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February 27 2014

February 26 2014

February 13 2014

Two Million Mobile SIM Cards Deactivated in Zambia

Mobile phone shop in Lusaka. Photo by Curious Lee (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Mobile phone shop in Lusaka. Photo by Curious Lee (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The SIM cards of over two million Zambian mobile phone users were deactivated last week, according to the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority. After spending several months pushing subscribers to register their SIMs, the regulatory body now says that those who did not meet the January 31 deadline have had their SIMs deactivated.

Most people in Zambia, a country with a population of just over 13 million, own up to three SIM cards, one for each telecommunications service provider. Zambians also use them to access mobile Internet services.

In a statement released shortly after the close of registration ZICTA announced that out of a subscriber base of 9,462,504, “a total number of 8,235,991 SIM cards have been registered while 2,215,376 have been deactivated.”

Apart from cutting off services to subscribers who failed to register their cards, ZICTA also threatened to punish any of the three mobile phone service providers MTN, CellZ and Airtel in the same statement, stating:

As is the case in any process of this magnitude [SIM card registration], some level of margin of error is expected and accepted. Any Service provider found to have mistakes within the margin of error will be requested to re-run their system. However, for any Service Provider whose errors shall be above the accepted threshold will be punished by Law.

The SIM registration process did not go over without problems. Some people who had registered at the beginning of the exercise, four months prior to the deadline, discovered last month that they were not on the final list of registered subscribers. Others had their numbers under different names and even the wrong gender.

Former Vice President Brigadier-General Godfrey Miyanda, a leader of the now-opposition Heritage Party and a vocal critic of SIM registration policy, had one of his SIM cards registered without his knowledge. The phone company later apologised.

Gen. Miyanda is among some subscribers who have threatened to take ZICTA to court for allegedly threatening their rights and freedoms pertaining to privacy, property ownership and communication. On the last day of registration, Gen. Miyanda, in what he referred to as his last post, wrote:

Fellow internet partners and the Social Media family, I wish to inform you that the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) have reminded me that by midnight this day they will cut me off from civilisation by arbitrarily deactivating my SIM cards without just cause. I have NOT committed any crime, neither is there a credible record of the prevalence and/or abuse of these communications gadgets to justify any derogation from the said guaranteed rights.

Gen Miyanda, who had written several statements on this issue, continued:

By this single act ZICTA is attaching the condition that before I can enjoy my guaranteed freedom of expression I should first apply to the Authority or their agents to be registered. By the same token ZICTA are infringing my right to privacy and other proprietary [rights]. I contend that these freedoms and liberties cannot be taken away arbitrarily or traded for a few minutes of airtime. My communications to ZICTA and the Mobile Service Providers have remained unanswered. This means that by midnight I shall not be able to communicate or use my purchased implements for such communication. In short until this issue is resolved I shall be off air, including off the internet. This is my Last Post for now.

A journalist and mobile phone subscriber who has threatened class action against ZICTA complained that local media had not covered his anti-SIM card registration fight. Kasebamashila Kaseba alleged that the media was compromised by the regulatory body which sponsored various media activities including awards and working breakfasts. He stated:

As we close and review the public and media debates, to open the court process, in view of ZICTA deadline of Friday, 31st January, 2014 for SIM card deactivation, I wish to say and may elaborate later that we may not seek an “injunction” or “judicial review” as the matter is outside the law or SI 65 of 2011. Instead, the “class action” as already mentioned elsewhere may include action against some public media houses that benefited from the ZICTA SIM card registration […] campaign of deactivation and may include “citizen’s arrest.”

February 12 2014

Venezuela: Authorities Threaten to Fine Media Outlets for Protest Coverage

[All links lead to Spanish-language sites unless otherwise noted.]

Yesterday, Venezuelan authorities threatened media outlets covering a spate of public protests over the controversial detention of a group of university students.

A poster depicting the conflict between free expression and media regulation in Venezuela, at a 2007 student demonstration. Photo by Luis Carlos Diaz via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A poster depicting the conflict between free expression and media regulation in Venezuela, at a 2007 student demonstration. Photo by Luis Carlos Diaz via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

William Castillo, head of the Venezuelan Telecommunications Commission, CONATEL, declared on Thursday, February 11 that “the media coverage of the regrettable acts of violence perpetrated in some parts of the country could be considered a violation of Article 27 of the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio, Television and Electronic Media [en] which clearly prohibits the dissemination of media containing hate speech and violence, [and those] calling to ignore the authorities and disturb public order.”

For weeks, demonstrations targeting issues ranging from political reform to poor conditions in university housing facilities have been under way in several cities. Protests intensified last week after several students were detained on accusations “association to commit a crime,” amongst other charges, during a demonstration in the city of San Cristóbal. The students remain behind bars. A series of photos from recent protests can be found on Últimas Noticias.

In the midst of a newsprint crisis that has caused nine newspapers to close and more than twenty to reduce their page counts, and while national television channels are submitted to strict content regulations, hardened even more in recent weeks by President Nicolas Maduro and his so-called “war on sensationalism”, digital media has proved vital in covering news that has is no longer covered by traditional media. Today, as opposition leaders summon rallies around the country, people are expected to turn to social media to learn about the development of the demonstrations, which likely will not be reported on any public or mainstream news platforms.

January 30 2014

Four short links: 30 January 2014

  1. $200k of Spaceships Destroyed (The Verge) — More than 2,200 of the game’s players, members of EVE’s largest alliances, came together to shoot each other out of the sky. The resultant damage was valued at more than $200,000 of real-world money. [...] Already, the battle has had an impact on the economics and politics of EVE’s universe: as both side scramble to rearm and rebuild, the price of in-game resource tritanium is starting to rise. “This sort of conflict,” Coker said, “is what science fiction warned us about.”
  2. Google Now Has an AI Ethics Committee (HufPo) — sorry for the HufPo link. One of the requirements of the DeepMind acquisition was that Google agreed to create an AI safety and ethics review board to ensure this technology is developed safely. Page’s First Law of Robotics: A robot may not block an advertisement, nor through inaction, allow an advertisement to come to harm.
  3. Academic Torrentsa scalable, secure, and fault-tolerant repository for data, with blazing fast download speeds built on BitTorrent.
  4. Hack Schools Meet California Regulators (Venturebeat) — turns out vocational training is a regulated profession. Regulation meets disruption, annihilate in burst of press releases.

January 28 2014

Coursera Blocked in Syria — by US Sanctions

Screen capture of Coursera notice. Capture by Anas Maarawi, used with permission.

Screen capture of Coursera notice. Capture by Anas Maarawi, used with permission.

“Our system indicates that you are trying to access the Coursera site from an IP address associated with a country currently subjected to US economic and trade sanctions. In order for Coursera to comply with US export controls, we cannot allow you to access to the site.”

As of this month, if you try to access the online learning platform Coursera from within Syria, you will see only this message.

Coursera, which according to its site aims “to change the world by educating millions of people by offering classes from top universities and professors online for free,” is now subjected to a recent directive from the US federal government that has forced some MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) providers to block access for users in sanctioned countries such as Iran and Cuba. Coursera explains the change in its student support center:

The interpretation of export control regulations as they related to MOOCs was unclear for a period of time, and Coursera had been operating under one interpretation of the law. Recently, Coursera received a clear answer indicating that certain aspects of the Coursera MOOC experience are considered ‘services’ (and all services are highly restricted by export controls). While many students from these countries were previously able to access Coursera, this change means that we will no longer be able to provide students in sanctioned countries with access to Coursera moving forward.

