22 February 2012 5:12 pm | | 2

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A lawsuit filed last May held that the Internet should be filtered for pornographic content

The Tunisian Internet will remain unfiltered – for the time being. The Supreme Court of Tunisia today canceled the decision of a lower court, which had previously ruled in favor of filtering the Internet for pornographic content.

While today’s decision did not end the case, it sent it back to a lower court, giving an apparent vote of no confidence in the legal argumentation previously presented.

The decision was immediately hailed by free speech advocates – and by the Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), the body whose action was at issue in the case, and whose head, Moez Chakchouck, has been a vehement advocate for freedom of information.

The ATI’s legal argument against the suit, however, did not hinge upon issues of civil liberties, but rather the technical ability of the agency to implement the decision.

According to a press release distributed by the ATI this afternoon, “all attempts of application of judgment led to serious degradation of service.”

Non-profits were quicker to praise the implications for free expression in Tunsia.

“For us, it’s definitely good news. It means not taking a step backwards,” said Olivia Gré, director of the Tunisia office of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In a press release, the organization called on the Tunisian court to go further and decisively reject all form of filtering on the Internet.

“Taking advantage of the current legal vacuum to switch the filtering system back on could have serious implications and pave the way for the return of censorship,” the press release stated.

According to Gré, the trial would begin from scratch, with new legal arguments to be employed in two to three months. Moez Chakchouck had described the original decision rendered by the lower court in favor of filtering as containing no reference to legal precedent – a possible explanation for why the judges’ canceled today their earlier decision.

Taking advantage of the current legal vacuum to switch the filtering system back on could have serious implications and pave the way for the return of censorship.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Afif says:

    The Court reversed the lower court’s decision without addressing the issue head-on. Does the freedom of speech in the 1956 Constitutin protect these websites and their users, now matter how repugnant one may find them. By skirting its duty to provide an answer or guidance to the lower court, the Court has simply passed the buck. To me this reflects a policy of pacifism and raises a question about how instrumental these High Court judges can be in interpreting the proposed Constitution regardless of what public opinion says.
    The answer also depends on the establishment of a truly independent judiciary where judges’ positions and salaries are not tied up to a particular ruling coalition or goverment.
    In the U.S. federal judges are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Justices of the Supreme Court of the U.S. often rule contrary to the policies and philosophies of those who had appointed them, because their positions is for life. Their salaries are tied up to the salaries of Congressmen and Senators as a matter of constitutional law. In other words, Congress cannot give itself a raise without giving the judges a raise.
    On the States level Supreme Court Justices are elected for a period exceeding by far the term of governor or the majority party. They are more responsive to social policies and what is in the public good.
    Can we learn something from them??

  2. Gil says:

    I think it would be a better use of government resources if the Tunisian government would try to negotiate a deal with “Alert Pay” and “PayPal”. These companies allow for a secure and simple money transfer around the world. This would finally enable young Tunisians to participate in E-commerce. Skilled people could be selling their services on sites like Elance and Odesk, and more commercially oriented people could be selling Tunisian products on Ebay. This could help put some money in the pockets of frustrated young Tunisians.
    I understand that the government is worried about capital leaving the country, at this juncture I would say rightfully so. Therefore I would suggest the government tries to negotiate a deal with those companies where the money could only flow in one direction, except maybe for a legitimate refund of a previous transaction. I am sure especially “AlertPay” who specializes on developing countries would be flexible. In case it helps you like them even more, let me tell you that “AlertPay” was founded by Canadian Muslims.
    It seems to me that time and money would be better invested in this way rather than to play cat and mouse with porn sites.

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