Netizen Report: Censorship Edition
Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Weiping Li, Renata Avila, Alex Laverty, and Sarah Myers.
This week, netizens around the globe have seen an increase in censorship due to court orders and government actions: an Egyptian courtissued a verdict that would impose a month-long ban on YouTube for the website’s refusal to take down the anti-Islam film “the Innocence of Muslims.” In September of 2012, the controversial film appeared on YouTube with dubbing in Arabic, causing public outrage and prompting the governments of several countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan and Afghanistan to request YouTube to remove the video from its site, but to no avail. Experts in Egypt expect the decision will be appealed.
The Russian government has shut down nearly 600 websites that host suicide-related content, claiming that the sites violate the law “On Protecting Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development,” which has been effective since September 2012. Just this year, under the same law, Russian regulators have ordered ISPs and web hosting services to block access to over 90 sites that allegedly contain child pornography. According to the law, the government can block the website without a court order if the site’s content includes or relates to child pornography.
Global Voices Advocacy contributor Besti Zibilova reported that the Azerbaijani government has blocked US-based popular image-sharing website Imgur.com. Some have speculated the blocking may be in response to sensitive government documents that were recently leaked by Anonymous and re-posted on Imgur. In Pakistan, netizens reported that social news website Buzzfeed and the website of Canadian newspaper The Toronto Sun have been partially blocked by the country’s firewall system.
A Palestinian court has found Anas Awwad guilty of “cursing the President” on Facebook and sentenced him to one year in prison. Awwad’s father said his son left a comment that read, “The new striker in Real Madrid” beneath a photo of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas kicking a soccer ball during a visit to Spain in 2011. Awwad’s attorney plans to appeal the decision.
Police authorities in China have detained [zh] a Chinese weibo user from Sichuan province for criticizing Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s Sina weibo “fan club”. According to police documents, the user was charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”
Sanjay Chowdhary, a chairman of a public school in Agra, India has been arrested by the police for “communal and inflammatory” posts lampooning political figures including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Facebook. Upon his arrest, Chowdhary’s laptop, sim card, and data card were impounded by officials.
Vietnamese blogger Le Anh Hung was released on February 5 after being detained in a mental health institution by security officials for his online writings criticizing the government.
A report issued by the UK parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee suggested that to fight terrorism and other serious crime, the UK government should install surveillance equipment which uses “deep packet inspection” technology on mobile and Internet networks to monitor British citizens’ online activities. This technology would allow officials to track the domain names of the websites citizens visit, along with “third-party” content content traveling over the networks of Internet and telecommunications service providers.
Uganda’s activists have asked the government to suspend its SIM card registration requirement, launched last March for crime-tracking purposes, arguing that the government must first pass a law that will protect the personal data of users that is gathered and stored in the registration process.
A new Microsoft media advertising campaign, set to kick off on Thursday, attacks competitor Google for its practices concerning user data. Campaign messaging suggests that Google is far less respectful of user privacy than Microsoft and criticizes Google for monetizing its popular email service with ads that rely on keywords pulled from users’ emails.
Raytheon Company, a US-based defense contractor, has developed software that can track people’s movements and purportedly can predict future behavior by mining social media. Raytheon has shared its research with the United States government, but has yet to sell the software to any buyers.
In the Philippines, the Supreme Court ruled on February 5 to indefinitely suspend the controversial Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which has been criticized for limiting free expression online and criminalizing anonymous and pseudonymous expression on the Internet. Meanwhile, Filipino netizens have collaborated in drafting a proposed law called “the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom (MCPIF)” to replace the suspended Cybercrime Act. Philippine Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has brought the MCPIF before Congress.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), widely criticized by civil liberties advocates when it was introduced last spring, will soon be re-introduced in the US House of Representatives. The bill, which some advocates now have dubbed “Zombie CISPA”, encourages cyber-threat information sharing between government and industry.
In an effort to combat piracy, the Japanese government has plans to place faux files into peer-to-peer filesharing sites in order to ‘educate’ users about intellectual property laws in Japan. The faux file, disguised as copyright-protected material available for download, will contain a message telling the user that downloading such files constitutes a violation of copyright law.
