A lot of people think that internet censorship, and online surveillance is inevitable—but even so, that these things still might not have a day to day affect on their lives. It’s certainly easier to see this train of thought in countries where privacy laws are not atrocious–but in places like China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries, citizens know the cold hard reality of the modern internet age where privacy is long gone, censorship is here to stay, and the government is always watching.
When thinking about censorship it’s also important to think how it impacts humanity on a global scale, and how various western companies comply to corrupt governments that want to censor their citizens. We’ve seen this with Apple complying with China to remove applications from the iOS store, and now, we are seeing Netflix do the same. Netflix has removed an episode of a program in the Saudi Arabian version of Netflix, after officials in Saudi Arabia made a “legal request”.
Critics like Samah Hadid, the Amnesty’s Middle east campaign director think that Netflix—like Apple in China, is setting a dangerous precedent. “By bowing to the Saudi Arabian authorities’ demands, Netflix is in danger of facilitating the kingdom’s zero-tolerance policy on freedom of expression and assisting the authorities in denying people’s right to freely access information.”
The removed episode was “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj,” and in this episode, the American-born Muslim attacked Saudi Arabia’s government for killing the columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Since the killing, the CIA director in the US has concluded that Salaman was behind the order, and multiple countries like Germany, Finland, and Denmark have canceled arms deals with Saudi Arabia since the killing. In this it can only be seen that anything covering up information about Khashoggi is just more propaganda.
Minhaj criticizes the crown price in the show, and perhaps for these reasons, the show caught the attention of the government. The legal complaint was that the episode violated Article 6 which states the “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers” and that this is a crime punishable to up to 5 years in prison an a fine not exceeding $800,000 or 3 million Saudi riyals.
A Netflix spokesman rationalized the censorship by explaining that it was a matter of law, and if they didn’t agree, they could get in trouble. “”We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request — and to comply with local law.”
But when the law’s order is to cover up discussion and political expression about murder, this becomes a very muddy topic indeed. Did Netflix just become complicit in Saudi Arabia censorship about a verified murder from the crown prince to keep their profits? It certainly looks that way.