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February 26 2014

Netizen Report: Turks Protest, “Unfollow” President Over Censorship Law

Protest against Internet censorship. Istanbul, May 2011. Photo by Erdem Civelek via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Protest against Internet censorship. Istanbul, May 2011. Photo by Erdem Civelek via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed ElGohary, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Turkey, where protesters have taken to the streets to reject a new law that could make government censorship and surveillance easier and more rampant than ever before. The law gives the Turkish government new powers to access and retain user data, and to block content deemed illegal in “emergency” situations, all without judicial oversight. The law would also require all Internet service providers to join a state-run association that would drive the implementation of content and data-related policies.

The bill was approved in Parliament last week after President Abdullah Gul defied expectations of a veto and signed it into law. Shortly after Gul announced the bill’s passage, he lost approximately 80,000 followers on Twitter, thanks in part to the #UnfollowAbdullahGul hashtag.

Free Expression: Venezuela hit by web blocking, blackouts

As protests continued last week, the Venezuelan government appears to be further clamping down on digital expression. This week the government published details [es] on its new Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the Country, which has the unilateral ability to censor any information it deems threatening to national security.

Walkie-talkie app Zello, which has been used to organize protests in Venezuela, was blocked one day after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the government was using the app to monitor protesters. Similar to prior restrictions placed on Twitter images, the origins of the blockage were traced to state-run telecommunications company CANTV.

Other Internet companies have been working hard to keep lines of communication open in the face of the censorship. Zello developed and released a new Android version of the app in hopes that it would bypass any blocks. VPN TunnelBear has provided unlimited free service to Venezuelans for several days.

In Egypt, along with several bloggers and political activists, three Al Jazeera journalists have been behind bars since late November 2013. On Friday, February 27, Al Jazeera is organizing a global day of action on press freedom.

The Hanoi Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of blogger and human rights defender Le Quoc Quan to 30 months’ imprisonment on charges of “tax evasion” under Vietnam’s Criminal Code. Media Legal Defence Initiative attorney and Advox contributor Nani Jansen, who is aiding in Quan’s defense, gave a summary of the case in a recent post.

Surveillance: This is not a new problem

The Electronic Frontier Foundation published a historical piece overviewing government surveillance of African-American political leaders and activists in the United States. Communist Party members, activist groups such as the Black Panthers, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were all targets.

New National Security Agency documents released by Glenn Greenwald demonstrate how the US and UK government targeted Wikileaks, the Pirate Bay, and Anonymous with surveillance and international pressure.

Netizen Activism: Egyptians speak up for better bandwidth

“Down, down with slow routers,” is the battle cry of a Facebook page titled “Internet Revolution Egypt,” [ar] which has acted as a forum for Egyptian youth to speak out against “insufficient” Internet speeds. The group, which has Facebook administrators in four Egyptian cities, encourages campaigners to voice their complaints with local service providers.

Colombian digital rights collective RedPaTodos (Internet for All) has come out with an English translation of its entertaining, hand-illustrated video that explains digital surveillance for the average Internet user.

Copyright: Fair use down under?

The Australian government may introduce new copyright reforms that would include a fair use doctrine similar to that of the United States, EFF reports. Currently, the country has a list of specified acceptable uses under “fair dealing”, but the reforms could lead to a broader, more liberal regime.

Industry: Fearing Facebook, WhatsApp users migrate to Russian “Telegram”

Telegram, a messaging app created by the founder of Russian Facebook competitor VKontakte that claims to feature end-to-end encryption, received 8 million downloads after it was announced that WhatsApp would be acquired by Facebook.

As Thailand’s anti-government protests continue, opposition to Thailand’s exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is beginning to manifest itself in Thailand’s telecommunications sector. AIS, Thailand’s largest telecom services provider, which was founded by Shinawatra, is buying newspaper ads and sending text messages pleading with its customers not to heed the opposition’s boycott and underlining the fact that the company is no longer connected to its founder.

AT&T published its first-ever transparency report on February 18. Reception has been lukewarm due to the suspiciously low number of government-issued requests for customer data listed under the “national security demands” heading. This suggests that NSA metadata collection remains secret due to a loophole in the new transparency guidelines.

Cloud storage platform Dropbox released its new privacy policy, effective March 24, which elucidates how it will handle outside requests for user information, particularly from governments. The company has vowed to fight blanket requests, such as the NSA’s collection of metadata, as well as government-imposed limits on reporting the quantities of requests it receives.

Internet Insecurity: Don’t use Internet Explorer

Iranian hackers reportedly attacked French aerospace engine maker Snecma by exploiting a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. Although researchers are unsure how successful the attack was, the malware was intended to target remote users, steal employee and vendor credentials, and allow the hackers remote access to the company’s network. The same Internet Explorer vulnerability also facilitated an attack on the US Veterans of Foreign Wars website earlier in the week.

Not Cool Things: Doing It For the Lulz

A University of Manitoba study found correlations between trolling behavior and personality traits that fall in the Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy and sadism. This means that efforts by moderators to curb trolling may not be terribly effective, because the behaviors are intrinsically motivating for users.

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February 19 2014

Netizen Report: Censorship Continues as Protests Turn Violent in Venezuela

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed El-Gohary, Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, Sarah Myers, Bojan Perkov, and Sonia Roubini contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Venezuela, where a wave of peaceful protests over food insecurity and public safety snowballed into a nationwide uprising after the arrests of several student demonstrators last week.

Demonstrators flood the streets of the Cachao section of Caracas. Photo by @Pedro_Alvarez_ via Twitter.

Demonstrators flood the streets of the Cachao section of Caracas. Photo by @Pedro_Alvarez_ via Twitter.

Government officials and supporters are calling protesters “neo-facists” and accusing US government leaders of driving the opposition. Authorities have arrested at least 100 people, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who will reportedly face terror-related charges. Media attempting to cover the protests have been threatened with fines under a law that “prohibits the dissemination of media containing hate speech and violence.” Colombian cable television network NTN24 was taken off the air on February 12, allegedly due to its coverage of protests.

On Twitter and the independent crowdsourcing platform Herdict, users have reported that multiple independent and pro-opposition blogs and news sites are inaccessible via CANTV, Venezuela’s state-owned ISP that has a near monopoly over the national telecom market. Activists and media workers using social media to report on protests are also facing big hurdles. On February 12 and 13, Twitter users were unable to send or receive photos in the country, allegedly due to state efforts to block Twitter’s multimedia servers. In recent days, many have reported that police and National Guard officers are seizing protesters’ mobile phones, reviewing personal information, and erasing protest images. Global Voices authors in Venezuela are running a special coverage section of the protests here.

Free Expression: Philippines’ new online libel law takes media policy “a century backward”

The Philippine Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of online libel, part of the controversial “Cyber Martial Law” that has sparked controversy since it was first introduced in 2012. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines described the court ruling as “a half-inch forward but a century backward” in terms of advancing media freedom in the country.

Chinese censorship watchdog Greatfire.org reported that Microsoft’s search engine Bing seemed to be filtering simplified Chinese language search results not only in mainland China but in its international version. The site also inconsistently displays censorship notices, making it difficult to determine whether the removal of results was at the request of the government. Rebecca MacKinnon suspects this is likely the result of Microsoft “applying apolitical mathematical algorithms to politically manipulated and censored web content.” Engadget reports that Bing Senior Director Stefan Weitz “emphatically confirm[ed]” that Microsoft does not engage in political censorship and promised that Bing is “fixing the issue.”

Surveillance: Ethiopian journalists targeted with Italian spyware

The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab has uncovered the use of commercial spyware to surveil Ethiopian journalists working in the US. Produced by the Milan-based company Hacking Team, the spyware is capable of stealing documents and contact lists, reading e-mails, and remotely enabling cameras and microphones. In this case, it was used to target journalists working at Ethiopian Satellite Television Service, a US-based news outlet that is frequently critical of the Ethiopian government.

Citizen Lab researchers say they have found evidence of the spyware being used in 21 countries including Egypt, Korea, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Thailand and Turkey. While the company’s customer policy states that it sells only to governments, Hacking Team will not confirm whether Ethiopia is a customer.

After Chinese police launched a massive crackdown on prostitution in the southern city of Dongguan, responding to an undercover China Central Television report, Sina Weibo released a heat map reportedly showing the flow of people fleeing the raids. Produced from geolocation data from smartphones collected by Baidu, the map indicates the broad capacity of surveillance systems in China to track massive movements of people within the country.

Internet Governance: Two million SIM cards deactivated in Zambia

The Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) deactivated the SIM cards of over two million mobile phone users who failed to register their cards under a new nationwide real-name registration policy. Former Zambian Vice President General Godfrey Miyanda, now an opposition party leader, spoke out against the measure, which he says poses a threat to privacy and freedom of expression.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is backing proposals that would seek to create European data networks that keep communications within European territory. Germany plans to partner with France in the effort.

Open Government

Pakistani Senator Osman Saifullah Khan launched an online platform for his constituents to address grievances. Saifullah represents the district of Islamabad, which has higher than average literacy rates and Internet penetration.

Netizen Activism: Peaceful demonstration for Darfuri blogger

Human rights activists staged a peaceful sit-in at the government-run Human Rights Commission in Khartoum, Sudan, calling for the release of Tajeldin Arja, a blogger and activist from Darfur who has been in detention without charges since December 2013. Arja was arrested after criticizing government leaders at a press conference.

Vigil in front of the Human Rights Commission demanding the release of Tajeldin Arja was GOOD. Memorandum was handed over to UNHCR

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February 13 2014

Netizen Report: #TheDayWeFightBack Edition

Images from February 11, from top left: a mural by War Design art collective in Bogota, Colombia; a public protest in Manila, Philippines (photo by ; a public rally in San Francisco, US (photo by Ellery Biddle); an anti-surveillance cartoon by Egyptian cartoonist Doaa Eladl.

From top left: mural by War Design art collective in Bogota, Colombia; public protest in Manila, Philippines (photo by @leannejazul) ; public rally in San Francisco, US (photo by Ellery Biddle); anti-surveillance cartoon by Egyptian artist Doaa Eladl.

Sonia Roubini, Bojan Perkov, Hae-in Lim, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins on the Internet, where people and groups all over the world came together and took a stand against mass surveillance on February 11, #thedaywefightback. Citizens took to the streets and to the web, pushing online campaigns, calling elected representatives, hosting hackathons and organizing public protests — and over 244,000 people signed the Thirteen Principles on International Communications Surveillance, urging governments worldwide to uphold human rights standards when it comes to online privacy.

February 11 was also a great day for potent discussion about the different ways in which surveillance takes shape and effects citizens in different countries. On Advox, Yemeni activist and scholar Walid Al-Saqaf and Iranian-Canadian researcher Mahsa Alimardani each wrote editorials exploring the issue in different countries in the Middle East, where surveillance is often the norm, whether online or in real life. Probing at western digital rights communities’ shift of focus towards surveillance, Al-Saqaf wrote,

I cannot accept the idea that the fight has now moved to the area of surveillance and away from free speech. While this may be the case where censorship is limited or non-existent, it is certainly not applicable to many countries living under authoritarian rule.

Free Expression: “Too much freedom, and you might start hitting your wife,” warns Turkish gov’t

Riot police in Turkey used tear gas and water cannons last weekend to break up over 2,000 protesters demonstrating against the country’s new Internet legislation. The new bills, which passed on February 6, will require ISPs to make web user data available to authorities and will allow Turkey’s telecommunications authority to block websites, all without prior court approval.

As if it its views weren’t clear enough already, the Turkish government recently launched an advertising campaign featuring a woman with a bruised face and a caption suggesting that too much freedom online can lead to violence.

Thuggery: Azeri journalist takes exile from Turkey over harmful tweets

Mahir Zeynalov, a journalist for Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, has been barred from entering the country by the Turkish government after posting several tweets viewed as critical of high-level state officials. Zeynalov elected to return to his native Azerbaijan after officials threatened to expel him under an article of Law 5651 that allows for the deportation of foreigners “whose residence in Turkey is considered detrimental to public security and political and administrative requirements.”

Telecom authorities in Venezuela are threatening to fine local media for covering student protests that have dominated social discourse in recent weeks. A series of student demonstrations [es] — over issues ranging from poor conditions in university residence halls to national political reform — intensified this week after several students were arrested on dubious charges of “association” with criminal activity. From Caracas, Global Voices author and attorney Marianne Diaz writes,

As opposition leaders summon rallies around the country, people are expected to turn to social media to learn about the development of the demonstrations, which likely will not be reported on any public or mainstream news platforms.

Three Kazakh bloggers were sentenced to ten days in jail for engaging in “minor hooliganism” after they were excluded from a “blogger luncheon” hosted by the mayor of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s capital. The incident has divided Almaty’s blogging community, some of whom—including the three detained bloggers—have painted the invitees as “corrupt” and “tamed.”

