In an effort to combat extremism, a court in Kyrgyzstan blocked the popular US-based Internet Archive website, media in the ex-Soviet country reported earlier this week.
The Internet Archive (archive.org) claims to have archived almost 300 billion web pages in over two decades of operation. It also stores free-to-use books and music.
For more than a week, local users in Kyrgyzstan have been unable to access the site over the country's largest ISP Kyrgyztelekom, as well as another major ISP, Homeline. Users of smaller ISPs such as Aknet say that archive.org is still accessible.
A representative of Kyrgyzstan's state communications service told local media outlet Kloop.kg that the court blocked the website due to “extremist content” stored there, but did not specify when the court ruling was issued and what specific webpages had triggered the block.
The representative said:
Чтобы сайт разблокировали, он должен удалить со своих страниц материалы экстремистского содержания. Однако так сделать, скорее всего, не получится, так как ресурс накапливает все, что кто-то когда-то опубликовал, соответственно, экстремистские материалы на ресурсе будут только пополняться.
To unblock the website, [archive.org] should remove pages containing extremist content. However, this will most likely not happen, since the resource continually accumulates webpages that are being published [all the time] and accordingly, the extremist materials will only be replenished.
A staff member at the Internet Archive told Global Voices that Kyrgyz officials had not contacted the organization to express their concerns. Prior to Global Voices’ inquiry, the organization had no knowledge of the ban.
Indeed, the Internet Archive is constantly updated using technical tools that crawl the global internet and capture images of websites all across the network. This feature of archive.org, called the Wayback Machine, is useful for journalists and activists investigating the past activities of companies and public figures around the world, including in Kyrgyzstan, which ranks 136 out of 176 companies in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.
Earlier this week, a local activist linked to a nine-year-old webpage snapshot stored on the website to cast doubt over the government's decision to award a strategic hydropower contract to a Czech company.
#liglass удалил свой веб сайт с ложью про миллиардные обороты и ГЭС в Чехии, Армении, РФ. тут архивная копия https://t.co/edsEhQqDZ3
— Edil Baisalov (@baisalov) 17 июля 2017 г.
#liglass deleted its website with lies about billions in turnover and hydro power plants in the Czech Republic, Armenia, Russia. But here is an archived copy.
These factors have prompted some local users to suggest the ban was not really about extremism at all:
В интeрнетах ущeмили дoстоинство трeм гoсорганам, oно тeперь рaспухло и бoлит! https://t.co/qnaFiRU7sJ
— glassy (@0x3f00) July 18, 2017
The Internet kicked the state in their organs and now they are on the warpath!
The governments of the ex-Soviet region have regularly raised the alarm as thousands of citizens have joined up with radical factions fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Internet users in Russia reported being unable to access Archive.org in 2015, with the country's communications regulator Roskomnadzor also believed to have blocked the website on an anti-extremism pretext.
In Kyrgyzstan and Russia's neighbour Kazakhstan, the government has blocked hundreds of websites it views as propagating extremism in recent years. The blocking surge gained fresh impetus in 2014 when a video that apparently featured Kazakh-born minors undergoing military training in Syria was released by one of the ISIS militant group's media outlets.
Tajikistan, another country in Central Asia, also moved to block YouTube and other video-sharing platforms after a top police commander from the country announced his defection to ISIS via a video endorsed by the group in 2015.
The Tajik parliament on July 13 approved anti-extremism legislation that will allow security services the right to track the websites visited and comments made by citizens online. But the discussion in the parliament did not touch on what mechanisms would be used to monitor internet use. The text of the draft law is not publicly available.