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February 25 2014

Arab Bloggers: A Blessed Generation?

“Your generation is blessed. Everybody has a phone now, internet is accessible everywhere, satellite TV is available in almost every home. What more do you need?”

This was thrown at me by a middle-aged Jordanian taxi driver who took me from the Amman airport to the Arab Bloggers Meeting last month. I was trying to share with him my frustration about the situation of freedom of expression in the Arab world.

Three years earlier, I may have agreed with the man’s comment. Today it seems to encapsulate almost all that is wrong with the way some of us still think about how technology can change things.

Surveillance Is Bad For Your Internet. Poster by Hisham Almiraat (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Surveillance Is Bad For Your Internet. Poster by Hisham Almiraat (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

It’s true that communications technology has revolutionized the way we learn about the news or the way we spread ideas –or even the way we relate to each other. Three years back, it even seemed that it had finally succeeded in cracking the wall of censorship and fear that plagued the Arab region for decades. Social media platforms, blogs and the increasing availability of smart phones allowed a generation of citizen journalists to report and inform, while activists could mobilize and organize at a level not seen in the region for decades.

It seemed that people no longer had to worry about censorship and government control over the media. We were the media.

A lot of us believed that the mere access to modern means of communications had acted as the catalyst that allowed the sweeping wave of protests to continue, gather pace and arguably succeed. Today, not many of us are ready to make that unblinking assumption.

New challenges 

The challenges faced by bloggers in the Middle East and North Africa have shifted substantially ever since.

(By blogger, I don’t only mean a person keeping a blog, but rather anyone using the Internet for political or civic engagement.)

Since our last Arab bloggers meeting in Tunis in 2011, at least two major changes have occurred:

For one thing, bloggers are no longer expected to be “mere” commentators. From simple observers to active participants, a lot of them had to adapt to a new, more complex political reality where a lot more is demanded of them.

This called for a whole set of new skills and resources that those most active, most influential or those who agitated for the revolution didn’t necessarily have in store. They are looked at for answers, ideas, actions in so many more areas and ways than they used to be. And in a bitterly polarized region where things are moving so fast and so much is happening every day, the task can seem crushing — almost paralyzing.

I know that this has caused many around me to question their role. I also know that it’s been cause for frustration about the lack of resources pro-democracy activists generally have access to. Some of us just couldn't cope and gave up trying. Some even stopped being active online.

Secondly, the nature of the threats against freedom of expression online has equally shifted: Prior to the revolutions, governments in the region seemed resigned to the idea that Internet filtering was the primary way to stifle free expression on the web.

But now they seem to have learned a new lesson: Censorship may be cheap and efficient, but it is relatively easy to expose. Surveillance on the other hand is more subtle and much harder to identify

Over the last three years, electronic surveillance and interception technology have very much become the name of the game. A multi-billion dollar market has sprung up and many governments in the region seem happy to cash in. Today, with very few exceptions, many of those governments spend huge sums of money on expensive, state-of-the-art electronic surveillance and interception technology, most of it developed by western private companies.

Take the case of my country, Morocco, for example:

In 2012, the country purchased a two million USD program called Project Popcorn, developed by French company Amesys. It is said to be able to intercept and monitor all sorts of communications at a country-wide scale.

The same year, a Moroccan online activist group was visited by “Da Vinci”, a sophisticated virus worth half a million US dollars and developed by a Milan-based company, revealingly named Hacking Team. It is said to be able to compromise any operating system, take control of specifically targeted computers and communicate keystroke records and private files to a distant server.

For all we know, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Similar instances were flagged in places like Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Egypt. And the list is growing.

As a result, while censorship remains a major weapon against free speech in the region, electronic surveillance, with its chilling effect on free speech, is becoming a serious threat.

It’s no surprise that three years after the start of the Arab revolutions, the situation of online freedom of expression in the region seems almost as bleak as it did before 2011.

Planting the seeds for a better future

How are we coping with the new reality? Are there any new and creative forms of online activism that have succeeded in the last three years and that we can learn from?

How can we ultimately play an effective role in improving the internet freedom situation in our countries? And to what extent can we rely on technology to protect us online?

These are but some of the questions that participants at the fourth Arab Bloggers Meeting (#AB14) set out to answer.

For four days, the meeting (co-organized by Global Voices Advocacy and the Heinrich Böll Foundation) brought together 70 bloggers, activists, artists, and trainers came from all over the world, including from 16 Arab countries. Participants, like myself, were full of questions and keen to share their stories and skills while also anxious to learn from their peers.

Perhaps the most important lesson I left with is the idea that despite our broader access to modern means of communication in the region today, they seem to only work at the periphery and not necessarily as a major factor for change as a lot of us seemed to think three years back.

There’s a need to find ways to connect and combine online activity with the “offline” efforts of people who traditionally work to effect change in the real world. And that process seems to work towards change only when technology succeeds in mobilizing and organizing a broader and diverse sector of society.

Arab bloggers today are fighting a tough fight —an asymmetrical warfare, where it is no longer a question of access to technology alone, but also a larger, more fundamental question of user rights, of how technology is governed and whether it’s free from government interference.

The ominous feeling that someone may be looking over our shoulders makes it difficult, even for the most daring among us, to operate freely.

But this is not a lost battle. We may not be so blessed of a generation after all, but I feel like AB14, by bringing us together, has succeeded in planting the seeds for a better future.

January 31 2014

AB14: “We Must Stop Thinking That Technology Will Solve All of Our Problems”

This article originally appeared on El Diario, in Spanish. Translation by Ellery Roberts Biddle.

Empty seats for those who were absent from #AB14. Photo by Hisham Almiraat via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Empty seats for those who were absent from #AB14. Photo by Hisham Almiraat via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

“Those who live in western societies do not understand the importance of being able to criticize the actions of their government. This is a right we do not have in our countries.”

It was with this that Walid Al-Saqaf, founder of Portal Yemen, began a panel on censorship and digital surveillance at the Arab Bloggers Meeting #AB14 that took place from the 20-23 of January in Amman.

Banner calling for the release of Alaa Abd El Fattah and Bassel Safadi, former participants at the Arab Bloggers Meeting.

Banner calling for the release of Alaa Abd El Fattah and Bassel Safadi, former participants at the Arab Bloggers Meeting.

The political context for this event has changed dramatically since the last meeting in September of 2011, when bloggers and activists from every Arab country came together in Tunis, meeting under a banner that read: “Welcome to a Free Tunis.” Since this time, censorship and repression have continued. The ardent, palpable feeling of hope at the last meeting, fueled by uprisings against dictatorships in the region, has given way to difficult transitions in some cases and armed conflict in others, all struggles that we see plainly in the online realm.

“We must stop thinking that technology will solve all of our problems,” Al-Saqaf pleaded. “Censorship is here to stay, regardless of the tools, so we must stop being obsessed with them and begin to think in the long term.”

The meeting focused on the strategic pursuit of protection against censorship and surveillance, and the preservation of common bonds in a milieu that feels more and more fragmented each day. An on-site photo project featured a message from each of the participants.

“We watch the government, not the other way around,” message from Moroccan blogger Zineb Belmkaddem during the Arab Bloggers Meeting in Amman. Photo by Amer Sweidan, used with permission.

“We watch the government, not the other way around,” message from Moroccan blogger Zineb Belmkaddem during the Arab Bloggers Meeting in Amman. Photo by Amer Sweidan, used with permission.

This year, the absence of two participants from past meetings was especially palpable: Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah and Syrian web developer Bassel Safadi. The meeting was dedicated to them, journalists and activists detained in the region. A statementcalling for freedom for Razan Zaitouneh, co-founder of Syria’s Center for Violations Documentation, a group that documents human rights abuses, who was kidnapped in December in Damascus.

As a community, we have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with activists promoting freedom and exposing human rights violations in service of our shared humanity. We at AB14 demand that the UN and all countries involved in the Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference establish verifiable mechanisms to protect and secure the release of opinion detainees and kidnappees in Syria.

These were not the only people absent. A Syrian member of the Enab Baladi project, a local independent media project created at the start of the March 2011 uprising, was sent back to Turkey after several hours of interrogation at the Amman airport. Two Iraqi participants were denied entry visas altogether. Restrictions for citizen travel between countries in the region remains a constant (at the last meeting, Palestinian participants were not able to get into Tunisia) a reality that contradicts the illusion of regional unity.

“I have no words, only shame, to describe how Arab regimes treat citizens in other Arab countries, while a person with a Western passport can move freely without a visa through practically the entire region,” wrote Abir Kopty. She added: “We will keep fighting until we are separated neither by borders nor by authoritarian regimes.”

January 15 2014

Next Week in Amman: 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting #AB14

AB14 banner

Next week, bloggers, techies, activists and entrepreneurs from throughout the Middle East and North Africa will come together in Amman, Jordan for the 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting, led by Global Voices and Heinrich Böll and hosted by Amman-based media platform, 7iber.com. We are thrilled to be organizing this event once again!

Over the course of three closed-workshop days, we will discuss and learn about MENA region community-based projects that are advancing civic engagement online, and work together to build collaborative knowledge around advocacy, digital security, and policy issues.

We'll be lucky to have friends and colleagues with us from many leading advocacy groups and platforms —  SMEX, Al-Monitor, EFFTactical Technology Collective, and Free Press Unlimited, just to name a few. On our final day, we will discuss current political trends and challenges in a live, public forum with leading activists and thinkers from the region and around the world. All this and much more information about the meeting can be found on the AB14 website, in both English and Arabic.

As many of our readers know, the Arab Bloggers meeting has served as a critical space and platform for our broader community since its first iteration in Beirut in 2008. The meeting brought together influential voices from across the region, playing an important role in helping digital activists build a network of solidarity with each other prior to the Arab uprisings.

