Netizen Report: Bullets and Pepper Spray Edition

Pepper Spray Mashup

Today is the International Day to End Impunity, honoring those who have been killed for exercising their right to free speech. Click here to learn more about some of the people who have been murdered for speaking out. Now that everybody can commit journalism on the Internet, any citizen in the world can end up on the list unless we fight to defend our rights against the many who want to silence us.

In Egypt the thugs are out of control with several dozen people dead and hundreds wounded as the violence in Tahrir Square continues for all the world to see. Each outrage committed by the Egyptian military and police is documented on the Internet through social media. Click here to follow Global Voices’ special coverage.

In the United States the Occupy movement may not have a unified set of demands, but the protesters have found fresh unity and momentum against the thuggish manner in which police and other authorities have handled the protests. Abuses have been documented by citizen journalists as well as professionals who have in turn been getting arrested. After this pepper-spraying of demonstrators sitting on the pavement with locked arms at UC Davis in Northern California, netizens have created a website through which people are invited to upload mashups – like the image above – of the Davis policeman in question spraying various iconic targets. Meanwhile, the struggles for freedom and control of the Internet rage across the world:

SURVEILLANCE: Last week security researcher Trevor Eckhart exposed the use of rootkit software called Carrier IQ which is installed on millions of Android, Blackberry, and Nokia phones. The software is very difficult to detect or remove when detected, and logs a range of information including the user's locations, phone numbers, call durations, which apps are running, and even what text the user typed into the phone's keyboard. Carrier IQ is now taking legal action against Eckhart, citing copyright violation, demanding that he remove all copies of the company's user manuals that he had republished, retract his analysis of the software, and provide information about all individuals to whom he had sent the information. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is defending him.

The Wall Street Journal has obtained a trove of marketing materials for surveillance and hacking technologies from a secretive conference held recently in Washington DC. The journal claims to have received from conference attendees 200-plus marketing documents, spanning 36 companies, include hacking tools that enable governments to break into people's computers and cellphones, and “massive intercept” gear that can gather all Internet communications in a country. They represent a multi-billion dollar global industry in technologies that are sold by Western companies to all sorts of governments around the world. Despite U.S. export controls, American technology, including Hewlett-Packard computers, has made its way to Syria among other countries where protestors and dissenters are being killed with impunity.

A U.S. District Court upheld a lower court decision that Twitter users have “a lessened expectation of privacy” when using Twitter, allowing prosecutors from the Department of Justice to use a court order to obtain IP information from the Twitter accounts belonging to three Wikileaks’ associates.

Facebook plans to set up a data center in Sweden primarily for its European users, despite Sweden's controversial surveillance law which allows the government to intercept Internet information without a warrant. When viewed alongside news that Facebook's new “frictionless sharing” features track users even when logged out of the site, lack of constraint on government surveillance is even more troubling.

Google has offered an opt-out option for Wifi geolocation mapping. Some argue that an opt-in option would be more ethical.

CENSORSHIP: Engineers are reporting that China appears to be testing a new system for detecting and blocking encrypted internet connections, such as Virtual Private Networks (VPN's), a common way of circumventing censorship.  This appears to be part of a broader effort by the government to assert sovereignty over the domestic Internet, rein in foreign influence and keep Chinese netizens from getting too rebellious.

In the United States, members of both parties in Congress are trying to pass a law that would institute a new Internet censorship system in the United States whose technical and legal mechanisms are similar to the Great Firewall of China, even though the ostensible intent is to protect copyright, not censor political speech.

In Turkey, thousands of people protested this week against a new Internet filtering system that will block “inappropriate content” as well as “separatist propaganda.”

In Pakistan, Bytes for All reports that the Pakistan Telecommunications Agency issued a new directive to all cellular operators in the country “to enforce an SMS content filtering mechanisms to ban the use of 1695 so called offensive English and Urdu words.” The directive has been widely mocked by Pakistani netizens and authorities denied its existence to a Voice of America reporter.

Earlier this month the Sri Lankan government issued an order requiring all websites containing news about Sri Lanka to register with the government. Some major news websites were blocked the day after the announcement.

South Africa is cracking down on whistleblowers.

BUILDING A NETIZEN-CENTRIC INTERNET: Members of the social news site Reddit are experimenting with what is alternately known as the Darknet Plan or Meshnet, which Forbes reports would aim to build “a mesh-based version of the Internet that wouldn’t be subject to the control of any corporation or government, with a focus on anonymity, peer-to-peer architecture and strong resistance to censorship.” Another group is working on an anonymous “dimnet” called Dot-Bit.

A non-profit organization called Expert Labs has launched a new service called ThinkUp, which describes itself as “a free, open source web application that captures all your activity on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+” enabling you to store then products of your online social activity “in a database that you control, making it easy to search, sort, analyze, publish and display activity from your network.”

Diaspora, the open source, distributed social networking alternative to centralized services like Facebook, has adopted the Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights.

W3C has published the first draft of “Do Not Track” standardization.

PUBLICATIONS: MobileActive has published a Mobile Media Toolkit, showing people how to use mobile technology to “enable citizen media and encourage independent voices.”

iLaw Thailand: Situational Report on Control and Censorship of Online Media

Nautilus Institute: North Korea on the Cusp of Digital Transformation (PDF)

Electronic Frontier Foundation: Sovereign Keys: A Proposal to Make HTTPS and Email More Secure

Yochai Benkler, Berkman Center for Internet and Society: Open Wireless vs. Licensed Spectrum: Evidence from Market Adoption

Citizen Lab: Behind Blue Coat: Investigations of commercial filtering in Syria and Burma

Citizen Lab: The Canadian Connection: An investigation of Syrian government and Hezbullah web hosting in Canada

Sciences Po transcript of a lecture by Richard Stallman: A Free Digital Society

Patrick Meyer of Ushahidi has published his dissertation, Do “Liberation Technologies” Change the Balance of Power Between Repressive States and Civil Society?

EVENTS: For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age see the Global Voices events calendar.

NOTE: This report was compiled with considerable help from Weiping Li.

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