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January 13 2014

Hong Kong 2013: A Burgeoning New Media Sector and a Backward Government

Edward Snowden supporters rally in Hong Kong. Photo by Voice of America. Released to public domain.

Edward Snowden supporters rally in Hong Kong. Photo by Voice of America. Released to public domain.

Written by Michelle Fong and translated by Sharon Loh, the original version of this article was published on inmediahk.net in Chinese. 

Many new media initiatives, both commercial and citizen, have blossomed in Hong Kong over the past two years. These newly founded online media outlets have strong potential to transform not only the professional media sector, but also political processes in Hong Kong, as grassroots voices gain more attention both from the public and from political leaders. Below is an incomplete list:

Burgeoning New Media Initiatives

Hong Kong Dash – a collective blog operated by student activists, established after the anti-national education campaign in Hong Kong in 2012

The House News – a commercial news portal, following the Huffington news model, curating news and offering commentaries to readers

Pentoy – the online version of local newspaper, Mingpao, commentary page

Urban Diarist – an online magazine to record oral history in Hong Kong, sponsored by an architecture firm as a corporate social responsibility project

Post 852 – a newly launched “breaking views” platform formed by a group of media workers who collectively resigned from a local newspaper, Hong Kong Economic Journal

Bastille Post – an online news portal partially funded by media corporations, Singtao News Corporation Limited. The Group's founder and chairman, Charles Ho Tsu Kwok, is also a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Hong Kong SOW – a social enterprise with an online platform that showcases the practice of “solutions” journalism. The social enterprise was founded by Vincent Wong, director of Strategic Planning of HK Commercial Broadcasting.

Some groups are also making use of Facebook pages to distribute topical news:

Tai Kung Pao: a distributor of labor news.

United Social Press: a page run by social activists, reporting and distributing news related to local social movements.

Online news outlets sidelined by government

With the new media sector is clearly increasing in strength and numbers, the Hong Kong government has been unable to keep up with the changing landscape. Many independent media projects have faced limitations on their work, particularly when seeking to cover government events — obtaining press passes has been a constant challenge.

Last year, citizen news portal inmediahk.net's contributing reporters were kicked out of several press events by government civil servants. These included the second public forum on population policy and the 2013 summit on district administration. In another incident, Home Affairs Department staff barred House News reporters from entering a public consultation where HK mayor Leung Chun-ying was present. The staff claimed that the venue had limited space and was only open to the mainstream media. The Information Service Department, an authority responsible for handling government press conferences and news releases, has routinely refused to send press invitations to online news outlets as they are not recognized as proper media institutions.

In response to this out-dated approach, Hong Kong In-Media, an independent and citizen media advocacy group affiliated with inmediahk.net, issued several statements demanding that the Information Service Department review its policies with an eye towards the changing media landscape, and to place particular attention on the definitions of the terms “media” and “news organization”. The agency has thus far refused to make any changes to its terms.

Technological innovation has resulted in the introduction of new media forms, from newspaper to radio and TV to the Internet — now an essential part of people's everyday lives. If we were to define the notion of “mainstream media” based on audience, many online news outlets would have out-numbered print media such as the pro-Beijing newspapers Wen Wei Po and Tai Kung Pao. It is backward and ridiculous for the government to limit its definition of “media” merely to printed media.

Malicious hacking a persistent threat

Although government restrictions are a substantial barrier for these new groups, online media's biggest enemy is hackers. Last year, a number of online news platforms weathered malicious hacker attacks. Inmediahk.net suffered Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks in May 2013, with a large number of HTTP requests coming from China. A few months later, in September, The House News became the next DDoS attack victim. Amnesty International Hong Kong‘s website was hacked around the same time. The hackers replaced some images on the sites with pornographic photos. SocREC, a social movement documentary video team had its Youtube account stolen in October. Hackers deleted over one thousand videos published under their account.

Internet freedom and privacy in HK and around the world

Government plans to pass the controversial Copyright (Amendment) Bill failed in 2012. To address public concern over the potential criminalization of parody, the government put forward a public consultation on the exemption of legal liability for parody in the Copyright (Amendment) Bill in October 2013. So far, major copyright holders and concerned citizens are divided in their opinions on the issue. But civil society has managed to put together a counter proposal calling for the exemption of legal liability on all non-profit user generated content.

Last but not least, the most significant event of 2013 concerning Internet freedom was the series of documents leaked by Edward Snowden that revealed the massive online surveillance practices of the US National Security Agency. As Hong Kong was the first stop in Snowden's escape route, Hong Kong In-Media quickly assumed a coordinator role in the organization of local support including producing a public statement and organizing a rally to condemn US spying activities.

Building public awareness about online privacy
Last August, the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of The Hong Kong University and Google Inc. worked together to launch the Hong Kong Transparency Report. The report showed that between 2010 to 2013, various government departments had made more than ten thousand requests for users’ personal data and more than seven thousand content deletion requests to local Internet service providers (ISPs) without a court order. A majority of the requests, 86 percent, came from the Hong Kong Police.

The Chief Executive's political reform package, slated to include universal suffrage in Hong Kong beginning in 2017, will be announced in 2014. As civil society prepares to exercise mass civil actions and independent press coverage to promote a fair candidate nomination process, conventional mainstream media are facing substantial political pressure to censor and tailor their content. In the coming years, we believe Internet-based independent and citizen media will play a crucial role in the democratization process.

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 08 2014

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

President Park

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

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

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

Free Expression: WeChat rises in China, disappears in Iran

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

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

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

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

Thuggery: Are anti-protest laws the new black?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Netizen Activism: Is Facebook reading your mind?

