Over two hundred Jordanian websites went dark on Wednesday, in a SOPA-like protest of draft legislation that would allow the government to block and censor Internet content. The action was coordinated by a grassroots organization of tech savvy Jordanians
and the editors of various Jordanian websites, with blackout screens on dozens of widely read digital news sites and blogs.
The Internet blackout protest was originally planned for September, in response to the demand of a conservative grassroots group, Ensaf, that the government filter pornography sites. The government's tepidly supportive attitude to Ensaf, combined with
the many followers it had garnered for its Facebook page, gave rise to concerns that a wide consensus in favor of banning online porn would provide the government with an opportunity to give itself more power to control the Internet.
When the details of the draft legislation was released last week, the activists' fears were confirmed. The proposed amendment to the existing Press and Publication Law, if passed and enforced, would indeed grant the government sweeping powers to censor
and block online content, stifling debate and the free expression of opinion. And so the protest was coordinated and carried out within four days.
The draft legislation includes articles that would hold online media accountable for any comments left by their readers, and would prohibit them from publishing any comments deemed irrelevant to the published article. Moreover, online media organizations
would also be required to archive all comments left on their sites for at least six months. However, the most troublesome amendment essentially requires online media to register with and obtain a license from the Press and Publications Department, paying
a fee of roughly $1,400 (lowered from an initially proposed $14,000), and giving the government the ability to block sites failing to comply. Bringing online news sites in to the folds of the Press and Publications law would therefore require them to be
mandatory members of the Jordan Press Association, and undergo the same regulations governing print publications, including appointing an editor-in-chief who has been a member of the association for a minimum of four years.
Parliament's decision on the proposed new law is pending.