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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, 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.

Publications and Studies

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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.

Publications and Studies


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September 25 2013

Netizen Report: Advocates Push for Privacy at the UN

UN Human Rights Council meeting. Photo by United Nations Geneva via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

UN Human Rights Council meeting. Photo by United Nations Geneva via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, 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. We begin this week's report in Geneva, where Internet rights advocates took an emphatic stand for online privacy before the UN Human Rights Council last week.

Internet Governance: Calling on the UN to protect our privacy

Civil society groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Privacy International called on members of the UN Human Rights Council to measure their laws against international human rights standards concerning individual privacy. The groups presented 13 principles against unchecked surveillance at a special meeting of representatives from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland on September 20. In response, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, “technological advancements have been powerful tools for democracy by giving access to all to participate in society, but increasing use of data mining by intelligence agencies blurs lines between legitimate surveillance and arbitrary mass surveillance.”

At the UN General Assembly, Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff issued a blistering attack on NSA surveillance practices, condemning the US government for “violating fundamental human rights” and interfering with national sovereignty. Rouseff also strongly endorsed Internet neutrality, a key protection for free expression online. Brazil’s congress will soon vote on the Marco Civil da Internet, an “Internet bill of rights” that would, among other things, create strong protections for net neutrality.

Thuggery: Chinese teen arrested amid crackdown

Sixteen-year-old student Yang Hui was arrested after he questioned the cause of death of a TV network employee in the Gansu province. Authorities said that the employee had committed suicide, but when the boy saw the man's family arguing with network officials, he took to social media to question their claims. In an official statement, authorities said that Yang's posts caused “speculation, protest and public disorder,” an offense that is often punished with jail time in China.

Meanwhile, China continues its crackdown on spreading “rumors” (any information not approved by a state agency) online. The latest Chinese Internet celebrity to be taken in by the police is Boss Hua, a wrist watch aficionado who rose to Weibo microblogging fame by identifying the brands—and prices—of ritzy watches worn by public officials. He was released after spending a night in prison and posted a short “I’m freed, thanks” message on Weibo.

In an essay for the Wall Street Journal, legal scholar and China expert Stanley Lubman maps out the legal basis for China’s crackdown on Internet rumor-mongering.

Free Expression: Grenada outlaws “annoying” emails

The Parliament of Grenada approved the Electronic Crimes Act earlier this month, a law that criminalizes sending messages that are “grossly offensive,” “of a menacing character,” are sent “for the purpose of causing annoyance,” and more. The law places tight restrictions on file sharing and the use of encryption and covers a range of other areas, including data breaches, spam, and identity theft. It also outlaws placing prank calls to law enforcement agents.

Copyright: For Spanish pirates, price of claiming booty rises

Spanish lawmakers approved amendments to the nation’s copyright law that increase punishments for piracy and copyright violations. Among other things, the amendments introduce new punishments for individuals who link to copyrighted material published by unauthorized entities for “direct or indirect” profit.

Industry: LinkedIn’s transparency bid may be too little too late

After publishing its biannual Transparency Report, professional networking site LinkedIn announced that it has petitioned the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for permission to periodically publish the number of national security-related data requests it receives from the government. LinkedIn also filed an amicus brief in the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit urging affirmation of the district court’s ruling in the case of In Re National Security Letter, which held that national security letter disclosure restrictions (aka “gag orders”) violate the First Amendment.

Four users of the service are filing a class action lawsuit against LinkedIn, claiming that the company’s practice of accessing user email accounts, harvesting the email addresses of their contacts, and then repeatedly sending their contacts invitations to join the service, violates state and federal laws.

Netizen Activism: Sakharov Prize for Snowden?

Thanks to the support of the European Parliament’s Greens and leftists, Edward Snowden is one of seven nominees for the European Parliament’s Sakharov prize for freedom of thought.

Cool Things

Constitute, a new database created by the Comparative Constitutions Project, offers digitized versions of the world’s constitutions, making them easy to read, search, and compare.

Scientists who analyzed China’s microblogging platform Weibo found that anger spreads “faster and more broadly” than joy, according to the MIT Technology Review.

Publications and Studies

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For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.

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September 19 2013

Netizen Report: “Terrorist” Video Triggers Journalist Arrest in Morocco

Police restrain demonstrators at protest in Morocco. Photo by Maghrebia via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Hae-in Lim, Bojan Perkov, Renata AvilaEllery 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 week's report begins in Morocco, where authorities arrested a journalist for his coverage of a controversial online video.

Thuggery: Persecution for journalists, rumor mongers

Ali Anouzla, editor at Moroccan news website, was arrested allegedly for writing about an online video entitled “Morocco: Kingdom of Corruption and Despotism.” Sources have attributed the video to al Qaeda. According to Human Rights Watch, authorities said the video “contained a clear call and direct incitement to perpetrate acts of terrorism in Morocco.” Police arrested Anouzla at his home, where they seized documents and some electronic equipment. Charges against him have yet to be made public. The Electronic Frontier Foundation published a useful analysis of the situation, taking into account Morocco's unique legal environment.

In China, prominent entrepreneur and online commentator Charles Xue, who was detained in August on prostitution-related charges, admitted to being an “irresponsible opinion leader” in an interview [zh] with state-run television station CCTV. In the interview, which has aired repeatedly on CCTV, Xue expressed support for the government's current campaign against online “rumor mongering,” which has targeted a wide range of individuals and companies that have been critical of the government online. Netizens described dismay and disappointment with the interview, with many agreeing that it would have a chilling effect on Internet activism in China.

With the Chinese government's ongoing assault on unsanctioned Internet activity, billionaire activist Wang Gongquan was also arrested and detained on suspicion of “gathering crowds to disturb social order.” A number of Chinese bloggers on Sina Weibo are trying to “unverify” themselves in order to avoid targeting by the government.

Free Expression: Iran's fling with Facebook

Facebook and Twitter, which have been blocked in Iran since 2009, were briefly accessible in the country on September 16. Although some hoped this was a sign of change with the new administration, the sites were blocked again later in the day, indicating that it had been caused by a technical error. The Atlantic analyzed potential causes for the glitch, which some have interpreted as being caused by political infighting.

In Ecuador, the executive branch proposed a set of reforms that would regulate libel and slander on social networks. Alexis Mera, the president's legal secretary, pointed out in an interview with El Comercio that libelous or slanderous speech could “do much more damage” when tweeted by a person with ten thousand followers.

Amidst recent controversy regarding Wikipedia Croatia, in a statement to Croatian daily newspaper Jutarnji list, Jimmy Wales said [hr] that there shouldn’t be two separate versions of the popular online encyclopedia (Serbian and Croatian) in the Balkans. Right-wing administrators of the site had allowed content that many users considered to be biased and nationalistic to be on Wikipedia Croatia without proper warning. Facebook users have created a page condemning “pro-fascist articles” on Wikipedia Croatia.

Surveillance: “Shut the backdoors”

Canadian telecommunications companies seeking wireless spectrum licenses are required to provide the Canadian government with the capability to monitor devices using their networks. Among various other standards, the government requires that “Any type of encryption algorithm that is initiated by the service provider must be provided to the law enforcement agency unencrypted.” In the Globe and Mail, director of University of Toronto's Citizen Lab Ron Deibert, called on Canadian telcos to shut the so-called “backdoors”, which not only give government agents easy access to citizens’ data, but leaves that data vulnerable to attack by other more malicious actors.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called off a visit to Washington, DC, because of recent revelations that the National Security Agency spied on communications within the Brazilian government and national oil company Petrobras. Brazil is exploring ways to make its use of the Internet less dependent on US-based services, including forcing Internet firms to open data centers in Brazil.

Internet Insecurity: Gmail is for terrorists?

Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden suggested that as the country that gave birth to the Internet, the United States is partially justified in its surveillance in a speech defending Section 702 of US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He also vilified online anonymity and labeled Gmail as the “preferred Internet service provider of terrorists worldwide.”

Netizen Activism

With support from Hivos and the Digital Defenders Partnership, the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) is launching a legal defense fund for South- and Southeast Asian bloggers, who increasingly face prosecution for libel, defamation, undermining national security, or fomenting unrest. The fund will provide legal representation for the bloggers and pay for legal resources for defense lawyers.

Publications and Studies

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.


September 16 2013

Digital Citizen 1.1 المواطن الرقمي

Digital Citizen logo

Digital Citizen is a monthly review of news, policy, and research on human rights and technology in the Arab World.


Bahraini blogger Mohammed Hassan (also known as Safy in the blogosphere and social media) was arrested at his home on July 31 and has been held in detention ever since. Security officers, who did not present a warrant for the blogger’s arrest, seized Hassan’s computer and other electronic gear. On August 7, Hassan was charged with “promoting and inciting hatred against the system, incitement to disobey the law and calling for illegal rallies and gatherings.” His lawyer, AbdulAziz Mousa, tweeted that Hassan had visible marks on his arms, and told a judge that Mohammed had been beaten on his lower back and abdomen. Some 14 hours after sending the tweets, Mousa was arrested and his home raided. Hassan remains in detention, his lawyer is still under arrest.