Indonesian Twitter celebrity Benny Handoko was found guilty of defamation and sentenced to a year of probation after he called a former member of the Prosperous Justice Party a crook in a series of tweets.

Industry: Facebook boots Syrian opposition groups

Facebook’s recent decision to shut down pages belonging to Syrian opposition groups have dealt a blow to activists who had been relying on Facebook to communicate and report on the war’s atrocities. Some activists speculate that regime supporters are taking advantage of Facebook’s “Community Standards” that allow users to report on pages they believe are violating the site’s terms of service. While some pages with graphic imagery may in fact violate terms, some question whether Terms should be amended in response to unique situations such as this, where Facebook serves as a vital platform for information and documentation.

Twitter released its fourth transparency report, covering the second half of 2013. The report shows that the total number of user data requests rose by 22 percent compared to the previous report. The company received 1410 requests from 46 countries, most coming from the United States (59%) and Japan (15%), with France and the UK next in line. Twitter did not disclose all information on US government requests under national security laws, including FISA.

Netizen Activism: Keeping #Euromaidan alive, despite the cold

Activists in Ukraine are fighting to keep the Euromaidan protest movement alive through web-based projects, social media, and art. Updates on Euromaidan are available at their Public Relations Secretariat page and at Kraplya.com.

European Digital Rights, an association of 35 European digital rights organizations, launched Wepromise.eu, which urges political candidates to sign a “Charter of Digital Rights” promising to uphold a set of principles if elected. In turn, voters promise to elect candidates who sign on to the charter.

Cool Things

The Web We Want, a global campaign supporting digital rights activism around the globe held a cartoon contest to support #TheDayWeFightBack. Seventeen-year-old Paraguayan cartoonist Francisco Javier ¨Frankiano¨ Cardozo Baudry won the grand prize with his contribution ¨Do Not Fear, I care about you,¨ a multi-frame comic showing how surveillance is affecting every aspect of the lives of young Internet users today.

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February 05 2014

Netizen Report: Egypt and Saudi Suppress Speech With Terror Laws

Photographer at a protest in Cairo. Photo by Rowan El Shimi via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Photographer at a protest in Cairo. Photo by Rowan El Shimi via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Bojan Perkov, Sonia Roubini, Ellery Biddle, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Egypt, where 20 journalists employed by Al Jazeera are facing terror-related charges. They stand accused of assisting terrorist efforts to “influence international public opinion” and of presenting “unreal scenes” that suggest Egypt has descended into civil war.

But many observers say these journalists were simply doing their jobs. On independent Egyptian news site Mada Masr, Democracy Now’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous wrote, “the charges would be comical if they weren't so serious.” He continued:

The much-hailed new constitution guarantees freedom of thought and opinion, yet those with dissenting thoughts and opinions are targeted. Freedom of the press is guaranteed, yet journalists are behind bars. Why even refer to rights and legislation when those enforcing the law are its most egregious violators?

Al Jazeera has created a timeline of events surrounding the arrests. A full English translation of the journalists’ charge sheet can be found on the New York Times website. Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and many other human rights groups are demanding the journalists be released.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s government released a draft bill last week that would criminalize the use of online platforms (the bill explicitly mentions Facebook) to “directly or indirectly promote acts of terror” in the country.

And Egypt is not the only country in the Arab region where dissent is being quashed by terror allegations. On Feb. 2, the royal cabinet of Saudi Arabia enacted a new counterterrorism law that will “allow the government to label any Saudi who demands reform or exposes corruption as a terrorist,” according to Human Rights Watch. The new law will codify many of the practices that the Saudi government already uses to target public dissent.

Free Expression: Serbia’s deputy PM saved by the DMCA

In Serbia, a viral video mocking an appearance by Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on national news was removed from YouTube due to alleged copyright infringement. Administrators of Serbian websites that featured the video found their sites temporarily blocked and social media accounts hacked. Independent Journalists’ Association of Serbia, Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina and SHARE Foundation published a press release [link in Russian] condemning the use of copyright provisions to impose censorship. Vucic has since claimed that he wasn’t responsible for the removal of the video and later re-posted the satire on his Facebook page.

A Turkish bill that would give the government broad censorship and surveillance powers was submitted to Parliament this week. Learn more about the bill here.

Surveillance: The Sochi spy regime

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) will keep a close watch over foreign visitors during the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi with its new digital surveillance system. Personal information of organizers, athletes, and journalists will be compiled into a telecommunications database, along with a wide range of metadata, including “connections, traffic, and subscriber payments.” The November 2013 government decree [link in Russian] authorizing this type of surveillance also permits the FSB to retain and analyze the data for three years after the Sochi games. This has ignited fears that the Russian government could use the data against foreign journalists for years to come.

On a related note, Russian opposition blogger Alexey Navalny has launched an interactive website this week outlining the “true costs” of the Olympic preparations in Sochi.

The latest Snowden revelations concern Canada, where the Communications Security Establishment Canada, the country’s cybersecurity agency, allegedly test-ran a technology that enabled it to track any device that connected to the free Wi-Fi offered in a Canadian airport. CSEC head John Forster defended the agency on grounds that the test didn’t run in real-time and wasn’t an actual operation.

Privacy: How did the NSA snatch encryption keys?

An appeal by encrypted email provider Lavabit against the Justice Department may, for the first time, provide insight into how government organizations like the NSA obtain the encrypted SSL keys that enable to it eavesdrop on some web communications. Lavabit shut down in early August 2013 after being asked to provide SSL keys to the FBI.

Industry: Netizens say bye-bye to Weibo

Chinese microblog site Sina Weibo has lost members for the first time since 2010. Possibly because of a government crackdown on online speech, membership in Weibo declined by 9 percent over the past year.

Online education platform Coursera blocked access to its services in Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Sudan—all countries under U.S. economic sanctions—after receiving a warning from the US State Department. Thanks to an exception for educational tools, Coursera has since reinstated access in Syria. No such luck for Cuban, Sudanese, or Iranian students.

New rules from the Justice Department allowed technology companies to provide more detailed information on national security-related data requests they receive from the U.S. government. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo break down the requests into three categories in their reports released Feb. 3—FISA content requests, FISA non-content requests, and national security letters.

Internet Governance: Pick your poison, Bhutan

The Bhutan government has come under criticism for its plans to migrate all internal communications to Google servers hosted outside Bhutan. Officials say the program will help the nation to become more eco-friendly and will help secure government websites, which have been frequently hacked in the past. Critics including the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society have expressed concern that this will leave the country vulnerable to surveillance by the United States.

North Korea unveiled a new, tightly controlled Intranet called Kwangmyong, or “Bright.” The country has rolled out several other information technologies platforms recently, including an OS, the Microsoft-clone known as “Red Star,” and a search engine called “Our Country.”

Internet Insecurity: Data spill proves corruption among Chinese elites

A terabyte leak that occurred in China more than a year ago may now threaten the legitimacy of China’s ruling Communist Party. Amid rising public discontent over official corruption, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has identified 22,000 Chinese elites, many with family ties to political leaders, who concealed their wealth in offshore tax havens. China’s state-run media has called the use of leaked data to sabotage political leaders as “Internet terror.” The database webpage and all reports of the leak have been blocked inside China.

Cool Things

Slovak designer Martin Vargic created what could be the next poster that will hang in every computer geek’s bedroom – a beautiful map of the Internet that combines this famous 2010 xkcd map showing social networks as countries and regions with National Geographic Maps.

Publications and Studies

January 29 2014

Netizen Report: Terror Group Forces Internet Shutdowns in Somalia

Telco ad on a van in Kampala, Uganda. Photo by futureatlas.com via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Telco ad on a van in Kampala, Uganda. Photo by futureatlas.com via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed El Gohary, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Somalia, where the nation’s two main ISPs—Hormuud Telecom and Nationlink—have caved to demands from Al Shabab that they block Internet access in central and southern Somalia. Company officials, who tried in vain to negotiate with the terrorist group, believe the threat originated from the highest ranks of the organization. In a statement issued by radio, the group warned that any institution or individual who violates the ban will be “considered to be working with the enemy and…will be dealt with in accordance [with] Sharia law.” Observers suspect that Al Shabab leaders are forcing the ban out of fear that the Internet will aid authorities and other actors in tracking their movement and activities. Although just over 1% of Somalis use the Internet, mobile 3G is increasingly popular in urban areas.

Free Expression: Watchdogs and ‘Wolf’ Face Censorship in Kenya

A new media law in Kenya could leave bloggers and independent journalists facing sky-high fines over infractions on an impossibly vague series of provisions. Local bloggers are warning that the law’s broad definition of who is considered a “journalist” — one that could apply to bloggers, citizen reporters, and even social media users — will have a chilling effect on independent reporting across the country. The legislation enables government-appointed judges to issue fines of up to KSH 2 million (US$23,310) for media institutions and up to KSH 500,000 (US$5,827) for individuals.

Two individuals selling pirated copies of Hollywood blockbuster “The Wolf of Wallstreet” were arrested last week not for piracy, but for the film itself, which has been banned by Kenya’s Film Classification Board. A flurry of comments criticizing the ban has since appeared on the Board’s Facebook page.

Index on Censorship reports that the UK’s controversial new porn filters are exhibiting classic flaws in broad filtering systems by blocking sites covering “LGBTI issues, sex education and even domestic violence and rape” but somehow underfiltering pornography. Way to go, David!

The largest Internet blackout in Chinese history was most probably caused by the country’s notorious “Great Firewall”. Internet monitoring companies suspect that Chinese censors mistakenly re-directed the entire country’s web traffic to servers belonging to a company called Sophidea, which appears to be located in the US. The company’s servers reportedly crashed under the load for approximately eight hours. Greatfire.org offered a technical analysis of the event, pointing to potential explanations for the error.

Thuggery: Ukrainian officials intimidate Euromaidan protesters via text

The Ukrainian government targeted Euromaidan protesters last week with a deluge of mobile SMS messages reading: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.” Although a brand new local law criminalizes participation in violent protest, the messages had little effect in stemming violent clashes with riot police. Three Ukrainian cellphone companies have denied any involvement in the effort, noting that the government may have pirated protesters’ data from nearby cellphone towers.

A Kuwaiti court sentenced Twitter user Abdullah Fairouz Abdullah Abd al-Kareem to five years in prison after being found guilty of insulting the Emir over the social network. Local law prohibits any message that “objects to the rights and authorities of the Emir or faults him.” Al-Kareem will soon appeal his case before a higher court.

Uyghur economics professor Ilham Tohti, founder of Uyghur Online and an advocate for autonomy in the ethic minority region of China was arrested last week, allegedly for promoting a separatist agenda, though he does not actually support this platform. Despite an online petition signed by more than 1,000 Chinese intellectuals and an appeal by the US State Department, Tohti remains detained. His family is under house arrest, and seven of his students have been questioned by local authorities.

Surveillance: Spying on India, NETRA-style

The Indian government is once again stepping up its ability to intercept and spy on citizens’ online communications. Earlier this month, officials announced the launch of the NETRA spy system intended to monitor keywords in all major forms of online communication — email, social networking platforms, VoIP, chat, and online forums — in real time. There will be no judicial oversight of NETRA activities and Internet service providers will have no involvement (or knowledge) of government snooping via NETRA.

A new rule requires Chinese netizens to use their real names when uploading videos to Chinese websites. The government says the measure is intended to “prevent vulgar content, base art forms, exaggerated violence, and sexual content…having a negative effect on society.”

Internet Governance: Fighting for “.gov” (in Chinese)

The challenges the Internet poses to national sovereignty were highlighted this week around a battle between China and Taiwan for control of the top-level domain (TLD) .政府 (the Chinese character equivalent for .gov). The Chinese government complained to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) after a Taiwanese government-affiliated company submitted an application for the TLD, arguing that the company, Net-Chinese, isn’t “vested with the authority or mandate to endorse claims of government status on behalf of all governments.”

Internet Insecurity: Vietnam’s pro-government hackers on global phishing expedition

The Vietnamese government’s enthusiasm for censorship is well known, but the country’s sketchy pro-government hackers are targeting even non-Vietnamese people with malicious phishing campaigns. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, recent targets include a US-based blogger who operates a popular dissident website, a British journalist based in Hanoi, a France-based Vietnamese math professor and democracy activist, and an American activist. Although it lacks China’s advanced censorship capabilities, Vietnam’s authoritarian regime has admitted employing 900 people “to counter online criticism.”

Netizen Activism: “Free our friends,” bloggers say

Bloggers, activists, journalists, and artists from across the Arab region gathered in Amman, Jordan last week for the 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting, organized by Global Voices and 7iber. Over four days of training, collaboration, discussion and debate, the group issued calls for the release of imprisoned rights advocates Alaa Abd El Fattah in Egypt and Bassel Safadi in Syria, along with kidnapped Syrian human rights advocate Razan Zeitouneh.