Syrian developer Anas Maarawi criticized the policy shift on his blog: “Between the censorship imposed by the regime, which includes blocking hundreds of internet sites, and the effect of US sanctions, it has become nearly impossible for the remaining youth in the country to have access to online learning.”

Maarrawi added: “The technological sanctions imposed by the US against Syria do not harm the regime. They only contribute to suffocating the population, especially a youth eager to learn and connect with the outside world.”

The sanctions are not new. For several years Syrian internet users have been suffering their effects, from social networks such as LinkedIn to Google Earth.

In September 2011, the Electronic Frontier Foundation called on the US to lift all restrictions “that deny citizens access to vital communications tools.” But the US has continued its piecemeal approach, going back and forth between blocking new ranges of transactions to allowing the export of certain services.

“These sorts of export restrictions are overbroad and contain elements which have no effect on the Syrian regime, while preventing Syrian citizens from accessing a wealth of tools that are available to their activist counterparts in neighboring countries and around the world,” EFF stated.

Amid increasing isolation, access to knowledge is vital

Contending with deep isolation and daily loss, many Syrians regard Coursera as an empowering platform that allows them to continue learning, against all odds. Mahmud Angrini, a Syrian doctor who took more than 20 of the online courses the platform offers, shared what Coursera meant to him in a very touching letter that was published on the Coursera blog under the title “It's never too late to start again”:

Once a successful physician, my family and I turned into one of the millions of Syrian refugees. I didn’t just lose my properties I also lost all my relations – friends and supporting family members. I felt sad, depressed, bored and isolated. But then one day while I was surfing the Internet, I found Coursera.

What I can assure you is that Coursera changed my life during those painful months. I began to follow Coursera courses, not just in the field of medicine but also in many other disciplines. (…) Soon later, my language skills improved and I engaged in many other courses. The courses and the interesting knowledge impeded in them helped me forget my pain, depression and suffering.

Someday, the war will end, and we will come back to our homes and our former lives to contribute to the reconstruction process in our country. To do so, we need to learn new skills, and this could only be achieved through continuing education. We can take advantage of the high quality courses that Coursera offers at no cost.

The letter was welcome by the Coursera editors, who described Dr. Angrini’s experience as touching and inspiring: “Thank you Mahmud, for living Coursera’s mission to create a world where people can learn without limits.”

Coursera ended the announcement of the changes that prevent access to their courses in sanctioned countries with the following note: “We value our global community of users and sincerely regret the need to take this action. Please know that Coursera is currently working very closely with the U.S. Department of State and Office of Foreign Asset Control to secure the necessary permissions to reinstate site access for users in sanctioned countries.”

If Coursera really believes in its own role as a life-changer (and game-changer) in the field of online education, it should take all steps necessary to ensure that access to their site is reinstated in sanctioned countries such as Syria, where their courses make the biggest difference.

Anas Maarawi contributed to this article.

January 17 2014

Zambian Police Go After ‘Watchdog’ for Publishing Draft Constitution

Lusaka skyline. Photo by Mike Lee via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Lusaka at dusk. Photo by Mike Lee via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Zambian police forces say they will employ “international legal provisions” to take into custody the operators of citizen news websites that authorities claim are threatening the security of the state.

The terse statement was issued a few hours after independent news site the Zambian Watchdog published a draft constitution that the government has written but neglected to release to the public. This violates the Terms of Reference of the Constitution Technical Committee which was appointed shortly after President Michael Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) won the 2011 elections.

The statement issued by the police public relations unit and reported by Zambia Reports reads:

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous people have taken advantage of the cyberspace to commit crimes on the internet through defamatory comments and remarks posted on websites especially through the electronic media in the name of press freedom which end up infringing a number of state security provisions.

As such, the Police shall employ local, regional and international legal provisions to pursue the authors and publishers of such criminal, libelous, defamatory, treasonous and seditious statements and bring them to book.

Echoing recent words of Minister of Information and Broadcasting Mwansa Kapeya, who spoke of the government unmasking the identities of people behind certain citizen news websites, the police statement added:

So far, other investigations into the identities of the perpetrators of such crimes are underway and we shall expose all the people involved in these malicious and borderline treacherous activities hiding behind the anonymity of the internet.

Kapeya, a former broadcaster himself, was quoted saying:

We are concerned about some of the news that is being published by online publication most of it amounts to abuse of the social media. A lot of things are said about government officials and the President without [them being] given a chance to respond.

Another minister, Yamfwa Mukanga, in charge of communication, recently said the government was working on a law to regulate online media and hold “them” (websites and services) accountable for their actions:

We have to find a way of controlling them because they are tarnishing the image of our country. Of late, we have seen a lot of things published by online media that are [e]very negative because they publish anything.

The Zambian Watchdog reported that the government was secretly working on a law that would criminalize the act of reading the Zambian Watchdog and other similar sites. Quoting a government source, the Watchdog reported:

The Watchdog is just too advanced for the PF and because of the huge costs involved in blocking it, government now wants to pass a law in the next parliament to criminalise whoever accesses or contributes to the site because by then all data of the sim card will already have been captured. They want the attorney general to complain on behalf of the government and then later it will go to cabinet.

Commenting under the story, Watchdog reader Czar said [Watchdog comments do not have permalinks]:

That “law” is meant to scare semi illiterates. Will Sata and his gang manage to monitor every device that is used to browse the Internet. Don’t they know that you can browse anonymously using a proxy? If China has failed to do this, how will Sata and his gang succeed. Don’t they have better things to do?

Observers widely suspect that the Zambian government has been trying to shut down critical news websites such as the Zambian Watchdog and Zambia Reports for over a year. This isn't the first time government officials have spoken dismissively of the Watchdog — in July, Vice President Guy Scott said he would “celebrate” if the Watchdog were shut down. In separate statements, the government has also threatened to close down social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

January 10 2014

Award-Winning Egyptian Activists Receive One-Year Suspended Sentence

Prominent Egyptian activists Alaa Abd El Fattah, his sister Mona Seif, and ten others on January 5 received a one-year suspended sentence in a case in which they were accused of torching the headquarters of ex-Presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq’s campaign. This is one of many cases that has Egyptian and international activist communities worried about the government’s apparent backlash at those active in fueling the January 25 revolution in Egypt in 2011.

Tweet showing Mona Seif coming out of the court hall where she was just handed a one-year suspended sentence.

Alaa did not attend the court session. He has been detained since November 28, after being accused of organizing a protest in front of The Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt's Parliament) without obtaining legal permission. Two days prior to the protest, legislators passed a law requiring all protest organizers to submit logistical information about planned protests to the Ministry of the Interior. Under the new policy, the Ministry reserves the right to (indefinitely) require a change of logistics. Practically speaking, this enables the Ministry to prevent protests from taking place, if it so chooses.

The protest in question was organized by the No to Military Trials for Civilians group, a campaign initiated by Mona Seif but of which her brother Alaa is not a member. The group has issued a press statement claiming responsibility for the organization of the protest. Members of the group have also filed a report with the public prosecutor claiming responsibility for the event. The protest, which took place on November 26, called for the abolishing of military trials for civilians in the new constitution which Egypt is to vote on later this month.