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

Cool Things: “Just Access” campaign for Iran

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

Publications and Studies

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

January 06 2014

Egypt: The Muppets Intelligence Agency

Look into the beady evil eyes of terrorism, via @SooperMexican

Look into the beady evil eyes of terrorism, via @SooperMexican

On one of Egypt's most famous talk shows, the screen was split in two. A Muppet-like character occupied one side of the screen — on the other side, a menacing teenager threatened to throw the puppet in jail. The show's host moderated the debate between the two, Abla Fahita, the puppet, and Ahmed Spider, the teenage-looking conspiracy theorist.

Such a scene would be fine if the show were a satire, but it is not. Last week, Ahmed Spider made an official complaint against Vodafone Egypt and puppet character Abla Fahita, who appeared in one of their advertisements, accusing them of sending hidden messages to terrorists in the ad. The complaint was subsequently referred to state security prosecutors, who deal with cases involving terrorism and security threats. The prosecutors have since brought officials from Vodafone Egypt in for questioning. The list of suspected spies and terrorist allies in Egypt already includes a pigeon, a stork and a shark – now we can add Abla Fahita the puppet and her daugher, Carolina, aka Carcoura, to the list.

In response to the news, Paul Sedra ‏tweeted:

@sedgate: With the Abla Fahita investigation, #Egypt once again challenges North Korea for the title of most paranoid state on earth.

Many Egyptian netizens could only deal with the news through sarcasm.

@Cairo67Unedited: If anyone from TV calls asking 2 use ur Kitten in their next phone ad #Egypt hang up on them:Next thing u know cat is on trial

Abla Fahita portrayed as a revolutionary Che Guevara -  via @khlud_hafeez

Abla Fahita portrayed as Che Guevara – via @khlud_hafeez

Nevine Zaki mocked Abla Fahita calling her the Che Guevara of our generation.

May Sadek and Pakinam Amer tweeted about the puppet, who now has more than 1 million fans on Facebook, and is no less than a revolutionary figure.

@maysadek: ‘F’ for fahita. Not as strong as ‘V’ for vendetta .. But it'll do the job fine..#ablafahita

@pakinamamer: Abla Fahita should lead the next revolution. She'd be our V. The faceless resistance. #3abath #Surrealism

@MohAnis: Rumor has it that #ablafahita is seeking asylum with the muppet show or sesame street.

Satirical comments kept on drawing laughs on social media.

@_amroali: #Egypt has saved the world from a big terrorist threat not seen since the Muppets tried to take Manhattan #AblaFahita

@HoudaBelabd: #Egypt: Ministry of Interior is actually recording phone calls and Facebook conversations between #AblaFahita & Mickey Mouse!

@anasaltikriti: After the Vodafone puppet fiasco, are there any more sensible people out there who respect the coup government?

@AyaYousry: The #AblaFahita story made it to The Economist under “Silly Season in Egypt

Rumors also suggested that SpongeBob SquarePants may be the next suspect. A question was asked on Google Ejabat wondering whether the cartoon character is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood given the fact it is yellow and has four fingers — just like the banners of Rabia.

Rabia banner, via @Rassd_Now

Raba logo, via @Rassd_Now

Out of the fear of getting arrested for using the Rabia logo as their avatar [after Egypt outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood], some social media users created alternative logos.

Alternative Rabia logos via @nsfadala

Alternative Raba logos via @nsfadala

On a more a serious note, Mohamed ElGohary wondered whether the Egyptian government is using the case as a vehicle for blackmailing Vodafone Egypt:

Earlier in November Bloomberg published that “Telecom Egypt May Buy Vodafone Local Division When 4G Is Offered“. Personally I don't want for this acquiring to happen, since it will decrease/eliminate competition in mobile/4G emerging market .. The million dollar question here, as Vodafone actually wants to buy the government stakes, is this BS accusation a dirty step for blackmailing/forcing Vodafone Egypt to comply to what the government wants?

The Facebook page of Kazeboon published the following image that asks which cases prosecutors investigate and which ones they don't.

Kazeboon wondeing about which cases the prosecutors investigate and which ones they ignore

When human rights organizations call for opening investigations with Vodafone [Ar], after illegal recording for activists are being leaked from the state security, but the general prosecutor ignores them, and only wakes up when Spider calls for investigations with the same company because of Abla Fahita, then it is safe to call Egypt The Muppet Show. (via Kazeboon)

Sarah Carr compared Ahmed Spider to Glenn Beck in her blog post about Abla Fahita's case:

Every country has its Glenn Beck type public figures, the difference in Egypt is that they are taken seriously where it suits the political ambitions of those at the reins and serves a useful purpose. Thus we have the Public Prosecutor accepting a complaint about a finger puppet while nobody has been charged for the deaths of nearly 1,000 people at Rab3a, because the current mood is almost fascistic in its reverence for the state and for state hegemony and for state opponents to be eliminated. If there was a page equivalent to We Are All Khaled Said now it would be Turns Out We Are All Adolf Hitler. Comedy and tragedy often overlap.

Finally, Holly Dagres tweeted:

@PoliticallyAff: Although we're getting a good laugh from Abla Fahita, it shouldn't shift our focus from @Repent11 and rest of imprisoned AJE staff #Egypt

Censorship, Prosecution Drive Exodus of Opinion Leaders from China's Sina Weibo

Screen capture of Sina Weibo message when the user click open a deleted page.

Screen capture of Sina Weibo message when a user opens a deleted page.