51 bloggers from around the world issued a statement in solidarity with Hassan, who is also a Global Voices author. The statement read, “Without our fellow blogger Mohammed Hassan and those arbitrarily jailed, our blogging community cannot rest until he is back to his family and friends.” The statement called on the international community and all and bodies dedicated to defending freedoms to “pressure the Bahraini regime and demand the release of Mohammed Hassan.” Supporters are tweeting using hashtag #FreeSafy and posting photos of support to this Tumblr.

Photographer Hussain Hubail, a close friend of Hassan’s, was also arrested by police at Bahrain's main airport as he was attempting to board a flight to Dubai. Photographer Qassim Zainaldeen from the village of Diraz in the north was arrested on August 2. Police confiscated all of his electronic equipment.

Erin Kilbride, an American teaching in Bahrain, was deported for posting “radical” statements on Twitter and other online platforms. Her posts reportedly “incited hatred against the government and members of the royal family,” according to Bahrain's Ministry of State for Communications. The Ministry also said an investigation found that Kilbride worked “illegally as an unaccredited journalist,” a violation of her visa. Erin Kilbride is editor for Muftah, a MENA region think tank and policy blog.

On July 31, Bahrain Watch released a 93-page report “The IP Spy Files: How Bahrain's Government Silences Anonymous Online Dissent” documenting the government’s attempt to track down and prosecute anonymous Twitter accounts by using IP spy links — links that can be used to identify the IP address of a user who clicks on the link. The report said that since October 2012, authorities have jailed eleven people for allegedly posting tweets that were deemed insulting to King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

In an effort to silence anti-government protests, the Bahraini government targeted citizen journalists ahead of promised demonstrations on August 14.


Tunisian interim president Moncef Marzouki pardoned 343 prisoners and issued a special pardon to 20 other prisoners on the occasion of Eid.

Although his defense lawyers filed for a presidential pardon, Tunisian netizen Jabeur Mejri was not included in this group. Mejri was found guilty on charges of “publishing material liable to cause harm to public order or good morals”, “insulting others through public communication networks” and “assaulting public morals” for posting Prophet Muhammad cartoons on Facebook. He is serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence. His friend Ghazi Beji was also convicted of the same charges for publishing a satirical book, The Illusion of Islam, on the document-sharing website Scribd. He has since fled the country to avoid prosecution, and has been granted asylum in France.


Five publications whose websites were recently blocked by the Jordanian government—AmmanNet, JO24, Ain News, Khabar Jo, and All of Jo—have filed a lawsuit against the government challenging the legality of the procedure by which the ban was imposed and the constitutionality of the nation’s amended press law.


The Internet has often been referred to by the media as Syria’s second battleground. Users discussing Syria on social media have begun to attract trolls, while the Syrian Electronic Army has engaged in a wide range of attacks, from hacking major websites to going after VoIP apps Viber and Tango.  In a new twist, Jabhat Al Nusra—a rebel group deemed a terrorist organization by both the US and the UN—has reportedly banned its followers from engaging in clashes on social media.

While Jabhat Al Nusra may not wish to engage in online battle, the Syrian Electronic Army continues to up their targets: On August 27, they gained control of the New York Times domain name through the publication’s domain name registrar and defaced the site.

New online project Syria Untold curates and highlights civic, artistic, and journalistic responses to the current conflict coming from Syrians both inside the country and abroad. With versions in both Arabic and English, the project seeks to shed light on the country's non-violent reform movement, an aspect of the current conflict that has become almost invisible to the general public.


In June it was reported that numerous gambling websites were no longer accessible in Lebanon.  Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui sent a tweet explaining that the sites were blocked in accordance with a 1995 law that gives Casino du Liban a monopoly over gambling in the country.


An August report from Al-Monitor says that Hamas monitors Facebook activism and has used its findings to interrogate local activists.  In an interview with the new site, a pseudonymous activist from Gaza called Youssef stated that authorities had asked him for his Facebook, Twitter, and email passwords during an interrogation regarding his participation in a youth political movement.


Egypt’s Administrative Court has ruled against banning pornography sites in the country.  The issue dates back to 2009, when the Supreme Administrative Court declared a ban on pornographic websites. The ban was never implemented, prompting former President Mohamed Morsi to reissue his call for the ban. Lawyer Ibrahim El-Salamony responded to his call by challenging the ban in court, reportedly arguing that marriage burdens and high unemployment had led many young men to use the sites.  A lawyer for the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression stated that implementing a ban would be “a waste of public money.”


In early August, before Eid celebrations marking the end of Ramadan, Amir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah pardoned a number of activists convicted of “insulting” him on Twitter. According to news reports, authorities released ten individuals. Since June 2012, authorities have prosecuted many online activists and opposition politicians for “insulting the Amir” in speeches and on Twitter. The Amir pardoned only people whose cases had been reviewed by the court of appeal and the court of cassation.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi activist Iman Al-Qahtani, who has come under fire for live-tweeting court proceedings, was denied the right to travel outside of Saudi Arabia in mid-July. The BBC reports that barring individuals from foreign travel is a common punishment for those believed to be stirring political unrest.

Activist Raif Badawi was charged with violating Saudi Arabia’s cybercrime law and sentenced in July to 600 lashes and seven years in prison.  Badawi, the founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website, was found guilty of insulting Islam on his website and in comments made on television. The court added three months to his term for “parental disobedience.”

Seven Facebook users were jailed in late June for posting information about protests on Facebook and sentenced to between five and ten years in prison.  The harshest sentence was imposed on Abd al-Hamid al-Amer, who was accused of founding two Facebook groups through which he allegedly “conscripted others to join the movements.”


The UAE’s Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA) sent a letter to German hosting provider Hetzner Online AG demanding that the website of newspaper Al Watan be shut down based on claims that is registered to the ‘Global Muslim Brotherhood Union.’ Al Watan—a news organization based in the United States—reports candidly and often critically on domestic Emirati affairs, presenting a sharp contrast to local media. This effort by the TRA to regulate content outside its borders comes after a 2012 ‘Cybercrime Decree’ that outlawed the use of technology to criticize the government and has since effectively silenced local critique. Al Watan publisher Nezam Mahdawi criticized the government, saying “if you criticize human rights violations in the UAE, the authorities label you Muslim Brotherhood.” Hetzner Online AG has not yet responded to the TRA’s request.


Social Media Exchange has published a case study (available only in Arabic) on the Iraq Cyber Crime Law, which was revoked earlier this year. The case study is part of SMEX’s “In the Organizers’ Eyes” series and looks at the social movement that has opposed the bill.


Human rights activist Saeed Jaddad is facing charges of “undermining the status and prestige of the state,” allegedly for his calls for political and social reform in the Gulf state. In 2012, the government of Oman convicted and sentenced 35 activists to prison for crimes such as “defaming the Sultan,” “illegal gathering,” and defying the country’s cybercrime law through social media postings.

Demonstrators in Morocco. Photo by Hisham Almiraat.


In a wave of pardons issued on Morocco’s Throne Day, King Mohammed VI pardoned Spanish pedophile Daniel Galvan, who was convicted of raping eleven children in 2011. The pardon sparked an unprecedented online campaign of outrage on Twitter under the hashtag #DanielGate, one of the rare hashtags to originate in Morocco and succeed in trending globally.

The online campaign was followed by large, ultimately violent demonstration in Rabat, followed by another in Casablanca.  The king rescinded his pardon in response to the protest, and Spanish authorities arrested Galvan, who had fled to Spain upon his release from prison.

Other News

  • Numerous groups throughout the region have signed on to a set of principles on the application of human rights to communications surveillance.

  • SMEX is mapping laws that affect Internet users in six countries across the Arab world.

  • A new book on start-ups in the MENA Region, Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East, was released. An interview with author Christopher M. Schroeder appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books.

Digital Citizen is brought to you by Advox, Access, EFF, and Social Media Exchange. This month’s report was researched, edited, and written by Afef Abrougui, Hisham Almiraat, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Amine ElKamel, Mariwan Hama, Wafa Ben Hassine, Katherine Maher, and Jillian C. York.

Subscribe to Digital Citizen  المواطن الرقمي by email.

September 12 2013

Netizen Report: ‘Syria Untold’ Brings Color to a Black-and-White Debate

“Freedom Syria” Graphic by Ishbb Iswry. Shared by Syria Untold (CC BY 2.0)

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, 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. We begin this report with a profile of Syria Untold, a new online project that is documenting creative and journalistic responses to the civil war in Syria.

Netizen Activism

With all eyes now on Syria and talks between the Assad government, Russia, and the United States that could preclude a US military strike on the country, Syrian activists and storytellers are challenging dominant black-and-white narratives of foreign intervention and opposition politics with a new online project, Syria Untold. The project's founders write,

Our aim was to frame information on Syria within its historical, political and social context; and to focus on Syrian civil society, and on the way it was coping with the increasing violence and militarization of the conflict by producing actions of creative resistance, civil disobedience.