The protest was violently dispersed by the police roughly half an hour after it began. Police detained 11 women, most of them members of the No to Military Trials group, and 24 men. The women, all of whom were beaten and some of whom were sexually harassed while being detained, remained in custody for a few hours. They were then forced to ride a police car and thrown in the desert sometime after midnight. The men were detained for a week and are now released (except for one, Ahmed Abdel Rahman) pending investigation. Alaa was detained after police stormed his house two days later and accused him of organizing the protest. This allegation came despite the fact that Alaa waited outside the police station where his sister was detained on November 26 all evening until she was picked up by friends after police threw her and her colleagues in the desert. Although both Alaa and Ahmed Abdel Rahman have been detained for over a month pending investigation, no court date has been assigned yet for the case.

The suspended sentence should allow the activists to serve a period of probation, rather than jail time, on the condition that they abide by the law during this period.

These are not the only two cases currently in progress against prominent activists in Egypt. Ahmed Maher, Ahmed Douma, and Mohamed Adel have all recently been given a hefty 3-year-sentence with hard labor in another case, in which they were also accused of organizing a protest without permit. Maher is the founder of the April 6 Youth group, and Adel is the group’s spokesperson. The three activists have also been each fined EGP 50,000 ($7,000) each, and would be put on probation for another three years if found guilty. The activists have appealed the sentence, but they currently remain in prison.

In Alexandria, long-time activists Mahinour El Masri and Hassan Mostafa, along with four others, were convicted of organizing a protest without permit, and were given two-year prison sentences and a fine of EGP 50,000 ($7,000) each. Hassan Mostafa had just been released from jail in November after the public prosecutor suspended a one-year-sentence he received for slapping a prosecutor while filing a complaint for torturing detainees.

Activists in Egypt believe these cases and others are merely political in nature, and meant to keep prominent activists behind bars while intimidating others to keep them away from the political process. The government passed the Protest Law in November claiming it was necessary to control the chaos created mostly by Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers in clashes with security forces that often turned violent. Since it has been put in effect however, the law has been used to crack down on all kinds of opposition, including peaceful protesters, and individuals and groups that have been closely associated with the January 25 revolution and its aftermath.

January 09 2014

Lebanon: SMEX Tracks Web Filtering Through Research, Crowdsourcing

Casino du Liban. Photo by HAL_ via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Casino du Liban. Photo by HAL_ via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The original version of this post appeared on SMEX.

As co-director of Social Media Exchange, a small non-profit that promotes the strategic use of new media for civic participation and advocacy in the Arab World, I have spent much of this year researching blocked websites in Lebanon. This past summer, I was able to obtain web blocking data from a Lebanese Internet service provider.

Of various sites blocked, cases that stood out included one site that played a key role in uncovering child molestation allegations against a Lebanese priest, a series of unauthorized gambling sites, and Israel-based sites related to commerce.

In October 2013, Lebanese Priest Mansour Labaki was convicted by the Vatican of child molestation. He was sentenced to a “life of penitence,” a decision that triggered outrage from his family and supporters who insisted that he was innocent and requested an appeal. In contrast, others in the civil society wanted his case to be transferred to a civil court where he would be condemned and sent to jail for his actions.

In the midst of the drama, the website that exposed the priest and documented stories of the victims was blocked inside Lebanon.

The Priest Labaki scandal website was blocked under Lebanon's libel and defamation law, despite the fact that he was convicted of the crime by the Vatican. The decision to block the site exemplifies the power that some religious institutions wield over Lebanon's judicial system.

Nine gambling sites were blocked in Lebanon in 2013. Casino Du Liban, established first in the Middle East in 1959, has had a legal monopoly over this industry in Lebanon since 1995. @sygma refreshed our memories in last summer's debate [ar] about its status: “Decree 6919 of June 29 1995, Casino du Liban was given monopoly over all gambling activities to protect public morals.” Therefore blocking the nine gambling websites is justified, from a legal perspective, despite the fact that it is easy to bypass filtering.

Lebanon is also blocking six Israeli websites under the economy and trade law. The Ministry of Economy and Commerce administrates the Arab League boycott on Israel and thus is responsible for restricting a range of economic and trade relations between Lebanon and Israel. Concurrently, Israeli authorities are also blocking Lebanese IPs from accessing two websites, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and TASE, a website that provides employment information.

While we can debate the legality of blocking specific websites, we cannot support the lack of information and transparency surrounding the process. A state needs more than legal support to function and survive: It needs community input and support to remind them that some laws — such as the libel and defamation laws — are in need of new amendments, and that unblocking gambling sites can create economic opportunity. Most importantly, we need to have all this in place to call on our politicians and public officials to account for their actions.

The technical methodology through which we obtained these results will not be published here, but we hope to make it available in the future. In recent days, we've begun receiving messages leading us to believe that web blocking in Lebanon is applied inconsistently across ISPs. To try to gather more information about this interesting phenomenon, we’ve made our Google spreadsheet public and added columns for ISPs. Through crowdsourcing, we can try to map what’s actually going on in the country with regard to blocking of websites. Please test the URLs and add your results, or if you find other blocked URLs, add them too. The following Maharat Foundation article [ar] also offers useful information about the blocking.

January 06 2014

Minister Offers $2000 Reward To Unmask Zambian Watchdog Editors

A Zambian government minister has offered a US$2000 reward to anyone who can unmask the identity of people behind independent media website Zambian Watchdog for writing stories and printing pictures alleging infidelity against him.

In a counter-offer, the Zambian Watchdog has offered iPads and other tablets to people with what they call “credible information” on an alleged extra-marital romantic affair of Miles Sampa, Zambia's Junior Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry. Sampa, a senior member of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), sued the independent social news website Kachepa 360 (which is no longer available online) for defamation and was awarded US$50,000 in damages by a United States court early last year.

The Minister made his offer after the Zambian Watchdog published a story alleging that he recently travelled to the Northern provincial town of Kasama to dish out money to party cadres to stir trouble after local parliamentarian Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba announced his resignation as Minister of Defense.

The Watchdog quoted Sampa as saying:

I don’t care whether they are hiding in London or wherever they are. I recently won damages in the United States and I have no qualms about pursuing people that spread falsehoods [in reference to the Watchdog]

Sampa continued his commentary on his Facebook page, insinuating that these news items were a form of “cyber crime”:

I am making an appeal to all upright and noble people. If anyone knows the name and address of a man or woman, local or abroad, that writes or is an agent for Publishers of falsehood or are into character assassination on the Internet or Facebook for political expediency or just for fan [fun], please inbox me those details or text to [number given]

A reward of K10,000(rebased) [Zambia recently rebased her currency by removing three zeroes from it] or $2000 if abroad will be availed to Senders of bonafide details sent.

Full confidentiality is guaranteed to all informers and reward will be via Western Union if not in person. My hobby for 2014 and on behalf of all those who feel they are victims of this cyber crime, is to locate the abusers so they can see the inside of a court room nearest to their physical address anywhere on this planet.

Sampa added:

Those who enjoy defaming other people be it politicians, should be brave enough to validate their stories in court.

The Zambian Watchdog reproduced Sampa’s post on its Facebook page and in its response, stated:

We (Zambian Watchdog) are also appealing to anyone who knows any of Miles Sampa’s current concubines to tell us. You can ‘inbox’ us just here or email to editor@zambiawatchdog

If you send us credible data, we shall send you an Ipad or Kindle for you to continue browsing the Watchdog. But make no mistake, a courier will deliver the Ipad or Kindle to you but you will never know from which direction it came from.

