Pakistan’s anti-censorship activists recently proved how coordinated, global and local action can make a real difference.
Last month, Pakistan’s government publicly solicited proposals from companies around the world to create an automatic URL filtering system to block “objectionable” content. The request triggered a wave of protests which began with the local group Bolo Bhi and spread quickly to international groups like Access Now who wrote letters to tech companies’ CEOs urging them not to bid on the project, and launched online petitions which gathered tens of thousands of signatures. The Global Network Initiative (GNI), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Bytes for All, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, all issued statements urging technology companies to consider the impact of the tender on the human rights of citizens in Pakistan.
Their message was received and absorbed at least by some. Five of the eight companies petitioned, including Websense, Cisco, Verizon, Sandvine and McAfee, have declined join the Pakistan government’s censorship attempt. On the other hand, Huawei, Blue Coat, Netsweeper, and ZTE did not respond to calls from the advocacy groups before the deadline of the proposal on March 16. Now the Express Tribune has reported that as a result of the protests, the Pakistani government may step back from its censorship plans.
More broadly, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has voiced its concern over challenges to freedom of expression and the Pakistani government’s plans to censor the media and the Internet. It “demands the media, civil society and the people in general must be consulted before any changes are considered in the law. The media should do more to counter radicalisation and intolerance. It regrets that the misuse of blasphemy laws and the official apathy and appeasement of extremists have continued.”
More censorship news
March 12, marked the World Day Against Cyber Censorship, and the publication of the annual “Enemies of the Internet” report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). According to the list, Bahrain, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam were named as the worst offenders in online censorship, while other 14 countries, including Australia and France, are “countries under surveillance”, which means that the citizens of these countries are also facing increased censorship.
Although RSF does not rank the countries listed as the “Enemies of the Internet”, Matthias Spielkamp from the German branch of Reporters Without Borders pointed out in an interview by Deutsche Welle that China and Syria “would be candidates for a top 3”.
The government of Iran is moving forward with plans to build a domestic Internet meant to shield the Iranian people from “harmful” content online. Amnesty International recently published a briefing paper outlining the tightened cyber control by Iranian government.
The Tajik government requested the country’s Internet Service Providers block Facebook and four news websites. According to media report, the blocking was the result of the publication of some sensitive articles which criticized the government.
Facebook and Google have begun their trial in India over the objectionable content on their websites.
According to a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, the Chinese censorship mechanism used on the popular microblog platform Weibo has been quite nimble and adaptive. The study outlines for the first time the ways in which the censorship system functions on this new media platform.
Sina Corp, the company which owns Weibo, estimated that 60% of its microblog users will complete the real-name registration process by the deadline of March 16.
PayPal announced a policy that it would not process transactions for ebooks which contain erotic content. However, the decision spurred a backlash from free speech advocacy groups. Facing the criticisms of conducting censorship, PayPal finally stepped back and allowed sale of legal fiction with erotic materials.
A UAE Islamic activist who advocates for political change over Twitter has been charged by the government with incitement, and tweeted about his being arrested.
Hamza Kashgari, the Saudi journalist who was facing the death penalty for his tweet about the Prophet Muhammad, is reported to be released soon. Also in Saudi Arabia, three managers of news websites have been held in prison for covering pro-reform protests.
According to Reuters, a document revealed that through a third party, Iran still can obtain equipment that allows the country to surveil its citizens, which is currently banned as an export by the United States (U.S.) government. The Chinese company ZTE Corp has sold surveillance systems to Iran’s largest telecoms firm. The surveillance system consists of hardware and software products from American companies such as Microsoft Corp, Hewlett-Packard Co, Oracle Corp, Cisco Systems Inc, Dell Inc, Juniper Networks Inc and Symantec Corp. Iranian leaders have pushed further to demand a new institution to police the Internet to increase the country’s capacity to surveil its peoples’ online activity.
