Netizen Report: Neutrality Edition

Image by Flickr user Free Press Pics (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Tom Risen, Weiping Li, Renata Avila, Rayna St. and Sarah Myers.

We begin this week’s Netizen Report with South Korea’s net neutrality advocates and telecommunications companies, who are at odds after the Korean Communications Commission allowed three domestic mobile carriers to block access or add surcharges for mobile voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) services. The decision, which would also affect peer to peer apps such as Skype, emerged after Korean mobile telecoms SK Telecom, KT and LG U+ claimed their data networks would be degraded by the expanding use of applications such as KaKao Talk, which is used by 36 million Koreans. Net neutrality advocates protesting restricted access include several civil society groups and Google’s Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf, who told the Korea Times it would stifle innovation.

Net neutrality

As we first reported two weeks ago, the debate over net neutrality continues to rage in the United States, where Verizon Wireless is arguing it has a First Amendment right to edit Internet search results based on what it determines is a “priority,” and is suing the Federal Communications Commission to drop its 2010 ruling against such gatekeeping. John F. Moore, founder and CEO of “Government in The Lab”, claims he has been receiving threats from Verizon for an article he published describing how the company aims to monitor and interfere with online content.

In the European Union, consumer rights umbrella group BEUC sent a letter to the European Commission requesting legislation to define net neutrality and the obligations of Internet service providers. Member of the European Parliament Marietje Schaake supports the request, having pushed for net neutrality regulation in May.

A remarkable effort to establish a civil rights-based legal framework for the use of Internet in Brazil, entitled Marco Civil, is in its final stages but a vote on the legislation has been postponed until the first week of August. A controversy arose this week on the wording of the final text and its implications for net neutrality. Recent changes to the bill make clear measures to protect Internet users’ personal data and to require Internet service providers (ISPs) to inform the public of content removals.


Researchers at the Internet research organization Citizen Lab found that some Oman Internet users have been affected by Indian Internet restrictions and cannot access certain content blocked by an Indian ISP. The researchers explained that there is an ISP routing arrangement between Oman ISP Omantel and Indian ISP Bharti Airtel, and Oman Internet traffic routed through India is thus subject to Indian restrictions.

Chinese broadcasting regulators, the State Internet Information Office and State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT), have announced that video websites must self-censor video containing pornography, violent or vulgar material before publishing them online.

On the Chinese social network Sina Weibo, the account of the US Consulate in Shanghai disappeared last Thursday for reasons unknown. Sina Weibo, a website resembling Twitter, said the incident could be the result of technical glitch. The Consulate’s account is popular among Chinese citizens for its witty comments on democratic reform in China.

The Sudanese news website Hurriyat Sudan has confirmed that its site has been blocked by the Sudanese ISP as a part of an attempt by the Sudanese regime to censor anti-government protests in the capital city of Khartoum against austerity policies. Other news websites rumored to be blocked in that nation include Sudanese Online and Al Rakoba [Arabic].


Ethiopian journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega has been sentenced to 18 years in jail by an Ethiopian court. Nega and 23 other activists were found guilty last month for “participation in a terrorist organisation.”

The United Arab Emirates has stripped online activist Ahmed Abdul Khaleq’s right to reside in the emirates and deported him to Thailand. Khaleq’s website has advocated for wider public involvement in politics in the UAE, where political parties are not allowed.

National Policy

The Ethiopian parliament has approved a law to void a 2002 prohibition against private uses of voice over IP services such as Skype, but the legislation also requires service providers to obtain permits before operating.

US President Barack Obama signed an executive order to ensure the operation of telecommunication networks in the event of a natural disaster or national security emergency. Critics worry this order would grant the president the “on and off switch” to the Internet.

The Reykjavík District Court ruled that the Icelandic payment provider Valitor (formerly VISA Iceland) unlawfully blocked donations to Wikileaks, an organization which publishes leaked documents online. The court ordered the provider to reopen the service or face a penalty.

Sovereigns of Cyberspace

Facebook announced read receipts of names for people who view timeline posts will soon be available in Facebook Groups to anyone with permission to see the post. Read receipts are also applied for reading chats and messages.

Skype has quickly moved to fix a software bug that accidentally sent some users’ instant messages to unintended recipients on their contact lists.

Last week Yahoo suffered a serious password breach affecting as many as 450,000 users of Yahoo Voices, formerly known as Yahoo Contributor Network.

Internet governance

The United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union announced it will publish a document entitled TD 64 containing proposals to update the group’s International Telecommunication Regulations. Internet freedom advocacy groups remain critical because TD 64 has already been leaked on alongside other documents related to the ITU and the upcoming World Conference on International Communications (WCIT). Internet freedom advocates have urged the ITU Governing Council to be more transparent with its planning documents and to allow stakeholders to submit comments and proposals to the WCIT.


The FBI opened an investigation into claims that Chinese networking equipment manufacturer ZTE provided US-made hardware and software to the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI). The gear allegedly includes a powerful surveillance system.