Today, three years after the ousting of Ben Ali in Tunisia, the challenges faced by digital activists and bloggers in the Middle East and North Africa have shifted substantially. While in some countries the Internet and speech rights are considerably more free, others face continued and significant surveillance, censorship, and significant threats of violence or imprisonment. Uncertainty about the future and political polarization have made attempted transitions to democracy difficult and often times painful, especially for those of us, netizens, who supported and helped drive it.

There are many questions about the role of netizens themselves in a post- “Arab Spring” MENA — these have given way to frustration and uncertainty about what to do next. We believe there’s a need, today more than ever, for a meeting of this kind.

We wish we could invite all of our friends to join us next week, but limitations on space and funding force us to keep the meeting small — this also has the advantage of giving us plenty of time and space for one-on-one conversations and work in small groups. The good news is that meeting facilitators will do everything they can to make the meeting readable, watchable, and tweetable for friends and followers who aren't with us in Amman!

Please watch the official meeting website — arabloggers.org — and follow hashtag #ab14 on Twitter for updates, reports and insights from Amman. More to come very soon!

October 26 2013

Hong Kong Activists Organize, Prepare for Online Attacks

By Haggen So and translated by Liu Heng. This article originally published on inmediahk.net.

Many civic groups and online media in Hong Kong have been attacked by hackers over past two years. The best known case took place in March last year with an attack on a platform hosted by Hong Kong University Public Opinion Programme (HKU POP). This happened shortly after HK POP held mock elections for the office of the SAR Chief Executive (CE) or city mayor (in which CE Leung Chun-ying won only 17% of the vote.) Most recent hacking incidents have been political in nature.

As the government will soon present the draft of the political reform proposal on the arrangement of CE election in 2017, HKU POP will again conduct a public opinion survey which serves as a mock referendum on the political reform proposal.

Meanwhile, civil society groups are preparing to launch a collective civil disobedient action to Occupy Central in July 2014 , to advocate for a genuine universal suffrage and against the manipulation of candidate nomination. It is anticipated that malicious hacking of civic groups, activists communications and citizen media will surge approaching July.

Forum speakers: Ben Chang, Jazz Ma and Sang Young.

Forum speakers: Ben Chang, Jazz Ma and Sang Young.

To address the issue, Hong Kong In-Media, an independent and citizen media advocacy group, hosted a forum on October 4 featuring local IT experts who explained the nature of online attacks in Hong Kong and discussed the potential for building a tech activist team to support local civic groups and activists.

The hacking of HKU POP

What the public appears to be most concerned about is whether the HKU POP computer system will encounter another round of hacking in the 2014 civic referendum project. Jazz Ma, HKU POP IT manager, explained the situation of the hacking of mock universal suffrage in March 2012:

Several days before the voting, a number of e-mail accounts related to the civic referendum project had received messages with attachment that inflicted with Trojan Horse, a hacking program. Subsequently the password of some accounts was changed. On March 21st, we first tested the voting system in among local universities and the HKU Computer Centre informed us that there had been millions of network packets trying to access to HKU server. Fortunately the HKU firewall had blocked most of the malicious packets. On March 23rd, we found out that that some hackers had written programmes to log-in the voting system repeatedly and thus caused the server to overload.

The attack that HKU POP encountered is known as a Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDoS). Sang Young, a senior information security expert, explained to the audience the nature of a DDoS attack: “DDoS attackers make use of a third party's personal computers and cloud servers as ‘zombies’ to attack the target server. The aim is to cripple the websites.” Apart from DDoS, falsification of data in sites to mislead users is also a common hacking activities in Hong Kong, Young said. Most of the hacking activities involve either commercial or political interests.

Concerns about privacy

HKU POP reported the hacking incident to the police and a suspect was quickly arrested on March 24. On the next day, the police returned HKU to collect the evidence by cloning all data in the server.

Salon host Michelle Fong immediately interrupted and asked: “Will cloning result in a leak such as the voters personal information and voting intentions? Will there be a risk of prosecution if the server contains a child pornography photograph?”

Sang Young, who has police training experiences explained that in general, when it comes to criminal investigation, the police copy all the contents on the server in question, but only for specific cases. It is impossible to use the contents for prosecution directly even if they involve child pornography. As for civil disputes and investigation, corporates will ask the third party to sign a confidential document that ensures all data will be destroyed after the investigation. However, as many online platforms now are using cloud servers, the police cannot clone the server and will only ask for a log sheet.

Building a local tech activist community

As social action depends more and more on online communication, strong support from technology community is necessary. Michelle Fong pointed out that there are various organizations abroad such as Tactical Technology Collective or civic web hosting services such as Nearly Free Speech to provide support for civic groups, while in Hong Kong, such a technical community has yet to emerge.

Ben Cheng believed that the civic sector has yet to recognize the important role of technology in social movements and few organizations are willing to pull together resources to support the work of tech activists. “If each individual is willing to donate $1 and the mass is big enough, we can develop new tools for social activism and security protection. But people do not find [this] kind of work important.”

However, inmediahk.net and Global Voices Online editor Oiwan Lam believed that the technical community should take an active role in social incident like the upcoming Occupy Central campaign and demonstrate to the public that technology can make a difference to social mobilization.

We [have] yet to solve many communication problems. For example, every year during the June 4 candle light vigil, the mobile networks are jammed and people cannot upload information to social media. What if our telecommunication service collapses during the Occupy Central campaign? Ordinary people don't know how to deal with the problem, but the technical community can take initiative to draw up [a] strategic plan.

Soon after the above question was raised, the IT experts immediately came up with the idea of adopting the Serval Mesh App from Android platform to set up a communication network. Participants agreed that a common platform for dialogue and brainstorming among social activists and technical experts is crucial for building a local tech activist community.

September 23 2013

The Public Voice: Join a Global Conversation on Privacy

International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, 2009. Photo by Oscar Espiritusanto via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA)

International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, 2009. Photo by Oscar Espiritusanto via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA)

The Public Voice coalition will hold a privacy and consumer protection meeting in conjunction with the 35th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners on Tuesday, 24 September 2013. The Public Voice is a group of civil society advocates united to promote the right to privacy and the incorporation of transparent, accountable, multistakeholder models for developing privacy-related policies for digital communications. Anyone can follow Tuesday's discussion and join online. This conference builds a bridge between the authorities whose mandate is to protect your privacy and your data, and you.

The event “Our Data, Our lives” will be livestreamed and tweeted. Anyone can follow the video, join the conversation via Twitter, or join the dialogue itself by signing in here.

Among the topics to be discussed are “The NSA Surveillance Program: What Is the Response from Civil Society?”, “Internet Intermediaries and Data Protections” and “EU-US Trade Discussion: Will the United States be Given a Free Pass on Privacy Again?”

All online participants will have the opportunity to ask questions and participate in the conversation.

January 19 2013

South Korea: How to Regain Ownership of the Internet

On January 11, 2012, Network Neutrality Forum (ko), an alliance of South Korean Internet freedom-concerned civic organizations, hosted a public workshop at the Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea, to address concerns over waning civic participation in global Internet governance.

Internet policy expert and lawyer Borami Kim moderated the whole event and Professor Dongman Lee, from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), one of the early participants in Korean Internet governance, joined as a main speaker. The panel also included Eung Hwi Chon, a seasoned Internet civic activist at the Green Consumer's Network, and Jae Yeon Kim, an activist and member of Creative Commons Korea and Global Voices Online.

Lawyer Borami Kim. Photo by Jinbonet (CC BY)

The inconvenient truth about Internet governance

During his lecture, Professor Dongman Lee emphasized what he called the inconvenient truth about Internet governance: “Many people are tempted to believe that the cyberspace is a de facto level-playing field,” he says, “but that is hardly the truth.” At least at the level of Internet critical infrastructure resources, such as domain names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, the controversies regarding who controls the net are the more conspicuous. In recent years, many nations, especially emerging powers such as Russia and China, have constantly challenged the U.S. control of the roots of the Internet. The U.S., on the other hand, have faced difficulty balancing their global leadership with their so-called national interest. These unresolved problems were demonstrated quite vividly in recent global public debates, especially during the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) held in Dubai in late 2012.

Although the Internet was not directly mentioned in the WCIT final resolution, Pr. Lee warned of the potential implications of Article 5A which deals with security problems on the network. As a technology expert, he warned that this particular clause in the final WCIT document may bring about problems in terms of global filtering of the free flow of information. He asserted that such scenario will be fatal for the future healthy growth of the Internet as a liberating medium for all.

Professor Dongman Lee from KAIST. Photo by Jinbonet (CC BY)

How net regulations hindered Korean civil society's participation in global internet governance

Eung Hwi Chon's presentation followed Professor Lee's lecture an was more focused on how South Korean net regulations have hindered Korean civil society's participation in global Internet governance. He stressed that initially Korean civil society had been responsible for the management of distributing domain names and IP addresses. For example, from 1986 to 1994, KAIST lab—the birth place of Korean Internet where Professor Kilnam Chon led his group of students including Professor Lee to pioneer the Internet in Asia—had managed Internet governance in Korea. As a matter of fact, that trend had been consistent from 1986 to 2004.

However, Korean government intervened in this self-regulating Internet governance environment in 2004 by establishing the Internet Address Resource Law (in Korean “인터넷주소자원법”). The law empowered the Korean government which was then able to distribute domain names and collect commission fees without a sufficient auditory structure.

Korean civil society has no say as to how that money is used. Government monopoly over domain name distribution in South Korea has brought about a lack of transparency and accountability. Furthermore, an opaque decision-making culture is prevalent in the Korean information communication technology (ICT) industry, making the market resiliently oligarchic. It is no surprise then, that in terms of revenue, Korea Telecom (KT) has dominated almost half (49.3%) of Korean Internet backbone market in 2010.

Activist Eung Hwi Chon. Photo by Jinbonet (CC BY)

How can transnational activism keep the Internet free 

In his presentation, Jae Yeon Kim raised the question of what a multistakeholder approach, as a governing principle of Internet-related resources, really means and how it can work.

