Media Releases

National Website Filtering’ in Bahrain Reliant on Canadian Company, Netsweeper

September 21, 2016

Toron­to, ON – Researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Cit­i­zen Lab are pub­lish­ing a report today that pro­vides detailed evi­dence regard­ing the use of the ser­vices of Cana­di­an com­pa­ny Netsweep­er, Inc. to cen­sor access to the Inter­net in the King­dom of Bahrain.

Inter­net cen­sor­ship is grow­ing glob­al­ly, and many coun­tries now block access to large swathes of Inter­net con­tent for their entire pop­u­la­tions.  Some of these coun­tries, like Bahrain, use West­ern tech­nolo­gies to fil­ter the Inter­net, rais­ing cor­po­rate social respon­si­bil­i­ty con­cerns about the pro­vi­sion of tech­nol­o­gy, such as that sold by Netsweep­er, Inc.

Bahrain has been in a peri­od of extend­ed polit­i­cal cri­sis since a sti­fled upris­ing in 2011, and the Bahrai­ni gov­ern­ment has engaged in a series of repres­sive tac­tics against oppo­si­tion­al polit­i­cal fig­ures and human rights activists, includ­ing tor­ture, arbi­trary arrests and the revo­ca­tion of oppo­si­tion­al fig­ures’ cit­i­zen­ship. Inter­net cen­sor­ship is anoth­er means by which the gov­ern­ment lim­its access to infor­ma­tion and sti­fles free­dom of speech, not just for activists or human rights defend­ers, but to every­one else in the coun­try dur­ing this time of cri­sis.

Research for the report, enti­tled “Ten­der Con­firmed, Rights at Risk: Ver­i­fy­ing Netsweep­er in Bahrain,” was under­tak­en over sev­er­al months, and includ­ed a vari­ety of in-coun­try and remote net­work mea­sure­ment and tech­ni­cal inter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques.  The report pro­vides evi­dence that Netsweep­er instal­la­tions are present on nine Inter­net Ser­vice Providers (ISPs) in Bahrain. Test­ing on one of these ISPs, Batel­co, shows the Netsweep­er instal­la­tion is being used to fil­ter polit­i­cal con­tent, includ­ing con­tent relat­ing to human rights, oppo­si­tion­al polit­i­cal web­sites, Shi­ite web­sites, local and region­al news sources, and con­tent crit­i­cal of reli­gion.

Accord­ing to the report “[t]he sale of tech­nol­o­gy used to cen­sor polit­i­cal speech and oth­er forms of legit­i­mate expres­sion, to a state with a high­ly prob­lem­at­ic human rights record, rais­es seri­ous ques­tions about the cor­po­rate social respon­si­bil­i­ty prac­tices of Netsweep­er, Inc.”

The report says the instal­la­tions appear to have become active between May and July 2016, a few months after the release of a pub­lic ten­der by Bahrain’s Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Reg­u­la­to­ry Author­i­ty in Jan­u­ary 2016 indi­cat­ing Netsweep­er won a bid to pro­vide a ‘nation­al web­site fil­ter­ing solu­tion.’

“Bahrain is an auto­crat­ic regime, and one of the world’s worst offend­ers of human rights.  Pro­vi­sion of Inter­net cen­sor­ship ser­vices to Bahrain helps aggra­vate the Kingdom’s poor human rights record, and runs counter to the Cana­di­an government’s explic­it sup­port of human rights online.” — Ron Deib­ert, Direc­tor of the Cit­i­zen Lab at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Munk School of Glob­al Affairs.

Netsweep­er has a track record of pro­vid­ing Inter­net cen­sor­ship ser­vices to coun­tries with poor human rights records.  Pri­or research by the Open­Net Ini­tia­tive (2003–2013), of which Cit­i­zen Lab was a part, iden­ti­fied the exis­tence of Netsweeper’s fil­ter­ing tech­nol­o­gy on ISPs oper­at­ing in the Mid­dle East, includ­ing Qatar, Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates (UAE), Yemen, and Kuwait. Cit­i­zen Lab also out­lined evi­dence of Netsweeper’s prod­ucts on the net­works of Pakistan’s lead­ing ISP, Pak­istan Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Com­pa­ny Lim­it­ed (PTCL), in a report pub­lished in 2013, and sub­se­quent­ly pub­lished research show­ing Netsweep­er prod­ucts were being used by three ISPs based in Soma­lia, rais­ing ques­tions about the human rights impli­ca­tions of sell­ing fil­ter­ing tech­nol­o­gy in a failed state. In a report on infor­ma­tion con­trols in Yemen in 2015, Cit­i­zen Lab exam­ined the use of Netsweep­er tech­nol­o­gy to fil­ter crit­i­cal polit­i­cal con­tent, inde­pen­dent media web­sites, and all URLs belong­ing to the Israeli (.il) top-lev­el domain.

Includ­ed in some of these reports were let­ters with ques­tions that Cit­i­zen Lab sent to Netsweep­er, which also offered to pub­lish in full any response from the com­pa­ny. Aside from a defama­tion claim filed in Jan­u­ary 2016, and then sub­se­quent­ly dis­con­tin­ued in its entire­ty on April 25, 2016, Netsweep­er has not respond­ed to the Cit­i­zen Lab. Cit­i­zen Lab’s let­ter to Netsweep­er con­cern­ing the use of its tech­nol­o­gy in Bahrain is avail­able here.

The Cit­i­zen Lab, based at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Munk School of Glob­al Affairs, has exten­sive expe­ri­ence uncov­er­ing Inter­net cen­sor­ship prac­tices and iden­ti­fy­ing the prod­ucts and ser­vices used to under­take them.  For more about the Cit­i­zen Lab, see


For media inquiries, con­tact:

Dena Allen
Pub­lic Affairs & Engage­ment
Munk School of Glob­al Affairs
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tele­phone: 416.946.0123
Mobile: 416.795.3902

Guide on Cit­ing in Media

Title: Ten­der Con­firmed, Rights at Risk: Ver­i­fy­ing Netsweep­er in Bahrain
Pub­lished By: The Cit­i­zen Lab, Munk School of Glob­al Affairs, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Pub­li­ca­tion Date: 21 Sep­tem­ber 2016
Report URL: