Here at Global Voices Advocacy we believe that transparency by governments and companies about how and when censorship and surveillance takes place is a base-line requirement if the Internet is ever to be governed in a manner that is compatible with free expression, dissent, and citizens’ right to organize and assemble. Thus we applaud Google's latest Transparency Report – the company's fourth such report detailing government requests for user data and content removal, as well as the traffic flows (or lack thereof) to Google webistes across the world since July 2009. The new data for January-June 2011 contains more detail than in the past, including data on how Google responded to the requests and whether they were honored. The data comes with a list of caveats including that automated content removal is not logged and that some data cannot be released due to local law. Nonetheless, we hope that Google's data will provide an interesting snap shot of the state of Internet affairs and the data could be used to hold governments accountable to their censorship activities. We believe that if all Internet companies disclosed similar data, the world would be further on its way to being a better place. Many articles have been written analyzing the data. A few of them include:
- TechPresident: Google Data Shows Government Internet Surveillance Far Outstrips Wiretap Requests
- WIRED: U.S. Requests for Google User Data Spike 29 Percent in Six Months
- Huffington Post:The 13 Countries That Request The Most User Data From Google
- CNet: Google: Governments seek more about you than ever
Adding to the publicly available data about censorship around the world, the Open Net Initiative has released its research data on global Internet filtering, covering seventy-four countries.
Surveillance: As GVA and others have recently reported, 13 Internet filtering devices produced by the California-based company Blue Coat have made their way to Syria. According to the Wall Street Journal, Blue Coat executives say that the company will not sell the devices to countries that are under embargo by the United States, and that the devices found in Syria had been sold to a dealer who claimed they were destined for Iraq.
The Wall Street Journal has had several other items related to the role of companies in global surveillance, including a report on how China's Huawei has been peddling its mobile phone tracking and censoring equipment to Iran.
In India, Research in Motion has set up a facility in Mumbai to help the Indian government carry out lawful surveillance of its BlackBerry services including the messenger chat service, but the WSJ reports that India still has no method to intercept and decode BlackBerry enterprise email.
In Russia, bloggers’ influence has apparently made the Kremlin nervous. Reporters Without Borders has condemned plans by the Russian government to deploy new software to track “extremist” content on the web, highlighting concerns about an over-broad definition of “extremist,” and the arbitrary and disproportionate approach to punishment and sanctions against websites. For more on the Russian Internet be sure to follow Global Voices’ Runet Echo Project.
Moving on the United States, The Guardian has a fascinating report on the super-secret Intelligence Support Systems World Americas conference held recently in Washington DC, at which surveillance professionals shared the latest surveillance technologies and innovations that they don't want you to know about. Hacktivist and friend of GVA Jacob Appelbaum managed to get in, but was thrown out.
On a more positive note in the United States, the Washington Post reports that since 2009 many Internet companies have been more assertive about challenging “national security letters” from the FBI requesting information about users.
The Guardian reports that Civil liberties and privacy groups in the United Kingdom have raised concerns about the deployment by the London Metropolitan Police of a “covert surveillance technology that can masquerade as a mobile phone network, transmitting a signal that allows authorities to shut off phones remotely, intercept communications and gather data about thousands of users in a targeted area.”
Techdirt reports on the European Union‘s desire to have a “black box’ built in to operating systems that would store a record of all of the computer's internet usage. The EU argues that this ability would be useful in cracking down on child pornography. The system that the EU is looking at as a possible candidate for role of ‘black box’ is called LogBox. The developer of LogBox claims that the device is for preserving the freedoms and privacy of internet users, although Techdirt points out the fact that this device does little to ‘protect’ the privacy of online users, it in fact, would make anonymous actions on the internet much more difficult and would provide governments and law enforcement a huge set of data on every internet user.
Censorship: The chief executives of China‘s 39 top Internet, telecom, and computer companies have agreed to “strengthen self-control, self-restraint and strict self-discipline” in order to “contain the tendency of spreading online rumours, pornography, fraud and other illegal, harmful information on the internet.” The move comes amidst a broader crackdown on the Internet and social media.
In India, the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society submitted a right to information request to the government's Department of Information Technology, asking for more information about website blocking. Based on DIT's response the Centre observes that “The data provided by the government seemingly conflicts with the data released by the likes of Google.” Their conclusion: “Either the DIT is not providing us all the relevant information on blocking, or is not following the law.”