Syria Untold brings you independent voices, stories from the ground, personal accounts of daily resistance. We put under the spotlight everything about Syrian civil society whose crucial importance has been lost in the polarization created by the “yes” or “no” debate.

With versions in both Arabic and English, the site highlights journalistic, artistic, and civic responses to the current conflict coming from Syrians both inside the country and abroad.


In an August meeting with national propaganda chiefs in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping demanded that ideological control become the Communist Party’s top priority, and ordered the party’s propaganda apparatus to be “combative instead of being passive” in its new, aggressive campaign against online “rumors”.

In tandem with this initiative, the Supreme People’s Court ruled that Chinese netizens posting “online rumors” can go to jail on charges of defamation for up to three years if their comments are retweeted more than 500 times or viewed by more than 5,000 people.

Activists report that nearly 500 arrests have taken place since the start of the anti-rumor campaign. Those targeted range from citizen journalists and activists to online social news promoters. The Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center reported that the public security bureau of the autonomous province of Inner Mongolia arrested 52 people in response to alleged protest activities in the city Ordos.

Recently freed Chinese journalist Shi Tao. Image via Flickr user boeke, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Recently freed Chinese journalist Shi Tao. Image via Flickr user boeke, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Chinese journalist and poet Shi Tao was released from prison on August 23, fifteen months before the end of his ten-year sentence. Tao was prosecuted and imprisoned after Yahoo! released his communications records to Chinese government authorities, who found that the journalist had sent leaked government files to a Chinese language newspaper based in New York City. Patrick Poon, the executive secretary of PEN International’s Hong Kong branch, Shi Tao and his mother are under pressure not to speak to the media. Tao's case triggered long-standing controversy over the off-shore business practices of Yahoo! other multinational tech companies.

Free Expression

A coalition of nine civic organizations in Macedonia, known as the Front for Freedom of Expression, demanded the withdrawal of two new media bills from the national parliament. They are concerned that new proposed laws on Media and the Audio and Audiovisual Media Services will place overly broad, rights-invasive regulations on both print and online media.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice admitted that it has been monitoring lawyers’ tweets to ensure they don’t break the law when discussing cases. An official stated that punishment would depend on the “severity” of lawyers’ tweets, but could include loss of license in addition to more serious forms of reprimand.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

Yahoo! followed Facebook’s lead last week and published its first Transparency Report on September 6. The report documents government user data requests Yahoo! received between January and June 2013, from the countries in which Yahoo has a “legal entity” — in other words, a corporation, partnership, or individual who has legal standing under local law. Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell pointed out that “less than one one-hundredth of one percent” (<0.01%) of Yahoo! accounts were implicated by government requests. Government requests for Tumblr data were not included in the report. The company has pledged to issue a report on Tumblr user data requests in the near future.

In the US, Verizon is seeking to overturn the Federal Communications Commission's Internet neutrality rules so that broadband Internet service providers can start charging companies like Facebook and Google to reach customers. Internet rights advocates at Free Press explain that “Verizon wants to change [the current] structure by setting up tolls in both directions — blocking certain websites or charging them for priority access to Web users — and by serving as a self-appointed editor for all Internet content.” The move echoes a failed campaign by the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association to impose a traffic charging scheme on European-owned broadband networks at the ITU last December.

Internet Insecurity

New leaks reveal that the US National Security Agency has made significant attempts to undermine encrypted communications online. Security expert Bruce Schneier has offered useful tips on how to keep your communications secure in the face of this new threat to privacy.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the US government released a series of documents detailing its internal policies and practices surrounding the collection of telephone and online communications data for millions of individuals worldwide. The EFF has made all of the documents available for public view.

Toshiba researchers discovered a set of large-scale quantum cryptography networks that could potentially lead to secure and efficient mass data encryption. Their findings were published in Nature.

Cool Things

A UK-based developer has created the website to explain how to delete accounts from a wide range of online services. The site color codes sites by the difficulty of account removal – sites like Blogger, Netflix, WordPress, YouTube and Pinterest rank among those that make it nearly impossible to delete an account.

Publications and Studies


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For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.


September 11 2013

What's a Rumor? Judiciary Guidelines Face Scrutiny in China

With the recent escalation of arbitrary arrests and prosecutions for online “rumor mongering”, Chinese authorities are facing criticism from both the law enforcement and legal experts in China.

No legal ground for rumor crackdown

Several human rights lawyers have raised concern over the legal ground of the government's “anti-rumor” campaign, noting the harms that it could present for free expression, particularly given the lack of a definition in law for what constitutes a rumor. In an interview with Radio Free Asia, rights lawyer Sui Muqing explained that rumor is scarcely touched upon in existing law. ”The Criminal Law and the Punishments Law touch on rumors in two places, where obvious, deliberate, and direct harm has been done to society,” he said. Sui described the current campaign as the “greatest step backwards for the rule of law in China since economic reforms began in 1979.”

By Beijing Patrol from US (China Traffic Police) [CC-BY-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Chinese traffic police officer. Photo by Beijing Patrol from US. [CC-BY-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

A Guangzhou police officer wrote on his microblog that the national campaign against online rumors "should be abide by the law" and should not be "extended blindly". His post was removed promptly by the web censor but his message has spread nevertheless.

Even communist party scholars are questioning the campaign. In an interview with Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece, Central Institute of Socialism professor Wang Zhangyang remarked,

"[A]uthorities have not yet clarified a precise definition of rumors, yet the campaign has evolved into a national movement…this has given rise to different approaches to enforcing the campaign by different local police departments.”

Worse still, Wong noted that “local police may also have quotas to meet, which further muddles the situation.”

Judicial clarification targets “viralness”

To provide legal ground for prosecuting accused rumor mongers, China's Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate issued [zh] a new judicial guideline on September 9, stating that anyone who deliberately posts defamatory lies and rumors against individuals or the government may face up to three years imprisonment if their posts are shared for more than 500 times or viewed by more than 5,000 people. Targeting the “viralness” of such messages, the guideline cuts against basic laws of online sharing.

A newly issued judicial clarification [zh] tried to modify what constitutes a harmful rumor under existing law. The following stipulations now define what qualifies as a “rumor” and address related aspects of how rumor mongering will be treated by courts:

1. [Messages that] defame individuals or groups.

2. The scale of harm: A defamatory message that has been viewed 5000 times and retweeted 500 times; a message that brings psychological distress and harm; the person has a track record of spreading rumors; others.

3. A message that upsets social order and national interests by inducing mass incidents [protests and demonstrations], inducing public disorder; inducing ethnic and religious conflicts; harming national image and interest; and etc.

4. Individuals who have spread many rumors over one year and the cumulative views and retweets of the messages are up to 5000 and 500 [respectively].

5. A message that insults or threatens other individuals and disturbs social order should be prosecuted under the charge of “provoking social disorder”.

6. [Entities who earn profits] threatening individuals by spreading untrue information and message deletion service will be prosecuted with “blackmailing”.

7. [Entities who earn profits] by providing message deletion services and spreading untrue information with a business scale up to RMB 50,000 yuan for individuals and RMB 150,000 for corporates, will be prosecuted under “illegal operation of business”.

8. Capital, technological and administrative support to defamation, provoking social disorder, blackmailing and operating illegal business will be prosecuted as “conspiracy” to the criminal acts.

9. When the criminal act of defamation, provoking social disorder, blackmailing and operating illegal business have real harm to business, inciting social violence, the sentence will be more heavy.

The spokesman for the Supreme People's Procuratorate stressed that they want the judicial guidelines to limit the “watchdog” function of social media. Publicly, it is widely believed that the measures aim to restrict freedom of expression online on a broad scale.

The guideline will take the heaviest toll for online opinion leaders, many of whom have tens of thousands of followers. Any ungrounded message post by them will automatically reach the legally defined scale of harm — 500 retweets and/or 5000 views. Responding to the new rule, social commentator Hugo satirically posted:

Retweeted 500 times and one can be convicted. This is so scary. First, I want to plead to all the big V (influential opinion leaders), please do not post any comment and retweet my posts or I will reach the 500 retweets and 5000 views at once. Second, I wonder if they have prepared enough prison cells. The subcontractors of prison service will make huge profit. Third, If you want to get someone in trouble, you just need to hire 500 people to retweet his / her message. Retweet will become an art of getting someone in jail.

Taking a satirical tack on the news, novelist Jin Manlou suggested that the campaign could have economic benefits for the country:

The economy is not good. The 500 retweets might have some economic consideration. Conservative estimation is that the policy can lead to 1% economic growth and the reason is simple: the more people get prosecuted, the more lawyers, judges, prosectors the society needs; the more people put into jail, the more prisons needed to be built, and more police officers… this can certainly enhance employment, construction and building business. A smart move.

State media, for example, have not been punished for rumor mongering — recently Chinese Central Television and Xinhua news agency wrongly reported that Istanbul had won the bid for the 2020 Olympic games, when in fact Tokyo had won. Netizens mocked the error, highlighting the state and party monopoly on the distribution of fabricated information.

While the judicial guidelines offer some clarity on the definition of “rumor”, few believe that they will change the arbitrary nature of detention and prosecution for rumor mongering in China.

