John D Radcliff, Specializing in Interactive Technology & Education!

Laws and the internet in Libya

        The middle east has several first and second generation measures to regulate internet access and online activities.  This includes laws and regulations, technical filtering, physical restrictions, surveillance and monitoring, and harassment and arrests.  There are alot of laws and regulations used to control access which include laws that start with press and publications all the way to Internet and ISP rules and regulations.  Ghadafi used several of these methods to try and suppress the anti government protests that broke out in Libya.  He threatened to lock people up if they were caught using Facebook to post anti government remarks.  He shutdown cellular and internet access through out the country.  All of his actions are from laws that are prominent in other Middle East and North African countries who all share the same view of controlling internet content which is seen as insulting or offensive.  Here is one example of a current law in Kuwait: "Kuwait's 2006 press law allows the imprisonment of journalists for making references to Islam that are deemed insulting or for articles seen as "against national interests" (Access Controlled, p. 526)."

        According to the laws setup in the middle east, Ghadafi has every right in arresting people and shutting down the internet in order to protect "national interests" in Libya.  I agree with having laws and filters in place to regulate certain content if it is going to pose a threat or harm someone else.  For example, if there is a website that is promoting a terrorist attack on the Libyan government then I think the government has every right in taking action against the site and its owners.  The problem with this is what is considered unlawful in the eyes of the Libyan government?  Also, why filter the internet to the point of limiting a person's freedom of speech or expression in Libya?  Does limiting the access to certain online content, shutting down the internet and arresting people for posting anti government information going to stop the uprising in Libya?

        Currently Libya is in a state of turmoil.  Rebel forces in cities across Libya are starting a revolution against Ghadafi and the current Libyan government.  Ghadafi has retaliated by using the Libyan military to wage a war against his own people.  It may seem strange to wage a war against one's own cititzens until we look at the laws, policies and structures in place which allow for these actions.  So in the eyes of Ghadafi this could be deemed as a disruption to the state and he is acting with "national interests" in mind.  This  does not have anything to do with the rules and regulations of content being filtered or blocked on the internet in Libya.  But it does point to how the people in Libya are being treated and why they are being treated this way.  Since Libya is a authoritarian government the people's rights and freedom of expression will be hampered no matter what they do in this country.


        These kind of laws can stifle Libya's economy and which we have seen can lead to a revolution.  If people are stifled online then this can have a government start to take away freedoms in real space as well.  In the reading I found that countries in the middle east like Libya are blocking sites for political campaigning and social activism.  Of course the people in these countries are asking that these restrictions be lifted.  Of course these countries are not going to lift these restrictions since they know that the internet is associated with voice and power.  Ghadafi understands this and that is why he has not lifted restrictions on the net or changed any of the laws in his country.  The worst part about this is that U.S. companies are helping to provide these technological restrictions for these countries so that they can make a profit.  It is a shame that content filtering companies do not have a conscience or a concerns about the issues going on in these countries.  I think if they did it would have a big impact on how these countries would go about filtering their internet content.

        A balance of laws and content filtering must be reached if the middle east along with Libya want to keep peace in their countries.  If not, then these governments will continue to experience turmoil and uprisings.

What the Libyan government could learn from the internet

        The internet cannot be controlled by laws or threats that are made by governments.  Take the quote from Code 2.0 by Lawrence Lessig, "The claim for cyberspace was not just that government would not regulate cyberspace – it was that government could not regulate cyberspace.  Cyberspace was, by nature, unavoidably free.  Governments could threaten, but behavior could not be controlled; laws could be passed, but they would have no real effect (Code 2.0, p. 3)."

        Ghadafi has made claims that he ‘will crush’ anyone who plots against him and if he catches anyone using Facebook, he will have them imprisoned.  He has gone so far as to shutdown the internet and cell phone communications in an attempt to stop the transmission of the revolution infection.  The threats can be made and yet even as Ghadafi shuts down the internet in Libya he still cannot control the code which is still broadcasting anti Ghadafi messages. 


        Even with the attempt to shut off communications other companies like Google have provided speak to tweet and dial up numbers so that people can still communicate even though Ghadafi has cut off communications.  So can a government leader stop the spread of dissent on Facebook by making threats of locking up Libyan citizens for posting anti Ghadafi messages on Facebook?  Or can his futel attempts to shut off communications really have an effect on controlling the code?  The only way Ghadafi could make an impact on the net is if he would hire a group of hackers to create computer code or launch DOS attacks that could shutdown Libyan based Facebook and Twitter pages.  Even if he locks up Libyan citizens for using Facebook (whether true or not) what difference would this make in stopping the spread of the anti Ghadafi message through out the net? 

        The solution to this problem is right in front of him.  Instead of trying to shut off or destroy the flow of information coming in and out of Libya, he can embrace it.  He could learn more about what is going on in and outside of his country by monitoring communications.  For example, he could setup a team of people to look at the different posts online about his country and learn from what is being posted online.  Then he could use this information to manipulate the network to his advantage or to find the location of rebels or protests.  The more information that is broadcasted online the easier it is to monitor people's conversations or locations. 

        For example, people use Twitter or Facebook to broadcast where they are by using their cell phone.  I found the following tweet when searching for the keyword #Libya on Twitter:  @ShababLibya: I would continue to urge all media to head to Sallum in #Egypt, we can provide people in #Benghazi and all East #Libya #Feb17.  If we exam the tweet, we can see that @ShababLibya could be informing the media people in Egypt to head to the city of Sallum in Egypt to provide the people in Benghazi and all East Libya Freedom.  The #Feb17 keyword is a website for the Libyan Youth Movement which is promoting freedom, democracy and change.  So this tweet could be code for an organization of media sources to congregate move to the city of Sallum to provide freedom for the people in Libya.  Now if Ghadafi has not suppressed the internet and is paying attention to these forms of communication online then he could be learning alot about this particular tweet.  If he knew the code, maybe he could plan to watch the border of Egypt near Sallum to watch where these media sources (journalists) are moving to in order to capture them or to broadcast an anti revolution message in the network.  He could also try to shutdown the website by using a team of hackers to launch a DOS attack on the site.  Since the Libyan government seems to not be interested in this, then it will continue to be foreign or code to them. 
        So trying to control the revolution conversation is hard when the way this conversation is being spread is not clear.  This conversation has followed a non linear path and has the whole world watching due to the internet and broadcast media.  The question now is what happens next and what role will the code continue to have an effect on Libya.  Clearly it has helped spread the message of the revolution in Libya and has caused the Libyan government to shut off the internet including other forms of communication.  So can the code be controlled or is it just an uncontrollable force that governments will have to deal with?