Tajikistan’s government announced its intention to monitor and censor websites and social networks for subversive content. According to the State Telecommunications Chief, the new institution will recruit volunteers to “track down and identify” individuals publishing materials deemed offensive to the government.

Surveillance by the US Food and Drug Administration that began in an effort to track five scientists suspected of leaking confidential information about medical devices expanded to capture emails of numerous politicians, journalists and labor lawyers suspected of releasing defamatory information about the agency, the Washington Post reports. The FDA still claims the monitoring was limited to the five scientists.

The Canadian government is promoting a new bill to increase government Internet surveillance powers. Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Dick Fadden supports the surveillance bill, which would allow police, the Intelligence Service and the Competition Bureau to access Internet user information such as names, addresses, phone numbers, emails and Internet protocol addresses without a warrant.

The French Final Court of Appeal overturned prior rulings requiring hosting sites not only to remove copyrighted content but also to block further uploads. According to the verdict, earlier “take-down, stay-down” rulings conflicted with the European Commission’s 2000 E-Commerce Directive and the French 2004 law on Confidence in the Digital Economy.

In a ruling on a similar subject, the German Federal Court of Justice stated hosting services such as RapidShare are liable for infringement if illicit content is stored through them and they are notified by copyright holders. The court ruled RapidShare has to take content down, check if copies of the same material are available on the site and do what is “technologically and economically reasonable” to prevent piracy.


New iPhone application Wickr allows users to enable message encryption on any type of message (text, image, video). As its name indicates, it allows messages to delete themselves after a short amount of time like a burning candle wick.

Apple is also working with Facebook and Google to develop voluntary privacy guidelines for mobile devices in an effort to forestall expected data privacy regulation by the US Department of Commerce.

The New York Times analyzed the impact of GPS tracking technology following reports that cell phone carriers granted 1.3 million law enforcement requests for call data last year.


Mexico’s ambassador in Japan signed the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) shortly after the European Parliament voted against it.  The treaty to establish international copyright regulations could also be used to restrict free expression. The treaty still needs to be ratified by the Mexican Senate, which had previously rejected it.

The Fair Deal advocacy campaign launched last week in New Zealand to raise awareness of copyright changes that could impact the nation under the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

New Zealand Judge David Harvey is encouraging broader public debate ahead of an upcoming review of the Copyright Act in 2013.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) now allows the use of its anti-piracy logo on all copyrighted material.

Officials of the 2012 London Olympic Games are restricting links to their website and use of their logo if user content portrays the Games in an “objectionable manner.”

Online payment service PayPal is concerned about piracy crackdowns and has made itself unavailable on file-hosting websites such as MediaFire, Putlocker and DepositFiles.

Amendments that would expand government power to sweep away copyright protections have been added to the British Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which was designed to strengthen regulation in the finance industry of the UK.


Syrian hackers supporting embattled President Bashar al-Assad are adapting malware attacks against opponents of the regime to include Blackshades Remote Controller, which logs keystrokes and captures screenshots by remote access.

A Russian applications developer named ZonD80 has developed a way to hack the purchase process of In-App on Apple iOS devices. As of Tuesday Apple has not responded to ZDNET’s report on the security breach.

Secure network appliance designer Cyberoam broadcasted a fix for a vulnerability with its deep packet inspection devices used to monitor real time connections with the Tor Project anonymous connection network. Cyberoam did not state which other deep packet inspection devices or manufacturers could have the same flaw seeking false certificates to access the Tor website.

Netizen Activism

Internet activist Markus Beckedahl of Digitale Gesellschaft e.V. shared his experience with Global Voices Advocacy about organizing a campaign against ACTA with a limited budget.

Cool Things

New York City has launched a program to turn payphone kiosks into free public Wi-Fi hotspots, beginning with 10 payphones in three boroughs of the city.

Publications and Studies

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


  • Jae Yeon Kim

    Thanks Rebecca for this nice wrap-up on global online opinion sphere on the Internet policy and freedom. I have a few comments regarding Korean net neutrality issue.

    First, though it is a minor thing, I think it’s better for you to address “mobile voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) services.” as mVoIP not VoIP. (just to make a clear distinction.)

    Secondly, also the significance of KCC’s recent decision lies in the fact that now Korean telcos having a government warranted license to discriminate not only wireless network (mVoIP) but also physical network (P2P). Before so, Korean net neutrality debates mostly concern on wireless network as the nation has one of the best broadband connections in the world.

    Thirdly, yesterday Open Internet Alliance (OIA), which includes several leading Internet companies in South Korea including NHN, Google Korea and the others, announced their opposition to KCC’s guideline considering its effect on stifling creativity and innovations.

    Furthermore, they pointed out that the KCC’s guideline was conflicting with the net neutrality guideline which they announced at the end of last year (2011). (As a matter of fact, it was also conflicting with the chapter 15 of KOR-US FTA agreement as well as electronic communication basic law in South Korea that defines Korean Telcos all common carriers and not allow them to discriminate VoIP.)

    (Thus, this update might be considered as well. It has been a debate the Internet companies vs. the telecom companies and now it includes some civic groups.)

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