Mauritania mulls internet monitoring to counter extremism


In a bid to prevent youths from falling prey to terrorist propaganda, the Mauritanian government may tighten control over internet use.

Mauritania's cabinet recently discussed the possibility of establishing a centre to monitor the internet.

The body will "play an important role in the standardisation of systems between different actors", according to the statement on June 7th.

"It will ensure the safety of national databases and contribute to solutions that allow the isolation of viruses and copyright protection," the statement read.

The number of Facebook users in Mauritania reached 85,440 in June, which puts the country in the 151st position globally in terms of network users, according to social marketing firm Socialbakers.

The figure represents 2.67% of the Mauritanian population.

The largest group (35,030) of Facebook users in Mauritania are aged 18-24, followed by those aged 25 to 34. Males make up 73% of the total number of users.

Young internet users are more likely to be exposed to content published by jihadists online, according to the journalist Mokhtar Salem. This calls for more government efforts to control dissemination of materials encouraging extremism and violence, he said.

According to the Information Distribution Centre (CDI) in Mauritania, "more than 50% of the users of social networks do not pay attention to the seriousness of the issue".

The regional upheavals known as the "Arab Spring" have caused the government to pay greater attention to the electronic domain.

Security and information technology experts discussed means to protect information in a seminar held by the CDI in March. The workshop included a training course on information security in co-operation with anti-virus company Kasperky. Bab Ould Bomes, the Secretary-General of the Delegate Ministry in charge of Employment, attended the event.

"Mauritanian authorities think that access of jihadists to the electronic network is now widely available," journalist and analyst Zine El Abidine Ould Mohamed told Magharebia. "The dissemination of subversive ideas as religiously justified is within the philosophy of terrorists. This is a threat to young people, particularly at an early age. Monitoring the internet will allow the authorities to block these sites and deny access by militants to the Mauritanian space."

He argued that internet control would also "allow the tracking of these sites and the opportunity to assess their activities and follow them up technically as far as possible".

"It is known today that al-Qaeda depends on the internet to transmit its ideas," Ould Mohamed added. "However, monitoring must be followed by a strategy of security training for bloggers and journalists in order to avoid their being exploited for the purposes of the jihadists in their coverage of terrorism issues."

Work will start this summer on a giant submarine cable to strengthen internet speed in Mauritania during the current year, according to the secretary-general of the Mauritanian Post office (Mauripost). This will increase the current speed of the internet by 40 times and support scientific, medical and technical research in the country.

The anticipated submarine cable cost of $25 million will be funded by the Mauritanian government and communication companies.

"The new centre which the government intends to launch may plant the seeds for creating good blogs in Mauritania," terrorism analyst Hamadi Ould Dah noted. "The country needs more than ever a law that fights jihadist extremist sites. They are dangerous to society, especially in light of the high proportion of young users of the internet."