September 09 2013

Minister Wins Damages Against Zambian Gossip Website

A US court has awarded Zambia's Deputy Commerce Minister over US$50,000 in a defamation suit against social news site Kachepa360, hosted in and run from the United States.

Kachepa360, which ceased operations nearly two years ago, targeted high-ranking officials, business people and celebrities, exposing alleged infidelities and other scandals. In local dialects, the word Kachepa carries connotations of rumour mongering and gossip.

According to the Zambian Watchdog, Kachepa owner Chisala Mulenga suspended activities on the site after her parents, who reside in Zambia, received threats from individuals targeted by the site. Deputy Commerce Minister Miles Sampa, whose “sexual exploits” had been highlighted on Kachepa, filed the suit in the United States, where Mulenga resides. The case was heard before a court in the state of Massachusetts.

After Minister Miles Sampa announced the court victory on Facebook, the story was picked up by citizen media websites Zambia Reports and Zambian Watchdog. On his Facebook page, Minister Sampa wrote:

In order to vindicate my name from perennial slanderous and unsubstantiated allegations directed at me by the online publication Kachepa360, I took up the matter in the USA courts of law where the defendant is domiciled.

After months of deliberations, the case was awarded in my favour against the promoter of the Publication Kachepa360, Ms Chisala Mulenga, and I have been awarded damages amounting to USD $50,000 at 12 % interest from November 2012.

Explaining why he pursued the matter in the US, he stated:

Although I welcome criticism, I believe that the journalism profession should be unbiased, factual and professional regardless of the location of their residence or the medium used to disseminate their information.

I decided on pursuing this matter in the relevant courts abroad to demonstrate that accountability is a standard for all, even for online publications which may feel that they are beyond the reach of the Law.

On Facebook, social and political commentator Proud Aushi Musamba Mumba challenged Sampa to sue the Zambian Watchdog instead of what she called a “small fish”:

Lol Hon Miles Sampa instead of suing big guns writing and accusing him of being corrupt he sues a small fish in the pond that people don't take serious or pay attention to as she clearly states “Kachepa 360.” Meaning it is based on rumours. Let him sue ZWD [Zambian Watchdog] that informs the nation on things they want carpeted.

Zambia Reports accused Sampa of using the suit as an opportunity “to warn those running critical websites in Zambia…not to hide behind the veil of anonymity as the law could catch up with them.”

Independent and citizen media websites in the country have faced a steady stream of attacks in recent months, leaving major sites including the Zambian Watchdog and Zambia Reports increasingly difficult to access within Zambia. Critics suspect the attacks have been perpetrated by government authorities — in July, Vice President Dr. Guy Scott said he would celebrate if the Zambian Watchdog was shut down, and there has been much discussion of tensions between news outlets and government officials online.

Although Kachepa 360 held a slightly different category, providing readers with more guilty pleasures than transparency about government activities, the case could set a chilling precedent for other independent sites that scrutinize government officials. Now that a government Minister has successfully trounced Kachepa 360, what site might be the next victim?

September 04 2013

Netizen Report: World Cyberattack Week?

Image via Flickr user 禁书网中国禁闻; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image via Flickr user 禁书网中国禁闻; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Bojan Perkov, Alex Laverty, 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 week's report begins with a series of politically motivated cyberattacks targeting major websites in China, Palestine, and the US.


The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) attacked the domain name registrars of both Twitter and the New York Times last week, leaving the Times’ web content inaccessible for several hours. The pro-regime but somewhat mysterious hacker group also reportedly took control of a recruiting website for the US Marine Corps. Following these attacks the hacker collective Anonymous leaked personal data that allegedly identified the core leadership of the SEA. The Guardian has developed a interactive timeline of the SEA’s attacks.

Pro-Palestinian hackers took over Google Palestine by temporarily redirecting users to a defaced site, “Google Owned,” that called for Israel to be removed from Google Maps.

According to the China Internet Information Center [zh], several Chinese web platforms weathered a series of DDoS attacks, amounting to what some claim was the largest multi-pronged attack the country has ever seen. Affecting sites including Sina Weibo, and the Bank of China’s website, the attacks resulted in a 32 percent drop in traffic.


Indian officials said that the government will soon require its employees to stop using Gmail for official communications. Bangalore-based Internet policy expert Sunil Abraham told the Times of India: “After Snowden's revelations, we can never be sure to what extent foreign governments are intercepting government emails” and noted that use of an official email service will make it “easier to achieve greater transparency and anti-corruption initiatives.”

Facebook announced plans to change its data use policy and statement of rights and responsibilities. The changes make it clear that Facebook incorporates users’ names, profile photos and ‘likes’ into its advertising algorithms. They also indicate that Facebook will collect information about the device and IP address you use when you connect to Facebook. In a blog post published on August 29, Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan described the changes as “proposed updates” and asked users to provide feedback within a week of the announcement. A flood of mostly negative and sarcastic comments follows the post. TechCrunch offers a useful breakdown of the changes.


The Azeri government is increasing pressure on journalists and bloggers in advance of the country’s October 9 presidential election. Al Jazeera reports several newspapers and human rights organizations have reportedly suffered DDoS attacks in recent weeks. Lawmakers have also approved new legislation targeting online defamation that will carry a punishment of up to three years in prison or fines of up to AZN 1,000.


The Nigerian Communications Commission will soon award a consultancy contract for a firm to assist the government in developing surveillance and intelligence-gathering mechanisms. Officials say surveillance will take place under the country's Lawful Interception policy, developed by the NCC in February. Critics say this cannot work, as the policy is still in draft form and therefore does not have legal status.

The South African government continues to make progress in its implementation of a similar policy. Officials plan to centralize the country’s intelligence-gathering capabilities under the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill, which authorizes warrantless wiretapping of foreign electronic communications, among other things.

Free Expression

Vietnam’s Decree 72, which requires ISPs to block all content “against Vietnam” or undermining national security, among other things, has now come into effect. Other provisions of the law limit discussion of news and current affairs on social media and blogs, and require foreign Internet companies to establish servers in Vietnam. A group of Vietnamese intellectuals and professionals issued a statement protesting the law. The legislation has also received criticism from the US government and technology companies including Google and Facebook.

The China Internet Conference 2013 [zh] released guidelines for creating a ‘favorable online environment’. These guidelines have been termed the ‘seven base lines’ intended to provide industry and individuals with information about what the government deems acceptable online behaviorOfficials say [zh] the guidelines are intended to quell online “rumors”, but critics argue this is a way to assert more control over online expression.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

Google announced that free apps in the Google Play store will now be available for download by users in Iran. Those close to the issue say that Google is the first company to act on changes to US economic sanctions against Iran, which were implemented in May 2013. Unfortunately, observers report that the Play store is now being blocked in Iran.

Facebook released its first Global Government Requests Report, which summarizes government requests for user data it received during the first six months of 2013. “We hope this report will be useful to our users in the ongoing debate about the proper standards for government requests for user information in official investigations,” said Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch. The United States had the highest number of requests – between 11,000 and 12,000 requests involving 20,000 to 21,000 users. The company released some data in response to 79% of the requests. The Indian government had the next greatest number of requests — 3,245 in total.

Cool Things

New cellphone cover the “OFF Pocket” acts as an invisibility cloak for the smartphone by blocking incoming phone signals, WiFi, GPS and Internet connections.

Bloomberg Businessweek gave a rundown of new technologies that can help increase Internet connectivity where there is little, including BRCK (Ushahidi’s “backup generator for the Internet”) and O3b Networks’ satellites.

Publications and Studies

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.


September 03 2013

August 29 2013

South Korea: Naver Provokes Push for Portal Regulation

When a country's leading Internet search provider offers additional services like news and online shopping, how does it affect user rights? Recent expansions by South Korean portal service Naver, which dominates the national market, have triggered controversy around this question for lawmakers and users alike.

Tensions came to a head last week at The Yeoido Research institute, South Korea's incumbent conservative party think tank, where party members held a public hearing on Korean Internet industry market regulation entitled “Internet Regulation for Fairness and Win-Win.” Participants discussed why and how the government needs to regulate dominant popular search portals, in particular NHN‘s Naver service.

For Search and Online Content, Naver Rules

Founded in 1999 by former Samsung employees, Naver has become South Korea's most popular search engine, having captured over 70% of the market share since 2011. But Naver offers much more than just search services. It provides its own curated content ranging from news, to real estate, to shopping, to webtoons. Considering the virtual limit of Korean content online that lasted through the late 1990s, this business scheme is understandable — regulatory restrictions made it genuinely difficult to create online content, so it was natural for Naver to become a major content creator. But today its growing influence on the market raises serious questions. Can a search engine provide neutral, unbiased search results when it is also a major online content provider?

Screenshot of Naver search. Naver displays its own content at the top of the search, followed by sponsored links.

Screenshot of Naver search. Naver displays its own content at the top of the search, followed by sponsored links.