The EU Commission is proceeding with the “Licenses for Europe” campaign, with the goal of “enabl[ing] quality content and new opportunities for all Europeans in the digital era.” French net rights advocacy group La Quadrature du Net has criticized the process for being biased in favor of copyright holders’ interests. Thus far, fair use-like policies and Creative Commons licensing have not been part of the discussion.
Sovereigns of Cyberspace
The mobile phone text and voice messaging service WeChat which is widely popular in China has started to enforce real-name verification and require those who use “public accounts” (such as companies’ and celebrities’ accounts) to submit national ID numbers, addresses, and even pictures of identification cards for verification.
Under the leadership of EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes, the EU Commission plans to propose a set of new cybercrime reporting rules. The rules would require member nations to establish Computer Emergency Response Teams and to designate a government agency to which businesses would be asked to report when cybersecurity breaches occur.
A group of journalists reporting on Myanmar have received warnings from Google that their email accounts have become the targets of “state-sponsored” cyberattacks, though Google did not identify the source of attacks. Some Myanmar media outlets’ websites and Facebook pages also experienced hacking since January.
Publications and Studies
- Bytes for all: Freedom of Expression and Net Freedom in the Manifestos of Political Parties in Pakistan
- Cybersecurity Strategy of the European Union: An Open, Safe and Secure Cyberspace
- Center for a New American Security: The Internet Yalta
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.
Written by Netizen Report Team
“Netizen Report: Censorship Edition” by Netizen Report Team is shared under Creative Commons license Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)
Tweeting the Principles of Internet Freedom
Here’s a good opportunity to share with your friends and coworkers on Twitter, as well as other Declaration supporters and signers what The Declaration of Internet Freedom principles personally mean to you, why you value these principles and how these issues effect your life.
To encourage further engagement and feedback on the Declaration we hope that you will in the following weeks use Twitter to highlight your opinion on one principle of the declaration a week. To discuss the first principle “Don’t censor the Internet”, please use these hashtags this week: #netfreedom #censorship. Below is a schedule of when we will begin to highlight each principles and which hashtags we plan to use each week.
Please tweet your own opinions about what each principle means to you. Your input adds a lot of value to the discussion. Also, follow the hashtags and respond to individuals who are interested in discussing the principles. If there are new developments happening in your country which effect your freedom on the internet, share them using the week’s hashtags. At the end of each week Katy Tasker, of Public Knowledge will curate a Storify page to highlight the most interesting tweets on each principle.
July 30: Expression: Don’t censor the Internet #netfreedom #censorship
Aug 6: Access: Promote universal access to fast and affordable networks #netfreedom #access
Aug 13: Openness: Keep the Internet an open network where everyone is free to… #netfreedom #openinternet
Aug 20: Innovation: Protect freedom to innovate, don’t block new technologies #netfreedom #innovation
Aug 27: Privacy: Protect privacy and defend everyone’s ability to control how their data and devices are used #netfreedom #privacy
Netizen Report: Firewall Edition
But in the long run, [China’s] leaders must understand it’s not possible for them to control the Internet unless they shut it off – and they can’t live with the consequences of that.
– Ai Wei Wei, in an article published in The Guardian.
On April 12, 2012, the Chinese Internet was cut off from the global Internet for about two hours, for reasons that remain unknown. One rumor is that it was related to an earthquake that happened days before, but a more persuasive argument was that it resulted from human error.
The China Realtime Report, a Wall Street Journal blog, quoted findings of the Internet company CloudFare that the outage may have been due to some kind of settings error in the nationwide Internet filtering system. Global Voices’ Oiwan Lam reported that the failure was a test of a national “kill switch,” to ensure that censors can cut China off from the rest of the Internet quickly in the event of a national emergency.
Although the latter explanation has not, and may never be confirmed, it seems to coincide with recent Chinese political tensions in the leadup to a leadership transition in the Fall. There has been a crackdown on Internet users and cyber attacks on Chinese dissident websites that have been reporting on political scandals. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Culture have all issued an “urgent notice” ordering all Internet companies to strictly execute the real-name registration policy from April to August.
The websites and services that will be specifically targeted for crackdown include those “involving unregistered domain names; content related to pornography, gambling or drugs; pornographic information; illegal discussion forums; and counter-political activities.”
The Chinese government may not cut the whole Chinese Internet off from the World Wide Web, but more intense censorship of the Internet in the coming months is widely expected. Meanwhile, netizens around the world have been busy fighting threats to their freedom of all kinds.