Following the steps of Albania, Portugal and Spain, French National Assembly passed a law to launch a new ID card program by which the French people will be issued new ID cards with chips storing biometric information. French parliament members have expressed strong opposition to this new law and referred it to the French Constitutional Council. The Council will ultimately decide whether the new law would contradict the French Constitution.
Eva Galprin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported about new malware which monitors users’ computer activity and sends the information back to a Syrian IP address. Her article offers information on how to detect if your computer is infected and how to respond.
The French technology company Amesys, which developed the surveillance system for the toppled Gaddafi regime, has been reported to sell its Internet-interception business to a party which is still unknown to the public.
Syrian citizen journalists were awarded Reporters Without Borders’ Netizen 2012 Prize for shedding light on the struggle that millions of Syrians face.
Al Jazeera has launched an online platform “Uganda Speaks” to let Ugandans to speak up for themselves and offer feedback on the Kony 2012 controversy. The New York Times has analyzed the growing number of tweets and video views of the Kony 2012 video which has gained over 100 million viewers in four weeks.
Alex Howard explores the links between journalism and data in the case study of “Homicide Watch“, a data journalism project which started out as a spreadsheet and became an opportunity for community members to share info about open case homicides.
Connecticut’s lawmakers have proposed a bill which would have users pay a 6.35% sales tax on any digital downloads.
Advocates at EFF are concerned that “The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 (H.R. 3523), introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, allows companies or the government free rein to bypass existing laws in order to monitor communications, filter content, or potentially even shut down access to online services for “cybersecurity purposes.”
Meanwhile the White House announced export control changes to support Internet freedom in Iran. In an effort to “support the free flow of information to citizens of Iran,” the U.S. Treasury Department issued new guidelines regarding services and software that can be offered to Iranians under the current sanctions against Iran, provided they are offered free of charge. The list includes communications software for instant messaging, data storage services like Dropbox's cloud storage, browsers like Firefox and Google Chrome, document readers and RSS readers for news story feeds.
The Thai government has blocked 5,000 web pages that contain content deemed to insult the royal family.
A German court in Hamburg ruled last week that the popular file-hosting website, Rapidshare must filter files uploaded by users.
Google requires cookies for log-ins from mobile devices.
Privacy advocates have pushed the FTC to investigate Google’s bypass of Safari privacy settings after discovering a special code which allowed ads to be served up to users after setting their browser to block cookies.
A security breach in England has compromised more than 8,000 student emails which were sent out by Student Finance England as part of a mass email distribution following a blunder by staff.
A round-up of Facebook’s new privacy rules points out bans on pseudonyms and multiple accounts, a requirement to keep your data up-to-date, and allows friends to give apps permission to access your data.
European Commissioner Vice President Viviane Reding has suggested that the Obama Administration take a stronger regulatory approach and protect consumers better by governing how ISPs and content providers handle personal data protection.
Job seekers are reporting that they have been asked by potential employers to share their personal Facebook password during the application process.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), whose treaty does not include Internet governance, is planning a meeting of member nations to discuss whether it should. The Center for Democracy and Technology warns that the top-down regulatory approach would silence the voice of global civil society in Internet governance debates. Cynthia Wong of the Center for Democracy and Technology analyzes the great need for better mechanisms at the ITU so that civil society can get more involved in upcoming discussions the ITU plans to have on how the Internet will be regulated.
The Council of Europe passed their Internet Governance Strategy, a framework for discussing human rights for the Internet. The goals of the strategy include protecting the universality and openness of the Internet, protecting the freedoms of Internet users, and advancing data protection. The strategy also includes working with a range of partners, include the International Governance Forum, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Global Network Initiative.
ICANN released guidance on the seizure or takedown of domain names. The thought paper describes the process of registering domain names and outlines questions that should be prepared in the process of requesting information about a domain or seeking removal.
Beginning July 12, Internet Service Providers in the United States will begin policing Internet traffic at the behest of the RIAA. The system will offer six strikes with penalties beginning with warnings and education and could result in termination of service. EFF cautions that the agreement lacks due process and does not offer protections to users who may be falsely accused.