Famous law professor at Peking University He Weifang greeted his followers in the new year on Sina Weibo, China's most popular social media platform, with a goodbye message. The professor, who has often been attacked online for his support of constitution rights, is one of many opinion leaders who have fled the microblogging website since China has upped its censorship and prosecution efforts.

He wrote:

【祝新年】各位本微博之友:新年来临之际,谨表达真诚的祝福和感谢!三年里,你们给了我很多鼓励,从评论中我也学到不少新知。美好的交流让我在虚拟空间里寻觅到真实的情感。过去一年里,眼看着一个又一个我熟悉的博主从这里消失,心中不免怅然。于我,是将本微博告一段落的时刻了。再见!

[Wish you well in New Year] I express sincere wishes and thanks to Weibo friends with the coming of the new year! You have given me encouragement and I've learned plenty of new knowledge from your comments. Good communication lets me find true feelings in a virtual space. I've felt upset seeing some familiar accounts gradually disappear throughout the past year. So now it’s the time for me to call it quits with Weibo. Goodbye!

Popular citizen lawyer Yuan Yulai pitied He:

2014第一天,贺卫方说要告别微博。但愿只是一时的情绪宣泄。这年头,没微博,就是哑巴。尽量说些真话,是一种社会责任,同时也是一种生理需要。

Professor He said he plans to leave Weibo on the first day in 2014. I wish it’s just a temporary emotional response. Without Weibo, people would be dumber nowadays. Speaking the truth is a social responsibility and a physical need.

Fan Zhongxin, a law teacher, is also considering quitting Weibo:

【是否该休博?】微博敏感词与日俱增,删帖禁言销号日益严重,很多朋友退出微博,微博一片萧条肃杀,温和改良的声音越来越没有人愿意听。我是否也该退出了!新一年了,也许不该再耗时间在微博上费口舌,对国家和社会该做的且实际有益的事情太多了!

[Is it about time to quit Weibo?] Sensitive words are increasing, meanwhile the phenomena of deletion, censorship and banning user accounts are so common. Many friends have quit Weibo and gone silent. The atmosphere on Weibo is so chilling. Meanwhile, moderate voices and discussion of political transformation have received less and less responses. Should I quit Weibo as well? Facing a new year, maybe I shouldn't spend too much time talking on the platform. There are too many more effective things that I should do for the nation and for society.

China's crackdown on online “rumor-mongering”, widely seen as a movement to suppress criticism of the ruling Communist Party (CCP), has effectively silenced Weibo, with high-profile bloggers reining in sensitive posts for fear of detention. Since the launch of the nationwide campaign in August 2013, hundreds of people have been detained across the country on charges of libel or “inciting trouble” for posting unverified or critical information on Weibo.

In addition, China's top court fueled public fear by publishing a judicial interpretation in September that said users can be prosecuted for posting rumors seen by more than 5,000 people, or forwarded more than 500 times. The main target of the crackdown are liberal public opinion leaders, in particular, citizen right lawyers and activists, whose Weibo accounts have been banned or deleted.

Data by Weiboreach, a firm providing social media data analysis, showed the number of posts by influential microbloggers was on average 11.2 percent lower per day in August than it was earlier in the year.

Below is a list of prominent public opinion leaders who have been prosecuted and harassed in the past few months:

- Xu Zhiyong, an anti-corruption campaigner who has called for officials to disclose their wealth, was arrested in August and his account on Weibo was deleted.

- Wang Gongquan, an outspoken venture capitalist, was taken away by police in September on charges of disturbing public order after he helped lead a campaign for the release of another activist.

- Pu Zhiqiang, a citizen right lawyer, has seen his account in Weibo banned and he has to change his account names to publish posts.

Xu, Pu and Wang are all listed on Foreign Policy’s Global 100 Thinkers of 2013.

- Zhu Ruifeng, one of China's most prominent whistleblowers, discovered that authorities had deleted his four microblog accounts in July after he released a video of a district party chief in the southwestern city of Chongqing having sex with a mistress.

- Liu Hu, an investigative journalist who has accused deputy director of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce of dereliction of duty, was arrested on a charge of defamation in September, and his Weibo account removed.

- Zhang Lifan, a prominent scholar of modern Chinese history and outspoken critic of Mao Zedong, found that all of his microblogs and columns were removed simultaneously without warning or any tip-off on the same day the Third Plenum of the Communist Party ended.

- Zhang Xuezhong, a law associate professor in Shanghai critical of Marxism and excessive political infringement on judiciary, was forced to quit his job and lost his Weibo account.

- Zhang Qianfan, a constitutional law expert at Peking University and one of the leaders of the constitutionalist movement, also found that his account was deleted.

While the ruling party certainly gains an upper hand in the ideological battle, it is also slowly killing Sina Weibo, a tool to build trust among people. Chinese venture capitalist Wang Ran lamented the situation:

和微信上的各种爆料比,微博也快成新闻联播了。

In comparison with breaking news in WeChat, Weibo is turning into Central Television's National News Broadcast Program [party propaganda].

Popular online commentator and Sina Weibo administrator Old Xu proclaimed the coming death of Weibo:

微博成为新闻联播,那就离死不远了!

Weibo would be close to death when it becomes [state-owned] CCTV News!

January 02 2014

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

Screen capture from

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surveillance: Spy regimes ramp up in Southeast Asia

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

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

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

Copyright: Italians say ciao to due process

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

Industry: See ya, Google

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

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

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

Cool Things: New tool “translates” terms of service

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

Publications and Studies

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

Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email

December 31 2013

Happy New Year from Team Advox!

gv holiday cardTo our writers, readers, supporters and the entire Global Voices community:

Thanks for another great year! We wish you a healthy and peaceful 2014 filled with learning, new connections, and victories in our work to protect human rights in the digital world.