Iran’s Minister of Communication and Information Technology has denied a report that the Iranian government, too, is going to isolate the whole country from the World Wide Web.
Nevertheless, a Washington-based researcher Collin Anderson revealed a document from the Iranian government calling on Iranian companies to provide information on how to build a more monitored and filtered Internet. The government has also detained an Internet expert and pressured him to help build a “National Internet”. An analyst told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that Iran may plan a dual system which consists of a fast domestic network and a filtered connection to the global Internet – which is not unlike China’s current system.
While the Pakistani government has not confirmed whether it will withdraw its request for proposals for an online filtering system, activists have filed a petition to the court, arguing the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has illegally blocked and censored websites. The High Court of Sindh at Karachi has ruled that the PTA’s blocking is unconstitutional and that it should stop the censorship. Danny O’Brien of the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that as a result of the decision, the PTA should first inform the website operators of the blocking decision and allow the operators to respond.
In Southeast Asia, the Thai government has tightened its censorship of the Internet as the number of blocked websites have been increasing; Vietnam’s Ministry of Information has released draft legislation which requires international social networking companies to pledge to follow Vietnam’s censorship laws.
The European Parliament voted in favor of a resolution to ask the European Commission to enact new laws to monitor the export of technology, which can be used to censor the Internet and surveil mobile communication. However in the United Kingdom (UK), another censorship law has been proposed to require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block “inappropriate” content from children.
Jacob Appelbaum of the Tor Project published a report on the research of the Ultrasurf, software used for Internet censorship circumvention. This report revealed that the software program has serious security problems, which may endanger users’ privacy.
Indian Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was arrested for forwarding a cartoon ridiculing West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on the Internet. The professor was then charged with several counts, including humiliating and insulting the modesty of a woman, defamation and sending offensive messages through a computer.
Guinea-Bissau journalist Aly Silva, also a famous blogger, was arrested by the military while he was reporting new developments after a coup. Although he was released, he was physically harmed and his computer was stolen.
Three Vietnamese bloggers were charged with “propaganda against the state” for their posts on their blogs. They may face sentences of 20 years in jail once convicted.
Nicholas Merrill, who previously ran a New York-based ISP and who challenged FBI demands for user data, is raising funds to run a national non-profit telecommunications provider company in the United States, which will use technological and legal tools to shield its customers from surveillance.
Sovereigns of cyberspace
Facebook has threatened to sue a TechCrunch blogger after the blogger created a Chrome web browser extension that allows users to post to Facebook and blogs anonymously. The company also deleted a term in its “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities“, because users were concerned that this term could be used as an excuse for censorship.
Google’s Co-Founder Sergey Brin voiced his concern that Hollywood, China, Facebook, and Apple are threatening Internet freedom and that the “walled garden” approach taken by competitors is hurting Internet openness and innovation.
FBI agents recently seized a server belonging to Riseup Networks and May First / People Link as part of their investigation into the series of anonymous bomb threats issued against the University of Pittsburgh. The server, operated by the European Counter Network, an Italian political activist Internet service, includes a node for the Mixmaster anonymous remailer service.
Anonymous remailers, like the one hosted by Rise Up and May First / People Link, allow their users to send and receive messages anonymously and are used by countless human rights groups, journalists and activists. The ECN server in particular was host to a number of websites, e-mail accounts and cyber rights mailing lists, and its ill-conceived seizure has disrupted the activities of activists and human rights defenders around the world.
To make matters worse, analysis of the server’s data is unlikely to aid the investigation. The Mixmaster software operates in a similar manner to TOR – the server in question was merely one node in the network. Further, since Mixmaster is explicitly designed not to keep logs, it is very unlikely that it will yield any actionable information as to the source of the threats.
Since the seizure of the server last Wednesday, the University of Pittsburgh has continued to receive numerous bomb threats.
Kenyans are seeking to document cases of corruption through a new website, ipaidabribe.or.ke, which thus far has tracked nearly 600 cases of (mainly petty) bribery worth around 17 million Kenyan shillings.
Danah Boyd writes for the Guardian newspaper about the importance of users recognizing that the future of the Internet lies in our control and we must take action to protect the Internet’s openness.