He started by noting that from the very first years of Internet development, the format of public discussions on the Internet has been persistently bottom-up, consensus-based and transparent. This approach, also known as multistakeholderism, has not changed up to date. The Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the venue for global discussions on Internet governance, and even the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), are adopting the multistakeholder approach as a basic principle and a globally accepted norm.

Nevertheless, the tricky part of multistakeholderism is its implementation. Bringing individuals and organizations who have diverse interests and norms in the same room does not guarantee they will come up with a better idea.

In South Korea, there is a tradition of perverting the idea altogether: the government usually uses experts and cherry-picked civil society members to legitimize a quasi clandestine decision making process. The government often invites those who are in favor of its policy proposals. This is far from the spirit of multistakeholderism. Therefore, Kim insisted that not only appearance but substance counts in Internet governance processes. He proposed that the principles of transparency and accountability be compulsory for Internet policy-related decision-making processes in South Korea.

Kim also stressed the fact that fighting against net control within South Korea is not enough. Since the Internet is a global communication system, isolationism cannot guarantee the victory. A local net control system can rapidly become a global filtering system. Therefore, transnational activism advocating Internet freedom can be an answer to create a counterweight against the forces trying to control the free flow of information. We are now only seeing the beginning of Internet freedom-related transnational activism. How that social movement will become institutionalized in domestic and international settings still is largely unknown.

Activist Jae Yeon Kim. Photo by Jinbonet (CC BY)

In the follow-up discussion, the attendees from Korean online service providers such as NHNDaum Communications, and SK Planet, and government agencies, such as Korea Communications Commission (KCC) and Korea Internet Security & Agency, and other civic activists shared their diverse opinions on the problems of Korean Internet governance and the ways to solve those problems and achieve higher goals.

January 09 2013

South Korea: Public Interest in Internet Governance Issues Rekindled

On January 3, 2013, Creative Commons Korea, Korea Association for Information Law [ko] (a Creative Commons project lead by Jay Yoon, a presiding judge at the Seoul Northern District Court), and Haja Center (an alternative educational institution for Korean youth) organized a public event on Internet governance entitled “Global Great Power Rivalries on the Internet”.

The meeting was especially focused on the outcomes of the recent World Conference on Information Technology (WCIT) held in Dubai, on December 2012. The primary aim of this event was to inform the public on the main sources of contention raised by South Korea's approval of the controversial WCIT resolution, also know as the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR). South Korea was indeed one of a few democracies who voted in favor of a resolution that many other countries decided not to sign for reservations over potential dangers for Internet freedom.

Susan Crawford, former President Barack Obama's Special Assistant for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy, was a speaker during the meeting. Other panelists included Professor Kilnam Chon from Keio University, a pioneer of the Korean Internet and an outspoken advocate for open Internet and digital commons, Professor Jaechon Park from Inha University, a long-time expert on Internet governance in South Korea. Judge and Creative Commons Korea project leader Jongsoo Yoon (who is better known outside Korea by his English name “Jay Yoon”) moderated the event.

Public interest in Internet governance issues rekindled

Although the public event was hosted during weekdays, the conference room was full of attendees—a sign that Internet governance has gained interest among Korean media and public.

On December 15, 2012, Professor Kilnam Chon already ignited public interest on these issue by addressing the significance of the voting results at the last WCIT. During the Creative Commons' 10th anniversary party held in Seoul, he argued that the WCIT resolution demonstrates that the age of innocence was gone due to states' rising interest in influencing the Internet. Furthermore, he stressed the fact that only a small number of democracies voted in favor of the resolution like South Korea.

In a response to Professor Chon's public statement, I contributed an article [ko] to Bloter.net, an influential online tech newspaper. In that article I explain why the South Korean government lacks concern for Internet freedom due to its authoritarian legacy, and how it approved of a potentially dangerous resolution for the future of the Internet.

Why did South Korea vote in favor of the WCIT resolution? 

Professor Susan Crawford. Photo by Creative Commons Korea volunteer Moira (CC BY 2.0)

During her lecture, Professor Susan Crawford said that the reason why the U.S. did not sign the new ITR was because they do not believe state control of the Internet is desirable for reasons related to Internet freedom and its association with economic innovation, cultural diversity and political empowerment. She explained that for the same reasons many western countries decided not to sign the new ITR. According to Professor Crawford, the U.S. vision is to keep and develop a multistakeholder approach which has been the modus operandi of the Internet from its nascent stage. She pointed out that a multistakeholder approach is more democratic, more accountable and more beneficial for the long-term development of the Internet.

 

8343609939_ffe9d3649b_z.jpg

From the left, Judge Jongsoo Yoon, Professor Jaechon Park, and Professor Cho (Han) Hae Jung. Photo by Creative Commons Korea staff member Dayejung (CC BY 2.0).

Following Professor Crawford's brief lecture, Professor Jaechon Park tried to explain why South Korea made a somewhat weird decision considering its status as one of the most wired nations in the world. As a chairperson of Korean Internet Governance Alliance (KIGA), a Korea Communications Commission affiliated organization, he was able to provide an insider perspective on the issue.

He started by pointing at the “severe imbalance existing in the Korean delegation to the WCIT”–a team that was selected by the government. Although it was known in advance that the WCIT would address Internet governance issues, most members of the team came from the traditional telecommunications sector, with only a few Internet experts. Only one member of the civil society was included in the team. The team could therefore hardly claim to represent the diversity of interests and values within the Korean society.

Professor Park also thinks the Korean delegation voted with diplomatic concerns primarily in mind. South Korea doesn't want to upset a certain number of countries ahead of the plenipotentiary meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) (the UN agency in charge of global telecommunications regulations and the WCIT organizer), to be held in 2014 in the city of Busan.

8344668782_93fdd91d81_z.jpg

Professor Kilnam Chon, the “father of Korean Internet.” Photo by Creative Commons Korea staff member Dayejung (CC BY 2.0)

Professor Kilnam Chon, the “father of Korean Internet,” noted that South Korea wasn't in the majority among full democracies (see the following “infogr.am.”) Although not sure himself why his country voted in favor of the ITR, he asked the audience to think about what it means for the country, the Internet and the future.

In conclusion, Professor Chon shared his vision of the future of the Internet in South Korea. He argued that Internet leading countries not only are advanced in terms of their technological infrastructure but also in their social infrastructure. Among the elements of that social infrastructure he cited “digital commons” as a crucial element because of their liberating potential for the creativity and therefore the economy and the society as a whole. Professor Chon also said that he will commit himself to working on initiating a digital commons project to “enhance civic interests and norms in Internet governance in South Korea and elsewhere.”

South Korea: Public Interest in Internet Governance Issues Rekindled

On January 3, 2013, Creative Commons Korea, Korea Association for Information Law [ko] (a Creative Commons project lead by Jay Yoon, a presiding judge at the Seoul Northern District Court), and Haja Center (an alternative educational institution for Korean youth) organized a public event on Internet governance entitled “Global Great Power Rivalries on the Internet”.

The meeting was especially focused on the outcomes of the recent World Conference on Information Technology (WCIT) held in Dubai, on December 2012. The primary aim of this event was to inform the public on the main sources of contention raised by South Korea's approval of the controversial WCIT resolution, also know as the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR). South Korea was indeed one of a few democracies who voted in favor of a resolution that many other countries decided not to sign for reservations over potential dangers for Internet freedom.

Susan Crawford, former President Barack Obama's Special Assistant for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy, was a speaker during the meeting. Other panelists included Professor Kilnam Chon from Keio University, a pioneer of the Korean Internet and an outspoken advocate for open Internet and digital commons, Professor Jaechon Park from Inha University, a long-time expert on Internet governance in South Korea. Judge and Creative Commons Korea project leader Jongsoo Yoon (who is better known outside Korea by his English name “Jay Yoon”) moderated the event.

Public interest in Internet governance issues rekindled

Although the public event was hosted during weekdays, the conference room was full of attendees—a sign that Internet governance has gained interest among Korean media and public.

On December 15, 2012, Professor Kilnam Chon already ignited public interest on these issue by addressing the significance of the voting results at the last WCIT. During the Creative Commons' 10th anniversary party held in Seoul, he argued that the WCIT resolution demonstrates that the age of innocence was gone due to states' rising interest in influencing the Internet. Furthermore, he stressed the fact that only a small number of democracies voted in favor of the resolution like South Korea.

In a response to Professor Chon's public statement, I contributed an article [ko] to Bloter.net, an influential online tech newspaper. In that article I explain why the South Korean government lacks concern for Internet freedom due to its authoritarian legacy, and how it approved of a potentially dangerous resolution for the future of the Internet. The article was liked more than 596 times on Facebook and tweeted over 234 times up to today.

Why did South Korea vote in favor of the WCIT resolution? 

Professor Susan Crawford. Photo by Creative Commons Korea volunteer Moira (CC BY 2.0)

During her lecture, Professor Susan Crawford said that the reason why the U.S. did not sign the new ITR was because they do not believe state control of the Internet is desirable for reasons related to Internet freedom and its association with economic innovation, cultural diversity and political empowerment. She explained that for the same reasons many western countries decided not to sign the new ITR. According to Professor Crawford, the U.S. vision is to keep and develop a multistakeholder approach which has been the modus operandi of the Internet from its nascent stage. She pointed out that a multistakeholder approach is more democratic, more accountable and more beneficial for the long-term development of the Internet.

 

8343609939_ffe9d3649b_z.jpg

From the left, Judge Jongsoo Yoon, Professor Jaechon Park, and Professor Cho (Han) Hae Jung. Photo by Creative Commons Korea staff member Dayejung (CC BY 2.0).

Following Professor Crawford's brief lecture, Professor Jaechon Park tried to explain why South Korea made a somewhat weird decision considering its status as one of the most wired nations in the world. As a chairperson of Korean Internet Governance Alliance (KIGA), a civil society watchdog, he was able to provide an insider perspective on the issue.

