Syrian government keeps close tabs on it using a continually growing Internet "black list". Comprised of content deemed inappropriate for the Syrian public, the list grows larger all the time Surprisingly enough, this black list contains pages that have information pertaining to Syrian news and events.
Syria's first contact with the Internet prompted the government to draft several basic rules regarding Internet usage. Two general categories were to be banned. Pornography being the first, and "hostile websites" the second. The specifics on what is to be classified as "hostile" remains a mystery. Many different types of sites made the "hostile website" ban list. Pro-Israeli websites, Islamic websites, and pages concerning Syrian news and issues were all included in this category.
There is no blueprint to Syria's Internet censorship, and the bans are not limited to political, sexual or religious web pages. Seemingly harmless websites get banned all the time, with no particular reasoning to go along with it.
According to official statistics, there are an estimated 155,000 Internet subscribers within the country of Syria. The actual number of users is thought to be around 775,000, including homes and net cafes.
The number of the cafes in Syria is estimated to be more than 500, a relatively high number considering that Internet access in Syria was only available to the public starting in 2002. Many Syrian governmental departments, however, had access to the Internet as early as 1997.
The Syrian government is not a high tech country. Internet access is always kept under close watch, and it comes as no surprise. Syria is a highly regulatory country by itself.
The Syrian policy of banning websites and imprisoning their population for political reasons or freedom of expression will only ensure even more opposition from their citizens. Emergency Law has ruled in Syria for more than 40 years, further anti-freedom efforts will only bring about more criticism and unrest in the country.