Mexican netizens are using Twitter and blogging to mobilize action against a series of geo-location laws that many are concerned will establish service providers’ obligation to cooperate promptly and without reservations with authorities, not only to locate mobile equipment but also to give technical support for the installation and operation of devices that block cell phone signals, radio-communication or data transmission (Internet) inside jails.
French Twitter users shared early election results for the presidential elections by tallies over Twitter, before the national media was allowed to call the vote by law.
Over 11.5 million geo-located tweets from the last three months of 2011 have been analyzed to see how often Africans are tweeting. The use of Twitter is dominated by Africa’s richest country: South Africa sent twice as many tweets (5,030,226) as the next most active, Kenya (2,476,800). Nigeria (1,646,212), Egypt (1,214,062) and Morocco (745,620) make up the remainder of the top five most active countries. According to Portland, 68% of those polled said that they use Twitter to monitor news.
Italy has introduced a law that would require websites and blogs to correct content within 48 hours or face fines if they receive a complaint that information on their site is incorrect. In addition to creating new liabilities for website operators, the law does not require factual accuracy for complaints.
Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, published a speech on the value of Internet openness and has invited comments.
The Federal Communications Commission in the United States (US) announced that they will drop their investigation against Google, citing lack of sufficient information and are fining Google USD 25,000 for impeding the investigation.
President Obama announced an Executive Order allowing US officials for the first time to impose sanctions against private and public entities as well as individuals who provide direct or indirect aid to the governments of Syria and Iran in using technologies to help carry out human rights abuses.
The Maryland General Assembly has become the first state to pass a bill outlawing employers from requesting current and prospective employees to provide their Facebook passwords.
Skynet, New Zealand’s new anti-piracy law, may soon have its first victim. According to local ISP TelstraClear, one of its customers faces fines of up to USD 15,000 for allegedly pirating music, after receiving their “third strike” notice. “Three strikes” – otherwise known as graduated response – laws have become increasingly popular among governments worldwide as a means to combat media piracy. However, elsewhere institutions are pushing back against harsh and ill-conceived anti-piracy legislation.
In Australia, the High Court has ruled that ISPs are not obligated by law to respond to private takedown requests for copyrighted content. This ruling marks the third consecutive defeat for the movie studios behind the case.
Citing citizens’ privacy concerns, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement has cautioned against signing the controversial treaty. Critics argue that ACTA, if passed, would fundamentally alter the Internet by forcing ISPs to police content across their networks.
Monday, April 22, marked the start of CyberSecurity Week in the US; one interest of lawmakers is CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, due to be brought to the floor of the House of Representatives this coming Friday. As we mentioned in the last Netizen Report, CISPA raises numerous concerns including being overbroad and a backdoor for online surveillance.
Although a House Committee attempted to narrow the scope of the bill, the bill is still raising concerns, including limited liability for a company sharing information. This past week the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Reporters Without Borders and others launched an online campaign protesting the bill. The groups have launched their response in part because of Facebook’s support of CISPA. The Obama Administration has also come out against CISPA, stressing the need for privacy protections.
Several sites have created tools to help users coordinate their response to the bill. Fight for the Future launched Congress TMI (Too Much Information) to encourage netizens to illustrate the type of personal details CISPA will give law enforcement access to. EFF has also created an effective social media tool to help you tweet your representative directly and let him or her know how CISPA will affect you. For more information on the bill, Yale ISP Fellow Anjali Dalal has published a review of the legislation and some of the areas for concern.
In the UK, Parliament published a report on press coverage of plans to pass legislation that will log communications data including “records of who contacted whom, when, from where, in what technical circumstances and for how long” and justification for the law.
Publications and studies
- Electronic Frontier Foundation: Human Rights and Technology Sales.
- Locating the Mobile: An Ethnographic Investigation into Locative Media in Melbourne, Bangalore and Shanghai
- Yiannis Milanos: Piracy Culture in Greece: Local Realities and Civic Potentials
- Doctor Faustus in the 21st Century: A meditation on knowledge, power, and civic intelligence
- Global Network Initiative published its 2011 Annual Report.
“Netizen Report: Celebration Edition” by Rebecca MacKinnon and co-authored by Mera Szendro Bok, Weiping Li, James Losey and Grady Johnson is shared under Creative Commons license Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)