Cool Things

Guyana Crime Reports, an innovative new crime reporting website in Guyana, combines GIS mapping and crowdsourced crime detection, along with vigorous staff-led verification of citizen reports.

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January 22 2014

Netizen Report: Winter Olympics Bring Chilling Effects to the RuNet

Hae-in Lim, Sonia Roubini, Alex Laverty, Richard Teverson, Mohamed ElGohary, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in the United States, where rights advocates are responding to President Barack Obama’s highly anticipated speech on surveillance reforms, delivered last Friday. Obama pledged to dismantle the system of collecting phone call metadata “as it currently exists.” Other changes will include the addition of a public advocate in the FISA court who will be responsible for approving surveillance requests; the adoption of stricter standards for accessing metadata; and raising the threshold for authorizations for spying on foreign leaders. Despite the reforms, Obama’s speech came under criticism for not going far enough. Reactions from rights advocates in the United States and around the globe were mostly critical.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Image released to public domain.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Image released to public domain.

PEN International’s Deji Olukotun noted the historical irony in Obama’s treatment of state surveillance, an issue that plagued civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. “[It] makes little sense for the President to open the door on the deeply-flawed surveillance program that plagued King while making cosmetic reforms to his own far-flung surveillance program.”

Global privacy leaders largely reiterated the need to take further steps to protect privacy rights. Government officials in the EU, U.K., and Germany had mixed reviews, while Brazilian leaders, who have been highly critical of the NSA program, refused to comment publicly.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation put together a scorecard rating the reform plan 3.5 out of a possible 12.

Free Expression: Winter Olympics bring chilling effects to the RuNet

New legislation in Russia allows security authorities to block websites and social networks that host calls for “participation in mass public events.” The policy goes into effect in Russia on February 1, just ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Other laws still under consideration would introduce new data collection requirements for websites and restrict online money transfers for NGOs.

Ukraine’s Parliament passed a law that openly restricts free speech, peaceful protest and free communications in the country.

Thuggery: “Watchdog” journalists threatened over leaked draft constitution

Zambian police are threatening to prosecute the operators of independent news site the Zambian Watchdog after the embattled site published a new draft constitution that lawmakers wrote but failed to release to the public. This is one in a series of attempts to shut down the Zambian Watchdog.

Surveillance: Sanctions on Sudan limit online security

A new report from Tech President describes how broad US sanctions against Sudan are preventing netizens from downloading a range of online tools, including secure messaging software.

Privacy: Canada spanks Google

Canadian authorities found that Google illegally violated a user’s privacy rights—and its own privacy policy—when it used medical information from his search history to target ads. A yearlong investigation by Canada's federal privacy watchdog found Google responsible, with consequences that could be “industry-wide,” according to Interim Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier.

Industry: China expands its reach in Africa

The Kenyan government will award national digital television distribution rights to Chinese company PANG, a decision that has caused alarm among local TV stations and activists who fear the change could lead to censorship. The government’s Digital Transition Committee says that PANG is required to be a “neutral signal carrier.”

Internet Governance: Hello, Brazil

Since the Brazilian government announced plans to hold a global Internet governance event in Sao Paulo, Brazil this April, governance experts and advocates have been buzzing with anticipation and developing plans of action for the event. Now known as the “Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance,” Brazil’s state-convened Internet steering committee reports that the meeting will “focus on crafting Internet governance principles and proposing a roadmap for the further evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem.” Perhaps anticipating what will likely be a hotly contested debate, the change sets out more modest objectives for the meeting, which previously sought to “pursue consensus about universally accepted governance principles and to improve their institutional framework.”

A US federal appeals court has ruled that the Federal Communications Commission cannot impose Internet neutrality rules that were developed and adopted in 2010. In brief, the rules seek to prevent Internet service providers from prioritizing certain kinds of Internet traffic over others by requiring that all online information be treated equally.

The European Union is similarly preparing to take up net neutrality, via the legislative route. In response, a group of European civil rights groups have launched a new campaign, SaveTheInternet.eu, to amend or block the regulation.

Cool Things

Syria Untold, a Web platform that aims to highlight creative and journalistic projects coming out of Syria’s nonviolent uprising, is now offering a newsletter. Sign up here.

Blackphone claims to be the first smartphone able to make and receive secure calls, facilitate secure video chats, and exchange and store files and SMS messages privately. Silent Circle and Geeksphone will debut the device at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona in February.

Publications and Studies

January 15 2014

Netizen Report: Turkey to Tighten Grip on Digital Speech

Demonstrators in Turkey, 2013. Photo by Alan Hilditch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Demonstrators in Turkey, 2013. Photo by Alan Hilditch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

James Losey, Renata Avila, Hae-in Lim, Sonia Roubini, Grady Johnson, Bojan Perkov, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Turkey, where authorities are making moves to curb online rights in the wake of June’s anti-government protests and a major corruption scandal that resulted in a series of arrests and changes to Prime Minister Erdogan’s cabinet. A draft law currently before Parliament would give the Turkish government new powers to access and retain user data, and to block content deemed illegal in “emergency” situations without judicial oversight. The law would also require all Internet service providers to join a state-run association that would drive the implementation of content and data-related policies.

With elections nearing, the government is already extending political control online. Last week, Twitter lit up with reports that the popular video-sharing site Vimeo had been blocked temporarily in the country, the result of a federal court decision. Vimeo was used widely for sharing videos of last year’s Taksim Gezi Park protests.

Free Expression: “Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one”

As India prepares for national elections in May, media commentators are expressing concern about the impartiality and independence of India’s press. Getting to the bottom of media ownership is a labyrinthine task, but increasing swaths of India’s 400 TV channels and more than 80,000 publications are coming under the ownership of politicians and their affiliates, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. India’s Caravan Magazine discusses how political parties abuse their media holdings by controlling coverage, citing New Yorker columnist A. J. Liebling’s famous quip, “freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.”

The Russian Federal Protective Service (FSO) is asking software developers to design a system that automatically monitors the country’s news and social media, producing reports that study netizens’ political attitudes.

Filmmakers in China are turning to online video sharing sites like Youku Tudou to produce films on subjects deemed controversial by Chinese censors. Largely funded by major brands, short films on topics like LGBT issues are attracting growing attention.

Thuggery: Repression surges on eve of Egypt’s referendum

Egypt’s current leadership has called on citizens to vote on a constitutional referendum that would signal public approval of the military government and its July ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi. In the weeks leading up to the vote, activists on various sides of the political debate have faced heightened consequences for their actions. Last week, activists Alaa Abd El Fattah, Mona Seif, and ten others received a one-year suspended sentence on unfounded accusations that they set fire to a campaign office of ex-Presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq. Alaa was sentenced in absentia, as he is currently in pre-trial detention on a separate charge concerning a protest that took place on November 26. Egyptian scholar Rasha Abdulla writes: “Activists in Egypt believe these cases and others are merely political in nature, and meant to keep prominent activists behind bars while intimidating others to keep them away from the political process.”

A wide range of friends and activists have rallied behind their cause, and have contributed blog posts on the subject. Here are just a few of them:

On January 8, 2014, extremist Somali militia Al-Shabab issued an ultimatum to Somalia’s Internet service providers: Cut Internet access within 15 days—or face “serious consequences.” Three days later, the Somali Minister of Interior and National Security urged companies to ignore the threat and condemned it, citing the right to free expression enshrined in the country’s constitution. Ironically, Al-Shabab has a major presence on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, which it relies on to disseminate its views.

Vasyl Pawlowsky, English-language curator of Maidan Monitoring, a web platform set up to follow events and news from Euromaidan protests in several cities throughout Ukraine, reported in a blog post that the crowdsourced site has been inaccessible since Monday, January 13 due to what he suspects is a DDoS attack.

Surveillance: ‘Safe Harbor’ not enough for Europeans

The European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) released a draft report on the NSA scandal and mass surveillance, calling on the European Commission to review data sharing agreements with the United States and arguing that “Safe Harbour principles do not provide adequate protection for EU citizens.”

Privacy: New feature Google+ targets secret admirers?

A new Google+ feature allows anyone on Google+ to send a message to your Gmail inbox. The feature will not reveal your actual email address to all users, unless you choose to respond to their emails. Users concerned about the privacy implications of the feature have the option to limit who can email them through Google+ or opt out entirely.

Industry: Tech giants made a “good faith effort” on human rights — but is that enough?

Five years ago, leading NGOs focusing on human rights in the digital age joined Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! to form the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a coalition effort to improve company policies and practices as they relate to human rights. Last week, the GNI released its first public report on independent assessments of the three companies — the report found that each company is making a “good faith effort” to implement GNI’s Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy.

US digital rights group Access praised the effort but pointed to some critical gaps in the assessment process. According to Access, independent assessors “struggled to obtain all of the necessary information about the companies’ policies and practices” — due in part to legal limitations on disclosure of national security-related data requests, but also to internal company decisions. Case studies on specific threats to user rights served as a focal point for assessment, but these studies were selected by companies themselves, rather than the assessors or the non-corporate members of the GNI, who represent some of the world’s leading experts on human rights in the digital era.

Publications and Studies

 

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January 08 2014

Netizen Report: Korean Indy Sites Accused of Producing “Not Real” News

President Park

Hae-in Lim, Alex Laverty, Bojan Perkov, Lisa Ferguson, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed ElGohary and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in South Korea, where the national Communications Commission is denouncing independent new sites and radio stations for producing “not real” news. A new Commission report says that media licensing laws should prohibit news sites from reporting on issues that fall outside of their stated purpose. In other words, the weather channel may report only on weather, religious sites only on “religious news,” and local outlets may report only on events within their region of focus — reporting on national or state-level events is not technically allowed. Journalists at independent television station and web channel RTV are vowing [ko] to push back on the measure.

Limits on expression may also be creeping into the world of social media. In a recent address, President Park Gyun-hye voiced concern about the dangers of “rumors” spreading on social media, suggesting that “if the government lets these things happen, it will bring chaos nationwide” and that “authorities need to react fast and aggressively, and preemptively against those groups trying to distort situations.” Many Twitter users criticized the statement, with several noting that government bodies sent out over 24 million tweets to tip the scales in Park’s favor in the country’s most recent presidential election.

Free Expression: WeChat rises in China, disappears in Iran

Iranian ISPs are reportedly blocking WeChat, the popular China-based smartphone chat app. Iranian blogger Gilboygreen responded to the news [fa]:

What is the reason that people are not allowed to talk to each other? The authorities should answer this question. When a channel to dialogue, to exchange ideas and to communication is blocked, how do you expect people to solve the problems in society…?

In other WeChat news, multiple sources from China have reported that 2013 saw a dramatic spike in the use of WeChat for political and civic conversation online. Most suspect the shift is the result of last year’s dramatic government crackdown on political speech on Sina Weibo, along with the flooding of Weibo with chatter from government-paid commenters.

On a better note, a number of web users in China are reporting the Chinese websites of Reuters and the Wall Street Journal have become accessible in the country after having been blocked last November after the sites published reports on Chinese leaders and their personal wealth.

Thuggery: Are anti-protest laws the new black?

Anti-protest laws appear to be the hottest new government censorship tool this season. The latest offender in a string of these laws across the globe is Cambodia, where labor demonstrations have ballooned into mass protests against the ruling the government. At least 23 demonstrators, some of them dedicated human rights activists, have been arrested under the country’s new law.

Egypt’s current military government is cracking down on speech on all sides — online, offline, and now in fictional advertising narratives. Currently under fire is the popular hand puppet Abla Fahita, a comical character who appeared in a Vodafone Egypt ad in which she searches for the missing SIM card of her deceased husband. Ahmed “Spider”, a blogger and ardent supporter of Hosni Mubarak, publicly accused the puppet of encoding the ad with secret messages supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and filed a complaint against her with the country’s public prosecutor. Government officials have since called in Vodafone executives for questioning, and reportedly asked them to appear in court in the near future. The story has gone viral on Twitter under the #FreeFahita hashtag. Nile University Professor Timothy Kaldas tweeted,

Zambia’s Junior Minister of Commerce, Trade, and Industry has offered US$2000 to anyone who can reveal the identity of the people behind independent media website the Zambian Watchdog, after the website published photos of his alleged extramarital affair. In response, the Zambian Watchdog has promised to give an iPad or Kindle to anyone who can provide credible information on the affair.

Shezanne Cassim, a US citizen who was jailed in the UAE after posting a video online that poked fun at youth culture in Dubai, soon will be released after nine months of incarceration. Emirati human rights defender Obaid Al-Zaabi, who advocated actively for Cassim's release, was arrested last month after giving an interview to CNN about the case. Al-Zaabi remains in detention.

The thousands in China who were harassed or faced legal challenges in 2013 because of their activity on Sina Weibo included many prominent intellectuals and political thinkers. Global Voices published a roundup of these cases, which can be found here.

