DOD using same Blue Coat Internet censor as Syria, Saudi Arabia and likely Burma

I’d written extensively over the last several days about an issue with the Defense Department’s Internet “Blue Coat” filtering software that, depending on the location, has a penchant for banning gay and progressive Web sites, including this one.

The Pentagon, among others, has made clear that they’ve gotten the message and will be investigating the problem, and that’s good.

But now that they’re looking into the issue, they might want to look into something else – the fact that Blue Coat technology is also used by repressive regimes in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and likely Burma to oppress their people.

We can do better than following the example of Syria’s Assad.


We had reported earlier about the Defense Departments arbitrary and capricious censorship of gay and trans Web sites (Towleroad, Good as You, HRC’s blog) while not banning anti-gay sites (NOM, AFA), and its censorship of some progressive blogs (AMERICAblog, Pam’s House Blend, Daily Kos), while permitting other conservative blogs (Red State) to be read on military computers.


We also reported on concerns that the filtering category the Pentagon is using, “LGBT,” also includes gay “anti-bullying” and “suicide prevention” sites.  Here’s a description of the generic ban category that the Defense Department is using on certain of its computer systems:

Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 1.10.53 PM

As I noted, late Friday we had a welcome development.  The Pentagon issued a statement making clear that they would be investigating the problem, and I received similar private assurances from people I know and trust outside of the Pentagon.

Since that time, another concern has come to light that bears mentioning.

US Joins Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Likely Burma in Using Blue Coat to Censor Domestic Content

Blue Coat logoThe company the Defense Department is using to censor Web content for American troops, Blue Coat, is the same company whose technology is being used by the oppressive Assad regime in Syria to squash pro-democracy protests in that country, and by the repressive regime in Saudi Arabia, among other Middle East non-democracies.

Canadian researchers have also concluded that it is likely that the horrifically oppressive military junta in Burma is also using Blue Coat technology to thwart democratic opposition in that dictatorship as well.


From the WSJ:

Some of Syria’s largest Internet-service providers have been using Blue Coat devices since as early as 2005, according to a person familiar with the matter. The order of 14 devices was the largest in recent memory, but as many as 25 appliances have made their way into Syria since the mid-2000s, with most sold through Dubai-based middlemen, this person said. Blue Coat says it is investigating other possible unauthorized transfers….

The company has no corporate policy against selling to governments or Internet service providers engaged in censorship. Its devices block websites in the U.A.E., Bahrain and Qatar, a Journal investigation earlier this year determined.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar

From EFF:

There are far more repressive regimes in the world than there are embargoed countries. Several United States allies, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, are also using Blue Coat systems for censorship and surveillance.


From Forbes:

A team at Citizen Lab, a research center at the University of Toronto focused on Internet security and human rights, released evidence Wednesday that shows Blue Coat devices were deployed in Burma as well as Syria to filter and surveil the Internet. Using remote scanning tools and field researchers in both countries, they say they’ve found 13 more Blue Coat devices in Syria, as well as strong evidence that the company’s gear was used in Burma as well.

More from Citizen Lab itself:

Citizen Lab researchers have documented evidence that suggests Blue Coat devices are also used to filter Internet content in Burma.23 The Burmese military junta is well-known for its serious human rights violations,24 including its repressive tactics for Internet control and surveillance.25 Burma is subject to U.S. sanctions as well, which (with certain exceptions) prohibit imports from, export or reexport of financial services to, and new investment in Burma.26 Such sanctions demonstrate the U.S. government’s intent to restrict economic activity that will support the Burmese regime. Accordingly, it is of significant concern that the evidence we have gathered suggests Blue Coat technology is also used in Burma to filter Internet traffic.

More about Blue Coat

Mother Jones questions Blue Coat’s forthright-ness in dealing with these accusations:

An editor at Slashdot says Blue Coat Systems misled him about whether the firm’s internet filtering systems were being used by Syria.

More from EFF about Blue Coat’s business ethics:

Blue Coat’s blatant lack of concern for human rights is alarming. There are far more repressive regimes in the world than there are embargoed countries. Several United States allies, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, are also using Blue Coat systems for censorship and surveillance. But Blue Coat is surely unconcerned; after all, exporting to those countries isn’t against the law; it just helps violate the human rights of the people living under those regimes.

Meanwhile, the list of Syrians detained for blogging or other online activities continues to grow.

As we wrote last week, we believe that voluntary standards such as the ones we’ve proposed, should be adopted by companies. But, if companies don’t act in the interest of human rights, regulations don’t seem very far off.

Your move, Blue Coat.

Actually, the next move is the Pentagon’s.

It’s rather creepy that our government maybe be subjecting American troops to the same censorship tools used by Assad in Syria, the Saudi royal family, and possibly even the Burmese junta.  It’s time that changed.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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