Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Corey Abramson, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li, Chan Myae Khine, and Sarah Myers.
A South Korean politician recently introduced a bill to expand the scope of the country’s Online Game Shutdown provision which currently mandates that online game companies shut down services for teenagers (ages 16 and under) from midnight to 6am.
The new and expanded proposal will make it illegal for juveniles to play online games after 10pm. This expansion of the law was justified in the name of online game addiction prevention, which politicians have identified as a universal problem facing South Koreans and threatening to harm ‘orderly family life.’
Online censorship historically has been strict for South Korean citizens, particularly when it comes to pornographic content. In December, the government laid out plans to install software on smartphones to block “illegal [and] harmful information” such as swear words, nudity and cyber-bullying on social and messaging networks. In addition, volunteers known as “Nuri cops” (which roughly translates as “net cops”) actively patrol the Internet for pornography, functioning as a supplement to government filters.
Online reactions to the new Online Game Addiction Prevention and Online Game Addiction Healing Center Construction Bill chiefly have been negative, with critics noting everything from the free expression implications of the bill to the right of South Korean teens to enjoy culture. Bloggers and netizens alike have expressed concern that the legislation may lead towards “a society which limits [teen’s] deserved freedom of choice,” instead of one that “respects them and grows with them.”
Citizens in Tajikistan hoping to access foreign news outlets such as Radio Free Europe’s Tajik service and social networking sites like Facebook found their access to these sites cut off for the third time since March, in advance of elections in fall 2013. Before this week, the most recent ban of these sites came in November, likely in response to users spreading comments of “mud and slander” about Tajik President Emomalii Rahmon, who has held the position since 1992 but is up for re-election this year.
An Omani court upheld jail terms for eight netizen activists this Wednesday in Oman for “defaming [Sultan Qaboos] and [committing] cyber crimes,” according to a lawyer involved in the case. These netizens are not alone; several groups of activists are also facing charges of defamation for using social networks to insult Qaboos, who has been the ruler of Oman for over 40 years. Just last month, 23 activists who took part in a 2011 protest for political reform were sentenced to nearly a year of jail time.
Earlier this month, several public figures including Google China’s founding president Lee Kaifu and singer Yi Nengjing posted comments about a confrontation over editorial autonomy between censors and staff editors of Southern Weekly, a newspaper in China. They and others were subsequently “invited to tea” by the police, implying a police request for questioning about controversial online speech.
Bangladeshi blogger Asif Mohiuddin, who often writes on religion and free speech issues, was stabbed by three unidentified men in Dhaka and remains hospitalized. Mohiuddin told a reporter from Deutsche Welle that he thought “fundamentalists” who were angered by his posts may be involved.
NetzPolitik reports that German Federal Police bought the spyware toolkit FinFisher to enable them to remotely access computers. According to German hacker organization Chaos Computer Club (CCC), police in Germany use malware from the German company DigiTask, a move that constitutes a violation of German law.
Facebook has implemented a major change in user visibility with its newest feature, Graph Search. Drawing on the large quantities of information Facebook has collected on its user base (reportedly around one billion as recently as October 2012), Graph Search uses Microsoft's Bing search engine to serve up relevant results from users’ activity on the network. Users now have the ability to search for things like “restaurants my friends like in London” and “friends of my friends who are single and live in Hong Kong.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation has created a guide to protecting your privacy from Facebook’s Graph Search. The change makes it impossible for users to opt out of appearing in search results.
The death of social activist Aaron Swartz has provoked calls for reform of the “Computer Fraud and Abuse Act” in the United States. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has introduced a draft amendment to clarify the definition of “unauthorized access” in the Act’s provision to decriminalize terms of service violations, an offense for which Swartz was charged by the US government. Meanwhile, congressional Representative Darrell Issa is also investigating Swartz’s prosecution by US Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz.
China’s Internet population has reached 564 million largely due to the growth in adoption of mobile technology, according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC). As more citizens begin using the Internet, the government is also strengthening its propaganda efforts online: capital city Beijing is now equipped with 60,000 propaganda workers “in the system” and two million “outside the system,” making one out of every ten Beijingers a “propaganda worker” according to a statement by Beijing Vice Mayor Lu Wei.
The Vietnamese government has also admitted that it hired 1,000 propaganda workers to influence online comments to support the government.
In France, a report commissioned by President François Hollande suggests the government should levy a tax on Internet companies which have made profits by collecting users’ personal information.
A U.S. District Court Judge has ruled against Agence France-Presse (AFP) for using and distributing photos taken by photographer Daniel Morel on the day of Haiti earthquake in 2010, which were then distributed and uploaded to Twitter by various users. While AFP claims that they are allowed to do so according to Twitter’s Terms of Service, the terms also include language stating that users may only post their own content.
The Norwegian government will present a new bill to restrict file sharing activities by blocking websites like The Pirate Bay after failed attempts by rightsholders to have the site censored by ISPs.
Sovereigns of Cyberspace
French telecommunications corporation Orange claims that it has successfully reached a deal with Google in which Google has to pay for sending high volumes of traffic through Orange’s network, which occurs when users access services such as its search engine and YouTube.
Chinese search engine Baidu has joined with France Telecom to develop a customised mobile browser to serve customers in Africa and the Middle East.
European Commissioner for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said in an op-ed (fr) published in French newspaper Libération that “public interest is not in opposition with consumers subscribing to limited Internet offers, more differentiated, possibly cheaper” (translated by La Quadrature Du Net). The statement has stirred speculation that the commissioner will not defend network neutrality.
On a promising note, Slovenia has followed in the lead of the Netherlands by passing network neutrality legislation which ensures an open and neutral Internet and does not allow Internet service providers to discriminate between different types of online traffic.
Russian Internet security firm Kaspersky Labs removed malware known as “Red October” from its servers. The malware had infected servers worldwide, though with a particular emphasis on Russia and state offices within Russia's federal government. Although the hosting servers are situated in Russia and Germany, Kapersky declined to reveal the hackers behind the malware.
January 18th, 2013 marked the one-year anniversary of the anti-SOPA/PIPA campaign when many websites staged a blackout to protest against copyright legislation in the United States. The blackout was part of a joint effort undertaken by civil society and private sector actors to pressure members of Congress to drop the legislation, which they did. Many US-based digital rights advocates celebrated this anniversary by establishing January 18th as Internet Freedom Day and urging their constituencies to take action on various ongoing and upcoming challenges to freedom online.
Police in Beijing, China's capital, raided a computer class which offered free Internet use lessons to people who had traveled to Beijing from other provinces to petition the government for justice after having had their rights infringed by officials in their home cities and towns. The police have detained the teacher, Hu Junxiong, who is also a human rights activist.
The Wikimedia Foundation has launched a new program to offer grants to “support individual Wikimedians or small teams to complete projects that benefit the Wikimedia movement.” The deadline for proposals is February 15.
Publications and Studies
- Freedom House: Freedom in the World 2013.
- Electronic Frontier Foundation: Surveillance Camp: Mapping Strategies to Counteract Online Spying in Latin America.
- Citizenlab : Planet Blue Coat: Mapping Global Censorship and Surveillance Tools
Subscribe to the Netizen Report by email
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.