Surveillance: Egypt takes the helm as Africa’s cyber security expert

The African Union is set to meet in Ethiopia later this month to review the Union’s Draft Convention on Confidence and Security in Cyberspace, which has been in progress since 2009. As the continent’s leader in cyber security technology and implementation, Egypt will likely have a heavy hand in decision-making around the Convention.

Netizen Activism: Is Facebook reading your mind?

From Russia to Mauritania to El Salvador, Facebook users are demanding that the company stop logging information about draft (unpublished) posts. Facebook claims to store only metadata about draft posts, not their actual content, but this hasn’t stopped petitioners on the Care2 platform from drumming up over 28,000 signatures from around the world. For better or worse, the petition is short on facts and long on paranoia (“every key stroke entered at Facebook could be sent to a government agency”), but the breadth and volume of signers is impressive all the same. One counter suggestion for those unnerved by the prospect of Facebook tracking their every thought: Stop using Facebook.

Cool Things: “Just Access” campaign for Iran

Global Voices Farsi editor Farid reviews online campaigns that took place in Iran in 2013, covering everything from access to technology to gender-based discrimination.

Publications and Studies

The Value of Online Privacy” – University of Colorado at Boulder Department of Economics

January 02 2014

Netizen Report: Will Saudi Take the “You” Out of YouTube?

Screen capture from

Screen capture from “No Woman, No Drive” video supporting the Women2Drive campaign featuring Hisham Fageeh.

Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mohamed El Gohary, Bojan Perkov and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Saudi Arabia where government officials say they will soon require Internet users to obtain a state-issued permit in order to post videos on YouTube. Videos would be evaluated based on their consistency with Saudi “culture, values and tradition.” The policy could have troublesome implications for activists, whose strategic use of YouTube for actions like the Women2Drive campaign has brought international attention to the issue. Saudi citizens reportedly boast the highest YouTube usage rate per capita in the world.

A Saudi judge recommended that blogger Raif Badawi face charges of apostasy, or denouncing Islam, before the country’s high court. Individuals convicted of apostasy in Saudi Arabia typically receive the death penalty. Last summer, Badawi was convicted of insulting Islam on his blog, Free Saudi Liberals, and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes. The current recommendation came after Badawi’s lawyers appealed the decision.

In slightly better news from the Gulf kingdom, AFP reports that the makers of the smartphone application Viber, which lets users send free text messages and photos, appear to have outsmarted the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission. Saudi residents claim they have been able to download Viber in recent days, despite the Commission’s decision to block the app six months ago. Commission spokesman Sultan Al Malek told AFP that there may be some illegal way to get around the ban, something the Commission plans to address. In March, the Commission warned that it would ban Viber, Whatsapp and Skype, unless the programs could create a way for authorities to censor some content. Viber failed to comply with the requirement and was subsequently banned in both Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Free Expression: End of the road for Instagram in Iran?

Photo-sharing platform Instagram was blocked in Iran for roughly twelve hours on December 28-29. Although Iranian officials said the blocking resulted from a technical glitch, experts who follow Iran’s politics and filtering practices suspect this was a “test run” of a long-term block on the site. Technical researcher and GV friend Collin Anderson told Mashable that he was surprised Instagram has been accessible from Iran since its inception: “Instagram was probably the largest unfiltered social media platform [in Iran]. But the security state has really ramped up its propaganda about social networks.”

In what appears to be a shift away from its relatively liberal approach to Internet regulation, the Moroccan government is considering a new blanket law that would punish online statements deemed threatening to “public order, national security, necessities of public service, or public policy.” Known as the Code Numérique, the law would allow authorities to block offending websites. In concert with the country’s Press Law, which prohibits statements that offend the King, Islam, and Morocco’s “territorial integrity,” this could amount to a robust new censorship regime. Open Internet advocates in Morocco responded to the news by developing a crowdsourced document offering alternatives to the most troubling articles in the new law.

Two journalists in Thailand stand accused of libel and of violating Thailand’s Computer Crime Act over articles published on Phuketwan, a small news website based on the island of Phuket. Charges were filed after the two journalists — one a Thai national, the other from Australia — produced a series of reports alleging that Thai immigration officials engaged in a smuggling ring of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. If convicted, the journalists could face up to five years in prison.

British Telecom, the largest Internet service provider in the UK, announced that all new customers will benefit from automatic porn filters, which will be turned on by default (customers may opt to turn them off during setup). Citing stakeholder involvement from the likes of parent interest groups such as Mumsnet, BT assures its customers that the filtering software has been “tested in trials with a variety of different customers.” Although all six ISPs in the UK have agreed to implement the porn censors, BT is the first to turn words into action.

A public screening of “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer,” a documentary about the embattled political punk group, was banned in Moscow last week. Officials threatened to fire the managers of the host theater, which is state-owned.

Thuggery: Comedian faces 8-month prison term for YouTube video

After eight months of detention in a maximum-security prison in Abu Dhabi, US citizen Shezanne “Shez” Cassim was finally sentenced on December 23 to a year in jail after a court pronounced his YouTube video—which made fun of teenagers practicing martial arts using the headdress and slippers worn by Emiratis—a threat to national security under the UAE’s cybercrime law. An amateur stand-up comedian, Cassim had been employed as a consultant at PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Dubai at the time of his arrest in April 2013.

Surveillance: Spy regimes ramp up in Southeast Asia

Singapore and Indonesia are among various Asian countries ramping up their surveillance capabilities in the wake of the Snowden leaks. While the Indonesian government plans to build out the cyber security capabilities of its military, Singapore claims it will spend US$100 million to develop new “cyber defense” agencies. This is especially troubling for Singaporean activists and journalists who already face strict licensing and content laws that have amounted to censorship for some and prosecution for others.

Privacy: UK Court says citizens can sue Google over privacy threats

London’s High Court ruled that UK residents who believe Google has threatened their online privacy have standing to sue the company for damages within the UK. The US-based company has asked the court to throw out the ruling, claiming that it is “not governed by the British justice system.”

Copyright: Italians say ciao to due process

In an act hailed by the entertainment industry, Italy passed a bill that facilitates efforts by AgCom, the country’s communications regulator, to enforce copyright—without judicial review. AgCom can either require the host of the website to remove infringing content or force ISPs to block access to the website. Especially troubling is a 12-day “fast-track” option that gives users a mere three days to file counter-notifications and ISPs just two days to remove the offending material, with those unable to meet the deadline facing fines of €250,000 or $340,000 per day. The President of an Italian ISP association protested this as an undue regulatory burden, likening it to “going to work for Elton John for free.”

Industry: See ya, Google

Bloomberg reports that certain email service providers in Europe have seen a steady increase in users since NSA mass surveillance programs became public knowledge last June. Posteo, an email provider that prides itself on its security practices and charges users a small fee (one Euro per month), has increased its user base three-fold over the last six months.

Internet Governance: Brazil to vote on Internet “bill of rights”?

Officials in Brazil [pt] say the much-heralded Marco Civil da Internet will be brought to a vote when Congress resumes session next week. President Dilma Rousseff was quoted saying that it would take first priority over all other matters on the congressional agenda. Often described as a “bill of rights” for the Internet user, the bill has undergone a series of changes since its inception, some of which have left civil liberties advocates concerned about its implications for privacy and the right to free expression as it relates to copyright. Although it has been scheduled for a vote on numerous occasions over the last eighteen months, it has been stymied by legislative deliberations and lack of quorum. It regained momentum this fall when the President pointed to the legislation as a path forward in the face of broad, unwarranted surveillance by the US government.

Cool Things: New tool “translates” terms of service

“‘I have read and agree to the Terms’ is the biggest lie on the Web. We aim to fix that.” So says Terms of Service; Didn’t Read, a new free and open source browser extension that gives users easy-to-digest information about online companies’ terms of service. ToSDR rates companies on personal data collection and storage practices, copyright assertion, and other issues that affect user rights.

Publications and Studies

And finally: Happy 2014 from the Netizen Report team! Feel free to share our reports or contact us about contributing via Twitter at @Advox.

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December 18 2013

Netizen Report: Press Attacks on the Rise in Djibouti

A street market in Djibouti. Photo by Didier DeMars via Picasa (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A street market in Djibouti. Photo by Didier DeMars via Picasa (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Bojan Perkov, Weiping Li, Lakshmi Sarah, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Djibouti, where journalists at newspaper and website La Voix de Djibouti havefaced a series of threats in recent weeks. On December 4, two journalists covering a police raid on market stallholders were physically beaten; on December 7, another was arrested “for no obvious reason”; and on December 12, another was arrested for covering a protest in a slum and his mobile phone and other electronics were seized. In the last case, the slum in question had been demolished [fr] by the government on November 22, leaving 4,000 people homeless—a tragedy that was only made known thanks to La Voix, which used social media to spread the story. Unfortunately this is nothing new. In 2011, six journalists affiliated with La Voix spent more than four months in prison. The northeast African nation is ranked 167th of 179 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 World Press Freedom Index.

Thuggery: Dozens of Cubans detained on Human Rights Day

Somewhere between a few dozen and a few hundred people — including punk rockers, intellectuals, dissidents, and a pair of Argentine tourists — were detained last week in Cuba. Twitter users reported that throughout Havana, opposition activists attempting to gather for international Human Rights Day were stopped and taken into temporary custody by state security officials.Conflicting accounts have made it difficult to confirm precisely how many people were detained.

Egyptian blogger and political activist Alaa Abd El Fattah, who was arrested two weeks ago in Cairo after helping to organize a demonstration, was charged under Egypt’s new “anti-protest” law, which prohibits public demonstration without prior authorization from government officials.

A story about self-censorship in Serbian media disappeared from the website of Centre for Investigative Journalism of Serbia when the site was hacked last week. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic expressed concern about the incident, saying to reporters ““I trust the authorities will do their utmost to protect the culture of free Internet that exists in Serbia. A free Internet is a precondition for free media to thrive.”

Assaults on media workers, activists, and artists continue in Syria. Cartoonist Akram Raslan, who was arrested in October 2012 by the Assad regime, may have been killed following a show trial, though some have refuted these claims. Raslan won the Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning (issued by Cartoon Rights Network International) this year for his work. Non-violent activistRazan Zaitouneh was kidnapped along with three others from Syria’s Violations Documentation Center on the outskirts of Damascus on December 9. Zaitouneh had received threats from both the regime and extremist groups. Syria’s Local Coordinators Committee demanded the release of the activists and has asked others to join their campaign.

Media workers at several prominent political radio stations and news sites in Syria are working with international press freedom groups to demand an end to media worker abuses in the country. Learn more about the Free Press for Syria campaign here.

Surveillance: New Spy Regimes for France and India?

Surveillance à la française: Article 13 of France’s defense law [fr], passed on December 11, vastly expands the scope of government surveillance, allowing more government entities to collect more types of information for more reasons. The law will allow intelligence agencies—as well as the Ministry for Economy and Finance—to monitor “electronic and digital communications” in real time without authorization from the National Commission for the Control of Security Intercepts, the body responsible for oversight up until now.

The government of India may soon seek to store all Internet data for Indian domain names within its borders. An internal note from the Subcommittee on International Cooperation on Cybersecurity read, “Mere location of root servers in India would not serve any purpose unless we were also allowed a role in their control and management. We should insist that data of all domain names originating from India…should be stored in India. Similarly, all traffic originating/landing in India should be stored in India.” Although NSA revelations were a significant trigger for this move, the government of India has long advocated for a changes in global Internet governance that would place the domain name system and the responsibilities of ICANN under a multilateral (rather than US-centric) governance framework.

Free Expression: New law limit speech in Spain, Kazakhstan, Romania

This week, draft legislation in Spain that would restrict civil rights and limit activism met dramatic public opposition. The bill prohibits organizing and participating in demonstrations online and offline without giving prior notification to the government.

Several Internet users in Kazakhstan are currently being prosecuted for libel. Critics see this as a new approach to information control by the Kazakh government, which has a long history of online censorship. Kazakhstan consolidated control of the Internet with a 2009 law subjecting Internet content to stringent controls.

The Romanian Chamber of Deputies recriminalized offenses of libel and insult through what critics described as a murky legislative process. Local press freedom and human rights groups are pushing to prevent the law from going into force — President Traian Basescu still has time to veto the changes.

NSA Files: They even spied on your XBox

The Snowden leaks saga has seen major developments in recent days. This week, Judge Richard J. Leon of the US District Court for the District of Columbia found the NSA’s bulk collection of communication metadata to be unconstitutional. Recognizing that his decision conflicted with those of other district courts in the United States, Judge Leon said he “find[s] comfort” in the US v. Jones (2012) GPS tracking case and its emphasis on preserving the “degree of privacy” in accordance with technological innovation. Regardless of what he described as the “almost Orwellian” nature of the program, Judge Leon stayed his injunction “in light of the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues.” Judge Leon was appointed by former president George W. Bush.

NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that American and British spies have been donning the disguise of orcs, trolls, humans, and dwarves in massively multiplayer online role-playing games like World of Warcraft and Second Life. They use the games—described by the NSA as “an opportunity!” [emphasis in original] —to collect data and recruit informants with the hopes of tracking down terrorist networks and hackers among the millions of members of these online gaming communities. The leaks also show that NSA and GCHQ found the Xbox Live console network—with its 48 million players—particularly useful for anonymously monitoring voice calls and texts and using video cameras to corroborate biometric information with other data. Now there's a reason to keep your kids away from video games.

Internal NSA presentation slides leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the US surveillance agency and the UK’s GCHQ have been taking advantage of private online commercial tracking “cookies” to identify people online. The presentation focuses on Google’s “PREF” cookie, which allows Google to track individuals for advertising and usage metric purposes. These and other unique identifiers are being used by NSA to track human targets, including through geolocation data.

Privacy: ECJ says retention looks risky

The European Court of Justice ruled that data retention obligations for telecommunication companies and Internet providers can constitute “a serious interference” in the right to privacy. The EU Data Retention Directive (2006) requires telecoms and ISPs to store communications data of their users for six months to two years. The court also stated that the Directive was incompatible with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Copyright: TPP pushes stiff penalties for “accidental” copyright violations

The US government is pushing full steam ahead on Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, but the agreement's copyright and intellectual property proposals continue to be met with resistance from activists in the Americas and Southeast Asia. According to leaked documents from recent TPP talks in Singapore, the current language under debate proposes making “unintentional infringements of copyright” a criminal offense.

Industry: No more FreeWeibo for China's Apple Users

Apple removed the anti-censorship application FreeWeibo from its China app store in compliance with a request from the Chinese government. Developed by Radio Netherlands Worldwide and Chinese cyber-activists, the software allows users to read censored postings on Chinese microblog Sina Weibo.

Internet Insecurity: Hacking the G20?

Since 2010, Chinese hackers have been using malware to spy on the foreign ministries of the Czech Republic, Portugal, Bulgaria, Latvia, and Hungary, according to a report by US computer security company FireEye. The targeted “Ke3Chang” campaign allowed hackers to eavesdrop on foreign ministries in the lead-up to the September 2013 G20 summit.

Netizen Activism

Social networking tools have helped sustain the Euromaidan protests in the Ukraine, helping to protesters organize and inform the public about new developments.

Uncool Things

The US-made web filtering software SmartFilter is not so smart – the program has reportedly blocked web pages belonging to a church, a jazz music institute, and an adult rehabilitation center, all in the US, after wrongly identifying their content as porn. The filtering software has been deployed in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Publications and Studies

 

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December 11 2013

Netizen Report: Singaporean Gay Rights Blogger Faces Court Challenge

Alex Au. Photo by Groyn88 via SgWiki. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Alex Au. Photo by Groyn88 via SgWiki. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Richard Teverson, Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Bojan Perkov, Alex Laverty, and Sarah Myers.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Singapore, where blogger and gay rights advocate Alex Au, who has written extensively about judicial corruption on his blog, Yawning Bread, will soon have a public hearing regarding his coverage. The city-state’s Attorney General’s Chambers recently issued a statement suggesting that Au may be held in contempt of court over one particularly “injurious” post.

“As important as the right to free speech and expression is, the Constitution recognises that our society as a whole must be safeguarded against statements without basis which injure the reputation of persons or lower confidence in the administration of justice.”

Au’s post, which has been removed from the site, reportedly suggested that, in an effort to control the outcome, the Supreme Court manipulated dates for hearings challenging the constitutionality of Singapore’s ban on homosexual sex. About 170 Singaporean academics, civil servants, citizens and activists have signed a statement in support of Au.

Meanwhile, a court denied bail to James Raj, who was extradited from Malaysia last month and charged with hacking the website of Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. This was one in a series of government-website attacks, which may be an attempt to protest new Internet licensing rules in Singapore. Observers fear that the new rules could have harmful implications for free expression.

Thuggery: Tech writers arrested in Iran

Several writers and staff of Iranian tech news website Narenji.ir were arrested last week. Hours later, site administrators posted a list of those who were arrested, but it was quickly removed from the site. Mehr News [fa] and other sources report that the writers have been accused of harming national security.

Charges of lèse-majesté—the criminal act of harming the majesty—continue to threaten Thailand’s online community. A new Reporters Without Borders assessment describes how the government’s new “cyber scout” unit has used the country’s penal code, which prohibits insulting the king, against bloggers. The sentence of Chiranuch “Jiew” Premchaiporn, the editor of the online newspaper Prachatai, was recently upheld. Jiew was convicted of lèse-majesté in May 2012 for failing to remove anti-monarchy comments from the Prachatai website quickly enough.

Free Expression: Will “extremist” sites get the axe in the UK?

UK Prime Minister David Cameron vowed at an October hearing to censor “extremist” websites as part of an effort to keep the country safe and “counter the extremist narrative” online. In recent weeks, critics have taken to Reddit to lambaste the leader.

National Policy: Ecuador gets choosy on digital rights

A new state university initiative in Ecuador, known as the FLOK—“free, libre, open knowledge”—society, aims to encourage sharing and alternative approaches to intellectual property rights. This comes as a surprise to advocates who have criticized the Ecuadorian government’s use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown system to remove politically controversial material from the Web. How much freedom does the government want Internet users to have? Between FLOK, Julian Assange, and the country’s new “media lynching” law, it’s hard to tell.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet signed the U.S.-Estonia Cyber Partnership Statement last week, in which they pledge to cooperate closely on Internet issues like cybersecurity and Internet freedom. Estonia has worked closely with the FBI since 2007 to develop expertise in fighting online crime.

Surveillance: Spies like Shazaam?

German law enforcement may develop a Shazaam-like app that could identify neo-Nazi music playing in public and online. A similar tool developed by the Oakland police, Shotspotter, is now undergoing trials in schools. Established in 2006, the system uses sensors around the city to “hear” gun shots.

Police chiefs in India and the US apparently agree that by spreading “destructively inaccurate information,” social media users are making police work more difficult than in times past. At a recent joint conference, Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami urged the US government to cooperate with Indian law enforcement requests to monitor communications made via US service providers.

According to The Washington Post, the NSA is gathering location data of cellphones worldwide. Top-secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden and interviews with US intelligence officials show that nearly five billion records on hundreds of millions of devices are collected daily. Location data is apparently gathered by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks around the world.

Copyright: Chinese video companies take profit over piracy

China’s largest online video companies, including Youku Tudou and Baidu Inc. were once known for selling pirated content — but the companies have changed their tune since discovering that legal content can generate greater profits than pirated films and programs. Youku Tudou is now cooperating with government efforts to combat piracy in order to improve relations with foreign media companies. China’s online video market is expected to reach annual revenues of 12.3 billion yuan (US$2 billion) this year.

Industry: Fearing public mistrust (and profit loss), companies ask USG to curb snooping

A coalition of top US Internet companies launched a public campaign to enhance privacy protection by reforming government surveillance practices. On the campaign website, Reform Government Surveillance, AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo! call for limits on the government's authority to collect user information and increased oversight, accountability, and transparency in private data collection. Electronic Privacy Information Center Director Marc Rotenberg was skeptical about the call. Rotenberg told the New York Times: “As long as this much personal data is collected and kept by these companies, they are always going to be the target of government collection efforts.”

Security: Get your own Merkelphone!

Deutsche Telekom’s SimKo project is selling what it claims are secure mobile phones for €1700 (about US$2300). SimKo’s phones use Android Knox, a cryptocard by Cergate, software by NCP, and a microkernel made by Berlin-based Trust2Core, to encrypt voice and data traffic. Privacy ain’t cheap.

Netizen Activism: Hackerdom in Moscow

After attending the 2010 Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin, Alexander Chemeris decided to reinvigorate the “hackerspace” concept in his home country of Russia. So he started project Neuron [ru], which over the last two years has developed into a flourishing community for education, technological innovation, and creativity in Moscow. Chemeris hopes to bring the model to other cities.

Uncool Things

The global digital divide is contributing to the extinction of human languages: less than 5% of the 7,000 human languages in existence have “digitally ascended”—that is, are used online.

Publications and Studies

  • Translating Norms to the Digital Age: Technology and the Free Flow of Information under U.S. Sanctions – New America Foundation

  • Freedom of Expression and ICTs: Overview of International Standards – Article 19

  • Computer Crimes in Iran: Online Repression in Practice – Article 19

 

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December 04 2013

Netizen Report: Vietnam Targets “Reactionary Ideology” on Social Networks

Internet cafe in Vietnam. Photo by Ivan Lian via Flickr (CC BY_NC-ND 2.0)

Internet cafe in Vietnam. Photo by Ivan Lian via Flickr (CC BY_NC-ND 2.0)

Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Vietnam, where social media users will soon face new threats of penalties for political speech. Comments that qualify as “propaganda against the state” or “reactionary ideology” will face soon fines of 100 million dong (USD $4,740) — unless they merit criminal charges. Other fine-worthy acts include uploading a map inconsistent government claims of sovereignty and operating e-commerce sites without proper licensing. These penalties reportedly aim to rein in speech that doesn’t quite necessitate prison time, but it is anyone's guess what this will mean in a country that has jailed 46 bloggers in this year alone.

Le Quoc Quan, one of the country’s most prominent bloggers, has been in prison for nearly a year. A human rights lawyer and advocate, Quan was arrested on trumped-up charges of tax evasion and convicted after a brief trial in October. This week, a UN Human Rights Council working group reviewed the case and surmised that “the real purpose of [Quan’s] detention and prosecution might eventually be to punish him for exercising his rights under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to deter others from doing so.”

Free Expression: Free Press for Syria Campaign Demands End to Media Worker Abuses

A coalition of more than 20 Syrian media organizations has launched a campaign demanding an end to abuses against media workers in the country, who face threats from both government entities and terrorist groups. A petition launched by freepressforsyria.com reads, “Facing retaliation if they denounce the abuses aloud, and facing extinction if they don't, Syrian media have chosen the former. Despite intimidation and threats, Syrian media are uniting for the first time and standing up together to demand an end to the crimes committed against all journalists.” Sign the petition at Avaaz.org.

Earlier this year, officials described plans to develop more targeted, sophisticated systems for Internet censorship. This week, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority demonstrated its ability to filter specific pages rather than entire websites when it blocked the IMDb.com movie database page for “The Line of Freedom,” a short film made in the embattled province of Baluchistan. Initially, the PTA had ordered Internet Service Providers to block the entire IMDb website, but lifted the ban following two days of public outcry. Pakistani NGO Digital Rights Foundation called this the government’s first documented use of selective web blocking.

In South Korea, an investigation by the public prosecutor’s office revealed that the Defense Ministry’s Cyberwarfare Command sent 23 million tweets in favor of current president Park Geun-hye during last year’s election season, and the National Intelligence Service sent a paltry 1.2 million tweets smearing opposition candidates. Tens of thousands of citizens angry over the scale of public opinion manipulation took to the streets in protest this week.

Thuggery: Egyptian Blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah Arrested Again

Blogger and leading democracy activist Alaa Abd El Fattah was taken from his home by police last Thursday night. His wife reported that police used violent force against the couple and seized their computers and mobile phones. Alaa was detained at a rally in Cairo a few days prior to the incident, but then released on the condition that he would present himself before police on November 30. Evidently authorities could not wait this long, and thus raided his home. Many suspect his arrest comes under Egypt’s new law aimed at curbing public protest. Alaa has been jailed multiple times since 2011, and faced incitement charges under Mohammed Morsi’s government. As usual, supporters are using the #FreeAlaa hashtag to express support and follow his case on Twitter.

The UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution on the safety of journalists on November 26. According to Reporters Without Borders, the new resolution condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers in both conflict and non-conflict situations. It recognizes the evolution of the reporting profession from offline to online, and urges member states to do their best to prevent violence against journalists.

Surveillance: Microsoft ups privacy for Chinese Skypers

Microsoft announced that it has “lifted all censorship restrictions” from TOM Skype, the company’s Skype-like product for the Chinese market. Skype is encrypting all user calls, chats, and login information and sending them directly to Microsoft servers located in Singapore, Ireland, and the United States. But questions remain, particularly given Microsoft’s ongoing negotiations with the Chinese government. In a recent blog post, advocacy group GreatFire.org asked Microsoft to “explain the differences between [surveillance capabilities for] the Chinese and international versions” and to spell out precisely how this approach does and does not adhere to state regulations.

Industry: Facebook discovers Kosovo is a country

On November 21, approximately 200,000 Kosovar Facebook users awoke to find that their country of origin had shifted from either Serbia or Albania to Kosovo. Facebook had previously not recognized Kosovo as a sovereign nation, and therefore did not list it as a “country of origin” option for user profiles, despite the fact that Kosovo declared independence from Serbia over five years ago. It is unclear whether or not social media campaigns to change this had any effect on the company’s decision.