A New Zealand High Court has declared that the seizure of of Kim Dotcom and Megaupload’s asset was null and void, creating the possibility that founder could see his property returned. However, it is yet to be seen how U.S. authorities and what impact this could have on other file lockers. Additionally, a German court ruled that rapidshare must do more to monitor the types of files uploaded by end-users.
In India a court has ordered ISPs to block access to 104 websites accused of offering pirated music. Torrent Freak reports that the enforcement will include DNS and IP filtering as well as deep packet inspection as a backup. Pinterest, a popular website where users can highlight interest in media such as photos of products address copyright concerns noting that the website is protected by safe harbors in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and rights holders recognize the website’s value in driving traffic to other websites.
A Brazilian performance rights organization tried to collect fees from bloggers, but met fierce objection from users. The organization finally admitted its “error.” In Germany the Internet community is protesting a draft law that would similarly require websites to pay media firms for content.
ACTA, a trade agreement that has received significant backlash around the world for its overbroad approach to intellectual property enforcement, is facing significant resistance by the European Commission. Techdirt reports the agreement may no longer have sufficient votes.
The Modern Poland Foundation, an organization that has pushed back against ACTA in Poland, has announced the Future of Copyright contest in order to develop ideas for a copyright system for the digital world.
More details on the Lulzsec hacker turned FBI informant have emerged including claims that Hector Xavier Monsegur, commonly known as Sabu, has been involved in computer attacks since the late 1990s. Reuters reports that Sabu’s involvement with the authorities has created created concerns in the hacktivist community.
A new Linux distribution called Anonymous-OS, an operating system built on Ubuntu, was released. The build includes “research tools” that could be used to attack websites and raised concerns that the software could include malware.
Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs suggested in a conference that understanding how to use the Internet is a basic skill for government staff.
Wired explores the “Homeless Hotspots” program at SXSW, funded by a marketing firm called BBH Labs, and describes some of its problems.
Yahoo! has filed a patent lawsuit against Facebook for what infringing on what Yahoo calls the “foundations of their business” which include patents Yahoo has on technologies for advertising, privacy, social networking, messaging and allowing users to customize their Web experience.
Google has filed a patent which will allow the company to serve up ads based on background noise that can be heard on the cell phone.
Arabic Twitter has launched and is welcomed by Arabs who want to communicate easier in Arabic through the platform.
A new feature on the WordPress app on iOS will allow bloggers to upload photos directly from the Camera+ app to their blogs.
The city of San Jose is planning to offer free wifi access throughout its downtown area, according to PC World. The city will pay for the cost of the network by helping the government’s work in the downtown area and encouraging the growth of small businesses.
The file-sharing landscape is changing in response to the final Pirate Bay verdict and arrests in the MegaUpload case, pushing users to find more decentralized and anonymous sources – RetroShare is one such future-proof client, TorrentFreak says. In addition to darknets, the Pirate Bay is exploring creating a decentralized server system though low orbit GPS enabled drones, a project that has already been tested by a London based think tank.
Creative Commons licenses are enabling partnerships of accredited universities, colleges and polytechnics to provide free learning for students worldwide with opportunities to formal academic credit.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is promoting a new Facebook platform called “Citizen Cosponsor” which allows users to show their support of a bill and receive periodic updates on its status.
Publications and studies
- Petros Losifidis: Mapping Digital media: Digital Television, the Public Interest, and European Regulation
- Lee Rainie and Aaron Smith: Social Networking Sites and Politics
- Scott J. Shackelford: In Search of Cyber Peace: A Response to the Cybersecurity Act of 2012
- James Curran: Why Has Internet Changed So Little?
- A new study about mobile penetration in China found that the country’s rural population drove an annual 8 percent increase in mobile-only Web usage, which accounted for 38 percent of China’s Internet users in 2011.
- A report from the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) revealed that blocking VoIP and Peer to Peer traffic were two of the most common methods for the Internet Service Providers in Europe to manage Internet traffic.