Big hugs from El Jadida (Morocco) and Philadelphia (US),

 

Hisham and Ellery

Tags: Advocacy

December 13 2013

Syrian Cartoonist Akram Raslan Reportedly Killed by Regime

Uncertainty continues over the fate of Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan, winner of the Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning for 2013, arrested in October 2012 by the Assad regime. While some report that he was killed by the Assad regime after a show trial, others claim he is still alive.

The cartoonist was was arrested by the Syrian military intelligence, while he was at the government newspaper Al-Fedaa in Hama, on October 2, 2012. Akram, who is the winner of the Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning for 2013, was reportedly secretly put on trial with no witnesses, no defense attorneys, no appeal, and no hope for justice.

We've learned that on July 26, 2013 Akram Raslan and other prisoners of conscience including journalists, artists, singers and other intellectuals were secretly put on trial with no witnesses, no defense attorneys, no appeal, and no hope for justice.  From unconfirmed and sketchy reports we also learned that they were all condemned to life imprisonment.

StJustAkram

Assembly and demonstration by world cartoonists in support of Akram Raslan
05.10.2013, in St Just Le Martel (France). Source: Cartooning for Peace

Other cartoon blogs like Comic box resources blog, Cartoon for Peace, The CAGLE Post and The Daily Cartoonist also quoted the CRNI news and showed concerns over Akram's destiny. One of the comments reads:

Akram, you and your family are in our prayers….Assad you and your ilk are….. !@#$%^&*

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Source: Facebook page [ar] Detainees and kidnapped are not just numbers in reports. Used under CC BY 2.0

On October 18, 2013, Redac_MM wrote: A Brave Cartoonist is Murdered by the Syrian Regime

I am saddened to write that Cartoonists Rights Network reports that Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan has been executed by the Syrian regime after a show trial.

While Syrian Observer quoted a stronger message: Here There Be Dragons: in Syria Akram Raslan is slain:

Tyrants might be able to fight off criticism or an insurrection or even assassination attempt with truncheons, bullets and terror.  But where do they turn their guns to stop their people from laughing at them?  Can there be any more efficient, more powerful, and cost-effective way of empowering a people than dispelling their fears with a courageous cartoon on its way to letting them laugh through their fear? 

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One of Akram's cartoons that outraged Assad regime. Source: Blog Cartoon Movement. Used under CC BY 2.0

On Twitter, Rime Allaf writes:

On Facebook, Alisar Iram shows solidarity:

Akram Raslan, dead or alive, we remember and cherish you.

While the Syrian Observer concludes with regret and hope at the same time:

I am sorry I couldn't reach down into the pit and drag you out Akram. Please forgive me. Perhaps your sacrifice will motivate us to look again into the mirror, and ask again where we straddle the line between fear and courage and challenge us, again, to take a new first step.

Non-Violent Activist Razan Zaitouneh Kidnapped in Syria

(photo source: Metro, 2012)

(photo source: Metro, 2012)

Four activists, among them internationally acclaimed non-violent activist Razan Zaitouneh, from Syria's Violations Documentation Center (VDC) were kidnapped by unidentified masked gunmen from the center's Douma office on the outskirts of Damascus, the Syrian capital, reported Activist News Association.

Zaitouneh, along with her team made up of Nazem al-Hamadi, Sameera Alkhalil and Wael Hamadah, were abducted on December 9, with no news of their whereabouts, sparking an international outcry.

Following their abduction, Douma's local committee issued a statement condemning the act, adding that the ransacking of the VDC office too was shameful and likened it to the work of Assad's regime [Arabic]:

(photo source: Douma Local Committee Facebook page)

(Photo source: Douma Local Committee Facebook page)

The statement reads [ar]:

Douma woke up today [Tuesday, December 10, 2013] to the news of an attack on the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) in Syria and the arrest of activist Razan Zaitouneh and her team, who have exerted their efforts in the support of this revolution and who have previously been arrested by the oppressive regime more than once. They have lived with us during our seige, stemming from the belief and true work is conducted from the battle ground and not on the pages of the Internet. We, in the local city council, condemn this cowardly act, which is similar to that of the regime, and call upon all the military groups and revolutionary forces to follow up on this case, which is a stain of shame on Free Douma.

On their behalf, Syria's Local Coordinators Committee, founded by Zaitouneh, demanded the release of all four activists and asked all human rights advocates to join the LCC's campaign. They also said that the abducted activists were highly inspired by Mandela, who recently passed away, adding that:

At a time when the world is mourning the death of Nelson Mandela, we must remember that there are other Mandelas around the world. These activists were inspired and informed by Mr. Mandela’s work, and were promoting concepts of nonviolence and civil resistance in Syria even at a time when the regime has violated every possible tenet of human rights. Failure to call for their release is tantamount to failing in all that Human Rights defenders stand for in the call against tyranny.

According to a decree issued by Eastern Ghouta civic agencies, Zaitouneh received several threats prior to her kidnapping by both the regime and extremist insurgents while working in the Damascene district.

In a Facebook post, writer Yassin Al Haj Saleh, Alkhalil's husband, said their abduction is an insult to Syria and its revolution. He also asked those who can help to do so quickly.

سميرة الخليل (زوجتي) ورزان زيتونة ووائل حمادة وناظم حمادي معتقلين من البارحة بدوما.
الرجاء ممن يستطيع المساعدة أن يتصرف بسرعة.
اعتقال سميرة ورزان ووائل وناظم إهانة للثورة ولسورية.

