We begin with online protests in Malaysia where websites, netizens and advocacy groups organized a Web blackout day last week to protest the recently-passed Section 114A amendment of the Evidence Act of 1950, which would place the presumption of guilt for defamatory online posts against the owner of the network on which the activity occurred – opening up liability for coffee shop owners and others who administer, operate or provide spaces for blogging activity.
The blackout, launched by Malaysia’s Center for Independent Journalism, took place on 14 August, and was similar to January’s protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), both because of the tactics used and the far reach of the legislation being protested.
The protest gained international attention to the cause, but responses are mixed as to how effective Malaysia’s digital community was in rallying opposition. Following the protests, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak posted on his Twitter account that his cabinet would review the Evidence Act. Yet despite promises for more press freedom from Razak’s government last September, groups such as the National Press Club still decry his censorship record. The most recent example is the detention of blogger Amizudin Ahmat on 10 August, for his criticism of government officials. Malaysia is listed as a “country under surveillance” in Reporters Without Borders‘ annual censorship online freedom report “Enemies of the Internet,” available for download here.
While Malaysian citizens fight censorship, the government of Myanmar announced that private publications such as newspapers will no longer be censored by the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department, which until now censored articles before they went to print.
The Pakistan-based organization Bytes for All reports that all cell phone networks were shut down in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, the second time this year, and again coinciding with nationwide independence celebrations.
The New York Times reports that the South Korean government is silencing critics online and off. The article notes that the number of posts removed by the government has more than tripled to over 53,000 since 2008.
Al-Akhbar, a prominent state-run newspaper in Egypt, has cancelled an opinion page that would publish critiques of the Muslim Brotherhood. Members of the press, the blogosphere and human rights groups fear the new Egyptian government will “Islamicize” the media.
A BBC report analyzes whether the UK is “heavy handed” on social media laws, citing recent fines and arrests in that nation and featuring interviews ranging from the Campaign Against Censorship to the Association of Chief Police Officers.
The Caucus (New York Times’s blog on government and politics) talks about the implications of extensive data storage for government surveillance. The article points to the increased ease of data storage and data mining to access personal information.
In the previous week’s Netizen Report, we mentioned the sprawling TrapWire surveillance system. The news leaked because of emails from security firm Stratfor were taken by hacktivist group Anonymous and published on Wikileaks, indicating businesses and cities across the United States are compiling facial recognition data using TrapWire surveillance software.
Australian Senator Scott Ludlam’s request for inquiry on whether TrapWire has been locally used for surveillance purposes was rejected. Sen. Ludlam later published a press release denouncing government’s dodge on such a crucial question and declaring he and his party (the Greens) will continue their efforts.
Meanwhile, io9 discusses what it refers to as “one of the shadiest” aspects of TrapWire: its legal status. Indeed, a ruling by the US Supreme Court may imply that tracking people is illegal without a search warrant. ZDNet reports that not only governmental bodies but also Internet mastodons such as Google may have been involved in deploying the surveillance software system. Lastly, the Guardian also highlights the existence of TrapWire highlighting the wide range of possibilities it offers in terms not only of surveillance but also of facial recognition and activity prediction.
The Tor Project mailing list warned its members of more fake Tor Browsers appearing on the online software repository Source Forge.
Journalists affiliated with the Moroccan website Mamfakinch.com, which recently received an award from Global Voices, were targeted by spyware made to appear to be a news scoop. The trojan is capable of activating webcams and microphones and remotely taking screenshots.
The news agency Reuters faced its third hack in a month related to news in Syria. The two previous hacks against Reuters’ blogging platform and Twitter account promoted false messages that favored Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad. The most recent hack posted an article claiming Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal passed away.
The Federal Trade Commission in the United States is considering expanding the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to include mobile apps. Currently COPPA sets rules on how websites can collect and use data from users under the age of 13.
German officials are demanding that Facebook destroy their facial recognition database, citing violations of European data retention laws. In the United States, a judge rejected a $20 million settlement against Facebook for automatically opting users into the sponsored stories program. Sponsored stories mean that “liking” a website or product might turn that act into an advertisement for others.