He started by pointing at the “severe imbalance existing in the Korean delegation to the WCIT”–a team that was selected by the government. Although it was known in advance that the WCIT would address Internet governance issues, most members of the team came from the traditional telecommunications sector, with only a few Internet experts. Only one member of the civil society was included in the team. The team could therefore hardly claim to represent the diversity of interests and values within the Korean society.

Professor Park also thinks the Korean delegation voted with diplomatic concerns primarily in mind. South Korea doesn't want to upset a certain number of countries ahead of the plenipotentiary meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) (the UN agency in charge of global telecommunications regulations and the WCIT organizer), to be held in 2014 in the city of Busan.

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Professor Kilnam Chon, the “father of Korean Internet.” Photo by Creative Commons Korea staff member Dayejung (CC BY 2.0)

Professor Kilnam Chon, the “father of Korean Internet,” noted that South Korea wasn't in the majority among democracies (see the following “infogr.am.”) Although not sure himself why his country voted in favor of the ITR, he asked the audience to think about what it means for the country, the Internet and the future.

In conclusion, Professor Chon shared his vision of the future of the Internet in South Korea. He argued that Internet leading countries not only are advanced in terms of their technological infrastructure but also in their social infrastructure. Among the elements of that social infrastructure he cited “digital commons” as a crucial element because of their liberating potential for the creativity and therefore the economy and the society as a whole.

Professor Chon also said that he will commit himself to working on initiating a digital commons project as part of Korean Internet History [ko], an open project which, starting this year, will document Korean Internet development history and share that experience with other countries. The goal of the project, Professor Chon notes, is to “enhance civic interests and norms in Internet governance in South Korea and elsewhere.”

December 24 2012

Hong Kong: Citizen Media Summit Seeks Common Agenda

An online citizen media summit, organized by inmediahk.net [zh], was held in Hong Kong on December 15, 2012. The objective of the gathering was to formulate a common agenda among local non-mainstream media actors. The summit, attended by 200 local citizen media organizers and concerned netizens, consisted of 9 sub-group panel discussions that revolved around the following topics:

1. Challenges paused by the Copyright Amendment
2. How to make use and step out of the “tyranny of Facebook”
3. Communication and exclusion and the “tribalization challenge”
4. Radical community media politics vs. populist politics
5. How to deal with government and corporate oppression
6. Management and sustainability challenges
7. Online content: Diversification or homogenization; Alternatives or mainstream
8. How can citizen media develop cross-border content
9. Grassroots networking through online media

Inmediahk Summit poster

The summit organizer, inmediahk.net, invited 4 distinguished speakers:

Ip Iam Chong: One of the founders of inmediahk.net; Lecturer at the Cultural Studies Department, Lingnan University.
Jack Qui Linchuan: Associate professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Chloe Lai: Senior journalist and part-time lecturer on journalism.
Lisa Leung Yuk Ming: Assistant professor at the Cultural Studies Department, Lingnan University.

Below is a summary report on the main observations made by the aforementioned four speakers at the end of the summit:

Ip Iam Chong: Exploring common agenda across online tribes

What is the meaning of new media explosion, wonders Ip Iam Chong. It is a global phenomenon that marks the subsiding of mass culture. However, the process is very slow. For example, in the case of Hong Kong, TVB, a popular commercial television station, still has a large audience.

In the past few years, a large number of small online media have emerged but they remain very tribalized. Sometimes they are even at odds with each other. This summit was in fact a rare occasion for participants from non-mainstream media to sit together. At the same time, we, citizen media actors, commonly face a set of challenges: a common technological setting; main actors in the local democratization process; the subsiding of conventional and commercial news media organizations as a result of the failure of the existing business model.

The revolution taking place now is led by a large number of small online media organizations—the so-called “We” media. They are not just media groups but they represent a new political practice. Yet the movement also faces a lot of additional challenges, such as the fact they have to operate under the tyranny of new media giants, such as Facebook. They are restricted by their policy and technological settings.

Moreover, online media groups are ghettoized. The emotionally-charged type of information they distribute, mostly speaks to those who share the same perspective. This is the so-called “Echo Chamber Effect.” The affective consumption of information makes it even more difficult to carry out in-depth discussion on social and political issues. We are aware of the fact that investigative reports can be rarely found in online citizen media.

Despite all these challenges, with a common context, Ip Iam Chong thinks it is still possible for us, citizen media actors, to formulate a common agenda among local citizen and non-mainstream medial.

Jack Qui: Embracing social and political transformation

Jack Qui's research is focused on how mainland Chinese workers make use of Internet and mobile communication technology in the Pearl River Delta. He has attended the copyrights and grassroots media panel discussions during this summit.

To deal with the tribal culture, Qui contends, citizen media organizations need to have more exchanges. One of the speakers pointed out that people nowadays only show their concern online, but very few actually participate in offline and community based grassroots activities. However, when compared with other countries, citizen media in Hong Kong is very much attached to local and urban politics.

We are in the era of “mass self-communication.” It generates from the self, with roots in the local communities. There is potential for it to go deeper and extend into the rest of the society. Of course, we are constrained by capital and legal settings, as pointed out by the Copyright group during the summit. Furthermore, we are locked in a “tele-cocoon,” partly because of the communication mode of the existing social media platforms. The situation is the same across all countries. The sustainability of the self is crucial to overcome the above-mentioned difficulties as the self is the source of creativity and diversity.

The Internet public sphere, constituted by mass self-communication, is a site for political contest. Currently, the new media sector in Hong Kong has not generated enough power to threaten the political status quo. That's why the pro-China political forces do not have a strong political will to take it over. However, when we look at the South Korean experience, in 2001, the democratic alliance defeated the conservatives in the presidential election largely with the help of online mobilization. Within 5 years (in 2006) the conservatives had taken over the Internet public sphere and subsequently regained their power. The same situation may happen in Hong Kong as well.

Yet Jack Qui believes that we should not be defeated and should embrace the project of social and political transformation in Hong Kong, as well as in China, with our media practice.

Chloe Lai: Content is the King

Chloe Lai's background is professional journalism. She believes that the definition of a journalist is through journalistic practice rather than through any institutional set up. Even though she has left the industry, she says she is still a journalist. The oppression of professional and citizen journalists is of a similar nature. The difference is, citizen journalists don't have institutional support when they are bullied. Community support is thus very important. The nature of oppression is multidimensional, exercised through government policy, legal prosecution, or even physical violence. A workshop for individual bloggers is probably needed to help them build their community support.

As for the cross-border discussion, we are all aware of the fact that international news delivery has been monopolized by international news agencies. The situation in Hong Kong is even worse. For commercial media, news is restricted to what the market or their audience dictate; that's why they only focus on reporting news in countries where Hong Kong people visit most frequently. Citizen media, in that regard, has more freedom to report on international news. Of course resources remain a huge challenge.

As for sharing Hong Kong news with the global audience, the language barrier need to be overcome. Currently international news agencies' interest is all about mainland China, rather than Hong Kong. More English content needs to be produced to tell the global audience what happens here. Actually translation is more difficult than writing original news as you need to provide a lot of context. Hong Kong mainstream media is often disappointing in that regard. At the same time citizen media content is mainly made of news commentaries. As a trained journalist, Chloe believes that content is the king and that investigative reporting is essential, “that's why I really appreciate inmediahk.net's effort in producing first hand citizen report,” she adds. Moreover, Chloe thinks we should judge our news by its news value and public interest, rather than the liking or the political attitude of the audience.

In conclusion, Chloe Lai observes that many online media organizations in Hong Kong have emerged because of the current political context. She wonders: Once the political context changes, will the organizations still be defending our free speech environment? Or will their position depend on which political clan media bosses belong to?

Lisa Leung: Management of Creativity

Lisa Leung's current research is focused on social media and political participation. She believes we face a lot of contradictions today. On the one hand, the communication is very individualized, and on the other we perceive the online space as a “public space”. However, we all know that the technological setting is “customized”. We are not living in a global village, just a “customized cottage.” We have to walk out from such a myth. The path is not straight, it is a zig-zag path through trials and errors.

The second character of the social media is its affective aspect. The “self” is at the center of the performance. How to manage our “affection” to build more constructive discussions? The re-packaging of information and news seems important. The management of creativity is crucial as well, such as in the handling of the legal risks. For example Golden Forum (a popular Hong Kong-based Internet forum) users are experienced in making use of “parody” to avoid legal prosecutions such as defamation and distribution of indecent materials online.

As for the sustainability question, most of the citizen and non-mainstream media depend on “friendship” and the “shared vision” which are also related to the affective aspect. But how to extend the closed network and run your organization as a media that reaches out to bigger audiences is still a big challenge.

December 15 2012

What Happened at the WCIT-12: Interview With Beatriz Busaniche

The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), a UN-sponsored meeting, has just ended in Dubai, UAE. After two weeks of intense negotiations, mostly behind closed doors, representatives failed to agree on a proposed ITU treaty, supported by Russia and China, and that would give national governments more control over the internet.

The ITU is a UN body responsible for standardizing telecommunications protocols around the world.

The conference raised a lot of controversy among online freedom of speech advocates who have been calling for a multistakeholder approach, accusing the ITU of deliberately pushing civil society groups aside.

Why has the conference attracted so much interest? How significant is it for the future of internet use?

We talked to Beatriz Busaniche, member of Fundacion Via Libre and the founding member of Wikimedia Argentina. She explains what was at stake at the WCIT and why netizens should care.

December 07 2012

The WCIT Wake-Up Call: Time To Broaden the Discussion on Internet Governance

World leaders are meeting in Dubai this week for the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), and depending on whose perspective you get, the future of the entire Internet as we know it may be at stake.