After a seventh-month-long investigation, the Dutch Data Protection Agency determined that Google's most recent terms of service, enacted in March 2012, violated Dutch privacy laws by combining user data from various online services without “properly inform[ing] users which personal data the company collects and combines, and for what purposes.”

Internet Insecurity: Bitcoin burglars on the rise

Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting companies with large Bitcoin holdings as the price of Bitcoin skyrockets. The latest victim of these attacks is BIPS, a European Bitcoin payment processor, which lost roughly US$1 million after a cyberattack. According to Ars Technica, the attack was at least the third major heist in a month. Guard your wallets, geeks.

Cool Things

A new, China-focused circumvention tool called Lantern uses peer-to-peer technology, allowing users to invite friends into a “trust network” and enabling members of the same network to share open or VPN Internet connections with their friends. This “trust network” makes it difficult for the government to discover individual access points as the network is dispersed and distributed.

Creative Commons issued the fourth generation of its Attribution-Share Alike license (CC BY-SA 4.0). This license enables users to share digital material provided they distribute the original author’s contributions under the same license as the original. It also addresses differences in the way the United States and European Union manage database rights.

 

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November 27 2013

Netizen Report: I can’t haz encripshun? Iran blocks Cryptocat

Cryptocat graphic. Photo by ChimpLearnGood via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Cryptocat graphic. Photo by ChimpLearnGood via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Ellery Biddle, Juan Arellano, Bojan Perkov, Richard Teverson, Katherine MacNamara, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This report begins in Iran, where Cryptocat, a user-friendly browser-based chat encryption tool envisioned as “cryptography for the masses,” was blocked last week. A blog post about the blocking reminded users that Cryptocat is “experimental software” that is “not guaranteed to protect you from excessively serious situations, such as government targeting, physical spying, or computer backdoors.” Heed that, kitty cats.

Surveillance: Wire-Tap Law Leaves Nigerian Activists Wary

In Nigeria, a proposed Internet and telephone surveillance law passed its second reading in both chambers of the country’s National Assembly. Baba Jibrin Adamu, senior ICT advisor to the President, says the administration is “hell-bent on curtailing the activities of criminals who have found a safe haven in ICT.” Though much of the law intends to address online financial fraud and phishing scams, it incorporates broad surveillance provisions, allowing police to engage in warrantless wiretapping of both telephone and Internet communications. Critics fear the bill will stifle online expression.

In a hearing on mass surveillance in the European Parliament Nils Torvalds, father of Linux architect Linus Torvalds, revealed that the National Security Agency asked GNU/Linux to build covert backdoors into the open source operating system.

Tunisia will soon have a new telecommunications agency dedicated to investigating “ICT-related” crimes. Established by decree, the agency will be comprised by members of various ministries but some have suggested that the agency lacks a sufficiently robust oversight mechanism. Activists fearing the agency will usher in a new era of censorship and surveillance have started a “Stop #A2T” campaign.

Chinese authorities are expanding their surveillance capabilities to monitor online communications in ethnic minority languages. South China Morning Post reports that a new system will allow Han officials in areas like Tibet and Xinjiang (a Uyghur region) to track and translate Internet voice calls, text, and messages embedded in images.

The UN is expected to pass a resolution that will extend the right to privacy to online communications.  But US diplomats have been working behind the scenes to block a provision that would make the interception of personal information and communication a violation of human rights. Evidently keen to protect international surveillance capabilities, they are pushing to shift the resolution’s focus to illegal surveillance, rather than simply “extraterritorial surveillance.”

Thuggery: UAE activist jailed for Tweets

Waleed al-Shehhi, an activist in the United Arab Emirates, was sentenced to two years in prison and fined 500,000 dirhams ($137,000) for Tweeting his misgivings about the “UAE 94″ trial, which has been condemned as “manifestly unfair” by the International Commission of Jurists. He is the second person to be tried under the Cybercrimes Decree since its passage last November.

Free Expression: Russia blocks Pussy Riot, Mein Kampf under child porn law

Index on Censorship tracked websites blocked by the Russian government under a law intended to combat child pornography. Among the materials banned: anti-Putin articles, Mein Kampf, content related to drug use, gambling, and suicide, and of course an icon of jailed band Pussy Riot.

Technologists working with GreatFire.org have found ways around China’s Great Firewall. Blocked sites are mirrored and served through the web servers of large companies such as Amazon. “Authorities [should] be unable to block [the mirror sites] without severely disrupting other, government-sanctioned Internet traffic,” said GreatFire.org co-founder Charlie Smith.

Copyright: “Abuse the DMCA and we will sue you,” says WordPress

Blogging platform WordPress is joining three bloggers in lawsuits against multiple individuals who falsely issued Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices to bloggers using the platform.

Industry: Yahoo! finally embraces SSL

Following the revelation that it was the largest single source for data collected by the NSA, Yahoo! announced plans to protect user information with Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption. This will cover all information traveling between data centers and will include encryption across all Yahoo websites. The company plans to enable SSL by early next year.

Privacy International released its “Surveillance Industry Index,” a trove of 1, 203 documents detailing surveillance technologies produced by 338 private-sector companies.

Responding to complaints from Europe v Facebook, an activist group, Luxembourg’s National Commission for Data Protection decided that local Microsoft and Skype subsidiaries did not break EU privacy regulations when they transferred the data of their European users to the US. The Commission argued that the data transfers were legal under a Safe Harbor agreement that enables American companies to certify their compliance with EU privacy standards.

Internet Insecurity: Cyber hacking is “nothing short of terrorism”

A Draft Convention on the Establishment of a Credible Legal Framework for Cyber Security in Africa issued by the African Union has sparked opposition from civil society groups in several African countries. The current draft is peppered with vague language and gives “investigative judges” carte blanche to issue search and seizure warrants “where it is useful for the revelation of truth.” Critics have urged the African Union to first consider urging nations to sign the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime which, while imperfect, is the leading international treaty on the issue, open to signatures from any country. A petition to block the Convention can be found here.

A massive series of man-in-the-middle attacks diverted chunks of Internet traffic belonging to financial institutions, government agencies, and Internet Service Providers to routers at Belarusian and Icelandic service providers. According to network monitoring firm Renesys, the nature of the attack suggests the data may have been monitored or modified by an unknown source.

Singapore’s Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs said this week that if cyber hacking endangers lives, it is “nothing short of terrorism.”

Cool Things

The World Wide Web Foundation's Web Index for 2013 is out! Among other things, the Web Index measures web access, content diversity, openness and impact in each country.

Publications and Studies

 

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November 20 2013

Netizen Report: TPP Draft Escapes Government Clutches, Lands on WikiLeaks

TPP poster

Graphic by Electronic Frontier Foundation (CC BY)

Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in the Internet, where Wikileaks released a secretly negotiated draft text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement chapter on intellectual property rights last week. Since the beginning of the TPP negotiations, drafts of the agreement have been unavailable to the general public. The longest section of the chapter, called “Enforcement,” describes policing measures that would chip away at individual rights and online privacy, and create new liabilities for Internet service providers. The TPP Chief Negotiators summit is being held from November 19–24, in Salt Lake City, US. Watch this cartoon, created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, to learn more about TPP.

Free Expression: ProPublica Rescues Censored Content from Sina Weibo

Last week, ProPublica released five months’ worth of research on censorship on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular social media platform. The crown jewel of the study is a gallery of censored images and text organized by categories including “censorship”, “scandals & corruption”, “political speech”, and “Bo Xilai” (disgraced politician).

New research from Citizen Lab demonstrates how the Japanese instant messaging app LINE censors users in China. When users set their country to China, the app downloads a list of censored keywords — such as Tiananmen Square and terms related to Falun Gong  – and blocks messages that contain them.

Canadian adultery site Ashley Madison beckons users, “Life is short. Have an affair.” But Singapore’s Media Development Authority doesn't agree. The agency has instructed Internet service providers to block the website because its “flagrant disregard” for “family values” violates Singapore’s Internet Code of Practice.

Mediaites in Bulgaria say that informal, small-scale news blogs are becoming increasingly popular in the wake of new regulations on media organizations.

Malaysia’s Federal Department of Islamic Development is calling for new online content restrictions, in an effort to curb online “attacks against Islam.”

A University of Pennsylvania study offers comprehensive data on URL and keyword blocking on Wikipedia’s Persian site within Iran.

Thuggery: Press freedom award (but no freedom) for Dieu Cay

Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai, who writes as Dieu Cay, is facing twelve years in prison for allegedly “conducting propaganda” against the state. Hai will be awarded with the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2013 International Press Freedom Award later this month, and will be the only recipient not to attend the ceremony.

Privacy: Surfing in Ecuador? Smile for the camera

Proposed revisions to Ecuador’s Criminal Code will require all Internet service providers to maintain records of users’ Internet activity for at least six months, and will also require cyber cafes to install surveillance cameras to record customers. The revisions could violate the country’s Constitution and impose economic costs on cybercafe owners, which could diminish Ecuador’s already low Internet penetration rate.

Germany and Brazil introduced a draft resolution titled “The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age” before the UN General Assembly. A coalition of digital rights groups are supporting the resolution, provided that it maintains its current emphasis on individual privacy as a fundamental human right and broad protections for communications data.

Private election data from Mexican citizens has been made available on the website buscardatos.com, apparently drawn from the database of the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). According to the Mexican newspaper Reforma, the data includes voters’ passwords and home addresses, matched to their last names. The IFE has filed a formal complaint with the Attorney General’s office, and the Mexican Federal Public Administration.

Copyright: Google Books is all right

A New York District Court ruled in favor of Google in a controversial lawsuit over Google Books. The judge found that Google’s transformative use of copyrighted books fell under fair use guidelines, noting that the project offers innovative tools for research and expands access to books for all Internet users, including the print disabled. Indeed, Google Books provides its services in a format that is compatible with text enlargement software, text-to-speech screen access software, and Braille devices.

Netizen Activism

A trailer for the documentary “The Internet’s Own Boy” has launched. The film chronicles the life of Internet activist Aaron Swartz and the tragic circumstances surrounding his untimely death.

Cool Things: finalcountdown.com for sale!

Yahoo will be holding a week-long auction to sell off a set of old domain names it no longer wants. Among the names available are finalcountdown.com and sandwich.com. Prices for the domains range from $1,000 to $1.5 million—hope you’ve been saving, Rocky fans.

Publications and Studies

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November 13 2013

Netizen Report: Will the EU Create its Own Internet?

Europe by night. Data courtesy Marc Imhoff of NASA GSFC and Christopher Elvidge of NOAA NGDC. Image by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC. This image has been released to the public domain.

Europe by night. Data courtesy Marc Imhoff of NASA GSFC and Christopher Elvidge of NOAA NGDC.
Image by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC. This image has been released to the public domain.

Hae-in Lim, Bojan Perkov, Lisa Ferguson, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in the EU, where German telecommunication providers are discussing the creation of an Internet limited to Europe’s “Schengen” countries (a group of 26 European nations that excludes the United Kingdom), according to state-backed Deutsche Telekom. The project’s aim is to limit access to user data by industrial spies and hackers. Whether and how this would actually work remains to be seen.

Free Expression: Google to appeal filtering order on “Nazi” orgy pics

The Superior Court of Paris ordered Google to filter images of Max Mosley, former chief of the Formula One auto racing series, engaging in a “sick Nazi orgy.” Published in 2008 by scandalized and now-defunct UK tabloid News of the World, the pictures have been distributed widely online. According to The Guardian, Mosley “acknowledged that he engaged in sadomasochistic activity with five women and paid them £2,500 ($4,000), but denied the orgy was Nazi-themed.” After winning challenges against News of the World in both Britain and France, he filed civil suit against Google, claiming that the photos were a breach of privacy.

Google’s Associate General Counsel Daphne Keller said that the ruling effectively requires Google to build an unprecedented tool of censorship, something which would have “serious consequences for free expression.” Google is appealing the ruling.

On live television last Saturday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced state plans to block several sites that track the black market value of foreign currency in the country. Foreign currency exchange controls were put into force in the country in 2003, but  unofficial currency exchanges remain very much a part of the Venezuelan economy. Inflation in Venezuela is currently above 50%.

Iran’s Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that sites like Twitter and Facebook should be accessible for all Iranians, but has already felt pushback [fa] from higher echelons of the government. This followed a conversation on October 1 in which Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey tweeted, “Good evening, President. Are citizens of Iran able to read your tweets?”, to which Rouhani replied, “…my efforts geared 2 ensure my ppl'll comfortably b able 2 access all info globally as is their #right.” A number of high-ranking Iranian officials, including President Rouhani and his foreign minister, are on Twitter.

Several Thai media groups are opposing to changes to the country’s Computer Crime Act of 2007. One proposed amendment to the law would allow authorities to block websites without obtaining a court order.