A regional Pirate Party in Germany is appealing a ruling that allowed telecommunications companies to require ID to purchase prepaid SIM cards. The Pirate Party draws its name from the Swedish Pirate Party, which supports online free expression and was inspired to form in 2006, naming itself after the file-sharing website Pirate Bay.
Hachette, a French based publisher, has sent letters to authors proposing they require the use of copy protections, or digital rights management, when titles Hachette has purchased for its territories are purchased by other publishers for other territories.
A new ‘DRM-Free’ label released for unrestricted media is part of a campaign against digital rights management titled Defective by Design, which was launched by the nonprofit Free Software Foundation.
Peer-to-peer music streaming service Spotify received a patent suit from a Dutch-based service.
Airtel, an Indian Internet service provider (ISP) has been penalized for “deficiency in Internet service” after blocking a torrent website. The ISP had reacted to the Madras High Court but their actions was seen as excessive and negatively impacting their users. In the UK, Virgin Media has begun blocking access to a website accused of being based on filesharing after receiving a court order.
Sovereigns of Cyberspace
Twitter is increasing restrictions faced by third-party developers, announcing that apps will not be able to grow to twice their current user base without explicit permission from Twitter.
The activists from Telecomix established a Blue Cabinet, aka the Bureau of Surveillance Research and Exposure. Its goal is “to name, shame and expose those who profit on selling the surveillance equipment that enables the invasion of privacy, targeted intimidation, harassment and assist government dictatorships to identify and locate people they consider dissidents, often leading to detainment, torture and even death.” The collaborative tool was recently moved to a new and more stable server.
The United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is seeking public comment on a draft proposal to modify the International Telecommunication Regulations (available here) ahead of its meeting slated for December, when it will decide whether to regulate the Internet alongside global telephone networks. Civil society has pressured the organization for more transparency around its preparations for the World Conference on Telecommunications (WCIT).
As India prepares for the WCIT its Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised the government would follow a multi-stakeholder approach by consulting civil society, academia, private sector, businesses and other government officials before giving diplomatic orders regarding Internet policy to its UN representatives.
Saudi Arabia filed complaints with the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) attempting to prevent the creation of 160 new generic top-level domain names, such as .wine, .baby, .shia and .catholic.
Vietnamese blogger Le Thanh Tung was sentenced to five years in prison under charges of violating the criminal code which outlaws anti-government propaganda. Another blogger, Dinh Dang Dinh, was sentenced to six years in prison three days earlier. The trial of a third blogger, Nguyen Van Hai, has been postponed.
In Bahrain, human rights activist and President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights Nabeel Rajab has been sentenced to three years in prison for “inciting protests” via speeches and Twitter comments.
In the United States, a New York-based judge ruled that police do not need a warrant to look at someone’s Facebook profile if a friend grants them access.
Terms of Service Didn’t Read (ToS; DR) is a website dedicated to grading the terms of service agreements of various websites that often fall into the category of “too long, didn’t read” (TL; DR).
BoingBoing’s Cory Doctorow highlights an interesting TED talk by Kirby Ferguson entitled “Embrace the Remix” (available here). Ferguson advocates unlimited sharing of ideas and the crucial role of re-using others’ work to create novelty.
Brewester Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive, works on expanding his initiative: he aims to create the biggest online library in the world and thus prevents files from being destroyed, lost or censored.
Publications and Studies
- Lillie Coney, C. Aaron Cois, and Beth Rosenberg: Smartphones and Election 2012.
- Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism: How the Presidential Candidates Use the Web and Social Media
- Doug Palmer, Steve Lunceford and Aaron J. Patton: How Gamification is Reshaping Businesses
- Susannah Vila. Choosing a Hosting Provider
- Elisa Walker Echenique: Implementing the IP Chapter of the FTA between Chile and the USA: Criticisms and Realities from a Developing Country Perspective
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.