And for you Sampa, take notice that we [are] with you.

Commenting on the Zambian Watchdog Facebook post, Kaluku Musumadi advised Sampa to stay away from the fight with the news website:

This hide and seek (Tom & Jerry) between Miles and the ZW Dog will be getting out of hand. Miles must just learn to ignore such because the more he “pulls his sleeves to clinch a fist,” the dog is also jumping for another bite of him. Learn to ignore certain media nonsense and their attention on you will eventually shift to other hotter subjects.

Several Zambian journalists have in the past been arrested on trumped up charges on suspicion of being linked to the Zambian Watchdog.

 

Related stories, all by Gershom Ndhlovu

Minister Ridiculed Over Website Closure Statement

Another Journalist Arrested in Zambia

Journalist Charged With Sedition in Zambia

Zambia: ISP Faces Backlash Over Blocked News Site

Zambia: VP “Would Celebrate” Shutdown of News Site

Zambia: Minister Threatens Editors of Online Watchdog with Treason Charge

January 04 2014

Botched Bureaucracy Mars SIM Card Registration in Zambia

SIM card. Released to public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

SIM card. Released to public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In autumn of 2012, the Zambian government issued a new policy requiring citizens to register their mobile phone SIM cards, using their real identities. Some weeks ago, officials began threatening to deactivate services on mobile phones with unregistered SIMs.

Two days before the December 31 SIM card registration deadline, thousands of people flocked to registration centers to avoid losing their mobile phone service. Thousands more, who had registered their cards when the exercise began in September, discovered their records had gone missing from the national SIM database, leaving them at risk of losing their service.

Amidst mass confusion, one subscriber reported the CEO of Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), the regulatory agency behind SIM card registration campaign, to the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) for professional misconduct by misinterpreting the law on SIM registration.

Many mobile phone users reported errors in the registration process. On the Facebook walls of some subscribers who registered their SIM cards in the early days of the campaign, Ministry of Finance public relations officer Chileshe Kandeta, wrote:

SIM REGISTRATION…is it goodbye to my beloved sim cards. [...] Maybe, coz [because] I registered my numbers several months ago at Manda Hill [shopping mall in Lusaka]. Upon checking to make sure everything is ok, I discover that I have not been registered on the system. AGONY!

Commenting on Kandeta’s status, Sonnile Nsakali Phiri wrote:

Esp[ecially] on MTN. I made 3 attempts, where I was only “partially registered”. I'd to go and make noise at the Arcades centre to somebody at the till before she punched a few times on her pc then I was fully registered. Meanwhile, the girl doing the sim registration had been holding on to the forms for 4wks instead of submitting them

Jean Serge wrote:

 Yesterday, I did registration for the 5th time! at the time I do try *538# , the feedback is that I am not registered. My registration slip serial number is 11 00 71 47 and my Dealer Code : HQ

During the last-minute rush in the capital, Lusaka, Facebook activist Gift Tako Linyada Mbewe poked fun at stereotypes in his commentary on the drive:

OK THERE ARE SOME BEHAVIOURS WHICH WILL NEVER LEAVE AN AFRICAN.

OK I PARKED AT ZAMPOST [Lusaka Main Post Office] AND STARTED WALKING TO CAIRO CHEMIST. AT ZAMPOST, I SAW A LONG QUEUE, VERY LONG. SO I ASKED, “WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE?”, SOMEONE ANSWERED, “WE ARE REGISTERING OUR SIM CARDS BEFORE TOMORROW THE DEAD LINE”. WHAT!? KEKEKEKE [laughter]!!!
AFRICANS WITH LAST MINUTES. I THINK THE GOVERNEMENT IS ALSO TO BLAME, WHY DO THEY LIKE TO EXTEND DEADLINESS? ANYWAY, THEY ARE ALSO AFRICANS.

AS FOR ME, I DONT EVEN REMEMBER HOW LONG AGO I REGISTERED MY SIM CARDS…

Journalist and researcher Kasebamashila Kaseba has taken matters further by reporting ZICTA managing director Margaret Chalwe-Mudenda, a lawyer herself, to LAZ, a body regulating legal practice in the country, alleging that she has misinterpreted the statutory instrument SI 65 of 2011 on SIM card registration and deactivation.

Kaseba, in his letter to LAZ, wrote:

In a follow up to my letter to ZICTA Director General dated 15th November, 2013 copied to Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) and in accordance with the Chapter 31 LAZ Act on professional ethics of lawyers, I write to file a complaint of professional misconduct against the ZICTA Director General (Ms) Margaret Chalwe-Mudenda with regard to ZICTA interpretation and implementation of SI 65 of 2011 on SIM card registration and deactivation.

In view of the above, I write for your attention to the fact that Director General Chalwe-Mudenda, a lawyer by profession, thus answerable to LAZ, despite my letter on professional and legal issues, neglected, failed and refused to cite, publish or accordingly communicate SI 65 of 2011 on SIM registration that threatened extreme punishment of deactivation. Instead, ZICTA emphasised misinformation, miscommunication of its countdown and deadline while spending public resources on issues outside the law.

Instead, ZICTA emphasised misinformation, miscommunication while spending public resources on its countdown and deadline which are outside the law.

A government junior minister in charge of communication, Colonel Panji Kaunda, extended the deadline for SIM card registration to February 15 when subscribers would lose all services on unregistered cards, while ZICTA initially maintained the December 31 deadline, but has now moved it to January 31. Confusion reigns.

A few days into February, the nation may be counting the number of people who will have had their SIM cards de-registered.

 

December 23 2013

Facing New Licensing Rules, Leading Political News Site Closes in Singapore

breakfastA Singaporean news site known as Breakfast Network was forced to close down after it rejected “onerous” new government registration requirements. Founded by former Straits Times journalist and blogger Bertha Henson, the site features social and political news and commentary. Henson elected to cease website operations after failing to submit documents demanded by the Media Development Authority (MDA). Despite warnings from the MDA, Breakfast Network is maintaining an online presence through its Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Under a section of the Broadcasting (Class License) Act introduced last June, a corporate entity or website providing political commentary must register with the MDA to ensure that it does not receive foreign funding. Aside from revealing its funding source, the website must submit the personal information of its editors and staff.

Breakfast Network was ordered by the MDA to register on or before December 17 but the website editor said the government’s technical requirements and registration forms contained too many vague provisions.

For its part, the MDA said the “registration requirement is simply to ensure that Breakfast Network will not receive foreign funding.” It directed Breakfast Network to “cease its online service,” including its Facebook and Twitter publications:

Since Breakfast Network has decided not to submit the registration form, and will therefore not be complying with the registration notification, MDA will require that Breakfast Network cease its online service.

MDA would like to reiterate that the content is not the issue. Rather, it is the mode of operation, i.e. via a corporate entity which means there is greater possibility for foreign influence. Should Breakfast Network Pte Ltd remain active as a company, it must not operate any iteration of www.breakfastnetwork.sg on other Internet platforms as doing so would contravene MDA’s registration requirements. These other Internet platforms include Breakfast Network’s Facebook page and Twitter Feed.

Netizens and media groups quickly denounced the “overly-intrusive requirements” imposed by the government and warned against excessive media regulation. Cherian George described the site's closure as “death by red tape.” Braema Mathi of the human rights group Maruah worried that the “registration requirement has chilled and reduced the space for free expression in Singapore.” She continued:

As a regulator tasked with developing the media landscape in Singapore, MDA should consider the substantive impact of its decisions, not just its own subjective intent. Registration requirements can operate to censor free expression as effectively as, and more insidiously than, outright demands to remove content.