Many have criticized [ko] Naver for taking an imbalanced approach to content presentation. For example, if you search the term “lung cancer” on Naver, the first result shows [ko] an entry on lung cancer in Naver's encyclopedia [ko]. This is followed by paid advertisements for hospitals that specialize in lung cancer. In contrast, a search for “lung cancer” on Google yields the Wikipedia “lung cancer” entry as a first result.

Some have accused Naver [ko] of deliberately distorting its real-time popular search queries. Given that Naver has not offered a detailed public explanation on their search criteria, concerns about this allegation persist. In general, Naver's opponents argue that the “walled garden” bias in search results not only threatens free competition, but also hinders users’ ability to conduct neutral searches for information online.

Naver. Photo by Flickr user Joongi Kim. (CC BY-SA)

News Navigation In Naver

Critics also argue that Naver's structure and market dominance has created a biased online media environment [ko] for South Korea. Most Korean Internet users find news online not by visiting a news organization's homepage, but rather by doing a search, typically through Naver's news cast service [ko]. This has forced news organizations to compete not only with each other, but with Naver's news content. Many believe this has triggered a decline both in the quality of online news and the diversity of media outlets publishing online.

Leading newspapers that traditionally held the majority market share for advertising in Korea, such as The Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo, and The Dong-a Ilbo, have been the loudest critics of Naver's dominance online. With Naver rapidly outpacing them in profits [ko], they are struggling to compete both with Naver's technical advantage and its often low-brow but eye-catching news coverage. Long known for its obscure editorial policies, Naver has made efforts to increase its accountability and to prioritize users’ ability to choose from a diverse range of news sources online.

Nevertheless, for news organizations that have played an important role in shaping the nation’s political opinion throughout modern Korean history, these changes have been difficult to confront, particularly as their profits continue to decline.

Stealing Start-Up Ideas?

Naver has also been accused stealing business ideas from start-ups in Korea. This has provided ammunition against the corporation for media power houses such as The Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo, The Dong-a Ilbo as well as Maeil Business Newspaper, who are seeking to make Naver not only the enemy of Korean news corporations but Internet and innovation communities in general. Some of these entities have taken this as an opportunity to promote [ko] their own interests, targeting and arguably disproportionately criticizing Naver's abuse of power.

Blogger Lee Jeong Hwan has commented [ko] that the mobilization of public opinion by major news corporations aims to shrink the influence of Naver in news industry, while at the same time pushing to establish pay-walls for their news content and enhance their profits:

“언론계에 유료화라는 유령이 떠돌고 있다.” 한 언론사 관계자의 말이다. 조중동 등 보수 언론이 네이버에 융단폭격을 쏟아 부은 이면에는 조선일보 등의 뉴스 콘텐츠 유료화 전략이 깔려 있었던 것으로 드러났다. 포털에서 공짜 뉴스를 없애지 않고서는 유료화가 성공할 수 없다는 판단 때문이다.

A news business stakeholder said that pay-wall idea is spreading in Korean news contents industry. The major conservative news corporations throw out their verbal attacks on Naver because they assume that without eliminating the free news contents of Naver, their pay-wall strategy will struggle to succeed.

Although this prediction hasn't been confirmed by these news corporations, Yonhap News Agnecy, the Korea's largest news agency, recently laid out [ko] such a plan in an informal memo distributed to politicians and academics.

Regulatory Reform and Party Politicking

These shifts have also created opportunities for politicians. South Korea's current government has been keen on promoting both creative economy [ko] and economic democratization, stressing a “fair and win-win” relationship between big and small businesses intended to bolster both innovation and growth.

In this context, Saenuri [ko], the ruling conservative party, plans to propose several new bills intended to tame Naver. Last month's hearing was a first step in this process. By targeting Naver and making search portals subject to stronger regulatory power, conservative politicians may also gain greater control over Daum, South Korea's second-largest search portal, which has shown some bias in favor of the nation's political left.

In contrast, South Korea's democratic party [ko] has criticized these moves, suggesting that they are merely a political maneuver designed to regain conservative power over the media in the online realm. Although the party initially had a negative view [ko] of Naver’s monopolistic and non-transparent behavior, party representatives now say that current fair trade laws provide sufficient regulatory limitations for large corporations like Naver. Earlier this week, the democratic party held a public hearing aimed at “re-thinking” the benefits and drawbacks of search portal regulation.

In late July, after receiving harsh criticism from major newspapers and some politicians, Naver announced [ko] its plans to strengthen its social responsibility by increasing transparency and stakeholder benefits, and promoting Korean-made applications, webtoons, and games on the global market. Despite this announcement, political debate and tensions between the two parties persist and the economic regulatory challenges raised by Naver's unique model remain seriously entangled with the political agendas of politicians and businesses alike.

August 28 2013

Netizen Report: Lawmakers in Bangladesh Approve Warrantless Arrests for ‘Cybercrime’

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Hae-in Lim, Alex Laverty, Renata Avila, Yuqi Chen, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li 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 we begin in Bangladesh, where officials are considering new terms for the country's ICT law.

National Policy

Lawmakers in Bangladesh voted to approve amendments to the country's Information and Communication Technology law, which targets a range of activities broadly defined as cybercrime. If the changes are enacted, the law will now criminalize “destroying computer data with malicious intent, transferring data without proper authority, hacking, and releasing vulgar and defaming information in electronic form.” It will also allow authorities to arrest any person suspected of violating the law without a warrant, so long as he or she is brought before a court within 24 hours of arrest.

“Stop authoritarian aggression against bloggers. Blogging is our right.” Image courtesy Asif Mohiuddin.

“Stop authoritarian aggression against bloggers. Blogging is our right.” Image courtesy Asif Mohiuddin.


In Azerbaijan, websites of the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety and Azadliq, an opposition newspaper, sustained DDoS attacks last week. Azadliq management asked the Azeri Ministry of National Security to investigate the attacks, but they report that no action has been taken as of yet.

Chinese netizens saw a wave of arrests last week, on the tails of the trial of ex-official Bo Xilai. The South China Morning Post reported that digital activist Zhou Lubao, who helped expose corrupt activities of Lanzhou mayor Yuan Zhanting, disappeared after being summoned for questioning by police in his home province of Jiangsu. Also detained were Liu Hu, who called for an investigation of Chongqing’s former vice mayor on allegations of mismanagement of public funds, and Internet entrepreneur Charles Xue, a US citizen who has been accused of soliciting prostitution.

Free Expression

On major chat and social network platforms in Thailand, law enforcement officials are now monitoring users whose messages include keywords such as “coup”, “monarchy”, “drugs”, “prostitution”, and other terms deemed relevant to national security. In an interview with Thai daily newspaper The Nation, Police Major General Pisit Pao-in warned users: “[You may be arrested] if you ‘like’ a message deemed damaging to national security. If you press ‘like', it means you are accepting that message, which is tantamount to supporting it. By doing so, you help increase the credibility of the message and hence you should also be held responsible.”

The Huffington Post announced that it will no longer allow anonymous commenting on its site. “Anonymity is not freedom,” according to Huffington Post contributor Bryan Appleyard, who thinks that treating anonymity “as an aspect of freedom” is an “extraordinary perversion, a reduction of our humanity.” Responding in a blog post, Paul Bernal lists the reasons why this “chills” free speech, claiming that real name policies “help the powerful against the vulnerable, to exacerbate existing power imbalances and to further marginalise and alienate those who are already on the fringes.”

Internet Governance

A coalition of digital rights groups have renewed efforts to influence the agenda of the United Nations Committee on Science and Technology for Development which will explore issues concerning global Internet governance later this year. Led by India-based NGO IT for Change, the group is urging the committee to discuss the democratization of Internet governance in the face of a chronic power imbalance in this area. IT for Change will be accepting signatures to the petition through August 29.

Netizen Activism

IT Ministry officials in Pakistan recently announced plans to implement a nation-wide Internet filtering system for the country. Pakistani NGO Bolo Bhi, which promotes free expression online, has issued a statement demanding that government agencies respect the constitutional and universal human rights of Internet users in Pakistan and disable the filters immediately.

The Philippine government has shown signs of willingness to improve transparency and tackle corruption in response to online campaigns targeting corruption and poor governance.


Comcast is threatening to sue TorrentFreak, a web publication that covers Pirate Bay, MegaUpload, online copyright law and regulation, and other file sharing news. Comcast claims that TorrentFreak has violated copyright by publishing public court documents on its website. The documents connect a Comcast subscriber to a pirate-baiting scheme.


In response to the US seeking extradition for Kim Dotcom on charges of mass piracy, New Zealand passed a law that allows its main intelligence agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) to spy on its own residents and citizens. Companies such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft voiced concern about the bill. In its submission to a parliamentary committee, Facebook wrote, “Blanket rules requiring data retention and accessibility are blunt tools, which have the potential to infringe on civil liberties and constrain economic growth.”

Cool Things (& Shameless Plugs)

Blackbar, a text-based game that revolves around the concept of censorship, challenges users to figure out the censored words in communiques set in a dystopian future. As you progress, the redaction becomes more severe. A potential must-have for future readers of classified documents.

