Tunisia: Law Suit over Fake 404

The ONI Blog reports that a journalist/blogger in Tunisia is suiing the government over the blocking of Facebook.

Tunisian journalist and blogger Zied El-Hen filed a suit this week in a Tunisian court against the Tunisian Internet Agency for blocking the social networking Web site Facebook, according to a report by Reuters (Arabic).

An interesting twist concerns the claim that he was mislead:

In an interesting technical argument he said that the the agency mislead him by serving the message 404 (Not Found) error message instead of the 403 message (Access Forbidden), which the agency serves to users who attempt to access banned sites.

Here is a screen shot I took during WSIS in Tunisia in 2005. You can see that the 404 page is taken from Internet Explorer, but I was using Firefox! You can see from the HTTP headers that the 404 is fake.

One important issue to remember in this case is that Tunisia is using SmartFilter, a filtering product developed by the U.S. company Secure Computing. This product is used in many countries including in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and previously in Iran. In these other countries they use SmarFilter to show users a blockpage that indicates to the user that the content is intentionally blocked. Instead, Tunisia uses this blockpage functionality to fake a 404 error page.

Tunisia uses SmartFilter to block access to categories of websites, such as pornography, but also adds their own targets, often political web sites, to the blocking lists. Sometimes content that was not intended to be blocked is blocked in all of Tunisia due to miscategorizations by SmartFilter.

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