The Netizen Report: Inaugural Edition

Author's note: This is the first post in a new series on GVA called “The Netizen Report”: A regular overview of recent global developments related to the power dynamics between citizens, companies and governments on the Internet.  I hope that these regular reports can provide netizens around the world with useful information about who is seeking to influence and shape the digital platforms and networks we increasingly depend upon, and how. Armed with information, we are in a better position to defend our rights, and to make sure the Internet evolves in a manner that is compatible with free expression and dissent. The format and content of the report will evolve over the coming months based on reader feedback and author experimentation. If you would like to submit information or links to be included in future editions of the Netizen Report please contact me.

Social Networks and Your Identity: Google's new social network, Google+ was welcomed by many people after its launch in June as an alternative to Facebook, which has long been criticized for many things, including the way that it handles privacy and identity. but a growing group of G+ users and activists are angry that the new social network requires that users create a Google Profile with their real name, and has been deleting accounts of people whose profile names do not seem “real” and who cannot prove that they are real by submitting a copy of their official ID. As Danah Boyd put it, “real names” policies are an abuse of power. Concern has grown in the wake of remarks by Google CEO Eric Schmidt that the company intends to be an “identity service.” Todd Vierling has been making a heroic effort at logging every single article and blog post that has been published about the social networking “identity wars.” You can view, subscribe, and contribute to his spreadsheet here.

Zack Clarke at ZDNet recently wrote an essay titled: Facebook, Google: Welcome to the new feudalism, in which he argues that “in the modern web, Google and Facebook are the feudal lords and people are the peasants.”

RIM and Riots: Research In Motion (RIM) said it would shut down its popular Blackberry Messenger (BBM) service in the UK if the government ordered it to in times of civil unrest, Reuters reported. Facebook and Twitter told UK authorities that shutting down social networks in times of crisis would be counterproductive.

Copyright: Earlier this month the Global Congress on Intellectual Property and Public Interest published the Washington Declaration on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest.  As Sherwin Siy of Public Knowledge explains, it calls for policymakers commit to making sure that IP enforcement takes place alongside a strong commitment to protect privacy, freedom of expression, and other human rights, as well as basic principles of consumer protection and competition. Anybody from around the world is welcome to sign on in support of the document here. IP Watch has a useful summary and analysis with links to related articles.

In Germany, a court has ruled that ISP's cannot be held liable when users infringe copyright. EMI had filed suit against one of Germany's largest ISP's, demanding that HanseNet Telekommunikations block a certain file-sharing website, arguing that HanseNet was in effect an accessory to file-sharing by providing Internet access to somebody who used the service to access a file-sharing site. The court dismissed the case as “unfounded.”

Surveillance: The European Freedom Not Fear movement has designated Saturday, September 17th as a day of protest in Brussels. According to the organizers, “European policy making is affecting our every day lives and civil liberties more and more. The EU is increasingly imposing unnecessary and disproportionate governmental surveillance measures on us. We will not take this any longer.”

On the flip side of the coin, the European Union is working to tighten regulations governing the export of hardware and software that can be used for censorship or repression by authoritarian regimes.

Censorship: The Wall Street Journal has a long story about Thailand's Internet crackdown, and how it is threatening commerce as well as hurting free speech.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has submitted an open letter (PDF) to the  Korean Communications Standards Commission. The EFF says its members are “deeply troubled by the rise of administrative boards to censor the Internet—now extant in Turkey, Australia, India and South Korea. We are sending an open letter to the Korean Communications Standards Commission condemning attempts to shut the public out of their work and urging them to embrace transparency and online freedom of expression.”

Internet Governance: The annual Internet Governance Forum will be held in Nairobi, Kenya at the end of September. It is open to all “stakeholders,” but if you are not going you can participate online. More information will be posted next week here on GVA about the forthcoming meeting. Meanwhile, a battle has been going on about whether Internet governance should be left to government, or whether other stakeholders – such as private companies, NGO's, technical experts, and grassroots netizens – should have the right to participate in decisionmaking about how international Internet policy is developed. This latter approach is known as “multistakeholderism.” (PDF) Jeremy Malcolm, an Internet governance scholar, recently wrote a paper called Arresting the decline of multi-stakeholderism in Internet governance, which he has excerpted on the IGFWatch blog, here.

Meanwhile, ICANN (the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) which handles the global coordination of the global domain name system (DNS), has been coming under fire for giving too much power to non-governmental entities – and the criticism has been coming not only from authoritarian countries like China and Iran but also from the European Union. Kieren McCarthy of .nxt (who obtained a set of confidential EU policy papers on ICANN) calls it “a wholesale effort to put governments in charge of the Internet.” Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project asks: Who wrote those ICANN papers, anyway? The European Commission or the Government of Iran? Mueller has written a multi-part analysis of the papers here, here, here, and here.

Upcoming live streaming online events (please send me your links for future editions!): September 22nd is “the Internet's Earth Day,” One Web Day. (See the website for how to contribute and participate). The Internet Society of New York celebrates One Web Day with an open lecture by computer scientist Bob Frankston titled “Infrastructure commons – the future of connectivity.”

September 23rd: Launch of Black Voices for Internet Freedom at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC. (Click the link for times and webcast information.)

Latest journal articles and books: The Whole World Is Watching: In an increasingly monitored world, how can consumers and citizens reclaim ownership of their private lives? by James B. Rule in The Journal of Democracy.

Digital AlterNatives with a Cause? A book published by Hivos (a Dutch foundation) and the Centre for Internet and Society (Bangalore, India), has collected essays by so-called “digital natives” from around the world.

Social Media Uprising in the Chinese Speaking World, published by Hong Kong In-Media, an in-depth study of “the use of social media in grassroots struggles in China, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Malaysia by local researchers and activists.”

(UPDATE: If this weekly post does not satisfy your weekly appetite feel free to follow my netizenreport Google Reader tag, and the #netfreedom hashtag on Twitter.)


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