Reports of renewed violent ethnic conflict in India's northeastern state of Assam this past week illustrated the complexity of government regulations in online space, when India’s government decided to block hundreds of websites and social networks bearing rumors of violence between clashing ethnic groups. Social media and SMS fueled rumors that recent violence between the indigenous Bodo tribe and Muslim settlers would spread. The more people read the rumors, the truer they became. Examples included photos and videos of earthquake victims that were falsely identified as victims of ethnic conflict, several of which were allegedly uploaded from Pakistan and may be rooted in violence that is said to have been perpetrated against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
A protest planned in Mumbai on August 11 to denounce actual violence against Muslims in Assam and Myanmar turned violent, adding to a wave of fear that caused a mass exodus from northeastern cities in India. To stem misinformation and hate speech, India’s government blocked approximately 250 websites that allegedly were hosting inflammatory content and banned multiple SMS messaging so that messages could be sent to no more than five recipients at a time. After the government threatened to shut down Twitter, the microblog website agreed to block six hate content websites. The legality of India’s censorship actions has been questioned by critics who say the move marked a failure to comply with rules established in the country’s controversial new IT law, which requires 48 hours notice before blocking websites. Bangalore-based nonprofit Centre for Internet and Society has reviewed the list of blocked websites; in the corresponding article, Pranesh Prakash argues that the government should have coordinated with web companies rather than simply issuing blanket censorship orders. The United States (US) State Department urged India to respect Internet freedom while it takes steps to preserve security.
The Jordanian government has approved amendments to the Publications and Press law that will require websites to obtain licenses and bear legal responsibility for users’ comments. These amendments must be approved by Parliament before they can become formal law. In protest of the proposal, websites in Jordan blacked out their pages on August 29, using a tactic similar to January’s protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the recent blackout protest in Malaysia.
Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of the Internet community website Reddit, announced a bus tour to advocate for “the Open Internet.” Advocates on the bus will travel to towns and cities across the US, talking to local businesses and people about Internet freedom. Some portion of the bus tour’s costs will be covered by Reddit, while other funds will be crowdfunded on the platform Indiegogo.
Global Voices writer Afef Abrougui interviewed anonymous Tunisian cartoonist ‘_Z_‘ about freedom of expression in Tunisia after the collapse of Ben Ali regime. Even though the dictatorship is gone, _Z_ remains worried about looming threats to free speech on the Tunisian Internet. _Z_ also shared advice on how to protect the anonymity of online dissidents.
While the Syrian government has found many ways to bypass economic sanctions imposed by the United States, these sanctions have left Syrian activists without access to tools that can protect activists from being traced online. Syrian activist Dlshad Othman has launched a petition on Change.org that calls on the US Commerce and Treasury Departments to ease current sanctions in order to help Syrian activists share information online more safely. The petition calls on officials to grant a new general export license that provides clearer and broader exemptions on personal communication and security technologies, and to create a more streamlined licensing process and clearer guidelines for technology companies that may seek to sell their goods to Syria.
Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab has been acquitted of charges for posting an “insulting” remark on Twitter. However, he has been sentenced to three years in jail for another charge related to “illegal gathering” (the gathering of five or more people with the intent to protest) and remains in prison despite his acquittal on the former charges.
The Russian newspaper Kommersant has reported that the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service has invested US$ 940,000 into a social networking program. According to the report, a large part of the money (about US$ 690,000) will be used for online propaganda for the government and monitoring of social media.
Several international companies operating in China have reportedly been required by Chinese police to install Internet security software to monitor their Internet activities. Police have threatened to cut the companies’ Internet connection if they fail to comply with the request.
Data mining has become part of a fundraising strategy to identify potential donors for the campaign of Republican party nominee for President Mitt Romney, according to the Associated Press. The fundraising staff for Romney, a former Republican governor of Massachusetts, began using web analytics from Buxton Co. as early as June 2012 to track people’s personal data online, such as consumer habits and church attendance.
After having been criticized for its privacy policies and even faced with litigation, Google is now building a “red team” to uncover and resolve privacy risks in its products. However, consumer rights advocates still want Google to take more seriously its responsibility to protect users’ privacy: a US consumer advocacy group, Consumer Watchdog, has filed a motion with the US District Court for the Northern District of California to oppose a proposed settlement between Google and the US Federal Trade Commission in which Google has agreed to pay US$ 22.5 million to settle the charge that Google misled users of Apple’s browser Safari about privacy settings. Consumer Watchdog argues that the settlement is against the “public interest” and the court should not approve it.
Among a series of state legislative efforts in the US to protect social media users’ privacy, the latest is a bill passed by the Californian Senate to prohibit colleges and universities from asking for access to students’ social media accounts.
Hector Xavier Monsegur, a former member of the hacker group LulzSec who is also known as Sabu, received a six-month reprieve from his prison sentencing for cooperating with federal agents in the arrests of members of LulzSec and Antisec. Both groups are offshoots of the hacktivist community Anonymous. Monsegur could face 124 years in prison for 12 counts of federal computer hacking violations that he committed while working as an organizer of LulzSec.
