Netizen Report: US Internet Spying Program Revealed

Image via Flickr user jonpayne CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image via Flickr user jonpayne CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Most of this report was researched, written, and edited by Lisa Ferguson, Weiping Li, Yuqi Chen, Renata Avila, 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. This week's report offers a round-up of coverage on the revelation of a widespread Internet surveillance program by the United States, known as PRISM.

Surveillance

The US National Security Agency has confirmed that it has been secretly collecting information on foreigners overseas from Internet companies including Google, Facebook, and Apple in the interest of national security under a program called PRISM.

The revelation came after The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers published details about two top secret spying programs based on leaked documents provided to the publications by an anonymous source. First, The Guardian revealed a top secret court order compelling American telecom company Verizon to hand over the information of millions of its customers’ calls, such as call duration, call time, and location.

Shortly after, both newspapers reported the existence of the PRISM program, which provides the agency with direct access to data including email, chat, videos, photos, and stored data, among others. The White House has defended the program as necessary to maintain national security.

Here is a roundup of some of the news relating to PRISM:

- A secret Powerpoint slide obtained by The Guardian illustrates some of the processes involved in collecting data for PRISM.

- The Director of National Intelligence has declassified some details about the program, in an effort to correct what he deemed “significant misimpressions” in the reporting about PRISM. The fact sheet about PRISM is available here.

- Former CIA employee Edward Snowden outed himself as the source behind the leaks. Snowden told The Guardian that he was hiding in Hong Kong, a country that has a strong extradition treaty with the United States, but he has since disappeared from his hotel. It’s unclear where he has gone, but he also told the newspaper that Iceland might also be an asylum option.

- In blog posts, Google, Facebook and the other Internet companies reported to be tapped by PRISM asserted they had never heard of the program until it was made public this week, while Twitter reportedly declined to facilitate government access to their data.

- UK intelligence agencies received data collected under the program about British citizens.

- Another secret NSA document published by the Guardian asserts that the United States has “participated in offensive cyber operations and widespread hacking.”

- A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Electronic Freedom Foundation seeking documents on the interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the part of the law under which PRISM operates, is now due for summary judgment.

Censorship

Hotspot Shield, a VPN which disguises the identities of Internet users and encrypts Web traffic, saw users in Turkey signing on to its service at ten times the typical rate following anti-government demonstrations. While the Internet has remained accessible in Turkey throughout the protests, dozens of Twitter users were arrested then released, reportedly for “stirring insurrection on social media” according to an opposition party member.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission inadvertently blocked access to 250,000 websites during an attempt to block one website believed to be defrauding Australians. According to ASIC, only 1,000 of these were active sites while the others hosted “no substantive content.” The Commission recently caused some controversy when it interpreted a law in the Telecommunications Act as giving it the authority to block websites.

Bangladesh's Telecommunication Regulatory Commission has unblocked YouTube after restricting access to the video-sharing website eight months ago to prevent people from watching a trailer for the controversial film “Innocence of Muslims,” which mocks Islam and Prophet Hazrat Muhammad.

Saudi Arabia has blocked instant messaging application Viber, making good on its threat to block all encrypted communication software unless the government is allowed to conduct surveillance on it. Earlier this year, the country's telecommunication authorities gave Skype, mobile messaging service WhatsApp, and other companies notice that because they did not comply with Saudi regulations, they must find a solution or be blocked.

Copyright

France has removed one of the most extreme measures of its three-strikes anti-piracy law, known as Hadopi, eliminating the language that allows the government to cut someone off from the Internet for their crimes. The penalty, which had never been implemented, was judged to be unenforceable, “like cutting off someone’s water” according to French digital minister Fleur Pellerin.

Taiwan’s Intellectual Property Office has abandoned its plans to implement an Internet blacklist of sites alleged to infringe on copyright. The change has been attributed to plans by more than 45,000 people and organizations including Wikipedia Taiwan and Mozilla Taiwan to protest the bill.

An Italian appeals court ruled that the blocking of access to the website Rapidgator on grounds of copyright infringement was disproportionate, and ordered access to the website be restored. This is the first time a court has decided to withdraw a blocking order on the grounds that “a certain level of copyright infringement is necessary to justify a seizure measure,” according to the organization Future of Copyright.

Netizen Activism

The announcement of a new licensing scheme for news websites in Singapore has led to the launch of a “Free My Internet” movement demanding withdrawal of the regulation. More than 2,000 bloggers gathered to protest the new regulation, and more than 160 websites participated in a blackout.

Publications and Studies

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For upcoming events related to the future of citizen rights in the digital age, see the Global Voices Events Calendar.

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