Thuggery: Leading netizens hold back in face of government crackdown

A new study study indicates that the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on the spread of online rumors is decimating political discourse online in mainland China. According to the report, discussions among a group of public opinion leaders on Weibo dropped by 10.2% in the first two months of the censorship campaign, and 24.9% between September 11 and October 10. According to Global Voices’ Oiwan Lam, these findings suggest a broader drop in social media posts made by prominent commenters and Internet celebrities, who have been targeted in the crackdown.

Multiple Russian bloggers have been detained for re-posting and re-tweeting controversial political content in recent days. Police detained and then searched the apartment of Stas Kalinichenko, a Siberian blogger who re-tweeted a photo of an anti-government protest leaflet.

Saudi writer Tariq Al Mubarak, who was detained allegedly due to his support for the Women2Drive campaign in Saudi Arabia, was released last week.

Surveillance: Will Nicaragua hop on the mass surveillance train?

Nicaraguan lawmakers have proposed sweeping Internet and telecommunications legislation that would give the government broad access to citizens’ communication data. As a recent editorial [es] in Managua-based daily La Prensa put it, “the government wants to be the cyberpolice.”

In response to the NSA revelations and ensuing outrage, the US Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), an independent congressional agency, held a hearing on telephone metadata and Internet data collection on November 4. PCLOB Chair David Medine said the board would examine “whether there's a legal basis for the United States to provide protection to foreign citizens” and touted its independence as being “unique in the world.”

Netizen Activism: The Internet Archive needs your help!

The nonprofit Internet Archive is asking for donations after a fire caused an estimated US$600,000 worth of damage to its scanning center. The archive is known for its “Wayback Machine,” which archives the pages of about 364 billion archived websites even after they are shut down. The archive is still operational, because copies of the data are held in multiple locations – a testament to the value of backing up your data.

In a TEDx talk spurred by the NSA leaks, computer security researcher Mikko Hyponnen discusses how to protect privacy in the age of government surveillance. TED describes it as “an important rant, wrapped with a plea: to find alternative solutions to using American companies for the world's information needs.” The TED Blog follows up with a compendium of resources for observing the entire spectrum of opinions.

Cool Things

A new social networking site in Kazakhstan allows users to categorize themselves according to their tribal heritage. The site is called rulas.kz (rulas being the Kazakh word for “tribemate”).

Publications and Studies

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November 06 2013

Netizen Report: China Targets Dalai Lama for Spreading “Propaganda”

The Dalai Lama speaking in Berlin. Photo by Jan Michael Ihl via Fotopedia (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

The Dalai Lama speaking in Berlin. Photo by Jan Michael Ihl via Fotopedia (CC BY NC SA 2.0)

Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Renata Avila, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Tibet, where Chinese party chief Chen Quanguo of Tibet has announced plans to silence the Dalai Lama’s voice in the region and to prevent his “propaganda” from reaching the public. Quanguo claims the spiritual leader’s voice has incited dissent in Tibet. Officials reportedly plan to confiscate illegal satellite dishes, increase monitoring of online content and require real-name registration of telephone and Internet users. China Digital Times notes similar claims were made in 2012, but the recent announcement indicates the revival of hard-line policies toward Tibet.

Free Expression: Are Korean gamers dangerously addicted to StarCraft?

South Korea’s national legislature has proposed a bill that would regulate online gaming under a policy regime similar to that which applied to drugs and alcohol, treating it as a major addictive element meriting government control. The proposal has drawn criticism from gamers and gaming industry leaders alike.

In Vietnam, Dinh Nhat Uy was sentenced to 15 months in prison after using Facebook to campaign for the release of his brother, who was jailed for distributing anti-state propaganda. Dinh was convicted of violating criminal code Article 258, which censures those who “abuse freedoms to infringe upon the state.” Several of the many supporters who gathered outside of the courthouse during Dinh’s trial were arrested.

Individuals representing hacker group Anonymous hacked Singapore’s main newspaper, The Straits Times, making good on its promise to “wage war” on the Singaporean government for its new media licensing requirements. Enacted in June 2013, the regulations prohibit websites with more than 50,000 visitors from publishing “prohibited content” that “undermines racial or religious harmony.” Singapore’s Government IT Security Incident Response Team alerted all government agencies to the possibility of attacks after Anonymous posted a warning video on October 29.

India’s Election Commission released a set of guidelines for the use of social media for election campaigning. All candidates will have to declare their social media accounts, and political parties will have to pre-certify advertisements with the Election Commission before they are placed on social media websites. In addition, both candidates and parties will have to adhere to a moral code of conduct in their social media use — according to the Times of India, this will prohibit candidates from engaging in “personal attacks” or promoting “communal hatred.”

Surveillance: Europol director thinks “anonymity is dangerous”

Representatives from Europol and the Dutch National Police argued before an RSA Europe panel that they should be allowed to hack into computers in order to collect evidence on cybercrime. Discussing a law due to come before Dutch parliament, Europol Assistant Director Troels Oerting argued that the differences between cybercrime and traditional crime require new tools for policing. “I think that we need to have a balance between privacy, which I think we should respect, and anonymity, which I think is dangerous,” Oerting said.

The Russian government is expanding its surveillance requirements for Russian ISPs in a decree due to come into force next year. Under the decree [ru], ISPs will be required to monitor all Internet traffic, IP addresses, telephone numbers and usernames, and traffic will have to be stored for 12 hours after collection.

The German Federation of Journalists, which represents around 38,000 journalists, advised its members not to use Google or Yahoo! for e-mail and search engine services, citing possible surveillance by the NSA and UK spy agency GCHQ. This follows the Washington Post’s revelations last week about MUSCULAR, a joint effort by the NSA and GCHQ to tap into the fiber-optic cables connecting Google and Yahoo! data centers.

The US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court revealed that no telecommunications company has ever challenged the court’s orders for bulk phone records under the Patriot Act, despite there being a mechanism for doing so. But the court’s claims contrast with those of some Internet companies who say they fought against NSA surveillance: Yahoo! is petitioning the court to disclose an incident in 2008 in which it claims it refused to comply with NSA data requests until compelled by the court.

Industry: Apple disclosed data for somewhere between zero and 1000 user accounts

Apple released its first transparency report yesterday. The report offers some information about the number of user data requests the company received from different governments. In the preface, the company explains: “The US government has given us permission to share only a limited amount of information about these orders, with the requirement that we combine national security orders with account-based law enforcement requests and report only a consolidated range in increments of 1000.” The report thus states that the company disclosed content data for “0-1000″ accounts. Transparency indeed.

Facebook, Google, Apple, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo have signed a letter urging members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee to enact reforms to government surveillance programs that would include greater transparency, oversight and accountability. The text of the letter is available here.

Copyright: Keep TPP on the slow track

Lawmakers in the US may move to put the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, an expansive trade deal between the US and several pacific rim countries, on a “fast track” through Congress. This would eliminate opportunities for public hearings about the agreement. Despite the secret nature of negotiations around the agreement, advocates have learned that the TPP could threaten users’ rights of privacy and access to information. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is urging the public to voice concern about the fast-tracking proposal here.

Netizen Activism

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights received Norway’s Rafto Prize for human rights. The Centre provides critical support for many online activists currently facing legal action for their work.

Cool Things

The Harvard Law School Library is partnering with over 30 libraries and non-profits to combat the impact of linkrot, when websites disappear and webpages are taken down. The project, Perma.cc, works with the Internet Archive to take particular webpages at the request of authors and place them in the hands of a community of libraries for safe-keeping.

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October 30 2013

Netizen Report: Surveillance Looms Large at IGF Bali

Global Voices members meet at IGF 2013 in Bali, Indonesia. Photo by Hisham Almiraat, used with permission.

Global Voices members meet at IGF 2013 in Bali, Indonesia. Photo by Hisham Almiraat, used with permission.

By Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Bojan Perkov, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This report begins in Bali, Indonesia, where government officials, techies, Internet companies, and human rights advocates gathered for the 2013 Internet Governance Forum last week. Although issues in discussion ranged from access and infrastructure to sexual harassment online, US government surveillance programs and Brazilian efforts to spearhead a new global Internet governance agenda held the spotlight.

Throughout the conference, US officials brushed off concerns about NSA  spying programs, arguing that “everyone does it”. Meanwhile, Brazilian officials met with civil society advocates to discuss the government’s recently announced plan to co-host a global Internet governance event with ICANN in Rio de Janeiro this coming spring. Advocates stressed the need for civil society to have equal footing in the planning process, and for the event to be fully open to the public.

Global Voices staff and community members participated in the event and held an impromptu installment of GV Face, Global Voices’ weekly video hangout series where they reported on various policy issues and political dynamics at the IGF.

Thuggery: Anti-leaking law creeps ahead in Japan

In Japan, the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved a bill that provides special penalties for leakers of sensitive information that could harm national security. Public response to the Secret Information Protection Act has been mixed but generally negative — according to Global Voices’ Keiko Tanaka, of the 90,480 public comments submitted in a two-week span in early September, 69,579 were against the bill. The bill must be approved by Parliament before passing.

A young Saudi writer, detained on blasphemy charges in 2011, was released from prison. Hamza Kashgari was charged after tweeting an imaginary conversation between himself and the Prophet Mohammed. At the time of his arrest, Index on Censorship described the conversation as reflecting “admiration, reproach and confusion” regarding the religious figure. Prior to his arrest, Kashgari had used Twitter to comment on gender inequality and the lack of political rights in Saudi Arabia.

Moroccan journalist Ali Anouzla, who was arrested in mid-September after publishing an article about an Al-Qaeda video that criticized the Moroccan king, was granted provisional release from pre-trial detention last week. He is scheduled to appear in court on today (10/30) where he will face terrorism-related charges.

A US district court ruled that criminal suspects who self-identify as “hackers” can be subject to the search and seizure of their electronic devices without warning. The judge ruled that because “hackers” are able to wipe sensitive data from their machines, prior notice of search and seizure could result in suspects erasing or destroying information before seizure can take place.

Surveillance: Argentina’s surveillance regime goes sci-fi

The Argentine government is launching a biometric information database that will allow officials to identify individuals by their photographs, fingerprints, iris information and even the way they walk. In a recent Global Voices opinion post, human rights lawyer Ramiro Álvarez Ugarte warns that the country has a “chronic lack of control” over its intelligence agencies, and calls for these surveillance practices to change.

German officials expressed outrage last week after leaked documents indicated that the NSA had monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. The nature of the monitoring, and whether or not it extended to eavesdropping on phone calls, remains unclear. On October 25, Merkel and French President Francois Hollande announced a plan to propose new transatlantic rules on surveillance and intelligence-gathering practices.

Thousands of people gathered in front of the US capitol to demonstrate against the NSA and its mass surveillance programs. Protesters delivered a petition signed by more than 500,000 people from all over the United States, demanding reforms. A statement on behalf of whistleblower Edward Snowden was read during the event.

Copyright: Italian agency says ‘ciao’ to checks and balances

Italy’s Electronic Communications Authority drafted new regulations that would allow the agency to remove online content that it deems a violation of copyright law without the need for court approval. NGOs, ISPs and consumer groups have banded together in their criticism of the legislation, which is currently awaiting approval from the EU.

Industry: Experts question security of supposedly secure tools (made by Google)

At the Google Ideas summit the company unveiled two new services intended to aid users in bypassing online censorship. The first, uProxy, enables encrypted peer-to-peer sharing of Internet connections. While some net freedom activists praised it, others remain concerned about the security of the service. The second initiative, Project Shield, will aid news organizations and human rights groups by helping protect them from cyberattacks. Both services are currently running on a trial basis.

Netizen Activism

The use of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter by Iranian officials has led many to wonder if Internet policy will change under Iran’s new administration. While the digital presence of officials like President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif enables them to communicate more directly with those who use the services, many have questioned their use of tools that are inaccessible for Iranian citizens. In a recent Advox article, online filtering researcher Mahsa Alimardani calls on the government to lift blocks on social media services in Iran.

Hong Kong civil society groups, who have been targeted by hackers for years, are arming themselves to fight back. A collective civil disobedient action, Occupy Central, is planned for July 2014 to advocate for universal suffrage and an end to the manipulation of candidate nomination. Anticipating a wave of malicious hacking approaching July, media advocacy group Hong Kong In-Media held a forum to discuss building a tech activist team to support local civic groups and activists.

Cool Things

The New York Times updated its style guide to allow the verb to “tweet” to be published in the newspaper. But it remains skeptical of “to google.”

Google has launched a Digital Attack Map, which allows users to visualize DDoS attacks occurring worldwide in real time.

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October 16 2013

Netizen Report: Russian State Search Engine a Surefire Flop?

Bojan Perkov, Ellery Biddle, Lauren Finch and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in Russia, where state efforts to build a uniquely Russian search engine are receiving low marks from bloggers and government officials alike.  