Blogger Ng E-Jay accused the government of being a “highly sophisticated oppressor” by “forcing the removal via legislation” of a website that is known for advocating “constructive and critical dialogue” in the country.

MDA insisted that it merely implemented a policy that seeks to prevent foreign interests from manipulating the local media. It added that the registration procedure is not a form of censorship.

Nevertheless, the closure of a leading socio-political website has put a spotlight on what the Singaporean government calls a “light touch“ approach Internet regulation. Many groups believe this and other new policies are undermining media freedom in the country.

December 21 2013

Zambia: Register Your SIM Card, or Lose Your Service

Mobile phone shop in Lusaka. Photo by Curious Lee (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Mobile phone shop in Lusaka. Photo by Curious Lee (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In autumn of 2012, the Zambian government issued a new policy requiring citizens to register their mobile phone SIM cards, using their real identities. Now they are threatening to deactivate services on mobile phones with unregistered SIMs.

Mobile service providers in Zambia mainly offer pay-as-you-go services, meaning that mobile phone customers can acquire SIM cards anonymously and pay for air time as needed. Many Zambians also rely on their mobile phones to access the Internet. This is critical, given that dial-up and broadband services are not only expensive but poorly distributed throughout the country.

Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) stated that citizens must register their SIM cards by December 31, 2013, or they will begin to lose certain services. Phones will be fully de-registered by February 15, 2014 if owners do not comply with the registration order.

An MTN call to its subscribers to register their SIM cards.

An MTN call to its subscribers to register their SIM cards.

Citizen media website Zambia Reports quoted Communications and Transport junior minister Colonel Panji Kaunda saying subscribers would have a window of up to February 15 when their SIM cards would be completely de-registered.

Kaunda reportedly said that 5,360,093 SIM cards were registered as of December 16, out of a total of 10,343,527 mobile phone subscribers in the country.

On Facebook, media worker John Chola, apparently after receiving a promotional message from one mobile phone service provider, wrote:

“Your number will be disconnected if it is not registered by December 31, 2013. Visit your nearest MTN Agent or Zampost to register your SIM card today!”
Isn't this appaling and silly coming to one who has done so more than twice and even made several stopovers to verify with a particualr service provider? Go ahead cut them off, am out!

One comment on Chola’s post by Mwamba Kanyanta reads:

[…] I have been opting out on as many promotional messages as possible from these carriers. Receiving a message like the one ba (Mr) Chola got can be very irritating considering that he had just done the needful.. Does the law oblige a subscriber to disseminate the ZICTA message? If I register my sims, I shouldn't be made to preach to my neighbour about sim registration. In fact, campaigns of threats never yield tangible results. By January, no single sim will have been blocked. Bet?

When ZICTA announced SIM card registration last September, the agency warned that failure to register SIM cards after the deadline would result in SIM deactivation, leaving subscribers unable to communicate. The action by ZICTA was in apparent compliance with the Information Communication Technologies (ICT) Act No.15 of 2009 and the Statutory Instrument on the Registration of Electronic Communication Apparatus No. 65 of 2011.

When ZICTA initially faced resistance from mobile phone users, it explained that the mandatory registration of SIM cards was being done to create a security data base for users.

December 05 2013

Controversy Smolders Over Japan's State Secrecy Bill

Image by twitter user @281_ for anti-state-secrecy-protection bill.

Image by twitter user @281_ for anti-state-secrecy-protection bill.

Japan’s proposed State Secrecy bill continues to stoke controversy after its passage in the Lower House last week. The proposed law would introduce harsh new punishments for leaking national secrets related to defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism, and counter-espionage.

National security is one of the most important agenda items for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The bill, in relation to an already-enacted law that launched Japan's version of the NSA, is considered very important for the party's success.

During a key plenary session and even days after its approval, people opposing the bill rallied in front of the Diet (Japan's House of Parliament), shouting “stop the secrecy bill! The evil bill should be discarded!” This is unusual in Japan — although the Japanese constitution affords citizens the right to assemble, most people will not join public rallies.

Shigeru Ishiba, Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party, found the noise unpleasant, and casually referred to demonstrators as “terrorists” on his blog [ja]:

単なる絶叫戦術はテロ行為とその本質においてあまり変わらない

It seems to me that the tactic of simply shouting at the top of their lungs is not much different from an act of terrorism, in essence.

Taken out of context, Ishiba's comment might sound outrageous, but it's easy for people see protests as hindering political progress, whatever that progress might mean. Later, Ishiba posted an apology and correction [ja] to withdraw the above remark:

整然と行われるデモや集会は、いかなる主張であっても民主主義にとって望ましいものです。 一方で、一般の人々に畏怖の念を与え、市民の平穏を妨げるような大音量で自己の主張を述べるような手法は、本来あるべき民主主義とは相容れないものであるように思います。「一般市民に畏怖の念を与えるような手法」に民主主義とは相容れないテロとの共通性を感じて、「テロと本質的に変わらない」と記しましたが、この部分を撤回し、「本来あるべき民主主義の手法とは異なるように思います」と改めます。

Protests and gatherings held in an orderly nature, are desirable for democracy, regardless of what they stand for. On the other hand, I think protests, which are loud enough to bother neighboring citizens’ peace of mind, and leave citizens in awe by blatantly expressing what they stand for, run counter to authentic democracy. I had written on my blog that such acts are not much different from terrorism because I felt there was something similar about these tactics of scaring and leaving citizens in awe with an act of terrorism, but here I withdraw this part of the sentence, and rewrite it as “different from tactics in the original form of democracy.”

Such remarks have evidently done nothing to turn down the volume of protesters. If anything, it seems to be getting louder. On December 5 and 6, angry protesters marched in Hibiya park at a gathering dubbed “drums of fury” [ja].

A coalition of artists, film-makers, editors and publishers opposing the State Secrecy Protection Bill have gathered over 4,400 endorsements for an appeal [ja] against the bill. Their Facebook page [ja], founded on December 1, 2013, has already reached 8,270 Likes.

In a statement, they called for support from people who engage in acts of expression:

「表現人の会」では、声明の趣旨に賛同いただける方を広く募集しています。
条件は、「声明に賛同する」ことと、「あなた自身が、何らかの表現者」であること。プロ・アマ・経歴・国籍は問いません。

We are calling for people to support our appeal [against the Secrecy Bill]. Anyone engaged in any type of work that involves expressing yourself, regardless of nationality, professional or non-professional work history in expression, is eligible to support our appeal.

Patriotic conservative blogger gintoki commented on the issue, suggesting [ja] that people against the bill are predominantly leftists.

マスコミのみならず、ジャーナリストに弁護士、それに賛同する者達が集まってデモを行う・・・
その集団の後ろには労組系や左派系と思しき団体の幟が林立し、まるで反原発デモか、沖縄の反米・反基地運動かと見間違うほどだが、マスコミが彼らの事を左派系団体だとか、労組系を中心にした…などというその団体の本質的な部分について触れて報道する事は少ない

It is not only the mass media, lawyers, journalists, and people who support them and are coming together and protesting [against the bill] [...] This group appears to look like a protest rally before an anti-nuclear power plant, or and anti-US base in Okinawa, with multiple banners of unionists and left-looking groups behind them. However, no mass media described them as left-wing groups or unionist groups. Very few reports touch on the fundamental part of the protesting groups.