Global Voices’ RuNet Echo team author Daniel Kennedy wrote a profile on Russian blogger Alexey Navalny, who is currently running for mayor of Moscow and also facing trial for embezzlement. Great reading for anyone who wants to follow the Navalny story, but can't parse Russian politics.

Publications and Studies

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.

August 20 2013

Netizen Report: Gambia to Censor Government Critics

Members of the Gambian National Assembly meet with  Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Members of the Gambian National Assembly meet with Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Hae-in Lim, Alex Laverty, 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 week's report begins in Gambia, where a new law targeting anti-government speech will go into force this week.

Free Expression

Last month, we reported that the Gambian National Assembly passed a bill that will likely cripple online free expression—particularly that of government critics. Among other things, Section 173A of the Information and Communication Act criminalizes the “spread of false news against the Government or public officials”; incitement of “dissatisfaction against the Government”; and acts that “caricature, abuse or make derogatory statements against the person or character of officials.” The law is slated to be put into force this week. At a high-level cabinet meeting on August 8th attended (and implicitly legitimized) by religious leaders, Minister of Presidential Affairs Momodou Sabally forewarned those who supported online campaigns against the law, “If you cannot say anything good about the country, then you should keep quiet.”

The Supreme Court of India responded to a petition filed by consumer review website this spring, after the site faced escalating takedown requests from companies wishing to preserve their reputations after receiving negative reviews on the site. The court rejected's claim that such takedowns posed a fundamental threat to their business model and upheld the government's application of India's IT Act, which requires Internet intermediaries to remove “objectionable material” from their networks within 36 hours of receiving a takedown notice. It noted that “in a large country like India…sometimes such publicity will create huge problems and havoc, particularly when the matter relates to political and religious issues.”


A man in Azerbaijan was sentenced to a year of “correctional labor” for creating a Facebook page criticizing Accessbank, his former employer. On a page entitled Accessbank-Unfairbank, Mikayil Talibov described what he felt were unfair practices by the bank, alleging that “Accessbank builds up political pressure on Azerbaijan, fosters discontent among the population.” The court found his accusations to be libelous. This was the first case to test the new legislative amendments extending criminal liability to Internet speech.


The government of Thailand announced plans to begin monitoring user activity on LINE, a popular messaging application based in Japan. The Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) said it would also begin surveiling social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube in an effort to thwart threats to the national security. Critics suspect that LINE is likely to have an experience similar to that of Google, which has often complied with government requests for the removal of Internet content that defames the monarchy. The 2007 Computer Crime Act has made it possible for third parties to be liable for violations of the law committed by Internet users.

Acclaimed tech law site Groklaw, which relies heavily on contributions from a large network of experts, will soon close down due to concerns about email surveillance. Groklaw editor Pamela Jones cited the recent closure of Lavabit, an encrypted email service provider, as reason for her decision.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed an amicus brief in Du v. Cisco, one of multiple cases brought by Chinese human rights activists against Cisco, which allegedly built technical tools for the express surveillance needs of the Chinese government. The suit accuses the silicon valley giant of knowingly “customizing, marketing, selling, and providing continued support and service for technologies used by the Chinese government to facilitate human rights abuses.”


According to Forbes, the data hosting business is booming in Switzerland, which unlike the United States and the EU, has strong protections against government surveillance and data secrecy under the country’s strict Federal Act on Data Protection. The 8% corporate tax rate probably helps too.

iPhone users in the UK lost a court case against Google, in which they alleged that the company tracked browsing habits by iOS users through an loophole in the Safari web browser that allowed third-party cookies to be installed without the users’ knowledge. The defense argued that UK privacy laws do not apply to Google. The company's lawyers also argued that because consumer services in this scenario were being provided not by Google UK, but by Google Inc. based in the US, there would be no jurisdiction for the case to be heard in the UK. Google was fined USD 22.5 million last year by the US Federal Trade Commission due to its alleged tracking practices on Safari.

Cool Things

A malaria testing app developed in Uganda, called Matibabu (cure or treatment in Swahili), hopes to combat the 70,000-100,000 deaths per year in the country. It hopes to remove the need for needles used by a healthcare professional as well as limiting the long travel and waiting times at medical centers. Working with an attached diode and light sensor that uses light-scattering technology, Matibabu will enable users to detect red blood cells that have been infected. The phone runs the analysis and uploads the results to Microsoft’s SkyDrive, allowing their doctor to conduct the final diagnosis. With each malaria test costing USD 5, it is hoped that the cost of the hardware (USD 20-35) will prove economical over the long term for rural communities.

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For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.


August 16 2013

2013 The Public Voice Civil Society Meeting

The Public Voice will hold a privacy and consumer protection meeting in conjunction with the 35th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners on Tuesday, 24 September 2013, at the the Hilton Warsaw Hotel & Convention Centre. Registration is open for the Public Voice meeting. The Data Protection Conference will take place 23-26 September 2013.

August 14 2013

Why was Facebook Blocked in Cambodia?

On August 7, Facebook was inaccessible in Cambodia for several hours, leaving media freedom groups suspicious of a ploy to restrict social media sites in the country. But Metfone, Cambodia’s most popular Internet service provider, claimed that a service upgrade operation caused the blockage.

Civil society groups reacted swiftly to the news, issuing a joint statement titled ‘Keep Media Free: Unrestricted Access to Social Media’ urging Metfone to explain the sudden blocking of Facebook. The statement read:

With traditional media being mostly, and in the case of television exclusively, controlled by the government, an increasing number of Cambodians rely on websites such as Facebook to access independent information.


We, the undersigned civil society groups, call upon Metfone to fully explain the purported technical issues that forced Facebook to become unavailable, to take the appropriate measures to ensure that such outages do not occur in the future, and to clarify why they continue to block other sites such as KI Media.

KI Media is a website known for its criticism of Hun Sen, who has been Cambodia’s Prime Minister for the past 28 years. The site is blocked by various ISPs in Cambodia.

Keep Media Free. Image from Licadho

Keep Media Free. Image from Licadho

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith denied that the government ordered the blocking of Facebook, stating that it would be “completely crazy” for the government to try to control the Internet. “We have nothing to gain by closing Facebook, and we have no criminal law regarding the internet,” he said.

Although many were quick to point fingers at regulators, the blockage may have been the result of a technical problem. Traceroute testing indicates that much of the Internet traffic Metfone users view is routed from Vietnam. If censors in Vietnam were to misconfigure their firewall, sites censored in Vietnam could easily become blocked in Cambodia too.

The incident nevertheless sparked a flurry of commentary from public figures and on social media. Popular Cambodian blogger and Global Voices author Kounila Keo noted how young Cambodian voters actively shared information on Facebook in the recent election:

Facebook was earlier a place where a lot of young Cambodians went to seek entertainment. But Cambodian Facebook users, mostly young people from 18 to 35 years old, have gradually embraced this social network to share and receive information not usually seen in the mainstream media which is considered censored.

Since 2010 when Facebook became popular in Cambodia, videos and pictures of protests, crimes, and violence have been widely shared and circulated to broaden people's political horizons. By 2013, Facebook has become a level playing field for political debates from all sides.

Even United States Ambassador William Todd recognized Facebook as a site where alternative information about Cambodia’s situation are freely discussed:

…social media played a crucial role in disseminating a broad range of opinions and information to the electorate. With access to the Internet, people were able to access a variety of news sources and information. So even when traditional media outlets in Cambodia failed to cover major events or issues, Cambodians were able to learn about them through social media.

Cambodia’s ruling party managed to win again in the recent National Assembly elections but it lost a significant number of seats to the Opposition. It has been accused of committing widespread fraud which undermined the voting process.

Although the blocking may have resulted from technical issues, suspicions of foul play on the government's part were grounded in recent experience. In 2011, Internet Service Providers restricted access to social media sites and platforms including Blogspot in response to requests from government authorities.


Collin Anderson provided research and analysis on technical aspects of this post.

Netizen Report: From Mauritania to Mexico, Thuggery Looms Large

Protesters face riot police in Karbabad, Bahrain. Photo by Bahraini Activist. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Protesters face riot police in Karbabad, Bahrain. Photo by Bahraini Activist. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Hae-in Lim, Renata Avila, Alex Laverty, 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 week's report highlights global government thuggery: From Bahrain to Mauritania to Mexico, blogger arrests have been abundant this August.


Fifty bloggers from around the world signed a letter urging the international human rights community to advocate on behalf of Bahraini blogger and Global Voices author Mohammed Hassan, who was arrested and taken from his family's home on July 31. Little is known about Hassan's current condition. Supporters are communicating about Hassan's case on Twitter using the hashtag #FreeSafy.

Blogger and Reporters – Mourasiloun correspondent Weld Abidine was arrested in Mauritania. Two days before his arrest, Abidine went to the Public Prosecution office to inquire about a rape case wherein relatives of a victim had accused authorities of closing her file and freeing the rapist.

Egyptian journalist and blogger Anas Fouda was detained by security personnel in the United Arab Emirates in late June, and has not been heard from since July 3. Fouda’s family recently went public about his detention after waiting several weeks in the hope he would be freed, and have created a Facebook page [ar] in support of his release.