E-Government: Medvedev pooh-poohs Sputnik.ru

Dmitry Medvedev addresses the Russian Internet Forum in 2008. Photo by Yuri Sinodov via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Dmitry Medvedev addresses the Russian Internet Forum in 2008. Photo by Yuri Sinodov via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In Russia, a planned government-sponsored Internet search engine, Sputnik.ru, will be a surefire flop, according to blogger and RuNet guru Anton Nosik [ru]. Surprisingly, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev seems to agree – he told a state commission last month that the work on an e-government portal was “low quality” and “a discredit to the project.” State-controlled telecom company Rostelecom has already spent US $20 million developing Sputnik.ru, which Nosik says is unlikely to be able to compete with RuNet’s leading search engine, Yandex, without the government resorting to administrative levers.

The Azeri Central Election Commission made the untimely mistake of releasing the results of its presidential election via an official smartphone app – before voting had even started. As few anticipated the election would be free or fair, it was perhaps not so surprising that President Ilham Aliyev “won” 72.76 percent of the vote a full day before voting had started. While the data were quickly recalled with the excuse that developers had mistakenly sent out 2008 election results as a test, Aliyev was officially re-elected a day later with nearly 85 percent of the vote.

Thuggery: China's online rumors crackdown claims another user

A Chinese journalist, Liu Hu, has been arrested after writing a series of posts on Sina Weibo accusing four high-ranking state officials of corruption. His arrest comes as part of an ongoing crackdown on online rumors, which now appears to be having chilling effects on discussion online – the few voices of support for Liu have become the target of “trash feedback” in support of the government from the 50 Cent Party, according to netizens.

Surveillance: Zambian tribal leader’s throne bugged by executive branch

In Zambia, Chief Jumbe of the Kunda people has publicly criticized President Michael Sata's government. In response, Sata has warned Jumbe that he has wide surveillance capabilities. According to news website Zambia Reports, President Sata enjoys listening in on the telephone conversations of people in his cabinet and has sought to extend surveillance more broadly to monitor citizens in the country’s capital.

Copyright: Torrent sites face smackdown in UK

A new unit of the UK police focused on prosecuting intellectual property crime has called for the domain names of several major torrent sites to be suspended. The newly founded Intellectual Property Crime Unit of the City of London Police reached out to several domain name registrars asking that they shut down SumoTorrent, MisterTorrent, and ExtraTorrent. easyDNS has refused to comply with the order, calling it an abuse of power.

Industry: Facebook leaves users with nowhere to hide

Facebook changed its privacy settings so users will no longer be able to “hide” from searches. The company will disable a setting called “Who can look up your Timeline by name?”, which means that almost everyone’s profile could be found using the Graph Search tool. Users will still be able to choose which posts they want to share publicly.

Google is lobbying the South Korean government over unusual restrictions dating back to the Korean War that limit online mapping services in the country out of fears that the information could fall into the hands of the North. Local maps rival Naver does not fall under the same restrictions because its servers are housed within the country. The government’s National Geographic Information Institute promises to provide an official English-language digital map for Internet companies to use beginning next year.

Internet Insecurity: For NSA, No Forest for the Tor Trees

The open-source anonymity network Tor is as “strong as it ever was,” according to an article in the Columbia Journalism Review. It cites a FOIA request submitted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center concluding that while the National Security Agency may have targeted the communications of individual Tor users, it has not made any efforts to undermine the security or reliability of the network as a whole, and has not been able to target individual people for cyberattacks or surveillance.

The New Yorker profiled Ladar Levison, the owner and operator of secure email service Lavabit, which went dark after it was revealed NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden was using the service. According to Levison, the investigation into Lavabit pre-dated the Snowden affair, and he believes Lavabit would eventually have reached the same position because it “constitutes a gap” in the government’s intelligence.

Cool Things

The MIT Center for Civic Media has released What We Watch, a new site that lets you explore how culture spreads around the world over YouTube. Among other findings, Russia is one of the few countries that has held out against the popularity of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” music video – and we can’t blame them.

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October 09 2013

Netizen Report: NSA Tries to Unmask Anonymous Users

National Security Agency Headquarters. This photo has been released to the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

National Security Agency Headquarters. This photo has been released to the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Lisa Ferguson, Weiping Li, Renata Avila, Bojan Perkov, Ellery Roberts Biddle and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week's report begins in the US, where the National Security Agency has been attempting to track users of the Tor online anonymity network.

Surveillance: NSA is targeting Tor?!?

The Guardian’s latest NSA leaks reveal that US government efforts to track Tor users have had limited success. Among other things, the NSA bought ads at Tor’s entry and exit points using Google AdSense in an effort to track users. Tor was developed primarily to serve Internet users in countries with pervasive online surveillance practices by allowing them to browse the web anonymously and communicate through protected channels. The network can also serve as a cloak for bad actors, as seen in the recent US government seizure of Silk Road, an online marketplace for illicit goods (mainly narcotics) that operated primarily over Tor. News outlets have pointed out that while the NSA seeks to undermine online anonymity, other branches of the US government, including the State Department, have long been leading funders of the project.

The Zimbabwean government approved new legislation that will establish a central database of information about all mobile telephone users in the country. The new statute will make SIM card registration mandatory and require telecommunications providers to tie each phone number to its owner’s name, address, nationality, passport and national ID number.

In a rare stroke of transparency, Chinese state media officials said that more than two million people are employed on both state and commercial payrolls to monitor web activity. The monitors, who are described as “internet opinion analysts,” “gather and analyze public opinions on microblog sites and compile reports for decision-makers” but do not delete postings, according to the Beijing News.

Russia’s FSB security service has plans to monitor phone and Internet communications in Sochi during the Winter Olympics next year. Detected by a team of Russian journalists and technologists, the new monitoring equipment will enable FSB to conduct surveillance of phone and Internet traffic in Sochi using Sorm, Russia’s communications interception system.

At the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners, a loose coalition of countries led by the German government voted to update the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to enshrine the right to privacy.

Thuggery: Global Voices author released on bail in Bahrain

Bahraini blogger and Global Voices author Mohammed Hassan, aka Safy, was released from prison on bail. Hassan was arrested on July 31, 2013, and reportedly endured torture while in prison. In an essay for Global Voices Advocacy, Kuwaiti blogger and community member Mona Kareem told Hassan's story and described the challenge of raising international awareness and concern about his case.

Free Expression: Saudi policy against female drivers moves online

Oct26driving.com, a website supporting Saudi women’s right to drive, was blocked in Saudi Arabia. The site was launched as part of a campaign led by a group of Saudi citizens encouraging women to drive on Oct. 26. Head of the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice Abduallateef al-Shaikh sparked controversy and stoked campaign efforts when he stated last month that he saw “no religious justification for banning women driving.”

In Pakistan, authorities proposed a three-month ban on mobile chat apps including WhatsApp and Skype in the province of Sindh, which includes the city of Karachi. Authorities claim that this effort will force terrorists to use national telecommunication networks to communicate with one another, thus making them easier to surveil. Pakistani NGO Bolo Bhi called the move a “violation of fundamental rights.”

China’s government has threatened to block several mobile news aggregation apps, including Zaker and Chouti, whose slogan is “publish all that should not be published.” According to Reuters, the apps in question enable subscribers in China to read news articles from foreign media that are not accessible in China, including the New York Times. According to China’s State Internet Information Office, some of the apps publish “pornography,” “obscene information” and falsehoods.

In late September, news organizations in mainland China announced the impending establishment of “free trade zones” in Shanghai and Shenzhen that would create an alternative, liberalized regulatory environment in an effort to benefit multinational businesses. Many reports suggested that the zones would include access to the open Internet, but state officials have largely dispelled these assertions over the last ten days. It remains unclear whether regulations in these zones will extend to the Internet in any way.

Privacy: Google on the hook for wiretapping?

A US court has decided to hear a case against Google’s practice of scanning all emails that come through its servers. The judge ruled that the practice may violate the country’s wiretap law, stating that a “reasonable” Gmail user reading the site’s privacy policy would not be aware that Google collects the content of emails, both between Gmail users and between Gmail users and non-Gmail users, and that the interceptions “fall outside Google’s ordinary course of business.”

Netizen Activism: Ghanaians call for greater Internet access

A group of representatives from more than 30 Ghanaian civil society organizations called upon Ghana’s government to make Internet access a national priority. A mapping study conducted by the Media Foundation for West Africa found that Internet penetration in Ghana is still below 20 percent, leaving the vast majority of Ghanaians unable to get online.

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October 02 2013

Netizen Report: The Internet Shutdown in Sudan

Demonstrators gather at US embassy in London. Photo by Sudanese Tribune via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Demonstrators gather at US embassy in London. Photo by Sudanese Tribune via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Ellery Roberts Biddle, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. We begin this report in Sudan, where an Internet shutdown last week marked the largest blackout of its kind since the height of citizen uprisings in Egypt in 2011.

Free Expression: Two Internets Go Dark

There was an “almost total” blackout in Sudan for 24 hours last week, in what many believe was a government response to youth demonstrations against the ruling regime. According to the Sudan Tribune, the Sudanese embassy in the US issued an official statement denying government involvement in the shutdown and saying that protesters set fire to a Canar Telecommunications Company building, causing damage to national networks and ultimately causing a blackout. US-based network monitoring firm Renesys said it could not determine who was responsible for the shutdown, but suggested that government actors were the most likely source. Observing that the blackout affected all major ISPs in the country (of which Canar is one), Renesys senior analyst Doug Madory described the event as “either a government-directed thing or some very catastrophic technological failure that just happen[ed] to coincide with violent riots happening in the city.” The last Internet blackout of this magnitude took place in Egypt in 2011.

In an article that outlines threats to free expression and other fundamental rights presented by amendments to Gambia’s Information and Communication Act, Annette Theron wrote that the law “contributes to the perception of Gambia as a country which has some of the worst restrictions on the freedom of expression in the continent.”

Thuggery: Journalist Arrested for Piracy (the Real Kind)

Numerous independent media sites in Russia went dark last week to show their support for the release of photo journalist Denis Sinyakov, a detained opposition activist and friend of the controversial punk group Pussy Riot. Sinyakov was arrested along with 29 other activists, mainly affiliated with Greenpeace, who were protesting oil industry activities in the Barents Sea aboard a boat. The Russian coast guard arrested the activists, claiming they were engaging in piracy.

Surveillance: Spying Does Happen in Brazil

An interactive infographic from Agência Pública shows which companies profit from the world espionage market and how surveillance tools are used in Brazil. According to market research firm IMS Research, Brazil is one of the biggest market for video surveillance systems in Latin America. The study notes that both government actors and private companies are increasing their surveillance capabilities in anticipation of the 2016 Olympics, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro, and the 2014 World Cup, which will have games throughout the country.

According to the latest Snowden leak reported by the New York Times, the NSA has been gathering data on U.S. citizens’ social connections.

Privacy: Indian Supreme Court Balks at Biometrics

On September 25, 2013, the Supreme Court of India struck down the practice of requiring an Aadhaar ID card to receive government services. A biometric identification system incorporating iris, fingerprint, and face scans, Aadhaar has been touted as a program that would allow the Indian government to carry out a range of social welfare programs—from direct cash transfers for public school teachers to mobile banking for the “unbanked” to marriage registration—with minimal obstruction from third parties and corrupt middlemen. The Delhi government, which has reportedly achieved near-universal registration, is expected to request the Supreme Court rule Aadhar “mandatory for social welfare schemes” involving subsidies and cash transfers like the Annashree Yojna scheme, which provides a monthly cash subsidy to families that meet certain residency and economic criteria.

Internet Insecurity: Peruvian Congress Skirts Civil Liberties, Public Interest

In a swift move that surprised and infuriated advocates, Peru’s Congress passed the controversial IT Crimes Act, a law that has been widely criticized as a threat to free expression and privacy in Peru. Lawmakers reportedly added new language to the act just minutes before the vote, leaving the public unable to respond to the changes. Commonly known as the Beingolea Law (named for Senator Alberto Beingolea, its original author), the law places tight restrictions on file sharing and data storage and covers a range of other areas, including data breaches, spam, and identity theft. The law must be approved by President Ollanta Humala before being put into force.

Industry: Moderate Your Own Comments, Says YouTube

YouTube introduced advanced moderation features for comments, which will enable channel owners to block users and even ban comments with certain keywords. Comments from the video owner and “popular personalities” will be put on top, but users will still be able to vote on comments.

Open Source: Happy Birthday to GNU!

This month marks the thirtieth birthday of the GNU free and open source computer operating system, developed by Richard Stallman in 1983. Learn more about it by taking action with GNU-a-Day.

Cool Things

At “Diplohack” at the Hub in Westminster, UK, diplomats and NGO representatives gathered to brainstorm how creative collaboration in the arts can enhance freedom of speech.

A remarkable though somewhat disturbing new website features photos of the faces of 1.2 billion Facebook users. Graphic designer Natalie Rojas has placed the photos in chronological order, according to the dates of people's Facebook registration.

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