Netizen Report: Remembrance Edition

With co-authors Weiping Li and Mera Szendro-Bok

On the Prague streets, remembering Vaclav Havel. By Ben Skála via Wikimedia Commons

Vaclav Havel, a poet, playwright, dissident, last president of Czechoslovakia, and first president of the Czech Republic, died on Dec 18 at age 75. His story and words continue to inspire people around the world to fight against repression. Take for example a letter that he wrote in 1969 to the deposed reformist leader Alexander Dubcek:

Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance.

The converse is also true – seemingly trivial and small abuses of power by politicians, soldiers, police, religious leaders, companies, corporate managers, or anybody else with power over other people's lives can cumulatively add up to great evil.

Speaking of those who fight repression, the Global Voices community is celebrating the release Syrian blogger Razan Ghazzawi, who has been charged with three crimes. We remain concerned and worried however that she still has to face trial later.

In the United States, the battle over whether Internet censorship and surveillance are appropriate weapons for intellectual property enforcement raged onward. In the House of Representatives a vote on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was delayed thanks in no small part to massive opposition by internet engineers, legal experts, internet content providers, activists, and journalists.

Saudi netizen Sarah AlKatheer aptly invoked another freedom fighter from an even earlier generation, Thomas Jefferson:

When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.

It's not clear exactly which unjust law in which country she was referring to, but it doesn't really matter. Netizens around the world are doing their best to resist all of them, as events of the past fortnight make clear:

Censorship: In China last week, the Beijing municipal government published a new rule requiring users of micro-blogging services called “weibo” to register with real names.  Weibo websites are also required to “ensure the authenticity of users’ identity.” As our colleague Oiwan Lam reports, other cities have begun to follow suit. But even as it seeks to limit dissent on Weibo the Chinese government also sees micro-blogging as a useful tool to disseminate its own messages. According to an article on South China Morning Post, there are nearly 20,000 government-related accounts on Sina Weibo, the most popular microblog service in China. The government agencies not only use weibo to communicate with citizens but also “counter negative news.” According to the first “Report on Official Weibo” published by Sina Weibo and (run by the official government newspaper The People's Daily) the most popular official weibo in Chin – with a whopping 2.1 million “fans” – is “Peaceful and Safe Beijing” published by  Beijing Public security Bureau.

In Russia, Wall Street Journal reports that government critics blame the Kremlin for interfering with mobile internet services during the Moscow protest. The critics also worried that the interference and the recent attacks on websites are just the beginning of struggle on the Internet.

In the United Kingdom, Vodafone’s “child protection” filtering mechanism has blocked two lingerie websites – an example of how difficult it is to prevent even very targeted censorship from going overboard in sometimes ridiculous ways.

Surveillance: Be sure to check out a troubling global info-graphic produced by Bloomberg titled The Surveillance Market and its Victims.

More developments in the controversy in the United States over CarrierIQ software which logs and transmits cell phone user activities. The FBI admits that it uses Carrier IQ software for “law enforcement purposes.” Here is the complete list of the all  phones with CarrierIQ. Sprint has recently decided to disable CarrierIQ from their phones. CarrierIQ has admitted to tracking text messages while Netizens continue to sign petitions calling for an investigation of the software.

You Have Downloaded site watches your BitTorrent habits and shows what you’re downloading. The database owns over 51 million users, over 100,000 torrents, a million files, and it's still growing. Lifehacker reports that the creators of the site want the project to encourage users to be more private and secure their activities through VPN or proxy. Most amusingly the site seems to indicate that somebody in the home of French President Nicholas Sarkozy (or at least somebody using the IP address of their home network) used BitTorrent to download some pirated music and movies. What more can we say but.. LOL.

Thuggery: Rwandian journalist Charles Ingabire, the editor of the news website Inyenyeri News, was killed on November 30, 2011 and was one of the victims in a series of attacks against journalists.

Egyptian supreme military court of appeals imposed two-year sentence on blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad, who was charged with insulting Egyptian military. Also in Egypt, there is a possibility that the blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah will be tried in a civilian court and have the right to appeal.

Bahraini blogger Zainab Al-Khawaja was brutally arrested.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace: After being criticized on selling technology to Iran for helping trace of dissidents, Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications equipment company, announced a decision to restraining its business activities in Iran. According to the r Wall Street Journal, Huawei is seeking to expand its business in the United States and Europe. This decision may help improve Huawei’s image.

Blue Coat – whose surveillance technology infamously ended up in Syria among other places – agrees to be Acquired by Private Equity Firm Thoma Bravo and now has been sued by an investor.

Netizen Power: Tunisian and Palestinian free media advocates have launched the Arab Network for Freedom of Expression to organize actions which promote freedom of expression.

The Financial Times has a detailed report on how the low-cost high-speed Internet combined with social media have motivated and empowered Russian netizens to improve  Russian society and change their compatriots’ indifferent attitude.

Copyright: Last week, the Council of the European Union adopted the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in which several provisions criminalize the circumvention of Digital Rights Management and which free speech groups are concerned may inadvertently restrict the free flow of information. This controversial treaty must now be approved by the European Parliament before taking effect.

Creative Commons is going to renew its licenses and is gathering ideas from the Creative Commons community.  Among the licenses in need of improvement, the spotlights are on database rights and the definition of commercial uses. Another important issue is how to accommodate CC licenses with different countries’ IP laws.

Internet Governance: Here are the 10 trends of internet governance in 2011.

EU Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes announced the “No Disconnect Strategy” to provide tools to Internet users, bloggers and cyber activists living in countries with poor track records on human rights and help them “bypass surveillance and censorship measures.”

O.E.C.D. Council Calls on 34 Member Countries to Defend Internet Freedoms and has released the O.E.C.D Principles for Internet Policy Making. These principles encourage member countries and policymakers to protect global free flow of information, an open and decentralized internet and take a light-touch approach on internet regulation.

The United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) criticized ICANN’s new gTLDs (generic top-level domains) policy and expressed concerns on the risk of expanding gTLDs. There have also been highly critical hearings in Congress examining the gTLD program, and you can read a long description and scathing critique of all parties concerned by Kieren McCarthy at dotNext here. ICANN's CEO Rod Beckstrom has responded to some of the criticisms, arguing that ICANN's multi-stakeholder policy processes around gTLD's have been the product of six years of consultation and negotiation with a range of stakeholders.

Cool stuff: In New York City, a pirate Wi-Fi for subway commuters.

M.I.T expands its commitment to open education by offering more free courses online.

Commotion Wireless, aka “Internet in a Suitcase,” a project to build up low-cost and easy-to-use wireless mesh networks and which receives State Department funding to deploy the system in repressive countries, is has been tested at Occupy D.C.


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


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