Social media user and government critic Gustavo Maldonado was arrested for low-level drug offenses in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas just hours after he posted a YouTube video accusing local officials of corruption. Supporters suspect the arrest came in retaliation for his online activities.

Zambian freelance journalist Wilson Pondamali was granted bail after being arrested in July. Pondamali was arrested on four charges including unlawful possession of military pamphlets, and is suspected of having links to independent media site the Zambian Watchdog, which has faced numerous threats in recent months, likely due to its critical views on government activities.

Free Expression

The Pakistani government is developing software that will enable comprehensive blocking of “objectionable” content online. IT Minister Anusha Rehman said the new system will allow the government to lift its nearly year-old ban on YouTube, leaving only “objectionable” videos blocked on the site. This news comes alongside court challenges to the YouTube ban that are currently underway in Lahore and Peshawar.

In Taiwan, government officials admitted to having paid major search engines to alter search results on terms related to nuclear energy development. Searches on the names of 29 anti-nuclear power activists led to a government website touting the benefits and environmental safety of nuclear power as their top result. Activists have been working to halt operations at what would be the island state's fourth nuclear power plant, slated to begin operating in 2016. Many Taiwanese are worried about the safety implications of the plant, particularly in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, in which a 9.0 magnitude earthquake resulted in a massive radioactive water leak, causing untold damage to the surrounding area.


The e-mail service Lavabit, known for its use of asymmetric encryption, went dark last week. Owner Ladar Levison explained in a statement that he shut down the service because he did not want “to become complicit in crimes against the American people.” NSA leaker Edward Snowden was a user of Lavabit.


German justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger called for stronger data protection rules for the European Union. The minister said US firms that do not abide by EU standards should be denied access to the European market.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

Twitter officially registered its company policy manager, William Carty, to lobby the US government on the company’s behalf. The company also formed Twitter#PAC, a political action committee that will enable company executives to send donations to candidates for federal office. While Twitter’s founders have previously given personal donations to Democratic candidates, the PAC will enable Twitter to put more resources towards lobbying members of Congress on policy issues, many of which may affect users’ rights.

Netizen Activism

The Pirate Bay launched its own web browser to circumvent Internet censorship by bypassing ISP blockades. TorrentFreak has noted that unlike the Tor browser, the new system does not provide anonymity for its users.

Cool Things

Mozilla has launched its Firefox browser in a number of different Mesoamerican indigenous languages.

Publications and Studies

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For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.


Taiwanese Government Alters Search Results to Favor Nuclear Energy Policy

Taiwanese protest against fourth nuclear power plant. Photo by Nisa Yeh. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Taiwanese protest against fourth nuclear power plant. Photo by Nisa Yeh. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

For several months, activists in Taiwan fighting to prevent the launch of operations at a nuclear plant they argue would be hazardous for public health and the natural environment. Alongside mobilizing public support and lobbying government officials, they are now facing a new challenge: search engine censorship. Over the last few days, searches run on Yahoo! Kimo for the names of various anti-nuclear activists have yielded links to Nuclear Safety, Taiwan Energy [zh], a website run by the Bureau of Energy and Ministry of Economic Affairs, as their top result.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Economic Affairs admitted to Taiwan Apple Daily [zh] that the government had spent 100,000 Taiwanese Yuan (equivalent to USD3500) to alter the search results for 92 keywords on Google and Yahoo! Kimo, the country's most popular search engine. Among the 92 keywords, 63 are related to nuclear energy and 29 are the names of individuals, many of whom are anti-nuclear activists.

The website Nuclear Safety, Taiwan Energy presents scientific evidence aimed at convincing the public that nuclear energy is safe and the island's fourth nuclear plant meets international safety standards.

Since early this year, activists have been ramping up their demonstrations in an effort to halt operations at the plant. Many Taiwanese are worried about the safety implications of the plant, particularly in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, in which a 9.0 magnitude earthquake resulted in a massive radioactive water leak, causing untold damage to the surrounding area. As Taiwan lies in a seismically active zone, earthquakes are common, and nuclear safety has become a priority concern ever since.

With ample public support, environmental groups and anti-nuclear activists have been pressing the government to shut down the fourth nuclear plant which is scheduled to begin operating in 2015. The government wants to resolve the controversy with a referendum, but this is a somewhat empty promise: Taiwan's Referendum Act, which was was passed [zh] in November 2003, requires 50 percent of voters to participate in the referendum, or else the referendum proposal will be rejected. In the last ten years, six national referendums have been proposed, but none were passed.

Government interference with Internet search results will likely have an impact on the upcoming referendum. Liu Li'er (劉黎兒), one of the anti-nuclear activists who was affected by the government's political advertisement issued a public statement [zh] on August 13 via Facebook condemning the Ministry of Economic Affairs for using “brainwashing” tactics and demanding the Legislative body investigate the use of taxpayers’ money to generate political propaganda. She also urged portal websites to uphold their corporate social responsibility and reject government-sponsored ads promoting the benefits of nuclear energy.

anti nuclear search

Screen capture of the top search result of “anti-nuclear”(反核)

Soon after the news was exposed, Yahoo! Kimo ceased tampering with the search results of individuals’ names as it may infringe on the rights and interests of those involved. However, when people search the term “anti-nuclear”, the top search is still linked to the same government-run pro-nuclear energy development site.

August 07 2013

Netizen Report: Vietnam Escalates Online Censorship

Internet cafe in Saigon, Vietnam. Photo by Ivan Lian. (CC BY-NC-ND)

Internet cafe in Saigon, Vietnam. Photo by Ivan Lian. (CC BY-NC-ND)

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Hae-in Lim, Lisa Ferguson, Alex Laverty, 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 week we begin in Vietnam, where drastic new restrictions for online speech will soon come into force.

Free Expression

Vietnam's Internet may take a serious hit come September, when a new decree law banning a wide range of online content will come into force. According to the Bangkok Post, Decree 72 requires ISPs to block all content that is “against Vietnam, undermining national security, [or] social order… or information distorting, slandering and defaming the prestige of organisations, honour and dignity of individuals.” The law will require online services to divulge the identities of users who create such content. It also will prohibit sharing news or “information on current events” on social media sites. The Committee to Protect JournalistsRSF, and other have condemned the law.

Chinese singer Wu Hongfei was arrested for threatening to blow up “two Beijing municipal government agencies and a bunch of people [she] hate[s]” on Sina Weibo. Wu's lawyer argues that her words were impulsive and presented no real threat to the public.

Peruvian lawmakers introduced a new bill aimed at protecting children from online pornography. Under the proposed law, a government commission would determine what content Internet Service Providers should block. It remains unclear if and how a filtering mechanism might be implemented in the effort. Critics argue [es] that the law will lead to overblocking of lawful, age-appropriate content.

Twitter has added a “report abuse” button to its service to help combat abusive behavior following a series of incidents in the UK, including threats of rape directed at feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and MP Stella Creasy.


Prominent Vietnamese dissident blogger Nguyen Van Hai ended his 35-day-long hunger strike after Vietnam’s highest prosecutors’ office agreed to investigate his complaint over poor conditions and abusive treatment in prison. The concession came after US President Barack Obama called on Hanoi to release all political prisoners. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also has adopted his case.

The private offices of Frank La Rue, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression were broken into on July 31 in Guatemala City. Thieves took several computers [es] and documents. UN HRC Coordination Committee Chair Chaloka Beyani said of the incident: ”any attack on a Special Rapporteur is always cause of concern, particularly in countries with a recent history of tensions with human rights defenders.” Mr. La Rue is an expert in international human rights law and a champion for the protection of human rights on the Internet.

Intellectual Property

Under Russia’s new ‘SOPA’ law, copyright holders can make claims before the Moscow City Court and Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communication watchdog, requesting that infringing sites be blocked. After the updated law came into force last week, 1,700 sites in Russia protested by staging blackouts. The law has also been criticized by Google and Yandex, the largest search engine in Russia.

From now on, all research published by faculty at the University of California will be available to the public at no charge, thanks to the state university system's new Open Access Policy.


Fallout from PRISM continues. In Brazil, the Marco Civil da Internet, formerly characterized as a Bill of Rights for netizens, is undergoing major revisions as politicians pile on provisions intended to shield citizens from espionage by the US government. One such initiative calls for Brazilian user data to be stored in a Brazil-based data centers, a move that could prove costly and technologically infeasible.

National Security Agency (NSA) leaks revealed that seven telecommunication companies, including Verizon, Vodafone, and BT, have provided British intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) with access to their undersea fiber optic cables, enabling the British government to conduct surveillance across Europe.

Security researchers discovered new malware that uses a vulnerability in Firefox to identify users of the Tor network, according to Wired. Information traffic patterns for anonymous hosting company Freedom Hosting led researchers to suspect that a US law enforcement agency such as the FBI may be behind the code. Freedom Hosting hosts “Tor hidden service” sites, which can only be reached through the Tor network. Although these sites can be used for a variety of lawful purposes, they are sometimes used to host child pornography.

