Netizen Report: In Brazil and US, Transparency Efforts Carry Costs

Russian blogger Alexey Navalny. Photo by Valya V (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Russian blogger Alexey Navalny.
Photo by Valya V (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Ellery Roberts Biddle, Weiping Li, Hisham Almiraat, Alex Laverty, Chan Myae Khine, and Sarah Myers.

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. Highlights this week include a Brazilian teen's push for transparency through Facebook, revelations from the recent testimony of US Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, and India's latest swipe at privacy for BlackBerry users.

Jordan’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology has hired The Cyber Guardian, an Australian software company, to create filtering software that will block access to pornographic content online in Jordan. In Australia, The Cyber Guardian has developed what is known as “end-user” software that parents can install on computers in order to prevent their children from accessing pornography online. But Jordanian officials are reportedly working with Internet Service Providers to implement the program at a national level, rather than simply making the software available to concerned parents. Internet rights experts in Jordan worry that this will lead to broad monitoring of online activity and to a content filtering regime that would extend well beyond the category of pornography.


A thirteen-year-old Brazilian girl who uses Facebook to report on flawed teaching practices and damaged facilities at her public school received a death threat for her efforts last month. An account holder who authorities believe to be an imposter posted a message on the girl’s Facebook community page, Diário de Classe [pt], threatening that Isadora Faber and a classmate would end up “with a bullet right on their foreheads” if they did not delete the page. Faber has earned national attention for her efforts to encourage transparency in public education in Brazil.

United States Army soldier Bradley Manning, who was arrested in 2010 based on suspicion that he had leaked thousands of sensitive military documents to digital transparency organization WikiLeaks, confessed to this accusationbefore a military judge last week. While Manning pled guilty to violating military regulations and sending classified documents to WikiLeaks, he pled innocent to “aiding the enemy,” the most serious charge he faces. Despite controversy around Manning’s actions and the United States government’s case against him, he has become a hero among open government and Internet rights advocates worldwide. Policymakers in Iceland, Sweden, and Tunisia have nominated Manning for a Nobel Peace Prize.

One of Russia’s most prominent bloggers and anti-corruption activists, Alexey Navalny, is under investigation by the Russian government. Authorities claim that Navalny, a lawyer, circumvented state requirements in order to obtain accreditation as an attorney. The Russian blogging community responded to the attack on Navalny’s credentials by undertaking their own investigations of the case and found that the state Investigative Committee used information widely available online to support their claims, ironically relying upon blogs to accuse a blogger of wrongdoing. As Global Voices’ Andrey Tselikov put it, “The Russian Internet…is a fickle mistress.” Whether or not Navalny has the proper credentials to serve as an attorney remains unclear.

India’s intelligence services have requested that BlackBerry hand over the PIN numbers of all Blackberry users worldwide. BlackBerry devices have a secure PIN number that allows users to send encrypted messages to other BlackBerrys, a feature that government intelligence agencies find worrying, as it limits their ability to monitor criminal activity over BlackBerry networks. Last year, the government worked with BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion to enable easy spying on BlackBerry users in India, but now authorities say they need access to all BlackBerry users’ PIN numbers in order to track messages sent between Indian users and those in other parts of the world.  Slate reports that BlackBerry stated its commitment to “lawful access compliance” when asked about the case, but would not offer further comment.

The European Parliament’s Industry, Research, and Energy Committee (ITRE) recently approved an Opinion on the Data Protection Regulation indicating that it will side with the interests of corporations over individuals when it comes to privacy. Among other issues, the ITRE Opinion introduces two new articles stating that anonymous data will not be considered personal data, and thus is exempt from the Regulation.

The EU Court of Justice is reviewing an online data protection case involving Google and Mario Costeja, a Spanish citizen. Costeja filed a complaint against Google and the newspaper La Vanguardia with Spain's Data Protection Agency after discovering that a Google search for his name included results referring to a property that had been seized from him after he failed to make social security payments to the government. While the agency rejected the complaint against the newspaper, arguing that the paper was protected by the “right to information,” the complaint against Google was upheld. Google is challenging the ruling by the Spanish Data Protection Agency, which forced the search engine to remove roughly 100 links from searches for the man’s name.

Firefox has announced a policy change that will help protect users from unwanted tracking by third party entities that are typically invisible to the user. Under the new policy, a user will have to give authorization before a third party can install a cookie on his or her machine. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says that “[by] disallowing third parties to set cookies, it will be harder for third party advertisers, data brokers, and other invisible trackers to build a dossier of all of the websites that a user visits over many years.”

National Policy
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced that a draft law on “the protection of digital rights and freedoms” will be introduced in early 2014. French digital rights advocacy group La Quadrature du Net expressed concern that the law may simply protect Internet neutrality, rather than addressing the broad range of free expression and privacy issues that typically fall under the category of digital rights.

Germany’s parliament voted to approve a law that will require news aggregators and search engines such as Google to pay royalties to publishers when they show excerpts of their articles in search results. While original provisions in the law allowed for almost no excerpting of any kind, the final version authorizes these entities to post “single words or small text passages” — it remains unclear exactly what qualifies as a “small text passage.” If applied too stringently, the law could lead to the “removal of all German news publications from Google search results,” a move that advocates and Google itself agree would be a bad idea.

After reviewing a petition signed by over 100,000 people relating to a new US law banning consumers from unlocking their cell phones in order to change carriers, the White House declared its support for cell phone unlocking. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has said the agency may take regulatory action to “preserve consumers’ ability to unlock their phones.”

Sovereigns of Cyberspace
Chinese Internet company Tencent is setting up an office in the US to expand their business on WeChat, an instant messaging service commonly known as “Weixin” in China. Tencent hopes that this expansion will make it a more fierce competitor against Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging service.

Internet Governance
The United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) hosted the World Summit on the Information Society in Paris last week, marking the tenth anniversary of the summit, where governments, industry, civil society, and technology experts have come together to discuss issues of Internet policy and chart a path forward in developing strong, equitable approaches to global Internet governance. Companies in attendance, namely Google, praised UNESCO for its commitment to involving all Internet policy stakeholders, not just governments, in its processes.

Netizen Activism
According to a year-long study by the US-based Pew Research Center, the reaction of Twitter users to major political events differs from public opinion as measured by surveys. At times Twitter users are more liberal than survey responders, at times more conservative, but they generally tend to be more negative in their reactions to political news.

Quinn Norton, a journalist and the former girlfriend of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, wrote a piece for The Atlantic describing her experience inside the federal investigation into Swartz’ activities and her reflections following his death.

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