Over the past few months, a number of civil society groups have sounded the alarm bells about the potential outcomes of the conference—and with good reason, since some of the proposed revisions to the International Telecommunications Regulations, particularly those submitted by countries already known for censorship online and human rights violations, could have serious consequences on the global Internet if they are implemented. The U.S. government has joined in, along with the leaders of several other countries, threatening to block any major changes that would expand the ITU’s authority over Internet governance. The best possible outcome for the United States is a continuation of the status quo, since US institutions and companies currently play a significant role in Internet governance.

But another trend has also become clear in the debate leading up to the WCIT and in the early discussions in Dubai. Many countries, particularly members of the Global South which see access to the Internet as an essential part of development, are unhappy with the current Internet governance process. It can be tempting to pretend that all of these countries are akin to Russia, China, and Iran, who seem to be angling to use the ITU as a means to assert greater control over the internet, but it would be misleading to lump them all together.

It’s clear that change needs to happen, although the consensus seems to be that the ITU is not the appropriate forum to make such changes. Nonetheless, the attention surrounding the WCIT could actually be an opportunity to shift the conversation. All of the energy that various groups are pouring into advocacy around this conference is encouraging, but it would be a shame if it stops on December 14. Many of the major issues on the table in Dubai are part of a larger, ongoing dialogue on Internet governance that will not likely end any time soon. It’s time for members of civil society, industry, and government to commit to working toward a better, more inclusive multistakeholder process that not only protects the Internet as we know it now, but encourages growth and innovation going forward.

The Open Technology Institute and Global Partners teamed up to put this message into a remixed version of “What is the ITU?”, originally produced by Access and Fight for the Future.

November 07 2012

Azerbaijan: “A Country that Portrays Social-Networkers as Mentally Ill”

While all eyes were on the presidential election in the United States, a major international conference started on Tuesday in Baku, the capital of the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. The 7th United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF) claims to bring “all stakeholders” as equal partners to discuss major issues relating not only to the future of the Internet but also to matters of policing, management, and of course, freedom of expression online.

The choice of Baku to host the event has been controversial all along. Azerbaijan is hardly known for its respect of human rights.

According to Human Rights Watch, there are currently at least eight journalists and three human rights defenders behind bars in Azerbaijan. Authorities have banned all unsanctioned peaceful public assemblies in central Baku or anywhere else in the country.

Emin Milli, a prominent Azerbaijani blogger and youth activist, highlighted the problems facing Internet users and political activists in his country when he published  an open letter to President Ilham Aliyev on Tuesday, November 6, challenging the authorities’ claims that the Internet was free. He writes:

As someone who was jailed for using the internet to criticize you and your policies, I have experienced an inconvenient truth – the internet is not free in Azerbaijan and it is definitely not free from fear.

On Tuesday, a consortium of Azerbaijani human rights organizations, the Expression Online Initiative, published an open letter voicing concerns over “violations of UN main principles” that the group says are taking place during the UN-sponsored gathering. The group claims that the IGF Secretariat, a body responsible for organizing the event and accrediting participants, refused its requests to have a booth at the IGF village. According to the letter, the restrictions went even further:

[T]he Secretariat tried to prevent distribution of the Expression Online Initiative’s reports Searching for Freedom: Online Expression in Azerbaijan and The Right to Remain Silent: Freedom of Expression in Azerbaijan ahead of the 7th Internet Governance Forum. The IGF coordinator told our representatives “You are not allowed to distribute these reports within IGF premises.” Our attempt to distribute these reports, which examine issues in Azerbaijan which are directly relevant to the IGF, were perceived by the Secretariat as an attempt to “attack one of the stakeholder group,” i.e. the Azerbaijani government.

Expression Online Initiative also says that the registration desk repeatedly asked one of their representatives whether he was planning to stage a protest at the event and eventually handed over his ID card to local authorities.

To draw attention to the problems faced by Internet users in Azerbaijan, Amnesty International, is publishing a brief which documents several key cases where people have been persecuted for their online activities. “There is a deep irony to holding an international forum on internet governance in Azerbaijan,” the organisation’s Azerbaijan campaigner is quoted saying. He adds, “This is a country where the government intercepts individuals’ correspondence at a whim, imprisons bloggers, and portrays social-networkers as mentally ill.”

On Tuesday, prior to the official opening of the conference, IGF Watch reported that Indonesian civil society organisation ICT Watch was prevented from distributing postcards that read “Government Censorship: Protecting You From Reality.”

A UN official removed the postcards, according to IGF Watch, on the basis that they might upset certain governments. The website reports that the IGF Secretariat later retracted the statement, claiming that the removal of the postcards were merely due to advertising and accreditation issues.

A number of civil society organisations present in Baku are putting together a statement asking the IGF secretariat for clarifications on the incident, which they describe as “highly objectionable” and “completely unacceptable.”

This is not the first time that the host country of an IGF conference has raised controversy. It was the case when the IGF’s mandate was first established in Ben Ali’s Tunisia in 2005. It was also the case in Mubarak's Egypt in 2006. Both leaders thought they could harness the emancipating power of the Internet while painting an image of openness to the outside world. They both failed. Should President Aliyev be worried? Only time can tell.

November 06 2012

Azerbaijan: Open Letter to President Aliyev Ahead of International Governance Forum in Baku

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a UN-sponsored conference which aims to “bring[ ] together all stakeholders in the internet governance debate.” This year it is held in Baku, the capital of the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan where, starting on Tuesday, government officials, representatives of the private sector, the civil society and academia are to discuss major issues related to the use, policing, management and future of the internet.

Also on Tuesday, Emin Milli, a well known Azerbaijani youth activist and former political prisoner, is publishing an open letter to President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan. The document is meant to coincide with the opening of the IGF, and is published by the London-based The Independent newspaper. In it, Mr. Milli challenges claims by the government that the internet is free is his country. He writes:

You once suggested in a speech that the internet is free in Azerbaijan. I am sure you will repeat this message at this global forum. It is true that people in Azerbaijan are free to use the internet, but it is also a fact that they can be severely punished afterwards for doing so.

Mr. Milli’s letter denounces widespread and warrantless surveillance of the web which, he says, has helped create a climate of fear reminiscent of the Soviet era, effectively preventing people from speaking out:

Today many of our fellow citizens do not dare to speak out against your policies, online or offline. You have successfully managed to silence them.

On July 8, 2009, Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizada, a video-blogger and pro-democracy activist, were sentenced to 2 and 2.5 years in jail respectively, on trumped-up charges of “hooliganism”. Most observers and rights organizations at the time condemned the verdict as political, declaring both men prisoners of conscience. Many believe they were punished for their irreverent criticism of the regime of Ilham Aliyev and for their efforts to establish alternative communication channels for the youth.

Following an international outcry, both men were conditionally released in 2010.

The regime of Mr. Aliyev has since attempted to paint a picture of a country open to the outside world. The organization of this year's IGF conference is all but one example of that policy. Informed observers of the situation in Azerbaijan describe the emergence of a new kind of authoritarianism there—a “networked authoritarianism” that has successfully taken advantage of an open internet to discourage users to exercise political activism online, and to demonize those who, like Mr. Melli, dare to speak up.

The full text of Mr. Emin Melli’s open letter to President Aliyev can be found on The Independent’s website, following this link:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-internet-is-not-free-in-azerbaijan-a-letter-to-president-ilham-aliyev-8282022.html

October 22 2012

The Public Voice: Privacy Rights are a Global Challenge

October 22, 2012 is an important day for global civil society defending privacy and free speech. The Public Voice coalition will be hosting a global conference in Punta del Este, Uruguay, and you are invited to take part in the conversation and interact with the panelists.

CC BY The Public Voice

You can follow the live conversation here, and join the conversation by using #tpv12 hashtag, ask questions, participate in polls and interact with those covering the event in several languages. The conference aims to assess cultures and privacy perspectives from around the World, and members of civil society wil discuss the spread of Surveillance Technologies and its implications in societies, experts will explore Latin American policy, law, and technology perspectives on privacy governance and suggest to governments and private sector to safeguard citizens privacy.

The Public Voice: Privacy Rights are a Global Challenge

You can read the program and follow the live Webcast in English and Spanish.

During the day the panelists will assess cultures and privacy perspectives from around the world. They will raise public awareness of surveillance technology and its consequences to consumers, for freedom of expression and human rights, and they will explore Latin American policy, law, and technology perspectives. It is the small window civil society has before the 34th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners comprising all the governmental agencies all over the World, webcast available here. It certainly can bring the relevant topics for citizens to the discussion table. I hope you join us.

October 21 2012

France: Photos and Impressions from the World Forum for Democracy 2012 in Strasbourg

Logo forumFrom October 5 - 11, 2012, the city of Strasbourg, France had its opportunity to shine at the center of the intellectual debate on democracy. The first World Forum for Democracy, organized by the Council of Europe and the Urban Community of Strasbourg, was entitled “Democracy on Trial: Between Old Models and New Realities”. It was inaugurated in the presence of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman.

For three and a half days, the Palais de l'Europe hosted a thousand participants from around the world, for a plethora of debates in all formats, on the themes of democracy. The meetings were also a place to exchange experiences and good practices. Participants in the “Arab Spring” were invited to testify, although initially, simultaneous translation was not available. The hashtag #CoE_FWD allowed readers to follow the debates on Twitter.

Palais de l'Europe, Strasbourg

The interior of the Palais de l'Europe, Strasbourg

Being from Strasbourg, the author had not far to go, after proper registration, to attend the sessions. Here is a personal selection of quotations and links to resources.

Debates, roundtables, and workshops: a wealth of ideas

Conference on Virtual Values

Conference on the theme of “Virtual Values? Democracy and New Social Networks”. World Forum for Democracy, October 8, 2012.

The author's favorite theme was “Virtual Values ? Democracy and New Social Networks” [fr], including the workshop “Internet, New Media, and Democratic (R)evolutions” [fr].