Cool Things

The Satis Smart Toilet, which can be controlled by an Android application, may be vulnerable to hacking attacks conducted through Bluetooth. Trustwave SpiderLabs warned the attacker could control flushing, bidet, and air-dry functions as well as opening and closing the toilet lid.

Publications and Studies

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For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.

August 06 2013

Chinese Authorities Crackdown on “Illegal” Independent Websites

Over 100 “illegal” websites have been shut down by Chinese authorities since early May. Many believe that the crackdown is aimed at independent watchdog sites in mainland China.

According to the State Internet Information Office, the 107 websites [zh] were shut down for failing to obtain official permission to establish and run sites, allegedly blackmailing government and corporate officials, and using terms such as “China” and “people” in their names.

Failure to obtain licenses and permits for news websites

Websites that wish to produce original news content must apply for permission to do so under the Provisions for the Administration of Internet News Information Services, enacted in September 2005. This regulation seeks to ensure that information portals distribute news that comes exclusively from state-controlled and approved media sources, such as People's Daily, Xinhua news and other outlets where propaganda officials have explicit oversight. Many of the affected sites indeed had not obtained permits.

Other websites had not registered their domains properly. In order to operate legally in China, when registering their domains, online content providers must obtain a license from the Ministry of Information Industry. Once these things are established, site web masters are required to respond to government requests for user data and content removal.

For individuals or small groups wanting to start their own websites, these regulations create large, often insurmountable obstacles. Many do not have the resources to comply with government requests for content removal and user data, which can easily become a full-time job for one or more people. Others are unable to obtain the costly business licenses needed to apply for an online content provider license.

To get around these bureaucratic procedures, some choose to affiliate themselves with established institutions or corporations so that they can register as a “web-branch” of a legitimate entity. Currently, there are many privately-run websites registered as “web-branches” of established institutions — a clear-cut crackdown on these “web-branches” would be disastrous.

Alleged Blackmail

Authorities also accused some of these sites of blackmailing individuals, institutions and corporations through online complaint, corruption monitoring and rights-defending activities.

A handful of sites on the crackdown list do indeed make their business by providing content deletion services for corporations or individuals wherein they delete “defamatory” remarks or critical comments that upset their clients. There are cases when the defamatory contents are posted by the content deletion service providers themselves, who then collect a fee for removing the content.

But most of the so-called “blackmailing” activities are citizen initiatives that uncover corruption of government officials and party members. In July 2013, corruption whistleblower Zhu Ruifeng's Remin Jianduwang which was registered in Hong Kong, was blocked. Zhu has been accused of engaging in blackmailing activities more than once by Chinese government authorities.

Unauthorized use of the terms “People”, “China” and “Chinese”

Websites that use terms such as “people”, “China” and “Chinese” to name themselves are considered “fraudulent” and thus deemed “illegal”.

It is a well-established norm in NGO registration that institutions cannot use these terms in their names unless they are directly controlled by the Chinese government or the Chinese Communist Party. Now this practice has been extended to governance in the online world.

To justify the crackdown, the Chinese authorities claimed that websites such as “People's Voices” (人民之聲) or “People's shopping” (人民購物網), “People's News”(人民要聞) mislead the public, giving the false impression that these sites are affiliated with the Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily. The solution is to take down the sites altogether.

Among the sites recently taken down are several devoted to citizen legal rights and anti-corruption efforts, including China Legal Rights Net (中国法制权益网), Xiaoxiang Anti-corruption Forum (潇湘反腐论坛), Legal Rights Defense Net (法律维权网), China Legal System Monitor (中国法制监督网), People's Rights Monitor (人民权利监督运行网), Legal Report (法制报道网), People's Petition (人民信访网), and many other similar organizations.

According to a notice issued by Xianyang government authorities [zh], the three-month campaign aims to shut down independent websites that hire journalists to do editorial work. Judging from the crackdown list, many Chinese netizens believe that the authorities are targeting citizen and independent watchdogs in an effort to re-establish party mouthpieces as the chief representative of the public interest in China.


Thumbnail photo taken from Flickr user Social Media Max (CC: AT-NC-SA)

July 31 2013

Netizen Report: The Manning Verdict

Bradley Manning. Photo by US Army. Released to public domain.

Bradley Manning. Photo by US Army. Released to public domain.

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Lisa Ferguson, Hae-in Lim, Yuqi Chen, Alex Laverty, 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 week we begin in the US, where military officer and whistleblower Bradley Manning has been convicted of multiple charges of espionage. We then move to the MENA region, where bloggers in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are facing new threats from government.

Freedom of Information

A US military court convicted military officer Bradley Manning of 20 out of 22 charges filed against him, including multiple charges under the Espionage Act of 1917. Prosecuted by the US government for leaking over 700,000 classified documents and other media to transparency platform WikiLeaks, Manning has been imprisoned and held in solitary confinement since his arrest in 2010. Manning was found not guilty of “aiding the enemy,” the most controversial charge brought against him, but could still face a lifetime in prison. A sentencing hearing for Manning begins today.

In The Guardian, Dan Gillmor and Yochai Benkler commented on what the verdict means for national security journalism in the United. Benkler described the decision as setting a “chilling precedent” for future cases.

The Bradley Manning Support Network is publishing frequent updates on court proceedings and reactions to the news.


Blogger and Global Voices contributor Mohamed Hassan was arrested in Bahrain today in an early morning raid on his home. On Twitter, individuals reported police seized Hassan's computer and cell phone. Hassan, known in the blogosphere as Safy, stopped blogging in April of 2013. Supporters are communicating about his arrest using the hashtag #FreeSafy.

A Saudi court convicted activist and Free Saudi Liberals website founder Raif Badawi of violating the country's anti-cybercrime law. Badawi, who was found guilty of “insulting Islam”, was sentenced to 600 lashes and seven years in prison.

Syrian security forces arrested and jailed 62 year-old Syrian artist Youssef Abdelke last week after he signed a declaration demanding the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad and a UN-supervised transition to an interim government. His wife, a prominent filmmaker, launched a Facebook campaign calling for his release. Over 700 writers, artists, academics, and journalists from the region have signed the petition, including prominent artists Serwan Baran and Ayman Baalbaki.

In better news, Kuwait's Emir issued a pardon to dozens of individuals who had been arrested and prosecuted for insulting him on Twitter.

Free Expression

Numerous reports held that bulk SMS messages were being blocked in Zimbabwe ahead of general elections in the country, which take place today, July 31. Inquiries to Econet, a major mobile service provider in the country, revealed that the country's Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority requested that providers block bulk messages coming from outside the country “for political reasons.”

The UK government has mandated that all Internet Service Providers install filters that will target adult pornographic content for users who do not deliberately “opt out” of this service by January 1, 2014. UK NGO Open Rights Group has warned that these will “reach far beyond pornography,” leading to the de facto censorship of age-appropriate content.

British PM David Cameron is concurrently pursuing more aggressive methods for stopping the circulation of child pornography online. Observers have noted that Internet and online service providers already take great pains to eliminate child pornography, which is illegal in nearly every country in the world, from their networks.

The Chinese government is working to defend youth from “spiritual pollution” with a new anti-pornography campaign. Porn websites, online games, advertisements, blogs, and social networks can now be shut down for hosting pornographic content. Critics claim that targeted content will “run the gamut from porn to wayward politics.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists has urged Barack Obama to discuss on press and online freedom issues during his upcoming visit to Vietnam. The Vietnamese government has introduced various restrictive Internet policies in recent years; thirty-six bloggers are currently imprisoned in Vietnam.


Digital rights advocacy groups Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy International, and Access Now launched a set of principles for human rights-protective communications surveillance practices for governments worldwide. 118 NGOs have endorsed the principles, which are currently available in multiple languages including Spanish, Polish, and Russian.

Members of the US Congress voted on an amendment that would end Congressional funding for certain controversial surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency (NSA). A group of Internet activists set up the site in an effort to influence the vote. The measure was narrowly defeated 205 to 217.

A team of researchers at University of Toronto have developed IXmaps, an interactive tool (and video) that maps the path of data packets as they traverse the Internet. The map shows how nearly all of the United States’ Internet traffic passes through one or more of 18 US cities and explains that the NSA can perform comprehensive surveillance of American Internet users by setting up splitters at these exchange points.


New reports confirmed that intelligence and defense service providers in Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, and New Zealand have banned the use of Lenovo computers on “secret” or “top secret” networks since the mid-2000s. Government security agents feared that “malicious circuits” and insecure firmware in Lenovo computer chips could generate security threats. Lenovo, a Chinese company that is the world's largest manufacturer of personal computers, said it was unaware of the ban. The company continues to supply computers to Western governments for unclassified networks.

Cool Things

Data-visualisation designer Ruslan Enikeev has created an Internet map that contains 350,0000 different website planets Internet users across the globe that received the most clicks. The size and color of the “planet” is tied to traffic and country of origin, while all “planets” were mapped according to the relationships to others. Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Yahoo! are among the biggest planets on the map.

Publications and Studies

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.


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