Sameera Al-Khalil (my wife), along with Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hamadah and Nazem al-Hamadi have been arrested since last night in Douma. Whoever can help, please take action soon. Arresting Sameera, Razan, Wael and Nazem is an insult to the revolution and to Syria.

Twitter users, too, began mobilizing a virtual campaign demanding the release of Zaitouneh and her colleagues. United States-based Syrian activist Rafif Jouejati marked their abduction as an indicator of humanity's death:

She also urged the global community to act as being silent is harmful to the cause:

Bahraini activist Maryam Alkhawaja remarked that the least the global community can do to help such a remarkable person is to collectively raise awareness on the act:

Executive Director of the Syrian Nonviolence Movement Ibrahim al-Assil added that Zaitouneh is a true revolutionary:

BBC Reporter Kim Ghattas said that Zaitouneh's kidnapping is a terrible blow to what's left of Syria's secular opposition:

Zaitouneh's accomplishments are nothing short of daring and courageous. She was awarded the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya award; the 2011 Sakharov Prize; and the 2013 International Women of Courage Award.

Her most recent work includes being among the first on site in the August 21 chemical weapon's attack on Ghouta, as Foreign Policy Middle East Editor David Kenner noted:

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Manager Kristyan Benedict remarked that their kidnapping happens to coincide with Human Rights Day:

Zaitouneh's work along with her abducted colleagues helped Syrians document their losses and grievances along the country's course of havoc since 2011. The VDC keeps a tremendous track of those abducted and always calls for their immediate release. Their work and contributions are essential not only to the revolution but also Syria's future. Their abduction harms every hopeful and positive aspect in today's misshaped Syria.

December 09 2013

Spain: Public Safety Bill or Threat to Civil Rights?

GreenPeace desplegó una pancarta inmensa en el edificio España con el lema NO a la #LeyAntiProtesta.

GreenPeace spread out a huge banner on the España building with the slogan “NO to the #AntiProtestLaw”

Various groups were quick to organize demonstrations against Spain's Protection of Public Safety Bill [es] a few days after Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz presented the draft bill. A new version of the bill could restrict basic civil rights, particularly affecting activists both online and on the streets.

This law will replace the Corcuera Law, passed by Felipe González's socialist government in 1992, which at the time was already known as the “kick down the door law” because it allowed security forces to enter and search a home without obtaining prior approval from a judge. It was later declared unconstitutional. Now the governing People's Party intends to compliment this law, despite having voted against it in 1992.

Joan Coscubiela, a representative from the Iniciativa per Catalunya – Verds (ICV) and spokesperson for Izquierda Plural, quipped that new version could be called the “kick in democracy's teeth law” [es] because it aims to start a “brutal attack on civil rights,” while the Izquierda Unida (United Left) parliamentary group commented that “the People's Party is trying to put the country under a totalitarian system.” Izquierda Unida (IU) MEP Willy Meyer spoke out before the European Commission about the fact that passing it would come as a violation to the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Although the government insists that the draft bill is just a draft [es], it appears to contain a series of measures against civil movements and any kind of dissent. It is expected that, due to societal pressure as well as that of other parliamentary groups and even judges, the draft will change in the coming days, before the final version is approved.

Many of those arrested during demonstrations (particularly since the economic crisis began) have not been convicted of criminal proceedings [es] because most of the judges hearing their cases have not found probable cause in police accusations. The new draft text considers the possibility of introducing offenses administratively. The 39 valid offenses will increase to 55, of which 21 are quite serious. The new law would involve “very serious” offenses (with fines between 30,001€ to 600,00€), “serious” offenses (between 1,001€ to 30,00€), and minor offenses (punishable by  100€ to 1,00€). These all fall well above penalties under the existing law.

Of all the new offenses included, the most problematic are:

  • It is against the law to participate in a demonstration before a state institution without sending prior notification to the relevant government office.
  • Those who call for demonstrations through the Internet, social networks, or another other means may also be penalized for having committed a very serious offense.
  • The circulation of riot images during demonstrations can also constitute a very serious offense, punishable by 600,000€.
  • Disobedience or resistance to authorities; refusing to identify oneself; and giving false or inaccurate information given to state security agents are all prohibited.
  • “Insulting, harassing, threatening, or coercing” members of the Security Forces will constitute a serious offense.
  • Circulating information on the Internet that is understood to be an attack on an individual's privacy or that of a person's family, or that contributes to disrupting an operation, will be punished equally with fines up to 600,000€.
  • Failure to provide a valid ID to the police upon request is prohibited.
  • Covering one's face with a hood, hat, or helmet will also result in a heavy fine and a serious offense if the subject is detained during a demonstration for violent behavior.
  • Violence against street furniture is prohibited.

Verbal offenses or insults, in written form or via advertising, against Spain, its Autonomous Communities, or its symbols or emblems, will be punished with imprisonment from seven to 12 months. (See hashtag #OfendeAEspaña (#OffendSpain) on Twitter as a response in protest of this new regulation.)

Amnesty International Spain has developed a campaign [es] and even a video denouncing the government's cuts to democracy:

Online action platform Avaaz has also launched a campaign [es] that has already collected over 100,000 signatures protesting the law.

As seen in this video, socialist parliament member Eduardo Madina says that if the bill passes, it will be appealed in the Constitutional Court. He even assures viewers that it will be repealed in the face of a possible change in the government in the next election. Meanwhile, the Interior Minister insults him and loses his temper:

One of the most active groups in the civil protests in Spain, the 15M, has seen a direct attack on the bill. Public reactions can be seen via hashtag #leyAnti15M (#Anti15Mbill).