Some notes and questions, presented in aggregate:

- Citizen journalism, response to betrayal by traditional media companies, which are traded on stock exchanges, and are tools in the service of financial powers
- Technological neutrality of the Internet, and the inability of politicians to understand it: analogy with the advent of the printing press
- Freedom, immediacy, courage: “Should I go there?” “Are others going there?” Following passively in front of one's computer, or taking action
- Anonymous voices of social media - which thus can be manipulated, while the authorities have a public face
- In movements such as “The 132″ in Mexico: The risk of irrelevance and the difficulty of making decisions
- A third way, community media
- Information is still geographically localized, so publish guides to counteract official information
- After protests, use social media to support democratization
- In Senegal, the media workshop RFI warned the international community about potential tampering with elections, and the pressure that ensued has limited the scope of manipulation of the results
- Education for more effective use of citizen media
- Expressing oneself does not imply being heard, journalists still have their role
- Can liberal ideology tolerate difference?
- Who will require social media to fulfill their responsibilities?
- The ineffectiveness of censorship; for illegal content, prosecution is easier if it is not censored

Jillian C. York debates the responsibilities of medias

Jillian C. York, of Global Voices and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, at the debate on the responsibilities of media, and their potential to support democracy (October 9, 2012): “Censorship is pointless”.

Tawakkol Karman World Forum for Democracy Strasbourg

Tawakkol Karman, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, at the debate on the responsibilities of medias, and their potential to support democracy (October 9, 2012): “Fundamentally, there is a right to receive information”.

Meeting on

Meeting on “Immigration: Solidarity in Crisis?” at the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg, October 10, 2012

Links and selected highlights [fr]

- Non-governmental organization HRIC (Human Rights in China)

- Toolkit for intercultural dialogue, www.dialoguetoolkit.net

- Canadian information and activism site on immigration, BASICSnews.ca

- The example of the immigration policy of Portugal [fr] (welcomed by the OECD, [pdf])

- The organization ICORN (International Cities of Refuge Network), for writers and for those who are, in a larger sense, threatened

- The appeal of writers for peace [fr], by Boualem Sansal and David Grossmann

Lina Ben Mhenni Strasbourg

Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni receives the Alsatian Prize for Democratic Engagement

Additional activities

The aim of a larger audience had been proposed in meetings between writers and journalists, as well as a film festival, exhibitions, and various debates and conferences. Local and regional authorities provided the building, and in this context, the “Alsatian Prize for Democratic Engagement” [fr] was awarded to Tunisian blogger and activist Lina Ben Mhenni, who previously had already been honored in “Best of Blogs 2011″ [fr].

Was there democracy at the forum?

contestation au forum de la démocratie "off"

A protester at the meeting organized by “Le Monde”, on the subject of the “Arab Spring”. October 9, 2012

Communication about debate sessions was limited, and the mandatory online registration process was closed too soon, which probably excluded a larger number of people who would have been interested. This “very institutional” forum (according to opening remarks) was not a venue open to everyone [fr], but may have more closely resembled a Davos-style club discussion. There was also a small protest at the meeting organized by French newspaper “Le Monde”, on the theme of “The Arab Spring”.

Some people who had been approached about the Forum canceled their appearances : Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki [fr], a former medical student at the University of Strasbourg, cited scheduling conflict for his withdrawal. Guinean President Alpha Condé [fr], who was to have delivered the closing speech, probably preferred to avoid a demonstration which had been announced by his compatriots in the diaspora, who were outraged, and refused to allow him to present himself as a democrat.

On Tuesday the 9th, a demonstration by “Travellers” [fr] blocked the tram line, which connects the Palais de l'Europe to the Maison de la Région Alsace, for several hours.

Next year's meeting

The event is intended to take place annually. Has the challenge been met? To begin preparations earlier, should be one of the lessons learned from this first edition: within the nation of France, at institutions of the European Union, and among the common citizens.

World Forum for Democracy Strasbourg, exit

After a session of the Forum at the Palais de l'Europe

 All photos in this article are by the author. For more photos, see here.
This post was translated into English from its original French by Andrew Kowalczuk.

May 11 2012

Breaking Borders Award 2012!

We're excited to announce the second edition of the Breaking Borders Award for 2012. The award is a prize created by Google and Global Voices to honor outstanding web or mobile projects initiated by individuals or groups that demonstrate courage, energy and resourcefulness in using the Internet to promote freedom of expression. Closing date for applications is May 20, 2012.

This year’s award will be focused on the extended community working with Global Voices. Many of our community members are also affiliated with other projects that have had significant impacts on freedom of expression in their communities and have a grassroots, civic character. We want to reward projects that have had a real impact, but are not incredibly well known, and for whom the support could make a significant difference in their development.

The Breaking Borders winners will be announced at the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2012, in Nairobi, Kenya on July 2-3, 2012.

Visit the Summit web site for background information on the goals of the meeting, the program of events, and registration details.

The Breaking Borders Award is open to the extended Global Voices community. Winners will be selected by a panel of experts in the field of freedom of expression. Two cash prizes of $10,000 will be awarded for an individual or group that has:

  • used online tools to promote free expression or encourage social or political change
  • created an important tool that enables free expression and expands access to information
  • been instrumental in forming a community that has advanced free expression and access to information

Who can enter: Any member of the Global Voices community, including Global Voices in English, Lingua and Global Voices Advocacy, who has written, edited or translated at least one post in the history of Global Voices, and all Rising Voices grantees.

Nominations are for ongoing projects that have already demonstrated significant effects in their field of endeavor, based on work achieved in the last two years. We will consider projects that are created by or strongly affiliated with any member of the Global Voices community. If you are a GV volunteer, staff, or board member, and also a creator or hold a leadership role in another project, that project is eligible. You can nominate your own project.

Submit your nomination for the Breaking Borders Award using this online form. Applications close on May 20, 2012.

Contact us at “eddie at globalvoicesonline.org” with any questions.

FAQS

What is the Breaking Borders Award?

The Breaking Borders award was set up by Global Voices and Google to highlight the importance of free expression around the world by honoring an outstanding web projects by individuals or groups, who have shown courage, energy and resourcefulness in using the internet or mobile phones to promote freedom of expression, ensure that diverse political viewpoints are heard and stand up to those who censor information.

Who can participate?

Anyone who is a member of the Global Voices extended community, with a relevant online or mobile presence can participate. Nominate yourself, a blog, website or other online presence you consider has helped promote the free circulation of ideas, stood up against censorship, helped local communities, raised awareness about a specific issue or cause, mobilised government or supported silenced voices.

Are there any geographical restrictions to participate?

No, the nominee can be based or support a cause anywhere in the world.

How do I nominate?

Fill out the nomination form. Please understand that we can accept nominations only if you provide the following information: a) the name and contact information for the nominee (or the organisation/initiative) b) blog, website or other mobile or online presence that showcases the value of the nominee, c) why the nominee merits the Breaking Borders Award, d) if self nominating, how you would use the prize money, and e) your contact details, so we can get in touch with you if we have further questions.

How will the winners be elected?

Members of the Global Voices board will select the final winners.

Will there only be one winner?

There will be two winners.

Will the winner receive a prize?

The awardees will receive a prize of $10,000 each.

What is the deadline for nominations?

The deadline for nominations is the 20th of May, 2012.

When will the winner be announced?

The awards will be announced in July 2012.

May 01 2012

Tim Berners-Lee: Protect the Open Web! #WWW2012

On April 16-20, 2012 the 21st International World Wide Web Conference (#WWW2012) gathered around 2,500 internet and social science professionals, web and mobile technology creators, researchers and scholars, in Lyon, France to discuss matters of global concern for the Internet and the Web. The main themes were “Society and Knowledge” and “The Future Direction of the Web”.

The conference agenda covered both social and technological issues, as well as Internet and democracy, free access to services, freedom of expression, regulation and censorship, control and copyright. The #WWW2012 proceedings are available online, so the many interesting papers can be downloaded. Plenary keynotes videos are also available.

I was a program committee member for a Making Sense of Microposts (#MSM12) workshop. I also presented a research paper on “phatic communication” and why tweets and Facebook updates on weather, food, and mundane life are useful for online communities, human relationships and social networks (I have written about this subject here, here, and here).

“Imagine what you want the world to look like”

But perhaps the major highlight of #WWW2012 was an inspiring keynote on April 18 by Tim Berners-Lee (TBL), the inventor of the World Wide Web and Director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). He shared insights on the current situation of the web, as well as future directions that could threaten the vitality of the Internet. Rallying the crowd, he said, “Democracy depends on an open internet. Go out in the streets and complain that your democracy is being threatened. (It’s) a duty, something you have to do.”

Tim Berners-Lee at WWW2012

Tim Berners-Lee gives keynote speech at WWW2012: Photo by Danica Radovanovic

TBL touched on the most pressing issues of open data, open government, privacy and control, Net Neutrality, and future generations. As daily blog Demain le Mail (in French) reported:

Le fondateur du web a réalisé un plaidoyer en faveur d’un Internet libre et ouvert. Lors de sa keynote, il a exprimé ses inquiétudes concernant la collecte et l’exploitation des données personnelles. Pour Tim Berners-Lee, la menace vient de principalement de l’industrie et les utilisateurs du web doivent agir et ne pas hésiter à réclamer leurs données personnelles à Facebook ou Google par exemple ».

The founder of the web has made a plea for a free and open Internet. During his keynote, he expressed his concerns regarding the collection and use of personal data. For TBL, the threat comes mainly from industry, and users of the Web must act and not hesitate to claim their personal data from Google or Facebook for example.

TBL insists, as Australian Dejanseo reports, on democratic platforms online, decentralized and open data, as well as the importance of:

the principle of least effort when designing new languages, encouraging the usage of open mobile applications if they don’t like the world of closed systems. He also stressed as in the panel the importance of the openness – open data, suggesting that the UK government needs to understand what open standards are, and urged the same for governments in any country to embrace the movement of open data. Data should be open for public: government statistics, economic, social, demographic, non-sensitive related to democracy and political debate.

