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Surveillance in practice

The Bahraini government is noted for its use of internet filtering and censorship, particularly with relation to political web sites that are critical of the Bahraini government and ruling family, but also to content related to pornography, LGBT communities and content that is critical of Islam. 1

The Ministry of Information has established a special unit that monitors websites for possible blocking.2 Government efforts to monitor Web sites have also been confirmed by media reports that cite an official source saying that in addition to sites being monitored on a daily basis, the use of circumvention techniques to update banned websites is also being watched. 3

In 2008, the government also indicated an interest in setting up a Commission to monitor the press and online discussion forums and to "report any incitement to confessionnalism." 4

Government agencies have demonstrated that they can react quickly to breaking news and intensify the filtering and blocking of websites at key times. 5 Following the start of pro-democracy demonstrations in Manama on 14 February 2011, Internet traffic to and from Bahrain, allegedly dropped by 20% compared to the three preceding weeks, indicating increased filtering being used in response to the events occurring in the country. 6

At this time, communications monitoring and surveillance also intensified; activists as well as their family members were routinely interrogated on the basis of communications transcripts. 7

Filtering and blocking of websites was intensified again on the anniversary of the original uprising in February 2012. According to Reporters Without Borders, this was again accompanied by strengthened and expanded surveillance measures to include human rights activists and their close friends and relatives. 8

The Role of the Bahrain Internet Exchange (BIX)

The objectives of the BIX, as listed in the Memorandum of Understanding published on its website, do not include communications monitoring. However, the exchange’s stated responsibilities include that it ‘shall only monitor any port/connection where this information is required by applicable law,’ indicating that it may have the capacity to play a role in communications monitoring. 9

This conclusion is supported by a report on the ‘Internet Ecosystem in Bahrain’ commissioned by the TRA and undertaken by Renesys. The presentation states that “[t]he BIX has satisfied its original mandates to […] satisfy monitoring requirements and lawful intercept capabilities.’ 10