By The Citizen Lab

A new report, entitled “The Canadian Connection: An investigation of Syrian government and Hezbullah web hosting in Canada,” continues Citizen Lab research into the intersection of the private sector, authoritarianism, and cyberspace regulation, turning our attention to a component of the Internet that does not typically receive the same amount of attention as filtering, surveillance, and computer network attack products and services: web hosting services.

Read the full report

Summary of Main Findings

  • Websites of the Syrian government, including the Ministries of Culture, Transport, and others, are hosted on Canada-based web servers through intermediary companies, one of which, called “Platinum Incorporated,” advertises that it has co-location servers in Canada.
  • The Syrian TV station Addounia TV, which is sanctioned by Canada and the European Union for inciting violence against Syrian citizens, uses Canada-based web servers to host its website.
  • The website for Al-Manar — the official media arm of the Lebanese political party, Hezbullah — is hosted on Canada- and US-based web servers and employs Canada-based web servers to stream its TV broadcast globally. Al-Manar satellite broadcasts have been banned by the US, France, Spain, and Germany as well as the European Union. The United States includes Al-Manar on its Specially Designated Nationals List, a list of entities with which U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing, and the assets of which are blocked. Canada currently classifies Hezbullah as a terrorist organization.
  • There are legal questions concerning the provision of web hosting services to each of these organizations. As the Syrian government, Addounia TV, and Hezbullah are all subject to Canadian sanctions, services provided by Canada-based hosting providers to these entities may fall within the scope of the sanctions.
  • Any consideration of the removal of an organization’s website from web hosting services, however, must be treated as a potential infringement on freedom of speech and access to information, with due process and proper accountability mechanisms clearly articulaed and followed.