Speaking about the openness and the applications accessible to all, TBL  points the finger at Apple, without naming it. E. Delsol writes about it:

Face aux apps d'Apple, de Google et des autres, le W3C milite pour le développement des web apps - open mobile web apps -, ces applications créées avec html5 et accessibles depuis n'importe quel navigateur, sur n'importe quel système. Tout internaute peut accéder à l'ensemble des applications disponibles en ligne. Il enjoint les développeurs dans la salle : “La solution est entre vos mains : développez des web apps, pas des apps !”

Faced with apps from Apple, Google and others, W3C campaigns for the development of web apps - open mobile web apps - these applications created with HTML5 and accessible from any browser on any system. Anyone can access all the applications available online. He urged the developers in the room:“The solution is in your hands: develop web apps, not apps!”

A comment [fr] by “Open Africa” on an 01.Net article agrees with TBL's statements and reflects on the efforts for remaining the openness in Africa as well:

Je souhaite souvent que le web reste ouvert à la créativité des utilisateurs de tout lieu y compris ceux d'Afrique.Je tiens à féliciter TBL pour ces mises au point claires et virulentes.Nous travaillons beaucoup aussi ici en Afrique de l'Ouest pour avoir une meilleure visibilté sur le net tout en espérant profiter pleinement du réseau pour créer,partager, briller et donner le meilleur de nos talents.

I often wish that the web will remain open to the creativity of users everywhere including those in Africa. Congratulations to TBL for developing these clear and virulent points. We are also working hard here in West Africa for better visibility on the net hoping to take full advantage of the network to create, share, shine and give the best of our talents.

TBL also voiced his opposition to the treaties that advocate increased surveillance and regulation of the Internet, including ACTA.

Some think, including Des Illusion blog, that TBL binds the future of the web and democracy to tightly:

Si nos libertés sur le Web sont certes menacées ou malmenées par des politiques gouvernementales répressives (SOPA, PIPA, Hadopi) pressées par des lobbies industriels et économiques ; il ne faut pas oublier que le Web n’est qu’un des supports de communication existant dans l’espace public démocratique, et non l’unique. Le web est une technologie et non un droit, ni une liberté, même si il devient le moyen d’échange prépondérant d’idées entre individus par une infinité d’outils : blogs, mails, chat, réseaux sociaux… Dans les pays arabo-musulmans, le web a joué le rôle d’un facilitateur par ses outils, permettant une mobilisation rapide et massive des protestataires au Caire, à Tunis ou à Tripoli ; mais il n’a jamais fait la révolution. Une révolution ne se fait pas avec des machines, mais avec les hommes qui sont derrière.

If our freedoms on the Web are threatened or abused by repressive government policies (SOPA, PIPA, Hadopi) pushed forward by business and industry lobbies, one should not forget that the Web is only one existing communication media in the democratic public space, not unique. The web is a technology, not a right or a freedom, even if it becomes the dominant medium of exchange of ideas between individuals of infinite tools: blogs, emails, chat, social networks… In the Arab-Muslim countries, the Web has played the role of a facilitator by its tools, allowing a rapid and massive mobilization of protesters in Cairo, Tunis and Tripoli, but never made the revolution. A revolution is not made with machines, but by the men who are behind.

As someone strictly opposed to bills that advocate increased surveillance of the Internet, threaten basic freedoms on privacy, expression and the access to information, TBL asked the audience to:

…spend 90% of our time doing cool stuff, invent new things […], but the remaining 10% go to protect the open Web infrastructure on which all this is built. Because otherwise we cannot innovate, because the platforms will be closed, because service providers will control traffic.

Obviously we all need to reflect individually on these present critical issues in our society and embrace collectively actions that will foster the growth, stability, and healthy, open and neutral eco system of the Internet. Since democracy depends on the open internet - so the human discourse depends on the open internet as well, with the massive engagement where everyone gets involved.

April 23 2012

How Should We Govern the Internet? Livestream of Global INET Forum 2012

The Global INET 2012 is a 3-day international forum that will celebrate the Internet Society’s 20th anniversary. The meeting will be held 22-24 April, 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland. The conference agenda features roundtable discussions and keynotes by Internet, technical, policy, and other thought leaders on issues critical to the health and vitality of the Internet.

Additionally, there will be three concurrent tracks highlighting key topics such as privacy, net neutrality, IPv6, security, digital content and innovation, and human rights and freedom of expression, along with other issues that will significantly impact the stability, growth, and global reach of the Internet.

There are three livestreams from the meeting. Below is the live broadcast of Channel 1, and here are links for Channel 2 and Channel 3. Videos recordings will also be available on these links after events:

Watch live streaming video from inet1 at livestream.com

There are also hashtags from several sessions that could be relevant to Global Voices Advocacy readers. Try: #INETgov #INETeco and #INETlaw.

Global INET Title 851 X 315

March 02 2012

Mexico Adopts Alarming Surveillance Legislation

The Mexican legislature today adopted a surveillance legislation that will grant the police warrantless access to real time user location data. The bill was adopted almost unanimously with 315 votes in favor, 6 against, and 7 abstentions. It has been sent to the President for his approval.

There is significant potential for abuse of these new powers. The bill ignores the fact that most cellular phones today constantly transmit detailed location data about every individual to their carriers; as all this location data is housed in one place—with the telecommunications service provider—police will have access to more precise, more comprehensive and more pervasive data than would ever have been possible with the use of tracking devices. The Mexican government should be more sensitive to the fact that mobile companies are now recording detailed footprints of our daily lives.

In response to the law’s adoption, Mexican human rights lawyer Luis Fernando García told EFF, “Mexican policy makers must understand that the adoption of broad surveillance powers without adequate safeguards undermines the privacy and security of citizens, and is therefore incompatible with their human rights obligations.”

Sensitive data of this nature warrants stronger protection, not an all-access pass. Human rights advocates will evaluate all necessary legal options for challenging the legality of the measure. In the meantime, Mexican citizens should evaluate the possibility of requesting access to their own personal data retained by their mobile company according to the Mexican Data Protection Law.

In Germany, the politician and privacy advocate Malte Spitz used a similar local privacy law—which like laws in many European countries, gives individuals a right to know what kinds of data private companies retain about them—to force his cell phone carrier to reveal what records it had on him. The result was 35,831 different facts about his cell phone use over the course of six months, revealing vast amounts of personal information. To demonstrate just how intrusive this data is, Spitz chose to make it all available to the public. Watch the remarkable interactive map of Spitz’s location information if you haven’t done so.

It is time to educate all of our legislators and the general public that sensitive data warrants strong protections. EFF will continue to report on mobile and online surveillance in Mexico.

~

If you are Mexican, the Data Protection Authority has provided a FAQ on how to request access your own personal data retained by private companies.

Stay tuned for additional updates:

January 09 2012

The Arms Race Over The Internet Rages Onward - part 1

In biology (which is my academic background), we use a very picturesque and accurate image to illustrate the arms race between a parasite and its host: the Red Queen's hypothesis. What is referred to here is the little advice the Red Queen gives to Alice*:

It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.

This translates into the observation that, in a system of two interacting entities with opposite interests, each of them will intend to counter-act the other and will get into a bidding dynamics to achieve more and more sophisticated ways to fight and/or circumvent the opposite part's attacks. This description of a trench welfare competition applies very well to the one between two political entities (remember the Cold War…), or between a repressive government and its citizens struggling for freedom.

With this respect, getting ‘behind enemy lines' is a serious advantage. Happily, 2011's Chaos Computer Congress (CCC) was on his 28th edition named “Behind Enemy Lines”. The 28C3, as it is called for shortness, was thus constituted by a myriad of talks and workshops discussing what is to be behind enemy lines. To put it clearly, this idiom is quite ambiguous: for repressive governments, the freedom fighters are the enemy, and vice and versa.

 

Chaos radar, CC-by 2.0, photo by johnflan

Chaos radar, CC-by 2.0, photo by johnflan

The Congress opened with a keynote from Evgeny Morozov. I'd like to spend some time on this presentation, for a certain number of reasons. First, I was curious to know how Morozov would approach the topic of internet and freedom given his book “The Net Delusion”. In it, he harshly criticised what he referred to as a “cyber-utopian” movement that believes that – to put it bluntly – technology is the solution of every social and political issue. Morozov actually would have aimed at arguing that technology is not necessarily good, that it can very well be used to surveil and enslave as well as to liberate and empower, but this idea seemed discredited by all the “cyber-utopian” attack**.

That is why I was curious to attend this talk and see where it was going, what the angle of attack on technology in general and the internet in particular was to be. In the really tech-savvy atmosphere of the CCC, with all the Arab Revolutions as a background of 2011, with all the whistle-blowing around Western companies providing spying technology to dictatorships and with respect to the ‘behind enemy lines' leitmotiv, it was a really interesting how Morozov would address the “marriage from Hell”: this “secret love affair between dictators and Western technology companies”.

To be honest, it was an insightful and tempered summary. So, as Morozov puts it, the suspicions about cooperation between democratic and tyrannical governments are not new, but they had very often been rejected as conspiracy theory compliant feud because of a lack of robust proofs. Well, this year saw a turning point: some documents were actually discovered which clearly showed that technology companies were selling spying materials to oppressive governments. This transformed the idea of some abstract technology probably used by dictators into a concrete list of (mostly) Western corporations providing them with surveillance and censorship gear. And precisely because of these official proofs, the mainstream media picked the piece and began digging into.

I'll skip here the – unfortunately and infuriatingly – long list of companies developing surveillance and censorship technology and their respective clients. There is another question that stems from immediately: how to regulate this business activity, how to prevent these companies from selling that gear? Well, the first approach Morozov addressed was: “why not banning them?”. The answer he brought: bans are efficient if global, but it is extremely difficult to implement such policies and, more importantly, ensure they work well. As an illustration, you may think about the US trade embargo on Syria, that prohibits exports other than food and medicine. And still, BlueCoat, a US-based company, continuously sells surveillance and censorship technology to Syria. In the same time, EU-based companies such as Area S.P.A. (Italy), Utimaco Safeware AG (Germany), Qosmos (France) among others are not subjected to legal questioning when selling this kind of technology to Syria. Some of you may still raise an objection that the EU banned arms sales to Syria as a sanction (May 2011): yes, but the latter does not include surveillance gear.

