Netizen Report: Telecoms Edition

Image by Xeni Jardin via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA)

Image by Xeni Jardin via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA)

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Tom Risen, Weiping Li, James Losey, and Sarah Myers.

In countries whose governments disrespect free speech and privacy, the introduction of new telecommunications (telecoms) infrastructure generally creates a new layer of censorship and  surveillance. One of the latest examples is Ethiopia. Last week Ethio Telecom, the sole telecommunication service provider in Ethiopia, announced a plan to relaunch its 3G wireless network to improve the quality and speed of Internet connections. However Tor, a project which supports anonymous online communication, recently found that Ethio Telecom has deployed or begun testing Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) of all Internet traffic, and has also blocked Tor. The Tor team has since developed a workaround for users in Ethiopia.

This latest move to deepen censorship and surveillance comes on the heels of last month's ratification of the Ethiopian Telecom Service Infringement Law, which is meant to impede Internet telephony such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls and faxes. As the use of computer-to-telephone call services is expanding in Addis Ababa, legislators have argued that the trend not only threatens the profits of Ethio Telecom, but also poses a threat to national security. The law also  includes anti-terrorism and anti-defamation provisions, which bloggers fear will dampen free expression in Ethiopia's thriving blogging culture.  


On the eve of the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Chinese government escalated its crackdown on discussion of the tragedy. Sina Weibo, the popular Chinese microblogging platform, banned the account of Japanese public TV channel NHK for posting for a message on Weibo about the Tiananmen anniversary. A large number of Hong Kong Facebook accounts were deactivated soon after they posted political messages about a candlelight vigil commemorating the massacre. [Note: The Netizen Report has learned that a Facebook executive told several activists that the reason for the deactivation was caused by a global technical problem which has now been fixed – and had nothing to do with local political events or actions. However, to our knowledge Facebook has made no public statement explaining what happened.]

Last week, Sina Weibo also introduced new rules to control its users. According to the rules, Sina will establish content requirements for Weibo posts and “community committees” to judge on cases violating these requirements. The system will operate on a points system, which will adjudicate the actions Sina will take to punish violations.

Last week, a netizen in China's northwestern province of Xinjiang was detained for 15 days for spreading the news of a youth’s death in a detention facility.

To alert Chinese users of censorship, Google has announced that it will incorporate new tools into its search engine that indicate when sensitive search terms are typed in.

Malaysia has amended its Evidence Act, shifting the burden of proof to website owners to prove their innocence and making them responsible for abusive or politically incorrect comments.

Malawi’s government removed an amendment to its penal code that would have banned all news content “not in the public interest,” bowing to pressure from the same press freedom advocates that prevented the amendment from being implemented after it was passed in 2010.

The South African City Press was forced by the African National Congress to remove an image of a controversial portrait of President Jacob Zuma on its website.

Wikipedia Co-Founder Larry Sanger called for better awareness that some Wikipedia entries include adult content and advocates the creation of a pornography filter.


Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab, charged with inciting illegal rallies online, was released on bail last week, then arrested again this week.

Fox News reports that agents at Israel's international airport have been requiring some people of Palestinian descent to open up their emails for search before being allowed into the country.

National policy

The Dutch parliament voted against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), placing it back at the top of the agenda for the European Union (EU) parliament to determine whether 20 European signatory nations will be able to institute the treaty. Three EU committees also voted not to recommend adoption of the treaty, and the next vote by the EU’s Committee on International Trade on June 21 could determine the outcome of the final vote in July.

By the end of 2012, the European Commission will draft proposals to institute net neutrality, following a report that indicates between 20 and 50 percent of Europeans have their online access restricted by their Internet Service Providers (ISP).

China’s CNNIC altered its policy and again will allow individuals to register domain names. The organization has not allowed individuals to register domain names since 2009.

Internet governance

Panelists and members of the United States (US) House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology expressed opposition to expanding the United Nations’ control over the Internet. Such a move would hold profound and hazardous implications for the future of the Internet, said Vint Cerf, the computer scientist known as “the father of the Internet” for his work in the 1970s with the US Defense Department.

Digital freedom non-profit organisation Access is close to collecting 20,000 signatures on a petition for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) requesting it not expand its control over the Internet.

Technology researchers Jerry Brito and Eli Dourado have launched a new website,, a platform for the publication of leaked documents related to the ITU and its upcoming World Conference on International Communications to be held in Dubai in December 2012, at which proposals related to extending the ITU's authority over the Internet will be discussed.

The non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has collected approximately 2,000 applications for new generic top-level domain names and will reveal the winners on June 13, with an appeal and dispute period to follow until August 12.

Internet activism

The Knight Foundation awarded a grant to a Miami-area high school project to connect online with undocumented immigrant students and let them know about their opportunities for higher education.

Members of hacktivist groups Anonymous and Telecomix differ on their approach to helping protesters in nations such as Syria, yet the Swedish-based group Telecomix claims to have more of a defined political strategy.

Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange, who has been under house arrest in the United Kingdom for rape allegations, lost his case in a British court about whether he could be extradited to Sweden to face the charges. He will have to decide whether to request an appeal. Despite slow activity on the website because of recent legal and political troubles, the whistleblowing culture it helped galvanize continues.

Following Reddit’s 12-hour blackout in 2011 to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Reddit’s founder Alexis Ohanian has partnered with the advocacy group Fight for the Future to form the Internet Defense League to bring attention to other efforts to expand Internet governance. They call the effort “a bat signal for the Internet” for other websites to cooperate with to advocate against legislation such as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) and to “make sure the Internet never loses- ever.”

Inspired by the electoral success of the digital liberty-focused Pirate Party in the recent German elections, some French citizens are seeking to establish their own version of the party ahead of parliamentary elections.


According to the “When the government comes knocking, who has your back?” report surveyed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an independent ISP in California,, is the Internet company which provides the best protection over customers’ privacy against governments’ requests for user data.

The European Commission is referring Germany to the European Court of Justice because the country has failed to implement a EU rule demanding the Internet and phone companies to keep records of users’ emails and phone calls.

Facebook has opened up a vote on users’ proposed changes to its “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” and the social network's “Data Use Policy.” The vote started June 1 and will end at 9 am PDT on June 8. In order for the changes to be binding, over 30% of the Facebook user base must participate in the voting.


An article in the New York Times reveals that the US government and Israel coordinated an effort to undermine the Iranian nuclear program through the Stuxnet virus. Meanwhile, Iran announced that computers in the country have been attacked by a more harmful form of malware than Stuxnet, called “Flame.” The Flame virus is designed for cyber espionage rather than cyber warfare. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have also reported that they have detected the same virus in their computers.

Simurgh, an important software used by the Iranian and Syrian Internet users to circumvent censorship has a malicious version, which plants backdoors in victims’ computers.  

Publications and studies

For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.

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