Until recently, acts of protest were considered some what rebellious and often times protesters were labeled as “professional activists”, “commies” or “leftists”. But since the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, more people have started to take action and we have seen many first-time demonstrators. Yet those who oppose the secrecy bill seem to stretch beyond Japan's so-called left.

A wide range of organizations have expressed opposition to the proposed law. Seven doctors and dentists released a statement [ja] opposing the bill that won the support of roughly 200 doctors and dentists:

私たち医師・歯科医師が「特定秘密の取扱者」になった場合、日常診療において患者さんから得る病歴・薬物歴・精神疾患歴・家族歴などのプライバシーを、国に強制的に提供させられることになるかもしれません。特定秘密に指定されれば、強制も秘密になります。これは医療者の守秘義務に大きく反し、たいへん危険な人権侵害に加担することになってしまいます。

We, doctors and dentists, may have to be obliged to provide the government with private information of patients such as illness history, record of medication, mental health history, family history that we keep from daily consultation, if we are assigned as people who deal with ‘special secret'. Once special secret is designated, we would have to keep the fact that it is enforcement. Such an act would be far from our duty of confidentiality as medical workers, and would assist human rights violation.

The Directors’ Guild of Japan [ja], Writers’ Guild of Japan [ja], and Japan Writers’ Guild [ja] also put out a joint statement against the bill.

To sound the alarm internationally, Japan Computer Access for Empowerment (JCAFE) released an urgent appeal on December 1, saying that the proposed law is dangerous in the following ways:

We think the law is problematic because:

  • The scope of “specific secrets” is broad and vague, and how exactly “specific secret” will be designated remains unclear. Especially, there is no regulation which forbids specification of the disadvantageous information for the government.
  • The government can permanently designate any information it wants to hide from the public as specific secrets.
  • Any independent third-party bodies will not established that have the power to screen information to determine whether it merits being classified as a specific secret. Even the Diet or courts can not check.
  • The bill includes serious threats to whistle-blowers and even journalists reporting on secrets. Government officials who, in good faith, release confidential information on violations of the law, or wrongdoing by public bodies, should be protected against legal sanctions.
  • Anyone who asks central government employees to offer specific secrets could be subject to punishment on the grounds that they abetted the leakage of secrets. This withers too much the coverage act by all the press containing community media, independent media, and foreign media with the intimidation by punishments.
  • The “aptitude evaluation system” is a privacy infringement not only to public servants and the private citizens that have accepted commissions for government contracts but also to their families, friends, and even their romantic partners.

We call upon all members of the House of Councilors to scrap the bill.

The House of Councilors is expected to vote on the bill on the afternoon of December 6.

November 25 2013

The Internet as a Catalyst for Change in Yemen

Demonstrators gather in Sana'a in 2011. Photo by Sallam via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Demonstrators gather in Sana'a in 2011. Photo by Sallam via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Walid Al-Saqaf is the Chair of ISOC-Yemen.

The economy is suffering, illiteracy levels are among the highest in the world, and most high school and university graduates are struggling to find work. Even worse, the security situation is dire: assassinations, kidnappings, and other violent acts have become routine. This is the state of Yemen today. But one segment of society that is trying to reverse the country’s fortunes is Yemen’s youth. Young Yemenis today could prove the greatest asset in getting the country back on its feet. Technology has a big role to play here.

Young people who are trying to find new ways to find work, engage, do research and get a break from daily hardships have found that the Internet has given them some relief and hope.

The recent launch of Yemen’s chapter of the Internet Society gives me reason to be hopeful. More than 200 people attended the launch event that took place in a remote part of Sana’a City. This leaves me optimistic about the strong desire of Yemenis, particularly youth, to have a stronger, more resilient, more accessible Internet.

Why now?

ISOC-Yemen launch, November 2013. Photo used with permission.

ISOC-Yemen launch, November 2013. Photo used with permission.

With so many problems facing Yemen, one of the questions posed by some audience members at the event was ‘Why now?’ hinting at the many other difficulties that Yemen faces -– severe water shortages and power outages have become a daily norm, and many don’t dare leaving home after midnight for fear of armed gangs. In the face of such direct threats to health and safety, some have asked: Why should one invest time, energy and money in the Internet?

The Internet could bring change, foster ideas and ultimately, play an integral role in lifting people from poverty. A small minority of Yemenis have pioneered this space, developing their own businesses on social media or using the Internet to find work. Success stories of Internet-based development and entrepreneurship could inspire more action. Events such as TEDxSanaa, TEDxAden and Sanaa Startup Weekend have highlighted these achievements.

These examples were fascinating because the Internet was able to help change lives at a personal level despite a poor and relatively expensive connection. One can only imagine how a more open, easily accessible Internet could impact Yemeni society.

ISOC-Yemen is a step towards making Yemen a country more connected to the world.  With a population of 25 million, the majority of whom are under 40, Yemen could become one of the fastest growing countries when it comes to Internet penetration and use. It shows tremendous promise that can help shape the future of the country both at an individual and national level.

Affordability, awareness and transparency

There is much work to be done. At 15%, Yemen's lowest Internet penetration rate is currently the lowest in the Arab World. The country also lacks 3G connectivity – although this is due in part to the government’s monopoly over telecommunications services, infrastructure has also been decimated by acts of violence – in 2012 alone, fiber cables were cut 180 times in attacks against the state and intertribal conflict.

We must start taking bold and strategic steps to seize the moment and use the Internet to its fullest potential. As ISOC-Yemen, we plan to do this with three primary initiatives.

We plan to engage with Internet service providers and public policy makers in an effort to end the government telecom monopoly once and for all. The current system, in which the country has one ISP operated by the government, has proven unsustainable. Yemen is the only country in the region that does not have 3G connectivity and lacks many services that are taken for granted in the region. It is time to open the market with clearly-defined conditions that will protect consumers and establish an environment of healthy competition. Without competition, government-run services could lag behind, failing to satisfy the needs of the public and the market.

We also will focus on awareness. Yemenis need to wake up to the global information revolution. It is unacceptable for students and teachers not to have email accounts and not understand what the Internet is and how it is used. And we must take advantage of the resources that the Internet can offer, not only for economic development, but also for education.

We also plan to promote transparency and e-government initiatives. Recent history has proven that a lack of transparency has led to corruption that has resulted in greater levels of poverty in Yemen. In many countries new and effective e-government services have brought the elimination middle-men and fixers. Having the government publish valuable and relevant information for public scrutiny will allow the public to hold officials accountable for their actions and to ensure that tax-payer money is spent appropriately.

ISOC-Yemen will undertake many other initiatives—these are merely a starting point. As a civil society organization, ISOC-Yemen can help shape the future of the Internet not only in Yemen, but also in the region. As ISOC is soon establishing a Middle East bureau, Yemen could be a prominent beneficiary and partner of the bureau, due to its pressing need for support, its great market potential, and its strategic location for cable connectivity to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

The bright side

Despite the troubles Yemen faces, I can see a bright side that should not be overlooked. It could be summarized in the youth of Yemen, this untapped resource that can fundamentally change the country’s status from being the least developed in the Middle East, to the most competent, skilled and fastest-growing country in the region. It can do so because it possesses something that other oil-rich neighboring countries do not: a robust youth population that is determined to rise up and defeat the odds with a spirit of hard work and dedication.

