Internet activists in India are fuming over the country’s sweeping new Internet restrictions on objectionable content, and are beginning to take extreme action to combat the law. This week we recognize Aseem Trivedi and Alok Dixit from Save Your Voice, who have begun a hunger strike in protest of the ‘Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011’ which were quietly issued by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology in April 2011.
One of the flaws of the new rules is that they mandate that website or domain owners must take down material within 36 hours when a third party issues a complaint, without giving a chance for content owners to defend the material. The Bangalore-based advocacy group Centre for Internet & Society also pointed out that the rule leads to a general chilling effect on freedom of expression over the Internet.
Member of Parliament Shri P. Rajeev has moved to have the rules annulled amid widespread protests by India’s netizen community. As a growing number of MP's become aware of the issue some see some hope that the censorship law will be discarded. For more details, analysis and links see this post on Global Voices.
As the case of the blind activist lawyer Chen Guangcheng remained unresolved, censorship continued to be a pressing issue in China: in the past week, the Web buzzed with the keywords “Chen Guangcheng,” “blind lawyer,” and “U.S. [United States] Embassy,” all of which were censored from the Chinese Internet. But Chinese netizens found ways to circumvent the censorship by replacing the sensitive words with synonyms or homonyms.
In this dramatic episode, Twitter also played an important role: New America Foundation Senior Fellow Emily Parker, writing in the New Republic, pointed out that the activists used Twitter to reveal that Chen’s departure from the Embassy was not as voluntary as the Chinese government indicated.
In the Middle East, more countries are preparing to crack down on social media: Israel’s army has upgraded its system to monitor communications over social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter, and Kuwait’s information minister announced that the country is going to regulate social media websites in order to “safeguard the cohesiveness of the population and society.”
May 3 meanwhile marked the World Press Freedom Day. Several articles invited readers to contemplate the role of the Internet and mobile technology in press freedom: Danny O'Brien of Committee to Protect Journalists explored Internet controls in the world's most censored countries, whilst Nieman Labs discussed how mobile technology has fundamentally redefined the role of journalists – with implications for the defense of their freedom to publish.
According to a report from CNET, Microsoft's support for the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which was passed late last month by the U.S. House of Representatives, appears to be weakening. The Act is strongly opposed by civil liberties groups concerned that it it expands the U.S. government's surveillance powers to unacceptable levels. Time Magazine’s Techland breaks down the facts on who supports CISPA and who doesn’t.
The FBI has drafted a law to require web-based services to install “wiretap-friendly” back doors which facilitate government surveillance. This proposal would expand the application of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act to more tech companies, which have been struggling to keep the promise of protecting customers’ privacy.
Sovereigns of cyberspace
Facebook has become the first company to obtain observer status with the Global Network Initiative, a multi-stakeholder organization which brings together tech companies, human rights activists, and socially responsible investors to increase corporate accountability in upholding core principles of free expression and privacy.
Google is negotiating with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over its violation of privacy by bypassing the privacy protection setting in Apple's Safari browser. The fine levied by the FTC could be more than US$ 10 million.
In more Google-related news, the company's recent report to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reveals that the company has been collecting data from unsecured Wi-Fi locations using software developed for Street View.
Internet rights and governance
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which coordinates the global domain name system, has announced that public board meetings will be replaced with a closed door board session. Philip C. Corwin of the Internet Commerce Association has criticized the change and argues the board meetings should be webcast live.
More than 2,000 applications have been submitted to ICANN by organizations around the world wanting to create new “generic top-level domains” (the part of the domain name that comes after the “.”) The application process has been delayed due to a technical glitch, which may have given some applicants an unfair advantage.
The Internet World Stats website released its Q1 2012 statistics, showing that the top five countries with the most Internet users are now China, United States, India, Japan, and Brazil.
The FBI has returned a seized server related to the series of anonymous bomb threats issued against the University of Pittsburgh, to Riseup Networks and May First/People Link. The FBI seizure has been widely criticized by Internet freedom advocates for being overreaching and unnecessary.
As Malaysian protesters hit the streets for Malaysia’s Bersih 3.0 rally to protest government corruption, smartphones played a crucial role in capturing state violence.
Esra’a Al Shafei, Bahraini activist and founder of Mideast Youth, spoke in a recent interview about her organization CrowdVoice.org, a user-powered service that tracks voices of protest from around the world by crowdsourcing information.
The British government is considering a new measure to protect children from adult content. The government’s plan is to block all adult material by default, while adults have to opt in when signing contracts with Internet Service Providers if they want to view porn websites.
In Singapore, the government has reached out to the netizen community, asking them to come up with an “Internet Code of Conduct” to tackle issues of anonymity, false rumors and extremism online. The call has been met with opposition from the Internet community.
The Obama Administration is urging Congress to renew provisions of a law called the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act” set to expire at the end of this year. The American Civil Liberties Union is calling on Congress to amend FISA which currently enables “dragnet” surveillance and warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency. In order to be compatible with Internet freedom, FISA must be revised to mandate greater transparency about the government’s surveillance activities, and strengthening safeguards for privacy.
To commemorate the International Day Against DRM (Digital Rights Management) on May 4, Creative Commons listed the reasons why DRM should be boycotted, and the website Defective by Design.org also persuaded Internet users to take action.
The jury in the Oracle-Google copyright dispute has reached a partial verdict on which the jury found that Google’s use of Oracle’s application programming interfaces has infringed on Oracle’s copyright. In a related ruling, the European Court of Justice ruled that APIs and functionality of a computer program are not protected by copyright.
A SophosLabs researcher found that a Firefox add-on ShowIP, which shows IP address and related information of a website, also reports online activities of the users to a third-party server without users’ acknowledgement.
- The Data Journalism Handbook is a free, open-source book and collaborative effort from leading journalism practitioners and advocates that aims to help journalists to use data to improve the news.
- The Mobile Africa report identifies best practices and emerging directions for mobile innovation in Africa, and highlights the increasing profile of award winners from Africa in mobile excellence competitions in the region and globally.
- Meta Activism, a crowdsourced database of nonviolent methods upgraded to incorporate the latest technology, has launched a new tool to map the best digital resources for advocates.
- The State Department has issued a request for proposals of projects that support Internet freedom.
Publications and studies
- The Right to Communicate policy brief, Article 19
- Empowering Independent Media: U.S. Efforts to Foster a Free Press and an Open Internet Around the World, CIMA
- Toward a Single Global Digital Economy: The First Report of the Aspen Institute IDEA Project
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.