The focus of this segment is in regards to Tunisia’s internet censorship program and its relation to, as well as the effects of, the Jasmine Revolution; which deconstructed the regime’s power. This occurrence may be surprising in a high capacity, strong state such as Tunisia (relative to the question of domestic control of information). The crucial elements of this analysis include: the capacity of the state and the balancing of relative power; the technology available to the two competing parties of information censors and information users; legitimacy of the state; and ideology.
The capacity of the Tunisian state before the Jasmine Revolution must be discussed in terms of relative power-that is the ability of the state to achieve a hierarchy of goals, balanced with competing forces. This dynamic is best illustrated in terms of the ability of the Tunisian government to manage technology use. This was originally a possibility due to three critical factors: “a) centralized internet architecture and institutions; b) functionally differentiated content regulation; c) access to censorship technologies through international markets (Push-button-autocracy in Tunisia, 488).” The state, in this case, controlled the supply of information on the Internet, allowing them to modify the infrastructure to meet their goals. Furthermore; the compartmentalization of the censorship system controlled the personnel that had the ability to make changes within the system, thus: “This general strategy limited dependency from any one national or international actor and allowed the regime to adapt to new challenges to the censorship regime (Push-button-autocracy in Tunisia, 490).” Finally, the international market provided the state with technology that gave them the capacity to manifest this power.
The previously cited Telecommunications Policy article describes stages of development in the censorship system. The first stage (1997-2003) saw the installation of web proxies on the centralized Tunisie Telecom infrastructure, using NetCache web proxy solution and SmartFilter products, imported from the international market. The second stage (2003-2007) consisted of the expansion of censorship into the realm of e-mail, using FOSS product Postfix as a proxy. Interestingly, the e-mail filtering was done manually by the Interior Ministry. In the third stage (2007-2010), the Tunisian government responded to increased data flow, due to the introduction of broadband, with the use of DPI, Deep Packet Inspection. This allowed for more efficient processing of data in order to ascertain whether or not it was considered fit for public use. Finally, the goal of implementing social network monitoring constituted stage 4 (2010-2011). This is where the breaking point in the regime’s race to respond to threats was reached, as they were unable to supply such a product in time to abate the Jasmine Revolution. The response instead was a “makeshift and piecemeal approach (Push-button-autocracy in Tunisia, 487),” which was to attach individual Facebook user and blogger accounts, as well as physical detention of such persons.
This highlights the first weakness in the Tunisian censorship ambitions-the inability to match pace with the opposing force of free information access, in this case, social media. One reason the regime was successful to this point, as mentioned early, was the flexibility of the censorship system. This could not, itself, provide solutions in time to be incorporated into the system, the flexibility of which also allowed for rapid deconstruction of censorship. A crucial element of this variable is the demographics of Tunisia, which consists of significantly younger rather than older citizens, and may contribute to the development of such a gap in control.
Another element which appears to by hyped by the media and understated by analysts is that of universal democracy and Muslim ideology. The two seem incompatible, however, in context of the Internet censorship discussion, they are separate influences upon the same stress-point. The Internet, by nature, is democratically developed, framed, and demanded. Dissidents in Tunisia were able to utilize social media through the internet in a way that can be defined as democratic, regardless of what political developments evolve out of the revolutionary process. This is universal, thus outside of the umbrella of control, even for a strong and autonomous state such as Tunisia. There is no doubt that Muslim ideology was a source as well as a vehicle for the same. An indicator of this is found in the government’s previous suppression of Islamic information dissemination, as well as the nature/behavior of the revolutionaries.
In conclusion, a strong and autonomous state-Tunisia-was undermined by its population, which utilized social media as a tool for protest. This was possible due to the degradation of the regime’s legitimacy and the inability to keep up with the requirements for total Internet censorship.
Wagner, Ben. Telecommunications Policy 2012: Push-Button-Autocracy in Tunisia: Analyzing the Role of Internet Infrastructure, Institutions and International Markets in Creating a Tunisian Censorship Regime