I felt from my last visit to Yemen eagerness in the eyes of many young Yemenis who wish to surprise the world, turn the fortunes of the past around, and prove that we could once again become a good world citizen. The Internet could help make that a reality.

ISOC is a non-profit non-governmental organization based in the US with the aim of supporting an open and robust Internet. It serves as the umbrella of Internet Architecture Board, the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Engineering Steering Group, and the Internet Research Task Force. Learn more here.

 

November 19 2013

Ecuadorean Activists Say No to Cybercafe Surveillance

Cybercafe, Ecuador. Photo by Romsrini via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Cybercafe, Ecuador. Photo by Romsrini via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Links are to Spanish-language pages unless otherwise noted.

Do you use cybercafés to communicate with your family and friends, or for work or school? If you do and you find yourself in Ecuador, under a proposed amendment to the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code (Código Orgánico Integral Penal or COIP), you may be captured on video while doing so. This new provision, along with new requirements for ISP data collection, has unleashed controversy across the Ecuadorian blogosphere. Its outcome could determine the fate of open Internet access in the country.

The proposed law is part of a growing trend among governments around the world to restrict the privacy of Internet users and the free exchange of information, first with anti-piracy laws and then with laws to fight cybercrime—measures that free speech activists fear are actually designed to increase surveillance of citizens by their governments. Examples of this trend are popping up in many countries in Latin America.

On a surprising note, similar processes have been used to pass this kind of law in two neighboring Latin American countries of Peru and Ecuador. In both cases, cybercrime-related bills included articles that had not been discussed previously by members of the national congress or assembly, as is the custom. In Peru the law has actually been promulgated, while in Ecuador the executive branch has yet to rule on it.

It is in this climate of anticipation that a few important steps have been taken in the tug-of-war over whether to approve or reject the bill. The bone of contention is article 474 of COIP, which mandates that all ISPs store user data (telephone numbers, IP addresses, etc.) and that cybercafé owners install video surveillance cameras to record customers using their services.

According to Alfredo Velazco of the Usuarios Digitales (Digital Users) association, the provision set out in article 474 appears to have originated in Ecuador's criminal investigations department, which also showed an interest in reducing anonymity on the Internet. In an article for the website Gkillcity, Velazco indicated that one of the problems is assembly members’ limited knowledge of digital culture:

Legisladores de excelente sueldo, que cuentan con asesores que ganan miles y comités de expertos, pero que ignoran ciertos temas digitales. El problema no es ignorar, pero son “ignorantes digitales” por ignorar voces e iniciativas dispuestas a brindar apoyo por ciudadanos desde la red. Los asambleístas deben legislar en función de garantizar los derechos de los ciudadanos también en plataformas digitales y, en este caso particular, de más 10 millones de usuarios ecuatorianos conectados.

Legislators with generous salaries, who have advisors earning thousands and committees of experts, but who ignore certain digital issues. The problem is not ignorance itself, but that they are “digitally ignorant” because they disregard voices and initiatives aimed at providing support to citizens through the Internet. Members of the Assembly should legislate to guarantee the rights of citizens on digital platforms as well, and in this particular case, that means the more than 10 million users connected in Ecuador.

As US-based digital rights group Access points out [en], one of the consequences of the legislation could be an increase in the cost of Internet access, thereby widening the digital divide for communities with limited resources and subjecting the poor to greater surveillance:

In addition to the deep human rights concerns, Article 474 also poses significant economic costs. Many of Ecuador’s internet users connect through cyber cafes, often small businesses in the room of a private home. Section 2 of the Article provides that those suppliers and distributors of information also must record the user identification, date and time of connection, as well as record their activities on video, again, for a minimum of six months.

The high costs of this provision — from purchasing video recording equipment to storing all user data for at least six months — may prove to be prohibitively expensive for many of these cybercafes, forcing them to go out of business. This would certainly diminish Ecuador's already low Internet penetration rate of 27.2%.

Además de las profundas preocupaciones de derechos humanos, el artículo 474 también representa costos económicos significativos. Muchos de los usuarios de Internet en el Ecuador se conectan a través de cibercafés, a menudo pequeños negocios en una habitación de una casa particular. La sección 2 de este artículo dispone que los proveedores y distribuidores de información también deben registrar la identificación del usuario, fecha y hora de conexión, así como grabar sus actividades en vídeo, una vez más, por un mínimo de seis meses.

Los altos costos de esta disposición – desde la compra de equipos de vídeo de grabación para almacenar todos los datos de usuarios de al menos seis meses – puede llegar a ser costosamente prohibitivo para muchos de estos cibercafés, lo que les obligaría a cerrar. Sin duda, esto disminuiría la ya baja tasa de penetración de Internet en Ecuador, del 27,2%.

Civil society organizations such as Usuarios Digitales, Apertura Radical and Asociación de Software Libre del Ecuador have adopted various strategies with citizens and state institutions, principally the National Assembly, to try to exert pressure on the executive to get it to veto article 474 of COIP. The upshot of this has been the creation of a large coalition called #InternetLibre, rallying other organizations at the national level in a concerted effort to defend the digital rights of citizens on several fronts.

In fact, members of the Assembly from different groups welcomed representatives of #InternetLibre and listened to their points of view and proposals regarding article 474 of COIP and others in the bill. It is worth mentioning that some members of the Assembly favour eliminating the article and others only support amendments to it.

On November 5, #InternetLibre also held a meeting with representatives of different coalitions and Internet freedom activists. The meeting garnered substantial tweets in the Ecuadorian cybersphere under the hashtag #InternetLibre. Journalist Bethany Horne summarized it for Alt1040:

Ayer 5 de noviembre, usando el hashtag #InternetLibre, más de cuarenta personas reunidas en Quito hablaron de las posibles consecuencias de un artículo incluido en el nuevo Código Integral Penal, aprobado hace poco por la Asamblea Nacional que va pronto a consideración final por el Presidente de la República, Rafael Correa. Entre los asistentes estuvieron miembros de la Asociación de Software Libre de Ecuador, el gremio de software AESOFT, la empresa Thoughtworks, docentes de varias universidades, abogados y los emprendedores de ECStartups.

Yesterday on November 5, using the hashtag #InternetLibre, more than 40 people gathered in Quito to discuss the potential consequences of an article included in the new Comprehensive Criminal Code, recently approved by the National Assembly and soon to be submitted for consideration to the President, Rafael Correa. Among the attendees were members of the Asociación de Software Libre de Ecuador, the AESOFT software guild, Thoughtworks, and the faculty of several universities as well as lawyers and entrepreneurs from ECStartups.

Some of the opinions expressed on Twitter that day were:

There is little awareness that article 474 of #COIP will bring a level of absolute surveillance to our society #Ecuador #InternetLibre
— Valeria Betancourt (@valeriabet) November 5, 2013

Let's do some activism! Find out more about COIP, stay on top of it and talk about how this is going to affect us on a daily basis #internetlibre
— Jesica Madrid (@jesicamadrid) November 5, 2013

Possible consequence of #COIP: to avoid having to store more ISP data, mobile service providers might even limit GB for navigation #InternetLibre
— Daniela Peralvo (@danielaperalvo) November 5, 2013

Meeting with President and advisers has more weight than delivering a letter
http://t.co/XLjwmXDGAj #InternetLibre #COIP
— Usuarios Digitales (@usuariosdigital) November 5, 2013

To conclude this post, we decided to talk briefly to Alfredo Velazco, activist and member of the association Usuarios Digitales, about what the next moves by #InternetLibre will be and what expectations there are about amending or eliminating article 474. This was his answer:

Basicamente hacer lobby entre los profesionales del sector que sean citados por entes estatales, ya que no han hecho llamamiento o acercamiento a la sociedad civil vía #InternetLibre, pese incluso a que les hemos escrito para dialogar. Adicionalmente tambien contacto con el Presidente, quien en ultima instancia tiene opcion a vetar ciertos articulos del Codigo Penal. Continuar con la campaña hasta tener un compromiso de las autoridades encargadas. Nuestra expectativa es la eliminación del artículo, no su modificación.