The U.S. House Judiciary Committee has recently proposed a bill aimed at protecting intellectual property online that some critics describe as the beginning of a “Great Firewall of America.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation and others have detailed the bill's problems, including lack of due process, near certainty of over-blocking and abuse, imposition of excessive liability on Internet intermediaries, global legitimization of DNS censorship and potential fragmentation of the Internet, among other things. It is considered even worse than its evil fraternal twin in the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act which is also opposed by many tech companies and non-profit groups. Despite such opposition, the bill draws relatively broad support from lawmakers.
Net Neutrality: South African technology journalist Jan Vermeulen ran the M-Lab's Glasnost Test on South African ISP's to see whether their stated bandwith shaping policies match up with reality.
The growth of bandwidth intensive internet applications in South Korea has made Net Neutrality an important issue there. South Korean ISP's are reporting that it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain neutral practices with content. The three largest telecommunications companies in Korea are worried by the rise of Smart TV's, which use Internet connections as opposed to traditional cable or satellite links to provide content. The ISP's want to charge companies varying amounts depending on the type and amount of content sent.
Internet Governance: ICANN held its 42nd public meeting in Dakar, Senegal late last month. Wendy Seltzer reported here on GVA why the seemingly arcane debates about domain name registrar accreditation is important. Konstantinos Komaitis, an active member of ICANN's Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group (Global Voices is also a member), describes the struggle that is taking place took place between governments and other ICANN stakeholders over whether some stakeholders are more equal than others within ICANN's multi-stakeholder governance model. Kieren McCarthy at dotNext also has an in-depth report and analysis on the clash between governments and registrars over law enforcement regarding domain names. Over at the Internet Governance Project Milton Mueller takes an in-depth look at the politics surrounding the Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group and related constituencies, and the fight for civil society representation at ICANN.
India has published a formal proposal to put the UN in charge of overseeing Internet governance. For different analyses by three Internet governance wonks see Kieren McCarthy, Milton Mueller, and Jeremy Malcolm.
The International Telecommunications Union has approved a new protocol for relaying biometric information. The protocol is intended to enable doctors to communicate data about patients safely and is geared towards developing countries where the access to medical care in rural areas is poor and communication between clinics and doctors would provide better patient care. You can read the full press release here.
Netizen Power: Lee Yoo Eun at Global Voices reports that the October 26th Seoul mayoral election was swayed by the use of twitter. Read the full article here.
African entrepreneur Herman Chinery-Hesse gave a speech at the Tech 4 Africa conference highlighting what the rise of Internet Communication Technologies has done for Africa. A synopsis of his talk can be found on the Tech4Africa.
Sovereigns of Cyberspace: Facebook has introduced a new “guardian angel” feature to help users restore locked accounts.
The 13th Austrian Big Brother Awards were held on October 25th in Vienna. “Winners” included the CEO of Telekom Austria, the Ministers of Interior and Justice, and the head of the anti-terror police unit. Mark Zuckerberg received the “lifelong menace” award and a “Defender of Liberty” award went to the creators of the “Europe versus Facebook” campaign.
The Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference was held in San Francisco in late October (see GVA's report, Jillian York's report, and The Economist’s) and released the Silicon Valley Standard, a set of 15 principles that technology companies should follow in order to protect human rights.
China's Weibo plans to launch an English version in partnership with Flipboard and Instagram. Will they agree to follow the Silicon Valley Standard?
Security Alert: The security researcher Barnaby Jack has found it possible to conduct a blind attack on insulin pumps. While there have been no reports of anyone being harmed by such an attack, this highlights how far behind security technologies are when it comes to wireless devices that are embedded in critical infrastructure and medicine.
Publications: Digital Cameras Reduce Electoral Corruption by Michael Callen and James Long.
Access Contested: Security, Identity, and Resistance in Asian Cyberspace, by the OpenNet Initiative, to be officially released in December. Part I of the book (including a chapter by yours truly) can be read online or downloaded here.
Events: Check out this handy calendar of Internet-related events around the world, courtesy of Internews!
NOTE: This report was compiled with considerable help from Ted Eby and Weiping Li.