GreenPeace also participated in the demonstration, which took place in Madrid two weeks ago, by hanging a large banner over the España building in Madrid with the slogan “NO to the #LeyAntiProtesta (#AntiProtestBill)”:

Concern remains that the commotion caused by the bill is diverting attention away from blatant cases of corruption [es] in the People's Party, where senior officials stand accused of violating the law, while others have already been jailed.

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.

December 03 2013

UN Experts Condemn Detention of Vietnamese Blogger Le Quoc Quan

wpid-le_quoc_quanA UN group of human rights experts has found that the detention of Vietnamese blogger and human rights defender Le Quoc Quan stands in violation of his right to freedom of expression and a fair trial. Le Quoc Quan was arrested in December 2012 on trumped-up charges of tax evasion, which were aimed at preventing him from carrying out his legitimate human rights work. Following his arrest, he was held incommunicado and denied permission to see his lawyer for two months. He was also unable to see any of his family members until the day of his trial.

In October of this year, Quan was convicted and sentenced to 30 months imprisonment and a fine of 1.2 billion dong (approximately USD 59,000). Quan appealed this decision, but a trial date has not yet been set.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which is set up under the UN Human Rights Council, said that Quan’s detention might be “the result of his peaceful exercise of the rights and freedoms guaranteed under international human rights law” and “related to his blog articles on civil and political rights.” The Working Group statement continued:

Given Mr. Quan’s history as a human rights defender and blogger, the real purpose of the detention and prosecution might eventually be to punish him for exercising his rights under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to deter others from doing so.

The Working Group called for Mr Quan’s immediate release and also recommended that he be paid damages for his arbitrary detention. The group’s decision follows a petition filed in March 2013 by the Media Legal Defence Initiative and a coalition of human rights NGOs.

Mr Quan has long been persecuted by the Vietnamese government for his activities as a blogger and human rights defender. He has been detained several times, kept under state surveillance and also suffered physical attacks. The UN Working Group’s decision is clear confirmation that Le Quoc Quan’s detention for having merely exercised his rights to freedom expression, freedom of association and his rights as a human rights defender is unjustified and illegitimate. With international pressure on Vietnam mounting, calling for Quan’s release, rights advocates hope that the government of Vietnam will remedy the situation as soon as possible.

November 29 2013

Egyptian Activist Alaa Abd El Fattah Arrested — Again

Alaa Abd El Fattah. Photo by Alaa And El Fattah via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Alaa Abd El Fattah. Photo by Alaa And El Fattah via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Prominent Egyptian activist and blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah was arrested in his home at approximately 10pm on Thursday, November 28. An arrest warrant was issued for Abd El Fattah this past Tuesday, following violent dispersal of protestors in Cairo. The blogger's father told local media he believed the arrest was made under a new law effectively banning street protest in Egypt. At least 51 people were arrested that day, among them several prominent activists. Many were beaten and sexually harrassed.

Alaa was taken by police despite having declared that he'd deliver himself to the police on Saturday, according to a statement he made and that his aunt, renowned Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, posted on Facebook.

According to his wife, Manal, police used violent force when the arrest took place:

There is no known explanation of why the arrest took place today, given that Alaa had publicly stated that he would turn himself on Saturday.

Human Watch Egypt director Heba Morayef linked his arrest with the anti-protest law, drafted earlier this week:

Hesham Mansour offered his own ironic response:

Don't ask what Egypt has done for us. Ask how many times did Egypt arrest Alaa

Activist Mona Seif, Alaa's sister, informed her followers of her brother's detention location:

We are now sure that Alaa is being held in the CSF barracks in giza, on the Cairo – Alexandria desert road

Alaa Abd El Fattah was jailed under Hosni Mubarak's regime for 45 days and again by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in 2011, when he remained in jail for almost two months. He also faced charges under Mohamed Morsi's government in 2013, along with popular satirist Bassem Youssef, in what many perceived to be politically motivated charges used as an intimidation tactic. Each time, the #FreeAlaa hashtag has resurfaced to show solidarity. It seems that this is back on track.

November 27 2013

Japan’s ‘State Secrets’ Bill Passes Lower House

People rallied in front of the Diet during the plenary session of passing Japan's State Secrecy Protection Bill

People rallied in front of the Diet during the plenary session of passing Japan's State Secrecy Protection Bill. Image captured from live stream on IWJ.

Japan's House of Representatives passed the controversial State Secrecy Protection Bill on Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at the plenary session. The session began in the evening, five hours after its originally scheduled time, due to opposition party requests to withdraw the legislation.

The bill will introduce harsher punishments for leaking national secrets related to defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism, and counter-espionage. The bill uses a definition of “special secret” that is vague and broad. It remains unclear how information will be categorized as such, and what entities will be charged with this task.

Human rights advocates, journalists, and citizens in Japan and worldwide have expressed strong opposition to the bill. Locally, it has hit a nerve among those who were most affected by the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. According to numerous sources, government officials systematically limited reporting on environmental conditions following the disaster, to the detriment of many peoples’ health.