Ok, let's assume for a moment that now, these legal flaws are obvious and supranational legislators from the US and the EU would decide to work on a coherent set of regulatory rules. This is just a hypothesis that may very well not be validated, right, but even if it came to be, it still doesn't handle the other countries. Because there are many more countries in the world than the US and the 27 EU member states. As Morozov aptly invoked it, a recent article in the Washington Post told about a surveillance technology companies fair and estimated the participants to a total of 43 countries. So, what happens if a US/EU-based company sells its gear to, say, Moldova or South Sudan?*** And no, it is not a typo: the 5-month old country of South Sudan is already on the market for surveillance technology…

I am not sure whether it is extremely useful to get into details of how difficult implementing sanction policies actually is. Either their scope is too broad, in which case governments mostly get away; and on the top of it, these policies go overboard and harm citizens in their banal everyday use of the internet as an edge effect. Thus, various Syrian governmental sites are hosted in the US or Canada, but it has already happened for instance that ordinary citizens are unable to buy Skype credits… Or, conversely, the scope of the sanctions can be narrow, which generally ends up being ineffective since governments can set up a great number of shell companies.

Does all this mean there is no solution? Of course, not. Morozov talked about the “know-your-customer” rule, which is coherent with the EFF's proposal for companies to monitor their customers for possible human rights abuses. He observed that we could learn from other (controversial) industries: it is thus probably easier to buy surveillance technology from a US company than to open a bank account in the US (because these banks have been prompted to thoroughly check out their clients, which does not respect customers' privacy and is a kind of additional surveillance). Similarly, EFF's proposal builds a framework of a recommended way to go: technology companies must investigate who their potential customer is, both prior to and after the sale, and stop transactions if concerns arise that the technology is used in activities that violate human rights. With respect to reality, however, this corporations' self-restrain resembles more a point from a wishlist rather than an actual regulation…

We could think of another, directly related, question: Morozov asks how much of the regulation should/could be delegated to technology. In other words, is fighting fire with fire a reasonable way to go? He cites two examples: kill switches and Websense. In the former case, we can think of the viability of remote kill switches and thus, a refusal to run updates may be implemented based on location. In the latter case, Websense periodically monitors where their technology is used: they declare 40,000 customers worldwide and claim that if they were to be used in Syria, they would switch off. This all brings us to the remark: how easy is it to defend fighting surveillance with more surveillance?

And even though some dictators were toppled, it is “too soon to call for victory in the Middle East”, warned Morozov. In Lybia, for instance, the current transitional government ordered the ban of porn sites whereas they were authorized under the Gaddafi regime. Despite a greater transparency regarding censorship in Tunisia, deep packet inspection (DPI) is still widely in use. Last but not least, SCAF – the Egyptian almighty military junta – has been arresting and subjecting to military trials individual bloggers, some of whom are sentenced and still imprisoned.

Morozov expanded this global overview at this point including Eastern European countries such as Russia, Belarus and Moldova as well as China. He pointed out to some recent developments from the CSTO side. The Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, “a sort of a NATO block of countries from the former Soviet Union” as Morozov defined it, apparently got scared from the Arab Revolutions and would like to do all its best to prevent similar uprisings from happening on the territory of its member states (namely, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazhakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). Morozov thus highlighted the commitment of the CSTO to sign the “list of steps aimed at securing the cyberspace of the member states“. Moreover, reported Morozov, CSTO's Secretary General Nikolay Bordyuzha declared that the point of the document is “to prevent the usage of modern information technologies for destabilization of the situation in the CSTO member states… The work on information counter-action is one of the priorities of the CSTO's activity”. Even though we haven't noticed these countries actively buying surveillance gear so far, this quite clear statement suggests that they may be its new customers soon.

 

#28C3 in Lego, CC-by-NC-SA 2.0, photo by dajmonpills

#28C3 in Lego, CC-by-NC-SA 2.0, photo by dajmonpills

As aforementioned, Morozov talked about another disturbing development: China's involvement in the spread of cheap technology. He showed a picture from Huawei's implantation in Africa as it used to be in 2006. I was unable to find an update of this map on Huawei's website, so I went through their publicly available documentation

Since entering the market in 1997, Huawei has established four regional headquarters, 20 representative offices, two R&D centers and six training centers across Africa. Huawei's fixed assets investment in Africa over the past decade has exceeded USD 1.5 billion.

As of January 2009, Huawei has more than 4,000 employees in Africa, 60% of whom are locally recruited.

The outcome is quite straightforward: according to the 2006 data, there were 14 representative offices within the African continent. Above, Huawei reports a total of 20 representative offices, which suggests an increase of 50% for the time frame 2006-2009. Additionally, they report 2,000 employees in Africa in 2006 and (at least) the double in 2009 which is a 100% increase within 3 years.

This seems to be insufficient to the Chinese giant, as appears from Morozov's talk. Indeed, he told about the $9.5-million aid that China supplies to Moldova that is aimed to economical and technological development. The latter includes video-surveillance, allegedly for traffic regulation. For some reason thus, Moldova benefits from the benevolence of the Chinese government, and gets millions of dollars of financial aid and video-surveillance technology for free. As Morozov pinpoints it, this gear may also reveal very useful to identify people in cases of protests, as for instance these happening in 2009.

China is also extremely careful about the efficient “traffic management, long-distance education and local security” in Belarus. Thus, video-surveillance technology is also provided although the extent to which this is subsidised by the Chinese government remains unknown. Lastly, it is unclear how much this material is used for political monitoring…

A puzzling phenomenon that Morozov briefly discussed is the increasing number of Western academics who receive funding from the Chinese government to set up NGOs and hire people to label and annotate street surveillance images. The example here is with The Lotus Hill Institute created in 2005 by an UCLA scholar with funding from the Chinese government. But why does academia enter in this field? Well, technologies for automated facial recognition, data mining, etc. require huge academic expertise. Thus, both universities and governments are eager to invest into, without necessarily taking into serious account the geopolitical implications of these activities.

Towards the end of his keynote, Morozov argues that the point we should very seriously consider is the link between the spread of surveillance gear and the domestic surveillance debate in democratic countries. Indeed, these technologies have not been specifically created for the Middle East, but rather for home surveillance. In other words, building specifically tailored tools for surveillance in democracies has further implications as these reach other countries. He pointed to a very thought-provoking opinion letter by Tatiana Lucas, World Program Director at Intelligence Support Systems (ISS) that “encapsulates this debate really well”. This piece was in response to a priorly published article by the Wall Street Journal on “a new global market for the off-the-shelf surveillance technology that has arisen in the decade since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001”. Mrs Lucas writes that such articles as the latter will have a negative effect on the job market in the US and claims the following:

We are concerned that the article and others like it contribute to an atmosphere where Congress isn't likely to pass an updated lawful-interception law. The law would require social-networking companies to deploy special features to support law enforcement. Without the update, the opportunity for U.S. companies to develop and launch intercept products domestically for eventual export will be greatly curtailed.

As Morozov summarized it, this particular paragraph made the following points: first, “if dictators need help in suppressing democratic uprisings, we are here to help”. Second, since such media coverage might give a negative image to this particular domain, the chances this has an alleviating effect of the job creation appears real and worse: “our dictator-helping jobs are going to China!”. And last but not least, the third statement is that the US needs of law enforcement policies are the major driver of this surveillance market. Morozov continued by encouraging us to “attack and ridicule” these “we-are-here-to-help” arguments.

This was a logical and smooth transition to what Morozov referred to at “the most important bit”, namely: “getting foreign policy right”. The focus on technology and sanctions shouldn't prevent us directing the pressure on the foreign policy debate into the right direction. In other words, we should contribute to broad the current debate: for instance, it is quite fashionable to speak ill of Iran since it is a widely known black sheep, but in the same time Saudi Arabia is a very good friend of Western countries. Similarly, there are serious reasons to believe that Gaddafi bought surveillance and censorship technology from the French company Amesys while visiting the then-newly elected president Sarkozy back in 2007, when Gaddafi was considered as an ally…

Thus, the future challenges are not only to focus on the easy target that is Iran, but to engage into a broader debate. For instance, Washington approved a $60-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia in 2010 and in 2009 EADS (the European Agency of Defense and Security) proudly announced that they became the prime contractor in a huge deal aiming to ensure the security of the totality of the Saudian frontiers… Moreover, a $53-million arms sale to Bahrain is currently under consideration in the White House while deadly crackdown on protestors is ongoing.

What can we do for this? As activists and citizens, we can engage into civil surveillance of the surveillance technology and system:

  • by helping Telecomix's BlueCabinet, BuggedPlanet.info, etc. gain deeper insight;
  • by collecting evidence about transactions and lobbying activities: Morozov cites here the “Lobbying Tracker”;
  • by keeping an eye on national and local media;
  • by checking funding agencies. A very interesting example here is the case with Boston Common withdrawing from Cisco because they could not get satisfactory replies about human rights management;

etc.

Here ends part 1 of my walk around ‘enemy lines'. To be continued with part 2 that will tell about “How Governments Have Tried To Block Tor”…


* Carroll, Lewis (1960, reprinted 1998). ”2 The Garden of Live Flowers”. Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There
** The Guardian published a long review from Cory Doctorow where he dismantles a whole bunch of points and I really recommend you (re)reading it.
*** It is exactly what happened: BlueCoat claimed to have sold its products to a distributor in the UAE, allegedly to be shipped to Iraq, so they somehow ignore how the technology ended up in Syria…

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