The US electricity grid might be vulnerable to “fast-moving cybersecurity threats” because of insufficient standards for digital signatures to access servers, according to a statement from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The agency responded to questions asked by Senate Homeland Security Committee members Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who co-authored the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, which would grant government the authority to secure critical infrastructure such as electrical grids. That bill recently fell short of the 60 votes needed for its passage in the Senate.
Germany's Ministry of Justice has released a draft proposal for new amendments to the country's copyright law that would require search engines and news aggregators to pay licensing fees for any snippet of copyright-protected content appearing on German websites.
On the industry side, German law firm Urmann and Colleagues, which represents various prominent groups in the pornography industry, has threatened to publish a list of names of all those individuals who, according to the firm, have illegally downloaded pornographic movies. The goal of such an action would be to put pressure on these alleged pirates and make them pay for their downloads.
The US government has seized the domains of three websites alleged to be responsible for “illegal distribution of copies of copyrighted Android cell phone apps.”
When it comes to copyright law enforcement, RapidShare’s Chief Legal Officer Daniel Raimer suggested at a conference that governments should clamp down on websites which provide links to illegal materials stored at file-sharing websites, rather than merely targeting file-sharing sites like RapidShare.
Norway’s file sharers have been given a free pass by the Norwegian Data Inspectorate, after that nation’s Privacy Appeals Board denied a license to the Simonsen [no] law firm to monitor file-sharers and collect their IP addresses. No other law firm in the nation currently has that ability.
An article by Scientific American opines on how downloading streaming movies could be monetized and regulated by Hollywood, similar to the DVD rental program run by video rental store chain Blockbuster, which has been in a steady financial decline for several years.
Sovereigns of cyberspace
Twitter has revoked the “friend-finding” feature on Tumblr which enables Tumblr users to search for friends on Twitter. Twitter has also blocked “friend-finding” access to the photo-sharing service Instagram which was acquired by Facebook, and announced restrictions on third-party developers weeks ago.
Twitter also filed its appeal against a New York Criminal Court order to turn over tweets made by Occupy Wall Street protester Malcom Harris from September 15 to December 31, 2011. In early July the court ruled that Harris, who was arrested in an October protest on the Brooklyn Bridge, had no ability to challenge the subpoena of his Twitter account.
The Federation of German Consumer Organizations [de], a German consumer group, said that Facebook’s App Center, a tool that helps users to find third-party mobile and web apps, shares users’ information with third parties without obtaining users’ consent. The group has threatened to bring a lawsuit against Facebook if the social networking website does not fix the problem by September 4.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement for international business and investment issues between the US, Canada and Pacific Rim nations would provide incentives for Internet service providers to monitor and police networks for copyright infringement, according to analysis by the Electronic Frontier Foundation of leaked documents regarding the intellectual property part of the negotiations.
US telecommunications giant AT&T plans to let US iPhone users enjoy Face Time, the popular video chat app, on its 3G and 4G network, but will limit the service to customers who subscribe to specific plans. The new proposal has aroused wide criticism and ignited debates on whether AT&T’s move violates net neutrality rules set by the Federal Communication Commission.
Technology news website Ars Technica reported that although US President Barack Obama has imposed sanctions against Syrian telecommunication companies since April, Syria’s largest ISP SAWA has still used a US data center based in Chicago to host a server belonging to its technology service company. Syria began routing the majority of its Internet traffic through the Hong Kong-based company PCCW Global after decreasing connectivity with other international telecom companies.
The Australian Senate passed the controversial Cybercrime Legislation Amendment Bill of 2011, which allows countries that are party to the Council of Europe's Convention on Cybercrime to demand that Australian ISPs retain specific users’ data for 180 days. Critics said the bill goes beyond the Convention on Cybercrime, which does not condone ongoing data collection and retention.
The Korean Constitutional Court recently declared that a real-name verification law which requires users of high-traffic websites to provide their real names before entering such sites, is unconstitutional. The Court pointed out that this law would not only hamper the exercise of free speech on such sites, but would also leave users’ personal information vulnerable to data breaches and leaks. When the law was in force, it was found that illegal, anonymous messages online did not decrease, despite the fact that the law was formulated in order to curb such messages.
Free public wireless will be installed in eight malls across the United States by Google Offers and wireless service Boingo as part of a trial to encourage free public wireless subsidized by Web advertising sponsors, which in this case will be Google Offers. The two companies have also collaborated on recent public wireless experiments in New York City.
Web cartoonist The Oatmeal raised more than US$1 million to help the nonprofit Tesla Science Center raise funds for a museum in honor of Nikola Tesla, a scientist who pioneered electricity and wireless communication. The Oatmeal, also known as Matthew Inman, will continue raising funds through the end of September.
Ukrainians can measure their politicians’ integrity ahead of the October parliamentary elections using a website [ru] launched by Chesno, which means “honest.” The website ranks politicians based on criteria such as violations of rights and freedoms, change in political positions and involvement in corruption cases.
Publications and studies
- Electronic Frontier Foundation: Keeping Your Site Alive
- Laurier Rochon: The Dictator’s Practical Internet Guide to Power Retention
- Anne-Marie Slaughter: The Media Cold War
- Center for International Media Assistance: The Video Revolution
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.