Commenting on the bill on his blog [ja], journalist Ryusaku Tanaka quoted Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie town in Fukushima prefecture, looking back on the Fukushima disaster. The mayor reflected on the painful experience that resulted from the lack of public information immediately following the disaster:

SPEEDIの情報が的確に公開されず、避難に活かせなかった。情報公開さえしてくれれば何らかの方法があった。東電と通報協定を結んでいたが守られなかった。我々は民主主義の拠り所である幸福追求権、生存権、財産権を全て侵害されている。人権を守って、情報公開してほしい。明るみに出せるところは出してほしい。もうちょっと慎重な対応をするべき。国民と論議を尽くすことが大切だ

[After the earthquake and nuclear accident in March 2011], The SPEEDI information was not made public promptly, and residents were not able to make use of the SPEEDI information. There might have been other ways to operate evacuation if the information had been made public. The agreement of TEPCO and [the local government] to report was not kept. All of our rights― right pursuit happiness, right to live, right to property―were violated. Information should be made public to protect human rights. Anything that can be brought to light should be. The legislative measure should be more careful. It is crucial that officials discuss this with the public.

The Lower House held a public hearing before the special committee for national security in Fukushima City, shortly before the vote. Community representatives at the hearing expressed strong opposition to the bill.

In an interview [ja] with Our Planet TV, a non-profit online broadcast station, Mayor Baba said that while he appreciated the fact that the hearing was held in Fukushima, he felt that the hearing “is almost like a stunt.”

The bill has an impressive range of critics around the world. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called the bill a threat to transparency and the New York Times called it “illiberal.” Journalism professor Yasuhiko Tajima charged that it would go against Tshwane Principles, a set of global principles covering national security and the right to information. The bill has also been criticized by former United States National Security Council member Morton Halperin [ja].
After earning approval from an ad-hoc Lower House committee on Tuesday morning, the bill passed the lower house in the evening of the same day with strong support from the Liberal Democratic Party. Meanwhile, protesters held a vigil out side of the Diet to show their opposition to the bill.

Video footage of the bill's hasty approval in the committee on the morning November 26 was uploaded on Youtube by user named fukusima311.

Rights advocates, journalists, and citizens fear that the law could restrict right to information before what is already considered a non-transparent government. Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 Press Freedom Index ranked Japan at 53 in April. The report highlighted the lack of transparency and access to information, particularly on information related to Fukushima.

PEN International released a statement last week, pointing out that the bill may not necessarily be about protecting secrets.

The Japanese government’s “Designated Secrets Bill” is not about the needs of the state or real secrets or the protection of the public good. It seems to be about politicians and employees of the state hiding behind an inflated idea of secrecy and an obsession with security verging on the hysterical, all in order to gather more power for themselves by undermining the rights of citizens to information and to free speech.

Agence France-Presse quoted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insisting that the bill would neither restrict media freedom nor encourage authorities to “arbitrarily” designate information as restricted. Abe also has said it is vital for Japan to prepare a legal framework for exchanging sensitive information with other countries.

Counter intelligence guidelines adopted [ja] in August 2007 by Japan's Counter Intelligence Promotion Committee [temporary translation] include approximately 420,000 pieces of “secret” information, mostly consisting of space satellite images and cryptogram. Abe said that secret information would be selected strictly, urging people not worry about an over classification of data as “secret”.

The bill now awaits debate and a vote in Upper House, expected to take place in early December.

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.

Netizen Report: Will the EU Create its Own Internet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thuggery: Leading netizens hold back in face of government crackdown

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

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

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

Surveillance: Will Nicaragua hop on the mass surveillance train?

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

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

Netizen Activism: The Internet Archive needs your help!

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

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

Cool Things

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

Publications and Studies

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November 12 2013

Cyber Stewards Network and Local Activists Investigate FinFisher in Mexico

Map of FinFisher products detected worldwide. Created by John Scott Railton and the Citizen Lab.

Map of FinFisher products detected worldwide. Created by John Scott Railton and the Citizen Lab.

The original version of this post appeared on Citizen Lab's Cyber Stewards site.

While the Mexican government has long been suspected of purchasing surveillance equipment, the frequency of these purchases and the level of public funds allocated to them are rapidly increasing. Last February,  the New York Times published an investigative report on USD 355 million in expeditures by the Mexican Ministry of Defense for sophisticated surveillance equipment. Six months prior to the Times investigation, Carmen Artistegui, a renowned investigative journalist in Mexico, published a report documenting five contracts from the National Secretary of Defense for the purchase of surveillance technologies. All five contracts were confidential and granted to a single company headquartered in the state of Jalisco called Security Tracking Devices, Inc.

In March of 2013, the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab published “You Only Click Twice: FinFisher’s Global Proliferation,” in which researchers conducted a global Internet scan for command-and-control servers of FinFisher surveillance software. Citizen Lab found FinFisher servers hosted by two Mexican Internet service providers: Iusacell, a small service provider, and UniNet, one of the largest ISPs in Mexico.

It was clear that the findings revealed potential legal violations. As part of my work investigating surveillance in the Northern Triangle for Citizen Lab's Cyber Stewards project, I shared this research with human rights groups and technology collectives in Mexico.

The findings were widely distributed via social networks and later translated by the online activist group YoSoyRed. Shortly thereafter, Mexican magazine Proceso published an investigative report on the harassment of human rights defenders online. The report  asked Iusacell  and UniNet to explain the presence of FinFisher on their servers. Neither of the ISPs responded to any of the magazine’s questions.

I connected with human rights activists in Mexico City and we worked together to raise awareness about civil society efforts in other countries that have resulted in legal action against the use of surveillance technology by repressive regimes, including cases against Amesys in France and Finfisher in Pakistan. A coalition of human rights lawyers and international experts, including Citizen Lab, ISOC Mexico, Privacy International, and other organizations, discussed the possibility of taking legal action to reveal the identity of those parties responsible for the purchase and deployment of FinFisher software in Mexico. At the time, however, we did not have enough information to present a strong case.