Basically to lobby professionals in the field who are mentioned by state bodies, who have not called on or approached civil society via #InternetLibre, despite our having written to them to begin a dialogue. In addition, contact with the President, who ultimately has a veto option over certain articles of the criminal code. To continue the campaign until we have a commitment from the appropriate authorities. We want the article eliminated, not modified.

Post originally published on the blog Globalizado by Juan Arellano.

 

November 13 2013

Mexican Voter Data for Sale at Buscardatos.com

Elecciones en Baja, California, MX. Foto de Nathan Gibbs via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Elections in Baja, California, MX. Photo by Nathan Gibbs via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Mexican newspaper Reforma reported [es] that the website buscardatos.com apparently has been harvesting information from the database of the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) [es], the body responsible for organizing elections. This has left ample private citizen data accessible on the Internet.

On the webpage, users could access a citizen's voter password, an 18-digit code found in the voting credentials, as well as home addresses simply by searching a voter's last name. Citizen data could also be obtained through other identification records like the Unique Population Registry Code (CURP) or the Federal Taxpayers Registry (RFC), as seen in the screenshot below.

buscadatos.com

Screenshot of buscadatos.com

The answer from Mexican authorities 

Following Reforma's November 6 article, the Institute for Access to Information, a body of the Mexican Federal Public Administration responsible for guaranteeing the right to accessing public government information and the protection of personal data, condemned the potentially unlawful treatment in a statement [es]. The body also indicated that it would open an investigation and agreed to file a complaint with the Attorney General's office against those responsible. The IFE filed a complaint as well.

Hosting for Buscardatos.com

We consulted the City Network hosting service, where buscardatos.com is hosted, and asked those responsible for its administration why the website remained online and the nature of their relationship with the site.

One of their system engineers explained, “this site in particular is not violating the terms of use nor the Swedish law and we have no reason to shut it down,” stressing that they were affiliated with neither the website nor its proprietor.

He also noted that in order for City Network to act on a violation of this sort, the company would have to receive a judicial order from local Mexican authorities.

Server problems 

The website buscardatos.com partially stopped working on the morning of November 8. The search functions have been disabled, since according to a message from its administrators, they are experiencing server problems and the searches will not be available until further notice.

Protection of personal data in Mexico 

In Mexico there are mechanisms like those offered by the Federal Law of Transparency and Access to Public Government Information [es], which establishes a guarantee for the protection of personal data in the hands of the government. Additionally, the Federal Law on the Protection of Personal Data Held by Individuals [es] mandates that anyone handling personal data is obligated to safeguard the privacy of that data, in order to ensure that the owners of that data can access and delete the information at any time or legally contest the way their personal data is handled by third parties.

One case among many? 

Statements from the IFAI and IFE followed Reforma's article and referred exclusively to the case discussed in the paper; yet this is not the only visible case online. There is also a site [es] that reports the sale of the Federal Electoral Institute database, which had been updated until 2012, an incident that authorities have not yet addressed.

China: Over 100,000 Weibo Users Punished for Violating ‘Censorship Guidelines’

The “ideological battle” against online public opinion leaders and “Internet celebrities” constitutes only one front on the ever-broadening battlefield of online censorship in China. On another front lies a new “code of conduct,” a series of punishments to penalize netizens who act out of line.

According to the Beijing District Joint Platform Against Rumor, more than 103,673 Sina Weibo users have been penalized since August 2013 for violating the Weibo “community code of practice (CoP)” and the “Seven Self-Censorship Guidelines“.

An official release alleges [zh] that among the penalized Weibo users:

  • 1,030 distributed untruthful information
  • 75,264 published personal attack comments
  • 14,357 harassed other users
  • 3,773 published indecent and obscene materials
  • 9,246 engaged in other forms of misconduct such as copying other users’ content

The newly implemented community penalties range from temporary account suspension to permanent deletion of accounts.

The Joint Platform Against Rumor is a self-governing platform formed by 22 online media outlets and led by the Beijing City Internet Information Office and Beijing Internet Society. The online media outlets are supposed to contribute to the battle against online rumors according to the Seven Self-Censorship Guidelines put forward by the State Internet Information Office on August 10, 2013.

22 online media outlets signed up to joint-hands in cracking down rumors. Screen capture image.

22 online media outlets signed up to join hands in cracking down rumors. Screen capture image.

Originally, the Weibo CoP implemented by the CoP Community Center only sought to suppress the spread of commercial spam, indecent material, and rumors. However, judging from the newly released data, the target of the crackdown has shifted. Roughly 75% of the users are being punished for posting “personal attack comments” — but what constitutes a “personal attack” is highly arbitrary and entirely at the discretion of authorities. As one netizen pointed out, “this is just an excuse to silence those who are critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)”. Another user pointed out that the Party-sponsored online commentators are “immune to” the community rule even when they have launched personal attack comments against political liberals. It appears that the so-called “community” rule only applies to dissenting voices.

The Sina Weibo data has shed some light on the disappearance of online “critical comments” in the past three months – dissenters have been forbidden to speak out online and ordinary netizens are slowly being disciplined into behaving as passive consumers of online information through the imposition of “community code of practice.”

November 10 2013

Venezuela’s President Announces Web Blocking on Live TV

Picture by Prensa Miraflores (chavezcandanga on Flickr), under CC BY-NC-SA

Picture by Prensa Miraflores (chavezcandanga) via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

On the night of Saturday November 9, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced publicly his decision to block access foreign currency valuation websites including dolartoday.com, tucadivi.com, lechugaverde.com, dolarparalelo.com, dolarparalelo.org, preciodolar.info and dolarparalelo.tk, all of which track the unofficial price of foreign currency. After foreign currency exchange controls were put into force in the country in 2003, unofficial or “black market” pricing of foreign currency was declared illegal. Nevertheless, unofficial currency exchanges remain very much a part of the Venezuelan economy.

Last Wednesday, inflation in Venezuela shot above 50%, causing the value of the Bolivar to plummet and prompting the President to accuse currency speculators of waging “economic war” on the government.

In his television address, Maduro also announced that Conatel, the administrative body responsible for telecommunications, has opened a case against private Internet service providers in the country, for “allowing the disclosure of the price of the parallel [black market] dollar.” This is just one tactic in what has been termed the “economic war”: amongst other measures, on Friday, the owners of popular e-commerce websites MercadoLibre.com and TuCarro.com were called to meet with members of the cabinet to establish mechanisms to “regulate prices” at which users can post items for sale on these sites. The decision has been carried out through the Ministry of Science and Technology, without any administrative procedure.

This is not the first time that the Venezuelan government has blocked foreign currency valuation websites: DolarToday itself has been blocked in the past by CANTV, the state-owned ISP. But this does mark the first time that an announcement of this magnitude has been made on ​​live television by the President of the Republic.

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