Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. This week we focus on a series of attacks on digital news sites in Guatemala, Hong Kong, and Bangladesh, and examine challenges to online activists in Russia, Venezuela, and Nigeria.
The website of Guatemalan newspaper El Periódico suffered its sixth cyberattack in recent months. The attack may have been triggered by coverage [es] of corruption allegations against Guatemalan Vice president Roxana Baldetti. Guatemala’s secretary of Communication has denied the government played any role in the attacks.
Hong Kong-based independent online news site inmediahk.net [zh] suffered a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) last week, which resulted in the website going offline on April 19. Inmediahk.net editors believe that the attacks, which mostly originated from China, may have been elicited by their reports on the ongoing Hong Kong's dock workers’ strike.
Four bloggers and a newspaper editor were arrested in Bangladesh for charges related to their exercise of free speech. The government has indicated further arrests and restrictions of Internet media are still to come.
Russian investigators have searched the offices and home of Pavel Durov, founder of VKontakte, a Russian social media platform similar to Facebook. Although authorities claimed the search was related to a traffic accident, the Guardian reports that “a source inside VKontakte said that pressure against the site began after Durov refused to co-operate with the Federal Security Service (FSB) when Moscow erupted in protest.” A fund linked to state-owned oil company Rosneft bought 48% of the network on Wednesday, bringing the site closer to government ownership.
Prominent Russian blogger Alexey Navalny is currently standing trial on charges that he embezzled money from a state-owned timber company in Kirov. Navalny’s supporters have created a website, 6may.org, to spread information and collect donations for Navalny and other suspects’ legal defense.
Venezuelan Facebook user Andres Rondón Sayago was detained by the Interior and Justice Ministry for posting a photograph of burning ballots following the country’s presidential elections on April 14. He has been accused of sharing the photo with “destabilizing intentions.”
A documentary on the #OccupyNigeria movement, which saw civil demonstrations in response to rising fuel prices and government corruption, has been banned in Nigeria by The National Film and Video Censors board, who are appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan. However, the government has not be able to enforce the ban on dissemination as YouTube has not taken down the video.
Turkish pianist Fazil Say has been convicted of insulting Islam in a series of Tweets he sent earlier this month. The messages involved referenced a poem by an 11th century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, that joked about Islamic practices.
In an effort to combat Internet-based crime, Japan’s National Police Agency may encourage Internet Service Providers to block the Tor anonymization program, which allows users to browse and communicate anonymously online. A memorandum about the decision raises concern that individuals may be using Tor to assist in exchanging child pornography and identity theft schemes.
China’s new Anquan Lianmeng [zh], or “Safety Alliance,” which identifies itself as a “neutral and impartial third-party organisation” is hiring a Chief Pornography Officer who will research, monitor, and review online pornographic content in order to establish an industry standard for Internet safety. Although pornography is technically illegal in China, plenty of obscene content from overseas has found its way around the Great Firewall.
UK human rights group Privacy International is suing the British government over transparency concerns surrounding the UK-based company Gamma International, maker of FinFisher surveillance software. Government officials refused to respond to the group's requests for information about an investigation of whether or not Gamma had exported FinFisher software to Bahrain. The software, which can be used to log keystrokes and eavesdrop on users, may be prohibited under British law. Gamma has denied the charges, claiming that the Bahraini government must have acquired a stolen copy of its software.
Users of the Firefox browser may find strong warnings against visiting HTTPS-encrypted websites that have been verified by Swedish and Finnish telecommunications company TeliaSonera. Mozilla, creator of Firefox, may decide to reject TeliaSonera’s root certificate over claims that TeliaSonera was selling surveillance technologies to dictatorships. Before making a decision on whether or not to do so, Mozilla has asked its community of users for their views.
The United States House of Representatives passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), sending the controversial cybersecurity bill on to the Senate. The bill has been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation for its lack of provisions to protect user privacy.
Iran’s “Center for Managing National Development of the Internet” reports that 60% of Iranians are connected to the Internet, almost 2.5 million of whom are connected through mobile devices.
The Pirate Bay is now on a list of blocked sites in the UK, according to TorrentFreak.
Sovereigns of Cyberspace
An Italian prosecutor has appealed the acquittal of three Google executives in a suit over Google’s failure to block a video posted to now defunct Google Video, which showed a handicapped student being bullied. Although the Milan appeals court overturned the six-month suspended prison sentence handed to top Google executives, they must now face the highest court in Italy’s judicial system. Central to the case is the issue of whether Google can be held responsible for user-generated content that is in breach of Italy’s privacy laws.
Google lost a defamation lawsuit in Japan over the autocomplete function in its search engine. A Japanese man sued Google after he found that in a search, the autocomplete for his name suggested criminal acts that he did not commit. According to the plaintiff’s lawyer, Hiroyuki Tomita, “this [autocomplete feature] can lead to irretrievable damage, such as job loss or bankruptcy, just by displaying search results that constitute defamation or violation of the privacy of an individual person or small and medium-size companies.”
The European Consumer Organization (BEUC) and European Digital Rights (EDRi) sent a letter to the European Commission on behalf of over 80 organizations calling for new laws to protect net neutrality and user privacy. They argue that encouraging competition and transparency alone (as the EC has done) are insufficient, since consumers have limited option for suppliers.
Anonymous has raised $54,798 through the fundraising platform Indiegogo to set up a dedicated news site, Your Anon News. The platform will expand its Twitter and Tumblr services and “provide a space for people on the ground, or ‘citizen journalists’” to generate news coverage of issues of interest, according to The Next Web.
Digital activist Cameran Ashraf, an Iranian-American citizen who was involved in facilitating activism online during Iran’s Green Movement, wrote a compelling piece for Global Voices Advocacy about his personal experiences during the movement. The piece has drawn substantial commentary from the digital activism community.
Publications and Studies
The New Gatekeepers: Controlling Information in the Internet Age – Center for International Media Assistance
The Global Information Technology Report 2013 – World Economic Forum
For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.