In May of 2013 Citizen Lab published “For Their Eyes Only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying,” which once again implicated Mexican ISPs in deploying FinFisher surveillance software. Two Mexico City-based human rights non-governmental organizations, Propuesta Cívica and ContingenteMx, requested a verification procedure regarding FinFisher’s presence in Mexico with the Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos Inicio (Federal Institute for Access to Information and Data Protection or IFAI), Mexico’s privacy authority. Their filing cited Citizen Lab’s FinFisher research.

“For Their Eyes Only,” report by Citizen Lab.

IFAI is legally mandated to protect citizen data and investigate possible personal data violations by private sector entities, as provided by the Federal Law on Personal Data Protection Held by Private Parties. It is also mandated to impose sanctions if a law has been breached. IFAI has the ability to launch a procedure either on its own initiative or at the request of affected parties. If, after preliminary findings, the IFAI determines that there is sufficient evidence to proclaim that a data breach has taken place, a formal investigation and possible sanctions will follow.

IFAI subsequently opened an official preliminary inquiry asking ISPs whether they were hosting FinFisher servers and what measures they were taking to protect the data of their clients. At the same time, Federal Deputy Juan Pablo Adame proposed a resolution before the Mexican Senate and Congress encouraging IFAI to investigate the use of FinFisher with reference to Citizen Lab’s findings and the requests submitted by civil society to investigate the deployment of FinFisher (registered as IFAI/SPDP/DGV/544/2013 and IFAI/SPDP/DGV/545/2013). The Permanent Assembly approved Adame’s motion, thereby imposing an obligation on the data protection authority to answer all questions submitted by the government.

After the Congress and Senate passed a joint resolution, IFAI announced that it required further information from ISPs and government agencies with powers to acquire surveillance technologies before deciding whether it would open a verification process for Iusacell and UniNet. UniNet denied responsibility for any programs that clients run on their servers, while Iusacell made no comment.

Purchase of FinFisher confirmed by authorities

On July 6, following the Congressional resolution and an IFAI public statement announcing the inquiry, YoSoyRed published a leaked contract and other documents implicating the Mexican Federal Government in the purchase of FinFisher software. The Procuraduría General de la Nación (Office of the Prosecutor or PGR) purchased the surveillance tool from Obses, a security contractor, for up to USD 15.5 million. José Ramirez Becerril, a representative from Obses, unveiled details about the equipment provided to PGN and claimed that other Mexican governmental institutions purchased the software as well. Mexican authorities confirmed that the equipment was purchased directly rather than through the governmental bid system that usually characterizes defence contracts so as not to  “alert organized crime.”

The media heavily scrutinized the leaked FinFisher contracts. The press, however, was more concerned about the amount of public funds allocated to purchasing these technologies than about the technologies themselves. In circumventing the public bid procedure, FinFisher and another surveillance tool called Hunter Punta Tracking/Locsys were sold at an inflated price to Mexican authorities during the Felipe Calderon administration. In response, authorities indicated they would prosecute culpable individuals who conduct illegal surveillance activities. To date, no criminal complaint has been filed, despite strict provisions that prohibit the interception of communications unless authorized by a federal judge and a warrant. The full content of the contracts has not yet been made public.

As the scandal unfolded, Congress offered help to activists on the ground demand greater transparency and accountability. On July 11, the Mexican Senate and Congress passed a joint resolution in which they demanded a full investigation and disclosure of any contracts between the Secretary of Interior, the PGR, and any other relevant institution. They were asked to send a full report about the purchase of surveillance and hacking systems capable of monitoring mobile phones, electronic communications, chats, and geolocation data from Obses, Gamma Group, Intellego, and EMC Computer Systems, and its affiliates. Congress also called for laws to regulate and restrict purchases of surveillance equipment, extensively quoting the Citizen Lab report in their request. The commercial entities named have not yet responded. IFAI also informed Congress that they would continue the investigation.

Iusacell and UniNet continued to deny hosting FinFisher servers. Iusacell indicated that the servers were located in Malaysia. Further evidence indicates otherwise: Wikileaks’ and La Jornada’s Spyfiles 3 publication revealed that FinFisher developers visited and were active in Mexico.

All Mexicans enjoy a constitutional right to privacy according to the recently amended Article 16 of the Mexican Constitution and the Federal Law on the Protection of Personal Data held by Private Parties, a general privacy framework. IFAI’s mandate ensures full monitoring powers and verification of compliance with these laws. If IFAI fails to open a full investigation, criminal and constitutional complaints can follow and any failure to investigate will be challenged under the basis of flagrancy. Technical assistance is often necessary to test devices and find examples  of infected individuals to support any legal course of action.

IFAI’s investigation is currently ongoing. The Citizen Lab and Cyber Stewards Network will continue supporting the case and helping both the Mexican authorities and the citizens to understand how surveillance systems operates so that they can evaluate whether those employing them are breaking the law.

Renata Avila is a researcher with Cyber Stewards, an international network of South-based cybersecurity scholars, advocates and practitioners facilitated by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab.

 

Relevant resources:

Mexican Government Purchased FinFisher Spyware, Daily Dot

Mexico: Advocates demand a full investigation of FinFisher spyware, Global Voices Advocacy

Propuesta Cívica y Contingente Mexicano presentan denuncia ante la Procuraduría General de la Nación por presunto espionaje a teléfonos móviles, Animal Politico

Mexico, en alerta por riesgo de espionaje digital, El Economista

Statement of support from Jacob Appelbaum, ContingenteMX

Privacy International solicita al IFAI que inicie investgación sobre FinFisher, ContingenteMX

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